Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.  ~G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It’s Not Over Solicitation If It’s Relevant

L.L. Bean is a master of customer relationship management. 

I ordered a couple of Christmas gifts for the kids online the other day and here is what I received:

10:00 PM, Sunday night: Gifts ordered online
  • 10:07 PM, Sunday night: L.L. Bean sent me an email with the subject line “Thank You For Your Order (Note: May Contain Gift Information)”. This was great. I could confirm that my order was received properly and Bean provided a toll-free number in case there were any issues. They even included a heads-up that this email could contain gift information if I needed to keep it from my kids peering over my shoulder. Also prominently displayed was a link to a video titled “Ever wonder what happens after you place an order?” Check it out here, it is a paragon of customer focused communication: http://www.llbean.com/shop/video_collection/#featured_47
  • 11:44 PM, Sunday night: Less than 40 minutes later I received another email with the subject line “ Your L.L. Bean Order Confirmation (Note: May Contain Gift Information)”.  This time the email included a link to track my order and noted that one of my items was back-ordered (along with the anticipated availability date). I was also informed that my order qualified for a $10 promotional gift card that would arrive in about 10 days. Wow! Nice surprise.
  • 10:14 PM, Monday night: I received a shipping confirmation email letting me know which items had shipped.
  • 3:42 PM, Wednesday afternoon: I received another ship confirmation email showing what additional items had shipped and included a link that showed me where my package was at that very moment (the trip from Maine to Illinois to Missouri)
  • 4:30 PM, Thursday afternoon: I received two of my four ordered items. Waiting in my inbox was an email with the subject line “Good News, Your Packages Have Been Delivered (Note: May Contain Gift Information)”.  It also reiterated the Bean 100% satisfaction guarantee and provided step-by-step instructions for returns.

Five emails in five days. Each one relevant and helpful -- one even providing notice of the unexpected $10 gift card. 

Oh, and with each email L.L. Bean featured pictures of and links to interesting items related to my purchases tempting me to consider additional purchases.

What can fundraisers learn from a top-notch merchandiser like L.L. Bean? 

Let’s consider the following potential scenario:
  1. Within minutes of an online contribution you send the donor an effusive thank-you email. 
  2. On day two you send an email note stating that the donor's contribution has been directed to a program or department to be put to immediate use.
  3. Then, within a day or two, you report back to the donor the potential impact of their gift. Perhaps you share a story of a person or a program that will be helped. 
  4. Lastly, the donor receives an email note of gratitude directly from a program director or an individual who has benefited from the gift. 
You also include in one of your emails a link to a video titled “Have you ever wondered what happens after you make a gift?” I'm sure many donors really do wonder about that, especially since they often never hear from an institution again until the next “ask”.

Additionally, each email correspondence includes links to other programs and giving opportunities. 

Do you think the donor would consider this over solicitation? 

Bet not. 

I dare say the donor would be thrilled and might even spring for an additional gift just to start this satisfying process all over again. 

Give it a try and report back your results!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Make It Personal

I love Jimmy John’s.

For those who haven’t been blessed with a shop in your area, Jimmy John's is a franchise sandwich restaurant founded by Jimmy John Liautaud in 1983. According to Wikipedia, Liautaud founded Jimmy John’s after graduating second to last in his class from Elgin Academy and receiving the choice from his father to either join the military, go to college or start a business. You can guess what he chose.

19 year-old Jimmy John borrowed start up money from his father, retaining a 52% stake, figuring he would open a hot dog shop in Charleston, Illinois. Quickly realizing that hot dogs would cost more than he originally figured, he shifted to sandwiches. His initial strategy included passing out free sandwich samples all around town. This resulted in building his business to the point where he could buy out his father’s interest after two years.

Today, Jimmy John’s has over 1,200 stores and is the envy of the franchise restaurant world. In an environment with a gazillion Subway’s and Quiznos’, why was there room for another sandwich place? First of all the product is great. Liautaud figured out that it’s all about the bread. According to his website, with a handful of cookbooks checked out from his local library, he perfected his bread recipe. This bread is baked in-house every day and served fresh.

But I think JJ’s has taken it a step further than simply a great product. From the moment you walk through the door it is as if you are in the company of friends. Do you ever get that feeling from the mumbling 18 year-old behind the counter of any other fast food joint? And no one gets out the door without one of their employees calling out, “Thanks for coming in guys!” And I mean no one.

Corny? I don’t think so. Is it an element included in Jimmy John’s training? I don’t know but even if it is a unique quirk of my local Jimmy John’s there is a lesson for fundraisers. We preach how relationships are key but then build up walls with stuffy prose and over-formalized processes. Drop your “airs”, be real, write conversationally and connect with your donor. Make it personal.

And oh, btw, check out their Facebook page if you want to see some interesting corporate to customer interaction. http://www.facebook.com/jimmyjohns?sk=wall

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

People Don't Give to Need. People Give to Opportunity.

I have something posted on my bulletin board next to my computer that I look at every day.

People don’t give to need. People give to opportunity.

I don’t remember where I first heard or read that statement but it is an incredibly important fundraising premise.  We probably have all been faced with the mandate to raise X dollars in order to build this or that or fund some worthy program. How tempting it is to just get the word out, “We need your contribution. We need your renewal. We need an extra gift!” 

It’s a bit like banging a gong. It results in reactionary giving. The donor sends a check or clicks a button and then forgets about you. They give to quiet the noise.

Now, imagine a donor making a gift because they see the opportunity. They give to make a difference, to accomplish something. They become engaged.

How do you communicate the distinction? Let us consider two different lead sentences for an appeal letter.

The need approach, “As a past contributor to our student aid fund we ask that you consider another gift to The University of Crying Need. We provide over twenty million dollars worth of aid to needy students each year. If we are to continue this type of critical support we need your contribution today.”

The recipient of an appeal like this may react to this approach in many ways. Certainly, the enormity of the need stands out – twenty million dollars a year in financial aid. But, they may also be thinking, “What will my measly (twenty-five, one hundred, or even one thousand dollars) do to help?” The focus is shallow. It is numerical rather than emotional.

Now consider the opportunity approach. “Martha Smith grew up in a tough part of town. Her mother worked two jobs and took in laundry to send her to Opportunity College. Last year as a freshman Martha got straight A’s and discovered she loved science. Her physics professor sent her most recent research paper to the National Academy of Science for which she won commendation. Without generous student aid donors like you Martha might still be doing laundry with her mother rather than excelling in her class. There are twenty-five hundred more Martha’s who want to thank you for making another gift today.”

I would give to make sure Martha has an opportunity to finish school, wouldn’t you? Take the time to determine what the impact of a gift will be. Communicate the opportunity that the donor has to make a difference.