Before Receiving your First Donation

If fundraising falls under “other duties as assigned” in your job description, and you are overwhelmed at the prospect of getting started, here are some things to think about before receiving your first gift.

Receiving Gifts

You are on the brink of learning how to create a successful fundraising program, and when you do, the gifts will be rolling in! Are you ready to receive them?

Snail Mail Gifts

Even in the digital age, direct mail is still a great way to gain donor support. Sending an ask through the mail results in getting gifts back the same way. When they come in, who opens the mail? Who gets the mail that has checks included? When and how are checks deposited and into which account? These are important questions to ask yourself in order to be prepared for gifts. At least two people need to be involved in this process for accountability and transparency.

Industry standard is to deposit checks within 24 hours. Some of you may have read that and panicked. Don’t worry. If 24 hours is not possible for your organization, just make sure you are depositing checks at least once or twice a week. DO NOT wait until you have a stack of checks to make one convenient trip to the bank. Everything an organization does sends a message to the donor. Waiting to deposit a check tells the donor your organization is inefficient or lazy or worse, that you don’t really need their money.

If getting to the bank frequently is out of the question, you may want to consider a remote deposit solution. Remote deposit uses a scanned copy of the check to deposit the gift into your account. No more trips to the bank!

Maybe you have provided a way for a donor to send back credit card information on a reply device from a mailing. If so, make sure you run their credit card information within 24 hours of receiving it and immediately black out the number. Since you should be able to do this from the office, it is very important to stick to that 24-hour window.

Online Gifts

While direct mail is still important, online gifts are increasing year after year. In 2017, 54% of Americans preferred donating online, and nearly half of millennials, gen x’ers and baby boomers are enrolled in monthly giving programs, according to Nonprofit Source.

Visit your website through the lens of a prospective donor. Is the donate button easy to find? Does the donation form look professional and clear? Can you easily make a gift? Do you have the capability of making a monthly gift? Make a test gift to see the whole process through the donors’ eyes. If the answer to any of these questions is no, talk to your website developer or edit your contribution page to create the most user-friendly experience you can with the tools you have.

Make sure your website is set up to redirect to a thank you or confirmation page after making a gift. Donors should see immediate clarification that the transaction processed and that you are grateful to receive it.

Donor Database

Great fundraising programs are created by building relationships with your constituents. An important part of building that relationship is remembering everything they tell you and storing that information somewhere. If you have many constituents, you may need to look at purchasing donor database software. There are tons to choose from, varying widely in cost and features. Take some time to do the research and choose the right program for you both now and where you hope to be in five years. It is extremely time-consuming and cumbersome to switch systems. If you are a small organization or just getting started, a simple spreadsheet might do the trick. I have made a template for you.

Download the free donor database spreadsheet.

When I say remember everything they tell you, I mean everything. Make sure to record their names spelled properly, titles, middle initials, their address and phone number on the check, even the sweet note they included with their gift. All of that information will help build a deeper and more personal relationship with your donors and will come in handy if you ever get gifts from two people with the same name. It happens more often than you’d think!

It is impossible to remember all the specifics about so many individuals. Recording the information will serve as tricks to help you remember what they have already told you.


Snail Mail Gifts

Now that you have received the gift, deposited the check and entered the information into a donor database, it is vital to thank the donor in a timely manner. Before an ask is made and the first check comes in, write a thank you letter, so it is ready to be personalized as soon as the check comes in.

Personalization is key here! Make sure you are thanking the donor by name for the correct amount they gave and acknowledge the specifics of the gift. Was it an honorarium? Does the money go into a specific fund? Handwriting on a thank you letter goes a long way. Hand sign and include a personal note when possible.

Industry standard is to send acknowledgement letters within 48 hours of receiving the gift. Donors notice how long it takes for the thank you to arrive. Quick replies let them know that you received the gift and that your organization runs efficiently enough to make processing gifts a regular priority.

You may want to include language at the bottom of the thank you that may serve as a tax receipt if the gift is tax deductible.

Online Gifts

Chances are, your payment processor has the ability to send an automatic thank you email. Take a few minutes to customize the language and include a branded header in the email template. It won’t take long to set up but will go a long way in the professional look you will present.

If you are unable to set this up automatically, the same 48-hour rule applies here. Create an online gift thank you letter email template, and send it out as you would a regular acknowledgement.

 For those under a Parent Organization

If your organization answers up to a larger one, they might be the ones receiving and processing the gifts and giving you the money later. Have the conversation with leadership on the front end about how intake, processing, accounting, reporting and the transfer of funds will go. If they receive the gifts, they may also be acknowledging them. Ask for organization or project specific language to be included in the acknowledgement. Also make sure to create a process for receiving donor information. It is important for you to know who your donors are, so you can thank them in person when they come to visit or know who is most engaged when you are looking for volunteers.

Be sure to find out how and when the money will be transferred for your use. There is nothing worse than planning an ask for a specific, time-sensitive project, only to discover the funds may not be available in time.

Foster open communication and transparency with your parent organization before starting a fundraising program and aim for the smoothest process possible.

Train Your Team

A little preparation on the front end will go a long way to making your life easier when you receive your first gift. Make sure your team is aware of the preparations that have been made and the processes that you have put in place. Give everyone the opportunity to ask questions or make suggestions. They know their roles better than anyone and probably have tips on making the process more efficient.

Here we go!

Once everyone knows his or her role, you are officially ready to start receiving gifts! Congratulations! Let the fun part begin!

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