One of my first mentors and bosses, Bill, used to complain: “They’ll step over a dollar to pick up a dime.” He’d often mutter that going out of my office on his way to play golf in the middle of the afternoon. These under his breath outbursts were usually brought on by one of the “beady-eyed ferret-faced accounting guys” (his words not mine) trying to save money rather than make money.
I thought about Bill last week as I opened a receipt from a wonderful nonprofit we support. The receipt was for a gift we’d given just after Christmas. I thought about Bill because I was muttering to myself “They stepped over a dollar to pick up a dime” as I checked the date of the gift (12/28) and the day the envelope arrived: February 20.
Let’s count: at least 36 working days. And there were a couple of postal holidays in that span of time.
Think about it another way: that’s a nice round 9 weeks. 9 weeks!
2 months in the mind of a donor.
Of course, I was inconsiderate enough to give a gift at the end of the year. It’s such a busy time.
Of course, January is packed with two postal holidays.
But the most glaring reason the receipt was so late was that they had mailed it “Bulk Presort.” Someone, Bill would have characterized them as “ferret-eyed” (in his world an insult to all smart ferrets), decided they could save money by sending receipts in what is practically the slowest possible method to send a letter in the United States.
Let’s add up their savings: a real-live First Class stamp (the most expensive way to mail that receipt) is at the moment 49 cents. The ballpark cost of nonprofit bulk mail is around 18 cents. Wow. That’s a savings of 31 cents! Show it as a percentage, and it’s gigantic!
How could it possibly be worth saving money on a receipt and thank you to a donor when the result is letting 2 months pass before you responded?
Why would anyone choose to damage their hard-won relationship with a donor by ignoring a gift for 9 weeks? I know they really weren’t ignoring the gift. Gift processing got backed up. They’re saving a ton on postage by only sending bulk presort. Good stewardship! Bah.
You aren’t really saving money.
You’re hurting your relationship with your donor. Which is going to be costly in the long run.
When a donor has loved what you’re doing enough to give a gift, it can’t be wise to then imagine you’re saving money by waiting so long to acknowledge and receipt their gift.
When a donor gives you a gift, you have a relatively short window of time before their attention drifts. You know this. Most donors aren’t sitting at home waiting for your next communication. They get distracted.
When you let more than a week or so pass without feeding back to them the beautiful thing they did by giving a gift you are “stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime.”
Please believe me I am all about ROI and watching expenses. I’m not even against ferrets or people who do accounting stuff (I’m grateful for them). And I also want to say; I know no one ever intentionally sets out to damage a relationship with a donor. But it is easy to focus to so intently on expenses that you miss the net effect (literally).
A CEO told me recently, “If you’re delivering these kinds of ROIs on your impacts, I want to do more of them not less.” He wisely wants to spend money to make money. That’s thinking about the dollar not the dime. That’s real stewardship.
It’s hard to do, but it’s the right thing to do.
Do yourself a favor, think carefully about how some of your “savings” might be costing you with donors.
OK, enough with the rant. I’d love to know your struggles with expenses, ROIs, and income. Oh and if you have any good quotes from your mentors, I’d love to hear them, too. As always, I’m grateful that you showed up.