- Your time is valuable and so is your donor's. If you are going to take the time to cultivate donors, do it in the most personal manner possible.
- Apply the "personal equals special" test. If the contact doesn't make your donor feel special and unique, it's not personal enough. Make every donor feel that you are speaking only to him or her, even though the donor will know that is not actually the case all the time.
- Consider eliminating most of the time-consuming, impersonal "cultivation" you are now doing, such as the hard-mailed newsletter and the invitations to the entertainment events, and free up your time to work smarter.
- Think about yourself as a donor. Notice which cultivation contacts get your attention—mail, phone, e-mail, or fax? Notice how you connect personally with people in your everyday life. Is that how you're treating your donors?
- Notice that you have preferences for how people contact you—via which medium and which phone calls and e-mails you return, versus which ones you delete. Notice how flattered you are when the right person calls you or even sends you a note, yet how offended you are when someone else shows up at your door unexpectedly.
- Notice that you can discriminate between those "bulk" group e-mails and the smaller group ones that feel like a real person actually wrote them and meant them for you. Notice how you realize that some people are so busy, you're willing to cut them a little slack if they send out an e-mail to a small group of people. Notice that sometimes you even hit "reply" to those e-mails and send them a note in return.
- Notice how people who know you well get your attention these days. Blackberry, computer, phone, fax, or in person? (Granted, there will never be any substitute for an adorable child coming up to you and saying, "Hi, Daddy.")
- Notice that you get annoyed when people take too long to respond to you or, conversely, when they bombard you with several responses in a short period of time.
- Notice how quickly you switch modes of communication. You may reply to an e-mail message with a phone call or reply to a phone call with an e-mail. You may talk with someone via voicemail back and forth for weeks and accomplish quite a bit before you ever speak to them in person. Notice that you have adapted to multi-media communications.
- Notice that the people close to you know how to get your attention and how to use your time well when they need it. They know when they can find you on your cell phone in the car, when you check your e-mail late at night, when you shut down that hand-held computer before the flight takes off.
This is the level of personal you need to be at with your donors. You need to get to know them well enough (and in the process gain enough permission) to earn the right to communicate with them like a good friend would. And that is going to take a lot of contact!
Terry Axelrod, Benevon
© 2012, Benevon
Terry Axelrod is the founder and CEO of Benevon, www.benevon.com, a Seattle-based organization that has trained and coached more than 3,000 nonprofits to build sustainable funding from individual donors.