How to Create a Fundraising Appeal that’s Relevant in the Current Climate

September is here. It’s my favorite month and the more moderate temperatures and lower humidity are a nice respite from all the uncertainty going on in the world.

Fall is the busiest time of the year for nonprofit organizations, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal. The current climate (pandemic, economic downturn, heightened awareness of systemic racism, having to cope with all of this, etc)  will require you to create a new, more relevant appeal, although many of the components will be the same.

Even if you’re not planning on launching your campaign until later in the fall, you should get started on your appeal now. You need to create an appeal that will stand out and resonate with your donors.

A couple of things. You must address the current climate in your appeal. Instead of the usual boring, generic letter, you need to specifically address what’s been going on since the pandemic started. 

Also, your appeal needs to be personal – both for your donors and when you write about your clients/community. Be sure to check in with your donors and wish them well.

Here are some ways to create a better, more relevant appeal.

Make a good first impression 

First, you need to get your donors to open your letter. If you can’t get them to do that, then all your hard work has gone to waste.

Perhaps you’d like to include a teaser on the outer envelope. That doesn’t mean one that says 2020 Annual Appeal. That’s not inspiring, especially now. Instead, say something like – Find out how you can help local families put food on the table.

An oversized or colored envelope can also capture your donor’s attention.

You want to be both personal and professional. If hand addressing the envelopes isn’t feasible, make sure your mailing labels look clean, are error-free, and aren’t crooked. Use stamps if you can.

Create an inviting piece of mail.

Share a compelling story

A good appeal letter should open with a compelling story. Focus on a person or family and not your organization. Your donors want to hear about the people they’ll be helping and it needs to be relevant to the current climate. 

Here’s an example – Sarah, a single mother with three kids, was laid off earlier this year and had trouble finding enough money to buy groceries for her family. But thanks to generous donors like you, she was able to get boxes of healthy food at the Northside Community Food Bank. Sarah was embarrassed that she said to rely on a food bank to feed her family, but she is treated with respect and dignity each time she visits. 

You could also share a first-person story from a client/program recipient.

Include a photo

Include an engaging color photo in your letter or on your pledge form. Photos can tell a story in an instant.

Here’s more information on creating stories and photos.

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

How to Engage With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

Make a prominent ask

Ask for a donation at the beginning of the next paragraph (after the story). Make sure it’s prominent and clear. Also, ask your current donors if they can give a little more right now. I know we’re in an economic downturn, but don’t be afraid to ask your donors to upgrade their gift. People want to help if they can.

Phrase your ask like this – We’re so grateful for your previous gift of $50. We’re serving three times the number of people at the food bank right now. Would you be able to help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75?

Your donors know times are tough. Also, if you’ve been doing a good job of engaging your donors throughout the year (this is so important now), they shouldn’t mind if you ask for a larger gift. Including the amount of your donor’s previous gift is helpful since people often don’t remember what they gave before.

Be donor-centered, as well as community-centered

There’s some dichotomy right now between being donor-centered and being community-centered, but I think you can be both. What you don’t want is to be organization-centered.

Show your donors how they can help you make a difference for your clients/community and how much you appreciate their role in that. Make your donors feel good about supporting your nonprofit.

At the same time, respect your clients/community by not undermining them by using terms like at-risk youth or underserved communities. They are people, after all.

Share your success and challenges

I’m sure this has been a challenging year for you. Maybe you’ve had to do things differently, but how you had to make changes to your food bank is less important than why you had to do it. You need to continue providing healthy food to families, while doing it safely.

Highlight some of your accomplishments, but you can share challenges, too. A theatre where I’m a subscriber had to shut down in March and won’t be able to open again until sometime next year. Understandably, this created a budget shortfall and they’re trying to raise $100,000 by December 31.

Show how you plan to continue your work with your donor’s help. Remember to stay donor-centered! You need your donors right now.

Personalization is more important than ever

Don’t send everyone the same appeal. Try to send different letters to current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, people on your mailing list who haven’t donated yet, event attendees, volunteers, and friends of board members. 

The more you can segment, the better, but at the very least, you must do these two things.

Send a personalized appeal to current donors. They’re your best bet for getting donations now. Let them know how much you appreciate their support. If a donor contributed to an emergency campaign earlier in the year, be sure to thank them for that. These donors are committed to helping you through this difficult time.

Also, send a specific appeal tailored to monthly donors, giving them the recognition they deserve. You can ask them to upgrade or give an additional year-end gift.

This is not the time to send a generic, one-size-fits-all appeal letter. Go the extra mile for your donors, so they’ll continue to support you.

Your appeal letter should also have a personal salutation and not be addressed to Dear Friend or Dear Valued Donor. How much do you value this relationship if you can’t even use a person’s name?

This may sound like a lot of work, but if you give yourself enough time, it should be doable. Personalizing your letters can also help you raise more money.

Make it easy for your donors

Include a return envelope with amounts to check off or an envelope and a pledge form. Show what each amount will fund. Do this on your donation page, too.

How To Create Donation Tiers That Drive Donations

Some donors will prefer to donate online. Direct them to a user-friendly donation page on your website.

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

Offer a monthly or recurring giving option

Monthly gifts can generate more revenue, give you a steady source of income throughout the year, and improve donor retention. Encourage your donors to give $5, $10, or even $20 a month. This may be a more viable option for some of them. 

How Monthly Giving is a Win-Win for Your Nonprofit

Be careful and don’t send an appeal to your current monthly donors that invites them to become monthly donors. That’s one reason why they need their own appeal.

Your letter must be easy to read (or scan)

Use short paragraphs and bulleted lists, along with bold or color for keywords, but keep it tasteful. Make it easy to read and scan. Most people won’t read your letter word for word. Use a simple font and 14-point type.

It’s fine to go over a page, especially if you’re breaking up the text with a photo and short paragraphs. I know longer letters can perform better, but donors have a lot going on, so if you’re going to write a longer letter, make every word count. You can also add a quote or short testimonial. These can be powerful and it helps break up the narrative.

Think of your letter as a conversation with a friend

You can create a better appeal if you think of your letter as a conversation with a friend. That means not using jargon like at-risk youth and underserved communities. Be specific and use everyday language. Your goal should be for your reader to understand you.

Refer to your reader as you and use you a lot more than we.

How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?

Too many editors spoil the appeal

Your entire staff doesn’t need to be involved in writing your appeal. Generally, the more people you involve in writing your letter, the worse it becomes. Fundraising Consultant Tom Ahern refers to this as letter writing by committee.

Your best writer should craft it and then turn it over to your best editor. Whoever signs the letter (your Executive Director?) can take a quick look at it, but don’t send it to a committee.

If you don’t have someone on your staff who can write a good fundraising appeal, then hire a freelancer or consultant to do it.

Besides weakening the content, involving more people takes extra time.

Make a good lasting impression, too

Repeat your ask at the end of your appeal. Don’t forget to say please and thank you.

Be sure to add a PS. People often gravitate to the PS as they scan the letter, so include something that will capture their attention. Here you could emphasize monthly giving, ask if their company provides matching gifts, or thank them for being a donor.

Get your pens out

Include a short handwritten note, if you can. Make it relevant to each donor, such as thanking someone for a previous donation or hoping a potential donor will support you. Hand sign the letters in blue ink.

This could be a tough fundraising season. That’s why you need to spend some time writing a better, more relevant appeal letter that will resonate with your donors and help bring you the donations you need. Good luck!

Read on for more advice and resources on writing a better fundraising appeal for the current climate.

10 Tips for Nonprofit Direct Mail Fundraising During COVID-19

3 Strategies Every Nonprofit Should Use for Year-End Fundraising in 2020

7 Wise COVID-19 Fundraising Templates

Image by Howard Lake

Personalization in Marketing: A Nonprofit’s Guide to Success

Personalization in your nonprofit’s marketing strategies is an important way to build relationships with your supporters to support long-term fundraising goals.

By Gerard Tonti

Personalized marketing is key for nonprofit success, especially when it comes to donor communications. Your supporters are much more likely to pay attention and feel appreciated when your nonprofit addresses them and their interests in your marketing initiatives. This helps build stronger relationships with them and maintain their support in the long-term.

Therefore, as you create your marketing plan, make sure your nonprofit effectively uses software to engage your audience and personalize outreach as much as possible. 

Here at Salsa, we work with all sorts of nonprofit organizations, helping them manage data that makes personalized marketing possible. We’ve found some of the most successful strategies to connect with supporters through data and effective marketing include: 

  1. Address your supporter by name. 
  2. Employ preferred marketing channels. 
  3. Launch a new donor marketing campaign. 
  4. Segment supporters by giving level. 
  5. Consider the geographic location of supporters. 
  6. Keep an eye on engagement metrics. 

The only way to completely personalize your marketing campaigns is to reach out to each supporter individually— every time. This is unrealistic and would use a lot of your organization’s resources and time. 

Therefore, nonprofits have devised techniques to personalize their messaging in a timely manner. Each of these strategies requires the use of an effective donor database solution. Keep this in mind as you’re exploring these techniques.

Now, let’s get started!

1. Address your supporter by name. 

This first tip might seem like a small detail, but it’s incredibly important to encourage your donors to actually read the messages you send to them. It’s a crucial step to establish a connection with your supporter, making it one of the foundations for effective communication

Consider your mail and email communications. Are you more likely to read a message with a salutation of “Dear valued donor” or “Dear [your name]”? Probably the latter! As an example, look at the two samples from nonprofit thank-you messages: 

Dear valued donor,

Thank you for your generous contribution to the buy-a-backpack campaign. Your gift is supporting the purchase of school supplies for hundreds of kids in the community. 

Compare that first message to the following: 

Dear Kiesha, 

Thank you for your generous contribution to the buy-a-backpack campaign. Your gift of $1,000 allowed us to buy new school supplies for 100 kids in the community. 

Using the supporter’s name in the introduction catches their attention and shows that the message is crafted for them rather than a mass audience. 

Other details included in the message were also designed to personally address the supporter’s action, including: 

  • Specifying the amount of the gift contributed
  • Communicating the impact of that specific contribution
  • Identifying the campaign that the supporter contributed to

By getting specific and using personal details in the messages you send supporters, you’re telling them the communication was crafted specifically for them. This establishes a more personal relationship over time. 

2. Use preferred marketing channels. 

There are a lot of different ways you can get in touch with your nonprofit’s supporters. However, your supporters probably check some communication channels more frequently than others. 

Using the channels your supporters pay the closest attention to is a great way to boost supporter engagement with your organization. 

How can you figure out which channels your supporters prefer? There are two primary ways: 

  1. Ask them. This is the easiest way to figure out your supporters’ preferences. Send them a survey and ask key questions about what messages they like the most and how they’d prefer to receive those messages. 
  2. Analyze marketing results. The other way you can discover your supporters’ preferences is by analyzing their past engagement metrics with various platforms. If you find that a supporter tends to open and click through your emails more often than other platforms, you should continue using email. 

Some of the channels you may consider analyzing and asking your supporters about include: 

  • Email
  • Direct mail
  • Phone calls
  • In-person meetings
  • Social media

After you’ve discovered the most effective and desired channels among your supporters, you can start integrating those channels into your marketing plan. 

Keep in mind, however, that the most effective way to communicate with supporters is through a multi-channel marketing approach. This means your organization will use a few separate channels to touch base with each of your supporters. For instance, you may use social media for frequent updates, direct mail to inform supporters about new campaigns, and phone calls to show your appreciation to donors after they contribute. 

3. Create a marketing campaign for new donors.

Many nonprofits tend to focus heavily on donor acquisition. In reality, it’s a good strategy to put more emphasis on retaining those supporters you already have. Retaining donors is a more cost-effective strategy with a higher chance of increasing your secured revenue. 

Specifically, the best way to increase your donor retention rate is to make sure your new donors feel welcomed and appreciated by your nonprofit. 

We suggest creating a new donor marketing campaign to accomplish this goal. An easy way to do this? Develop a drip campaign with information that will intrigue this audience. It looks like this: 

  • Develop templates and email drafts of information that new supporters will appreciate and engage with. Make sure these emails stand out and differ from one another. For example, you might send supporters a one-pager about the need for your mission, a summary of the upcoming events or virtual opportunities offered by your organization, and updates from your most recent program, all in separate emails.
  • Create a donor segment of new supporters. You can set up automatic emails to send to this group of supporters using effective marketing tools. Be careful not to send the messages too frequently as to not desensitize the supporters to seeing your name in their inbox, but send them frequently enough to keep you in the front of their minds. Once or twice a week should suffice. 
  • Provide the next step to drive engagement further for this group of supporters. For example, you might ask them to sign up for your newsletter, make a second gift, or register for your upcoming (virtual) event. Be sure to include this as an eye-catching call-to-action in your email communications. 

To make this possible, your nonprofit needs both fundraising and marketing software that will work well together. Salsa’s fundraising software offers an example of a solution that has features such as rich donor profiles and a seamless integration between fundraising and marketing to help nonprofits create these useful campaigns. 

4. Segment supporters by giving level. 

While you undoubtedly appreciate all of your supporters, some have a greater capacity to give and the ability to drive your mission further. 

That’s why as you personalize your communications, it’s important to recognize the donors with the greatest potential lifetime value so you can focus your efforts on developing a connection and relationship with them.

You can do this by segmenting your supporters by giving level (or prospective giving level if you’re using prospect research strategies).

Major donors and major prospects should have the most personalized interactions with your organization. You may go above and beyond with these supporters by: 

  • Setting up in-person or video meetings with them
  • Asking them for their opinions on your latest campaign
  • Giving advanced notice about major campaigns
  • Calling them more frequently with updates

Segmenting your donors by giving level gives your organization a better understanding of who your major prospects and donors are so you can specialize your outreach to them and make stronger connections.

5. Consider the geographic location of supporters. 

One characteristic that you should consider as you personalize your communications with supporters is where they live. This has been historically important for event planning as nonprofits send specialized invitations to their supporters who live in the area where an event will occur. 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders, nonprofits have realized that geographic location is a less significant factor when hosting virtual fundraising events. Handbid’s virtual event guide explains how to host these and reiterates how they can unleash greater event potential by removing geographic restrictions to attendance. 

However, this doesn’t mean you should stop considering the geographic location of your supporters. 

Geographic location is important for communicating impact to your donors. For example, imagine you’re a donor contributing to a nonprofit that helps provide school supplies for kids. You might feel an even greater connection to this cause if you know your contributions are helping kids in your own community.

Drawing on the ties that supporters have to their own communities helps them feel like they’re truly making a difference that they can see in their everyday lives. 

6. Keep an eye on engagement metrics. 

After you’ve incorporated personalization strategies into your nonprofit’s marketing plan, be sure to keep an eye on the success metrics to see how they’re performing. Consider tracking the difference in the metrics before and after you implemented personalization strategies to ensure your communication is actually improving and you’re further engaging your audience. 

Some key performance metrics that you can keep an eye on include: 

  • Email open rates
  • Email click-through rates
  • Event attendance metrics
  • Survey response rates
  • Donor retention rates

As these metrics increase and improve, your fundraising efforts should also show signs of improvement. Keep an eye on all of your metrics in your nonprofit’s CRM software. If your donor database integrates seamlessly with your marketing and fundraising solutions (like Salsa’s Smart Engagement Technology), you should be able to easily track and measure success metrics. If you want to learn more about choosing and implementing software that makes this possible, check out this handy guide.  


Personalized marketing is key for your nonprofit’s increased donor engagement and retention strategies. It’s important to develop relationships and encourage a greater connection between donors and your organization. Use these six helpful strategies to get started with your organization’s personalized marketing. Good luck! 

Gerard Tonti is the Senior Creative Developer at Salsa Labs, the premier fundraising software company for growth-focused nonprofits. 

Gerard’s marketing focus on content creation, conversion optimization, and modern marketing technology helps him coach nonprofit development teams on digital fundraising best practices.

Do the Best that You Can

Times are tough now and there’s so much uncertainty. Everyone is feeling it. I’m sure your nonprofit organization has been dealing with many challenges over the last several months.

Even though it’s hard, you need to keep going. If you haven’t been fundraising or have done very little of it, you’ll need to unless you have a good amount of reserve funding, which many organizations don’t.

If you’re wondering whether or not you should run your fall fundraising campaign, here are a couple of things to keep in mind. You can’t raise money if you don’t ask. Also, what would happen if your organization didn’t exist?  

The need your clients/community face is still there and has most likely increased. And while social and human service organizations are vital, arts and culture organizations are also important for the community. 

We need our nonprofit organizations to succeed.

You can do this! Just do the best that you can and that may mean going smaller in some instances. 

Quality counts

You want to get started on your year-end campaign as soon as possible. Now would be good. One of the first things you should do is figure out what worked and what didn’t from past campaigns. 

I wrote about getting ready for your year-end campaign in a previous post. You want to produce quality fundraising appeals and thank you letters. Don’t use the same templates you’ve used in the past. You must address the current situations. I’ll have more on this in future posts.

It’s worth the time and effort to craft a stellar appeal because it should help you raise more money.

Segment your donors

One aspect of a good appeal letter is personalization. You must segment your donors as much as you can. At the very least, segment them by current donors, monthly donors, and people who haven’t donated before.

You’ll have the best luck with people who’ve donated before and they’re going to want to see a letter that thanks them for their past support.

Monthly donors are the backbone of many nonprofit organizations and have a retention rate of 90%. Any time you communicate with them you must recognize them as monthly donors. You can ask your monthly donors to upgrade or give an additional donation.

Donors who have supported you before deserve a great appeal letter, and thank you letter too!

Mail your letters if you can

You should try to mail your appeal letters if you can. This is a proven way to raise money. I know mail can be expensive and who knows what’s going on with the post office. Everyone may have to work remotely again later this fall. I hope that’s not the case. Do your part to keep COVID at bay.

If cost is an issue, you could just mail letters to current donors and monthly donors and send email to other donor groups. Think segmentation! 

This is a good opportunity to look at your previous fundraising campaigns. If you have people on your mailing list who have never given or haven’t given for a while, it’s probably in your best interest not to mail them a letter. For lapsed donors who haven’t given for more than three years, you could send them a targeted letter or email telling them you miss them and want them back. If that doesn’t produce results, consider moving them to an inactive file. 

Focus on donors who will be more likely to give.

An electronic campaign can work

If it’s impossible to mail your appeals, run a high-quality email campaign with lots of reminders, but not so many that you overwhelm your donors. Think quality, not quantity. Don’t make it like the onslaught of political emails I’m getting now.

Use enticing subject lines and the amazing appeal you’re going to create. Many organizations ran successful electronic campaigns in the spring when the pandemic broke out so this is something that can work. 

These organizations were able to access their CRM/database remotely and you want to make sure you can do that.

If you can only do electronic thank yous right now, make them sparkle. You could make a thank you video, photo, or word cloud. And remember, thanking your donors isn’t a one and done deal. Keep thanking them throughout the year. 

Use this opportunity to see what channels your donors are using. Maybe social media makes sense for you, maybe it doesn’t. Also, consider calling some of your longer-term donors, especially if they don’t use email.

Focus on retention 

Donor retention should always be one of your top priorities – before, during, and after your appeal. Remember, your best bet for donations are your current donors.

Focusing on retention will help during the economic downturn. Some donors may not be able to give this year, but maybe they’ll be able to in the future. Keep engaging with them.

Retention: Still Your Best Strategy

Make time for what’s important and take care of yourself

I know there’s a lot going on both at your organization and in the world. Make time for what’s important, take care of yourself, and do the best that you can.

How Matching Gifts Can Help Your Fundraising Team Succeed

Double the Donation_Ann Green Nonprofit_How Matching Gifts Can Help Your Fundraising Team Succeed_Feature

Matching gifts can have a huge impact on your organization. Learn how to successfully leverage this corporate giving program and boost your nonprofit’s revenue.

By Adam Weinger

As a nonprofit professional, it can be difficult running a fundraising campaign, especially when there’s competition for funds among many organizations with similar missions. But even in the current climate, it’s important to keep fundraising

You might have already run into scenarios where you have to get creative with your fundraising appeals in order to be successful. However, there’s an additional avenue you can take to boost your donation revenue: matching gifts.

What are matching gifts?

Matching gifts are a form of corporate philanthropy in which companies match donations their employees make to nonprofits after the employee has submitted the relevant request forms. Many companies match at the typical 1:1 ratio, but some companies will match at an even higher rate, such as 2:1 or 3:1!

Unfortunately, many organizations don’t leverage matching gifts as a primary source of revenue because they don’t have the resources, time, or staff needed to pursue it. This leaves a lot of money on the table that could otherwise go toward serving their mission.

So how can you incorporate matching gifts into your fundraising strategy?

We’ll discuss these top strategies that can help you successfully leverage matching gifts and double donations made to your nonprofit:

  1. Use a Matching Gift Database
  2. Incorporate Matching Gifts into Your Fundraising Events
  3. Promote Matching Gifts Across Multiple Channels
  4. Continue Engaging Your Supporters

Trying out these approaches can help boost your matching gift revenue without too much extra effort from your team! Let’s get started.

Double the Donation_Ann Green Nonprofit_How Matching Gifts Can Help Your Fundraising Team Succeed_1

1. Use a Matching Gift Database

It can be a challenge to make donors aware of employer matching gift programs, especially since this opportunity doesn’t occur to most individuals! To alleviate this issue, your nonprofit can leverage a matching gift database.

What is a matching gift database?

A matching gift database houses information on thousands of companies with matching gift programs, including the forms and guidelines needed for employees to submit their match requests.

A matching gift database is accessible by implementing a matching gift search tool plugin onto your donation pages, confirmation pages, and other areas of your website. All donors need to do is type in their company name, and the search tool will populate all the information they need about their employer’s matching gift program.

Double the Donation_Ann Green Nonprofit_How Matching Gifts Can Help Your Fundraising Team Succeed_Database

But it’s not just about the ease with which donors can search for their companies. It’s about raising awareness in general. Now, more than ever, it’s important to leverage matching gifts as a source of income for your organization. This is because even during a global pandemic, matching gifts are continuing to make a difference.

Many companies like the ones listed here are expanding their matching gift programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This means companies are increasing their match ratios, matching gift limits, and other components of their programs to better assist organizations like yours.

A matching gift database that stays up-to-date with these changes can help your nonprofit keep donors informed. And when your donors know their gift can go twice as far, they’ll be more likely to give in the first place!

Bonus! Looking for more COVID-19 resources? Check out Double the Donation’s top resources for nonprofits. Continue reading

Get a Head Start on Your Year-End Fundraising Campaign

5524669257_ab67585fd0_wWe’re already halfway through August. Pandemic or not, we still have seasons and fall is traditionally fundraising season for nonprofit organizations.

If you had a campaign planned for this fall, but are thinking against it, don’t do that. You should still do your campaign. You can’t raise money if you don’t ask.

Yes, it will be harder, which is why you should start planning it now. And summer’s not over yet, so there’s still time to get ice cream and go to the beach (please stay safe and practice social distancing when you do).

Here’s a checklist to help you get started. You can also use this for fundraising campaigns at other times of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal for your year-end campaign in your 2020 fundraising plan and most likely that has changed. Perhaps you were able to raise money earlier in the year with an emergency campaign and/or a virtual event.

There’s a good chance you need to raise more money if you’ve had to shift the way you run your programs and there’s a greater need for your services.

You must determine how much money you need to raise before you start your campaign – raising as much as we can is not a goal.

Do you have a plan?

Put together a plan for your appeal that includes a timeline, task list, and the different channels you’ll use. Make it as detailed as possible.

When do you want to launch your appeal? Plan on everything taking longer, so I think earlier is better. You’ll be competing with other organizations who are doing appeals. It’s also an election year in the United States, but that doesn’t always affect nonprofit fundraising.

Maybe you want to send your appeal letters the first week in November. If so, make your goal to have the letters done at least a week before that. Maybe more if people are working remotely.

Also, how are you mailing your appeal? Do you use a mail house or do you get staff and volunteers together to stuff envelopes?  If it’s the latter, it will be harder to get a group together, so you’ll need more time. 

An Annual Appeal Fundraising Timeline You Can Use

13 End-of-Year Appeal Strategies

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

This is going to be the year you’ll retire your boring, generic appeal letter (more on that in future posts). Your appeal must address the current situations.

A good way to start is to create an engaging story for your appeal. How are the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, and the economic downturn affecting your clients/community? What challenges are they facing? Focus on them, not your organization.

You’ll want some good photos for your letter and donation page, too. Quotes from clients will also enhance your appeal.

3 Strategies Every Nonprofit Should Use for Year-End Fundraising in 2020

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

How to Engage With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

How did/can your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should highlight some of the accomplishments you’ve made recently and state what you plan to do in the coming months. For example, let’s say you run a tutoring program. You were able to get Chromebooks for half of the students who didn’t have access to a computer so they could do their sessions remotely. You still need to buy more, and with the pandemic looming, remote sessions will be the norm for a while. This is important because thanks to your donors, regular tutoring sessions help students read at or above their grade level and that needs to continue. 

Remember to focus on your clients and show how your donors are helping you make a difference or can help you make a difference. Don’t brag about your organization.

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

Make sure your postal and email mailing lists are up-to-date. Check for duplicate addresses and typos. Your donors don’t want to receive three letters at the same time or have their names misspelled.

Also, now is a good time to segment your mailing lists – current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. This is more important than ever. Your current donors are your best source of donations. You should have more success if you can personalize your appeal letters.

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until October to check your supply of letterhead and envelopes. Make sure you have enough. Perhaps you want to produce a special outer envelope. You may also want to create some thank you cards. It could take longer to get some of these things.

Even though many people donate online, you want to make it easy for donors who prefer to mail a check. Include a pledge envelope or a return envelope and a preprinted form with the donor’s contact information and the amount of their last gift.

Stamps are more personal so you might want to find some nice ones to use.

Is it easy to donate online?

Be sure your donation page is user-friendly and consistent with your other fundraising materials. Highlight your year-end appeal on your homepage and include a prominent Donate Now button.

Crafting the Perfect Donation Form: 6 Key Features

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

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

A monthly giving program is a win-win for your organization. You can raise more money, boost your retention rate, receive a steady stream of revenue, and allow your donors to spread out their gifts.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program or you have a small one, now is an excellent time to start one or grow the one you have.

How will you thank your donors?

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

Handwritten notes and phone calls are much better than a preprinted letter. Create or buy some thank you cards (see above) and start recruiting board members and volunteers to make thank you calls or write notes. Put together a thank you plan to help you with this.

How will you keep up with your donor communication?

Even though you’ll be busy with your appeal, you want to ramp up your donor communication this fall. Keep engaging your donors and other supporters (who may become donors) by sharing updates and gratitude. Pour on the appreciation! 

Send at least one warm-up letter or email. You could create a thank you video or a video that gives a behind the scenes look at your organization right now. Just don’t disappear until appeal time.

I know it will be hard this year, but you still need to run a campaign. Some donors may not give as much or at all, but others will give more. They won’t give anything if you don’t ask.

Best of luck!

Your Donors Want to Hear from You

214409794_5c34b1f1f4_wI hope everyone is doing okay and staying safe. Please wear a mask and practice social distancing.

Summer is often a quieter time for nonprofits, although I don’t need to tell you we’re not having a normal summer. You don’t want to be too quiet and ignore your donors. In fact, this is a good time to do some relationship building.

You may be holding back because of the pandemic and economic downturn, but you actually want to communicate more with your donors right now. First, we’re looking at a tough fundraising season, but better donor engagement could help. Also, while some people may be on vacation, many are staying home this year, so it’s a good time to reach them. 

You should be communicating with your donors at least once a month, if not more. Don’t make the mistake of taking a vacation from your donor communication – never a smart decision.

Here are a few ways you can connect with your donors this summer, as well as throughout the year, and build those important relationships.

Check in and send an update

Check in with your donors and see how they’re doing. Wish them well. This is especially important if you haven’t communicated with them since the COVID-19 outbreak started earlier this year (I hope that’s not the case). Even if you have been in touch more recently, send a message of kindness. Many states are seeing a rising number of COVID cases and we’re all dealing with a lot.

Send an update to let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community right now. Share what’s going on whether it’s success stories, challenges, or some of each. Be authentic and specific. Don’t get trapped in jargon land.

One of my favorite ways to connect is with a postcard. I know mail is expensive, but a postcard shouldn’t cost too much. It’s also a quick way to share an update with your donors.

If it’s impossible to send something by mail right now, you can use email.

Show some #donorlove

You don’t need a reason to thank your donors. Just do it and do it often. Most organizations don’t do a good job of thanking their donors, so you’ll stand out if you do. My last post was all about thanking your donors. Create a thank you plan to help you with this.

This is another situation where a postcard will work wonders. You can do a combo thank you and update. Go one step further and make your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you card. You could also create a thank you photo for a card or you can share your photo by email and social media. Another great way to connect is to make a thank you video.

There are so many ways to thank your donors. Spend a little time thinking of ways to show some #donorlove. 

20 Unique Donor Thank You Ideas

Create a better newsletter

You may already keep in touch with your newsletter, whether it’s electronic, print, or both. In theory, newsletters can be a great way to engage, but in reality, most of them are long, boring bragfests.

For the time being, I would suggest a shorter newsletter to capture your donors’ attention. You could also opt not to do an official newsletter and just stay in touch with short, engaging updates instead.

Focus more on relationship building in your fundraising appeals

A fundraising appeal can be a way to connect with your donors if you make relationship building the main focus. This rarely happens because most appeals are transactional and generic.

You shouldn’t stop fundraising. You won’t raise the money you need if you don’t ask. Plus, donors want to give if they can.

Remember to keep relationship building front and center at all times. Thank donors for their past support, share some updates, and show them how their gift will help you make a difference for your clients/community.

Cultivating Donor Relationships in 2020: 5 Best Practices

Keep it up 

Your donors want to hear from you this summer and throughout the year. A communications calendar will be a huge help with this so your donors won’t wonder why you haven’t been in touch lately. 

The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan

1528715736_98556a9c65_w (1)I feel like the theme of most of my posts over the last several months is this is more important than ever. This could be a tough fundraising season, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a campaign this fall.

Something that should help is having a thank you plan. Thanking donors often takes a back seat to fundraising when you should spend equal time doing both. Many organizations just thank their donors after they receive a gift and then disappear until the next fundraising appeal.

With everything going on this year, your donors deserve heaps of gratitude. 

Thanking your donors is something you need to do throughout the year – at least once a month, if you can. Creating a thank you plan will help you stay focused on gratitude all year round.  

Here’s what you need to include in your thank you plan.

Plan to make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it shouldn’t resemble Amazon check out. It should make a person feel good about making a donation.

Open with Thank you, Jen or You’re amazing! Include an engaging photo or video and a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help your clients/community right now (reference COVID-19). Put all the tax-deductible information after your message or in the automatically generated thank you email.

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

How to Create Post Donation Thank You Pages That Delight Donors

Plan to write a warm and personal automatic thank you email

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

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

Give some thought to the email subject line, too. At the very least make sure it says Thank You or You did something great today and not anything boring like Your Donation Receipt or Donation Received. And please stop using words like transaction and processed.

How to Write a Great Donation Thank-you Email (with Examples)

Email Thank You Letter Examples for Donors

Plan to thank your donors by mail or phone

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

Try to thank your donors within 48 hours or within a week at the latest. I know it’s harder to do now, but it will be easier if you plan to carve out some time to thank your donors each day you get a donation. Remember, thanking donors should be a priority. If you wait too long, you’re not making a good impression.

Instead of sending the usual generic thank you letter, mail a handwritten card or call your donors. Making thank you calls or writing thank you notes is something your board can do. 

Find board members, staff, and volunteers to make phone calls or write thank you notes. Come up with sample scripts. You may also want to conduct a short training (most likely via Zoom). Make sure to get your team together well before your next fundraising campaign so you’re ready to go when the donations come in. 

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

Hi, this is Rachel Clark and I’m a board member at the Riverside Community Food Bank. I’m calling to thank you for your generous donation of $50. Thanks to you, we can continue to provide neighborhood families with healthy food. This is great. Our numbers have almost tripled over the last few months and we know that will continue, so we really appreciate your support.

You’ll stand out if you can send a thank you card. I received a couple of cards this summer, both from the same organization, which shows you what they prioritize! One was a postcard with a handwritten note. The other was a lovely card with a pre-printed personal message (addressing me by name and including a gift amount). While not as personal as a handwritten note, it may be more doable.

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal and heartfelt letter. If you’ve been using the same letter template for a while, it’s time to freshen it up. 

Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization, we thank you for your donation of…. Open the letter with You’re incredible or Because of you, the Davis family can finally move into their own home. Create separate letters for new donors, renewing donors, and monthly donors.

Add a personal handwritten note to the letter, preferably something that pertains to that particular donor. For example, if the donor has given before, mention that. Make sure all letters are hand signed.

Let your donors know how much you appreciate them and highlight what your organization is doing with their donations. Remember to keep it current.

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

How to Write The Best Thank-You Letter for Donations + Three Templates and Samples

How to write a donation thank you letter

How to Craft a Killer Thank You Letter

Plan to keep thanking your donors all year round

This is where having a thank you plan makes a difference because as I mentioned before – thanking your donors is something you must do all year round.

You can use your communications calendar to incorporate ways to thank your donors, but why not go one step further and create a specific thank you calendar.

Remember to try to say thank you at least once a month. Here are some ways to do that. 

  • Send cards or email messages at Thanksgiving, during the holidays, Valentine’s Day, or mix it up a little and send a note of gratitude in June or September when your donors may not be expecting it. Try to send at least one or two gratitude messages a year by mail, since your donors will be more likely to see those. And you don’t need a holiday or special occasion to thank your donors. Thank them just because….
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories, as well as how the current situations are affecting your work. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude. Be sure to keep thanking your donors in your newsletter and other updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without your donors’ support.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your thank you landing page, by email, and on social media.
  • Send a warm-up letter or email about a month before your next campaign (no ask). This is a great way to show appreciation BEFORE you send your appeals.
  • While open houses and tours are off the table for now, you could do something virtual to let your donors see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

The post below references a donor acknowledgment plan for monthly donors with some personal ways to connect and you don’t have to come up with 12 different ideas. It’s okay to repeat some. While these are for monthly donors, and monthly donors should get their own thank yous, you can use them for other donors, too. 

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

Creating a thank you plan will make it easier to keep showing appreciation to your donors all year round. You need your donors right now, so don’t hold back on that ever-important gratitude.

Making Smart Investments is More Important than Ever

10688617385_ce1214d44d_w (1)Nonprofit organizations will be facing some tough times ahead. During an economic downturn, the need for nonprofit services grows while some donors won’t be able to give as much, if at all.

Your first inclination may be to make cuts or continue working with a bare-bones budget with the mindset “we can’t afford this.” 

I understand you want to be cautious. But you also want to use caution before you eliminate something you think you can’t afford. It may be something you should be investing in.

This is why you need to make smart investments. It may seem counterintuitive to spend money when you have so little, but if you make the right decisions, these investments can help you raise more money.

Invest in a good CRM/database

A good CRM (Customer Relationship Management)/database is a must for a number of reasons. First, it can help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by gift amount and politely ask them to give a little more in your next appeal – $35 or $50 instead of $25.

A good database can also 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. Some CRM’s also have an email component. Otherwise, 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.

You also want a CRM that everyone on your staff can access remotely. When the pandemic hit earlier this year and most everyone was forced to work from home, organizations that could access their CRM and still communicate with their donors had a clear advantage.

Invest in the best CRM/donor database you can afford, and Excel is not a database.

Nonprofit Software

Nonprofit CRM | Complete Guide to Choosing the Best Solution

Invest in monthly giving

Monthly donations are more important than ever now. If you already have monthly donors, or any type of recurring donor, you’ve been receiving a steady stream of revenue throughout the pandemic and economic downtown.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program or you want to grow the one you have, it’s not hard to do. Plus it’s a win-win for your organization since you can raise more money and raise your retention rate as well. The retention rate for monthly donors 90%. That’s significantly higher than other retention rates. 

It’s also easier for your donors if they’re worried about their financial situation, but still want to help. They can make small donations of $5.00 or $10.00 a month instead of giving the entire amount at once. 

Monthly giving is an investment you must make.

Invest in donor communications and that includes direct mail

Years ago, I was working at a nonprofit and our executive director said we shouldn’t do an e-newsletter anymore because we needed to concentrate on raising money.

I wish I knew then what I know now. Fundraising isn’t just about sending appeals. And to quote Tom Ahern – If you do better donor communications, you’ll have more money. 

Yet many nonprofits have a similar view. They don’t want to spend much time thanking their donors and sending newsletters and other updates, even though those types of donor communications can help you raise more money, provided you do it well. 

You don’t want to skimp on your communications budget and that includes 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 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, if you can.

Creating thank you cards and infographic postcards are a smart investment and a necessity, not a luxury. Thank you cards are a much better investment than mailing labels and other useless swag.

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.

Shorter is better. Lengthy communication (goodbye long annual reports) will cost more and your donors are less likely to read it.

Of course, you can use email and social media, but your primary reason for communicating those ways 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 you should honor their request.

You want to communicate with your donors at least once or twice a month. Use a communications calendar to help you with this.

5 Rules for a Successful Donor Communications Program

9 Best Practices for Communications That Stand Out

Nonprofit Fundraising: The Case for Direct Mail

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

Image by Thomas Lapperre  www.bloeise.nl.

How to Engage With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

35835135741_c9a4a643a4_wGetting your donors’attention in the best of times is hard enough and we’re not in the best of times right now. In my last post, I wrote about the importance of telling your stories. Written stories are great, but donors may not have the time or energy to read a story right now. 

This is why you also need to use visual stories. Some people respond better to visual stimuli, anyway. Here are a few ways to tell visual stories.

Tell a story in an instant with a great photo

You can capture your donors’attention in an instant with a great photo. That doesn’t mean one of your executive director receiving an award. Use photos of your programs in action or something else that’s engaging.

Print newsletters and annual reports tend to be dominated by long-winded text. Most of your donors won’t want to read the whole thing, and long print communication isn’t in your best interest right now. But if you share some engaging photos, your donors can get a quick glance at the impact of their gift without having to slog through a bunch of tedious text.

A Postcard Annual Report is a better option, anyway. Postcards with an engaging photo are also great for thank you cards and updates. I’m a big fan of postcards because they’re a quick, less expensive way to communicate by mail.

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

Use photos everywhere – fundraising appeals, thank you letters/cards, newsletters, annual reports, updates, your website, and social media. Create a photo bank to help you with this.

It’s fine to use the same photos in different channels. It can help with your brand identity. Be sure to use high-quality pictures. Also, make sure your photos match your messages. If you’re writing a fundraising appeal about children who aren’t getting enough to eat each day, don’t use a picture of happy kids.

Work with your program staff to get photos and videos (more on videos below). Confidentiality issues may come up and you’ll need to get permission to use pictures of kids. It may be hard to get new photos right now. If so, I hope you already have some good ones to use.

6 Ways to Tell Your Nonprofit Story With Images

How to Create a Compelling Fundraising Story Using Images

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

Highlight your work with a video

Videos are becoming a more popular way to connect. They can be used to show your programs in action, share an interview, give a behind the scenes look at your organization, or my favorite – thanking your donors. 

You can share videos that are relevant to our current situations. If you’re a museum that’s about to re-open, you can show how people can visit it safely. If you haven’t re-opened, you could give a virtual tour of some of your collections. You could also talk about how the COVID-19 outbreak or systemic racism is affecting the people/community you work with. 

I would definitely recommend a thank you video. I received a personalized video a few months ago that specifically thanked me for making a donation in addition to my monthly gifts. It was such a nice gesture. If it’s not feasible to make personalized thank you videos, you can make a general one.

How to (Easily) Thank Donors with Video

Make your videos short and high quality. Short is key. People are spending a lot more time online now, especially on Zoom. If your video is more than a couple of minutes, they may not bother to watch it.

You can use videos on your website, in an email message, on social media, and at an event (virtual for now).

The Science of Nonprofit Video Engagement: How To Use Emotion to Increase Social Sharing

5 Examples of Nonprofit Storytelling that Compel People to Give

Enhance your statistics by using infographics

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

Why not use an infographic instead of the usual laundry list of statistics and accomplishments?  

Here are some examples. A Great Nonprofit Annual Report in a Fabulous Infographic

This is no time for a long annual report. Also, if you send out your annual report too late, it becomes irrelevant. I just received an organization’s 2019 annual report with no insert referencing COVID-19, and right now I’m not interested in what this organization did last year.

With everything changing at a rapid pace, I would recommend short quarterly or even monthly updates with infographics and other visuals instead of the typical annual report.

6 Types of Nonprofit Infographics to Boost Your Campaigns

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

7 Tools for Creating Nonprofit Infographics

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

Nonprofit Visual Storytelling: Using the Power of Story to Spark Human Connection

 

 

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

18761109699_50d9b19a78_oWe’re halfway through 2020 and it looks like this will be a year that will stand out in history. We’re having a global pandemic, along with a severe economic downturn. The horrific killing of George Floyd by a police officer spawned protests against racism and police brutality.

Systemic racism is something that’s been part of the United States (and other countries) for centuries. Are we just now realizing that Aunt Jemima is a racist symbol?

It’s not surprising that the COVID-19 outbreak and economic devastation are affecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities at a much higher level. It’s very likely that all of these situations are affecting the people/community you work with.

I want to briefly address racism right now. If your nonprofit organization works with the BIPOC community, then they are affected by racism. If you’re working on issues such as affordable housing, homelessness, education, health care, etc, these have ties to racism.

Your organization shouldn’t be afraid to talk about racism when you tell your stories or communicate in other ways. Vu Lee addressed this last month.

Have nonprofit and philanthropy become the “white moderate” that Dr. King warned us about?

You may have made a statement against racism, which is a good first step. Don’t stop with that.

Donors want to hear your stories

Stories are one of the best ways to communicate with your donors. Unfortunately, you’re probably not using them enough. That’s a mistake because people respond better to stories than a bunch of facts and statistics. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene.

You may be reluctant to use stories because it’s more work for your organization, but that shouldn’t stop you. I know it’s even harder now since the COVID-19 outbreak has upended the way you work. Maybe everyone is still working at home or only some of you are back at the office. You can still do this. The summer is a good time to come up with some new stories.

Your stories need to be relevant

Just as it’s been for the last few months, your stories need to take the current climate into account. That’s why you new need ones. You’re seeing real people with real problems in real time. These posts address this more.

4 Resources to Help Shift the Narrative for Equity in Nonprofit Communications

HOW TO TELL YOUR NONPROFIT’S STORY, EVEN IN THE MIDST OF CRISIS

How to Communicate with Supporters During COVID-19: Nonprofit & Brand Examples

Create a culture of storytelling

If you create a storytelling culture in your organization, you can make storytelling the norm instead of the exception.

Work with your program staff to create stories that will help you connect with your donors. Everyone needs to understand how important this is. Share stories at staff meetings and/or set up regular meetings with program staff to gather stories. Do this virtually if you’re not in the office.

When you put together a story, ask.

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

Client or program recipient stories are best, especially now.

Another way to find stories is to put a Share Your Story page on your website. This could be a good way to get some current, relevant stories.

4 INSPIRATIONAL “SHARE YOUR STORY” PAGES THAT WILL KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF

Create a story bank to help you organize all your stories. Take advantage of slower times of the year to gather your stories. You want to use stories as much as possible. Use them in your appeals, thank you letters, newsletters, updates, annual reports, website, blog, and other types of social media. You can use the same stories in different channels.

Language is important

It’s time to stop using jargon such as at-risk and underserved. These terms undermine your clients/community. These aren’t terms your donors use, anyway. Use language they’ll understand. 

You also don’t want to give the impression that your organization is coming in to save someone. This is especially important if the majority of your staff and donors are white, but your clients are people of color. This is known as white savior complex. Most likely that’s not intentional on your part, but watching how you tell your stories will help you avoid that. Be an ally and be respectful of your clients/community.

I have to admit I don’t know the best way to approach some of this and would welcome suggestions.

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Remember, your stories aren’t about your organization. Your organization may have had to make a lot of changes to do some of the work you do, but that’s not your story. Your story is why this is important for the people/community you work with. 

Maybe you had to change the way you run your food pantry, but what’s most important is that people in the community continue to have access to healthy food. 

Make your stories personal 

Use people’s names to make your stories more personal. I realize you might run into confidentiality issues, but you can change names to protect someone’s privacy. You could also do a composite story, but don’t make up anything.

Fundraising with Names Have Been Changed Disclaimers

There continues to be a lot going on and your organization can’t ignore the current climate. Tell stories that address these situations and be respectful of the people/community you work with.

Finally, COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. Please be smart – wear a mask, practice social distancing, and avoid crowds. Stay safe and be well!