Why You Need to Tell Your Stories


Are you sharing stories with your donors, or are you putting them to sleep with a bunch of facts and statistics?

Donors love stories.  Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene. Here’s an example from the Pet Partners newsletter.  Pet Partners is an organization that provides therapy animals to people who need them.

“Molly is a 12 year-old Boxer who barely survived Hurricane Katrina. Abandoned and scheduled to be euthanized, she was given a chance at Boxer Aid and Rescue Coalition (BARC) in Tallahassee, Florida and at a BARC foster home in nearby Monticello.  That’s where Molly met Ed Fangmann.

The Florida retiree had lost his Boxer recently and didn’t know whether he was ready for another dog, but agreed to take a look. When he arrived, Molly was sitting all alone on the side of a fence opposite four other dogs. Ed got out of his car and called her over and Molly came running and jumped into his arms. It was love at first sight.”

If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell

Can you tell a story like that?  If you’re making a difference, you can.  Stories should show your donors how you’re making a difference for the people you serve. Here’s another example from Pet Partners, highlighting Paz, a five-year-old Australian Labradoodle who provides support to children who’ve witnessed domestic violence and/or are crime victims.

“Recently Paz provided invaluable assistance to a seven-year-old boy who had witnessed his mother’s murder. The child was the only witness and prosecutors needed the child’s statement to convict the perpetrator.

Throughout the interview, the child wrapped his arms around Paz, who was seated on a couch next to him. Whenever the child began to cry or shudder, Paz instinctively began to nudge him and attempt to lick his tears away.

As a result of Paz’s presence during the interview, the child felt secure enough to provide statements that led to the perpetrators conviction.”

Make storytelling a priority

Creating stories takes a little more work, but they will help you connect with your donors.  When putting together a story, ask

  • Why would your donor be interested in this story?
  • Why is this important?
  • Are you using clear, everyday language to to make sure your donor understands your story?
  • Who are you helping?
  • How is your donor helping you make a difference?

Client or program recipient stories are best. You’ll need to work with program staff to get these stories.  I hope that won’t be hard for you.  If you create a storytelling culture in your organization and share stories at staff meetings, it will be easier to make storytelling a priority.

Another way to find stories is to put a Share Your Story page on your website. Share-Your-Story Page | an addition to the fundraiser’s arsenal of tools 

You can also share profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors.  Many organizations profile new board members in their newsletters.  That’s okay, but instead of emphasizing their professional background, concentrate on what drew them to your organization.  Perhaps he has a brother who has autism or she benefited by having a tutor in elementary school.

Create a story bank to help you organize all your stories. You want to use stories often. Use them in your appeal letters, thank you letters, newsletters, annual reports, website, blog, and other types of social media.  You can use the same stories in different channels.

Give your stories the personal touch

Use people’s names to make your stories more personal.  I realize you might run into confidentiality issues, but you can change names to protect someone’s privacy.  The story about Paz and the child would have been even better if the organization had given the child a name. You could also do a composite story, but don’t make up anything. How to Tell Nonprofit Stories While Respecting Client Confidentiality

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Let your donors know how with their help, Darryl won’t go to bed hungry again. Your organization stays in the background.  And remember,Your Mission Statement is NOT Your Story

Keep telling your stories. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories.

Resources to help you tell your stories

The Storytelling Nonprofit

You Have 6 Nonprofit Story Types to Tell

10 Tips for Writing Your Nonprofit Story

Make Spring Relationship Building Season


This may or may not be a busy time for your organization. Some organizations do fundraising appeals or hold events in the spring. Others don’t. Either way, you should make spring relationship building season.

Of course, relationship building needs to be a year-round effort.  Donor relations is an important, but often overlooked, component of fundraising.  It’s easier and less expensive to keep your current donors.  Retention rates are getting better, but we still have a long way to go.

Put relationship building front and center this spring.

Find ways to build relationships in your spring fundraising campaign

Before you send your spring fundraising appeal, send your donors an update to let them know how they’re helping you make a difference.  This is especially important if this is not your only fundraising campaign of the year. You don’t want your donors to think the only time they hear from you is when you’re asking for money.

Be sure to segment your donors and personalize your appeal letters and thank you letters. Send welcome packets to new donors and shower your current donors with love.  Make a plan to stay in touch throughout the year.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships with your event attendees

When you hold an event, give your attendees an opportunity to sign up for your mailing list. Then call or send thank you notes afterwards.  Recruit volunteers and board members to help you with this.

Besides thanking people for attending your event, let them know how much money you raised, and share specific ways their support is helping you make a difference. Then invite these supporters to connect in other ways such as signing up to receive your newsletter or volunteering.

The same thing applies if you hold a charity run or walkathon.  These events often generate new donors. Someone might donate to your 10K because her friend is running in it.  Thank everyone who donated and invite them to be a part of your community.

Stay in touch. Event attendees can be potential individual donors if you give them a good reason to continue to support you.

Keep building relationships

Even if you aren’t planning a spring fundraising drive or event, this is a good time to continue to build relationships.  Plan to mail a thank you post card or short update.  Mail is generally better than email, because your donors are more likely to see your message, but if your budget doesn’t allow it, send something by email.

Practice your ABC’s – Always be connecting

Ideally, you should keep touch with your donors every one to two weeks.  You can do this with newsletters, updates, thank you messages, advocacy alerts, and surveys.  You’ll have a better chance of building relationships if you stay donor-centered and use channels your donors prefer.

If this sounds too stressful, use a communications calendar to help you stay connected and build relationships. Stay Connected Throughout the Year by Using a Communications Calendar

Never miss an opportunity to build relationships with your donors.

What’s Important to You – Cash, or Relationships with Donors?

Why You Need a Thank You Plan


You probably have a fundraising plan and maybe a donor relations plan, but it’s also important to have a thank you plan since you should spend just as much time thanking your donors as you do raising money.

This isn’t happening. Nonprofit organizations spend a lot of time on their fundraising campaigns, but treat thanking donors as an afterthought. According to Bloomerang, 13% of donors leave because they were never thanked. Another 18% leave because of poor communication. Why Donors Leave

We can fix this! CrGuestPost-Jay-Love-Why-Donors-Stop-Their-Supporteating a thank you plan will help you stay focused on gratitude all year round.  Here’s what you need to include in your thank you plan.

Plan to thank your donors right away

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

Try to thank your donors within 48 hours. This shouldn’t be hard to do if you plan to carve out some time to thank your donors each day you get a donation.  Get other staff or volunteers to help you.

Plan to go beyond sending a boring thank you letter

Instead of sending a generic thank you letter, mail a handwritten card or call your donors. 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.

Find board members, staff, and volunteers to make phone calls or write thank you notes. Come up with sample scripts. You may also want to conduct a short training. Make sure to get your team together well before your next fundraising campaign.

Here’s a sample phone script, which you can modify for a thank you note.

Hi, this is Susan Jones and I’m a board member at the Eastside Community Food Bank. I’m calling to thank you for your generous donation of $50. Thanks to you, we can provide a family with a week’s worth of groceries. This is great. We’re seeing more people coming in right now because of cuts to food stamp programs. We really appreciate your support.

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal and 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 amazing” or “Because of you, Jason won’t go to bed hungry tonight.”

Add a personal handwritten note to the letter, preferably something that pertains to that particular donor. For example, if the donor has given before or attended one of your recent events, mention that. Make sure all letters are hand signed.

Let your donors know how much you appreciate them and highlight what your organization is doing with their donation.

In addition, write your thank you letters at the same time you write your appeal letters.  Make sure they’re ready to go as soon as the donations come in.

Plan to keep thanking your donors all year round

Use your communications calendar to incorporate ways to thank your donors. 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 in June or September when your donors won’t be expecting it. Try to send at least one or two gratitude messages a year by mail, since your donors will be more likely to see those.
  • 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. Be sure to keep thanking your donors in your newsletter and social media updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without your donors’ support.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your website, by email, and on social media.
  • 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.

Creating a thank you plan will make it easier to keep showing appreciation to your donors all year round. If you treat them well, maybe they’ll treat you well the next time you send a fundraising appeal.

Gratitude resources

Inspiring Quotes About Gratitude

Create a Thank You Experience for Your Donors

The Power of Gratitude

Nine Clever Ways to Thank Your Donors

5 Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

Photo by Shih-Chieh Li

What Going Back to Middle School Can Teach You About Donor Communication


You may be wondering how is middle school relevant to your donor communication when most of your donors are old enough to be parents or grandparents of middle school students? And who wants to go back to those awkward years, anyway?

But keeping middle school students in mind can help you improve your donor communication.  Here’s how.

Write at a sixth to eighth grade level

Most middle schools go from sixth to eighth grade and this is the level you want to aim for when you write. You’re not dumbing down, and it doesn’t mean using abbreviations like LOL and BFF.  It means using clear, everyday language your donors will understand, and that’s being smart.

I wouldn’t rely too much on Word Grammar check, but the Flesch-Kincaid readability statistics can be helpful. Test your document’s readability 

Besides determining a grade level and reading ease, it flags passive sentences, which weaken your writing. Instead of saying 5,000 meals were served at our community dinners, say we served 5,000 meals at our community dinners.

Remember to use (not utilize) language your donors will understand. Avoid throwing out terms like underserved and at-risk without giving specific examples of what they mean.  Instead of saying we work with at-risk youth, say we work with students who are in danger of not graduating from high school.

I’m bored

Middle school students have short attention spans. So do a lot of adults. Your donors are fielding messages from a bunch of different sources. Stand out with a clear, well-written message to the right audience. How You Can Break Through the Noise

What’s in for me

Speaking of attention, we all want people to notice us.  Middle school can be an awkward time as you try to fit in and make friends. Bragging about yourself all the time won’t help.

You’re not paying attention to your donors when you send messages that are all about you. What’s in it for them?  Make your donors feel good about donating to your organization and show them how they are helping you make a difference.

Be mobile friendly

Most kids get their first mobile phone when they’re in middle school and then they can’t put it down.  Your donors are also reading messages on their mobile devices, as well as tablets and computers.  It’s a good idea to survey your donors to find out what devices they use. Chances are it’s more than one.

Besides being multi-channel, be multi-device.  Make sure your donors can easily read your content and donate on any device. How to Find Out if You’re Mobile Ready or Not

Share photos and videos

Once young teens get their first phone, they’ll start sharing photos and uploading videos.  These can be a great, quick way to connect no matter how old you are.

Share your “nonprofit selfies” of engaging photos of the people you serve, your programs in action, or say thank you.  Do the same with videos, and keep them under two minutes.

The key to good communication is a clear message that will capture your donor’s attention right away.

Photo by Jose Kevo

8 Ways to Keep Donors Engaged after a Giving Day


Guest post by Lori Finch

Giving days have become more popular over the last few years. Give Local America is coming up on Tuesday, May 5 and GivingTuesday takes place on the first Tuesday of December.

My concern with giving days is organizations tend to spend so much time on fundraising and not enough time thanking their donors and building relationships. You can change that. This guest post by Lori Finch shows you how you can keep your donors engaged after a giving day.

Give Local America is coming on Tuesday, May 5 and more than 7,000 nonprofits are participating.  A lot of effort goes into an event like that. You send email newsletters and post updates on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Board members get involved, and you alert your donors.  You print flyers and post them at local businesses and restaurants.  You spend hours in front of the monitor managing the campaign and responding to donors via email and social networks.

Don’t let that work go to waste. Keep the momentum going by engaging donors after the giving day. They’re the lifeblood of organizations. Invest in them so they continue to support you through the years.

Here are 8 ways to keep donors engaged after a giving day:

  1. Say thank you.

Thank you notes shouldn’t be another item to check off the list. Make them an experience.  Donors will talk about them with friends and family, online and off.

  1. Share results.

Statistics are great, but they don’t tell a story. Activate donors with stories about how your organization is impacting the local community. Include these stories in annual reports and other resources.

Stories can be written, but don’t forget photos, video, and audio. Choose the content form most likely to resonate with your audience and drive action.

  1. Keep in touch.

Don’t be a fair-weather friend. Stay in touch throughout the year. Build relationships through personalized newsletters and other forms of communication—the telephone and in-person chats are still valid tactics.

  1. Be social.

Keep social channels active after a giving day. Social is a great way to form relationships and ongoing engagement throughout the year, not just during or for a giving event. Share progress and other information of interest to donors.

  1. Invite people to participate.

People want to support you. You just have to be, as Gail Perry says, “cheerfully aggressive” about asking.  If you’re excited about what you’re doing, they will be too.

  1. Create community.

Develop a community. Introduce donors to each another. Give them opportunities to work together to accomplish a goal. They’re more likely to stay involved if they feel like they’re part of a family.

  1. Celebrate loyal supporters.

Celebrating loyal supporters doesn’t mean breaking the bank. Just find ways to reward behaviors you want people to repeat. Champion donors on social—other people will soon want to join them.

  1. Go old school.

Some organizations participating in Give Local America, like Infinite Hands Initiative and the East Hampton Food Pantry, use flyers and other print materials. The materials serve a two-fold purpose: in-person interactions and tangible reminders.

Donors are more likely to recall your organization if they can put a volunteer’s face to it or have a physical document in hand. In addition, sending personalized notes makes them feel like prized members of the community. They’ll be more likely to continue their support.

Looking for more tips and resources? Visit Give Local America for more information or to sign up.

About Lori Finch


Lori Finch is the Vice President of Community Giving, Kimbia and the General Manager of Give Local America. With an extensive background working with nonprofit organizations, Lori is uniquely suited in her role of managing relationships with Kimbia’s community foundation clients and partners, helping to ensure their success. Prior to Kimbia, Lori spent six years at The San Diego Foundation where she served as Director of Nonprofit Programs, developing education resources and tools for more than 250 local nonprofits. She holds an MBA from The University of Chicago, Booth School of Business, and a B.S.B.A in Finance from Georgetown University.

Nonprofit Spring Cleaning Part Two – Out With the Old, In With the New


Spring is slowly inching its way into the Boston area.  I hope it feels more like spring where you are.

Many of you may take on spring cleaning projects in your home.  Maybe you give your house a good cleaning and throw out a bunch of stuff you don’t need.

Your nonprofit organization could probably use a good spring cleaning too.  In my last post, I wrote about tackling your donor data.  Here are a few more spring cleaning projects to take on.

Assess your progress

We’re three months into 2015. Now is a good time to look at your fundraising and marketing plans to figure out what’s working, what isn’t, and if you’re on target with your goals.  If you never created these plans, then one of your first priorities is to do that.  Don’t go through the year without having any plans in place.

It may be too early to do too much of an assessment, but if something clearly isn’t working or needs to be improved, you still have time to fix it.

Update your website

Has it been awhile since you updated your website? Even with the popularity of social media, people will go to your website for information, whether they’re first-time visitors or long-time supporters.

Your website must be up-to-date and user-friendly.  Use the checklist in this post to help you create an engaging website. Does Your Website Need a Tune Up?

Dust off your appeal letters and thank you letters

Take a good look at your appeal letters, thank you letters, and other content.  Have you been using the same templates for years?  Do your letters sound like one big, boring bragfest? Freshen them up with some donor-centered content. Can Your Organization Pass the Donor-Centered Test?

Is it time to let it go

Your organization may have held an event for years, but it takes a lot of staff time and doesn’t bring in that much money.  Just like your favorite sweater that’s looking pretty ratty now, it may be time to let go of this event and find a different way to raise money. Here’s a great take on auctions. Is your live auction hurting your fundraising?

Aim to do better

If you’re not connecting with people on Twitter, it doesn’t mean you need to give up on it.  Maybe you’re not using Twitter correctly.  Perhaps you’re bombarding people with messages that are all about you instead of trying to start conversations and build relationships.

Don’t jump into the latest craze 

It’s tempting to try something new, but don’t just jump into the latest craze. Whatever happened to Ello,anyway? You’ll need to decide what makes sense for your organization.

Again, focus on what you can do better.  Your brand new shiny object can be creating donor-centered content and building relationships.

Take time this spring to make the updates and changes you need. What types of spring cleaning projects do you plan to work on?

Read on for more about spring cleaning for your nonprofit.

Time for Spring Cleanup!

Spring cleaning!! 3 questions to clean up your fundraising office

Photo by Karin Bell

Nonprofit Spring Cleaning Part One – Tackling Your Donor Data

8016192302_0e9c4b7170_zSpring is finally here, and after the winter we’ve had in Boston, it’s about time.  Spring is a time for new beginnings. It’s a time to clean up, throw stuff out, and make room for improvements.

Many of you may take on spring cleaning projects in your home. Here are a few spring cleaning projects you can do that will benefit your nonprofit organization.

Clean up your mailing lists
Did you have an influx of address changes, returned mail, and bounced emails after you sent your year-end appeal? Now is a good time to clean up and update both your direct mail and email mailing lists.

Update and improve your donor database
Your donor database is an important tool and it needs to be up-to-date and filled with accurate information about your donors.

Your database isn’t just a place to keep addresses and gift amounts.  Use it to its full potential.  Segment your donors, and record any personal information such as conversations you had with a donor and their areas of interest. 6 Quick Tips to Clean Up Your Donor Database and Keep It Humming

Don’t cut corners when it comes to data entry and managing your data. 8 Tips to Strengthen Your Database to Help Build a Strong Donor Base 

Invest in a good database, if you don’t already have one.  Here’s more information to help you find a database that’s right for you. Finding the Right Donor Database for Your Nonprofit 

Get in touch with your lapsed donors

As you go through your database, you may notice some donors who didn’t donate in 2014. Reach out to them.  Maybe they were too busy to donate at the end of the year.

Send these donors a personalized letter or email. Let them know you miss them and want them back.  Go back at least a couple of years, although at some point you may want to purge certain donors from your database. The elusive lapsed donor: devise a plan to get them back

Be ready for your next mailing

Don’t wait until right before your next mailing to clean up your donor data. Even though it’s tedious, have someone who’s familiar with your donors (your development director?) go through your mailing lists and database to see if you need to make any additions, changes, and deletions.

Be meticulous. No donor wants to see her name misspelled, be addressed as Mrs. when she prefers Ms., or receive three mailings because you have duplicate records.

Getting your mailing list and database in order is crucial if you’re planning a spring appeal or event.

Make spring relationship building season

Even if you aren’t planning a spring fundraising drive, this is a good time to continue to build relationships.  Plan to mail a thank you post card or short update.  Mail is generally better than email, because your donors are more likely to see your message, but if your budget doesn’t allow it, send something by email.  Either way you want all your donor info in tip-top shape.

Take advantage of your time between campaigns and tackle your donor data.

Photo by Justin Grimes