Crumbs in the Forest
In the ancient fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel tried to keep track of their whereabouts by dropping bread crumbs along the forest path — only to find that birds came along and absconded with their markers.
Later, they tried it again, but this time with stones — and found their way back just fine.
In our ministries, we need to keep track of how we got to where we are.
If we value our relationships with our donors, we need a system for tracking their responses to our requests for help.
This kind of information — the first cousin to testing — is superb for guiding our future interaction with them.
Tracking is a natural dynamic of relationship. If you recognize that only half the usual number of donors gave gifts in response to that most recent appeal (the one you had such high hopes for), you can set that idea aside as you plan for the future.
Careful tracking of your donors’ responses to various appeals is an investment that pays increasing dividends.
The more information you gather over time, the more valuable that information becomes.
Software today can track an amazing volume of detail — not only appeal by appeal, but donor by donor. Each donor’s individual record can contain a history of responses — with each item “sortable.” This means you can isolate all the donors who came to you first from radio and gave, say, over $25 to, say, more than three appeals or emails over the course of, say, the past 12 months.
- Let’s say your ministry helps people recover after natural disasters, but also operates a Christian school, as well as doing a lot of other great things. You can isolate all the donors who have responded to your disaster relief appeals but not to your scholarship appeals. The power to sort with such flexibility allows you to speak to donors more and more specifically.
- To relief-oriented donors, you can send a version of your next scholarship letter which says, in essence, “I know you have a heart for disaster relief, but today I need you to help someone who’s been stuck in an everyday disaster ever since kindergarten … a young person trapped in poverty, who can’t afford to come to our school.”
Better yet, test such an approach on a small percentage of your file. You may find that it’s better stewardship of your financial resources not to ask your relief-oriented donors to support your scholarship appeals.
This is the equivalent of how your pastor and staff deal with the people in your local church. They ask parishioners to volunteer for various jobs — teaching children, organizing social events, whatever — according to their own individual gifts, preferences, interests, and experience.
By the same token, if I ask a donor to get involved in a project that she has already rejected repeatedly, I’m signaling that I don’t really know her or appreciate her as an individual. Tracking her responses enables me to grow more intimate with her as a person, as a member of our ministry team.
- “Last year you did me the favor of giving $35 to our summer teen workshop campaign, and I loved seeing what God did through your generosity and the generosity of so many others. Would you be willing to give $35 to our summer teen program again this year — or maybe even $40?”
Compare the power of this request — the feeling of relationship that you get as you read it — with its inferior generic twin:
- “Every summer we ask our friends to help us produce teen workshops. I loved seeing what God did through the generosity of so many of our friends last year. Would you be willing to give $35 to our summer teen program — or maybe even $40?”
Not only is the generic request much duller than the personalized one; I also run a risk in asking for a specific dollar amount, because $35 might be far more — or far less — than the donor has demonstrated a capability of giving.
Research shows that asking for a specific dollar amount generates a higher level of response than simply asking for “a generous gift” (people want to be told specifically what they’re being asked to do), but how much should we ask for? Asking for a specific dollar amount is risky without adequate tracking.
If our goal is to connect with our donors where they really are — spiritually, emotionally, financially — we have to capture and continually update as much information about them as possible … in the same way that we, quite naturally, capture and continually update personal information about our own friends and relatives.
This means investing in tech. You don’t have to become a software wizard; these systems and companies are often well designed to assist you and your team.
Whether you buy the hardware and software and operate it yourself, or contract for these services from specialists, we strongly recommend that ministries invest in both an audited financial statement, which shows where the money is going — and regular donor management reports, which show where the money is coming from, and why.
Both tools are important to achieving the best possible stewardship of the financial resources God has entrusted to you.