How to Make #GivingTuesday Work for You

GT_2014Web-Banner_250x250_BlueAlt-150x150What’s your opinion of #GIvingTuesday?  Do you think it’s a great way to raise more revenue and find new donors, or is it a complete waste of time? Maybe it’s a little of both.

In case you don’t know, #Giving Tuesday is on December 2.   It’s a global day to give back and is a nice contrast to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. WHAT IS #GIVINGTUESDAY?

I like the idea of a giving day, but it may not be worth the time and resources for smaller organizations.  You don’t want to spend too much time focusing on one day. Fundraising and donor relations are a year-round effort. An Honest Look at the Pros & Cons of #GivingTuesday

Plan carefully

You may have tried #GivingTuesday campaigns in the past and been successful, which is great.  Maybe you’re planning a campaign for the first time.

If you do launch a #Giving Tuesday campaign, be sure to give equal weight to thanking your donors, including sending welcome packets to new donors.  You don’t want this to be a one-time thing. How to Convert, Retain and Upgrade Your New #GivingTuesday Donors

You also want to measure your results to make sure it’s worth doing again.

Honestly, if you haven’t started planning anything, it’s a little late to start.  But if you really want to participate in #GivingTuesday, it’s possible to make it work for you without focusing too much energy on it.  Here’s how.

Follow up with your donors

I think #Giving Tuesday is a great opportunity to follow up with people who haven’t donated to your year-end appeal.  You should be doing regular reminders, anyway. Send an email or postcard and social media messages right before #Giving Tuesday and encourage people to donate.  You can use the #Giving Tuesday logos, etc.

How did you do?  Did this bring in more donations than your usual follow up?  Obviously, you’ll want to keep following up with anyone who didn’t donate on #GivingTuesday.

Give back to your donors

We ask a lot of our donors, especially at year-end.  Why not take the time to give back to them? Fundraising Consultant Claire Axelrad has a great idea of using #Giving Tuesday as a day to thank your donors. #GivingTuesday – Your Win or Lose Day? You’re in Control

Make your personal year-end donations on #Giving Tuesday

As I said, I like the concept of #GivingTuesday, and over the past few years I’ve starting doing all my year-end giving on that day.  It’s easier to set aside one time to do your personal year-end giving. Why not choose #Giving Tuesday?

However you decide to participate in #GivingTuesday, make sure it’s something that works for your organization.

Be Thankful for Your Donors

6342540955_625d662978_zThanksgiving is a time when we show gratitude to the special people in our lives.  Do you extend this same gratitude to your donors?  Sometimes it doesn’t seem that way.

Nonprofit organizations tend to treat thanking their donors as an afterthought.  But you need to spend just as much time thanking your donors as you do on fundraising.  Here are some ways you can create an attitude of gratitude.

Thanking donors isn’t a process; it’s an experience

First off, don’t think of thanking donors as a process.  Create an experience for your donors –  an experience that will last as long as your donor supports your organization.

Go beyond sending a boring letter that looks like a receipt.  I know you need to include the tax-deductible information, but put that at the end , after you shower your donors with love.

Thank your donors right away

Every single donor, no matter how much they’ve given or whether they donated online, gets a thank you card/ letter mailed to them or receives a phone call.

Try to thank your donors within 48 hours. Carve out some time each day you get a donation and thank your donors.  If this sounds impossible, find other staff or recruit volunteers to help you.

Kick it up a notch with a handwritten note or phone call

This will mean so much more to your donors than the usual generic letter. Calling your donors to thank them is something your board can do. It’s often a welcome surprise and can raise retention rates among first-time donors.

Get everyone involved. Find board members, staff, and volunteers to make phone calls or write thank you notes. Come up with sample phone scripts and notes. You may also want to conduct a short training.

Is this coming from a human?

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal, heartfelt letter. Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization we thank you for your donation of…. Open the letter with You’re incredible, or Thanks to you, Gina won’t have to sleep in her car anymore,  or one of these 22 Delightful Ways to Say Thank You!

I’m amazed how many thank you letters sound so stilted.  Just because it’s generated by a computer, doesn’t mean it has to sound like one.  The same goes for thank you landing pages and thank you emails.

Make it personal. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.

This is the beginning a beautiful friendship

You want to keep thanking your donors all year round.  One way to make it easier for you is to create a thank you plan, which you can incorporate into your communications calendar.

Try say thank you at least once a month. Here are some ways to do that.

  • Send cards or email messages at Thanksgiving, during the holidays, Valentine’s Day, or mix it up a little and send a note of gratitude at another time of the year when your donors  are less likely to expect it.
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude.
  • Always thank your donors in your newsletter and social media updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without  their support.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your website, by email, and on social media. A Few Great Thank You Videos
  • Hold an open house at your organization or offer tours so your donors can see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

This Thanksgiving and throughout the year, be thankful for your donors.  Treat them well so you can ensure a long-term relationship.

Your Donors Are Number One


Do you feel as if nonprofit organizations care about you as a donor?  Sometimes it seems like they don’t.

Some organizations brag too much about themselves.  I recently received an appeal letter from an organization that specializes in cancer research and treatment. In the first two paragraphs, they emphasize how they’re “a leading force in caring for adults and children battling cancer.”  That they’re a world leader in cancer research and ranked number one….

This organization does do amazing work, and if I were choosing a place to receive treatment, then this would matter much more.  But as a donor and someone who was drawn to this cause because I lost three family members to cancer in the past few years, I want I want to hear how I’m helping them make a difference.

Your organization is not number one.  Your donors are number one.

Always be donor-centered

I don’t mean to single out this particular organization because they’re not the only guilty party. Many organizations focus too much on themselves and not on their donors.

You see this often in a donor newsletter.  This is supposed to be a great way to engage with donors.  Yet many newsletters feature articles on the executive director receiving an award or a profile of a board member that focuses on her credentials and not on any personal connections she has to that cause.  Rarely is there anything thanking donors and letting them know they’re number one.

How you can do it

It’s not hard to be donor-centered, but you need to make a conscious effort to do it.

Instead of sending the same old appeal letters and thank you letters, take a good, hard look at the content.

  • Are you focused on your donors?
  • Are you showering them with gratitude?
  • Are you letting them know how THEY are helping you make a difference?
  • Are you letting them know they’re number one?

Your newsletters and updates also need to show your donors how they are helping you make a difference.  Share success stories such as – Thanks to donors like you, Steven doesn’t have to live in a shelter anymore and has a place to call home.

Always write to the donor and refer to them as you.  Make sure all your donor communications use the word you much more than we.  How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?

What do your donors want?

Send your donors a short survey to find out what types of things they want to hear from you. Chances are it’s success stories and other ways they can continue to help you make a difference.

Donors also want to feel good about supporting your organization. Let them know they’re number one.

Make Online Giving a Breeze


Many of you are busy with your year-end fundraising campaign. Even if you mail your appeal letter, a bunch of people will donate online. If you’re sending out reminders by email and social media, you’ll also include a link to the donation page on your website.

Is your donation page ready for an onslaught of online donors? Find out by asking yourself these questions.

    • Is it easy to use and navigate?
    • Does it include a strong call to action with the same messages as all your other fundraising appeals?
    • Does it show how the donation will be used and what different amounts will fund?
    • Does it include an option for recurring gifts?
    • Does it have an engaging photo?
    • Does it allow for multiple donors, for example spouses with different last names?
    • Does it include an option for a gift in memory or in honor of someone?
    • Are you capturing mailing addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers?
    • Does it include a check off box to join your mailing list?
    • Is it also easy to give on a mobile device?
    • After someone donates, does it take the person to a thank you landing page and generate a thank you email?
    • Does your homepage include a blurb about your appeal and a prominent Donate button, in case a donor Googles your organization instead of going directly to your donation page.
    • Is the rest of your website up-to-date and engaging? Donors might visit other pages to find out more about your programs or how to volunteer. How does your website fare? Use the checklist in this post to find out. Does Your Website Need a Tune Up?

Test it out

Put yourself in your donors’ shoes by donating to your organization online. Try it on a computer, tablet, and mobile phone. Was it a breeze or did you want to tear your hair out?

Create a memorable thank you experience

If you’ve ever donated online, you know the thank you experience is often pretty blah. But it doesn’t have to be.

Start with an engaging landing page that says You’re amazing! or Thank you Jill! Include a picture and short, friendly message. An online donation should also generate an equally engaging thank you email.

You’re not off the hook yet. You still need to thank your donors by mail or with a phone call.

The perils of third-party sites

You may use a third-party site, such as PayPal or Network for Good. Here you don’t have as much, if any, control over how the donation page and thank you experience will look and work. Talk about blah!  A receipt is not a thank you. 

Too make up for this, you’ll want to send a super-incredible thank you email, followed by something just as incredible by mail or phone.

Be ready

Be sure your website is ready for your year-end fundraising campaign. It should be a breeze for your donors to donate online.

Here is more information on creating a great donation page. 10 Tips to Improve Your Online Donations Page

Photo by Yacine Baroudi

Go Multi-Channel for Better Year-End Success


Most of you are about ready to launch your year-end appeal.  We have many ways to reach out to our donors – by mail, email, social media, phone calls. But your fundraising campaign will be more effective if you use a combination of these.

Some donors may respond to your direct mail piece, but donate online. Others will see your email message, but prefer to send a check. Some donors will respond to the first appeal, while others need a few reminders. This is why you need to go multi-channel.


Clean up your mailing lists

If you haven’t already done so, clean up and organize your mailing lists.

Make it easy to donate online

It’s crucial to have a donation page that’s engaging and easy to use. Test all links in email messages and social media posts. The last thing you want is a donor contacting you about a broken link or having to hunt around on your website for the donation page.

Right before your appeal goes out, include a blurb on your homepage that your appeal is underway. Make sure your donate button is in a prominent place.

Consistency is key

Your messages need to be consistent across channels. Use the same story and call to action in direct mail, email, and on your website.

Everything you send out needs to look like it’s coming from the same organization.

Which channels do your donors use?

Don’t spend a lot of time on channels your donors aren’t using. Figure out in advance where you want to focus your efforts.


Come up with a schedule of when the appeals will go out. I’ve created a sample schedule below. Of course, you can adjust the timeframe as needed.

October 22

Give your supporters a heads up by email and social media. Let them know that your year-end appeal is underway and they should receive a letter from you soon. Encourage them to donate online right now. This means your donation page needs to be in ship shape.

Week of October 27

Mail your appeal letter.

Week of November 3

Start sending out follow up reminders via email and social media. If possible, don’t send reminders to people who have already donated. Otherwise, be sure to thank your recent donors. You can even phrase your reminders as more of a thank you or an update.

Thanks so much to all of you who have donated to our year-end appeal. We’re almost halfway to our goal. If you haven’t donated yet, please help us out today by visiting our website (include a link to your donation page) or sending us a check (provide address). 

Week of November 11

Send out another reminder.  Your donors are busy and may need a gentle prompt.  Keep it positive. Don’t make your donors feel bad about not donating.

Week of November 17

Start making reminder calls. If time is an issue, you could just call people who have donated before. That’s probably most effective.

Week of November 24

Send a Happy Thanksgiving message along with a friendly reminder. Share a success story in your appeal.

Week of December 1

December 2 is #GivingTuesday so you could tie that into your reminder.

The rest of December and beyond

Keep sending reminders throughout December. It’s tricky because you want to get your message across without being annoying.  Continue to send your newsletter and other updates. You don’t want the only messages your donors receive to be fundraising appeals.

Network for Good recommends sending a fundraising email on December 27, 29, and 31. This is especially relevant if your fiscal year ends on December 31 or your donor wants to give before the end of the calendar year.

Look to see who hasn’t contributed yet. Concentrate on people who are most likely to donate, such as past donors.   Also, keep track of how many donors come through each channel.

We live in a multi-channel world. Take time to plan your strategy to ensure a successful year-end campaign.

Here’s a great resource to help you with your multi-channel fundraising.

Download Your Multi-Channel Fundraising Campaign Worksheet

Image by Daniel Iverson

Is Your Annual Report Brilliant, or Boring?


Annual reports get a bad rap, and sometimes deservedly so.   They’re often these massive, boring booklets filled with mind-numbing text and statistics.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

Remember, your annual report is for your donors.  As you put together your report, think of what your donors will want to read.

It’s possible to create an annual report that will dazzle your donors and not put them to sleep.  Here’s how.

Create a gratitude report

You may want to stop using the term annual report and start calling it a gratitude report instead.  Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference.   Here’s an example.  It’s on the longer side, but it will show you how you can stay donor-centered. Interval House – Gratitude Report

How are you making a difference?

Donors want to see results. They don’t want a bragfest.   Share specific accomplishments that show how you are making difference.   Phrase it like – Thanks to you, 85% of the students in our tutoring program are reading at their grade level or above.

Tell a story

Donors love to hear about the people they’re helping.  You can tell a story with words, a photo, or video. Share a success story. For example, Lisa, a third grader at Northwoods Elementary School, used to get butterflies in her stomach if she had to read out loud in class.  The words didn’t come easy.  Now after weekly tutoring sessions with Jen, one of our volunteer tutors, her reading is much better and she doesn’t dread reading time.

Make it visual

Your donors are busy and don’t have a lot time to read your report.  Engage them with some great photos. Photos can tell a story in an instant. Choose photos of people participating in an activity, such as Jen helping Lisa with her reading.

Use colorful charts or graphs to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand.  Sprinkle in quotes and short testimonials to help break up any text.

Be sure your report is readable.  Use at least a 12-point font and black type on a white background.

Write as if you’re having conversation with friend

Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you.  Use everyday language such as – With your help, we found affordable housing for over 100 homeless families. Now they no longer have to live in a shelter, motel, or their cars, and have a place to call home.

Write in the second person and use a warm, friendly tone.  Of course, use you much more than we.

Can you leave it out?

Annual reports often include an introduction from the executive director or board chair. I find these can drone on and don’t entice you to read more. If you do include an introduction, make it brief, friendly, jargon-free, and filled with gratitude towards your donors for their support in helping you reach your goals.

Many annual reports also contain a donor list, which have pros and cons. Some donors want public recognition, but these lists take up space and most people aren’t going to read them.

You’ll have to decide if it makes sense to include one in print. You could include a list of donors at a certain level in your annual report and all your donors on your website. Whatever you decide, be sure to thank all your donors in this section and double and triple check that their names are spelled correctly.

Your donors are not the same

You may want to consider different types of annual reports for different donor groups.  You could send an oversized postcard with photos and infographics or a two-page report to most of your donors.

Your grant and corporate funders might want more detail, but not 20 pages. Aim for no more than four pages.

This Annual Reports Wiki includes some great examples including postcards and videos.

Annual reports can be time consuming to produce.  Create one your donors will take time to read.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

3541343149_906015c052Have you ever received an appeal letter from an organization you’ve donated to for years and they make no mention of your previous donations?  Or maybe you get a letter that thanks you for your past support and you’ve never donated to this organization. Grrrr.

This is why is you need to know your audience and personalize your letters as much as possible. Don’t worry, you can use some of the same content in all your letters.

Spend  some time going through your records to get information about your donors and segment them into different groups.  A good database will help with that.

Here are some ideas for segmenting your lists and ways to personalize letters for different donor groups.

Current donors

You’ll have the most luck with your current donors.  Ideally, your donors will donate again and give a higher amount. This may not happen if you haven’t been keeping in touch throughout the year.

Let these donors know how much you appreciated their previous gift and include the amount of that gift.  Donors don’t always remember what they gave last time and you want to help them out so they don’t have to spend time searching their records.

First-time donors

The biggest attrition comes between the first and second gift.  Show these donors a little extra love right now.  You don’t want to lose them. A few weeks before you mail your year-end appeal, send them a special thank you email or postcard with a specific example of how they helped you make a difference

Lapsed donors

Don’t write off these donors yet, especially if they’ve donated within the last few years.  Let them know you miss them and want them back.

At some point, you’ll want to go through your list of lapsed donors to see which ones you should keep following up with. 4 Tips: When to Remove a Lapsed Donor from Your Database

Event attendees

If someone has attended one of your fundraising or cultivation events, mention how great it was to see her at that event.

Something else to remember– After you hold an event, be sure to send thank you notes to all attendees.


Volunteers are another potential donor group.  After all, they should be passionate about your work.  You’ll have better luck if they feel appreciated.

Some volunteers may not have the means to give or feel their time is their gift, but they might be able to get their friends or parents to donate.

Other supporters

You can send appeals to newsletter subscribers and social media followers who are not donors.  Thank them for their interest in your mission or find some other way to connect.

You may have traded or bought mailing lists, which won’t bring you as much success as you’ll have with current donors and supporters. Try to find a connection between their interests and your organization, and make a good impression.

I recently received appeal letters from two organizations I’ve never supported.  One organization sent two letters – one that was addressed correctly and one that wasn’t.  In the letter from the other organization, the salutation read Dear Ms. A.  I was not impressed.

Handwritten notes

You’ll want to include a short handwritten note on all your appeal letters.  Use some of the same personal information you’ve gathered.  If it’s impossible for your organization to create different letters, then tailor these handwritten notes to each donor.

Make it personal

Don’t send out a generic appeal letter.  You need different strokes for different folks.

Here is some more information to help you make your donor communications more personal and other ways you can segment your lists.

Automation Kills

10 Ways to Segment Your Donors to Improve Fundraising Effectiveness

How to Segment Your Donors & Personalize Communication to get Higher Response Rates

Photo by annilove via Flickr