Donor Lessons from Holden Caulfield

Nonprofit Management

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Look, mom, my English Literature degree is good for something! I’ve always loved The Catcher in the Rye and Holden’s rants about phonies. Here are a few Caulfield-inspired lessons about donors, straight from the pages of classic literature.

“If you do something too good, then, after a while, if you don’t watch it, you start showing off. And then you’re not as good any more.” 

So you had a great campaign, sent out a fabulous thank you letter, and commenced the tooting of your own horn for a few months. Okay, well…you have to keep coming up with good ideas. Just because you had one (or a few) highly successful campaigns full of rich content doesn’t mean you’re suddenly a fundraising Jedi Master. Keep collecting stories, pictures, and videos from donors and those whom you help, and keep coming up with ways to emotionally engage your target audience. You’ll need to change and update your campaign content from time to time in order to keep the attention of donors and really showcase how they’re (oh yes, I said they’re, not you’re) making lives better!

“You never saw so many phonies in all your life, everybody smoking their ears off and talking about the play so that everybody could hear and know how sharp they were.”

“Our organization makes a difference in the lives of so many….we’ve done amazing work this year…” Using organization-centered language sounds like a bunch of blah, blah, blah to your donors. Instead of focusing on yourself and how wonderful you are for doing such fantastic work, flip your language so it talks about your donors doing the work, because, really…they are. If you don’t have donors, you don’t make a difference. The end.

“I live in New York, and I was thinking about the lagoon in Central Park, down near Central Park South. I was wondering if it would be frozen over when I got home, and if it was, where did the ducks go? I was wondering where the ducks went when the lagoon got all icy and frozen over. I wondered if some guy came in a truck and took them away to a zoo or something. Or if they just flew away.” 

Don’t leave your donors scratching their heads after a campaign or event! Follow up with them so they know what happened to that rather large sum of money you just raised. Even better, show them – send them a thank you video featuring real people who benefited (because actors are phonies!) offering statements of appreciation and showing what the money did.

“****** money. It always ends up making you blue as hell.” 

No one likes parting with their money. Make it worth your donors’ while by ensuring they feel good about parting with their hard-earned duckets. They don’t want a “Thanks for your donation!” email and zero follow-up. They want to see pictures and videos of your organization in action! They want to read stories told by people your organization has helped! They want to feel loved and important! Send them that hand-written note signed by your Executive Director, make that “just because” phone call, even if they haven’t given in a while. People like to know they’re appreciated. We’re selfish like that.

“People are mostly hot to have a discussion when you’re not.” 

Donors don’t always want you to talk about money. Send them a friendly thank-you note or a nice update email…without including an appeal! It’s guaranteed to make them feel warm and fuzzy. Keep ‘em feeling good and they’ll make a gift when they’re ready. I recently received a delightful phone call from one of Best Friends Animal Society’s founders simply thanking me for making a difference. He did a pretty good job of boosting my ego by telling me how wonderful I am, too. Yep, I immediately made another donation.

Seems like some pretty sound advice, right? Just remember to maybe not curse as much as Holden did. I’m pretty sure donors don’t like that.


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