The Year We Almost Didn’t Get the Gift

    Regular donor communications are vital to healthy donor relationships.

  Regular donor communications are vital to healthy donor relationships.

For many years, I worked as an Executive Director for a counseling center in Northeast Georgia. Almost all of the staff were mental health professionals except for me and almost all the work other than therapy—fundraising, communications, IT, HR, maintenance, grant writing—fell to me (along with just one or two others).

If our donor newsletter was going to go out, I wrote it personally. It was challenging sometimes to get it done. One year, it just seemed like it didn’t get done and it didn’t get done and it didn’t get done. We sent out a few electronic newsletters, but the print one just never got written or sent.

We had an incredibly supportive major donor who annually made a very generous $10,000 gift. Looking back, I appreciate her even more now than I did then. She demanded very little attention. She just gave and gave and was incredibly supportive. With no effort on our part and no fanfare on her part, her generous gift would just appear on our administrative assistant’s desk one day each December.

Then, the year we were too busy to communicate with our donors, our Board President got a call from her. She asked to meet. When they got together, she said she wasn’t sure she was going to give that year. She just didn’t feel connected, she said. She couldn’t remember the last time she had received a newsletter from us and she felt like she didn’t know what was going on with the organization.

It was wonderful that she had taken the time to call and meet with the Board Chair, that she cared enough to express her concerns and disappointments. Fortunately, the Board Chair was able to catch her up on what had been going on over the last several months and to help her to feel re-connected.

After that meeting, he met with me and shared with me her very legitimate feelings.

Afterwards, I phoned her and made an appointment to see her for lunch.

When we met, it was incredible. She brought with her a well-worn pocket folder in which she had filed several issues of our donor newsletters, some which I had written, others which had been written by my predecessors. She pulled back issues out and reminisced with me about the history of the organization. She gave me fundraising advice based on fundraising events from the past that had succeeded or failed. She laughed and shared memories of having served on the board of directors in the past. She told me what she loved about what I was writing in the newsletter now.

It was a wonderful visit. I learned so much from her. I left feeling refreshed. She had shared her love of the organization with me which refueled me at a time that I felt so focused on our mission as work that it was renewing.

We did receive her generous check that December and all the Decembers after that that I served there as Executive Director.

I carried several lessons away from that experience. That donor newsletter was so much more important than I realized. It was warm, tangible, and tactile. People—at least some of them—loved receiving it and not sending it mattered. I had to make it a priority.

More significantly, not just any “people” missed it, but some of our biggest supporters who needed and craved the communication from us missed it the most when we stopped sending it.

My visit with this donor also reminded me to get out of the office more and visit with our donors more. We all occasionally need that reminder, especially if our titles are something other than Major Gifts Officer.

Write your donors. Better yet, call or visit them. The desk work will wait. It won’t just be good for your organization’s coffers, it will be good for your parched soul.


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