I have two phones. One for my American life and one for my Canadian life. Sometimes when I am in one country, I miss a call from the other if my phone is on vibrate, is off or in the hotel.

CharityWaterCanThat is how I missed the call to thank me on my birthday.

“Hi! This is — from Charity: Water and I wanted to thank you for donating your birthday to us!” There was some more patter, another thanks and she was off. Friendly. I might have even smiled if I hadn’t been puzzled.

Don’t get me wrong. I love engaging people and I think fundraisers should do more of it. But I was pretty sure that was a while ago. I couldn’t really remember when. I recalled starting a campaign…

I logged into my Charity: Water account. Ah yes… at the time I was obsessed with Charity: Ball and how fun the event was: different, image-intensive, interactive, exciting. I loved the behind the scenes teaser, everything (this was back in 2010, it is even bigger now). It looked as if they used best practices to engage and steward donors. So in 2011, I set up a campaign for Valentine’s Day. I sent a few requests out. I was curious about how they helped supporters about with the friend-to-friend requests, the messages, sharing, etc.

I made a gift to my campaign. I received an email thanks very quickly.

Beth Ann Locke

Thanks for your donation to Beth Ann Locke’s campaign.

We’ve seen the amazing impact that water projects have on people’s lives and we can’t thank you enough for your contribution. 100% of your gift will directly fund a sustainable water project for a community in need, and you’ll receive a formal tax receipt from charity: water within four weeks.

Many companies match their employee’s donations; all you have to do is ask. To find out how you can double or triple your impact through your workplace, click here.

Want to start your own campaign and start bringing clean water to those in need? Visit www.mycharitywater.org to get started now.

Questions about mycharity: water campaigns? About our unique model in general? Check out our FAQs here:http://mycharitywater.org/p/static/faq.

–the team at charity: water

Tips? Suggestions? Need help?
Talk to us at: help@charitywater.org

I thought: No, my nonprofit can do better than that. It was NOT what I had expected:

  • “Beth Ann Locke” at the top of the email – Just merge <name> at the top and go? No. Use a salutation – anything – to move the reader into the message.
  • “Thanks for your donation to Beth Ann Locke’s campaign.” – No one (not even the computer) noticed my name was the same name or even the same email linking the donor and the campaign creator?!
  • “… a formal tax receipt in four weeks …” – What? Surely donation processing and acknowledgements are automated. Maybe setting an expectation of a month means never having to say you are sorry…
  • We, we, we – I felt a lot of the language was about them.
  • Asking if I wanted to start a campaign – No. I had just done that.

I took my lessons (there was some good stuff too, like suggesting the donor check out matching gifts). I didn’t hear too much over these nearly three years… the annual report that year, the occasional promotional video. But nothing again to thank or engage. No email saying, “Hey Beth Ann Locke! Your support was appreciated, how about doing that again this year?”

But they are very successful, so they might not need my support.

And then this message, October 2013, on my birthday. Thank goodness I didn’t actually receive the call; I might have replied, “I don’t think I did that.” Why did they call? I’m not sure. But I do know why I didn’t respond favorably:

  • To be effective, reactivating lapsed donors cannot feel random – Likely Charity: Water was wanting to get me re-engaged – a good idea. But was it right for me? Or just easier for them? Did they lump the lapsed campaigners in with the current ones?
  • Cross-channel communication – How did they contact me before? By email. So why not use that channel? I was puzzled by a missed call from the other side of the country. Although VoIP makes calls cheap, is it the way to go?
  • The method was too personal for the length of time that I had lapsed and the depth of the relationship.
  • The call seemed out of proportion to the money raised – $100.
  • My US zip code (at my brother’s) might have tipped them off – My brother’s church raises big money for Charity: Water. And Rachel Beckwith’s family attended EastLake Community Church – you may have heard her story. So maybe they thought I would be a great lapsed donor to have back in the fold.

If I had given last year, created a campaign for my birthday last year or this, this may have been a brilliant strategy. I may have felt closer to them, as if I mattered to their success and to the lives of the people who need clean water.

When you are thinking about how to engage your supporters you need to segment… don’t just use a one-size-fits-all plan. You likely aren’t doing that with your solicitations, so don’t do that with your attempts to re-engage either.

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