Midcourse Correction

By Brad Layland, CEO and Senior Consultant

Last week was a busy travel week for me. In fact, I traveled more in January than I have in the last several years! I flew all over – Richmond, Atlanta, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Naples (FL). It was a joy to be with clients in person at last, but the experience nearly didn’t happen. I had a near miss that required a midcourse correction.

As we were landing in Las Vegas, right before we touched down, the plane suddenly pulled up and rapidly ascended back into the sky. It was a bit alarming – this sort of touching down and then going back up into the air has happened to me before, but not in this extreme manner. Moments later, as the plane returned to a less dramatic angle, the pilot came on the PA to explain. At the very last minute, air traffic control had warned him there was a plane on the runway we were about to land on. That’s why he had suddenly pulled up the plane and why we were now circling back around before landing.

I’m so thankful there was an air traffic controller who could see more clearly than the pilot. This bumpy experience got me thinking about midcourse corrections in fundraising.

This time of year, my mailbox is full of end-of-year statements from the organizations my wife and I support. While the task of sending yearly giving summaries might be assigned to your organization’s finance department, these letters are also an opportunity to treat your donors as partners in your mission. So far, I have received about a dozen of these letters, and not one has included a personal note of thanks. Some of them are just statements in white envelopes that are very similar to the statements I get from the bank telling me how much interest I paid on our mortgage. One of them thanked me for my support but was signed by “Donor Services”. Another was signed by the president of the organization – it wasn’t a real signature, but at least it represented a real person.

It’s true that a year-end giving statement is necessary for non-profit organizations so donors can do their taxes, but it is also a moment to engage with your donors as real people, not as giving units.

What are your donors experiencing when they receive these year-end gift acknowledgments? It is an incredible opportunity to say thank you to your donors in a personal way. You’re acknowledging all that they have entrusted in your organization to fulfill your mission. It’s the perfect time for handwritten thank-you notes or at least a sincere letter (even if it is the same letter to everyone) from the president of your organization.

No, your organization is not going to “crash” because of mistakes you may have made with your year-end gift acknowledgments. But remember, fundraising is all about relationships. That’s one of our key principles: people give to people. I recommend scheduling a little time over the next few weeks to evaluate your donor’s experience. There’s still time for a midcourse correction – at every point of engagement, ask yourself if you are being as relational as possible!

If you would like to learn more about year-end giving acknowledgments, check out our latest podcast by using the link below!