By Sarah B Lange under Uncategorized on August 22, 2023

It's Time To Wake Your Sleeping Giants

You can watch the full episode on YouTube or listen to Spotify.

Hi, I'm Sarah Lange, and I'm here to spark the philanthropy revolution. The word “philanthropy” means “love of mankind”. My show is all about the ways we can open our doors and hearts so we can do more good.

Hey everybody, welcome back to the philanthropy revolution. I'm your host, Sarah Lange. Today, I want to talk about data, which I know a lot of us feel like is a four letter word, but it helps us raise more money. But first, I'll tell you who I am and what I do.

I live in Massachusetts. I've been in the fundraising field and the nonprofit sector for 35 years. And I know I don't look old enough to be in the sector that long. So I love the nonprofit sector. I think it is where the rubber meets the road in this country. Nonprofits are doing such important work. They are the market for everybody who is not going to get helped any other way. I really love what I do. I feel like it's an honor and a privilege. I have raised over 90 million dollars at this point in my career. And if you count all the people that I've helped learn how to do fundraising, it's up into the billions.

I'm all about impact. I want nonprofits to have the kind of money they need to make an impact in the world. That's what I do and who I am in the world. This live stream show is to help you think about fundraising, maybe through a little bit of a different lens.

I want to tell you a little story, which I usually do at the beginning of these shows. I recently went to Costa Rica, so I was in Costa Rica for a week and about three days into our journey. I was there with my leadership development group. We went on a whitewater rafting trip and it was really fun until it wasn't. I was in a boat of a total of six people plus our guide. And through, I couldn't even tell you the details of what happened, but very quickly five of the six of us, our boat tilted and we slid out. We happened to be at the top of a class three rapid at that moment. The guide was able to scoop one person back in, but the four of us quickly got swept downstream. And, oh, hey, thanks for joining me today. So glad you're here. 

Anyway, we got swept downstream. Thank God we had helmets on. And, you know, this is where you like should take your safety demonstrations seriously, because I got smashed into a rock and then I was like, “Oh, right. I'm supposed to be going feet first down” because I got like smashed on the front left side of my body. And so we were in the water about five minutes, two of us almost drowned, including me. And another person had a face plant, a very intimate episode with a rock. So we were all battered and bruised. And it was probably the most terrifying five minutes of my life. But no one needed stitches. No one needed a cast. No one needed helicopters. And there were no coffins involved. Thank God. Right?

I was thinking, “OK, well, what is the lesson I'm taking away from this?” And so even though it was terrifying and scary, ultimately, I was helped. Like the raft company was total professionals. They scooped us out really quickly, checked us out. We were really lucky. We had a couple of medical personnel in our group who also checked us out. But the amount of care and concern that I received, well, all four of us received after that was just amazing. And it made me realize that there is so much support out there if we just allow ourselves to receive.

That's the lesson I want to pass on to you all, because I think sometimes people are trying to help us and maybe they don't know how. Maybe we need to give them a little guidance. But I think sometimes we get so caught up in doing the work and thinking we have to do all the work all the time that sometimes we can inadvertently shut people out who could bring amazing gifts and resources to our nonprofit. So that's kind of what I'm taking away from my little accident in Costa Rica. And I'm fine, thankfully.

Let's think about ways we can receive more support. One of the ways we can receive more support is by preparing for our annual appeal, which is just around the corner. I don't know about you, but I'm a little depressed with the fact that September's a few weeks away. I'm still wondering what happened in June, and here it is almost September. But with the fall lurking right around the corner, I want to talk about using donor data to maximize your appeal revenue. So I don't know if you guys know this, but a third of all donations come in during December. Isn't that crazy?

Last year, over $499 billion were donated to U.S. nonprofits. Yes, $499 billion. And a third of that came in during December. And what's even crazier is that 12% of these donations come in the last three days of December. So it's not just enough to get a holiday appeal out the door. You really have to follow up with people because December is the month of giving and the last three days and when people are scrambling to get their donations done. So you got to keep pushing till the end of the year. It ain't over till the ball drops in Times Square, right?

Right now, individual contributions are down a little bit, but we're still predicted to see more in revenue because the last seven years in a row, that has kept increasing by billions. And just because individual contributions are down doesn't mean your donors don't want to give to you. So it's really, really important to send out an annual appeal at year end and to use data to really maximize the amount of revenue that it'll bring in.

I know data is one of those words that makes most of us groan, but research shows again and again and again that using donor data strategically dramatically increases giving, like significantly. And I'm not going to bore you with all the data and the studies, but if you want to look at somebody who's really good with donor data and understands the individual donor market, I would really recommend checking out Penelope Bark. She does a lot of research on individual donors, and I love her stuff. Very helpful.

It's really important for us to know who are our donors. And I think some of us think we know who our donors are, but I still make all of my clients do what I call a donor data dump. And so we look at who are the top donors, not just in terms of the ones who give you the most money, but those who give monthly or have been with you for a long time. A lot of times we overlook these folks who are in a monthly giving program or have been giving to us a long time because they tend to give at lower, sort of less exciting levels. But let's not overlook them because they're our biggest fans. So we really need to figure out how to activate them.

It's really important to know who your supporters are because it allows you to strengthen your relationship with them, as well as target your outreach efforts to find other similar people. For example, I worked with a group down in Connecticut that figured out that their best donors were women over 50. So the next step we took was brainstorming, where are all the women over 50 hanging out? And we started doing some really targeted outreach in the summer and into the fall, and we were able to add 212 new prospective donors through these efforts. And that may not sound like a lot, but these were like ideal donor avatars. So it wasn't just we were throwing people in the list.

These were people actually fit the criteria and were supporting similar efforts. So what we found is out of the 212, 90% or 190 of them turned into donors with the fall appeal, and they donated just over $19,000. So that's $19,000 that this group would not have had had they not done this targeted outreach. So then what we did was after the appeal was done, we really carefully cultivated and started this new group. We did a welcome email series, which included a thank you video from the board chair and a welcome video from the executive director. And then we invited them in for a tour of the agencies. We have like, you know, tea and cookies and people came in for a tour. And then the majority of these folks, because we were very carefully cultivating them, became some of the organization's top donors. So it didn't even take that long to get these people excited about the organization and giving it a higher level. 

This is where, you know, doing a donor data dump can help you target your audience more specifically. So a lot of times we only focus on those folks we think were major donors. And that number is going to vary for all of us. For some smaller organizations, it might be $500 and up. For other people, it might be $1,000, $5,000 and up. It really depends on kind of what your giving range is. And sometimes nonprofits actually hire fundraisers to cultivate and solicit major gifts. But what research shows is if you focus on your existing donors, these are people who already love and support you, that over time their giving will move from kind of a habitual gift to a significant gift. They're now forsaking others to go steady with you. And over time, they're going to go up to the major gift level and that the value of their lifetime giving will increase significantly.

We don't always have to go out and find wealthy people in our community. Sometimes it's just a matter of like loving up on the people who are already in our donor database and helping them understand that they are the heroes in our organization and that they're really central to helping our mission be upholded and helping make a difference in people's lives. So this is where donor segmentation can be really helpful.

Another way in which it's helpful is it helps you target gift levels and encourage an appropriate uptick in your ask. So usually when we do a donor data dump, we'll segment them out into groups like say $5 to $100, $101 to $250, $251 to $500, $500 and above. And your categories may be different, again, depending on the giving range of your donors. And then what we do is we write a slightly different letter to each group and invite them to step up to the next level. So people kind of get into this habit of thinking, “Oh, yeah, I give these guys $25.” Well, if you don't ask them to go to $50, they're never going to go to $50. I mean, I don't mean to say never, but people need that encouragement, that support, that guidance. “Hey, we could really use more support from you.”

We would invite a larger gift. And then that's not everybody's going to move up, but the people who do, instantly you have more revenue because you've asked more people to move up the giving ladder. And now that gives you more cash. And who doesn't want more cash, right? And once somebody goes up to a level, it's very unusual for them to backtrack. So usually they stay at that level or give more. Again, we have to remind them about how important their gift is and how it's being put to work and why they're the hero. But when they're treated properly through cultivation and stewardship, they will increase their giving over time.

Data shows that if thanked within 48 hours of their gift, donors are four times more likely to give again. And this is something that Tom Ahern talked about last week or two weeks ago, and that they're going to give at a higher level. 

Do you have a gratitude email ready to go out in response to a donation? Better yet, how about a donor drip campaign? So what is a drip campaign? Well, it is a series of emails that goes out to your donors. It could be new donors. It could be existing donors. If it's a new donor, I would make it a welcome series with videos from your board chair, your executive director. Like basically affirming their “purchase” right?

Telling them how important they are, how happy they are that you've joined the cause, the difference that your donation is going to make. And then so I usually do this like six emails over six weeks. So make the first one like a thank you or a welcome. I would say welcome/thank you. But then, you know, the board chair could talk about something. You could give them like an infagraphic about the impact that they're helping make happen. You could give them a client story or a testimonial. 

These don't have to be like long emails. You're just dropping into their inbox to remind them and kind of re-release dopamine because giving releases dopamine. That's why people like to give because it makes them feel good. So if you help re-release dopamine and remind them that they're a hero, that they're a good person, that they're making a difference, they are going to hang in with you. When you do these campaigns, you can do them again for like new donors. You could do them for existing donors, but you constantly want to affirm people's decision to support your cause. 

The other thing about, hang on one second. Sorry, I'm still healing. My lungs are still healing from nearly drowning in the river. So the other thing about donor segmentation is it can help you identify two really, really, really important groups. The first group is lapsed donors. So I think of lapsed donors as anybody that used to give to you, but hasn't given to you in the last three years. People that loved and supported you at one time and always curious, like, “why did they stop?” So ask. Send out a donor survey to this group and make sure one of the questions is, “why did you stop supporting our organization?” Then invite them to be super honest with you. Let them know if you screwed up with them, you want to hear about it so you can correct the mistake and not keep making it with other people. And if you do that survey now, you will have that information on hand as you prepare for your fall appeal.

Once you do that survey and you find out, you know, why they stopped giving, some people it's financial. You know, I know I'm a single mom. I've been a single mom since my son was three. He's now 27. But the four years he was in college, holy smokes, do not ask me for more money. Because every penny I had, I was like, “Oh, you need drumsticks? Great. You need toothpaste? Great. Oh, more tuition payments are due? Great.” It was like every penny I had was going to supporting his college education. And so those were not the four years to ask me to go up. I was able to maintain my giving, but it was not the time of my life to ask me to make a bigger donation.

I would really encourage you to find out why your donors disappeared and then send them an appeal, letting them know they've been missed, providing an update on the outcomes and the impact you are making. And letting them know that a donation of even $25 is going to make a difference. You want these people to come back into the fold. So you want to really honor them for having supported you in the past. Let them know how important they were. If you guys did something to flub it up, then say that in the letter. Apologize in the letter. Let them know what corrections you're making. And just ask them if they'll kind of forgive you and come back as a supporter. And some people will. 

You definitely want to clear the air with folks. And if they don't come back into the fold, then just let them go. It's not worth going and knocking on their door. Because they may have moved on. And so that's a really important group to cultivate and reach out to and do a survey with.

The other group I want to talk about, and I find my clients overlook these guys over and over and over and over and over. I call them your sleeping giants. So what is a sleeping giant? A sleeping giant is anybody that's been giving to you for three or more years, but at a fairly low level. So they're not jumping up and down and screaming. They're just steadfastly giving you maybe $20, maybe $50. And they're just doing it quietly, right? And so this is why a lot of us, you know, don't notice them. But why are they important? Because if somebody has been giving to you for three or more years, they're raising their hand and saying, “I want to go steady with you.” And so many times we miss that cue. Because they do tend to be giving at lower levels. And so we're so brainwashed to focus only on the high-end givers that we fail to cultivate and steward these people where properly cultivated, they could leave a lot of money.

I may have told you this story that I'm going to say it again anyway, just in case I haven't. There was a group that I was working with. It was a historical society. And, you know, they had some fairly older donors. And they had some fairly older volunteers. And one day the executive director called me. And she was like, “Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, I don't know what to do. I'm freaking out.” I'm thinking, “Oh, my gosh, the historical society has burned down,” right? Because it was like this old wooden building, you know, in Massachusetts, everything is built on a lot of older buildings were built in wood. So what other type of questions would you add to that survey? Okay, let me answer that in a second, Lauren. Okay.

Anyway, the executive director is freaking out. And I'm thinking, “Oh, dear Lord, the building burned down.” And they had all their archives in the building. It was just like that would have been the worst nightmare ever. And I was like, “Oh, my gosh, what's going on?” She's like, “Oh, my gosh.” And she named this older volunteer who had been volunteering with them every single day for decades.

This woman was like hardcore. I am all about the historical society. Came to every program they ever ran. She lived down the street in a fairly small house. She drove an older model car. And no one knew she was wealthy. She did not have any living relatives. And she left her entire state, which was worth $1.25 million, to the historical society. She is the perfect example of a sleeping giant. Because she gave them like 50 bucks a year. I mean, this was not a woman who was like, yeah, doing this with her money. She was very quiet. She like was fairly, you know, conservative with her money. Did not display wealth at all. And yet she was worth $1.25 million. 

This is why we have to pay attention to the donors who are hanging out with us for long periods of time. Because they love us. And we need to love up on them. And I don't mean to make this sound “transactional”. But if somebody has already expressed their “love of mankind”, their philanthropy at that level, who are we to block a higher level of love? Right? So to me, money is paper and metal. Right? And we layer lots of other stuff on this paper and metal. But we've agreed that this paper and this metal has some sort of exchange. Right? 

This is some value of exchange. But it's really just an exchange. Right? I'm going to give you this pile of paper and metal and you're going to give me this thing. And for philanthropists, it's this so they give you a donation. But what they get in return is that they get to build the world they want to live in. And they get to help the people that they really want to help. And they get to invest in causes that are important to their heart.

When somebody is giving to you nonstop, don't ignore them. Because they have a gift in their heart that they want to give to you. So it's not you begging for money. It's not you even asking for money. It's you deepening your relationship with them and inviting them to step more deeply into supporting the cause. Which is something they're already doing. Right? So you're not asking them to make some sort of weird leap of faith that is not founded on anything.

Sleeping giants can be a huge resource for our organization. And yet we often overlook them. So I want to go back to the question that was asked about donor surveys. And I actually have a sample donor survey that I can send to folks. So my email, Chris, can you pop my email in the chat? Do you have it? Or do you need me to type it? Okay. Chris is going to pop my email in chat. And if you guys want a copy of the sample donor survey, I'm happy to send it to you. Just drop me an email and have the subject line say sample donor survey. And I will have my assistant get that out to you. So that's one thing I can say and offer to you, which I'm happy to do and support you.

Basically, what you want to do is ask your donors, how are we doing? Right? So ask them questions about how well they feel in your mission. Ask them to describe your organization. Because what I found, and not just me, but a lot of other people who study this kind of stuff, have found that the way your donors talk about your organization is very different from the way we talk about our organizations. Right? So we have a very particular perspective on the work we're doing because we are inside living, breathing it every single day. Well, hopefully not every single day. You guys should be taking time off. But like, so we have a very particular perspective on our work, but it's often very different from the perspective that our donors have.

I like to ask donors, how would you describe the work we do? Because then they are giving me the words that they use, and then I can in turn use those words to communicate with them. Because now I'm literally creating a resonance with the donors using their language. And this is why I study neurolinguistic programming, because what that does in your subconscious, so like only 5% of our brains are conscious, 95% are unconscious, and in the 95% that's unconscious, that's where we make our decisions. Right? So this is why I'm fascinated by neurolinguistic programming. So when you use the same language as your donors, you're literally creating a resonance with them. And in their subconscious, they're like, “Oh, we're on the same wavelength, we're on the same page. They see me, they get me.” And that enables them to take a step forward because now they're identifying. Right? So now they have an identity which matches your mission. Right? And so they are going to take another step towards you when they feel that way. Right? So that's why I ask, how would you describe our work?

The other thing I ask is, how would you describe yourself as a person? And how would you describe yourself as a donor? And again, then I get these words that I get to use right back in my communication. So we will put together like, you know, one of those word clouds for each of those questions so that the communications and donor people have access to them. So they have these words that they can use to unleash a greater level of giving. So this is why donor surveys are so important. And I really, really encourage you to do them at least once a year.

Again, if you're sending it to labs donors, you could say, “you know, we noticed you haven't given in the last couple of years. We really miss you. We want to know if we did anything to upset you, if we made a mistake, if we offended you. Please, please, please let us know because we this is not we don't want to drive our donors away. We want to keep you, you know, in the community that we're creating to support our mission.” And so again, allowing them to be candid.

Some people are not going to take you up on that offer, but some of them are going to tell you and they may tell you things that you don't want to hear. But guess what? You need to hear them. Some of it is uncomfortable. Some of it is like, “oops,” I'll give you a little example. I used to work in a community-based organization and we had this great idea. We came into a lot of free stuff. So for example, local youth organizations would call us and say, “we're going to give you 10 free camp slots. Can you fill them with neighborhood kids?” Right? I mean, yeah, in like 30 seconds we could do that. Like one time Home Depot said “we have this overrun of cabinets. Can we drop them off?” I'm forgetting what that other home improvement store was. Like green. Like their color scheme was green and white.

Anyway, doesn't matter. They called us. They had a ton of discontinued wallpaper they wanted to give us. So we had all these great things. We would get tickets to children's theater. We would get free. I don't even know what to. We would get like just discontinued stuff for people to improve their home. And we wanted our neighborhood folks to benefit. And so we built this whole database and we thought, okay, now when people come in the door, we're going to give them an intake form which matches the database. So we know if they have kids, what age their kids are. Because we were also like running a summer camp. We were working with a couple of local youth agencies to fill their after school program. And so we wanted to like collect information to help people access all this awesome stuff we were getting.

Well, one thing we didn't realize is that when people were coming in our door, a lot of them were needing help. They had already exhausted all their personal resources. And for us to shove a clipboard at them with a form with all these questions about like their children and would they ever be interested in X, Y, and Z, they didn't understand why we were collecting this level of information. And so there were people who would like get up and leave. There are people who would like fill it out but then meet with a staff person and then not come back. And so we started actually following up with these people like, “Hey, what happened?” And they were like, “Well, I came in because I'm getting evicted and you shoved a clipboard at me.” Like that's not very friendly. I was like, “Oh my.” So here we were trying to be helpful and collect all this great information. And we were actually driving people out the door. Like not an intended consequence, right?

When we started following up and finding out that information, we were like, okay, now when somebody comes in, the office manager is going to ask like “What's the nature of your problem?” She would contact the appropriate staff person. That staff person would come collect that person. I mean, assuming we're like in the building and not in the middle of a phone call or a meeting or whatever. And then we would work with them to complete the form. But we would tell them why we're asking all these questions which feel super invasive, right? So anyway, sometimes we can inadvertently do things like that which have unintended consequences. So this is why donor surveys could be super helpful because like maybe you screwed up in a way and you didn't mean to and it drove some of your donors away. So again, I don't want to like beat too much on the donor survey piece. But it is really important. And again, if you want, you know, a copy of it, just send me an email and we'll get you the sample survey that I've got.

The other things that I'm really going to encourage you to do since we have a little bit of time before we have to start working on our appeal letters is look at your technology. And if you don't have a donor database, get one because Excel is not your friend when it comes to donor data. I had a client. They were very reluctant to move off their Excel spreadsheet and it had 8,600 entries. And when I was trying to merge data for the appeal letter, I sifted it by mailing address because that's the one unique qualifier that we all have. So even if I live in an apartment building, I might live at 100 Main Street, Unit 4A. And it's unlikely that anybody else in your donor base is going to have that exact address. That's how I would sort it.

Then I would just start finding all these duplicates. So, for example, a husband and a wife or a partnership may live in the same household but have two different names. Okay, well, now they have two different entries. And then you're like, “okay, well, are they partners? Are they unrelated living in the same household?” So like Excel, it would literally take me days to sift through the Excel spreadsheet. And I finally did the math and I said to the executive director, “you could have already paid for a donor database three times over for the amount you paid me to sift through these 8,600 Excel entries.” So that convinced her. And we got a donor database.

My three favorites, and I don't get any money from these guys, but I really like Kindful because it interacts with QuickBooks. So you don't have to load everything into QuickBooks and everything in your donor database. They speak to each other. Bloomerang, who actually recently bought Kindful, I really like them. They have a pretty robust database. And then Little Green Light, those are my three faves. They're user-friendly, which is a big one, right, because not all of us are data nerds. And they provide excellent customer support. So invest in technology. Please, please, please get a donor database and do it now so that you have good data to work with come appeal time.

One of the things that happens really frequently at nonprofits is that there's duplicate donor data. So I just used that example of maybe there's two different people with two different last names who are living at the same physical address. Okay, well, maybe there's a third entry with both of their names entered as donors, right? So now it gets very complicated. So most of these databases will allow you to merge records, which makes our lives so much easier. So this Excel example I just gave you, we used Kindful. And Kindful actually cleaned up all the data for us and did all the removal of duplicate records. And there was clearly some corrections we had to make, like especially in instances where like Joe Smith and Amy Jones were listed as separate, but they're at the same address. And then there would be other entries with both of them named. So those are the kinds of things we had to clean. Excuse me.

A donor database can clean all the mess up. And you have to decide ahead of time who's going to enter data, because the more people you have entering data, the more chances there are that people are going to make mistakes. And then you want to figure out how do you handle a couple with two different names? Do you write ST or do you write street? These things make a difference. So you want to have practices in writing like a little handbook you can give people. You want to provide training to anybody who's doing this entering. And then you want to do a donor data dump twice a year. I would say do it in August and then like six months later, because you want to keep your data clean. So it's really, really important.

The other thing you can do to maximize revenue during your appeal season is, first of all, do a follow-up campaign on social media and email straight through the 31st. Remember, 12% of all donations come in the 29th, 30th, 31st. Don't miss that window. And then I love scheduling phone-a-thons with board members during appeal season. So most people aren't going to pick up. That's fine. But it's going to make a difference when a board member calls, identifies themselves as a board member, says, “We really appreciate your previous support.” Hopefully you've given them information about what their last gift was and how long they've been giving so they can leave a message that's personalized. And just thank them for the past support and then tell them how they can continue to be a hero to the folks you're serving.

I love getting the board involved. I often encourage staff to do the same. I don't think it's – I think it's a lot to ask staff to do it. But getting to volunteer, a lot of them will. You want to make sure you have the contact info that's accurate and a script. And again, those notes about how long they've been supporting and at what level, what are the recent accomplishments you have. And some of my clients do a thank-a-thon on Giving Tuesday with great success. So those are a couple different ideas. 

Using data really can help us raise more money. And I hope you found these tips helpful and are going to use them in your fall fundraising efforts.

Thanks for joining me today. On September 12th, I'm actually going to be offering a four-hour intensive called Appeals That Work. And we are actually going to craft your appeal letter. I'm going to teach you about donor psychology. I'm going to teach you about NLP. I'm going to help you craft a letter that is going to crack your donors' hearts wide open. So I'm going to teach you all the tips and tricks I use to knock it out of the park for my clients. And again, we're going to work on your letter. We're going to workshop it with other people who are attending. And you'll be able to get some feedback from me.

If you want more information, again, drop me an email. We'll make sure you get it. Really invite you to follow me on social media. So glad you were here today. And if you've got questions, I'm here to answer them. I'm here to help. I want you to succeed and soar.

I'm going to be back on August 31st with a special guest, Chris Baker from The Other Ones Foundation. We've already talked to Jared from The Other Ones Foundation. But I really want to talk to Chris more in depth about how the kinship model got developed and what does that mean in terms of service delivery, how they operate their organization. Because they operate from their hearts, like, across the organization. And it's so beautiful. So join us on the 31st if you've got questions or want that donor survey. In the meantime, make sure you drop me an email at sarah, S-A-R-A-H, @ sarahblange, L-A-N-G-E, dot com ([email protected]). Thanks for joining me. Hope to see you in a couple of weeks.

Thanks for tuning in. I'll be back in two weeks with another episode. Got topics you want me to cover? Organizations you want me to showcase? Let me know. Also, I'm here to help you revolutionize philanthropy at your nonprofit. If you want to talk about what that looks like, drop me an email.  

You can watch the full episode on YouTube or listen to Spotify.


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