Make an Investment in Your Donors


I know many nonprofits have limited resources.  These can include budget, time, and staff.  I also know it’s hard when you feel you’re barely scraping by.  But there are some areas where you can’t skimp.  Think of it as making an investment in your donors.

Invest in a good database and email service provider

The best ones aren’t free.  Fundraising consultant Pamela Grow gives an example of being told to weed out donor data because the database the organization had was only free if it held less than 500 donor records.

This is crazy.  A better database and email service provider can help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by amount and politely ask them to give a little more in your next appeal – $35 or $50 instead of $25.

A better database can help you with retention. You can personalize your letters and email messages.  No more Dear Friend.  You can welcome new donors and thank donors for their previous support. You can record any personal information, such as conversations you had with a donor and their areas of interest.

Don’t cut corners when it comes to your donor data. Here’s more information to help you find a database and email service provider that’s right for you.

Finding the Right Donor Database for Your Nonprofit

Compare Non-Profit Software

The 4 Best Email Marketing Software for Nonprofits

MailChimp vs Constant Contact: Which Email Marketing Software Reigns Supreme for Small Businesses?

Invest in direct mail

Direct mail is an effective and more personal way to communicate with your donors. Every day we’re barraged with email and social media posts, but receive just a few pieces of postal mail. Your donors will be more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail.

You don’t have to mail that often but aim for at least three or four times a year.  I know it can be expensive, so be smart about what you send. Two to four-page newsletters and annual reports are fine. Lengthy communication will cost more and your donors are less likely to read it.  Remember to also make everything  you send donor-centered.

Plan ahead.  If you have a small staff, you may need to start working on a special Valentine’s mailing right after New Year’s.

Cleaning up your mailing lists will help you avoid costly duplicate mailings. Look into using discounted mailing options, too. Special Prices for Nonprofit Mailers

Invest in thanking your donors

This is so important! Nonprofit organizations tend to do a poor job of thanking their donors.

Ideally, your donors should get a handwritten thank you card or a phone call.  Even though these take more time, it’s time well spent. At many of the small nonprofits I’ve worked at, it was all hands on deck to get out our fundraising appeals.  Staff and volunteers would stuff envelopes and write handwritten notes on the letters.

Do the same when you thank your donors.  Get your board involved in making phone calls or writing cards.  Recruit volunteers to help, too.

Take time each day you get a donation to make phone calls, write cards, or send letters.  Don’t let board members put off making calls or let a stack of letters sit on your ED’s desk.

Create a thank you plan to help you and don’t treat thanking your donors as an afterthought.

Make it work

If you can’t increase your budget, find additional sources of unrestricted funding to cover these costs. You may also be able to find a sponsor or get a print shop to print your thank you cards or annual report pro bono.

Do something. You must make an investment in your donors.

Photo by ota_photos   



Let’s Start a Nonprofit Plain Writing Movement

Did you know there’s a Center for Plain Language?  Its mission is to help government and businesses write clearly. There’s even a Plain Writing Act, which “requires that federal agencies use clear government communication that the public can understand and use.”

The Center’s tagline says it all – Make it clear.

I wish we had a Plain Writing Act for nonprofit organizations because there’s a lot of confusing and cumbersome writing out there.  Even though we don’t have an official act, we should make it a priority to write more clearly.

I encourage you to take a few minutes to read the Center’s Plain Language Checklist or better yet, print it out and post it somewhere you’ll see it.

Here are a few highlights and some tips to help you communicate better.

Can your readers understand what you write the first time they read it?

This is critical because unlike a tax document or legal form, there probably won’t be a second time.  If your appeal letter or newsletter is filled with vague language and jargon, it’s likely to go right into the recycling bin.

If you’re not sure your reader will understand something, give an explanation. For example, instead of using the term food insecurity, explain how some families have to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

This is why stories are so important.  Instead of going into mind-numbing detail about the latest advancements in cancer or Parkinson’s research, tell a personal story about how you made a difference for someone.

Are meeting your readers’ needs?

Do you know your audience, and are you communicating with the right audience?  Here you must be donor-centered or volunteer-centered, if that’s your audience. Sometimes you need to send different messages to different audiences.

Besides content, you also want to use your reader’s preferred method of communication, which might be print, email, social media, or a combination of those.

Is your message clear?

What is your intention?  Do you want someone to donate, volunteer, or attend an event?  Stick to one call to action. Don’t muddle your message by asking someone to do all three.

Is your writing personal and conversational?

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.  Marketing guru Seth Godin sums it up nicely in this post The simple way to get better at business writing Don’t do business writing.

Nix the passive voice. It weakens your writing, and do you use it when you talk?  I hope not.

Is your message well written?

Have you checked for grammatical and spelling errors?  Even more important, make sure you’re not rambling on and including too much information – no 10-page newsletters or annual reports. Less is always more.

Does it look easy to read?

You may have written the most amazing letter, but if it’s a cluttered mess of long paragraphs, no margins, and 9-point type, most people won’t bother reading it.

Always think of your reader.  Use short paragraphs, lots of white space, and at least a 12-point type.

Your donors and other supporters are busy and don’t have a lot of time to read your messages. Make yours stand out with plain language and clear writing.

Check out the Center for Plain Language’s website for more information.

Image via

How Employee Matching Gifts Can Help Your Fundraising Team Succeed


Guest Post by Adam Weinger

Many of you are gearing up for your year-end fundraising campaign. It’s never easy to raise money, but you may have overlooked a simple way to bring in more donations – Matching Gifts.

This guest post by Adam Weinger gives you some great tips to help you incorporate matching gifts into your fundraising.

Your nonprofit likely feels like it is doing all that it can to raise money to keep your organization’s engine running. While you may be bringing in a lot of money from your new and dedicated donors, did you know you could receive twice as many donations?

No, you don’t have to ask donors for money a second time. All you have to do is let your donors know about matching gift programs!

Matching gifts are donations that companies and businesses will make after an employee has made a contribution and submitted the relevant request forms. While companies have different deadlines and caps on these donations, your nonprofit can still take advantage of the opportunity to double the amount of contributions you receive.

The following three tips can help your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts go from good to great with an assist from matching gifts!

1. Incorporate matching gifts into your fundraising events.

Your organization probably holds amazing events that bring your donors together with each other and members of your team. But you can also use the opportunity at these events to let your donors know about matching gifts.

If your nonprofit hosts an annual gala or auction, have one of your presenters talk briefly about matching gifts during a speech. When your donors are aware that their donations can go twice as far with little effort on their part, they will be more likely to continue giving to your organization and have their employers match those donations.

2. Let donors know about matching gifts through multiple channels.

You already communicate with donors in different ways. Use those avenues to let donors know about matching gifts!

Make use of:

  • Social media: Keep posts short and to the point. Donors don’t want to see a novel on their news feeds. Include links to more information and incorporate graphics if you can.
  • Email newsletters: If you’re already using email newsletters to keep donors in the loop about projects and events, use the space to promote matching gifts. Just like on social media, incorporate links to more information as well as graphics.
  • Direct mail: Some donors prefer opening letters to opening their inbox. Keep these donors in mind when promoting matching gifts.
  • Your website: Donors who find their way to your website are obviously interested in learning more about your organization and may want to make a donation right then and there. Therefore, you should include information about matching gifts on your “Ways to Give” page and include matching gift options and information on donation screens.

While there are many other ways to interact with your donors, you can use your existing communication methods to promote matching gifts to them.

3. Keep in touch with donors.

After you’ve acquired a new donor and have received a matching gift from their employer, make sure that you say thanks and stay in touch.

Donors like to feel appreciated. Your nonprofit can show your gratitude by thanking individuals for their initial donation as well as their employer’s matched donation.

Sometimes, those matched contributions take weeks or even months to process before they make it into your nonprofit’s hands. When you thank donors for submitting their matching gift requests to their employers after you receive the matched donation, you not only show your gratitude, but you are also reminding donors that they can continue to have their future donations matched by their employers.

Many employers also have deadlines for submitting matching gift requests. Make sure your nonprofit is sending out prompt thank yous after a donation is made that encourage donors to have their donations doubled as soon as possible if they didn’t submit a request immediately after making the initial contribution.

Matching gifts can give your fundraising efforts a major boost. Whether you choose to promote matching gifts at an event, through your existing communication channels, or in your follow-up acknowledgements, your fundraising team can achieve matching gift success.

About Adam Weinger

Adam Weinger - Square Reduced File Size

Adam Weinger is the President of Double the Donation, the leading provider of tools to nonprofits to help them raise more money from corporate matching gift and volunteer grant programs. Connect with Adam via email or on LinkedIn.

Online Giving Should Be Painless


Even if you mail your appeal letter, many people will donate online. If you’re sending reminders by email and social media, you’ll also include a link to the donation page on your website.

That means online giving on your website needs to be painless. It’s tricky because you want to capture vital information without overwhelming your donors. 7 things that might be killing your donation forms

Use this checklist to make sure your donation page is ready for your online donors.

  • 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?  This is crucial. More people are donating on mobile devices now.
  • 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 learn how they can volunteer. Is Your Website in Good Shape?

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 painless 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 often leaves you with an empty feeling. It doesn’t have to be like that.

Start with an engaging landing page that says You’re amazing! or Thank you, Tom! Include a picture and a 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.

3 Things Your Nonprofit Must Do Well After An Online Donation

The perils of third-party sites

If you use a third-party site, such as PayPal, you don’t have much, if any, control over how the donation page and thank you experience will look and work. To 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 in good shape for your year-end fundraising campaign. Make it painless for your donors to give online.

Here is more information on creating a great donation page.

19 Ways to Raise More Money From Donation Pages

7 Tips for Your Online Donation Page

Do Annual Reports Make Sense?


The answer is, it depends. Annual reports take a lot of time to produce and there’s no guarantee your donor will read it. But if you can produce one that’s filled with gratitude and shows your donors how they’re helping you make a difference, then yes an annual report makes sense.

You don’t have to do an annual report, but you do need to share accomplishments with your donors.  Some organizations send short progress reports a couple of times a year or monthly e-updates.

If you do decide you want to produce an annual report, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Your annual report is for your donors

It’s not for your board and you don’t have to do it the same way you’ve always done it. That means it’s time to re-think the massive, boring booklet.

You may want to consider different types of annual reports for different donor groups. You could send an oversized postcard with photos and infographics or a two-page report to most of your donors. Your grant and corporate funders might want more detail, but not 20 pages. Aim for no more than four pages.

Show your donors how much you appreciate them

Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit. Think of this as a gratitude report.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. Get  inspired by some of these examples from Agents of Good. Annual/Gratitude Reports 

How are you making a difference?

Too many annual reports are just boring lists, such as number of clients served, and tend to be one big bragfest.  You need to share specific accomplishments that show how you are making a difference.

Something like this – Thanks to you, 85% of the students in our tutoring program are reading at their grade level or above and now have a better chance of graduating from high school on time.

How You Can Share Accomplishments Without Bragging

Tell a story

Donors love to hear about the people they’re helping.  You can tell a story with words, a photo, or video. Share a success story. For example, Cara, a third grader at Riverside Elementary School, used to get butterflies in her stomach if she had to read aloud in class.  The words didn’t come easy.  Now after weekly tutoring sessions with Alicia, one of our volunteer tutors, her reading is much better and she doesn’t dread reading time.

Make it visual

Your donors are busy and don’t have a lot of time to read your report.  Engage them with some great photos, which can tell a story in an instant. Choose photos of people participating in an activity, such as Alicia helping Cara with her reading.

Use colorful charts or infographics to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand.  Sprinkle in quotes and short testimonials to help break up any text.

Be sure your report is readable.  Use at least a 12-point font and black type on a white background.

Write as if you’re having conversation with friend

Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you.  Use everyday language such as – With your help, we found affordable housing for over 100 homeless families. Now they no longer have to live in a shelter, motel, or their cars and have a place to call home.

Write in the second person and use a warm, friendly tone.  Of course, use you much more than we.

Annual reports do make sense if you can create one your donors will want to read.

Click here for more information on annual reports.

How to Plan a Multi-Channel Fundraising Campaign


We have many ways to reach out to our donors – by mail, email, social media, and 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 a multi-channel campaign.


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

You must 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 have to hunt around on your website for a link to your donation page.

When you’re ready to launch your campaign, 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 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 21

Give your supporters a heads up by email and social media. Let them know 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 great shape.

Week of October 26

Mail your appeal letter.

Week of November 2

Start sending 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 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 9

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 yet.

Week of November 16

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 23

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

Week of November 30

December 1 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.  Be sure to keep sending your newsletter and other updates. You don’t want the only messages your donors receive to be fundraising appeals.

The end of December is the busiest time of the fundraising season.  Network for Good recommends sending an email reminder on December 23, 29 or 30, 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.  You may need to send another mailing to donors who don’t use electronic communication. 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.

Multi-Channel Fundraising Campaign Worksheet

Image by Daniel Iverson

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