How to Plan for Your Year-End Appeal

43513744192_77ab3289ba_mMost people want to hold onto summer for as long as they can, but like it or not, September will be here before you know it.

Fall is a busy time for nonprofits, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal. You can still savor the rest of summer, but you also need to start planning for your year-end appeal.

Many nonprofits rely on their year-end appeal for a good portion of their revenue so you want it to be successful. 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 2018 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 launch your appeal? It’s an election year so keep that in mind if you have contested races in your state. You’re also competing with countless other organizations who are doing appeals.

I think earlier is better so try to aim for mid-November at the latest. Figure out what you need to get done and how long it will take. Keep in mind things usually take longer than you think. If you want to send your appeal by mid-November, make your goal the beginning of the month.

Also, how are you mailing your appeal? You may need to recruit extra volunteers or get your materials to a mail house.

An Annual Appeal Fundraising Timeline You Can Use

Creating a Framework for Your Annual Fundraising Campaign

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.

If You’re Making a Difference, You Have Stories to Tell

A Picture Really is Worth a 1000 Words

How did/can 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 that thanks to them, 85% of the students in your program are now reading at or above their grade level. Next year you’d like to expand to five more schools.

Focus on the people you serve and show how your donors are helping you make a difference, or can help you make a difference. Don’t brag about your organization.

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, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. I’ve written about segmenting your lists a lot lately and will continue to do that because it’s so important. You should have more success if you can personalize your appeal letters.

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 their last 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.

Donation Page Best Practices For Nonprofits; Tips for Great Donation Pages

The Essential Elements Of An Online Donation Form

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.

How To Create Donation Tiers That Drive Donations

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

Instead of offering 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.

Making the Most of Monthly Giving

How will you thank your donors?

Spend as much time on your thank you letter/note as you do on your appeal letter and write them at the same time. You need to thank your donors, and thank them well, as soon as you receive their gifts so have a thank you letter/note ready to go.

Handwritten notes and phone calls are much better than a preprinted 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. Put together a thank you plan to help you with this.

How are you continuing to show the love?

Even though you’ll be busy with your appeal, you want to ramp up your donor communication this fall. Keep engaging your donors and other supporters (who may become donors) by sharing success stories and gratitude. Pour on the appreciation! You could create a thank you video or hold an informal open house. Just don’t disappear until appeal time.

What are you doing to get ready for your year-end appeal?

Photo by CreditScoreGeek.com

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How to Plan an Open House

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Are you racking your brain trying to figure out ways to show appreciation to your donors? Maybe you’re not thinking about donor appreciation at all, but you should be. This is an important, but often neglected, area.

One idea is to have an open house at your organization. If you can’t hold one on site, have it at a restaurant or other venue. You may be able to find someone to donate space.

Invite other supporters, too

You could just have an event for donors, but why not invite other supporters such as event attendees, email subscribers, and social media followers, as well? This could be a great way to convert these supporters into donors. Encourage your donors to bring a friend, too.

Coordinate it with your year-end appeal

Depending on your resources, you may only be able to hold one open house a year. If you can hold more, that’s great.

A good time to have your open house is before you launch your year-end appeal so you could hold one sometime between mid-September and early November.

Another option is spring if you have an appeal then, or you could make it a thank you event.  

Winter is tricky unless you’re lucky enough to live someplace where it doesn’t snow. And summer’s not good since most people go away on vacation.

Whenever you decide to hold your open house, don’t ask for money at this event.

Keep it informal

No three-course dinners and speeches that go on forever. Hold a gathering where your supporters can drop in after work, and serve something to eat and drink. You may be able to get food and beverages donated or find a sponsor.

Have a brief program. You could show a video and/or let a client share his/her story. Your executive director or board chair should thank your guests and share some accomplishments and plans for the future. Again, keep it brief. You don’t want anyone looking for the nearest exit.

Create some photo displays and have literature available. You could also show a video on a laptop. Offer tours, if that makes sense.

Speaking of tours, you could offer them at other times, too. After I became a monthly donor, one organization invited me to arrange a tour.

7 Tips to Create an Amazing Donor Cultivation Tour

Get your board involved

You must have a good turnout from your board. Encourage board members to invite friends and other potential prospects.

Make everyone feel welcome

Don’t hide in the corner or spend all your time talking to your co-workers. Your staff and board need to mingle with your guests and make them feel welcome.

You may want to go over your organization’s talking points and brush up on your elevator pitches so everyone is prepared to talk about what you do and answer questions. And that doesn’t mean reciting your mission statement.

How to Nail Your Nonprofit’s Elevator Pitch

Don’t forget the follow-up

Anyone who has taken time out of her/his busy schedule to attend your open house needs a huge dose of gratitude. Nonprofits tend to do a poor job of following up after an event and miss out on a great opportunity to build relationships.

Collect names and addresses of people who attended and send a thank you note right away. This is a good project for your board. Don’t ask for money (that comes later).

Segment your open house attendees, so when you send your next appeal you can include a sentence that says, “It was great to see you at our open house.”

Not all your donors will attend your open house but will appreciate the invitation. Donors and other supporters who do come are showing you they’re interested in your organization. Keep them interested and keep showing appreciation and building relationships with them! This will help ensure they’ll continue to support you for a long time.

 

Are You Doing Better in 2018?

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It’s hard to believe we’re more than halfway through 2018. It doesn’t seem like that long ago I wrote this post –  How to Do Better in 2018

I hope your fundraising and communications are going well so far this year. Are they going well? Are you even paying attention to how things are going?

Let’s revisit that post from the beginning of the year. If things are going well for you, great. If not, I have some suggestions on how to do better, and for everyone – how to gear up for year-end.

Evaluate and plan

Are you meeting your goals so far? If not, do you a have a plan in place to get there? If you never made a fundraising plan for 2018, stop right there and put one together now.

Do’s and Don’ts for Your Annual Fundraising Plan

If you’re falling short of your fundraising goals, you may need to ramp up your year-end campaign. Also, your event may not be worth the trouble or you’re seeking out the wrong grant funders.

Spend Time Actually PLANNING to Raise More Money for Your Cause

Figure out your retention rate

Donor retention rates tend to be low. Do you know yours? If you’re behind in your fundraising, you may be losing donors. Figure out your retention rate now.

Retention rates are not that hard to fix, but you need to work at it. Better communication is often the key. More on how you can do a better job communicating with your donors later in the post.

6 Tactics for Increasing Donor Retention

Get in touch with your lapsed donors

Did you ever get in touch with people who didn’t give to your year-end appeal? Before this year’s campaign, figure out who didn’t give a year ago, but has donated in the last two or three years. Send them a special targeted letter telling them you miss them and want them back.

Then make a plan do the same thing in January for anyone who didn’t give. Here you could follow up with a phone call or email. This could help you raise additional revenue.

5 ways to win back your lapsed donors

Start or enhance your monthly giving program

A monthly or recurring giving program is a great way to raise more money. If you don’t have one, plan to promote monthly giving in your next campaign. To get more monthly donors, send a special targeted letter to current donors inviting them to become monthly donors.

Once someone has become a monthly donor, they should get their own appeal letter. One in which you thank them for being a monthly donor and politely ask them to increase their gift this year. Don’t send them a letter that asks for a one-time gift.

Other mistakes organizations make with their monthly giving program are not paying attention if a donor’s gift expires and doing a poor job of thanking their monthly donors.

You’ll notice I’ve made several recommendations to segment your appeal letters. This shows your donors you know who they are and should help you raise more money.

Do a better job of thanking your donors

Most organizations don’t do a good job of thanking their donors. Perhaps they send a nice letter after they receive a donation, although that’s wishful thinking. But the donor love usually comes to a screeching halt after that.

Thanking donors is something you need to do throughout the year. Create a thank you plan to help you with this.

A few things you should do before your year-end campaign. Take a look at your current thank you letter. If it’s not gushing with gratitude, write a new one. This goes for your thank you landing page and email acknowledgment, too. Make sure your letter is ready to go at the same time you launch your appeal. Don’t treat it as an afterthought and send something a month after you receive a donation. You’ll get gold stars if you can throw handwritten cards and/or phone calls into the mix, too. Finally, send a special thank you sometime early this fall. This could be a handwritten note or a postcard with an update. Something by mail is best, but if that’s impossible, you could send email.

Stay in touch throughout the year

This is another problem area. Many organizations go AWOL unless they’re asking for donations. It’s Kind of Quiet Out There Some send newsletters and updates, but these are often boring and focused too much on how great the organization is.

I know you’ll be busy, but you need to communicate more with your donors as you gear up for your year-end appeal. What’s In My Mailbox | How are you *warming up* your donors? You want to be on your donors’ good side come donation time.

Also, take a look at your newsletter and other donor communication. Are you leading with a story and focusing on how your donors are helping you make a difference?

You still have time to do better

If you’re falling short of your goals, you still have time to do better, but you have to work at it. Year-end is, of course, a great opportunity to raise money, as well as build relationships.

Be sure to keep evaluating your progress to help ensure a successful 2018.

 

A Picture Really is Worth a 1000 Words

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I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase “A picture is worth a 1000 words.” It’s become somewhat of a cliche, but it’s also quite relevant in this time of information overload.

Donors get so many messages from different sources that sometimes they don’t want to read another word. But you have stories to share. This is why you need to connect by using visual stories. Some people respond better to visual stimuli, anyway. Here are a few ways to tell visual stories.

Tell a story in an instant with a photo

You can capture your donors’ 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 dominated by text. Most of your donors won’t have time to read the whole thing. But if you share some engaging photos, your donors can get a quick glance of the impact of their gift without having to slog through a bunch of tedious text.

You may want to try a Postcard Annual Report instead of the usual boring booklet. Postcards with an engaging photo are also great for thank you cards and updates. They’re a quick, less expensive way to communicate by mail, which you should be doing at least three or four times a year.

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

Use photos everywhere – appeal letters, thank you letters/cards, newsletters, annual reports, updates, 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 and videos (more on videos below). Confidentiality issues may come up and you’ll need to get permission to use pictures of kids.

Visual Storytelling: Photography Tips for Nonprofits

5 Killer Photography Tips for Nonprofit Brands

6 Steps to Establishing a Photo Policy that Boosts Giving & Shows Respect

Showcase 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.

5 Video Tips to Rock Nonprofit Digital Storytelling

5 Steps to Successful Video Storytelling

Tips to Creating Inspirational Fundraising Videos For Your Nonprofit

Make your statistics shine with infographics

A typical annual report is loaded with statistics. You want to share these, as well as your accomplishments, but you don’t want to overwhelm your donors with a lot of text.

Why not use 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.

Infographics for Nonprofits: How to Create One and Why They’re Effective

How to Create a Fantastic Infographic for Your Nonprofit

How Nonprofits Can Inspire Supporters With Infographics

Good visuals will enhance both your print and electronic communication. Keep your donors engaged with all types of stories.

If You’re Making a Difference,You Have Stories to Tell

11276455354_8e888bdc19_mWhen your donors open your appeal letter or newsletter, do you bore them with a bunch of mind-numbing statistics, or do you share a story about how the Clark family moved out of a shelter and into a home of their own?

Donors want to hear your stories

You may be reluctant to use stories because it’s more work for your organization, but don’t use that as an excuse. Donors love stories and they want to hear yours. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene. Here’s an example.

Mara woke up feeling good for the first time in a while. After losing her job and being evicted from her apartment, she moved between her cousin’s house, motels, and shelters. It was taking a toll on her family. Everyone was stressed out and her kids were falling behind in school.

That was about to change because thanks to donors like you, Mara 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 make 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.

Break down your silos and work with your program staff to create stories that will help you connect with your donors. 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.

When you put together a story, ask.

  • Why would your donors be interested in this story?
  • Why is this important?
  • Who are you helping?
  • Are you using clear, everyday language (no jargon) to make sure your donors understand your story?
  • How are your donors helping you make a difference or How can your donors help you make a difference?

Client or program recipient stories are best. 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 she has a brother who’s struggled with mental health issues or he benefited from having a mentor.

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

Create a story bank to help you organize all your stories. Take advantage of slower times of the year to gather 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. Fundraising with Names Have Been Changed Disclaimers

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Let your donors know how with their help, Kate 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

Tell your donors the stories they want to hear. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories.

Resources to help you tell your stories

The Storytelling Nonprofit

INFOGRAPHIC: A Nonprofit Storytelling How-To

Best Practices in Nonprofit Storytelling – How to Structure Your Stories

Top 10 Nonprofit Storytelling Best Practices

Photo by Howard Lake

Email Newsletters: 5 Reasons to Stay in Touch with Donors

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By John Killoran

Your email newsletter is a great way to stay in touch with supporters, but using extra tools and strategies can have a huge payoff! Check out the reasons why.

Like all nonprofits, your organization relies on the support of its donors and partners.You know that maintaining strong relationships year in and year out is essential to continually growing a stable base of support.

You already know, too, how to draft an effective email solicitation that attracts attention, gets to the point, and directly provides a way to give. But do you put this much thought and strategy into your email newsletters?

Think back to the earliest days of your organization. Starting a nonprofit requires consciously building a tight network of initial support to get your efforts off the ground. There’s no reason why actively developing strategies to keep everyone informed and involved shouldn’t still be a priority now that you’ve grown!

It becomes surprisingly easy to drift away from your founding mission when you don’t prioritize communication.That’s why email newsletters are such a crucial tool for nonprofits looking to stay focused, driven, and in touch with their stakeholders.

While every organization understands the need to stay in touch with donors and volunteers, they might not recognize all the interconnected reasons why focusing on your newsletter pays off in the long run. Crafting a perfect email newsletter gives your nonprofit the opportunity to:

  1. Promote all your digital giving outlets.
  2. Loop everyone in on your projects and goals.
  3. Boost overall donor and volunteer engagement.
  4. Connect all your campaigns and events.
  5. Build stronger relationships with donors.

Strengthening even one element of your email newsletters will boost their overall effect! By crafting more engaging strategies for your newsletters, you can make a serious long-term investment in your nonprofit’s ability to attract and retain committed supporters.

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1. Promote all your digital giving outlets.

Email newsletters are a perfect place to promote and explain new donation tools that your nonprofit adopts as its strategies evolve.

This doesn’t necessarily mean soliciting donations! You already conduct separate email campaigns to reach your fundraising goals. While you can certainly ask for donations in your newsletter, your recipients are presumably already committed to supporting your work.

Rather, focus on raising awareness and explaining new donation tools and platforms in the context of your next fundraising campaigns.

Check out Snowball’s rundown of PayPal alternatives for nonprofits for more information on how nonprofit-centric payment and donation platforms will catch your donors’ attention, help you pursue your goals, and conduct more engaging campaigns.

Consider how you could promote and explain these donation platforms in your newsletter:

  • Text-to-give tools to incorporate into your events
  • Mobile-optimized donation forms to boost mobile donations
  • Crowdfunding campaigns for specific goals or projects
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns leading up to major events

Plus, your email newsletter provides the perfect opportunity to learn more about your supporters’ preferred methods of communication and giving. Linking your recipients to a quick survey can have a major payoff for your mobile engagement levels by helping you refine your marketing and digital fundraising strategies.

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2. Loop everyone in on your projects and goals.

Another reason to focus on your email newsletters is that keeping all your donors, volunteers, and stakeholders fully informed about your projects and goals is the first step to getting them excited and involved!

Use your newsletter to announce your next campaign or provide a sneak peek of your next major event. Give your readers the sense that they’ve received a special ‘inside scoop’ to build excitement and rally support. You might share updates on any of your projects, like:

  • Client success stories
  • Upcoming fundraising campaigns
  • New community initiatives
  • Advocacy projects and campaigns
  • Capital campaigns and major developmental goals
  • Grant writing projects and donor surveys
  • New partners and sponsorships

Aside from making it easier to get everyone involved, sharing regular updates is useful because it provides the opportunity to collect more feedback. Keeping everyone informed and engaged means you’ll be able to gather more information and insights to guide your plans.

How well do you know your donors? Simply asking for feedback on your projects or campaigns with a suggestion form in your newsletter can be a surprisingly effective method for guiding your marketing and fundraising strategies.

Plus, your most dedicated supporters will have plenty of ideas of how you could approach your goals. For instance, a longtime volunteer can likely share important insights as you develop a programming proposal for a grant application!

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3. Boost overall donor and volunteer engagement.

Keeping everyone aware of new ways to support your organization’s work and updated on upcoming projects will provide a natural boost to donor engagement. Your newsletter recipients will feel more involved, which will encourage them to get more involved!

This engagement boost will take several familiar forms:

  • Digital engagement. Keep your base of support updated on your online fundraising and social media campaigns to see an increase in digital interactions.
  • Volunteering. Use your newsletter to make volunteering easier. Promote upcoming projects, provide sign-up forms, and mention any incentives you’ll offer.
  • Financial support. Explain new campaigns and tools in your newsletter, giving your recipients a more intimate view of your goals and planning process.

Remember to take the opportunity in your email newsletter to provide some easy tools for recipients to further their engagement, too.

Corporate philanthropy search tools are a great example. Include a search tool that allows your supporters to search for their employers’ corporate philanthropy programs. Matching gifts and volunteer grants are the perfect way for supporters to boost their impact.

These programs are generally not used much, so some programs can be extremely generous. If your organization has an active volunteer program, check out the top volunteer grant companies from 360MatchPro for an idea of the extra funds you might be eligible to receive!

As a way to potentially address all of your supporters at once, your email newsletter is the best place to promote extra tools and options that can boost the impact of your supporters’ engagement with your work.

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4. Connect all your campaigns and events.

Actively connecting your various activities is a great way to grow engagement and make more effective solicitations when fundraising. Your email newsletter is the perfect place to put this strategy into practice!

Solicitations become more effective when supporters can clearly understand how all your events, activities, and campaigns fit together in pursuit of your mission.

Think about it: an online fundraising campaign that feels disjointed or disconnected from any of your nonprofit’s overarching goals isn’t particularly inspiring.

Rather, use your newsletter to clarify the connections! For example, here’s how you might explain and promote some campaign elements in your newsletter by framing them around the shared purpose of supporting an upcoming 5K:

  • A peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. Encourage recipients to donate, volunteer, and form teams as you raise pledges for the big race.
  • Your marketing campaign. As you promote the 5K online, ask your newsletter readers to share your posts and invitations on social media.
  • Merchandise promotion. Link to your online store, t-shirt crowdfunding campaign, or order form for your 5K shirts. Or explain how teams can design their own!
  • The grand finale event. Promote the big 5K in your newsletter, invite all your recipients, and provide important necessary information for participants and attendees.

In this example, all the cross-promotional effort and campaigning will result in a hugely successful event! Giving supporters multiple ways to get involved and using your newsletter to clearly explain how it all connects to support the 5K gives your entire network of support a clearer, more focused goal.

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5. Build stronger relationships with donors.

Finally, remember that the long-term benefit of focusing effort on your email newsletter is that it’s an effective tool for expressing gratitude to your supporters.

By thanking your donors and volunteers and showing how their support directly helps further your mission, you can reinforce those important relationships. Plus, you’ll be contributing to a healthy culture for your nonprofit, ensuring it can retain more and more satisfied donors.

There are a number of ways to use your email newsletter to build stronger relationships with supporters:

  • Provide updates and success stories on campaigns and projects.
  • Promote and thank your important community partners.
  • Recognize individuals who go above and beyond in supporting your work.
  • Invite your newsletter recipients to special thank-you events.
  • Share surveys and field suggestions to better refine your retention strategies.

Thanking your supporters means you’ll need to switch out of solicitation mode for a moment.

Building strong mutual relationships and genuinely expressing your gratitude does more in the long run for retaining valuable support than constantly soliciting more funds, even if your donors are consistently happy to support your campaigns.

A great way to make sure your messages of thanks in your newsletter stay effective is to focus on the language you use. Drop the fundraising jargon, and keep your tone warm and natural. After all, the support of these important partners is worth celebrating!

The most basic function of a nonprofit email newsletter is to share updates with your supporters and announce new projects, but incorporating some smart strategies and being aware of all the roles a newsletter can play will make them even more effective.

By using your email newsletter as a space to communicate, explain new donation tools, provide ways to boost engagement, and connect all your campaigns, you’ll strengthen your donor relations overall!

John Killoran

John Killoran is CEO of Snowball, an exciting new fundraising technology that makes it easy for people to donate in two clicks from text, email, web and social media sites.John pioneered SMTP payments and has been a major innovator in the mobile payments space for the past 5 years. When he is not running a company, he is cooking food for his family and telling his dogs to stop barking.

The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan

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I’ve written about the importance of having a thank you plan before, but I think we need to revisit this because many nonprofits are not doing a good job of thanking their donors. You may have every intention to, but that’s not happening. Thanking donors often takes a back seat to fundraising when you should spend equal time doing both.

A thank you plan will help. You probably have a fundraising plan and maybe a donor relations plan, but a specific thank you plan is just as important. Donor retention rates are poor and one reason is donors don’t feel appreciated. Creating 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 make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it often is just a boring receipt rather than something lets me feel good about making a donation.

Open with Thank you, Jeff! or You’re amazing!  Include an engaging photo or video and a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help the people you serve. Put all the tax-deductible information after your message or in the automatically generated thank you email.

If you use a third-party giving site, you might be able to customize the landing page. If not, follow up with a personal thank you email message within 48 hours.

How To Optimize Your Donation Thank You Page + Examples Of Nonprofits Who Do It Right

Plan to write a warm and personal automatic thank you email

Set up an automatic thank you email to go out after someone donates online. This email thank you is more of a reassurance to let your donor know you received her donation. You still need to thank her by mail or phone (see below).

Just because your thank you email is automatically generated, doesn’t mean it needs to sound like it was written by a robot. Write something warm and personal.

Give some thought to the email subject line, too. At the very least make sure it says Thank You and not something boring like Your Donation Receipt.

Thanking a Donor by Email: Best Practices and Examples

Plan to thank your donors by mail or phone

I’m a firm believer that every donor, no matter how much she’s given or whether she donated online, gets a thank you card or letter mailed to her or receives a phone call.

Try to thank your donors within 48 hours if you can. 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. If you wait too long, you’re not making a good impression.

Instead of sending a generic, boring 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 so you’re ready to go when the donations come in.

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

Hi, this is Jennifer Douglas and I’m a board member at the Lakeside 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 incredible” or “Because of you, Jacob won’t go to bed hungry tonight.”  Create separate letters for new donors, renewing donors, and monthly donors.

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 donations.

In addition, write your thank you letter at the same time you write your appeal letter. Make sure they’re ready to go as soon as the donations come in. Don’t wait three weeks.

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Plan to keep thanking your donors all year round

This is where having a thank you plan makes a difference because organizations usually send some kind of thank you letter after they receive a donation and then donor communication starts to wane after that. Thanking donors is something you must do all year round.

Use your communications calendar to incorporate ways to thank your donors. Try to 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 thank you landing page, 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.