I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the AFP New Orleans Conference last week. The conference was headlined by Kim Klein of Klein & Roth Consulting and Jen Love of Agents of Good. These two women are inspiring.

Jen Love (her name is so fitting) is one of the champions behind the #donorlove movement. If you’re not familiar with it, it is driven by the central principle that donors are the heroes in our organizations, and we need to share with them inspiring stories and thank them for their generosity. Who could disagree with that?

The problem is that principle isn’t reflected in our donor communications. Think about your last thank you letter. Did you start the letter with “On behalf of the board of directors…”? What a snooze fest! You are having a conversation with someone that chose to give your organization their hard earned money. They didn’t have to do that. They did it because they believed it would make difference. So let’s tell them about the impact of their gift.

So why do we do this? I think there are a couple of reasons. First, writing an engaging letter or any communications pieces takes time and effort. It’s too easy to see this as something that we just need to do for tax purposes or because we should. Don’t get me started on how many times donors don’t get any thank you letter!

The second reason why our donor communications don’t live up to the #donorlove principle is that we don’t see the piece as an opportunity to strengthen the affinity of the donor. Every touch point needs to be leveraged.

But those two reasons try to rationalize something that I believe is a more serious problem within our organizations – the lack of a true “culture of philanthropy” within our organizations. A “culture of philanthropy” values relational rather than transactional interactions with donors where everyone – from the board chair to executive director to program director – has a part to play in raising resources for the organization. I will take idea one step further to say that a culture of philanthropy values the donor as much as the clients. Without donors, we would not have programs and could not make the impact that we work so hard everyday to achieve.

So when you’re about to send out that boring and loveless thank you letter, think about that donor. Would they be honored by your words? Will they feel the #donorlove? If not, it’s time to rewrite that letter! Do it today.

Until next time – go and change the world!

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Sarah Cortell Vandersypen

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