Create a Jargon-Free Zone


Are your appeal letters, thank you letters, and newsletter articles laced with terms like at-risk youth, underserved communities, leverage, and impactful?  If you think your donors understand you when you use jargon like this, think again.

It’s easy enough to use these terms around the office. I think people use jargon because it’s an insider language, and it makes them feel like they’re “in the know” in their professional world.

But the danger comes when jargon creeps outside of your insular community and into your donor communication.

People need to understand you to connect with you

We can get lazy and use jargon when we can’t think of anything fresh and original. The next time you write something for your organization, look it over to see if it contains words found in this link. Jargon Finder 

If it does, replace them with plain, but fresh language that your donors will understand. Garbl’s Plain English Writing Guide

Not all the words in the above links are jargon. Some are awkward or pompous words and phrases that you should also avoid.

Jargon fixes

Sometimes you need to give a little more information. For example instead of just using the term food insecurity, describe a situation where a single mother has to choose between buying groceries and paying the electric bill.

Let’s look at a few more of these problem terms and what you can say instead. You may use some of these terms internally and they might be in your mission statement, but try to limit them when you communicate with donors.

  •  At-risk means there’s a possibility something bad will happen. Instead of just saying at-risk students or youth, tell a story or give specific examples of something bad that could happen. Our tutoring program works with high school   students who are more likely to fail, be held back, and drop out of school.
  • Underserved means not receiving adequate help or services. Instead of saying we work with underserved communities, explain what types of services the residents don’t receive.  Maybe it’s healthcare, affordable housing, or decent preschool. Tell a story or give a specific example. Tammy isn’t able send her daughter Emma to a good preschool because there isn’t an affordable one nearby.
  • Impact means having an effect on someone or something.  How are you doing that, and why is it important?  Again, give a specific example. Thanks to donors like you, we’ve helped families find affordable housing so they don’t have to live in a shelter, a motel, or their car. Now they have a place to call home. And, let’s all agree never to use the word impactful.

What would Aunt Edith Think?

Imagine you’re at Thanksgiving dinner and you’re explaining what your organization does to Aunt Edith. Does she look confused and uninterested when you spew out words like underserved and at-risk?  Imagine your donors doing the same thing.

Be conversational when you write and create a jargon-free zone.

I’d love to hear examples of jargon that makes you cringe.

Image by Gavin Llewellyn

Are You on the Road to Improvement?


At the end of last year, I recommended Five Ways to Improve Your Fundraising and Communications in 2015

Now that we’re almost halfway through the year, let’s revisit this list and see how you’re doing. I’ll also share ways you can continue on this path throughout the summer and into the fall.

Tell stories

Are you telling your stories?  Summer is a good time to share a success story or update.  You can do this in your newsletter, in a postcard, by email, on social media, or a combination of these.

In addition, take time this summer to put together some stories for your year-end appeals and thank you letters.

Create a memorable thank you experience

Speaking of thank yous, did you give your donors a memorable thank you experience after your last appeal, and do you thank them regularly?

Send a special thank you message to your donors this summer. You could combine it with your success story/update (see above).

Then take a look at thank you letters from your past appeals. Are they dry as dust and open with the usual On behalf of X organization, we thank you…Or do they shine with You’re amazing or Thanks to You!  Work on sprucing up your thank you landing page and email response, too.

Keep thanking your donors throughout the year. This needs to be a priority.

Be donor-centered

Do your donor communications focus on how your donors are helping you make a difference for the people you serve, or are you bragging about how great your organization is?

Before you send your special thank you update this summer, check to make sure it’s donor-centered.  Is it focused on them and are you sharing something that will interest your donors?

Then work on making your appeal letters and thank you messages donor-centered.   Are you telling your donors how they are helping you make a difference?

Pay attention to your donor data

Has it been awhile since you’ve even looked at your donor database?  Summer is a great time to go through your database and make any additions, deletions, and corrections.  Don’t wait until a week before your next appeal is scheduled to go out.

I know this is tedious, but your donors don’t want to see their names misspelled or receive duplicate mailings.

Also, segment your donors (new donors, repeat donors, lapsed donors, event attendees etc) and start working on targeted appeal letters.

Nix the swag and premiums

We all want donors to upgrade their gifts or give at a higher level, but don’t use swag or premiums as an incentive.

Here’s a better idea from my local community foundation.  They found an anonymous donor who matched all new donations and any increases in giving from the previous year.

You also want donors to give because they care about your organization, not because they want a coffee mug.  If you can’t find a matching donor, spend some time this summer nurturing your donors (e.g. the thank you update), so they’ll be more inclined to give a larger gift.

I hope you’re on the road to improvement. I’ll continue to share more ideas throughout the summer to help you get ready for year-end.

Photo by Cristian M. Mormoloc

How You Can Print and Mail Without Breaking Your Budget


In my last post I wrote about Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on Direct Mail Some nonprofit organizations try to save money by cutting back on printing and mailing, but that could be a mistake if your donors prefer to hear from you by mail.

Printing and mailing also takes more time, which is challenging, especially if you have a small staff.

What can you do?  Here are some suggestions.

Be smart

First, figure out what you should print and mail.  I recommend mailing at least four pieces a year.  Otherwise you’ll miss reaching donors who don’t or rarely use electronic channels.

In addition, be smart about what you send and who you send it to. If your fundraising letter isn’t generating the revenue you want, you might need to improve the content. You may also be sending it to a weak audience.

Clean up your lists before your next mailing,  Check for duplicate and returned addresses.  Segment your lists, too.  For example, only send your print newsletter to donors or take out lapsed donors and send them a targeted appeal.

Here’s an extreme example of a direct mail fail. Comcast Direct Mail Fail

Increase your printing and mailing budget

Can you budget more for printing and mailing?  This is often not as much of a priority as it should be.

If you can’t increase your current budget, find additional sources of unrestricted funding to cover these costs.


With a good color printer and the right software, you can produce materials in house. Be sure they look professional.

Find a sponsor

You could get a print shop to do your invitations or annual report pro bono.  It’s good publicity for them.

You often get sponsors for an event. Have a sponsor cover the cost of the invitations, as well.

Put a donation envelope in your print newsletter

You might recoup the cost of the mailing, as well as raise additional revenue.  Here’s what fundraising expert Tom Ahern recommends for your print newsletter. The Domain Formula for donor newsletters

Less is more

Your donors are busy and won’t have time to read long pieces. Shorter is better, both to capture your donor’s attention and to save on printing and mailing costs.  Stick to four pages max.

Use discounted mailing options

You may be eligible for special nonprofit rates. Special Prices for Nonprofit Mailers You could use standard or bulk mail for items that aren’t as time sensitive, such as newsletters or annual reports. Factor in how long it will take to mail, so your summer newsletter doesn’t arrive in October.  Only use first class mail for appeal letters and thank you letters.

Recruit volunteers and other staff to help with mailings

Just make sure they do quality work and don’t slap on crooked mailing labels or write illegible thank you notes.

It’s possible to print and mail without breaking your budget.  It does take some planning and prioritizing, but it should pay off if it allows you to connect with more donors.

Photo by Chris Potter at

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on Direct Mail


You may think direct mail is a relic of the past or you don’t use it much because it’s too expensive.  But beware. Direct mail is still a viable way to communicate with your donors.

Listen to your donors

Some donors prefer to hear from you by mail. How do you know?  You ask them.

The more you know about your donors, the more effective your communication will be. It’s good to know the age range of your donors.  Most donors are over 45 and won’t think direct mail is a relic from the past. They might respond better to it. Most people do, even millennials. Direct mail: dead, or immortal?

The best way to communicate is to use a variety of channels, but make sure your donors are using them, too.  Aim to communicate by mail at least four times a year.

You should continue to mail the following:

Fundraising letters

Fundraising letters are still effective and your fundraising campaign will work better if you use a multi-channel approach.  Many people are prompted by the direct mail letter and then donate online.  That’s what I usually do.

Direct Mail or E-Mail: What’s Best for Fundraising?

Direct Mail Is Still the King of Fundraising Communication, But…

Thank you card or letter 

Even if someone donates online, they should get a thank you note in the mail (and within a few days, as well).

Think of how little postal mail we get these days, compared to email, and how much of it’s junk.  Make your donor’s day with a heartfelt, personal thank you note.

You can also send a note of gratitude at Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, or any time of the year.


I know print newsletters are expensive, but not sending one could be a mistake. Your donors are more likely to read a print newsletter.

Ideally, you should send four quarterly print newsletters a year and a monthly e-newsletter. If four is too costly, send one or two.

Think about putting a donation envelope in your print newsletter.  It’s a proven way to earn extra revenue.  If you do this, be sure to communicate in other ways in which you’re not asking for money.

If you’re really strapped, send a year-end appeal letter and a newsletter with a donation envelope in the spring.

Making Money With Donor Newsletters

Event invitations

If you hold fundraising or appreciation events, be sure to send a printed invitation.  Your higher dollar, older donors might respond better to a nice print invitation with a reply card.

Annual reports and updates

I’m not talking about one of those behemoth 20 page annual reports.  You’re better off with something shorter – a four-page report or even better, an oversized postcard.

You also don’t need to mail an annual report to all your donors, but you should share accomplishments with them.

Create different types of annual reports for different donors – four page reports for grant and corporate funders and postcards for individual donors.  You can also create an electronic version of your annual report.

Direct mail works

Even if your donors are active on email and social media, they’re flooded with messages and may not see yours.  Throw a few direct mail messages into the mix.

Don’t give up on direct mail. #fundchat recently hosted a lively discussion about direct mail. Here’s the transcript. #fundchat – Direct Mail Is Dead! Long Live Direct Mail!

In my next post, I’ll write about how you can print and mail without breaking your budget.

Photo by Abbey Hendrickson

Don’t Forget to Thank Your Donors


Have you thanked your donors recently?  If you haven’t shown gratitude since your year-end appeal, you need to do something soon. And you need to be thanking your donors more often – at least once a month.

It’s not too late to start creating an attitude of gratitude. Summer is coming (yea!) and this is a great time to connect with your donors and plan the thank you component of your year-end appeal.

Share your mid-year accomplishments

We’re almost halfway through the calendar year.  Hard to believe, isn’t it?  Share some accomplishments with your donors.  Remember to focus on how THEY are helping you make a difference.

If you don’t have a print newsletter, you could create a postcard infographic with a prominent thank you and a few accomplishments.  Keep it short and engaging. Don’t bore donors with a lot of facts and statistics.

Make it donor-centered, too.  Thanks to you, we were able to expand our tutoring program to three more high schools since January.

I recommend mailing something to your donors this summer.  They’re more likely to see a mailed piece than an email message.

Create some thank you cards

Create a thank you card that includes a photo of a person or group holding a thank you sign. 58742420_459d268c5e_z A good photo can get your message across in an instant.   You could also create cards with your organization’s logo or just buy thank you cards.

Make sure you have them ready for your next fundraising appeal, and use them throughout the year.

Don’t skimp when you thank your donors

You may be panicking because I’m suggesting you print and mail thank you cards and you don’t have much of a budget for that.  But some donors prefer print communication.  Besides, it’s always nice to get a thoughtful card in the mail.

Can you budget more for printing and mailing?  You could also find a printer to print cards pro bono.

Communicating with your donors should be a priority. You don’t want to skimp when it comes to thanking your donors. You don’t have to mail that often, but try to aim for three to four times a year.

Get ready for year-end

Fall will be here before you know it. Spend some time this summer getting ready for your year-end appeal.  Spruce up your thank you messages and thank you landing page. Work on giving your donors a thank you experience.

Do something special for your donors

Think about having an open house or maybe a BBQ for your donors.  A great time to do this would be in September or October.  It’s a nice segue to your year-end appeal.

If this is starting to stress you out, create a thank you plan that you can incorporate into your communications calendar.

I’ll be writing more over the summer about building relationships and getting ready for your year-end appeal. In the meantime, don’t forget to thank your donors.

The Next Best Thing May Already Be Here


This post is included in the May Nonprofit Blog Carnival  You Are the Future of Philanthropy

All nonprofits want to succeed and grow.  You want more donors and more people to find out about your organization.

You hear a lot about innovation and finding the next best thing to accomplish what you want.  But sometimes we need to take a step back, and realize the next best thing may already be here.

Give donors the personal touch

We have lots of different ways to communicate with donors, many of them electronic.  Electronic communication can be great because you can get a message out to many people in an instant. But technology isn’t always our friend.  Often these electronic messages don’t sound like they’re coming from a human.

Some of the best ways to communicate with donors have been around for a long, long time.  Hardly anyone writes personal letters anymore, but imagine your donors’ surprise when they receive a personal, handwritten thank you note from you.   Another great way to communicate is to give your donors a call to say thank you.

In this age of automation, we need to be more personal.

Make retention and relationship building part of your fundraising plan

Most nonprofit organizations rely on fundraising for the bulk of their revenue.  It’s not easy to raise money, especially if you spend more time focusing on finding new donors than keeping the ones you already have.

You might think you can rest easy after a big fundraising campaign, but your work has just begun.  Thank your donors right away and continue to stay in touch throughout the year with donor-centered newsletters and other updates.

If you keep churning through donors and have a high attrition rate, you need to do a better job of building relationships. It’s not hard, but you have to work at it.  This link includes a quick way for you to figure out your donor retention rate A Guide to Donor Retention, and here are a few ways to build relationships with your donors throughout the year.This is the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

Your new donors are closer than you think

Of course, you’ll need new donors.  You’ll have more success if you reach out to people who already know you. Potential donors are your newsletter subscribers, social media followers, event attendees, and volunteers.

You can cultivate these supporters by communicating regularly and showing how you are making a difference for the people you serve.  If you do it well, you should have a good chance of getting them to donate.

Unfortunately, not everyone is interested in your organization. That’s why buying lists is not the best way to fundraise.  Find people who will be drawn to your work.

It’s also not enough to find people with money.  If you want more major donors, work with your board and other donors.  Connections always help.

Again, it comes down to good old-fashioned relationship building, something most organizations need to improve. 6 Ways to Get More Donors by Building Better Relationships

So before you search for that bright shiny object or jump into the latest craze, look at what you already have. The next best thing may already be here.

Photo by John Keogh

Get Noticed in an Instant With a Visual Story


When we think of stories, we often think of a written story. But stories come in many forms and people process information in different ways.  Some people respond better to visual stimuli.  In our information packed world, a visual story can be great way to connect.

Tell a story in an instant with a photo

Your donors are busy and may not have time read a story, but you can capture their attention in an instant with a great photo. A photo of your executive director receiving an award is not very compelling. Use photos of your programs in action.

In my last post, I highlighted a couple of stories from the Pet Partners newsletter. Now while this newsletter included some good stories, it was 14 pages, including front and back cover.  I wouldn’t recommend a newsletter that long, because most donors won’t read it.

This newsletter included a section called Pet Partners Teams at Work, which consisted of short stories and photos of people with their therapy animals. Here busy donors can get a quick glance of the impact of their gift without having to read the whole newsletter, and again most people won’t.

A great new trend is postcard annual reports, which are filled with photos and a small amount of text. Postcard Annual Report

If you use social media, you need to communicate several times a week.  As your donors scroll through endless amounts of posts on Facebook or Twitter, an engaging photo can pop out and get noticed.

Use photos everywhere – appeal letters, thank you letters/cards, newsletters, annual reports, website, and social media. Create a photo bank to help you with this. It’s fine to use the same photos in different channels. It can help with your brand identity. Be sure to use high-quality pictures.  Hire a professional photographer or find one to work pro bono.

Work with your program staff to get photos. Confidentiality issues may come up and you’ll need to get permission to take pictures of kids.  It’s okay to use stock photos. Just be sure to give proper credit.

The Top 10 Ways Nonprofits Can Use Visuals

6 Tips for Better Photographs

Highlight your work with a video

Create a video to show your program in action, share an interview, give a behind the scenes look your at organization, or my favorite – thanking your donors. Make your videos short and high quality.  If you’re interviewing someone, be sure that person is good on camera.

You can use videos on your website, in an email message, on social media, and at an event.


The Unexpected Results Of Producing Video Stories

Bring statistics to life with infographics

Statistics are boring, and very few donors are going to read a lot of text.  But you may have some compelling statistics or want to highlight accomplishments in your annual report.

Why not share these in an infographic instead of the usual laundry list of statistics and accomplishments?   Here some examples. A Great Nonprofit Annual Report in a Fabulous Infographic

Brochures are becoming a relic of the past, but what if you want an informational print piece to give to potential donors or volunteers?  An oversize infographic postcard could be the way to go.

The Infographic Cheatsheet for Nonprofits

4 Steps to Making an Infographic for Your Nonprofit

Keep sharing engaging stories of all kinds with your donors.

Photo by Sam Javenrouh