Home Run

Last evening Al at Fenwayat 7:45 a bearded right-handed batter stood at home plate at Boston’s fabled Fenway Park, and he swung at ten pitches. He missed twice, hit three foul balls, clubbed four hard ground balls up the middle, and clobbered a line drive to right field that undoubtedly would have fallen for a hit in an actual game. And this modest performance was the most exciting and memorable athletic moment of his life.

The batter was not Shane Victorino or Dustin Pedroia or any of the other bearded heroes who led the Red Sox to the World Series championship a couple of weeks ago. No. It was me.

And how I got the chance to demonstrate my athletic mediocrity on the holy ground of Fenway Park is a great lesson on how companies should treat their customers, and how nonprofits should treat their donors.

You see, since 2004 I have had season tickets to ten Boston Red Sox games every season. My seats are high, high, HIGH in the right-field bleachers, about 480 feet from home plate. I’ve seen some great games and some lousy games, and, given the location of my seats, at times I really haven’t seen much of anything at all beside the backs of unruly and inebriated fans in front of me.

My purchase of these inexpensive and unimpressive tickets hardly made me a critical component of this year’s Red Sox championship. But last Friday I got an email from the Red Sox that said otherwise. The subject line asked me, “Do you want to step up to the plate?” As a token of the team’s appreciation, the Red Sox were inviting me and all other season ticket holders to take ten swings at Fenway. And last night I did.

The best part about this gesture: the Red Sox didn’t have to do it. The team just won the World Series, for goodness sake. All the Sox fans in New England and beyond are thrilled. There’s no question that I and all other season ticket holders will be renewing our tickets for next year, whatever the price. The Red Sox don’t need to buy our affections with cheap gimmicks. But by this gesture the Sox management made me feel like an appreciated part of the team. They were essentially saying, “We won because of you, our loyal fans, and you deserve the thrill of batting at Fenway. Thank you!” To which, after I caught my breath and calmed my racing heart, I responded: “You’re welcome!”

The lesson for nonprofits? Show your appreciation to your donors.

When you have a great year or accomplish something remarkable, make it a reflection on the donors, not yourself. Don’t talk about your own success, but publicly recognize that the donors made that success possible. Thank the donors for allowing the organization to serve more people, to preserve more land, to provide more concerts. It is they – the donors – who should get the credit for this.

And, while you can’t exactly give them the thrill of batting at Fenway Park, you can make them feel a part of the action. If you’re a theater or a symphony, take them backstage to meet the actors and musicians, or give them a sneak preview of the new show. If you’re a land conservation group, throw them a party on the newly preserved mountainside. If you’re a school, have them meet a student whose life has been changed. Connect them. Involve them. Thank them.

Do keep in mind that it’s much less expensive to retain a current donor than to develop a new one. And happy and involved donors continue giving.

That’s the pitch for today, folks. I’d write more, but I’m still glowing from last night. After all, I’m the guy who singled to right at Fenway Park. And in my scorebook, the experience was a home run.

Copyright Alan Cantor 2013. All rights reserved.

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