Giving watermelons, giving thanks

I had just been hired as the Development Director to launch an ambitious capital campaign for an organization that had no time to spare. The year: 1997.The donor base was for the most part untested. Aside from three direct mail pieces per year, the organization had minimal personal relationships with donors (unless you count the contacts made during their previous capital campaign…. in 1972).

With encouragement from my mentor Chuck Kayton (retired partner with the Illinois-based consulting firm that pioneered the concept of advancement in the 1940s widely accepted today), I conducted a solo thank-athon to introduce myself to donors and thank them for their past support. I’m not sure if it was ignorance or guts, but my very first call was to a unique donor who had made a $5,000 gift in response to a direct mail appeal. I was genuinely curious as to why someone would send in such a generous donation. Our phone call was brief but cordial. I asked him if I could bring my boss to meet him so that we might thank him personally for his generous gift and to let him know how we put his donation to work. He was agreeable, and the following week my boss and I went to meet him at the top floor of a Fortune 500 company in downtown Pittsburgh.

The donor had a $100,000 check waiting for us. My boss nearly fell to the floor, and I could not believe this was happening. We had not asked for a gift. All we did was say “thank you” and update him on the progress of our organization.

We asked the donor to share with us how he became familiar with our organization. As it turns out, his father was a past supporter, donating fresh produce regularly from his fruit stand. This donor was passionate about our mission because he remembered fondly as a little boy helping his father load watermelons to donate to our organization because that was all they had to give.

The best part about this story is that since the initial thank you call in 1997, this donor has become a dedicated volunteer and loyal contributor.

I realize this experience is unique, but you never know how one simple thank you call might impact your organization. The time you make to thank your supporters is time well spent.

Have you made any thank you contacts lately?

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