Don’t Take a Vacation from Your Donor Communication


Summer is vacation time. You and other members of your staff may have a fun vacation planned. I recently came back from a wonderful trip to Spain.

Even though this might be a slower time, don’t hold back on your donor communication. Yes, your donors are also taking vacations, but they still want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference.

Here are some tips to help you stay in touch this summer.

Keep it short

Our attention spans wane even more when it’s hot. There’s no need for a lot of long-winded text. Send a thank you or infographic update postcard instead.

Another way to get your donors’ attention in an instant is with a photo. Create a thank you photo to share on email and social media. You could create a short video, too.

Capture Your Donors’ Attention in an Instant by Using Visual Stories

Lighten up

If you’re a reader, you gravitate towards lighter fare in the summer. My favorite beach reads are mysteries.

Fundraiser Shannon Doolittle has some fun and creative ideas to stay in touch with your donors this summer. Maybe you can think of others.

Fun, sun and donor love

Meet your donors where they are

You’ll make it easier for everyone if you communicate by channels your donors use. That might be direct mail, email, social media, or a combination of those. Don’t spend time and effort communicating via channels your donors don’t use.

Is it time for a newsletter makeover?

If you already send a regular newsletter,that’s great. What’s not great is if your newsletter is just plain boring, as many are.

Take a look at yours. How can you make it better? Use your “downtime” this summer to give your newsletter a makeover.

Keep it donor-centered, Focus on sharing success stories and don’t forget to thank your donors for helping you make a difference.

Shorter is always better, especially in the summer. Send a two-page print newsletter instead of a four-page one and stick to one or two updates in your e-newsletter.

Is Your Newsletter Putting Your Donors to Sleep?

Plan for staff vacations

If the staff who are responsible for sending email updates and social media posts go on vacation, that doesn’t mean your communication comes to a screeching halt. Have someone else fill in so you don’t miss a beat.

Keep it up

Stay in touch with your donors so they have a good feeling about you come appeal time. Keep retention in mind. You want your donors to give again and you can help ensure this with good communication and by building relationships.

Read on to find out how other organizations are communicating this summer. Get Your People Out of the Heat & Into Action

Image by David Smith

Are You Ready for Your Year-End Appeal?


You may think fall is a long way off. We just celebrated Independence Day in the U.S. and temperatures are creeping into the 90’s.

Don’t let that deceive you. September will be here before you know it. Fall is a busy time, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal.

Many nonprofits rely on their year-end appeal for a good portion of their revenue. Get a jump start on your appeal and start planning it now. Use this checklist to help you get started. Of course, you can use this for fundraising campaigns at any time of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal in your 2016 fundraising plan (at least I hope you did) and perhaps you need to revise that goal. If you haven’t set a goal, determine how much money you need to raise before you start your campaign.

Do you have a plan?

Put together a plan for your appeal that includes a timeline, task list, and the different channels you will use. Make it as detailed as possible.

When do you want to send your appeal? At the beginning of November?  Figure out what you need to get done and how long it will take. You may need to recruit extra volunteers or get your materials to a mail house.

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

Find a good story for your year-end appeal. You’ll want some engaging photos for your letter and donation page, too. Quotes from clients will also enhance your appeal.

Dazzle Your Donors With a Great Story

Capture Your Donors’ Attention in an Instant by Using Visual Stories

How did your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should highlight some of the year’s accomplishments and state what you plan to do next year. For example, let’s say you run a tutoring program. Let your donors know how with their help 80% of the students in your program are now reading at or above their grade level. Next year you’d like to expand to four more schools.

Focus on the people you serve and show how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

Make sure your postal and email mailing lists are up-to-date. Check for duplicate addresses and typos. Your donors don’t want to receive three letters at the same time or have their names misspelled. Also, segment your lists – current donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc.

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until the end of October to check your supply of letterhead and envelopes. Make sure you have enough. Perhaps you want to produce a special outer envelope. You may also want to create some thank you cards.

Even though many people donate online, you want to make it easy for donors who prefer to mail a check. Include a pledge envelope or a return envelope and a preprinted form with the donor’s contact information and the amount of last year’s gift.

Stamps are more personal, so you might want to find some nice ones to use.

Is it easy to donate online?

Be sure your donation page is user-friendly and consistent with your other fundraising materials.  Highlight your year-end appeal on your homepage and include a prominent Donate Now button.

Elements of Donation Page Design

19 Ways to Raise More Money From Donation Pages

While you are at it, check your website for out-of-date information and broken links.

Is Your Website in Good Shape?

How does a donation help the people you serve?

Create a set of giving levels and let your donors know how their gift will help.

Using Giving Levels to Drive Donations

Do you have an incentive to entice donors to give a larger gift?

Instead of premiums, see if you can find a major donor who will match any upgrades. I know of an organization that used this as an incentive to get new donors.

Boost Your Fundraising Results With a Match From a Major Donor

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

Monthly or recurring giving is another way to get a larger gift. Some people might balk at donating $100 or more, but if you present it as $10 a month ($120 a year!), it sounds more feasible.

How will you thank your donors?

Don’t skimp on this. Spend as much time on your thank you letter/note as you do on your appeal letter. You need to thank your donors, and thank them well, as soon as you receive their gifts.

Handwritten notes and phone calls are much better than a pre-printed letter. Create or buy some thank you cards (see above) and start recruiting board members and volunteers to make thank you calls or write notes.

Give Your Donors a Great Thank You Experience

Are you showing the love?

Even though you’ll be busy with your appeal, you want to ramp up your donor communication.  Keep engaging your donors and other supporters (who may become donors) by sharing success stories and gratitude. Pour on the appreciation and create a thank you video or hold an informal open house.

How are you getting ready for your year-end appeal?

Photo by James Stoneking

What’s Your Story? Ways to Make Your Fundraising Pitch Memorable


Guest post by Jeremy S.

Over the last couple of weeks, the theme of this blog has been telling your stories. We’ve looked at both written and visual stories. This guest post by Jeremy S. of Goodwill Car Donations shows us how to tell verbal stories – either in person or on video. These tips can also be useful when writing a story.

Whatever method you use, keep telling your stories!

What’s your organization’s story? A great story can captivate and motivate your organization’s supporters as it attracts new donors, shows long-time donors that you appreciate them, and creates lasting relationships. Learn the art of storytelling as you make your fundraising pitch memorable and engaging.

Tell a Story About a Real Person

Your donors want to hear about the clients you serve, dogs you rescue, or students you tutor. Instead of telling generic stories, share a story, or case study, about a real person and how your organization helped change his or her life.

Let Real People Tell Their Story

When possible, let your clients or customers share their stories. It creates a personal touch that connects with donors.

Share Something Relatable

Every story you tell should include at least one moment where your donors can relate to something you share.

Keep It Short

The average attention span is only eight seconds. Keep your story as short as possible while still getting your point across.

Use Emotions

It’s OK to be transparent when sharing your story. Whether you’re happy, angry, sad, proud, or excited, let your true self shine through.

Keep It Current

As your organization changes, your story will change. You’ll stay relevant and relatable when you make sure your story is current.

Structure the Pitch

All good stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Yours should have structure, too.

  • Start with a strong opener that captures your audience’s attention from the beginning. A joke, statistic, or anecdote does the trick.
  • Proceed to the meat of the story that answers questions like who your organization serves, what you do, and how you do it.
  • End with a call to action. Ask your listeners to invest in your organization as they support your cause with their money, time, and resources.

Focus On Your Brand

All the details of your story should relate to your brand. Make sure your listeners have a clear understanding of your brand’s message.


Whether sharing your story live or recording it, practice, practice, practice. You want to know the material and be confident while sharing it.

Pay Attention to Your Appearance

You might share the most heartwarming story ever, but no one will listen if your appearance is sloppy, dirty, or otherwise distracting. Check your physical appearance in the mirror before going on stage or on camera, and be sure to look presentable.

Talk About the Money

You don’t have to beg, but you do need to talk about the money. Share why you need it, how much you hope to raise, what you’ll do with it, and any project deadlines — including negative effects of not reaching your goals.

A great story allows your organization to connect with your supporters. Use these tips as you personalize, maximize, and monetize the stories you tell.

Author Bio:

Jeremy S. is Vice President of Operations and Vehicle Dispatching at Goodwill Car Donations. Jeremy has handled tens of thousands of donated vehicles in the past five years he’s worked for Goodwill Car Donations. 


Photo by Tim Hettler

Capture Your Donors’ Attention in an Instant by Using Visual Stories


Stories come in many forms and people process information in different ways. Some people respond better to visual stimuli. In our information packed world, a visual story can be a great way to connect.

Tell a story in an instant with a photo

Your donors are busy and may not have time read a story, but you can capture their attention in an instant with a great photo. That doesn’t mean a photo of your executive director receiving an award. Use photos of your programs in action.

Print newsletters and annual reports tend to be too long and text-centric. Most of your donors won’t have time read them. But if you present your donors with some engaging photos, they can get a quick glance of the impact of their gift without having to slog through a bunch of long-winded text.

You may want to try a Postcard Annual Report instead of the usual boring booklet.

If you use social media, you need to communicate several times a week. As your donors scroll through endless amounts of posts on Facebook and Twitter, an engaging photo can pop out and get noticed.

Use photos everywhere – appeal letters, thank you letters/cards, newsletters, annual reports, your website, and social media. Create a photo bank to help you with this. It’s fine to use the same photos in different channels. It can help with your brand identity. Be sure to use high-quality pictures. Hire a professional photographer or find one to work pro bono.

Work with your program staff to get photos. Confidentiality issues may come up and you’ll need to get permission to take pictures of kids. It’s okay to use stock photos. Just be sure to give proper credit.

5 Killer Photography Tips for Nonprofit Brands

Compelling Images for Nonprofits: When Babies and Puppies Aren’t in Your Mission

Highlight your work with a video

Create a video to show your programs in action, share an interview, give a behind the scenes look at your organization, or my favorite – thanking your donors. Make your videos short and high quality.  If you’re interviewing someone, be sure that person is good on camera.

You can use videos on your website, in an email message, on social media, and at an event.

How to Make a Fantastic Nonprofit Video

10 Mistakes Nonprofits Make with Video

Bring statistics to life with infographics

An annual report with a bunch of statistics is boring, and you know very few donors are going to read a lot of text. But you may have some compelling statistics or want to highlight accomplishments in your annual report.

Why not share these in an infographic instead of the usual laundry list of statistics and accomplishments?  Here are some examples. A Great Nonprofit Annual Report in a Fabulous Infographic

Brochures are becoming a relic of the past, but what if you want an informational print piece to give to potential donors or volunteers?  An oversized infographic postcard could be the way to go.

How to Create an Effective Nonprofit Infographic

4 Steps to Making an Infographic for Your Nonprofit

10 free tools for creating infographics

Keep your donors engaged with all types of stories.

Photo by Rob Briscoe

Dazzle Your Donors With a Great Story


When your donors open your appeal letter or newsletter, do you bombard them with a bunch of boring, mind-numbing statistics, or do you share a story about how the Johnson family moved out of a shelter and into a home of their own?

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

Donors love stories. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene. Here’s an example.

Sheila woke up feeling good for the first time in awhile. After losing her job and being evicted from her apartment, she moved between her sister’s place, motels, and shelters. It was taking a toll on her family and her kids were falling behind in school.

That was about to change because thanks to donors like you, Sheila and her family will be moving into a home of their own.

Can you tell a story like that?  If you’re making a difference, you can. Stories should show your donors how they’re helping you making a difference for the people you serve.

Create a culture of storytelling

If you create a storytelling culture in your organization, you can make storytelling the norm instead of the exception.

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 donors be interested in this story?
  • Why is this important?
  • Are you using clear, everyday language (no jargon) 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 together with program staff to get these stories.  Everyone needs to understand how important this is. Share stories at staff meetings and/or set up regular meetings with program staff to gather stories.

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 fine, but instead of emphasizing their professional background, concentrate on what drew them to your organization. Perhaps she has a brother who’s struggling with Parkinson’s or he’s passionate about the environment.

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. 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, Monica doesn’t have to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill. Your organization stays in the background. And remember,Your Mission Statement is NOT Your Story

Dazzle your donors with a great story. 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

Photo by David Bleasdale


Stand Out from the Crowd with an Amazing Email Message


Communicating by email is a mixed blessing. It’s fast, easy, relatively inexpensive, and almost everyone has an email address. You can quickly get a message out to a lot of people. But here’s the problem. People get hundreds of emails a day and don’t have much time to weed through them.

How can you stand out and make sure people read your email message?

Pay attention to your subject line

A good subject line is the key to getting someone to open your email message.  If they don’t bother to open it, your hard work has gone to waste.

Give some thought to it. Instead of Donate to our Annual Appeal or May 2016 Newsletter, try Find out how you can help Sarah find her own home or Thanks to you, Jenna aced her math test.

Better Open Rates: How to Write Killer Email Subject Lines

Stick to one call to action

Don’t ask someone to donate, volunteer, and contact their legislators in the same message. Your call to action will get lost if there’s too much information.

Short and sweet

Remember that your email is one of hundreds your donor will receive that day. Make it short and get to the point right away.

Make it easy to read and scan

Besides sending a short message, use short paragraphs, too. It needs to be easy to read in an instant. Don’t use micro-sized font either.

Be personal and conversational, but also professional

It may not seem like it, but email is one-to-one communication. Don’t address your message to Dear Friend. Use someone’s name.

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend, but keep it professional. You’re not a 15-year old texting to her friend. Basic grammar rules apply here.

Send your email to the right audience

You may want to reach out to tons of people about an upcoming event, but you’ll have better luck concentrating on people who will be interested. Just because email lets you communicate with a large audience, doesn’t mean you should.

Be a welcome visitor

If you communicate regularly and do it well, your donors should recognize you as a reputable source and are more likely to read your message.

Make sure people know your message is coming from your organization. In the from field, put DoGood Nonprofit or Lisa Jones, DoGood Nonprofit. If you just put a person’s name or, people may not know who it’s from and ignore it.

No spam, spam, spam

Only send email to people who have opted into your list. Otherwise, you’re spamming them. Not all your donors will sign up for your e-newsletter, but that’s okay. The ones who do are interested in receiving it. Give people the option to unsubscribe,too.

Once is not enough

If you’re using email to send a fundraising appeal or event invitation, you’ll probably have to send more than one mesage. Try not to send messages to people who have already responded.

Be mobile friendly

Many people read their email on a mobile device. If your message isn’t mobile friendly, you’re missing out.

Your email message can stand out if you give some thought to it and do it well. Here’s more information about communicating by email

Email Subject Line Research, Examples and Tips to Increase Your Open Rates

Get More People to Open Your Nonprofit’s Email Newsletter

11 email mistakes you really shouldn’t make

Photo by Clint Lalonde


About Your “Annual Appeal…”


The spring appeal season is underway and I’ve been barraged with appeals for the last couple of weeks. For many organizations, this is their main fundraising drive of the year. Unfortunately, some of these organizations need a refresher course in appeal writing.

Whether you’re planning a spring campaign or one later in the year, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Don’t call it an annual appeal

Okay, you can use the term annual appeal around the office, but not in your appeal letter. That also goes for 2016 annual fund drive, 2016 Massachusetts Drive, or spring fund drive.

Some of the letters I received open by saying their annual fund drive is underway. Others state it in a header or a teaser on the outer envelope.

The fact that your annual appeal is underway means nothing to your donors and is not a compelling way to open your appeal.

I recommend you open your appeal with a story. Here are some other ideas for opening your appeal. Appeal letter openings

It should be obvious you’re sending an appeal, unless you bury your ask. Your ask should come after the story.

Given how some people feel about fundraising, an envelope teaser that says “Spring Appeal Enclosed”could end up in the recycle bin. If you want to use a teaser, try something like “Hunger never takes a summer break.” or “Inside: Learn how you can help hungry kids this summer.”

Why should I give to your organization?

Most of the appeals I’ve received have come from organizations I don’t already support. I need a good reason to give to your organization and I’m not seeing that.

It’s clear these letters are one size fits all and most likely my name is on a list you purchased or exchanged. Even so, give me some indication that you know me as a person. If I already support hunger-relief organizations, emphasize how you’re making a difference because you know that’s important to me.

I do most of my giving in December so I if you’re sending me another appeal now, you need to convince me why I should give again so soon. In many cases, you never acknowledge that I’ve given before. It’s the same old blah de blah.

Of course, you can make more than one ask a year, but first I need to be thanked, and thanked well, and hear from you regularly.  A couple of ways to raise more revenue are to politely ask me to upgrade my gift and/or give to you monthly.

Don’t send me stuff

Please don’t send me mailing labels, notepads,calendars, etc. It’s not going to help convince me to donate to your organization. One organization sent me a certificate of appreciation “in recognition of your generous support,”even though I’ve never supported them.

Most people find your swag to be wasteful. Instead, invest your print budget in creating thank you cards and donor-centered updates.

Send an awesome appeal

It’s never easy to raise money, but you’ll have a better chance if you send a donor-centered appeal that shows how you’re making a difference. Here’s more information on creating a great appeal.

How to Create an A+ Appeal Letter


Photo by Judith E. Bell