Raising Awareness is Not a Goal

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When you’re putting together your marketing and communications plans, do you include raising awareness as one of your goals? If you do, that’s a problem because raising awareness is not a goal. Raising awareness isn’t necessarily bad. Instead of a goal, think of it as a first step.

Shouting in the wind

Nonprofit consultant Nell Eddington makes this important point “When you attempt to “raise awareness” without a specific and targeted strategy, you are just shouting in the wind.” What Nonprofits Don’t Get About Marketing

Why do you want to raise awareness?

Organizations will say they want people to find out about them or their cause, but why do you want that? Do you want people to donate, volunteer, or contact their legislators? Just knowing about your organization or your cause isn’t enough. You need a call to action.

Raising awareness is not an effective way to fundraise. In this Boston Globe Magazine article We’re all aware of autism; now let’s do something radical by Alysia Abbott, Abbott is trying to make a purchase at a store. While ringing up the sale, the cashier says, “April is Autism Awareness Month. Would you like to make a donation to Autism Speaks?” Not a compelling fundraising pitch. Besides, Abbott is well aware of autism, since her 8-year old son, who is with her at the store, is autistic. Her main concern is to make her purchase and get her “son out of here before he tears apart your store.”

Taking the next steps

Raising awareness doesn’t mean bombarding people with facts and statistics. I learned a lot from Abbott’s story. She offers suggestions of ways to help families who live with autism, ranging from giving encouragement to parents with autistic children to making a donation to an organization that provides service dogs for autistic children and volunteering to become autism buddy.

This what you need to do. Tell a story that will encourage people to take action.

The perils of an awareness month

In this Fundraising is Beautiful podcast The upsides and downsides of holiday-based fundraising, Jeff Brooks and Steven Screen also make the argument that awareness days/months don’t mean that much to donors. The same goes for most holidays, your organization’s anniversary, and that’s it’s your annual appeal.

Donors want you to show them how they can help you make a difference and you don’t need an awareness month to do that.

More doesn’t equal better

It’s tempting to say we want more people to find out about us, but not everyone will be interested in what you do. Your Audience Isn’t Everyone  Press coverage may not help you as much as you’d like. Reach out to people you know will be interested.

Awareness + Call to Action

Don’t get caught in the raising awareness trap. If there’s an awareness month related to your cause, yes, you can acknowledge that, but follow it up with a clear call to action.

 

I Know You’re Busy, But…..

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Having too much to do is the norm at most nonprofits, especially small ones. You may be busy, but what are you saying you don’t have time to do? Are you spending too much time on what’s urgent and not what’s important?

It’s possible to stay on top of things, even if you feel you’re so busy you want to set fire to the paperwork on your desk. One big key is planning.  

Here are a few areas that nonprofits need to make a priority and how you can do that.

Thanking your donors

Many organizations do a poor job of thanking their donors. When you’re working on a fundraising appeal or an event, spend just as much time figuring out how you’ll thank your donors. Sending a handwritten note or making a phone call will make a better impression on your donors than the usual boring, generic thank you letter.

Find board members, staff, and volunteers to help. Recruit them ahead of time so you’re ready to go after an appeal or event. It doesn’t take that much time to write a short note or make a phone call, but it makes a huge difference. Get your team together for a thank-a-thon.

Also, spend some time creating an engaging thank you landing page and thank you email message. But wait, you’re not off the hook. You need to keep thanking your donors throughout the year – at least once a month.  Say Thank You Like You Mean It

Staying in touch with your donors

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference, and you need to be in touch with them at least once or twice a month.

A newsletter can be a great way to stay in touch. Setting up a template and using an email service provider can save time and will provide consistency. Perhaps each issue will include a story/profile and some updates. You can plan these ahead of time. Create a story bank and fill it throughout the year.

Make a donor communications plan that could include your newsletter, updates (by mail, email, and social media), thank yous (see above), advocacy alerts, and surveys. A communications calendar will help you with this.

Managing your donor data

Don’t wait until a week before you send an appeal to update your database. Take care of address changes, bounced emails, etc. regularly.

I know it’s tedious, but this is important. Your donors won’t be happy if you misspell their names or send them three pieces of mail because you haven’t bothered to check for duplicate addresses. Managing Your Donor Data: 6 Actionable Tips

Measuring your progress

Make time at least once a quarter to see how you’re doing. Are you meeting your fundraising goals?  Is your spring event worth doing?  Are people reading your e-newsletter?

If something isn’t going well, figure out how you can make improvements or don’t spend your valuable time doing it anymore.

Here’s a sample dashboard you can use to help you measure your progress and figure out if what you’re doing is working. Library of Sample Dashboard Indicators

What’s keeping you busy?

What’s keeping you from taking on these important tasks? Do you really need another meeting?  If so, could you make it shorter?  

Doing a few things well is much better than trying to do too much. When Things Don’t Go As Planned Make time to do what’s important.

Your Donors Are Your Partners

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Your donors are not ATM machines and people you only communicate with when you need money. They are your partners and you can’t do your work without them.

Seeing your donors as your partners will help you with your donor relations and donor communication. Always keep your donor in mind.

Show your donors how they’re helping you make a difference

I recently received a Donor Impact Report from Project Bread, an organization that’s working to end hunger. I thought this four-page report did a great job of showing donors how they’re the organization’s partners. The report was filled with donor-centered language such as:

For our generous supporters who make our work possible – a closer look at your dollars at work.

Thanks to you, children are receiving the nutrition they need to succeed in the classroom and beyond.

You help children rise and shine.

Your support puts Chefs in Schools and Chefs in Head Start on the map.

You help us nourish healthy bodies and healthy minds.

You help us foster healthy eating habits to last a lifetime.

This is so much better than a bunch of boring facts and statistics or the usual “look how great we are.”

You is glue

Fundraising expert Tom Ahern came up with the phrase – You is glue. Remember this every time you communicate with your donors. So many appeal letters, thank you letters, newsletter articles, etc. come across as distant and impersonal and don’t consider the donor at all.

Always write to the donor and before you send that message, give it the you test.

Be a good partner

A partnership is a two-way street. Your donors have demonstrated their commitment to you by supporting your organization. You can return the favor with thank you letters that pour on the gratitude. Stay in touch with newsletters and “impact reports” such as the one I highlighted above.  I’m not crazy about the term Donor Impact Report because I think it sounds jargony. I do like the concept though, and you could call it something else such as a Gratitude Report or a Making a Difference Report.

Being a good partner means thinking of your donors first. Share information they’ll be interested in. Project Bread’s report included several success stories. Donors want to hear about the people they’re helping.

Your print newsletters and annual reports should be no more than four pages. Some of the examples I cited above are headlines, so busy donors can scan the report and quickly see the you-centered language even if they don’t have time to read the whole thing.

Being a good partner also means communicating via the same channels your donors use. Your donors will be more likely to see something that comes in the mail. If four-page mailers aren’t viable, you could send an oversized postcard. Of course, you can also use email and social media, but try to send updates by mail a few times a year.

A long-term partnership

You want your partnership with your donors to last a long time. This isn’t happening as retention rates continue to plummet. Seeing your donors as partners that you welcome when they first donate and then continue to show appreciation to and stay in touch with over time will help.

 

Your Audience Isn’t Everyone

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The board chair at a place where I used to work would often say, “We need more people to know about us.” Does that sound familiar? It’s tempting to cast a wide net so as many people as possible can find out about your organization, but that’s not a good strategy.

Not everyone is interested in your organization and that’s okay. The key is to find people who are interested in what you do and keep them interested.

Who is your audience?

You already have a core group of donors and other supporters, but how well do you know them?  You could send them a short survey asking them why they donate, what issues are important to them, and how they like to communicate (by mail, email, or both). Another idea is to put a poll in your e-newsletter to find out their favorite article.

While surveys are a great way to connect, not everyone is going to respond to them. Another tactic to try is to create donor personas. You can use your database to figure out vital information and/or interview a few donors.

Your database also comes in handy because you want to segment your donors  – first-time donors, long-term donors, monthly donors, etc –  so you can personalize their communication as much as possible.

You can also create personas to help you recruit volunteers.

What does your audience like?

Now that you’ve gotten to know your audience, think about what they would like. Each time you write an appeal letter, thank you letter, newsletter article, etc, keep your donor/audience in mind. What are their interests? What will capture their attention, make them read more, and take action?  Remember, you are not your donor/audience. The worst mistake you can make in fundraising

If you’ve surveyed your donors about your newsletter, you’ll probably find they like success stories about the people/community you serve and are not so interested in board member profiles.They don’t need to hear you brag about your organization, but they do want to know how their donations are helping you make a difference.

Your donors/audience are busy. They’re not going to have time to weed through a bunch of long-winded messages. Make your point clearly and concisely and leave out the jargon. Make sure people understand what you’re trying to say.

Pay attention to what your audience is doing.

Is your audience paying attention to you?  Are they making donations, opening your email messages, or responding to your social media posts?   

If they’re not paying attention you, it may be because you’re communicating with the wrong audience, your messages don’t interest them, they’re busy, or you’re using the wrong channels.

These are things you can fix. Send the right messages to the right audience using the right channels.

Expanding your reach.

Of course, you’ll want to find new donors and other supporters, but reach out to people who already have a connection with you. New donors could be volunteers, event attendees, newsletter subscribers, social media followers, or friends of board members and other donors. Putting up a billboard on a highway or ad on a subway train won’t get you a lot of new supporters.

The answer to the question How do I ask strangers for money? is you find a connection first. And, keep in mind – your audience isn’t everyone.

Let Go and Freshen Up: Spring Cleaning for Your Nonprofit

The Great Clean-Up

One thing I’ve noticed now that it’s officially spring is the number of articles about spring cleaning and decluttering. For many of us, these types of projects can be overwhelming, especially if we’ve ignored that mutating pile of paperwork or our closets are overflowing with so much stuff we can barely open the door.

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 should also do its own version of spring cleaning and decluttering. If you’re feeling reluctant about taking on these so-called cumbersome tasks, just think how happy you’ll be once they get done.

Let’s get started!

Clean up your mailing lists and database

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

Letting go

As you clean up your donor database, pay particular attention to your lapsed donors. It may be time to take some of them out of your active donor file. Who are these people?  If they’ve donated in the past, is it likely they’ll donate again? For example, the mother of a former staff member who left five years ago is a good candidate for your inactive file.

Send one more targeted mailing to people who haven’t donated for at least four years. Let them know you miss them and want them back. If you don’t hear anything, let them go. 4 Tips: When to Remove a Lapsed Donor from Your Database

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. Why Deleting People from Your Email List is a Good Thing

But wait you say, we want as many people in our database and email lists as possible, don’t we?  No, you want people who are still interested your organization. Quality wins over quantity.

You can save money by not mailing to people who aren’t going to support you and aren’t paying attention to you.

Freshen up your messages

Now that you’ve pared down your mailing lists to active donors and supporters, they deserve something good the next time you communicate with them. Will they get that?

Take a good look at your appeal letters, thank you letters, and other content. Have you been using the same stale, old templates for years?  Are your letters all about how great your organization is and filled with jargon?  Are your newsletter articles mind-numbingly boring?

Freshen them up with some donor-centered content. Can Your Organization Pass the Donor-Centered Test?

Don’t put it off too long

Your clutter and dust at home won’t disappear on their own. The longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. The same is true for your nonprofit.

Take on your cleaning and organization projects as soon as you can. You’ll be happy once they’re done.

Raise More Money With Monthly Gifts

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Although I often encourage monthly (or recurring) gifts as a great way to raise more money, I just started making them at the end of last year. I made all my pledges online, and it was easy to do.

It should also be relatively easy for you to start or grow a monthly giving program. Of course, this doesn’t just include asking for donations. You’ll need to thank your monthly donors and stay in touch throughout the year.

Here’s what you need to get started.

Make a special request

You should always promote monthly giving in your fundraising appeals. Your best bet to get a monthly commitment is long-term donors. One idea is to send specially targeted appeals to donors who have given for at least two years. Thank them for their past support and ask them to upgrade to becoming a monthly donor. Their previous donation of $50 could become $5 a month or $100 becomes $10 a month.

Make it easy

Be sure monthly or recurring giving options are prominent on your pledge form and donation page. Let your donors know what $5, $10, $15 etc a month will fund.

Make the online process easy, but keep in mind that some donors won’t want to set up their monthly giving online. Some may want to do this by mail or phone, and if it’s by phone, make sure there’s a friendly person on the other end to help them.

If possible, make one person responsible for monthly giving. There needs to be a contact person if your donor needs to change her credit card/bank account information or has questions.

Create an attitude of gratitude

Welcome your monthly donors with open arms. If they’re first-time donors, welcome them to your organization. If they’re current donors, thank them for going the extra mile and becoming a monthly donor.

Most of the organizations I donated to thanked me specifically for being a monthly donor. Some did it better than others.  One organization refers to their monthly donors as Friends for all Seasons. Another told me “I have joined an elite group of dedicated supporters we call our Friends of the Center.” Another thanked me for being a Monthly Partner.

These organizations are telling me I’m extra special, and most of my gifts were $5 a month.

Several organizations send me monthly thank you letters either by mail or email. While this is nice, most of them are exactly the same generic thank you every month. One sends a statement, but it includes a different update each month.

Here’s how you can do better. Yes, send your these donors a thank you each month, but don’t resort to the same old same old. One organization that helps low-income families does a good job of sending engaging updates. Here’s an excerpt from their most recent email thank you.
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When a mother of three children picked up her children’s Kidpacks, she burst into tears and said “My kids will be so happy.” She couldn’t afford to spend extra money on new clothes, shoes, books or school supplies because she was barely making ends meet.

Much better than a boring letter or receipt.

Take your donors on a journey

You want to stay in touch with your monthly donors and let them know how they’re helping you make a difference. You can do this with your monthly thank you letters and other updates. You may also want to consider a special newsletter just for monthly donors.

Another idea is to introduce your monthly donors to an individual or family your organization is working with. Let’s say you run a tutoring program. You can introduce your donors to Kira and her tutor, Sophia. Each month you can share updates on how Sophia is helping Kira do better in school.

Make your monthly donors feel special

Of course, all your donors are special, but go out of your way to show the love to your monthly donors. Find creative ways to show appreciation. You could make a video or hold an open house just for monthly donors. You want them to stay committed to being monthly donors for a long time.

Erica Waasdorp is an expert in monthly giving and has tons of information to help you.

And here are some more monthly giving tips.

18 Tips to Create a Wildly Profitable Monthly Giving Program

3 Tried and True Techniques That Encourage Monthly Giving

 

Enough With the Jargon

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Nonprofits love their jargon, don’t they?  You see appeal letters, thank you letters, and newsletter articles laced with terms like at-risk youth, underserved communities, leverage, and impactful.

I think people use jargon because it’s an insider language and it makes them feel like they’re “in the know” in their professional world. It’s easy to slip into jargon-mode around the office. But the danger comes when jargon creeps outside of your insular community 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. And that’s the problem because jargon is boring and your donors may not understand what you’re trying to say. Your donors don’t use these terms and neither should you.

Jargon fixes

Sometimes you need to give a little more information. For example, instead of just using the term food insecurity, describe a situation where a single mother has to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

Let’s look at a few more of 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 donors.

  • 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, be held back, and drop out of school.   
  • 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, or decent preschool. Tell a story or give a specific example. Linda can’t send her daughter Kyra to a good preschool because there isn’t an affordable one nearby.
  • 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, a motel, or their car. 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 the people/community you serve.

What would Aunt Shirley think?

Imagine you’re at a family gathering and you’re explaining what your organization does to Aunt Shirley. Does she look confused and uninterested when you spew out words like underserved and at-risk, or does she want you to tell her more when you mention kids in your tutoring program are doing much better in school?

Let’s stop using jargon when we can use clear, conversational language instead. Here are more examples of cringe-worthy jargon. I’d love to hear some of your pet peeves, as well.

21 irritating jargon phrases, and new clichés you should replace them with

Nonprofit Jargon: 22 Phrases We Love to Hate

24 Words and Phrases It’s Time for Nonprofits to Stop Using

Photo by Wes Schaeffer