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McLellan: Touching a heart requires multiple touches


In last week’s column, I described my experience with local nonprofits this past holiday season that I suspect was not unique to me. Random requests from charities I’d never heard from before, multiple asks from volunteers and board members even though I’d already donated, and a notable lack of thank-yous.

This isn’t meant as a criticism. It’s intended as a contribution to help nonprofits increase the support they need so badly to continue their essential work. Over the years, I have served as a board member for many of our community’s nonprofits, and I am in awe of all they do for Central Iowa. 

More than most brands, a charity needs to earn the heart of their “customers,” who in this case are their donors. Sure, they can give us the facts and figures that justify their work, but the truth is, like any other “purchase,” our donations are emotionally based. That may be a little less true of corporate contributions, but behind every corporate decision are the human beings who made the call. 

For all of the fantastic charities out there, here are some tips for increasing your contributions during the next holiday season. 

Start now: Most potential donors feel pummeled during the holiday season. You want to already be one of their favorites, long before Thanksgiving. This is the time that you should be asking volunteers and board members to reach out to the people they know and share stories about why your organization is so important to them.

Use age-old marketing techniques: Just because you are not selling a product or service, don’t forget that this is marketing. Leverage tactics like buy one, get one free opportunities to make it easy for your current supporters to bring new people into the fold. A real-time experience at a special event that highlights your accomplishments, or where they can see the passion around your cause, is going to be compelling.

Invest in software that gives you real-time data: Making a donor feel unimportant or invisible can turn the first donation into the last one. If a nonprofit and its volunteers had real-time data so they could acknowledge gifts quickly and not make more requests of people who have already donated, those donors would feel appropriately appreciated. Lags in that expression of gratitude can trigger concerns that either their donation didn’t reach the charity or that it wasn’t big enough or valued. 

Use quick-hit channels to spotlight donors: Social media is an inexpensive and easy way for you to honor donors. Why not designate a day like Donor Wednesdays to honor your donors and share with your audience what their donation helped you accomplish? Be sure to choose donors of all dollar amounts and include people who don’t give you a dime but share their time and talents as their donation.

Become part of their traditions: More than 20 years ago, I was among a small group of volunteers that brought the very first Jolly Holiday Lights to life for Central Iowa’s chapter of Make-A-Wish. Today, it is still their single largest fundraiser. We knew the event’s broad appeal wasn’t really about the cause at all. But because it draws a large number of people, it gave us a chance to educate every carload of people about Make-A-Wish’s mission.

A signature event like YESS’ Duck Derby or ChildServe’s Bubble Ball becomes an annual experience that people look forward to because it’s fun or meaningful in some way. It’s the perfect opportunity to make money and create a connection.

Our community is blessed with some remarkable nonprofits, and they deserve our support. Hopefully, this list of tactics will help them connect with more donors who will be as committed to their work as they are.

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