Something’s Missing


As the year-end giving season approaches, you may notice more activity from nonprofits in your mailbox and email inbox.

Take notice. You can learn a lot about what do to and what not to do when you communicate with donors.  Unfortunately, I see too many instances where organizations can do better.  It seems like something’s missing.

After I recently opened a one-page communication from an organization, my reactions were:

Why are you sending me this?

I wasn’t sure of the purpose of the piece. The organization may have been trying to connect before they sent out their year-end appeal, which is great. That’s something you need to do.  They share some accomplishments, so maybe it was sort of a mini annual report.  It wasn’t obvious.

It wasn’t very personal either, and I think a short, warm introduction would have helped.  They could have used the back side if they needed more space.

I’m a donor. Make me feel special.

The only example of donor-centered language was “Your Support of X Organization Makes Our Work Possible!”

They mention the number of donors who supported their work, but there’s no explicit thank you. That’s a must.

Why is what you do important?

Many nonprofits fall short in this area.  The piece included lots of numbers, but not much detail of why what they’re sharing is important. They talk about making a difference, yet there aren’t any specific examples of how they’re doing that.

They state that “more than 50 households have signed up at a new food pantry site.” Why is that important?  What would happen if these families didn’t have access to this food pantry?  Would they go to bed hungry, or have to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill?

What does that mean? 

They describe what they do as “X organization addresses critical needs and emerging trends to create an equitable [community}.”  Huh?

Then I received a fundraising email from a different organization, which gave me an empty feeling because:

They never connected during the year.

The only time I supported this organization was when I attended one of their events last March.  They never sent any type of follow up.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine.  If you hold an event, thank your donors, let them know how their support makes a difference and stay in touch throughout the year.

It wasn’t personal.

There was no salutation, and they didn’t thank me for my past support. The appeal lists what a donation will fund, but doesn’t indicate why that’s important.

There’s too much emphasis on the end of the fiscal year.

The email opened with “It’s the end of our fiscal year, please consider donating by midnight September 30 ….” It felt more like Land’s End telling me this is my last chance to get 30% off.

I know your fiscal year is important to you, but it may not mean much to your donors.  What your donors care about is how they can help you make a difference.

As you work on your year-end appeals and other communication, ask:

  • What is the purpose of this letter/email?  Is it to ask for a donation?  Is it to share an update?  Is that clear?
  • Is this donor-centered?
  • Are you showing gratitude, and thanking donors for their past gifts?
  • Is this warm and personal/conversational?
  • Are we letting our donors know why what we do is important?

Don’t let your donors come away thinking something’s missing.

Photo by Nicholas Noyes

Give Your Donors the Royal Treatment

11715533163_0316b42569_zIn my last post, I wrote about the importance of welcoming your new donors and keeping them happy so they won’t leave after one year, as many do. But it’s equally important to show the love to your current donors.

You may think your most valuable donors are the ones who give the most money, but what about the people who have supported your organization for three, five, or even ten years?  These are your valuable donors, considering repeat donor retention rates are about 65%.

Pay attention to your retention

Donor retention often takes a backseat to finding new donors. That doesn’t make much sense since an “easier” way to raise revenue is to get your current donors to give again and give at a higher level.

This won’t happen if you ignore your donors or only communicate when you ask for money. Yes, you’ll need to find new donors, but spend more time keeping the ones you already have.

Before your next big appeal figure out your retention rate A Guide to Donor Retention, and how long each donor has supported you.

This is your first step to help you keep your current donors. Here’s what else you need to do.

Stay on your donors’ good side

I know you’re swamped trying to get your year-end appeal out, but this is not the time to scale back on your donor communication.  Continue to send your newsletter and other updates. Keep them donor-centered.

Send a special note of gratitude this fall, maybe a month or so before you send your year-end appeal.

Get personal

Personalize your appeal letters and thank you letters. Your donors have names, so don’t address them as Dear Friend.

I’m a big fan of the Whiny Donor (@thewhiny donor).  In the following post she describes how she’s been supporting her alma mater for 24 years and in turn received a thank you letter with the salutation Dear [College] Supporter.  That prompted her to stop giving. You’re bound to blow it with a donor or two…This may not happen to you, but why risk it.

Don’t send the same generic letter to everyone. You must recognize past gifts. Thank donors for their past gift in your appeal letter and a repeat gift in your thank you letter.

While on the personal theme, make sure your letters sound like they’re written by a human, not a robot.

Pour on the gratitude

Thank you phone calls and handwritten notes always trump a pre-printed letter.  I realize you may not have the resources to call or send cards to all your donors. Figure out what you can do, but if you have donors that have supported you for more than two years, that s a big deal, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Find board members, other staff, and volunteers to help.  Perhaps you can only call donors who have given for at least three years.

If you do need to send a pre-printed thank you letter, again make it warm and personal.

You’ve only just begun

Stay in touch throughout the year.  Continue to show gratitude and let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference.

Give your donors the royal treatment, so they’ll stay with you for many years.

Photo by Dennis Jarvis

Roll Out the Red Carpet for Your New Donors


Did you know that approximately 70% of first-time donors don’t make a second gift? This has to stop. We can do better a better job of keeping our donors. Here’s how.

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. Don’t Treat Thanking Your Donors as an Afterthought

Research by fundraising expert Penelope Burk states that first-time donors who receive a thank you call are more likely to donate again and give at a higher level the next year. 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 message and a brochure or fact sheet. You could also direct 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’re helping you make a difference.

New Donor Welcome Kits | Your Next Gift Strategy

How Welcoming is Your Welcome Package?

5 Ways to Wow with Welcome Packs

Who are your new donors?

They could be event attendees, volunteers,or newsletter subscribers. If you know, refer to that in your thank you note or phone call. 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 to your donors – at least once or twice a month. Show appreciation and update them on your success.

Think of other ways to do something special for your new donors, such as offering tours of your facility or holding 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.  In my next post, I’ll share some ideas to help you keep your longer-term donors.

How to Create an A+ Appeal Letter


Wow, September is already here. Can you believe how fast the summer went?

If you’re doing a year-end appeal, it’s time to start getting ready for it. One of the most important components is your letter.

You want to create a letter that captures your donors’ attention right away and convinces them to donate. Sounds simple, but it’s not. Here are some ways to ensure an A+ appeal letter.

Make a good first impression

First, you need to get your donor to open your letter. Give some thought to the outer envelope. You could include a teaser such as Learn how you can help Lynn find her own home.

You want to be both personal and professional. If hand addressing the envelopes isn’t feasible, make sure your mailing labels look clean, are error-free, and aren’t crooked. Use stamps if you can.

Create an inviting piece of mail.

Open with a story

Start your letter with a compelling story. Focus on a person or family and not your organization. Your donors want to hear about the people they’re helping.  For example, you could tell a story about Lynn and her struggle to find affordable housing.

Include a photo

Include an engaging color photo in your letter or on your pledge form. Photos can tell a story in an instant.

Here’s more information on creating stories and photos.

Why You Need to Tell Your Stories

Get Noticed in an Instant With a Visual Story

Don’t bury your ask

Ask for a donation at the beginning of the next paragraph (after the story). Also, ask your current donors if they can give a little more this year.

Phrase your ask like this – We’re so grateful for your previous gift of $50. Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75?

If you’ve been doing a good job of engaging your donors throughout the year, they shouldn’t mind if you ask for a larger gift. BTW, including the amount of your donor’s previous gift is helpful since people often don’t remember what they gave before.

Donors come first

Don’t make your letter all about your organization. Show how you’re making a difference and how much you appreciate your donor’s role in that. Make your donor feel good about supporting your nonprofit.

Share your success

Highlight a few accomplishments from the year and show how you plan to continue your good work with your donor’s help. Remember to stay donor-centered! How You Can Share Accomplishments Without Bragging

Give it the personal touch

Send different letters to people who have donated before and thank them for supporting you. You can also tailor letters to other groups such as lapsed donors, people on your mailing list who haven’t donated yet, event attendees, volunteers, and friends of board members.

Make every effort to do this, especially for donors who have given before. Kick it up a notch for your past donors, so they’ll continue to support you.

Your letter should also have a personal salutation and not be addressed to Dear Friend.

Easy peasy

Include a return envelope with amounts to check off or an envelope and a pledge form. Show what each amount will fund. Here’s an example.

In addition, include a link to a user-friendly donation page on your website. Even if donors receive a letter, they may prefer to donate online.

Offer a monthly or recurring giving option

Monthly gifts can generate more revenue. Encourage your donors to give $10 or $20 a month. If they do, you’re getting gifts over $100 each!

It must be easy to read (or scan)

Use short paragraphs and bulleted lists, along with bold or color for key words, but keep it tasteful. Make it easy to read and scan. Use a simple font and 14-point type.

It’s fine to go over a page, especially if you’re breaking up the text with a photo and short paragraphs, but I wouldn’t go over four pages. You can also add a quote or short testimonial. These can be powerful and it helps break up the narrative.

Have a conversation with a friend

Use a conversational tone and keep out jargon like at-risk youth and underserved communities. Be specific and use everyday language. Refer to your reader as you and use you a lot more than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?

Too many editors spoil the appeal

Generally, the more people you involve in writing your letter, the worse it becomes. Your best writer should craft it and then turn it over to your best editor. Whoever signs the letter (your Executive Director?) can take a quick look at it, but don’t go overboard.

Besides weakening the content, involving more people takes extra time.

All’s well that ends well

Repeat your ask at the end of the letter. Don’t forget to say please and thank you.

Add a PS

Give some thought to this. People often gravitate to the PS as they scan the letter. Here you could emphasize monthly giving or ask if their company provides matching gifts.

Get your pens out

Include a short handwritten note. Make it relevant to each donor, such as thanking her for a previous donation or letting him know it was nice to see him at a recent event.

Hand sign the letters in blue ink.

Are you ready?

Send out an A+ appeal letter that will capture your donors’ attention and bring you the donations you need. Good luck!

Need some more inspiration? Read on.

8 Reasons Why I Didn’t Respond to Your Fundraising Letter

[INFOGRAPHIC] How To Write An Annual Fundraising Appeal Letter

Photo courtesy of

How You Can Share Accomplishments Without Bragging

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This post is included in the August 2015  Nonprofit Blog Carnival: Sharing Progress and Communicating Accomplishments 

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.