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Keys to success in donation program
Expert offers tips on increasing donor base
Whether a hospice's goal is to increase memorial gifts or expand the pool of donors of smaller gifts, there are a variety of ways to improve an existing donation program, according to a certified fundraising executive who works for a hospice that has a successful donation program.
The key is to know your donor base, assess your marketing program, and recognize donors as creatively as possible, says Kathleen B. Emmett, CFRE, director of development for the Hospice of Palm Beach County Inc. of West Palm Beach, FL.
"We raise a fair amount of money from special events," Emmett says. "But those are more friend-raisers than fundraisers."
For example, the hospice holds an annual fishing tournament, a run/walkathon, and a golf tournament, Emmett says.
"I've always viewed events as a different kind of way to roll people into the fold," Emmett says.
However, most of the hospice's focus in encouraging donations is on major and planned gifts, she adds.
Here are some of the strategies employed by the Hospice of Palm Beach County to encourage donations:
1. Understand your donor base.
"You need to understand your donors' needs and how they are connected to your organization," Emmett says. "Often, this can lead to more gifts."
The hospice stores a database of people who have given gifts, both large and small, to the hospice, and the database is capable of being analyzed for trends, Emmett says.
"When you're running a report and analyzing trends, certain people might jump off the page," she notes.
For instance, suppose a hospice donor has given $25 every three months for the past 15 years.
The key is to call that person to have a chat and learn more about him or her, Emmett suggests.
"You can say, 'You seem very dedicated to our organization, what prompts you to give to the hospice?'" Emmett says.
"It might be that the person had an important experience with the hospice's bereavement center," Emmett says. "Maybe he lost a loved one and received counseling at the bereavement center, and because of that has given regularly ever since."
This information will help the hospice development staff better target potential donors.
"So, it's important to really listen to your donor base," she adds.
2. Assess how you're marketing the giving program.
"The more you put your organization or your opportunities in front of people, the more likely they are to give," Emmett says.
"So if you have a quarterly newsletter or are profiling donors, the more personal you can make it seem, the better," she adds.
Ways to do this would be to include an article on how people have arranged giving to the hospice and to ask whether a reader's company is a matching gift company, Emmett suggests.
"Include an article on the most recent special event and where the money went," she says. "Be sure to dedicate two or three pages to development-related activities, and include with it a business envelope so people can send you money."
Marketing should be continual. The Hospice of Palm Beach County has a quarterly newsletter which is considered 50 percent fund development and 50 percent community outreach.
"It's not a real heavy fundraising-driven piece," Emmett notes.
But the newsletter provides positive news about the hospice to the community and to current and potential donors.
Another great marketing tool is judicious use of email messages, she says.
"We find that email blasts are a good way to communicate with people," Emmett says. "We send out emails that are specific to events, and this drives attendance to special events."
Personal notes from directors also are great marketing strategies, Emmett says.
"You can't write enough personal notes," she says. "Anytime I visit someone or they come to our facility, I write the person that same day, whether a donor or a prospect."
3. Find creative ways to attract and recognize your donors.
This is tricky for hospices, particularly with memorial gifts, but it is a good way to enhance the donor base.
Donor walls, recognizing memorial donations, are popular, and this type of recognition can be placed anywhere.
For instance, the Hospice of Palm Beach County has a lovely meadow in the back of the building, near an inpatient unit, and donors can dedicate benches or bricks there, Emmett says.
"We have trees where donors can have a plaque placed next to the tree in memory of a loved one," Emmett says. "It's important to find creative ways to recognize your donors, and it's something we're focusing on right now."
One of the recent ideas for attracting new donations is to mail potential donors a special card in recognition of mothers, Emmett says.
The mailing was made in time for Mother's Day, and it was a pretty card with heart-shaped, biodegradable flowers, flattened and stuck to the card's front. The flowers could be planted to grow forget-me-nots, Emmett says.
The cards included this saying: "If I had a single flower for every time I think of you, I could walk forever in my garden," Emmett says.
The rest of the card's wording included a sentence about how mothers help us remember what's important in our lives, and as it's time to pay tribute to mothers, the hospice requests a gift in honor of a special mother in their lives.
Donors can send in a check and have a card that is similar to a Mother's Day card sent on their behalf to their mother, grandmother, sister, wife, or best friend. The letter would say that this person has contributed a gift to the hospice on their behalf, in honor of Mothers' Day.
4. Encourage legacy contributions.
"We've developed a legacy society, similar to what many hospices have," Emmett says. "We recognize not only the person who has passed away and left a planned gift, but it's our hope to recognize people in their lifetime for their commitment."
When a donor writes the hospice into his or her will, he or she automatically becomes a part of the hospice's legacy society, Emmett says.
"And we host special events for those kind of people," Emmett says. "We try to build on their commitment to our organization and make them feel special because they have made a sizable, long-term commitment to our organization."
The special event might involve a breakfast with the hospice's chief executive officer or medical director, which will include an overview of new and innovative programs at the hospice, Emmett says.
"We talk about how the donated dollars are being used," she says.
Again, it's helpful to look at the legacy donation database to identify trends that will help a hospice director determine who else would be a good planned-gift prospect, Emmett says.
"It relates to frequency, not to size of gift," Emmett says. "If a little old lady has sent in $25 every quarter since 1982, then she is very dedicated to the hospice organization and would make a good planned-gift contributor."
In this case, the hospice legacy director would visit with her and see if she's thought about leaving a gift to hospice in her will, she adds.
5. Say thank-you, often.
"You can never say 'Thank-you' too many times," Emmett says. "I've heard that the average number of thank-you's for one gift should be seven times."
While this might be difficult to do, there should be more than one thank-you for each gift, she notes.
For instance, once the hospice receives a gift, the donor will be sent an acknowledgement thank-you within 24 hours, Emmett says.
"We have two volunteers who spend an afternoon calling every single person who has made a gift donation," Emmett says. "They say, 'Hi, this is Betty, a volunteer with Hospice of Palm Beach County, and I just wanted to thank you for your support.'"
For larger gifts, the volunteer will call, and Emmett will write a follow-up note to that donor.
"The note asks if I can come and thank them in person for their gift," Emmett says. "I'll call and set up some kind of personal appointment to talk with them and thank them in person."
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