How Making Smart Investments Will Help You Raise More Money

6869768383_84f708306e_m

Those of you with a July 1 fiscal year start date are most likely working on your budget for next year. Some of you may have a calendar year budget, so you’ll be working on yours later in the year.

Whatever the case may be, putting together a budget is hard, especially if you’re a small nonprofit with limited resources. It may be tempting to create a minimalist budget with the mindset “we can’t afford this.”

But be careful. What are you saying you can’t afford? It may be something you should be investing in.

You’ve probably heard the phrase you need to spend money to make money. Here are three areas you should be investing more money in. Don’t be scared. If you do it right, these investments will help you raise more money.

Invest in a good database

I wrote a post about this a few weeks ago. Why You Need a Good Donor Database

It bears repeating because a good 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 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.

Don’t cut corners when it comes to your donor database. You can’t afford to do that.

Invest in direct mail

If you never or rarely use direct mail, you’re missing out on an effective and more personal way to communicate with your donors. Think of the immense 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.

If money is tight, 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 cards; Thanksgiving, holiday, or Valentine’s Day cards; infographic postcards; two to four-page newsletters, and annual/progress reports. Whatever you choose, remember to keep it donor-centered. You could put a donation envelope in your newsletter to raise some additional revenue, but don’t 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.

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.

Invest in donor communications

Here’s some great wisdom from Tom Ahern – If you do better donor communications, you’ll have more money. This means thanking your donors and keeping in touch with them throughout the year.

Don’t skimp on your communications budget. Creating thank you cards and infographic postcards are a smart investment and a necessity, not a luxury. So is hiring at least one communications staff member. 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 that has professional looking templates you can use for your e-newsletter and other updates.

Don’t limit yourself by saying you can’t afford certain expenses. If you invest in a good database, direct mail, and donor communications, you should be able to raise more money.

Photo by 401kcalculator – http://401kcalculator.org

Advertisements

How to Make Your Email Messages Stand Out

27350190733_eda43b9c77_mEmail is often the primary way nonprofits communicate with their donors 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.

Email, unlike social media, is 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.

But email is not a miracle mode of communication because you’re not the only one using it. People get hundreds of emails a day plus messages from other sources such as social media. It’s information overload to the max and it’s easy for your messages to get lost in the melee.

Here’s what you need to do to make your email messages stand out.

What’s your intention?

What’s the purpose of your message? What do you want your reader to do? Maybe it’s to donate, volunteer, attend an event, or contact her legislators. Maybe you’re sharing an update.

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

Keep it simple and stick to one call to action.

A good subject line is crucial

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

Give some thought to it. Instead of Donate to our Spring Appeal or May 2018 Newsletter, try Find out how you can help Jason learn to read or Thanks to you, the Tyler family has a home of their own.

Better Open Rates: How to Write Killer Email Subject Lines

Short and sweet

Your next step is to get your donor to read your message. Keep her interested. Remember your email is one of hundreds your donor will receive that day, along with whatever else is going on in her life.

Make your messages short, but engaging, and get to the point right away.

Keep this in mind when you send your e-newsletter or updates. You might want to consider a two-article newsletter twice a month instead of one with four articles (and it’s unlikely your donors will read all four articles) once a month.

Make it easy to read and scan

Besides sending a short message, use short paragraphs, too. It needs to be easy to read (and scan) in an instant. Don’t use teeny tiny font either.

Be personal and conversational

Write directly to your reader using clear, conversational language – no jargon. Address your message to a person – Dear Linda and not Dear Friend.

Use an email service provider that lets you segment your lists so you can personalize your messages. For example, you’ll create different messages for current donors, potential donors, and monthly donors.

Send your message to the right audience

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

Your audience isn’t everyone.

Be a welcome visitor

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

Make sure people know your message is coming from your organization. In the from field, put DoGood Nonprofit or Jennifer Smith, 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.

No spam,spam,spam

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.

Repeat performance

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

Be mobile friendly

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

Your email messages can stand out in your donor’s inbox if you give some thought to them and do it well. Here’s more information about communicating by email.

5 Ways Nonprofits can Drive More Value from the Email Channel

Email Marketing: Tips and Tactics for Nonprofits

The 5 W’s of Effective Nonprofit Email Marketing

Appeal Letter Do’s and Don’ts

3829104744_32d6145032_m

It’s spring appeal time and all of a sudden my mailbox is filled with requests for donations. Some good and some that could use improvement.

Whether you’re planning a spring appeal or one later in the year, here are a few lessons, courtesy of this week’s mail. We’ll start with some examples of what not to do and end with a couple of letters that got it right.

DON’TS

Your annual fund drive means nothing to me

One organization included a header saying it was their statewide annual fund drive. This means nothing to me and is not a compelling addition to your appeal.

Annual fund drive is an internal term, as is annual appeal and year-end appeal. People give to your organization because they want to help you make a difference for the people you serve. This is what you want to emphasize.

You can use the term annual fund drive around the office, but keep it out of your appeal letter. Open with a story or something such as Imagine what it would be like to go to bed hungry.

You only have few seconds to grab a reader’s attention, so don’t waste it by saying your annual appeal is underway.

The Best Fundraising Appeal Opening Lines

4 Unique Openings to Get Your Fundraising Appeals Read

You don’t know me

I receive many appeal letters from organizations I don’t support. It’s clear they don’t know me. There’s no attempt at making a connection. Most likely they got my name from a list they bought or exchanged. If I already give to homelessness prevention organizations, you could say you know ending homelessness is important to me.

One letter addressed me as Mrs.Green, which irked me because I don’t like being referred to as Mrs. I don’t know why this organization addressed me as Mrs. because I always check the Ms. box if there’s an option. Perhaps it was a typo or they don’t realize it’s 2018 and not 1958.

Be careful of how you address your donors or potential donors. These so-called little things make a difference.

I’m a donor, but you still don’t know me

An appeal from an organization I do support gave no clear indication of my previous gift. They sent a vague, one-size fits all letter that included a lot of bragging.

At the end, they thanked me for my “partnership and shared commitment to our mission,” but it wasn’t clear if they were thanking me for a previous gift or in anticipation of a gift. If it was the first, that thank you should have been at the beginning of the letter. Always thank donors for their past gifts.

The biggest fail came at the end in the P.S. when they asked me to consider a monthly gift. Someone’s not paying attention because I’m already a monthly donor.  

This is a large national organization that could easily segment their donors. That’s what you need to do, too.

Enough with the swag

So far three organizations have sent me mailing labels. Sometimes these come in handy, but right now I have enough to wallpaper a room.

Another organization enclosed a Certificate of Appreciation “In recognition of your generous support”even though I’ve never supported them. And if I did support an organization, I wouldn’t want a certificate of appreciation. What would I do with it? Hang it on the wall?

I’d like organizations to stop sending useless swag and instead invest their print budget in creating engaging thank you cards.

DO’S

Share engaging, personal stories

The letter from the organization that called me Mrs. actually sent a good appeal letter. It opened with a story about a homeless woman named Nettie. It also included a sidebar titled Meet Nettie, which included a profile and picture of Nettie. On the back, there were more short profiles of clients, along with their photos, which were titled Someone’s sister: Gina, Someone’s grandmother, Diane, and Someone’s father: Valentino.

I liked the personal nature of this appeal. We got to meet some of the people the donors are helping. This is so much better than a bunch of boring facts and statistics. Using names in stories is always a plus. You can change them for confidentiality reasons if you need to.

Make a connection and request an upgrade

When nonprofit organizations don’t take the time to segment donors, they miss an opportunity to ask for an upgrade.

Heifer International sent a letter asking me to become a monthly donor. It was from another donor, although I doubt she wrote the letter. It opened with “My name is Madge Brown. Like you, I support Heifer International……” Here, she’s making a connection.

Then she invited me to join their monthly giving program – Friend of Heifer. The envelope even included a teaser that said “Let’s be friends.”

One way to grow your monthly giving program is to ask current one-time donors to become monthly donors.

Write a better appeal

Keep all of this mind the next time you write an appeal. Start with an engaging opening and make a connection with your donors or potential donors. Share stories. Don’t send all your donors the same letter and remember the appeal is the first step. Use your print resources for a great thank you note instead of those annoying mailing labels.

Show Your Donors How Much You Care About Them

10867591394_a63f5c30d4_mHow much do you care about your donors? I’m sure your intentions are good and you think you care about your donors, but your donor communication doesn’t always reflect that.

Your donors showed they care about your cause by giving to your organization. You need to show your donors you care about them, too.

Here are a few ways to show your donors how much you care about them.

Do a stellar job of thanking your donors

One of your first steps is to do a good job of thanking your donors and most nonprofits fall short of anything that even resembles a stellar thank you.

If someone donates online, they should be directed to a thank you landing page that includes a prominent THANK YOU and a thank you photo or video. This is your first chance to make a good impression, so don’t blow it. After that, your donors should get an equally stellar thank you email.

Everyone who donates, even if they donate online, should get a thank you letter, handwritten note, or phone call as soon as possible, preferably within 48 hours. If you wait too long to thank your donors, it looks like you don’t care about them.

You’re also not showing a lot of #donorlove when you send one of those lame thank you letters that start with On behalf of X organization… Write something warm and personal.

Finally, thanking donors isn’t something you only do right after you receive a donation. It’s a year-round effort. Create a thank you plan to help you with this.

Don’t go AWOL

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference. That’s why you have to stay in touch throughout the year.

You can do this with a regular newsletter (both email and print) and short updates by mail, email, and social media.

Planning ahead is a must here. If you haven’t already done so, putting together a communications calendar will be a huge help.

Donors come first

It’s crucial that all your communication is donor-centered. Sending a newsletter or update that just brags about your organization doesn’t show your donors you care about them.

Share content you know they’ll be interested in such as success stories and client profiles. Use language like Because of you or Thanks to you.

Your donors want to be recognized for who they are. Welcome new donors and acknowledge previous gifts. Also, your donors have names so please don’t address your letters to Dear Friend.

Little things count

It may not seem like a big deal to you to address your donors as Dear Friend instead of their names, but it matters to them.

In my last post, I stressed the importance of having a good database and to monitor your database to make sure you have accurate records. Misspelling a donor’s name and sending duplicate mailings may also not seem like a big deal, but if you can give your database the attention it needs, you’re showing your donors you care about them.

Surprise and delight your donors

How many times have you received something from a nonprofit that wowed you? Probably not that often, right? Most donor communication is rote, run of the mill stuff.

Do something that will surprise and delight your donors. Send them a handwritten note or a postcard with an engaging photo. Try to send something by mail because it’s more personal and your donors will be more likely to see it.

It doesn’t take long to write a short, heartfelt handwritten note, but it will mean the world to your donors. Get board members and volunteers to help with this.

You can also surprise and delight your donors with a thank you phone call, a thank you video, or an appreciation event.

One of the biggest components of showing your donors you care about them is gratitude. Here are some more ways to show your donors how much you care about them.

26 ways to show your donors they matter

15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors

21 IDEAS TO REFRESH YOUR DONOR STEWARDSHIP

Why You Need a Good Donor Database

14390202154_de5010e80c_mWhat type of donor database do you have, or do you even have one at all? If you’re using Excel instead of a database because it’s free, stop doing that. A spreadsheet is not a database.

Your Worst Fundraising Enemy

A good database won’t be free, but there are affordable options for small organizations.

Donation Management Software

You don’t want to limit yourself by having a database that can only hold a certain number of records or can only be used on one computer because you don’t want to pay for additional licenses.

I’m not an expert on databases, but I do know how important it is to invest in a good one.

A good database can help you raise more money

Although you’ll have to spend a little upfront, a good database will help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by the amount they give 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 segment your mailing lists by current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. Donors like it when you recognize them for who they are. A personalized appeal letter will make a huge difference.

An organization that I support recently sent an appeal for a special initiative. Instead of sending a generic appeal, they specifically thanked me for being a generous donor and for my most recent gift before asking me to consider an additional gift this year. They couldn’t have done that without using a database that can segment donors.

Segmenting your donors is so important. You can welcome new donors and thank donors for their previous support. You can also send targeted mailings to lapsed donors to try to woo them back. You may be able to raise a little more money by reaching out to your lapsed donors.

Don’t cut corners when it comes to your donor database. You can’t afford to do that.

Why Your Donor Database Is Your Nonprofit’s Greatest Asset

Take good care of your donor data

Having a good database is the first step. The best database in the world won’t do you much good if you don’t take good care of your donor data.

Many nonprofits don’t pay enough attention to their donor data and leave data entry as a last minute to-do item for volunteers.

Don’t wait until right before your next mailing to clean up your donor data. I know it’s tedious, but have someone who’s familiar with your donors (your development director?) go through your mailing lists to see if you need to make any additions, changes, and deletions.

You can have volunteers do your data entry, but they need to 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. It will also save you money if you’re not sending unnecessary mail.

It may not seem like a big deal, but you don’t want to annoy your donors. Paying more attention to your data entry shows your donors you care.

Take care of any address changes as soon as you get them. You can also 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 pristine data.

Your donor database is an important tool. You need a good one and it needs to be up-to-date and filled with accurate information about your donors. It’s well worth the investment.

 

How Well Do You Know Your Donors?

8672445023_1c6d9abec5_m

You already have a core group of donors and other supporters, but how well do you know them? One way to get to know them better is to send short surveys asking why they donate, what issues are important to them, and how they like to communicate (by mail, email, social media, or a combination of those).

Let’s look at some of these more closely.

Why do your donors give to your organization?

Donors are not just money machines. They’re people who have a reason to support you.

Do you know why your donors give to your organization? This is very important and if you can find out, it will help you with your donor communication.

Most likely they feel a connection to your cause. After the Parkland shooting, I felt compelled to start giving to a couple of organizations that advocate for gun control. I support the American Cancer Society because way too many people I know have been affected by cancer.

The best time to find out this information is right after someone donates, especially for first-time donors. This will be easier to collect online and you could include this question on your donation form.

Of course, not everyone donates online. You could also include a short survey and a reply envelope or a link to an online survey with your thank you letter or welcome packet for new donors. (You do send those, right?)

What issues are important to them?

You also want to know what issues are important to your donors. If you’re an organization that’s working to combat hunger, you may find your donors are most interested in free, healthy school lunch programs for low-income students. Then you can share stories and updates about that initiative.

What communication channels do your donors prefer?

It’s probably more than one, but listen carefully. Don’t spend a lot of time on channels your donors aren’t using much.

Most likely email will be your biggest communication tool. You won’t use direct mail as much because of the cost, but you do need to use it at least a few times a year, especially if you find out some donors don’t use electronic communication.

The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston recently included a link to an online survey about direct mail on one of their flyers. One question they asked was where you were more likely to go to get information – direct mail, email, website, or any combination of those.

They also asked about frequency of mailings – twice a month, once a month, or every other month. Since they’re a large organization, they can afford to mail quite often. You could also ask this question about email.

The advantage of email and direct mail is you have complete control of them, unlike social media. Speaking of social media, some of your donors may have deleted their Facebook accounts or are taking a break from it. I’m on hiatus with Facebook and I’m not sure I’m going to return since I don’t like it that much. But that’s just me. Other people love it.

What If Facebook Died Tomorrow?

This is a good opportunity to monitor your email and social media to see if people are responding to your messages. Look at the open rates, click-throughs, and likes. (I know likes don’t mean that much, but they do reflect some sort of engagement.) You may be seeing a drop on Facebook and who knows if another social media platform will have some kind of scandal. Monitor this frequently.

Other ideas to connect

You could ask your donors what’s their favorite article in an issue of your e-newsletter. You could also get feedback on your annual report. Going back to the MFA survey, they asked if you preferred flyers for a single exhibit or one that covered everything going on in one particular month. Here you could ask if people prefer your monthly e-newsletter or shorter updates.

Creating a survey

Instead of overwhelming your donors with a long survey, start with short surveys focusing on one topic at a time throughout the year. Here is more information about creating a survey.

3 Examples of Nonprofit Donor Surveys

GET TO KNOW YOUR DONORS: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO NONPROFIT SURVEYING

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.

How to Identify your Nonprofit Donor Personas

How to Create and Use Donor Personas

Use your database

As you gather vital information about your donors, put that in your database. 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.

Putting your work into action

Now that you’ve gotten to know your donors, think about why they give to your organization, what they would like to hear from you, and which channels are best for connecting with them. Do this before you send a fundraising letter, thank you letter, or newsletter.

If you take the time to get to know your donors, you’ll have a better chance of keeping them for a long time.

Why is it So Hard to be Donor-Centered?

3439448703_f102d6cb83_m

The term donor-centered is pretty self-explanatory. It means focusing on your donors’ needs and interests, acknowledging them in your letters and other communication, and taking into account that not all donors are the same.

If it’s so obvious, then why are many nonprofits so bad at it? You see countless examples of generic, organization-centered communication that barely acknowledges the donor.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Before you send your next appeal, thank you letter, or newsletter, run it through this donor-centered checklist.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Is your fundraising appeal focused too much on your organization – rambling on about how great you are? Your organization may be great, but let your donors figure that out. Your donors are the ones who are great, and they want to hear how they can help you make a difference for the people/community you serve.
  • Is your appeal segmented to the appropriate audience? Thank past donors or reference your relationship to a potential donor. Maybe they’re event attendees, volunteers, or friends of board members.
  • Is your appeal addressed to a person and not Dear Friend?
  • Is your appeal vague, impersonal, and filled with jargon your donors won’t understand? Don’t say we’re helping underserved members of the community. A donor-centered appeal would say something like – With your support, we can help low-income families find affordable housing.
  • Does your appeal make people feel good about donating to your organization?

Thank you letters

  • Does your thank you letter come across as transactional and resemble a receipt? Yes, you need to acknowledge the donation is tax deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Does your thank you letter (or better yet, a handwritten note) shower your donors with love?  Start your letter with You’re amazing or Thanks to You!, and not On behalf of X organization.
  • Are you telling your donors the impact of their gift?  For example – Thanks to your generous donation of $50, a local family can get a box of groceries at the Eastside Community Food Bank.
  • Do you recognize each donor?  Is this the first time someone has donated?  If someone donated before, did she increase her gift?  Acknowledge this in your letter/note.

Newsletters

  • Does your newsletter sound self-promotional and focus on all the wonderful things your organization is doing instead of showing your donors how they’re helping you make a difference?
  • Is your newsletter written in the second person? Write to the donor and use the word you more often than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?  BTW, all your donor communication should be written in the second person. It’s much more personal.
  • Does your newsletter include success stories, engaging photos, and other content your donors like to see?
  • Are you using the right channels?  Perhaps you only send an e-newsletter, but some of your donors prefer print.
  • Are you showing gratitude to your donors in your newsletter?

Always think of your donors first

Use this checklist for other donor communication such as annual reports (these are rarely donor-centered), your website, and social media posts.

Make sure the messages you send to your donors focus on them and make them feel special. Staying donor-centered can help you build relationships. This is especially important as retention rates continue to plummet.

Read on for more information on the importance of being donor-centered.

3 Ways A Donor Centric Pledge Can Improve Your Retention

How to Create a Donor-Centered Fundraising Letter

3 Steps to a Donor-Centered Communication Strategy