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Penelope Burk is the fundraising market’s foremost authority on fundraising research, training and strategic planning. Burk’s research into donor relationships is the considered the most important innovation in fundraising today.  Her book is Donor Centered Fundraising.  Although, not exactly a catchy title, Burk’s research into donors is perfect advise for anyone in professional services and business.  Last week, before I went on vacation, I was invited as  a Board member at Harvest Food and Outreach Center to attend Burk’s seminar.

Burk’s 6 years of research on donor communications found that direct communication with the donor is the most important activity for any fundraising professional.  These are some of the points Penelope made in her seminar:

  1. All communication must be personal, prompt and only occasionally to ask for funds.
  2. A prompt response for large donors is best within 48 hours after donation. Preferably a personal call.  No longer than 45 seconds.
  3. Handwritten letters are almost always the best option if you know the donor personally.
  4. Details… details… details….nothing irritates a donor more than failure to get the name right. Some charities have sent thank you notes to husband when it was the wife that donated.
  5. Letters must capture the reader in the first line – 15 words. Use strong, relevant headlines.
  6. If not handwritten, make the donor feel like it was written for them only.
  7. Keep letters to 1-2 paragraphs.
  8. Keep coming up with original letters that allows your personality to shine through. Be interesting and have interesting hobbies to talk to the donor about.
  9. Use “beautiful” paper not the standard stuff from the laser printer.
  10. Explain exactly what the funds were or will be used for.
  11. Include contact information of who to contact and how.
  12. Future of all donor communications is intelligent phones: learn to communicate in 15 words or less!  Enough to maintain their attention

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