Five Ways to Improve Your Fundraising and Communications in 2015


2014 is winding down and the New Year is just around the corner.  I hope you had a successful year.

The end of the year is a good time to figure out what worked and where you can make improvements for next year.

Here are five ways you can improve your fundraising and communications in 2015.

Tell stories

Don’t bore your donors with a lot of facts and statistics.  Tell a story.  Use stories in your appeal letters, thank you letters, newsletters, annual reports, and on your website.

Take time to create stories and profiles of clients, board members, volunteers, donors, and staff members.  It’s okay to use stories more than once.

A couple of appeals I received used first-person stories, which can be very compelling.  Be sure to use the person’s own words.  In an appeal from a college-age woman who attended a theater’s program for 14-20 year olds, she writes “Donors help advance the theater’s mission…”  I doubt that’s language she would use.

Create a memorable thank you experience

Nonprofit organizations can do a better job of thanking their donors. Some thank you letters look like computer-generated receipts.

Instead of going through the motions, create a memorable thank you experience.  Make your donors feel good about donating to your organization. Give them specific examples of how their gift is helping you make a difference.

Get creative. One organization I support printed Thank You! on the outer envelope of their thank you letter.  You could also handwrite this.

Keep thanking your donors throughout the year.  Make this a priority.

Be donor-centered

So many newsletters, annual reports, and other communications sound like one big bragfest.  You don’t have to tell your donors you’re great.  They wouldn’t have donated if they didn’t find your organization worthwhile.

You need to tell them they’re great.  Again, make them feel good about being a donor.

Always put yourself in your donors’ shoes.  When thinking about what to include in your newsletter, write articles they’ll want to read, such as success stories about the people/community you serve.

Nix the swag and premiums

I receive so many mailing labels from organizations that I can wallpaper a room. Although, they do come in handy when I mail holiday cards.

You may be tempted to send swag or offer a premium if someone upgrades their gift or gives at a certain level.  Think twice about doing that.

Here’s a better idea from a community foundation.  They found an anonymous donor who will match all new donations and any increases in giving from 2013.

You also want donors to give because they care about your organization, not because they want a tote bag.

Pay attention to your data entry

I know data entry is tedious, but you need to do it well.  Donors don’t want to see their names misspelled.

Use the right titles too.  Personally, I don’t like being addressed as Mrs., Miss, or with my husband’s last name, but some donors will feel differently.   Include a title field, along with a space for the name of a second donor to ensure donors are addressed the way they want to be.

Use extra care when soliciting new donors.  I’ve received several appeals with serious data entry errors from organizations I don’t already support.  I was not impressed.

These are just a few improvements you can make in 2015. Can you think of any others?

Stay Connected Throughout the Year by Using a Communications Calendar


Donor retention continues to lag. One reason is people feel they only hear from the nonprofits they support when the organizations are asking for money.

You need to communicate with your donors throughout the year.  If you’re feeling stressed about how you’re going to pull this off, then you need a communications calendar (also known as an editorial calendar).

I like the term communications calendar because it emphasizes the importance of communicating with your donors and other supporters all year round.

This is not just a job for your marketing department. All departments need to work together.  Figure out what information you need to share and when to share it.  You want a consistent stream of information – not three emails in one day and nothing for three weeks.

As you put together your communications calendar, think about how you will use different channels and which audience(s) should receive your messages. You may only send direct mail a few times a year, but send an e-newsletter once a month and communicate by social media several times a week. You’ll often use a number of different channels when you send out a fundraising appeal or promote an event.

Start big by looking at the entire year and then break it down by months and weeks.  You’ll keep adding to your communications calendar throughout the year.

Keep all your communication audience-centered and emphasize how you are making a difference for the people you serve and in the community.

Here are some categories you can use in your communications calendar. Some items will be time sensitive and others won’t be.

Does your organization hold any events? Besides your events, are there other events in your community that would be of interest to your supporters? This is a great thing to share on social media.

Advocacy alerts are a wonderful way to engage with your supporters. Be on the lookout for any federal or state legislation that’s relevant to your organization. Encourage people to contact their legislators about an issue or a bill. Then report back to them with any updates, and thank them for getting involved.

Time of year
Is there something going on during a particular month that is pertinent to your organization? Perhaps it’s homelessness awareness month or your organization was founded in March 1985.

Thanksgiving, the holidays, and winter can be a difficult time for some people. How can you weave that into your mission?

News stories
You won’t be able to predict news stories in advance. However, if there’s a hot item in the news right now that’s relevant to the work you do, that could be something to share.

Fundraising and recruitment

Be sure to add your fundraising appeals to your communications calendar. You want to highlight these and not inundate your donors with a lot of other information at that time.

If your organization has specific times it needs to recruit volunteers, add that to your calendar, as well.

Thank your donors
Figure out different ways to let your donors know how much you appreciate them. Do this at least once a month.

Ongoing content
If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell. Share a story at least once a month. Client success stories are best. You could also profile a board member, volunteer, donor, or staff member.  Be sure to highlight what drew them to your organization.

Keep it up
As you hear about other relevant information, add it to your calendar, so you can stay connected with your supporters throughout the year.

Here is more information to help you create a communications/editorial calendar.

Take Charge of Your Communications with LightBox Collaborative’s 2015 Editorial Calendar

Editorial Calendars – Resources for You

How to Make #GivingTuesday Work for You

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

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

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

Plan carefully

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

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

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

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

Follow up with your donors

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

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

Give back to your donors

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

Make your personal year-end donations on #Giving Tuesday

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

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

Be Thankful for Your Donors

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

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

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

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

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

Thank your donors right away

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

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

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

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

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

Is this coming from a human?

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

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

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

This is the beginning a beautiful friendship

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

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

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

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

This post was in included in the November 2014 Nonprofit Blog Carnival  November Nonprofit Blog Carnival | An Attitude of Gratitude

Your Donors Are Number One


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

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

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

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

Always be donor-centered

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

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

How you can do it

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

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

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

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

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

What do your donors want?

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

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

Make Online Giving a Breeze


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

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

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

Test it out

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

Create a memorable thank you experience

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

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

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

The perils of third-party sites

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

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

Be ready

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

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

Photo by Yacine Baroudi

Go Multi-Channel for Better Year-End Success


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

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


Clean up your mailing lists

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

Make it easy to donate online

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

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

Consistency is key

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

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

Which channels do your donors use?

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


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

October 22

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

Week of October 27

Mail your appeal letter.

Week of November 3

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

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

Week of November 11

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

Week of November 17

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

Week of November 24

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

Week of December 1

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

The rest of December and beyond

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

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

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

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

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

Download Your Multi-Channel Fundraising Campaign Worksheet

Image by Daniel Iverson