In it For the Long Haul


The Ice Bucket Challenge raised a huge amount of money for ALS, and that’s great.  But I have mixed feelings about this type of fundraising tactic.  Will these donors donate to ALS again?  Is the ALS Association doing anything to build relationships with these donors?

Think twice if you’re tempted to do something like the Ice Bucket Challenge.  Gimmicks may get people in the door, but will they stay?

Focus on the donors you already have

Raising money is hard, especially if you’re trying to find new donors. A good way to raise money is to get your current donors to donate again at a higher level.  This isn’t happening.  Donor retention rates are terrible.  One of the biggest reasons is poor communication or no communication at all.  This is something you can fix.

Make donor retention a priority.  Here are some helpful tips from Bloomerang. Your 7-Step Donor Retention Data Checklist

You won’t need to spend so much time getting new donors if you build relationships with the ones you already have.  How many donors do you have who have donated for more than two years, five years, or even ten years?  That’s significant.  I hope you’re showering them with attention and staying in touch throughout the year.

Who do you know?

Of course, you’ll need to find new donors, too.  Cultivate people you already have a relationship with such as newsletter subscribers, social media followers, event attendees, and volunteers.

Acknowledge their current relationship with you, show appreciation, and give them a reason to support you with a donation.

In addition, current donors, volunteers, board members, and staff can connect you with their community to help you find new donors.

Perhaps you have purchased or exchanged donors lists with other organizations and that was successful (or maybe not), but again you’ll have better luck with people who already know you.

Don’t let them slip away

Receiving a donation is not the end – it’s just the beginning.  Start with a great thank you letter, or even better a handwritten note or phone call.

Keep in touch with your donors at least once a month using a variety of channels – print, email, social media.  Find out which channels your donors prefer.  Don’t spend a lot of time on social media, if very few of your donors are using it.  I know print is expensive, but it’s more effective.  Think of how many pieces of mail you receive each day compared to email.  Plan to send at least three or four print updates a year.

Read on for more information on staying in touch with your donors. Don’t Let Your Donors Pack Up and Leave

In it for the long haul

Your goal should be to have long-term donors.  That won’t happen without a good donor relations plan.  As you plan your year-end fundraising, include a thank you and donor relations plan with your campaign strategy.  These are just as important, maybe even more important, and often take a back seat to fundraising.

Make sure your donors stay with you for a long time.

Ready – Set – Year-End Appeal


Ready or not, it’s September. Where did this summer go?  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. There’s a lot to do to, so here are some tips to help you get started.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal in your 2014 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.

Make 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 out 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.

Update and segment your mailing lists

Make sure your postal and email mailing lists are up-to-date.  Check for duplicate addresses and typos.  Your donors do not want to receive three letters at the same time or have their names misspelled.  Also, segment your lists by donor group. Do You Need to Clean Up and Organize Your Mailing Lists?”

Show and tell

Find a good story for your year-end appeal. You’ll want some engaging photos for your letter and donation page, too.  Quotes can also enhance your appeal.  Show and Tell Time

Accomplishments and plans for the future

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 a tutoring program for high school students. Share your success of reaching your goal of serving X number of students. Next year you would 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.

Letterhead, envelopes, and stamps – oh my

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 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 a bunch of nice ones to use.

Make donating online a breeze

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.

While you are at it, check your website for out- of- date information and broken links. Does Your Website Need a Tune Up?

You could set up a special page for your year-end appeal. The Top 10 Most Effective Donation Form Optimizations You Can Make

How does my gift help?

Create a set of giving levels and let your donors know how their gift will help people. Here’s an example.  Project Bread – Gift Information

Spread the wealth

Monthly or recurring giving is great way to get larger contributions.  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.

Create an attitude of gratitude

Unfortunately, thanking donors seems to be an afterthought for some organizations.  Don’t be one of them.

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 finding board members and volunteers to make thank you calls or write notes.  Create a Thank You Plan

Keep 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.

I’ll be sharing more information throughout the fall.  In the meantime, what are you doing to prepare for your year-end appeal?

Does Your Website Need a Tune Up?

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker
Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

When was the last time you took a good, hard look at your website?  As summer winds down, and we start getting ready for year-end fundraising, you want to make sure your website is 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 are 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?
  • Is the navigation bar easy to use?
  • Does it include a search feature?

Donation page
More people donate online now.  Get your donation page in shape for your year-end appeal.

  • 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
Now take some time to look at the rest of your web pages.

  • 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 will 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 make someone want 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, 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, assess why that’s happening. You may need to make the page more enticing or take it down.
  • Do you periodically survey your supporters to get feedback about your website?
  • Is your website mobile and tablet friendly? Use responsive design to make it easy to read on any device.  Is Your Website Optimized for Mobile Devices?
  • Is there other content you should include (or take out)?

After you’ve made any necessary 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 that it’s easy to navigate.

Remember, your goal is to have a website that’s welcoming and audience-centered for everyone from first-time visitors to long-time supporters.

Read on for more information on creating a great website.

Nonprofit Website 101

If Google were a nonprofit, what would its website look like?

The Top 10 Elements Of An Effective Nonprofit Website

Do Something Special For Your Donors and Hold an Open House



Nonprofit organizations need to find ways to thank 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 your email subscribers and your social media followers, too? 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 the spring, if you have an appeal then, or you could make it a thank you event.  Winter is tricky, unless you are fortunate to live in a part of the country 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 never-ending speeches.  Hold a gathering where your supporters can drop in after work.  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 or her story.  Your executive director or board chair should thank the attendees and share some accomplishments and plans for the future.  Again, keep it brief. You don’t want your supporters fleeing 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 want a good turnout from your board. Encourage board members to invite friends and other potential prospects.

Make everyone feel welcome

Be sure your staff and board mingle with your supporters 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 To Be Consistent In Messaging

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 attention.

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 are interested in your organization.  Keep cultivating them.  This will help ensure they’ll continue to support you.


Photo – Tech Cocktail Miami Launch Party

Show and Tell Time

Remember show and tell back when you were in elementary school?  You would bring in something special, such as a shell from a recent vacation, and share it with the class.

Nonprofit organizations have their own version of show and tell when they share accomplishments and stories.  You need these for your year-end appeal and annual report, so why not spend some time collecting them now.

Show your donors how they are helping you are making a difference

Sharing accomplishments is not a bragfest.  Too often I see a list of activities or accomplishments that are focused on the organization. 

Instead of saying we started a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in the Riverside community, say Thanks to you, we started a CSA program………  Now every week residents receive a box of fresh fruit and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale, and blueberries.  

Use clear, conversational examples. Don’t throw around terms like market-based solutions or underserved communities.  Use words your donors will understand.

Tell a good story

You want to capture your donor’s attention right away and a good way to do that is to open your fundraising appeal or annual report with an engaging story. Here’s an example. 

Gina is a single mother of four working two part-time jobs. She struggles to put food on the table, but thanks to YOU, she and her family can get fresh fruit and vegetables every week.  “I’m so excited,” said Gina.  I usually can’t afford to buy a lot of fresh vegetables.  My kids actually liked the spinach.”

Always write from the heart.  Keep statistics and facts to a minimum.

Remember to include your donors in your stories.  Focus on how they are helping you make a difference, and keep your organization in the background.

A picture is worth a 1000 words

I know is this a cliché, but it’s so true.  You can strengthen your appeal letter and annual report with engaging photos.

Besides your direct mail letter, use photos in your email appeal, donation page, and on social media.  You can use the same picture(s) throughout your campaign for consistency.

Work with program staff

You need to share information about the people or community you serve, and you’ll have to work with your program staff to find accomplishments and stories, as well as getting access to photos.

Respect your colleagues’ time and your clients’ confidentiality.  You can often find clients who are willing to share their stories, and you can always change their names if needed.

Create a story culture

Gathering accomplishments and stories will be less overwhelming if you can do it throughout the year.  Start your staff meetings with a success story or have your program staff give you regular updates, which you can use in your appeal letters, newsletters, annual report, etc.

When you communicate with donors, show them how they are helping you make a difference and tell a good story.

This post contains a number of links to help you tell your stories.

How Are You Telling Your Stories?

Here are a couple more.

Simple Ways to Raise More Money with Storytelling

Your Nonprofit Story: Blockbuster or Dud?


Do You Need to Clean Up and Organize Your Mailing Lists?

Wow, summer is flying by. It will be September before you know it. Like many nonprofit organizations, you may be doing a big year-end fundraising appeal. If so, you need to start planning for it now.

A good place to start is by cleaning up and organizing your mailing lists (direct mail and email). I know this is boring, but it’s something you need to take seriously.

Add, edit, and delete
Tackle all those address change requests or bounced email addresses that may have accumulated over the last several months.

Also, check for misspelled or incorrect names and addresses. I’m often addressed as Anne instead of Ann.

You won’t make a good impression if you get your donor’s name wrong or there’s a typo in the address. If a donor ever lets you know his or her name is incorrect, apologize and fix it right away.

Your database is a goldmine
A good database can make a big difference in your fundraising. But the best database in the world won’t matter if you haphazardly enter information and don’t keep it current.

Who does your data entry, and how well do they know your donors? You might need to have your development director, executive director, or any board members who interact with donors look over your donor lists to make sure the information is accurate. Tedious, yes, but important.

Add any personal bits of information about your donors to your database. This could include attending an event or meeting with a board member. You’ll need this when you personalize your letters (see below) and add a short handwritten note to each one.

Invest in a good database, as well as an email service provider to make this easier for you.

5 Signs Your Nonprofit Needs to Stop Using Excel and Get a Database!

Divide and conquer
Segment your mailing lists by current donors, monthly donors, first-time donors, long-term donors, lapsed donors, other supporters (e.g. people who subscribe to your email list but aren’t donors), event attendees, volunteers, etc.

You want to personalize your letters according to donor group. You’re going to have the most luck with current donors, especially if you’ve been showing gratitude and sharing accomplishments throughout the year.

10 Ways to Segment Your Donors to Improve Fundraising Effectiveness
Go multi-channel
You’ll have more success in your fundraising campaign if you can communicate with your donors through more than one channel.

When going through your lists, you may discover you have mailing addresses for some donors, but no email addresses or vice versa. Here you need to write or email your donors to get that information. They may not give it to you, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

You can also email your donors to invite them to follow you on social media and post something on social media inviting folks to sign up for your email list.

Personalization makes a difference
You want to get your donors’ names right and make sure there aren’t any typos in their addresses. Also, if you can personalize your appeal letters, you’ll have a better chance of getting a donation.

Of course, this will take time, which is why you should start thinking about it now and not at the end of October.
Photo by Luke McGuff

Welcome Your New Donors With Open Arms

Did you know that approximately 70% of first-time donors don’t make a second gift? Yikes! We can do better.

Do something special for your current first-time donors

Before your next big appeal, make a point to send your first-time donors a short thank you email, postcard, or note card in which you shower them with appreciation and give a specific example of how their support is helping you make difference.

Of course, you should continue to stay connected to all your supporters by showing gratitude and sharing accomplishments.

Create a welcome plan

Your first step after you receive a donation is to thank your donors within 48 hours, preferably with a handwritten note or phone call. Don’t send a boring, generic thank you letter. Take time to create an awesome thank you. Is it Time For an Extreme Thank You Makeover?

According to fundraising expert Roger Craver, thank you calls increase retention rates for first-time donors by 25%. Get a group of board members and other enthusiastic volunteers to call your new donors, or send them a handwritten thank you card.

*Make sure these are actually<new donors. A good database will help you avoid any snafus.* 

A week or two after the initial thank you, send out a welcome package. You can do this by mail, email, or a combination of both.

Welcome your new donors. Thank them again and show them other ways they can connect with you. Invite them to subscribe to your newsletter and join you on social media.

Your welcome package can include a warm introductory letter and a brochure or fact sheet. You could also guide people to your website for more information about your organization.

Be careful about how much information you send. Donors want to feel welcome not overwhelmed.

I don’t recommend sending unsolicited swag. You could offer your new donors a gift and they can let you know if they want to receive it, but it’s not necessary.

What donors really want from you is to know how they are helping you make a difference.

New Donor Welcome Kits | Your Next Gift Strategy

Who are your new donors?

They could be event attendees, volunteers, or newsletter subscribers. If you know, refer to that in your thank you letter. If not, send a short survey with your welcome package and ask, “How did you hear about us?”

Another question to ask is whether your donors prefer print or electronic communication. Short surveys are also a good way to connect throughout the year. The more you know about your donors the easier it will be to communicate with them.

Keep spreading the love
Keep reaching out your donors – at least once or twice a month. Show appreciation and update them on your success.

Also, think of other ways to do something special for your new donors. You could offer tours of your facility or hold an open house.

A huge factor in donor retention is a good donor relations plan that you will carry out regularly as long as your donors support you, which hopefully will be for many years.

Let’s keep working on bringing up those retention rates.

Photo by Gideon Tsang