How You Can Share Accomplishments Without Bragging

5312435881_19982faa7c_z (1)

We all know someone who talks too much about himself or brags about all the wonderful things she’s done.  Once this person gets going, it’s enough to make you want to flee the room.  Imagine your donors having the same reaction when all your communications sound like one big bragfest. You don’t want to be that guy

Of course, you want to share your accomplishments, and it’s possible do it without bragging. Here’s how.

Be donor-centered

You don’t need to tell your donors your organization is great. They wouldn’t have given you money if they didn’t think highly of you.

Let your donors know they’re great because they helped you make a difference for the people or community you serve. Give specific examples.  Because of donors like you, Rachel can sleep in her own bed tonight.

All your communications should be donor or audience-centered.  One way to ensure this is to use the word you more than we or us. Can Your Organization Pass the Donor-Centered Test?

Share a story

Telling a story is a great way to share accomplishments. Whether it’s in the first or third person, you can give a personal account of how you’re making a difference. Remember to focus on the people you serve and keep your organization in the background.

Why You Need to Tell Your Stories

Photos and videos featuring the people you serve is another good way to share accomplishments.

Focus on why

Instead of the usual laundry list you see in annual reports, such as we served over X number of students in our tutoring program, focus on why that’s important, too.  Students in our tutoring program are now reading at their grade level and have a better chance of graduating from high school on time.

Show don’t tell

Too many newsletters and annual reports ramble on about how an organization is number one in such and such, or there was a crisis and Y organization came in to solve it.

Go back to stories and examples.  You can’t ignore your organization all together, but instead of saying we were the first organization to come in and help the earthquake victims, say Thanks to you, residents of the earthquake-ravaged town now have access to clean drinking water and medical care.  How you made a difference is more important than being first or best.

Current donors want to see the results of their gift. Potential donors may be more interested in your reputation, but they also want to see how their donation will make a difference.

A quick checklist

Before you share accomplishments in an appeal letter, thank you letter, newsletter article, social media update, annual report, etc. Ask these questions:

Is this donor/audience-centered?

Are we focusing on the people/community we serve?

Are we showing results?

Are we saying why this important?

Are we bragging too much about ourselves?

Is Your Website in Good Shape?


As summer winds down and you start getting ready for year-end fundraising, you need to make sure your website is in good shape. This means it’s up-to-date, easy to read and navigate, welcoming, and audience-centered.

How does your website fare?  Use the checklist below to find out.

Home page

Your home page is often the first place a newcomer will visit. Make it an entryway to the rest of your website.

  • Is it free of clutter and easy to navigate and read?
  • Does it include an engaging photo and a small amount of text, such as a tagline or position statement?
  • If you’re highlighting something such as an event, is the information up-to-date, and is it the most newsworthy item you can feature?
  • Does it include a Donate Now button that’s prominent without being tacky?
  • Does it include a newsletter sign up box and social media icons?
  • Does it include your organization’s contact information or a link to a Contact Us page?
  • Is the navigation bar easy to use?
  • Does it include a search feature?

Donation page

More people donate online now.  Make sure your donation page doesn’t make someone want to tear her hair out.

  • Is it easy to use?
  • 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?
  • After someone donates, does it take the person to a thank you landing page and generate a thank you email?

The rest of your pages

Be sure to take a look at the rest of your web pages,too.

  • Are they easy to read/scan and navigate?
  • Do all your pages have a consistent look?
  • Is the content well written in a conversational style (no jargon) and free of grammatical errors and typos?
  • Are your pages audience-centered? Remember, some visitors know you well and others don’t. A person visiting your volunteer page may not know much about your organization, so you’ll need to include a compelling description of what you do.
  • Do your pages contain a clear call to action? For example, your volunteer page should entice someone to volunteer.
  • Does each page have one or two photos related to its subject matter? Going back to your volunteer page, you could include a photo of volunteers interacting with clients.
  • Is all the content up-to-date?
  • Do all your links work?
  • Do all your pages include a Donate Now button, navigation bar, social media icons, a newsletter sign up box, contact information, and a search feature, so your visitors don’t have to go back to the home page?
  • Are you using analytics to see how often people visit your pages? If you have pages that aren’t generating a lot of interest, find out why that’s happening. You may need to make the page more engaging or take it down.
  • Do you periodically survey your supporters to get feedback about your website?
  • Is your website mobile and tablet friendly?  The Essential Guide to Going Mobile for Nonprofits
  • Is there other content you should include (or take out)?

After you’ve made all your changes, have someone who isn’t as familiar with your organization (maybe a friend or family member) look at your website to see if the content is clear and it’s easy to navigate.

Your goal is to have a website that’s welcoming and audience-centered for everyone from first-time visitors to long-time donors.

Read on for more information to help you get your website in good shape.

12 Things For A Great Nonprofit Website

10 Tips to Improve Your Nonprofit Website

Trends in Great Non-Profit Website Design

7 Tips for Creating an Awesome Nonprofit Website

Show Appreciation by Holding an Open House


Are you thanking your donors all year round?  One special way to show appreciation is to hold an open house at your organization. If you can’t hold one on site, have it at a restaurant or other venue.  You may be able to find someone to donate space.

Invite other supporters, too

You could just have an event for donors, but why not invite other supporters such as event attendees, email subscribers and social media followers? This could be a great way to convert these supporters into donors. Also, encourage donors to bring a friend.

Coordinate it with your year-end appeal

Depending on your resources, you may only be able to hold one open house a year.  If you can hold more, that’s great.

A good time to have your open house is before you launch your year-end appeal, so you could hold one sometime between mid-September and early November.

Another option is spring, if you have an appeal then, or you could make it a thank you event.  Winter is tricky, unless you’re fortunate to live somewhere where it doesn’t snow.  July and August are also problematic since that’s vacation time.

Whenever you decide to hold your open house, don’t ask for money at this event.

Keep it informal

No three-course dinners and speeches that drone on.  Hold a gathering where your supporters can drop in after work, and serve something to eat and drink. You may be able to get food and beverages donated or find a sponsor.

Have a brief program.  You could show a video and/or let a client share his/her story. Your executive director or board chair should thank your guests and share some accomplishments and plans for the future.  Again, keep it brief. You don’t want anyone running out the door.

Create some photo displays and have literature available. You could also show a video on a laptop. Offer tours, if that makes sense.

Let your donors and other supporters see the heart and soul of your organization.

Get your board involved

You must have a good turnout from your board. Encourage board members to invite friends and other potential prospects.

Make everyone feel welcome

Don’t stand in the corner talking to your co-workers.  Your staff and board needs to mingle with your guests and make them feel welcome.

You may need to go over your organization’s talking points and brush up on your elevator pitches, so everyone is prepared to talk about what you do and answer questions.

How to Get Everyone in your Organization on the Same Page

Don’t let them get away

Anyone who has taken time out of his/her busy schedule to attend your open house needs to be showered with love.

Collect names and addresses of people who attended and send a thank you note right away. Don’t ask for money (that comes later).

When you do send your next appeal, include a sentence that says, “It was great to see you at our open house.”

Not all your donors will attend your open house,but will appreciate the invitation. Donors and other supporters who do come are showing you they’re interested in your organization.  Keep cultivating them.  This will help ensure they’ll continue to support you.

Your Year-End Appeal Checklist


This summer is flying by and September will be here before you know it. Fall is a busy time, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal.

Many nonprofits rely on their year-end appeal for a good portion of their revenue.  Even though your mind may be focused on going to the beach and eating ice cream, you want to start planning your year-end appeal now.  Here’s a checklist to help you get started. Of course you can use this any time you run a fundraising campaign.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal in your 2015 fundraising plan (at least I hope you did) and perhaps you need to revise that goal.  If you haven’t set a goal, determine how much money you need to raise before you start your campaign.

Do you have a plan?

Put together a plan for your appeal that includes a timeline, task list, and the different channels you will use.  Make it as detailed as possible.

When do you want to send your appeal? In the beginning of November?  Figure out what you need to get done and how long it will take. You may need to recruit extra volunteers or get your materials to a mail house.

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

Make sure your postal and email mailing lists are up-to-date.  Check for duplicate addresses and typos. Your donors don’t want to receive three letters at the same time or have their names misspelled. Also, segment your lists – current donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc.

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

Find a good story for your year-end appeal. You’ll want some engaging photos for your letter and donation page, too.  Quotes from clients will also enhance your appeal.

Why You Need to Tell Your Stories

Get Noticed in an Instant With a Visual Story

How did your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should highlight some of the year’s accomplishments and state what you plan to do next year. For example, let’s say you run an afterschool program for high school students. Share your success of reaching your goal of serving X number of students. Next year you’d like to expand and serve middle school students, as well.

Focus on the people you serve and show how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until the end of October to check your supply of letterhead and envelopes.  Make sure you have enough. Perhaps you want to create a special outer envelope.

Even though many people donate online, you want to make it easy for donors who prefer to mail a check. Include a pledge envelope or a return envelope and a preprinted form with the donor’s contact information and the amount of last year’s gift.

Stamps are more personal, so you might want get some nice ones to use.

Is it easy to donate online?

Be sure your donation page is user-friendly and consistent with your other fundraising materials.  Highlight your year-end appeal on your home page and include a prominent Donate Now button.

You could set up a special page for your year-end appeal.

The Top 10 Most Effective Donation Form Optimizations You Can Make

Set Up a Customized Donation Page

While you are at it, check your website for out-of-date information and broken links.

Does Your Website Need a Tune Up?

How does a donation help the people you serve?

Create a set of giving levels and let your donors know how their gift will help. Here’s an example.

Do you have an incentive to entice donors to give a larger gift?

Instead of premiums, see if you can find a major donor who will match any upgrades.  I know of an organization that also uses this as an incentive to get new donors.

Boost Your Fundraising Results With a Match From a Major Donor

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

Monthly or recurring giving is another way to get a larger gift. Some people might balk at donating $100 or more, but if you present it as $10 a month ($120 a year!), it sounds more feasible.

How will you thank your donors?

This is so important. Spend as much time on your thank you letter/note as you do on your appeal. You need to thank your donors as soon as you receive their gifts.

Handwritten notes and phone calls are much better than a pre-printed letter. Now is a good time to create or buy some thank you cards, as well as find board members and volunteers to make thank you calls or write notes.

Don’t Treat Thanking Your Donors as an Afterthought

How are you showing the love?

I know this is a busy time, but don’t skimp on your donor communication.  Keep engaging your donors and other supporters (who may become donors) by sharing success stories and gratitude. Go the extra mile and create a thank you video or hold an informal open house.

How are you preparing for your year-end appeal?

Image by Backdoor Survival

Connection Not Interruption


I’m a big fan of marketing guru Seth Godin. His blog is filled with pearls of wisdom. I highly recommend subscribing to it for his daily gems. One that caught my attention recently is “connection not interruption.”

When you’re communicating with donors here’s how to ensure you’re connecting and not interrupting.

Be donor-centered

Some people may think of fundraising appeals as an interruption, but you can connect with your donors in an appeal if you focus on them. Thank your donors for their past support, show them how their gift will make a difference for the people you serve, and let them know you couldn’t do what you do without them.

Connect because you want to, not because you have to

Just because you have a monthly e-newsletter, doesn’t mean you’re connecting with donors, especially if it’s filled with boring articles about how wonderful your organization is. Don’t get caught in a situation where the beginning of the month is coming up and you quickly cobble something together just to get your newsletter out. Because if you do, it will show.

Having a communication calendar to help you plan is great, but you also need content that connects. Stay Connected Throughout the Year by Using a Communications Calendar 

Be a welcome visitor

People receive so much useless information, especially by email and social media.  Even our direct mail is mostly junk mail. Share information your donors will be interested in, such as stories that show them how they’re helping you make a difference.

Donors don’t have much time to slog through a bunch of long-winded text. Share short, easy to read messages. Even better, connect in an instant with a great photo or image.

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend and don’t confuse donors with terms like food system problems.

Use inviting subject lines such as Learn how you helped Janet find her own home. Make your direct mail piece look inviting by hand addressing the envelope or putting a teaser on the envelope like the one above.

How much is too much

Most likely you aren’t communicating enough. I recommend direct mail (not just fundraising appeals) at least four times a year, monthly e-newsletters, weekly short email updates, and social media at least once a day. But that may not work for your organization.

Another one of my favorite Seth Godin quotes – “Is more always better? Sometimes, only better is better.”

If it’s impossible to send email every week, send it every other week, but make it shine.

Get donors involved

Include a short survey or poll in your e-newsletter asking donors to vote on their favorite article or choose their favorite picture for a campaign or your website. I know of an organization that asks supporters to vote on their favorite holiday card designs.

Make it easy and fun – nothing time consuming. There are lots of different ways to connect besides updates.  If you asked donors to contact their legislators, thank them for getting involved and let them know the results. Invite people to be part of a conversation on social media.

5 Super Solid Ways To Engage Your Supporters Online (PLUS 28 Affordable Tools to Help You Do It)

Are you really connecting

Don’t just send stuff – make sure you’re really connecting.  Check your email click through rates and social media stats.  If you’re not getting much of a response, find out why. Maybe the surveys aren’t such a great idea.  Maybe your donors don’t spend a lot of time on Twitter.

Figure out how you can connect with your donors, and not just interrupt.

Photo by Wes Peck

Don’t Treat Thanking Your Donors as an Afterthought


This post is included in the July Nonprofit Blog Carnival 18 End-of-Year Fundraising Tips

Summer is in full swing, but fall is just around the corner.  Many of you may be starting to work on your year-end appeal, but have you given any thought to how you will thank your donors?

Thanking your donors is just as important as your appeal.  Here’s how can give your donors a great thank you experience.

Make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Many people donate online now, and your landing page is your first chance to say thank you.  It should be personal and not have all the charm of a Home Depot receipt.

Open with Thank you, Jean! or You’re amazing!  Include an engaging photo or video and a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help the people you serve.  Put all the tax deductable information after your message or in the automatically generated thank you email.

6 Fresh Ideas for Your Nonprofit’s “Thank You” Landing Page

If you use a third-party giving site, you might be able to customize the landing page. If not, follow up with a personal thank you email message within 48 hours.

Robots don’t make good writers

Set up an automatic email to go out after someone donates online. This will let your donor know that you received her donation and it didn’t get lost in cyberspace.

Be sure it’s warm and personal.  Just because your thank you email is automatically generated, doesn’t mean it needs to sound like it was written by a robot.

You’ve only just begun

I’m a firm believer that even if someone donates online he should receive a thank you card, letter, or phone call within 48 hours.

Stand out with a handwritten note

You can make your donor’s day by sending a handwritten thank you note. Personal mail is so rare, and your card will stand out.

Now is a good time to create some thank you cards.  One idea is to use a picture of a client or group of clients holding a thank you sign. 58742420_459d268c5e_z If cost is an issue, you could get the cards donated.

Writing cards will take more time, so you’ll need to plan ahead. Craft a sample note; recruit staff, board members, volunteers, and clients to help write cards; and hold thank you writing parties immediately after you send an appeal.

Phone calls make a difference, too

You can do the same thing with thank you phone calls.  Create a sample script, recruit people to make calls, and hold thankathons after your appeal.

Create an awesome letter

If it’s impossible to write cards or make phone calls, then send an awesome letter.

This means something personal and conversational.  Leave out vague jargon such as at-risk or underserved. Recognize past gifts and upgrades, and give a specific example of how the donation will make a difference. Something like this.

Dear David,

Thanks to your generous donation of $75,we can provide a family with a week’s worth of groceries. 

Thank you for being a longtime donor!

Here are some more examples.

5 Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

How to Craft a Killer Thank You Letter

Creating More Donor-Centered Thank You Letters: One Nonprofit’s Success

Make your new donors feel welcome

Approximately 70% of first-time donors don’t give a second gift. We need to change that.

Start thinking about creating a welcome package for your new donors. A week or so after you mail a thank you note/letter, send something in the mail or by email, if money is tight.

New Donor Welcome Kits | Your Next Gift Strategy

How Welcoming is Your Welcome Package?

It’s all about relationships

Keep in touch now and throughout the fall, so you stay on your donors’ radar. Then continue to thank your donors all-year round.

Why You Need a Thank You Plan

As you you prepare for your year-end appeal, please don’t treat thanking your donors as an afterthought.

Image by Woodley Wonderworks

How to Get Everyone in your Organization on the Same Page

5099718716_2f066cebc7_zWhat would happen if you got your staff or board together and asked them to give a short description of what your organization does? Would you get 20 different answers?

Now take a look at some of your communication materials – fundraising letters, thank you letters, website etc. Are your messages consistent in all your materials?

Inconsistent messages are fairly common among nonprofits, but don’t worry, it’s something  you can fix.

Create a message platform
Putting together a set of clear, consistent messages, also known as a message platform, is a good project for you to do this summer.

Now whenever you create a fundraising letter or content for your website, you can draw material from this set of messages.

Having a consistent set of messages is essential when you have more than one person writing for your organization and as new staff or volunteers come on board. All your materials need continuity and a single voice.

Everyone in your organization – staff, board, volunteers – is a message ambassador, and needs to be involved. Although, that doesn’t mean they should be involved in every step of the process.  Your best bet is to have a small group – marketing staff and board members with marketing experience – put together the message platform.

You may want to get some initial input from staff and board. Ask everyone a few key questions, such as:

  • Who is your target audience? You may need to cater different messages to different audiences.
  • What is important to them?

As you create your positioning statement and talking points, ask:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • How do you do it?
  • Why is it important?
  • What makes your organization unique?
  • How are you making a difference for the people you serve and in the community?
  • What do you want to achieve?

Keep it simple
This may sound obvious, but your goal is to make sure your reader understands your messages. Your messages should be clear and specific.  Sometimes they’ll include a call to action. Write in a conversational style and steer clear of jargon. Create a Jargon-Free Zone  Most people respond better to a human interest story than a lot of statistics.

Your messages should not say something like – We make a difference for at-risk students. Instead, say Our volunteer tutors help students boost their reading and math skills so they’ll have a better chance of getting into college.

Use language your donors will understand
Have someone outside your organization, a friend or family member, look at your messages. Something that’s clear to you may be confusing to others.

Stay consistent with a style guide
Continuing on the theme of consistency, I strongly recommend putting together a style guide. Create a Style Guide for Your Organization

Get everyone on the same page

When you’ve finished putting together your message platform, introduce it to the rest of your organization.  Check in periodically to make sure everyone stays on the same page.

Here is some more information help to you create a message platform.

Putting nonprofit key messages to work

Getting to Aha! The Nonprofit Marketer’s Top Challenge

Photo by David Dugdale –