Over the past 35 years I’ve written copy for and brainstormed with my dear friend Morris Dees, co-founder of The Southern Poverty Law Center. Few organizations have practiced donor-centered fundraising as well as SPLC. No detail involving a donor is seemingly too small. (Monthly donors — sustainers — not only get monthly updates but occasionally receive seasonal recipes from the SPLC staffer responsible for their care.)

So, I was delighted when the Bloomerang Blog ran this piece by Gail Meltzer, a senior consultant with CoreStrategies for Nonprofits on her experience as a long-term donor to SPLC.

Here’s Gail’s post verbatim. It’s a great checklist for everyone aspiring to put the donor front and center.

“I have given to many, many, MANY nonprofits over the years and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is the only organization in the bunch that regularly lets me know how much they appreciate my long-term involvement.

“I’ve been a steadfast donor to the SPLC since 1990. How do I know this? Because they tell me every year when they thank me for my annual gift, reminding me how long I have been connected. The only other business in my orbit that acknowledges my continuous membership is AAA (the American Automobile Association), which indicates the first year of my membership on my card.

“The SPLC is also included in my estate plans. I have let them know this, and in celebration of my generosity they show me so much love year after year that it’s inconceivable to me that I would ever break up with them.

“I first became a donor through a direct mail solicitation. It was a simple letter, nothing fancy, four pages I think. It was written so well, the mission so compelling, I joined right away and have been an enthusiastic supporter ever since. Here is their mission, as posted on their website:

The SPLC is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality. 

“Aside from how compelling their purpose is and how amazingly successful they are at what they do, what has kept me engaged? Their strategy is simple, direct, heartfelt — here is what they do to ‘keep me hooked’.

  1. When I first joined/became a member/made a donation, I got a personalized thank you within a week.
  2. Ever since, I get regular well-written updates (mostly quarterly) that tell stories of who they are helping, what they are accomplishing because of the gifts from people like me, the impact their work is having on the world, and how lives are dramatically changed.
  3. Their mission is very clear and has never wavered.
  4. I am constantly reminded that my values and their values are the same.
  5. Every year I get a birthday card.
  6. Most years I get a quick phone call thanking me for my support (and not asking for anything).
  7. Several times over the years, they have held briefings all over the country to which donors are invited and encouraged to bring a guest. The founder Morris Dees and the President (now Richard Cohen) speak. We get a behind-the-scenes look at current projects, are profusely thanked for our support, mix and mingle with other donors, and can ask questions of the SPLC leadership one-on-one after the briefings. I’ve been to two – one in Miami and one in Los Angeles. I felt incredibly honored to be there.
  8. When I checked the box on a membership renewal form indicating I have included SPLC in my estate plans, they welcomed me into their legacy society and regularly send me information just for those of us who are legacy donors.
  9. I was personally invited to the dedication of the Civil Rights Memorial at their Montgomery, AL office, which I wasn’t able to attend, but I hope to see it in the future. They have made me feel that I helped create it.
  10. I get a reminder letter every year to renew my membership, always well-written, always updating me on their projects, always acknowledging when I began giving, and always pointing out that their success is because of donors like me.
  11. When I renew my membership, I get a prompt thank you.
  12. I may get several requests for additional gifts during the year when urgent extra financial help is truly needed. Sometimes I make an additional gift, sometimes I don’t, but I am never offended by these additional asks.

“I am filled with such a sense of pride at being affiliated with the SPLC and with gratitude for the incredibly difficult and vitally important work they do. Their values are my values. How could I NOT provide them support?”

When was the last time you felt this way about a nonprofit? Do your donors feel this way about you? If not, what could you start doing differently?

Thank you Gail.  Thank you SPLC.


P.S.  As part of Bloomerang’s Content Donation Program, $100 was donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Agitator is happy to match that and send an Agitator Raise of Gail.



This article was posted in: Donor Centricity, Donor Centricity - Case Studies, Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, Fundraising philosophy/profession, Nonprofit management.
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