The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in Year-End Fundraising – Part One

At the end of November, I made year-end donations to 25 organizations. Because I was worried about people who would be left behind in the new administration, 11 of these were new donations.

I wish I could tell you that all these organizations sent glowing thank you letters and have been following up with engaging updates and minimal additional requests for donations, but, alas, that is not the case.

Some organizations are doing a better job of communicating than others. Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly of what I experienced after I made my year-end donations.

Saying thank you

I made all my donations online, but only four organizations sent me thank you letters, and one sent a handwritten postcard. I’m a big believer in sending a thank you by mail or making a phone call even if someone donates online.

Two of the letters started with the dreaded “On behalf of.“ If you’re sending something on your letterhead, I already know it’s coming from your organization. The first words in your letter should be Thank you or something like You’re incredible.

One of the letters included a pre-printed Thank You! in big, bold, blue scripted letters at the top. Another opened with Welcome, and thanks so much … since I’m a new donor. These are simple things you can do to make your letters stand out.

All of the organizations sent email thank you messages. Some were generic receipts. Others opened with a story and an engaging photo.

Automatic emails won’t be personalized, which is why you should also thank by mail or phone. You can, however, still write a warm, heartfelt thank you message.

Another way to stand out is with a good email subject line. You have to include a subject line, so give some thought to it. Many of the organizations said thank you in the subject line.  One acknowledged it was a monthly gift.

A couple of good examples are Thank you, Ann and Thank you for your generosity. Some not so good examples are Donation received, Thank you.Your gift has been received (they get additional demerits for using the passive voice), and X organization Gift Acknowledgement

If you use a lame subject line, it’s less likely someone will even open your thank you email. Once they do, inspire them with opening lines such as You did something incredible, You are taking a stand for justice or You did something important.

Welcoming new donors

I made a number of first-time donations, but I’m not feeling a whole lot of new donor love. As mentioned above, I did get welcomed as a new donor and the thank you letter included links of ways to get involved.

One organization offered me a t-shirt, which I declined.  A thank you letter included contact information and a link to tell the organization why I supported them. Another invited me to take a tour of the organization, which is a great way to connect.

Otherwise, it was business as usual. Don’t fall into that trap. You need to go the extra mile to welcome new donors. With first-time donor retention rates at about 30%, you can’t afford to be complacent.

Monthly giving

This is the first time I’ve done monthly giving – approximately half of my gifts were monthly ones. I actually got more response to being a monthly donor than being a new one.

One organization gave me the name of a contact person if I needed to change anything. Another specifically sent me a story letting me know how my monthly donation is helping them make a difference.

Here’s a good example of a way to communicate your thanks to your monthly donors  –  I really can’t emphasize enough how much we appreciate our monthly donors. Your consistent support is the backbone of our program.  Another organization refers to their monthly donors as Friends for All Seasons.

A different organization sent me an email thank you acknowledgment for the second installment of my monthly gift. I assume this will be a regular occurrence, which is a great idea. You want to encourage monthly donations and ensure your donors will keep supporting you this way. Setting up an engaging thank you email to go out each month is a great start.

Stayed tuned for Part Two where I share the good, the bad, and the ugly of how these organizations are staying in touch, or not.

Start the New Year on the Right Track

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Happy New Year! I hope you had a good holiday. I just returned from my family’s annual trip to Florida. It’s quite a contrast from dreary Boston, but at least there’s no snow (yet).

I also hope 2016 was a good year for your organization, and 2017 will be successful, too. You can help ensure that by starting the New Year on the right track. Here’s how.

Evaluate and plan

Take a look back at 2016 to see what worked and what didn’t in your fundraising and communications. Incorporate what you’ve learned into your 2017 plans.

If you haven’t made fundraising and communications plans yet, do that now! Don’t go too far into the New Year without plans in place. Also, make sure you evaluate your progress at least once a quarter.

Nonprofit Fundraising Plan: 6 Must-Do Steps For Success

COMMUNICATION PLAN TEMPLATE

Rev Up Your Data with Dashboards

Figure out your retention rate

As you’re doing your year-end evaluation, figure out your donor retention rate. A Guide to Donor Retention

If it’s low, it’s something you can fix, usually with better communication. Most of the reasons your donors leave are your own fault

Get in touch with your lapsed donors

Get in touch with donors who have given in the last two years, but not this year. Call them or send a personalized note. Let them know you miss them and want them back.

They may not have given to your year-end campaign for a variety of reasons including being too busy or not wanting to spend too much in December. The New Year could be a perfect time to reach out.

Thank your donors

I hope you thanked your donors after your year-end appeal and I hope you didn’t send one of those lame, generic letters. If you never sent a thank you, do that now!

Either way, the New Year is a great time to thank your donors. You want to show gratitude at least once a month. Wish your donors a Happy New Year, thank them again, and share a success story. You can do this by email or social media.

And, make a resolution to do a better job of thanking your donors this year. Say Thank You Like You Mean It

Don’t brag so much

Your donors wouldn’t have given to your organization if they didn’t think highly of you. You may be planning to create an annual report and continue to share accomplishments in your newsletter and other updates. When you do this, remember to focus on how your donors are helping you make a difference for the people/community you serve.

I just received a year-end update from an organization that included some extreme bragging. Only at the very end did they thank their donors. They should have done that in the first sentence.  

Give specific examples of how you are helping people, and dial back on the bragging. Are You Bragging Too Much?

More stories – less jargon

On the other hand, I received a short report from a different organization which opened with a compelling story about a man named Michael who is worried about where he and his young son, Eli, will find their next meal.

Okay, they did throw in the dreaded words food insecurity, but that jargon is countered with real stories about real people.

Spend time this year collecting stories and use language your donors will understand. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend. Don’t get bogged down with a lot of explanation.

Be sure to tell visual stories, too. You can capture your donors’ attention in an instant with an engaging photo or short video.

3 AMAZING EXAMPLES OF NON-PROFIT STORYTELLING

Stay in touch throughout the year

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference. Don’t let them down.

It will be a whole lot easier to stay in touch with your donors if you use a communications (aka editorial) calendar.  Why You Need a Communications Calendar

Here’s wishing you a successful 2017!

Why You Need a Communications Calendar

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I hope your year-end fundraising campaign is going well. Fundraising is a year-round effort and after you’ve thanked your donors, you need to make a plan to communicate with them at least once or twice a month throughout the year.

If you’re getting stressed out wondering how you’re going to pull this off, then you need a communications calendar (also known as an editorial calendar).

I like the term communications calendar because it emphasizes the importance of communicating with your donors and other supporters all-year-round.

This is not just a job for your marketing department. All departments need to work together. Figure out what information you need to share and when to share it. You want a consistent stream of information – not three emails in one day and nothing for three weeks.

As you put together your communications calendar, think about how you will use different channels and which audience(s) should receive your messages. You may only send direct mail a few times a year, but send an e-newsletter once a month and communicate by social media several times a week. You’ll often use a number of different channels when you send a fundraising appeal or promote an event.

Start big by looking at the entire year and then break it down by months and weeks. You’ll keep adding to your communications calendar throughout the year.

Here are some categories you can use in your communications calendar. Some items will be time sensitive and others won’t be.

Events

Does your organization hold any events? Besides your events, are there other events in your community that would be of interest to your supporters? This is a great thing to share on social media.

Legislation

Advocacy alerts are a wonderful way to engage with your supporters. Be on the lookout for any federal or state legislation that’s relevant to your organization. Encourage people to contact their legislators about an issue or a bill. Then report back to them with any updates, and thank them for getting involved.

Time of year

Is there something going on during a particular month that’s pertinent to your organization? Perhaps it’s homelessness awareness month.

Thanksgiving, the holidays, and winter can be a difficult time for some people. How can you weave that into a good story to share with your supporters?  In addition, think of creative ways to connect on Valentine’s Day, spring, and back-to-school time.

News stories

You won’t be able to predict news stories in advance. However, if there’s a hot item in the news right now that’s relevant to the work you do, that could be something to share.

Fundraising and recruitment

Be sure to add your fundraising appeals to your communications calendar. You want to highlight these and not inundate your donors with a lot of other information at that time.

If your organization has specific times it needs to recruit volunteers, add that to your calendar, as well.

Thank your donors

This is so important! Find different ways to let your donors know how much you appreciate them. Do this at least once a month.

Ongoing content

If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell. Share a story at least once a month. Client success stories are best. You could also profile a board member, volunteer, donor, or staff member. Be sure to highlight what drew them to your organization.

Create a story bank to help you with this.

Keep it up

As you hear about other relevant information, add it to your calendar so you can stay connected with your supporters throughout the year.

Here is more information to help you create a communications/editorial calendar, along with a couple of templates.

Evergreen Editorial Calendar

2017 Nonprofit Editorial Calendar Template

Editorial Calendars – Resources for You

Why Editorial Calendars Help Nonprofits

10 Ways To Engage Donors And Boost Donations This Holiday Season

 

2086084757_0dec5905e6_mGuest Post by Jeremy Silverstein

Fundraising for your nonprofit organization occurs year-round as you build relationships with donors, host events, and ask for donations. However, research shows that almost one-third of yearly online giving occurs in December. Capitalize on generosity this holiday season as you engage donors and boost donations. Here are 10 ways you can do that.

Create a Seasonal Holiday Campaign

Deck the halls and give your seasonal donation campaign a holiday flare.

  • Post a picture of a rescue dog sporting a holiday wreath.
  • Bake cookies for families in need, and ask donors to sponsor a plate.
  • Feature a holiday tree on your thank you cards.

Consider hosting a holiday party, too, as you engage donors and incorporate seasonal elements into your fundraising campaign.

Share Your Goals

Tell donors why you’re raising money. Will it provide school supplies to 100 kids or send 10 developmentally delayed adults to job training? Your transparency builds trust in your cause.

Get Personal

Donors are human, and they want to know that their money makes a difference. Why should they give to your cause?

This year, consider asking organization beneficiaries to share their stories as you get personal.

  • Give donors a tour of the handicap van you purchased for client transportation.
  • Showcase photos of rescue dogs with their new families.
  • Ask a job-training recipient to record a video of his/her work day.

Re-Examine Your Donation Process

A cumbersome or time-consuming donation process turns away busy donors. Simplify the process with a few tips.

  • Update your website so it’s mobile-friendly.
  • Add a bright “donate here” button to every page.
  • Make the donation forms short and sweet.

Ask for Gifts in Kind

Cash donations are always appreciated, although not everyone can give a monetary donation. Another way people can help out is with tax-deductible in-kind gifts. Examples include:

  • New, unwanted electronics that you can sell online or use in your next auction fundraiser.
  • Gently used office supplies that keep your organization functioning properly.
  • Vehicles that are sold and turned into cash.
  • Annuities or life insurance policies that continue giving,

Help Donors Give Gifts

Help your donors cross everyone off their gift-giving list when you invite them to donate in someone else’s name. On your print and online donation forms, include a box where supporters can “give a donation as a gift.”

To increase participation, create an attractive gift package. It may include a thank you note, recognition certificate, or small branded gift. As an example, donors who give $100 to your animal rescue receive a stuffed dog in a branded coffee mug.

Participate in Giving Tuesday

Started in 2012, Giving Tuesday promotes charitable holiday giving. More than 700,000 people raised $116 million in 2015.

While Giving Tuesday has passed, be sure to thank donors who participated and encourage giving throughout the month. Prepare social media posts and mailings that give donors facts, photos, and testimonials detailing your organization’s impact in the community.

Be Grateful

Many people show generosity during the holidays. Join in and remind your donors that you’re grateful for them.

Send handwritten thank you notes to all your supporters, whether they give $10 or $1,000. Use social media, your website, and your newsletter, too, to highlight how donations make a difference for your cause. These stories and your gratitude ignite even more generosity.

Target Volunteers

Volunteers already give so much of their time to your cause, but think about asking them for financial gifts, too. Volunteers are twice as likely to give as non-donors partly because they already know and love your cause.

Think Ahead

Of course, you’re focusing on securing year-end donations. Think ahead to next year, too.

Remember that some of your donors may not be able to give during the holidays, but they will resume giving when the new year arrives. Reach out to these donors when you share your goals for your fundraising efforts, thank them for past support, and build bridges for the future.

The holiday season provides 10 excellent ways to engage donors and increase gifts. With these tips, you can increase donations for your cause. What other ideas work for you?

Author bio: Jeremy Silverstein is Vice President of Operations and Vehicle Dispatching at Goodwill Car Donations. During his five years with the organization, Silverstein has handled tens of thousands of donated vehicles and has become an expert in the field.

What You Can Learn from Your Donors

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Do you know why your donors give to your organization? Most likely they feel a connection to your cause. Most of us are good people and we want to help others.

I’m very upset about the results of the recent U.S. presidential election, which prompted me to donate to organizations that will help people/communities who will be left behind in the next administration.

There’s no question that nonprofit organizations do good work, but as a donor, I feel that many aren’t good at communicating this or making a personal connection with me.  

You hear a lot about how important it is to be donor-centered, but organizations need to practice this. You need to think from your donors’ perspective. This is what’s important to us.

Why should I give to your organization?

Why is it important to give to your organization now?  It doesn’t matter to me that it’s your annual appeal, #GivingTuesday, or the end of your fiscal year. I want to hear how you’re helping people or the community.

I don’t want a bunch of boring statistics either. Tell me a story. Show me how I can help make a difference for someone or in the community.

I also don’t need to hear about how great your organization is. If I’m a current donor, I wouldn’t have supported you if I hadn’t thought highly of you.

Do you really know me?

I’m barraged with fundraising appeals, especially at the end of the year. Some of them are from organizations I support and others aren’t. There’s not much difference between them. Most are generic with no regard for who I am. I guess I expect that from organizations I don’t support.

But it bothers me when organizations I’ve supported for many years never acknowledge that. It’s not that hard to segment your letters or add a handwritten note.

I’m always thankful for the few organizations who take the time to be more personal.

Let me know that you appreciate my gift

The generic automatically generated thank you email doesn’t cut it. I need something better. Let me know how much you appreciate my gift.

If I’m a new donor, welcome me.  If I’ve given before, thank me for my continued support.  Surprise me with a phone call, handwritten note, or at the very least, a heartfelt letter. Say Thank You Like You Mean It

I made a number of first-time donations this year, many of them monthly gifts. I’m curious to see how many of these organizations welcome me and do anything special for monthly donors.

Use language I understand

I don’t use words like at-risk and underserved and neither should you. Your jargon is boring and makes me gloss over your letter. Instead of using the term food insecurity, tell me families have to choose between buying groceries or paying the heating bill. Use plain language to help me understand your messages.  10 plain English principles for writing better web content

This feels like a transaction

Many fundraising appeals focus more on the transaction than the relationship. Yes, you’re trying to raise money, but you should also try to build a relationship with me.

I make a majority of my donations on #GivingTuesday. I almost dread opening my email inbox because there’s a relentless stream of Donate Now messages.

As a donor, I like the idea of #GivingTuesday and I’m always happy if there’s an opportunity for a matching gift, but it’s very transactional, and that includes the thank you experience or lack there of.

Whether you participate in #GivingTuesday or not, please keep your relationship with me front and center.

Don’t ignore me

After I give a donation, I want you to stay in touch, and that doesn’t mean blasting me with appeals. Send me updates on how my gift is making a difference.

Very few organizations do that and do it well. I’m always grateful when I get an endearing update like the one in this post. Knock it Out of the Park

Remember, your donors give to your organization because they care about what you do. Show them that you care about them, as well.

Is Donating Online as Easy as Pie?

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Year-end giving is in full swing and even if you’ve mailed your appeal letter, many people will choose to donate online. Chances are you’ll send most of your reminders by email and social media with a link to the donation page on your website.

That means online giving on your website needs to be easy to do. It’s tricky because you want to capture vital information without overwhelming your donors. 5 Donation Page Blunders That Kill Fundraising Response Rates

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

  • Is it easy to use and navigate?
  • Does it include a strong call to action with the same messages as all your other fundraising appeals?
  • Does it show how the donation will be used and what different amounts will fund?
  • Does it include an option for recurring gifts?
  • Does it have an engaging photo?
  • Does it allow for multiple donors, for example, spouses with different last names?
  • Does it include an option for a gift in memory or in honor of someone?
  • Are you capturing mailing addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers?
  • Does it include a check-off box to join your mailing list?
  • Is it also easy to give on a mobile device?  This is crucial. More people are donating on mobile devices now. Getting Started with Mobile Fundraising: 5 Ways
  • After someone donates, does it take the person to a thank you landing page and generate a thank you email?
  • Does your homepage include a blurb about your appeal and a prominent Donate button, in case a donor Googles your organization instead of going directly to your donation page?
  • Is the rest of your website up-to-date and engaging? Donors might visit other pages to find out more about your programs or learn how they can volunteer. Is Your Website Up to Par?

Test it out

Put yourself in your donors’ shoes by donating to your organization online. Try it on a computer and a mobile device. Remember not all your donors are tech savvy. You might want to find someone who’s also not tech savvy to test it out.

Was it easy or did you feel like kicking and screaming?

Create a memorable thank you experience

If you’ve ever donated online, you know the thank you experience often doesn’t leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. This is easy to fix.

Start with an engaging landing page that says You’re amazing! or Thank you,Susan! Include a picture and a short, friendly message. An online donation should also generate an equally engaging thank you email.

You’re not off the hook yet. You still need to thank your donors by mail or with a phone call.

3 Things Your Nonprofit Must Do Well After An Online Donation

The perils of third-party sites

If you use a third-party site, such as PayPal, you don’t have much, if any, control over how the donation page and thank you experience will look and work. To make up for this, you’ll want to send a super-incredible thank you email, followed by something just as incredible by mail or phone.

Are you ready?

Be sure your donation page is in good shape for your year-end fundraising campaign, and throughout the year. Make it as easy as pie for your donors to give online.

Read on for more information on creating a great donation page.

7 Ways to Upgrade Your Nonprofit Donation Page

8 Best Practices for Building an Online Donation Page

And, if you’re looking for an online donation platform, here’s some information on that. 15 Online Donation Tools to Please Your Nonprofit’s Donors

Your Appeal is Just The Beginning

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Many of you are immersed in your year-end appeal, but if you think you can rest easy once the letters have gone out, think again. Your work has just begun.

In fact, what comes next is even more important, especially if you want to to keep your donors for a long time.

Do a good job of thanking your donors

I write a lot about the importance of thanking your donors, but I think this bears repeating. Your first step after you receive a donation is to thank your donors within 48 hours, preferably with a handwritten note or phone call. Don’t send the same old boring, generic thank you letter. Take time to create an awesome thank you. Say Thank You Like You Mean It

Create a welcome plan for your new donors

Approximately 70% of first-time donors don’t make a second gift. This is unacceptable. We have to do better.

Research by fundraising expert Penelope Burk states that first-time donors who receive a thank you call are more likely to donate again and give at a higher level the next year. Get a group of board members and other enthusiastic volunteers to call your new donors, or send them a handwritten thank you card.

*Make sure these are actually new donors. A good database will help you avoid any embarrassment.*

A week or two after the initial thank you, send a welcome package. You can do this by mail, email, or a combination of both.

Welcome your new donors. Thank them again and show them other ways they can connect with you. Invite them to subscribe to your newsletter and join you on social media.

Your welcome package can include a warm introductory message and a brochure or fact sheet. Get to know your new donors better. Pop in a short survey to find out how they heard about you and if they prefer print or electronic communication. You could also direct people to your website for more information about your organization.

Be careful about how much information you send. Donors want to feel welcome not overwhelmed.

I don’t recommend sending unsolicited swag. You could offer your new donors a gift and they can let you know if they want to receive it, but it’s not necessary.

What donors really want from you is to know how they’re helping you make a difference.

New Donor Welcome Kits | Your Next Gift Strategy

How to Welcome New Donors and Keep Them Engaged

Make your current donors feel special, too

You may think your most valuable donors are the ones who give the most money, but what about the people who have supported your organization for three, five, or even ten years? These are your valuable donors, considering repeat donor retention rates are about 65%.

Imagine how you would feel if you gave to an organization for over five years and they never acknowledge your long-time support.

This is why segmenting your donors and personalizing their correspondence is crucial, so is a good database to help you with this. Let’s Stop Putting Donors Into A Bucket Your donors are individuals and not a collective bunch.

Don’t skimp on donor communication

I know you’re swamped with your year-end appeal right now, but this is not the time to scale back on your donor communication. Continue to send your newsletter and other updates. Keep them donor-centered.

Send your donors Thanksgiving and holiday greetings, either by mail or email. Intersperse your fundraising appeals with messages in which you’re not asking for donations.

Keep spreading the love

Your first New Year’s resolution can be to communicate with your donors more. Keep reaching out to them  – at least once or twice a month. Show appreciation and update them on your success.

Think of other ways to do something special for your donors, such as offering tours of your facility or holding an open house.

You want to keep your donors for a long time and making them feel good about supporting your organization will help with this.