How Fundraising is Like Strength Training

I’ve been doing strength training with a personal trainer for about three and a half years. My initial assessment was humbling, to say the least, and at the beginning, there were several times I wondered “Why am I doing this?”

But I’ve benefited so much. Not only am I stronger, I’ve lost weight, I’m sleeping better, my mood is better, and I have a more robust immune system. I’ve also been able to keep up with it during the pandemic, although now I’m doing it virtually.

Believe it or not, strength training has a lot in common with fundraising and when I say fundraising, I’m including the all-important stewardship and relationship-building components. Here’s what they have in common.

It’s supposed to be hard, but doable

If I ever say one of my training exercises is hard, my trainer will respond, “It’s supposed to be hard.” That said, it also needs to be doable.

What a wonderful world we’d live in if people just donated money to nonprofit organizations without us have to do anything.

Fundraising is hard. It doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it, but you also need to be realistic. I’m not lifting 100-pound weights. That would be too much for me. If you’re a small organization, trying to pull off a huge event would probably be too much for you.

How to raise money: 3 steps to creating sustainable funding for your new, young, or small nonprofit

Starting small is often the way to go

I work out twice a week and do what’s known as a circuit –  seven or eight exercises on each of the days, usually three sets of 10-12 reps each. People who are more advanced in their training might do four or five sets of two different exercises with heavier weights.

This same formula can work for your organization when you concentrate on individual gifts. Many of these will be under $100 each, but you’ll be able to get a larger number of them. You can also raise a good bit of revenue from monthly gifts, even if they’re only $5 or $10 a month.

Be patient and you’ll see results

It took about two or three months for me to see the results I mentioned above. Some of your fundraising will take even longer.

You can get smaller gifts fairly quickly. Securing major gifts and grants will take longer.  It can take up to a year to cultivate major gifts and it takes a lot of relationship building to get there. If you get approved for a grant, it can take several months to get the money and these often come with restrictions.

But if you persevere, you should see results.

Take it to the next level

If I kept doing the same exercises I started with, I wouldn’t make much progress. The same is true with fundraising.

Most appeal letters are generic,one-size fits all. You’re missing an opportunity to grow when you don’t ask donors to upgrade their single gifts or invite them to become monthly donors.

There are so many opportunities to take your fundraising to the next level. Smaller dollar donors can upgrade to mid-level donors, mid-level donors can become major donors, and major donors are potential legacy donors.

You need to stick with it

If I miss a week or two of training, it suffers. The same is true with your fundraising. If all you do is send appeals a few times a year, you won’t have much success.

You need to engage with your donors regularly – at least once or twice a month. That includes showing appreciation and sharing updates.

Moving Away from Transactional Fundraising

You need a plan

When I started strength training, my trainer designed a plan for me that we can build on and modify as needed. You need to do the same thing with your fundraising.

You shouldn’t be raising revenue without a plan in place. You also need a donor communications and thank you plan. 

You may need to make adjustments to your plans. Most likely that happened for you last year when the pandemic started. I had to make adjustments early on in my training when I tweaked my knee doing a quad exercise and had to strengthen my hamstrings, as well as do a modified version of it for a while.

How to Prepare a Nonprofit Fundraising Plan

The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan

5 ELEMENTS OF A STELLAR DONOR COMMUNICATIONS PLAN THAT BUILDS DONOR LOYALTY

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

My workout consists of exercises for the upper body, lower body, and core. Your fundraising will also consist of different tactics, such as individual giving, major gifts, grants, events, etc.

And as I mentioned before, and I’ll mention again since many organizations ignore this, your fundraising also needs a gratitude and relationship-building component.

Fundraising, like strength training, takes a lot of hard work, but you should see results if you keep building and stick with it.

Photo via www.ptpioneer.com

Some Important Investments That Can Help You Raise More Money

Your nonprofit organization may have cut some expenses over the past year. When times are tough, some organizations, especially small ones with limited resources, veer towards trimming, with the mindset “we can’t afford this.”

Use caution before you nix something you think you can’t afford. It may be something you should be investing in.

This doesn’t mean going wild with your budget. You need to make good investments. Here are a few areas you should be investing more money in. The good news is, if you do it right, these investments will help you raise more money.

Invest in a good CRM/database

Plain and simple, a good CRM (customer relationship management)/database 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 good database can help you with retention, which will save you money since it costs less to keep donors than to acquire new ones. You can personalize your letters and email messages. Make sure to invest in a good email service provider, too.

Personalized letters and messages mean you can address your donors by name and not Dear Friend. You can welcome new donors and thank current donors for their previous support. You can send targeted mailings to lapsed donors to try to woo them back. You can send special mailings to your monthly donors. You can record any personal information, such as conversations you had with a donor and their areas of interest.

In short, you can do a lot with a good CRM/database. Invest in the best one you can afford, and Excel is not a database.

Nonprofit Software

Invest in direct mail

You may not have used direct mail that much over the last year when many workplaces were closed and the mail was unreliable. But some organizations were never or rarely using it before the pandemic.

If that’s the case for you, you’re missing out on an effective and more personal way to communicate with your donors. Think of the enormous amount of email and social media posts you receive as opposed to postal mail. Your donors will be more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail.

Yes, direct mail is more expensive, but you don’t have to mail that often. Quality is more important than quantity but aim for three or four times a year.

Give some thought to what you send. Some ideas, besides appeal letters, include thank you letters/cards; Thanksgiving, holiday, or Valentine’s Day cards; infographic postcards; two to four-page newsletters; and annual/progress reports. You could put a donation envelope in your newsletter to raise some additional revenue, but do not put one in a thank you or holiday card.

Shorter is better. Lengthy communication will cost more and your donors are less likely to read it. Case in point, the 55-page annual report I received last month.

A few ways you can use direct mail without breaking your budget are to clean up your mailing lists to avoid costly duplicate mailings, spread thank you mailings throughout the year – perhaps sending something to a small number of donors each month, and look into special nonprofit mailing rates. You may also be able to get print materials done pro bono or do them in-house, as long as they look professional.

Of course, you can use email and social media, but your primary reason for communicating that way shouldn’t be because it’s cheaper. It should be because that’s what your donors use. If your donors prefer you to communicate by mail, then that’s what you should do.

Why Direct Mail is Your Best Option to Raise Funds Right Now (With Examples)

Turbocharge Your Direct Mail and Digital

Invest in donor communications

By donor communications I mean thank you letters/notes, newsletters, and other updates. Some organizations don’t prioritize these and want to spend their time “raising money.” They don’t seem to realize they can raise more money with better donor communications. Remember this cycle – ask, thank, report, repeat.

Don’t skimp on your communications budget. Creating thank you cards and infographic postcards is a good investment and a necessity, not a luxury. Thank you cards are a much better investment than mailing labels and other useless swag.

Maybe you need to reallocate your budget to cover some of these expenses. You could also look into additional sources of unrestricted funding. 

Remember, you can also use email and social media to communicate with donors. This reiterates the need for a good email service provider with professional looking templates for your e-newsletter and other updates.

5 ELEMENTS OF A STELLAR DONOR COMMUNICATIONS PLAN THAT BUILDS DONOR LOYALTY

Speaking of unrestricted funding 

We need to stop treating overhead or infrastructure as something bad. Some funders want us to spend our budget on programs, but how can we successfully run our programs if we don’t have enough staff and can barely afford to pay the people we do have? A rotating door of development staff makes it hard to maintain those important relationships. Even though some people may be working from home, we still have rent and other expenses.

Until these funders stop worrying so much about overhead, you may want to invest some time in finding unrestricted funding sources – often individual gifts, including major gifts.

Don’t limit yourself by saying you can’t afford certain expenses. If you make the right investments, you should be able to raise more money.

Photo by  CreditScoreGeek.com

Let’s Try to Stop Using Jargon So Much

Over the last year, we’ve seen many examples of real problems affecting real people. We’ve also seen more authenticity. So why are some nonprofit organizations still using jargon in their donor communication?

They may be using the same, boring templates they’ve used for years or they’re so used to some of these terms that they don’t realize they fall flat with their donors. I think people use jargon because it’s insider language that makes them feel like they’re “in the know” in their professional community. It’s easy to slip into jargon mode in your work environment (whether that’s in person, virtual, or a combination of both). But the danger comes when jargon creeps outside of your insular world and into your donor communication.

People need to understand you to connect with you

We can get lazy and use jargon when we can’t think of anything fresh and original. Instead, you see appeal letters, thank you letters, newsletter articles, and annual reports laced with cringe-worthy terms such as food insecurity, at-risk youth, underserved communities, and impactful. While donors may know what some of these terms mean, they’re vague, impersonal, and can come across as demeaning.

Are You Speaking The Same Language As Your Donors?

How to do better

Sometimes you need to give a little more information. Let’s look at these problem terms and what you can say instead. You may use some of these terms internally and they might be in your mission statement, but try to limit them when you communicate with your donors.

  • Food insecurity The USDA defines it as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” Well, that’s a mouthful. I’ve never liked the term food insecurity because it’s so impersonal. We’re hearing this term a lot right now because it’s a huge problem. Let’s go a step further and put it in human terms by describing a situation where a single mother has to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.
  • At-risk means there’s a possibility something bad will happen. Instead of just saying at-risk students or youth, tell a story or give specific examples of something bad that could happen. Our tutoring program works with high school students who are more likely to fail their classes, be held back, and drop out of school. Last year it was crucial that we were able to provide students with Chromebooks, so they could continue their weekly tutoring sessions virtually. 
  • Underserved means not receiving adequate help or services. Instead of saying we work with underserved communities, explain what types of services these residents don’t receive. Maybe it’s healthcare, affordable housing, decent preschool education, or all of the above. Tell a story or give a specific example. Tina has to take two buses to see a doctor for her diabetes because there isn’t a good healthcare facility in her community. This made her anxious during the height of the pandemic and sometimes she skipped her regular appointments.
  • Impact means having an effect on someone or something. How are you doing that, and why is it important? Again, give a specific example. Thanks to donors like you, we’ve helped families find affordable housing so they don’t have to live in a shelter or with other family members, which isn’t always safe during the pandemic. Now they have a place to call home. And, let’s please all agree to stop using the word impactful.

Tell a story

This is why stories are so important. You can get beyond that vague, impersonal jargon and let your donors see firsthand how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

What would Aunt Shirley think?

I always like to use this analogy. Imagine you’re at a family gathering (provided everyone is either vaccinated or taking other measures to stay safe) and you’re explaining what your organization does to your 75-year old Aunt Shirley. Does she look confused and uninterested when you use words like underserved and at-risk, or does she want you to tell her more when you mention you’ve been able to help homeless families move into their own homes?

Stop using jargon in your work environment

Another way to help you transition from jargon to understandable language is to stop using it in your work environment. That means at staff meetings and in interoffice written communication. Maybe you go so far as to re-write your mission statement to make it more conversational. And telling staff and board members to recite your mission statement as an elevator pitch is a bad idea unless you can make it conversational.

Let’s stop using jargon when we can use clear, conversational language instead. Read on for more examples of why you should stop using jargon.

The Curse of Knowledge: You’re Using Jargon and You Don’t Even Know It

4 Reasons to Stop Using Nonprofit Jargon

Nonprofit Jargon: Do Your Supporters Understand Your Fundraising?

I Have No Idea What You’re Talking About [Nonprofit Jargon]

Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Many nonprofit organizations send all their donors and other supporters exactly the same communication, such as appeal letters, thank you letters, and annual reports. One size doesn’t fit all and in the case of a 55 page (yes, that’s right) annual report I received a few weeks ago, the size was XXL.

I’m not a fan of these massive annual reports for any donor. My husband and I would be considered smaller dollar donors and I believe these reports are wasted on them.

You don’t have to do an annual report and if you do, it should be about one fifth the size at the most. I wrote about annual reports a couple of months ago, so I won’t rant too specifically on this.

Here’s another post that asks the question – Is This the Year to Trash that Annual Report?

To the organization’s credit, their annual report is visually beautiful. Maybe it’s a little too nice and I’ll get to that later. It includes several stories and many photographs. They did address how COVID-19 presented a number of challenges for their clients and community. They also mentioned their commitment to racial equity, since 80% of the people they work with are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). It would have been clueless of them not to address these.

It’s clear the organization is very proud of their annual report, as evidenced by the opening line of the cover letter from the CEO – “On behalf of the entire X organization community, it is with great pride – and great appreciation for all our friends and supporters – that I provide you with this copy of X Organization’s Annual Report for 2020.” This is one of the few examples where they thanked donors.

It’s also clear they sent this annual report to all their donors and possibly potential donors instead of creating different types of reports for different types of donors. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

What do your donors want?

When we received this annual report, my husband’s first reaction was “I don’t want them spending our money on some fancy report.” Donors don’t always react well to something that looks too nice or expensive.

“Dale’s” mail (pt 4): everything else…

Since I’m not a typical donor and probably spent more time looking at this annual report than most smaller dollar donors, I know you do need to invest in a budget for donor communications. This organization has a large operating budget and reports that a majority of its expenses were program specific.

Think about how your donors would react if you sent them a huge annual report. Some are going to toss it right in the recycling bin or trash. Others may set it aside to look at later, realize they don’t have time to read it, and then pitch it. Others may flip through it, possibly annoyed that it’s so long. 

Most of your donors should receive a shorter annual report.

Create different types of annual reports for different donors

Why are you producing an annual report? If it’s for your donors, you need to acknowledge their role in helping you make a difference. This annual report rarely does that. It’s very focused on the organization.

I always recommend a short annual report of no more than four pages or an infographic postcard for most of your donors. Smaller dollar donors deserve to feel appreciated, not inundated with a lot of information. You can create slightly longer reports for major donors and grant funders.

This organization has several different programs you can support or you can give to where it’s needed most. They could have sent separate short impact reports for their different programs. Maybe one to people who supported early education and another one for homelessness prevention rather than lumping it all into one big report.

Creating different types of annual reports may be more work, but it probably took a lot of work to produce that massive one. Since the organization has all the information anyway, they could have broken it down into smaller reports. They could also share some of the stories in their newsletters instead. Besides, is a little more work such a bad thing? Personalized donor communication usually pays off.

Write your donor communication in the second person

All your donor communication should be written in the second person using you much more than we. This annual report was written in the third person. You know what’s written in the third person – press releases and other promotional material. This annual report seems very promotional. 

When you write in the second person you can write directly to your donor. Again, is this report supposed to be for donors? It doesn’t seem like it.

Nonprofit organizations often include an annual report when they submit a grant proposal. They may also bring one along when they meet with a major donor. Because they barely referenced their donors, this annual report seems more appropriate for potential funders.

Would it be so hard to include statements such as Thanks to you or Because of our generous donors along with a description of accomplishments (although not 40+ pages of them)? What’s the harm in giving an annual report like that to potential donors? Surely not as high as mostly ignoring current donors.

This happens too much

I see way too many examples of one size fits all communication. Organizations often send everyone the same appeal letter regardless of whether they are current donors, potential donors, or monthly donors. The same is true with thank you letters. 

Donors also have different interests and reasons for giving.  If you recognize this and send different types of communication to different types of donors, you’re letting them know they matter. 

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

When It Comes to Reaching Donors, One Size Doesn’t Fit All

5 Training Tips for Multi-Functional Nonprofit Teams

Nonprofit training is the key to running a successful organization. Learn how to incorporate these tips into your training to make the most of your resources.

By Matt Hugg

Training your nonprofit team is more important than ever. Methods and operations are changing daily, whether that’s for accounting and tax-filing, fundraising, program delivery, or any of the dozens of other functions in your organization. 

Then there’s the issue of liability. What if you make a mistake because you or your team members weren’t fully trained? Not to mention, learning the latest in whatever you do can be a lot cheaper than continuing on in the old, inefficient way. 

So, yes, you have no choice. You, your staff, and volunteers need to keep up. 

What are some great ways to keep multi-functional teams up to speed? Here are five powerful tips from experienced nonprofit training professionals:

1. Implement cross-training.

Cross-training isn’t new. You learn someone else’s job, and they learn yours. Then, if something happens, you’re both covered.

The problem is that a lot of people feel threatened by cross-training. They interpret it as the first step to replacing them—or at least making them more vulnerable to layoffs. “After all,”the rationale goes,“if someone else can do my job, why do they need me?”

The way someone takes to cross-training speaks more to the culture of the workplace than the value of the practice. There’s no doubt that understanding someone else’s job is valuable. 

Just imagine—and unfortunately, this is more than theoretical these days—your colleague comes down with an unexpected illness. They could be out for weeks. You can’t just stop providing your services because one person isn’t there. Given the state of today’s world, we’re probably in the best position to make a non-threatening case for cross-training. 

So how do you begin? Effective cross-training doesn’t start when you show up at someone’s desk and say, “show me how.” Instead, it starts with something everyone should be doing: documenting their work processes. 

Creating a “how-to” manual for your job may seem like busywork, but it’s an effective way to learn your job in the best way possible while reflecting the brand and values of your nonprofit. It can also be valuable for performance evaluations and if someone needs to step into your role in an emergency.

With your manual in hand (or more likely, on a screen or tablet), you’re ready to start cross-training. 

First, pair off your staff. It might seem logical to match people with similar or equivalent positions, especially when specific skills or licensures are involved. For example, matching a social worker who cares for children with one who cares for the elderly. However, you can reap even greater benefits (and provide greater insights) by connecting people with entirely different roles, like a manager with a coordinator or a person from one department with someone from another. 

To get the job done faster and with some measure of enthusiasm, institute an incentive system. Consider rewarding the team (with money, a day off, a gift card, etc.) when the trainee can successfully show competence in the work they’re learning.

2. Incorporate multi-channel learning.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that humans are wired in a variety of ways in how they best receive information. Some of us learn best by reading. Others love video. Others still get the most out of podcasts. And let’s not forget the ones who need a live classroom, whether online or in-person. Everyone has their favorite.

When it comes to training your staff, there’s good news and bad news in this. The good news is that if you pick the right one, your team’s ability to receive and process information will skyrocket, and you’ll have a more effective staff as a result. The bad news is that producing training in so many ways is time-consuming and costly. Plus, the same person who can write a training manual may be the wrong person to present that information in a video or podcast and vice versa. 

It would be disingenuous to suggest that you can take a middle ground on this. No matter what method you select, if you stick with a single channel, you’ll get mixed results at best. Some will suck up the information, and others will check out in the first few minutes. So, it’s a good idea to go with two or more channels to better accommodate your learners and ensure that they do the best learning they can.

3. Incentivize education.

What’s disappointing as an educator is knowing that at some time in nearly everyone’s life, they had a bad learning experience—and that’s usually the experience they remember the most. Perhaps they were bored, they had test anxiety, or they even associate education with the physical and emotional pain that was inflicted by bullies or terrible teachers. So, when you say “we’re having a training session on that,” you can almost see the flashbacks on their faces as they return to whatever bad experience they recall.

Since you can’t guarantee that someone will joyfully, or at least with an open mind, show up at your training, your best bet is to incentivize them. 

Incentivizing isn’t just a reward at the end of successful completion of your training—although it can be. It starts before the training begins, with a promise that what you’re presenting will be engaging—and yes, even fun. Creating expectations is critical to successful training. You need to market the benefits of attendance, even if it’s required. Training is more effective, and easier to carry out, if the trainees want to be there.

Then, of course, you need to carry out that promise. If you do, recruiting attendees for your next training will be much easier. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be surprised when there are a lot of empty seats in front of you next time.

4. Prioritize ongoing learning.

“Show me your budget and I’ll show you your priorities.” More than likely, you’ve heard this saying before.

So, what’s your budget for staff and volunteer education and training? What does it tell us?

You’re going to pay for education one way or another. If it’s not in your budget, many of your staff and volunteers won’t take the initiative and expense on themselves. You’ll “pay” in using outdated processes, high staff and volunteer turnover, and maybe even a lawsuit that hits when someone makes a costly mistake because they’re not properly trained for their function. That means organizational training is actually one of the smartest investments you can make!

But paying for education may not mean paying for someone to take a class or go to a conference. There are a lot of free resources out there. For a low-cost training initiative, you could equip someone to organize a certification program that takes staff or volunteers through specific videos, documents, or podcasts with a test you devise at the end. 

Or, you could set up your own training programs using in-house staff. It’s shown that if you need to teach someone else, you learn that subject better yourself, as well. Assigning someone on your staff to teach fellow team members can be a growth experience for them and an excellent learning experience for others.

5. Keep it short and focused. 

The human brain is a funny thing. It’s much more powerful than the fastest computer we can build, but it works best when data is input in short, measured flows. 

Think of a funnel and a hose. If you turn the hose on full blast, it’s easy to overwhelm the funnel and spill water all over the ground. If you regulate the flow, you get full value from the water when it all goes down the tube. It’s the same with the human brain.

In professional development, this means keep your subject matter focused, and present it in short bursts of time—like 20 minutes or less. 

This doesn’t mean you have to schedule 60 minutes of training over three days. It means to schedule strategic breaks and processing time into your training. For example, watch a short video (less than 20 minutes), then complete a review questionnaire, interact with other learners about the subject, or take a coffee break. Just make sure you’re giving time for your material to sink in before pushing more down the funnel.


Education and training are too valuable to your nonprofit to leave them to chance. You can’t waste your organization’s resources on ineffective training, and you can’t afford not to train, either. Your staff, volunteers, and most importantly, those you serve, deserve it. Good luck!

Matt Hugg is an author and instructor in nonprofit management in the US and abroad. He is president and founder of Nonprofit.Courses, an on-demand, eLearning educational resource for nonprofit leaders, staff, board members, and volunteers, with thousands of courses in nearly every aspect of nonprofit work.  

He’s the author of The Guide to Nonprofit Consulting, and Philanders Family Values, Fun Scenarios for Practical Fundraising Education for Boards, Staff, and Volunteers, and a contributing author to The Healthcare Nonprofit: Keys to Effective Management.

Matt teaches fundraising, philanthropy, and marketing in graduate programs at Eastern University, the University of Pennsylvania, Juniata College, and Thomas Edison State University via the web, and in-person in the United States, Africa, Asia, and Europe. He is also a popular conference speaker

How to Make Your Nonprofit Messages Stand Out

The average attention span for humans is a mere eight seconds. Goldfish have longer attention spans, but they lead much simpler lives and aren’t inundated with information the way we are.

Goldfish pay more attention than humans (but goldfish can’t make gifts)

I feel as if our information overload gets worse every year. And, I don’t need to remind you how much is going on right now. Getting your messages out is never easy, but like everything else, it’s gotten a whole lot harder this past year.

Your nonprofit organization needs to continue communicating regularly with your donors and you need to do it well. With everything that’s going on, it’s possible they’ll miss your messages. 

Here are a few ways to make your messages stand out. 

What’s your intention?

What’s the purpose of your message? What do you want your reader to do? Are you asking for a donation? Maybe you’re thanking your donor or sharing an update.

Think from your reader’s perspective. What would she be interested in or what would make him take action?

Don’t muddle your messages with too much information. Keep it simple and stick to one call to action or type of message. 

Choose the right channels

Most likely you’ll use more than one channel to communicate. Pay attention to the channels your donors are using and focus your efforts there.

Email may be the primary way you’re communicating right now and there’s a reason for that. 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. Also, unlike social media, it’s something you can control. You don’t have to rely on a social media algorithm to hope your message ends up in your donor’s feed.

The downside is people get a huge amount of email from a variety of different sources. The same is true with social media. It’s easy for your messages to get lost in the shuffle. Plus, factor in Zoom and Netflix and at some point people don’t want to look at a screen anymore. 

While you’ll likely use electronic communication pretty regularly, don’t discount direct mail. Your donors are more likely to see these messages. We get far less postal mail than electronic communication. Also, a person can put a piece of mail aside and look at it later. Don’t count on that happening with any type of electronic communication. You can also communicate by phone. This is a great way to thank your donors.

Going multichannel is another option. This is very common for fundraising campaigns and inviting people to events, as well as including a link to your e-newsletter on your social media platforms. This way if people miss your initial message on one platform, they may see it on a different one.

Get noticed right away

Remember, your donors have a lot going on and you need to capture their attention right away.

Your fundraising letters and anything else you send by mail needs to look appealing enough to open. You could put a tagline on the envelope. That doesn’t mean something like It’s Our Annual Appeal. Try something like – How you can help students boost their reading skills. Your envelope should look personal and not resemble a bill or junk mail.

“Dale’s” mail

Once your donor opens your fundraising appeal, lead with a story followed by a clear, prominent ask. When they open your thank you letter, they should be greeted with gratitude.

A good subject line is the key to getting someone to open your email message. Keep in mind that your donor’s inbox is crammed with messages. Don’t use something boring like April e-newsletter or Donation Received. Entice them with Find out how you helped students boost their reading skills. or You just did something amazing today!  

Keep them engaged once they open your message.

Keep it short

In many cases, a shorter message is best. You want a good balance between saying too much and saying too little. All your words should count, so be careful about adding too much filler. That often includes bragging about your organization and explaining what you do.

I recently received an annual report that was 55 pages long. While this is not a post about how to create an annual report, I imagine most donors are going to look at it and think,“I don’t have time to read this.”

Plus, people have short attention spans.

What’s in My Inbox | Shorter attention spans means you need to deliver with your enews

Your goal is to get your donors to read your messages. If it looks long and boring, they probably won’t bother.

Make it easy to read and scan

Besides sending a short message, use short paragraphs and lots of white space, too. Your messages need to be easy to read and scan in an instant. Most people aren’t going to read something word for word. Be sure they can quickly get the gist of what you want to say. Don’t use microscopic font either – use 12 point or higher.

Be personal and conversational

Write directly to your reader using clear, conversational language – no jargon. Don’t confuse your donors with generic messages.

Don’t cast a wide net

It’s important that you send your messages to the right audience and your audience isn’t everyone.

You’ll have more luck with a fundraising appeal when you send it to past donors or people who have a connection to your cause. The same is true for event invitations or recruiting volunteers.

You may want to reach out to as many people as possible, but that won’t guarantee you’ll get more donations or event attendees. Segmenting and engaging with the right audience will bring you better results.

Going back to that annual report, it seemed more appropriate for major funders and prospective funders than smaller dollar donors. It also wasn’t very donor-centered, but I digress. It looks like that organization decided to send all their donors this massive annual report instead of trying to engage smaller dollar donors with something shorter.

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 messages. If all you do is send them generic fundraising appeals, then you need to make some changes.

When you send email, make sure people know it’s coming from your organization. In the from field, put DoGood Nonprofit or Susan Taylor, DoGood Nonprofit. If you just put a person’s name or info@dogoodnonprofit.org, people may not know who it’s from and ignore your message.

Only send email to people who have opted into your list. Otherwise, you’re spamming them. Some people will choose not to receive email from you, and that’s okay. The ones who do are interested in hearing from you. Give people the option to unsubscribe, too.

Even though people only get a few pieces of mail a day, most of it’s junk mail. You never want any of your letters, newsletters, or postcards to be perceived as junk mail (see above).

By putting in a little time and effort, you can help ensure that your messages stand out.

3 Strategies for Nonprofit Messages that Stand Out in Donors’ Mailboxes

How to Write Awesome Emails Your Donors Want to Read

How You Can Create a More Engaging Nonprofit Newsletter

In theory, a newsletter can be a great way to engage with your donors. In reality, that often doesn’t happen because most donor newsletters can be used as a cure for insomnia. They’re too long and filled with boring articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

You can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s how.

Think about what your donors want

You need to include content that will interest your donors. You also need to reference the current situations. Do you think your donors would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about Alicia, a single mother who is having trouble making ends meet, but is grateful she can get food for her family at the Riverside Community food bank? 

The answer should be obvious. Your donors want to hear about how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.

If you’re a larger organization, you could create different newsletters for different programs or one specifically for monthly donors.

Don’t shy away from a print newsletter 

You may opt not to do a print newsletter because it’s expensive and takes too much time, but you’re making a mistake if many of your donors prefer print.

I think you’ll have more success if you can do both print and electronic newsletters. I recommend a short e-newsletter once or twice a month and one to four print newsletters a year.

Many organizations put a donation envelope in their print newsletter. This is a proven way to raise additional money and you may be able to recoup your expenses.

You can also save money by creating a shorter print newsletter (maybe two pages instead of four) or only mailing once or twice a year. You can print them in-house, as long as it looks professional.

In my last post, I mentioned the importance of having a clean mailing list. If you can get rid of duplicate and undeliverable addresses, that’s another way to save a little money.

Donors are more likely to read a print newsletter. But ask them what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer print, then you need to find a way to accommodate them.

Share your stories

Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. I’m sure you have a lot of stories from the past year that you can share.

Client stories are best, but you could also do profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Focus on what drew them to your mission (more on that below).

Create a story bank that includes at least four client stories to use every year.

Don’t stray from your mission

A common article I see in many nonprofit newsletters is one about a foundation or major donor giving a large gift. This may be accompanied by a picture of someone holding a giant check. Of course, you should recognize these donors (and all donors), but why is this gift important? How will it help your clients/community? For example – This generous $50,000 grant from the Better World Foundation will allow us to buy much-needed laptops for our tutoring program.

Something else I see a lot is a profile of a new board member. Instead of focusing so much on their professional background, let your donors know what drew them to your organization. We welcome Sarah Davis, Vice President of First National Bank, to our board. Sarah has a brother with autism and is very passionate about finding ways for people with autism to live independent lives. 

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped Alicia put food on the table or Because of donors like you, X number of families have been able to get healthy food every week. 

Leave out the jargon and other language your donors won’t understand. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.

I’m not a fan of the letter from the CEO because those tend to be organization-centered instead of donor-centered.  

Show some gratitude

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. Many donors stepped up this past year and they deserve to be thanked as often as possible. Every one of your newsletters needs to show gratitude and emphasize how much you appreciate your donors.

Make it easy to read (and scan)

Most of your donors aren’t going to read your newsletter word for word, especially your e-newsletter. Include enticing headlines and email subject lines (if you don’t, your donors may not read it at all), at least a 12-point font, and lots of white space so your donors can easily scan your newsletter.

Stick to black type on a white background as much as possible. Colors are pretty, but not if it’s hindering your donor’s ability to read your newsletter. Photos can be a great way to add some color, as well as tell a story in an instant.

Use the inverted pyramid and put the most important story first (client story or profile), keeping in mind your donors may not get to all the articles.

Also, make sure your donors can read your e-newsletter on a mobile device.

Keep it short

Your print newsletter should be no more than four pages. Limit your monthly e-newsletter to four articles. Some organizations send an e-newsletter twice a month. Those should be even shorter – maybe just two articles. People have a lot going on and don’t want to be bombarded with too much information.

Do the best you can

For some of you, putting together a newsletter may be too much to take on, especially now. You don’t have to do an actual newsletter, but you do need to keep your donors updated.

Do what you can, but be sure to update your donors at least once a month. You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent email updates and postcards with an infographic a few times a year.

Create an engaging newsletter that your donors will want to read.

Read on for more information on how to create a great donor newsletter.

Nonprofit Donor Newsletters | Print or Enews?

7 Nonprofit E-Newsletter Best Practices

24 Content Ideas for Your Next Nonprofit Newsletter

Photo by Petr Sejba www.moneytoplist.com.

Make Time for Some Spring Cleaning

Spring is officially here and depending on where you live, it may or may not feel like it. Here in Boston, we’re starting to see the beginning of warmer weather.

I’ve been hearing a lot about spring cleaning lately. I know, groan. Some people took on a bunch of cleaning and decluttering projects during the pandemic. I wasn’t one of them. It was too much to deal with, although I did shred two years of financial documents recently. 

I know I should do more. As much as I dislike cleaning and organizing, I’m happy once it gets done. Often getting started is the hardest part.

Your nonprofit organization may have put off some version of your own spring cleaning and decluttering. You were just trying to run your organization during a tumultuous year.

Make time to take on these so-called cumbersome tasks. Just think how happy you’ll be once you tackle them. You’ll also make some much-needed improvements to your infrastructure and donor communication.

Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.

Clean up your mailing lists and database

Has it been a while since you’ve updated your mailing lists? Did you have an influx of address changes, returned mail, and bounced emails after you sent your year-end appeal? This is a good time to clean up and update both your direct mail and email mailing lists.

Don’t wait until right before your next mailing to clean up your donor data. And, if you didn’t communicate by mail over the last year, then you really need to do some what is known as data hygiene.

Even though it’s tedious, have someone who’s familiar with your donors (your development director?) go through your mailing lists and database/CRM (customer relationship management) 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.

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

CLEAN UP YOUR ACT: DONOR DATA MANAGEMENT FOR NONPROFITS

7 strategies for keeping your nonprofit donor database clean

Run your donor list through the National Change of Address database. It may cost some money to do this, but it’s worth it if you come out with squeaky clean data. Do this at least once a year.

Also, if you haven’t already done this, segment your donors into different groups – new donors, returning donors, monthly donors, etc. You may need to make some changes. For example, if a single gift donor starts giving monthly.

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

You might also want to move some lapsed donors who haven’t donated for several years into an inactive file. Don’t do this until you’ve sent targeted, personalized appeals asking them to donate again. And if you’ve never gotten in touch with any lapsed donors from 2020, you could reach out to them now.

Do the same thing with your email list. It doesn’t make sense to send email to people who don’t respond to it. Give these people a chance to re-engage, and if they’re not even opening your emails, move them to an inactive file.

Spring cleaning for your email list(s)

Maybe you need a better CRM/database. If you’re using a spreadsheet to store your donor records, then you need an actual database. Get the best one you can afford.

Fundraising Software Advice

Spring is about bringing in the new, and a better database would be a wise investment. It can help you raise more money. Organizations with good databases were able to quickly launch an emergency fundraising campaign when the pandemic hit.

Freshen up your messages

Now that you’ve cleaned up your mailing lists and segmented your donors, it’s time to freshen up your messages. As I mentioned in my last post, your donor communication needs to reference the current situations. When it doesn’t, it leads me to wonder if you’re using a template from way back when. 

It’s important for you to update your fundraising and thank you letter templates. If you’re still using vague jargon, such as at risk or underserved, you’re undermining your clients/community. Your donors look at the news every day and see people lined up at food banks or countless examples of discrimination. You can’t ignore this by hiding behind your jargon. Over the last year, we’ve seen a lot of authenticity. Bring that into your donor communication.

This post From Jargon to Generosity references a fundraising letter that opens with “Your gift of as little as $44 can provide quality resources for a child at the children’s home.” What do quality resources mean? Is it healthy food, a warm bed at night, a safe environment with a compassionate staff? Be specific and use language your donors will understand. 

Your thank you letters need to actually thank your donors, not brag about your organization. Make sure your automatically generated thank you emails and landing pages don’t look like boring receipts. Create separate templates for new donors, current donors, and monthly donors.

The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan 

Don’t put it off too long

I know you have a lot going on, but you need to tackle these projects sooner rather than later. Just like the clutter and dust in your home won’t disappear on their own, the longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. 

Take on these spring cleaning projects as soon as you can. You’ll be happy once they’re done. Your donors will also be happy if they don’t get duplicate mailings and a fundraising letter laced with jargon, but do receive a personalized appeal and a stellar thank you letter.

Navigating the Current Climate One Year Later

We’ve just gone through a tough year. It’s around the one year anniversary of when everything started shutting down in the United States. I know it was earlier in other parts of the world. In addition to the pandemic, we’ve endured an economic downturn, racial reckoning, political turmoil, and climate disasters.

We’re still living through many of these challenges as life veers towards something more normal, but it won’t ever the same.

Your nonprofit organization has gone through a lot and is continuing to navigate this ever-changing climate. It’s important to not give up and persevere.

Nonprofit organizations are essential

We’ve heard a lot about all the people who are essential in our society. Nonprofit organizations are essential. Take a moment to congratulate yourself for making it through this year and continuing to provide essential services as best you could.

In an ideal society, the government is also essential, but in many ways, the U.S. government failed us and nonprofits (with support from essential donors) stepped in to help. For example, a major winter storm in Texas last month caused massive power outages that were made worse because the state chose to isolate its power grid from national grids, making it difficult to import electricity from other states. While some government officials fled the state, those without that luxury had to deal with hardships such as no power and water. And who stepped in to help right away?  A bunch of nonprofits ranging from national organizations to local aid groups.

Keep fundraising

I’ve been telling you for the last year to keep fundraising! Donors will give if they can. If you’re short on revenue, here are a couple of ways to raise more money.

Organizations with a strong monthly giving program have done well. Monthly giving makes sense on so many levels. Nonprofits receive a steady stream of revenue throughout the year, monthly giving makes it easier for donors to spread out their gifts, and the monthly donor retention rate is 90%. Monthly donors are also more likely to become major donors and legacy donors. What’s not to like?

Why Monthly Giving Makes Sense

Another way to pick up some extra revenue is to reach out to your lapsed donors. Donors stop giving for a variety of reasons. Maybe things were tough for them financially last year or they were just too overwhelmed to donate. 

Circumstances change. Reach out to donors who have given in the past, but didn’t donate in 2020. Send them personalized appeals. If you find out a donor can’t afford to give right now, respect that, but keep sending messages of gratitude and updates, unless they opt out.

The right way to win back lapsed donors

Don’t go silent

One reason donors stop giving is because they rarely hear from you or when they do, your messages are uninspiring. This is something you can control.

It’s important to keep up with your donor engagement. An underlying theme of many of my posts this year is better communication will help you raise more money. 

I know it may continue to be hard, but you can’t ignore your donors. You don’t need to take on too much. Aim for short, high-quality messages once or twice a month.

Do the Best that You Can

You can’t ignore the current climate

When I see communication that doesn’t reference the pandemic or other current situations, it makes me wonder if the organization is using a template that needs to be revised. It’s a good idea to refresh your messages at least once a year, but in this ever-changing world, you’ll need to do it more often.

I will say that since the start of the pandemic, most donor communication is more personal and less generic. Some specifically references COVID-19, while others mention a challenging year. You also have specific needs and an urgency. Organizations that made this clear raised more money.

Keep Up the Urgency

Your organization has faced challenges, everyone has, and you need to acknowledge that.

Looking to the future

This is an opportunity to revisit some of your practices. Were virtual events and donor meetings successful for you? We may be looking at a hybrid of in-person and virtual gatherings for a while. 

Donors are also going to expect honest communication about your need and want to hear about your success and challenges. 

The future still holds uncertainty, but things are going to get better. If you’ve communicated more with your donors over the last year, keep that up. If you’ve been hesitant, you need to do more. Don’t be afraid to ask for donations. Keep up the better communication. 

Keep up your essential work!

What Will a Post-COVID Nonprofit Economy Reveal?

A glimpse of the fundraising picture in 2020 reveals some important truths

5 Tips to Use Your Nonprofit Site as A Donor Engagement Tool

By Anne Stefanyk

Your nonprofit website is a valuable tool for modern fundraising. Not only is it the first place prospects look to learn more about your organization, it’s also where current supporters go for updates on your mission and to explore upcoming opportunities. 

As the focal point of almost all of your donor engagements, without your nonprofit website, you’d have trouble both recruiting new supporters and retaining current ones.

There are a number of elements that play a critical role in how your website performs, the way visitors engage with it, and your online conversion rates. To position your site as a successful donor engagement tool, you’ll need an optimized nonprofit website. 

The best nonprofit sites are well-designed, scalable, easy to use, and effectively meet your target users’needs. If you want to leverage your own site as a donor engagement tool, make sure to follow these five tips:

  1. Review general website development best practices
  2. Integrate your site with other nonprofit solutions
  3. Advertise your upcoming campaigns and events
  4. Add consistent content to your blog roll
  5. Consider starting an online webinar series

Let’s dive in by reviewing the basics. 

1. Review general website development best practices

Taking some insight from Kanopi’s team of website user experience (UX) experts: “As the centerpiece of your digital engagements, your nonprofit website UX is extremely important if you want to not only acquire new supporters, but continue to retain current ones.”

Nonprofit website UX encompasses how users interact with your site. From how long it takes to load to how easy it is to navigate through different pages, there are a number of factors that can either encourage site visitors to continue engaging with your site or push them away. 

If you want to improve your own site UX, reviewing general nonprofit website maintenance practices is the best place to start. 

Here are the basic essentials to know:

  • Stick to simple user-based design. Your website already hosts a variety of different engagements. To minimize confusion and benefit your site UX, make sure each page and section stays simple and serves one clear purpose. Cramming too much information or site elements into one place can be overwhelming. 
  • Test your site load time. If your website doesn’t load fast enough, the chances of users giving up on it drastically increases. Regularly test your site and flag any obvious loading pain points, like large image or video files.  
  • Make sure it is mobile-optimized. With 51% of online site traffic coming from mobile phones, it’s critical that your site works on any size screen. If not, you’re missing out on over half of your supporters. 
  • Feature Call to actions (CTAs) to popular engagements. It’s likely people are visiting your site because they want to learn more, donate, sign up for an event (virtual for now), or become a volunteer. Include clear buttons and links, as well as a navigation menu that takes site visitors to these pages.

These are just some general tips for making sure your website is in good shape. With these basics down, you can start focusing on specific tools and content you’ll need to take your donor engagement to the next level. Above all, UX is a top priority. Explore these examples of top nonprofit websites to see these best practices in action.  

2. Integrate your site with other nonprofit solutions

As the center of your online engagements, your nonprofit website is doing a very important job: collecting data. This includes metrics of how prospective and current donors find your site and the specific links and pages that they frequent. Information like this can help you create targeted marketing strategies and give you a sense of the different types of supporters you have.

To make good use of this data and expand your donor engagement capabilities, we recommend integrating your other nonprofit solutions as well. Tech integrations connect separate software platforms to centralize their data. 

For nonprofits, having integrations between your online donation tools, constituent relationship management (CRM) database, email communications tool, and website is critical. This ensures that you have real-time access to accurate engagement data. 

What does this mean for your nonprofit website? Use your nonprofit and donor data to help strategize the best ways to create a meaningful and valuable experience for site visitors. This can not only help you capitalize on engagement efforts, but also deepen your donor relationships. It also leverages the best of other tools so your site and staff don’t have to do all the heavy lifting.

3. Advertise your upcoming campaigns and events

This might seem like a no-brainer, but your website should showcase all of your upcoming fundraising campaigns and events. If prospects or current supporters want to participate, they’ll go to your website to find out more. 

For one thing, we recommend dedicating entire pages to each event or campaign. This way, you have ample space to discuss details, how supporters can participate, and even embed a customized and branded online donation form. Then, using website design and layout, make sure to effectively advertise those exciting opportunities.

Here are some ways you can do this:

  • Put your event or campaign marketing content front and center on your homepage. Remember to switch out this content once the event is over or else your website risks looking outdated.
  • Link to your events calendar within your navigation menu.
  • Incorporate key calls-to-action to event sign-ups and donation pages across different web pages wherever it seems valuable. 
  • Include links back to the event or campaign page in other marketing content like email newsletters and social media posts.

Whether you want to get a head start on your year-end giving campaign or you’re announcing a brand new event, connect prospects to your nonprofit website so they have actionable and concrete next steps. 

4. Add consistent content to your blog roll

What if you don’t have any events or campaigns coming up? How can you still send users to your online site? Consider creating consistent and active blog content! You can do this right on your nonprofit website with a dedicated blog roll.

Many organizations, software companies, and services in the philanthropic space create blog posts for their websites. Not only does this paint them as an authoritative figure, but it’s a valuable digital strategy that increases website SEO (search engine optimization). The more high-quality content your website has, the better Google and other search engines will rank it.

But what kind of blog posts should you create and what kind of content is your audience interested in? Use this list to start brainstorming with your marketing team:

  • News stories relevant to your mission
  • Advice and tips for those in the community that your nonprofit serves
  • Updates on nonprofit events, campaigns, and other major accomplishments
  • Announcements for new nonprofit developments
  • Testimonials from community members you’ve helped

For instance, The American Heart Association has blog content specific to healthy living and other health-related topics. Even though these blog posts aren’t directly discussing the campaigns and accomplishments they’ve achieved, they still provide value and offer an additional engagement point for their supporters. 

5. Consider starting an online webinar series

Similar to creating blog content, starting an online webinar series is a key way to position your organization as a thought leader. Webinars are usually meetings or presentations that are hosted online, either live or pre-recorded, and led by professionals of the topic at hand.

Many nonprofit organizations and related businesses host webinars to talk about topics ranging from top fundraising strategies to new advancements in their particular field. But these aren’t just beneficial to teach your nonprofit supporters and peers best practices. They also offer an additional layer of interactivity!

Depending on the webinar and video conferencing platform you use, audience members should be able to comment, ask questions, and even talk to each other. This doesn’t just engage your supporters, but also encourages them to interact with each other and build an online community

Consider asking top staff members or other experts serving similar missions to lead these conversations. You might even crowdsource some good ideas from viewers that you can implement into future fundraising efforts. DonorSearch has a helpful list of nonprofit webinar series that you can explore for inspiration. 

Start small. Don’t commit to too many webinars. If you can only handle one per quarter, that’s just fine. And once the webinar is over? You can repurpose that content into a blog post, which helps address item #4 on our list.

Conclusion

Don’t let your nonprofit website fall to the wayside. As one of your most important donor engagement tools, a well-designed and valuable site can take your fundraising and important relationships to the next level. 

Make sure to review basic site best practices for a solid foundation and then brainstorm creative content to keep visitors engaged. Soon, your website will become the go-to for supporters and donors who want to learn more—not just about what your nonprofit is doing, but about the major updates regarding your mission in general. Good luck!

As Founder and CEO of Kanopi Studios, Anne Stefanyk helps create clarity around project needs and turns client conversations into actionable outcomes. She enjoys helping clients identify their problems, and then empowering the Kanopi team to execute great solutions.

Anne is an advocate for open source and co-organizes the Bay Area Drupal Camp. When she’s not contributing to the community or running her thoughtful web agency, she enjoys yoga, meditation, treehouses, dharma, cycling, paddle boarding, kayaking, and hanging with her nephew.

Twitter – @Anne_Kanopi

https://www.drupal.org/u/annabella

https://www.linkedin.com/in/annestefanyk/