Rethinking Your Annual Report

99535218_fdfab8c28b_mWhat do you think of when you hear annual report? As a donor, you might think boring, long, a waste of resources, something I’m not going to read. As a nonprofit professional, you might think time-consuming, something we always do, something our board wants.

These are all negatives, but an annual report can be a positive experience for your donors and also doesn’t have to be something that’s going to stress you out when you put it together.

First, you don’t have to do an annual report, but you do have to share accomplishments with your donors. You might want to ditch the annual report and send short progress reports a couple of times a year or monthly e-updates instead.

If you decide to do an annual report, I encourage you to move away from the traditional multi-page one. Aim for something no longer than four pages.

Here are a few ways to rethink your annual report so you won’t put your donors to sleep and also make it a little easier for nonprofit staff.

Your annual report is for your donors

Keep your donors in mind when you create your annual report and include information you know will interest them.

You may want to consider different types of annual reports for different donor groups. You could send an oversized postcard with photos and infographics or a two-page report to most of your donors. Your grant and corporate funders might want more detail, but not 20 pages. See if you can impress them with no more than four pages.

Make it a gratitude report

Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit. Think of this as a gratitude report. You may want to call it that instead of an annual report.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. Get inspired by these examples that celebrate the donor.

Oregon Zoo Gratitude Report

What’s in my Mailbox | “Annual Report”…or “Gratitude Report?

How are you making a difference?

The theme of many annual reports is look how great we are. Are You Boring Your Donors By Bragging Too Much?

They also include a bunch of boring lists, such as the number of clients served. You need to share specific accomplishments that show how you’re making a difference.

Focus on the why and not the what. Something like this – Thanks to you, 85% of the students in our tutoring program have improved their reading skills and can now read at their grade level.

Phrases like Thanks to you and because of you should dominate your annual report.

Tell a story

Donors love to hear about the people they’re helping. You can tell a story with words, a photo, or a video. Share a success story.

For example –  Leah, a third grader at Turner Elementary School, hated reading. She struggled with the words and the worst was when she had to read out loud in class. “Sometimes the other kids tease me,” she said. “Why do we have to read books anyway.” Then Leah started meeting weekly with Julie, one of our volunteer tutors. It was a struggle at first, but thanks to Julie’s patience and encouragement, Leah’s doing much better with her reading. She even requested a book for her birthday.

Make it visual

Your donors are busy and don’t have a lot of time to read your report. Engage them with some great photos, which can tell a story in an instant. Choose photos of people participating in an activity, such as Julie helping Leah with her reading.

Use colorful charts or infographics to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand. Include some quotes and short testimonials to help break up the text.

Be sure your report is easy to read. Use at least a 12-point font and black type on a white background. A colored background may be pretty, but it makes it hard to read. You can, however, add a splash of color with headings, charts, and infographics.

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend

Keep out the jargon. Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you. Use everyday language such as – Because of you, we found affordable housing for over 100 homeless families. Now they no longer have to live in a shelter, a motel, or their cars and have a place to call home.

Write in the second person and use a warm, friendly tone. Use you much more than we.

Plan ahead

One problem with annual reports is organizations send them out months after the year is over and by that point the information is outdated.

Yes, putting together an annual report can be time-consuming. One way to make it easier is to set aside a time each month to make a list of accomplishments. This way you’re not racking your brain at the end of the year trying to come up with this list. You can just turn to the list you’ve been working on throughout the year.

You also want to create a story and photo bank and you can draw from those when you put together your annual report.

Of course, a shorter report or an infographic postcard will help ensure your 2018 report doesn’t arrive in your donor’s mailbox the following spring or later.

Rethink your annual report to make it a better experience for everyone. Read on for more information about creating a great annual report.

NONPROFIT ANNUAL REPORTS: 7 BEST PRACTICES [TEMPLATES]

7 Tips for Creating an Effective Nonprofit Annual Report

8 Annual Reports We Love


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Get Ready to Show Some #DonorLove

32497267743_0b58581e37_mWhen was the last time you thanked your donors? I mean really thanked them. That lame, automatic thank you email you sent after your year-end appeal doesn’t cut it. And even if you were one of the few organizations who did a good job of thanking their donors, gratitude is not a one-time deal.

#DonorLove is a yearlong endeavor and with Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s a perfect opportunity to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support.

8 Top Ways to Send Nonprofit Donors Love on Valentine’s Day

12 Ways to Send Your Donors Love With a Valentine

Okay, I get it, maybe you would rather not to go for a Valentine’s Day theme, but you should still do something fun and creative to show appreciation this month (and every month). The holidays are over and it’s been a cold winter for many of us. We could all use a little mood booster right now.

This is also a good opportunity to keep in touch with the people who gave to your year-end appeal, especially first-time donors. If you haven’t shown any #DonorLove since your year-end appeal, then you must reach out soon.

Here are a few ways you can show some #DonorLove.

Create a thank you photo

Make your donor’s day with a great photo, like one of these.

Image result for pictures of people holding thank you signs

Image result for pictures of people holding thank you signs

You can send thank you photos via email and social media, use one to create a card, and include one on your thank you landing page.

Make a video

Videos are becoming an increasingly popular way to connect and you don’t need a Hollywood production team to create one. Here are some examples of thank you videos.

4 Inexpensive Examples of Saying Thank You With Video

A Thank You Video to Promote Donor Retention

Obviously, the purpose is to thank your donors. A simple video showing a bunch of people saying thank you will do the trick. You also want your video to be short, donor-centered, and show your organization’s work up close and personal.

Your thank you landing page is a perfect place to put a video (or a photo). This is your first opportunity to say thank you and most landing pages are just boring receipts. You can also put your thank you video on your website and share it by email and social media.

Send a card

A handwritten note will also brighten your donor’s day. If you don’t have the budget to send cards to everyone, send them to your most valuable donors. These may not be the ones who give you the most money. Do you have donors who have supported your organization for more than three years? How about more than five years? These are your valuable donors.

That said, I do think you should make every effort to send a card to ALL your donors. More on that below.

Share an update or success story

In addition to saying thank you, share a brief update or success story. Emphasize how you couldn’t have helped someone without your donor’s support. For example –Thanks to you, the Taylor family can move into a home of their own.

Phrases like Thanks to you or Because of you should dominate your newsletters and updates.

Thank you basics

Make this the year you do a better job of thanking your donors. Thank your donors right away and send a thank you note/letter or make a phone call. Electronic thank yous aren’t good enough.

Be personal and conversational when you thank your donors. Don’t use jargon or other language they won’t understand. Write from the heart, but be sincere. Give specific examples of how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Thanking your donors needs to be a priority

I’m a big proponent of communicating by mail, even if it’s only a few times a year. It’s much more personal. Yet, many nonprofits balk at spending too much on mailing costs.

If your budget doesn’t allow you to mail handwritten cards, is there a way you can change that? You may be able to get a print shop to donate cards. You could also look for additional sources of unrestricted funding to cover cards and postage.

Maybe you need a change of culture, and this comes from the top. Fundraising Consultant Pamela Grow recently gave an example of an organization that “is moving away from the 48-hour written thank you receipt letter to quarterly email thank you receipts” because the Executive Director thinks “most people just trash the letter without reading it.

This is wrong on so many levels and to quote Pamela, “you never get a second chance to make a great first impression.” You need to get your board, all staff (especially leadership), and volunteers invested and involved in thanking your donors. Leave a good lasting impression.

You can’t say thank you enough. Make a commitment to thank your donors at least once a month. Create a thank you plan to help you with this.

Keep thinking of ways to show some #DonorLove. Get creative.

10 Ways to Thank your Nonprofit Donors

Your Donors Want Stories, Not Baubles

How to Thank Donors — and Bring Them Closer to Your Cause

You don’t even need to wait for a holiday or special occasion. Just thank your donors because they’re amazing and you wouldn’t be able to make a difference without them.

Are You Shortchanging Your Donors?

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Your donors made a commitment to your organization by giving to you. Are you making the same commitment to them?

Donors have a choice. There are many nonprofits they could donate to, but they chose yours, along with others I’m sure.

Donors can also choose to stop giving to your organization and this could happen if you shortchange them by not giving them the recognition and appreciation they deserve.

Here are a few examples of ways you could be shortchanging your donors. Are you a guilty party?

Treating all donors the same

Your donors are not the same, yet many organizations send the same appeal and thank you letters to all their donors.

Don’t do that. At the very least, send different communication to new donors, current donors, and monthly donors. Welcome new donors, thank donors for their previous support, and acknowledge those ever so important monthly donors.

To take it a step further, get to know your donors better. A survey is a great way to do that. You could pop one in an e-newsletter or include one in the welcome packet you should be sending to new donors.

You can survey donors about what drew them to your organization, what issues are important to them, or what their communication preferences are. This way you can share information you know they’ll be interested in. Also, if you find out your donors don’t spend much time on social media and prefer email, you can concentrate your efforts there.

Some organizations allow donors to give to different initiatives. If you’re one of them, send communication specific to that program. For example, send one group an engaging update on early education and another something on childhood hunger.

Strengthen Your Donor Segmentation: 7 Successful Strategies

3 Examples of Nonprofit Donor Surveys

Not communicating enough

Funny how nonprofits go all out during appeal time and after that you hear almost nothing. You need to communicate throughout the year. Make a point to reach out to your donors between once a week and once a month. A communications calendar will help with this.

Some organizations do a good job of thanking and updating throughout the year. Others, not so much. Your donors were drawn to your organization because they’re interested in the work you do. Let them know how they’re helping you make a difference.

Find creative ways to stay in touch. One organization sent me a quiz by email, which was a great, interactive way to find out more about a certain issue.

Not communicating well

I could write an entire post about poor communication. Okay, maybe you have a newsletter, but it’s not very good. Yes, you thank your donors, but all you send is an organization-centered, generic email.

Thank your donors like you mean it. Share stories in your in your newsletter that your donors want to read (remember the survey I mentioned above). Ditch your jargon and write in a conversational style your donors will understand.

Another problem is getting bogged down in the details with a bunch of long-winded text. Get your donors interested right away. They’re busy and aren’t going to read a long, boring newsletter or annual report.

Short and more frequent is the way to go. If you email a short, and of course engaging, update every two weeks or so your donors shouldn’t get the impression you’re not interested in them.

You also want to communicate by mail periodically. You could write an amazingly personal email, but it’s so easy for that to get lost in your donor’s inbox. And what if you find out some of your donors don’t use electronic communication very often?

At the very least, make a point to send at least one non-ask piece by mail. One suggestion I like to recommend for organizations with tight mailing budgets is to spread the love throughout the year. Send a small number of handwritten notes or postcards each month ensuring that every donor gets one. Also, imagine their surprise when they get a note from you in May or September when they’re not expecting anything.

Your donors are important and they need to know that. Don’t shortchange them by treating them all the same, not communicating enough, and doing a poor job of communicating with them.

Are You Boring Your Donors By Bragging Too Much?

2614924934_df1befa254_mI’m sure you’ve been stuck in a conversation with someone who brags about all the wonderful things he’s done or talks too much about herself while ignoring you. As they drone on and on, you think – “Hey, I’m part of this conversation, too.”  

Imagine your donors having the same reaction when all your communication sounds like one big bragfest that’s all about your organization and doesn’t even acknowledge them. Then imagine all your hard work going to waste when your boring appeal or newsletter goes straight to the recycling bin.

Yes, you want to share your accomplishments, but you don’t want to annoy your donors by focusing too much on your organization. It’s possible to do this without bragging. Here’s how.

Be donor-centered

You don’t need to tell your donors your organization is great. They wouldn’t have given you money if they didn’t think highly of you.

Let your donors know they’re great because they helped you make a difference for the people or community you serve. Give specific examples. Because of donors like you, the Coleman family can move out of a shelter and into a home of their own.

All your communication should be donor or audience-centered. One way to ensure this is to use the word you more than we or us.

Why is it So Hard to be Donor-Centered?

Share a story

Telling a story is a great way to share accomplishments. Whether it’s in the first or third person, you can give a personal account of how you’re making a difference. Remember to focus on the people you serve and keep your organization in the background.

If You’re Making a Difference, You Have Stories to Tell

Photos and videos featuring the people you serve is another good way to share accomplishments.

Why is what you do important

Instead of the usual laundry list you see in annual reports, such as we served over X number of students in our tutoring program, focus on why that’s important, too. Students in our tutoring program are now reading at their grade level and have a better chance of graduating from high school on time.

Instead of focusing on what you do, let your donors know why it’s important.

Show don’t tell

Too many newsletters and annual reports ramble on about how an organization is number one in such and such, or there was a crisis and X organization came in to solve it.

Go back to stories and examples. You can’t ignore your organization altogether, but instead of saying we were the first organization to come in and help the flood victims or we’re the number one hospital in the community, say Thanks to you, Fuller county residents now have access to clean drinking water and can start rebuilding their homes after the devastating flood or Thanks to you, the Brookfield neighborhood has a new outpatient clinic so residents don’t have to travel far to see their health care providers.

How you made a difference is more important than being first or best.

Current donors want to see the results of their gift. Potential donors may be more interested in your reputation, but they also want to see how their donation will make a difference.

How to do better

Before you share accomplishments in an appeal letter, thank you letter, newsletter article, social media update, annual report, etc, ask yourself these questions:

-Is this donor/audience-centered?
-Are we focusing on the people/community we serve?
-Are we showing results?
-Are we saying why this is important?
-Are we bragging too much about ourselves?

Read on for more about the perils of bragging.

Bragging Versus Mission

Are you thanking donors, or just using the moment to brag?

Is This The Best You Can Do?

3986997574_5aa55585a4_mI sometimes wonder if nonprofit organizations are doing the best they can when they communicate with their donors. Unfortunately, there are a lot of examples of poor communication out there.

It doesn’t have to be like this. You can do a better job of communicating with your donors if you make an effort.

Does your thank you letter make your donors smile?

I find some of the worst examples come from thank you letters or what I like to call the thank you experience (for online donors it’s the thank you landing page, thank you email, and a thank you by mail or phone). Often it’s a lack of thank you experience.

At the end of last year, I gave an example of a thank you landing page and thank you email which were basically just transactional receipts. Some Observations From the Year-End Fundraising Season

This organization also sent a thank you letter about a week after I made the donation. I was pleasantly surprised because most nonprofits don’t mail a thank you letter if you donate online, although they should.

My good feelings vanished when I saw this letter was also just a receipt. It was from the Chief Financial Officer and opened with – This letter serves to acknowledge receipt by X Organization of a donation of X dated 11/27/18. Then it when on to say my husband and I may be entitled to claim a tax deduction. At the very end, the organization said – Thank you for your generous contribution.

This organization seems to think the most important part of a donation is the tax deduction rather than making the donor feel appreciated.

The organization redeemed itself a little by sending another letter from the President, which was dated January 10. This was an actual thank you letter, although not an outstanding one (more on that in a future post).

The problem here is this organization left me with a bad impression by making their initial thank you a receipt. I should have received the actual thank you letter at the beginning of December, not six weeks after I made the donation.  I would have combined the two letters, leading with the thank you and including the tax-deductible information at the end.

Contrast this with a rare handwritten thank you note I received from Reach Out and Read, which gave specific examples by telling me my gift will enrich the lives of children by providing them with books at their wellness visits. and Their parents will receive information about the importance of reading to their children daily.

One question you can ask yourself as you write a thank you letter is will this letter make my donors smile?  It won’t if it’s like the first example but should if it resembles the second one.

I encourage you to spend six minutes watching this video How to write a great thank you letter to your year end donors, which will help you create a thank you letter that will make your donors smile.

One key to good thank you letters is giving it the personal touch. TY Thursday: A Personal Letter is Better Than a Personalized One

Fundraising appeal dodgeball

#GivingTuesday and the end of December bring back memories of playing dodgeball in gym class. Nonprofits are hurling a constant stream of email appeals with pleas for “last chance to donate.” Really, you can’t donate after December 31?

I was barraged with emails at the end of December even though I gave gifts in November or am a monthly donor. Most were just generic appeals, although a few added a thank you to people who have already donated. Personalization didn’t exist.

Fundraising letters weren’t much better. Organizations I don’t support tried to entice me with useless mailing labels and notepads. Organizations I do support don’t acknowledge my past giving.

To paraphrase one of my favorite Seth Godin quotes – More isn’t better. Better is better. –  Instead of a constant blast of appeals, work on making them better.

5 Lessons From Year-End For Fundraisers Like You

Donors Are Ticked Off By Excess Solitication

What’s holding you back?

Now that we’re in the New Year, this is a good time to figure out how you can make improvements in your donor communication.

Although a handwritten thank you note is better than a letter, you may not be able to send notes to all your donors. But that shouldn’t stop you from writing a good, heartfelt letter. Also, show your online donors some love by sprucing up your landing page and thank you email so they don’t resemble a receipt.

Maybe you can write short, personal notes on your thank you letters. Recruit board members and volunteers to help you with this.

Perhaps you’ve been sending the same boring appeal letters and thank you letters for years. Write a better letter that focuses more on relationships with your donors instead of a transaction.

Segment your donors. At the very least, thank current donors for their past support. Investing in a good database will help this.

Take time to make improvements in your donor communication so your donors don’t wonder – Is this the best you can do?

A Few Ways You Can Raise More Money in 2019

Happy New Year! I expect many of you launched a year-end appeal last year. I hope it was successful. If it wasn’t, I have some suggestions about how you can raise more money – both now and throughout the year.

Reach out to your lapsed donors

Take advantage of this now. Look to see who donated in 2017, but didn’t give this year. It’s possible some people meant to give but were too busy.

Send these donors a personalized appeal or give them a call. Let them know you miss them and want them back. You can go back another year or two, as well.

Take a good look at your list of lapsed donors. They’re not all the same. Do you have someone who’s given consistently over the last few years, but not this year, or are you looking at a person who gave once five years ago?

Eventually you’ll want to move some of your lapsed donors to an inactive file. This will save you money because you won’t be mailing appeals to people who aren’t going to donate.

But you can raise more money with a pesonalized appeal to donors who are likely to give again.

5 ways to win back your lapsed donors

We Want You Back! A Simple Strategy for Reactivating Lapsed Donors

Emphasize monthly giving

A great way to raise more money is by having a monthly/recurring giving program. Monthly donors usually give more and their retention rate is 90%.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program, make this the year you start one. You can also try to get current donors to upgrade to monthly giving.

Your best bet for monthly donors are people who’ve given at least twice. These are donors who have shown a commitment to you. This doesn’t mean you can’t ask first-time donors. You can include information about monthly giving in the welcome packet you send to new donors. You do welcome new donors, right?

Donors who gave in November or December may not be ready to give again so soon. Make a plan to specifically invite people to become monthly donors in the spring or at other times of the year.

Incorporating Monthly Giving Into Your Fundraising

Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

Remember the two R’s

Now I’m going to tell you how you can raise more money without asking for money. You need to remember the two R’s – retention and relationships.

It’s easier and less expensive to keep your donors than to find new ones. Yet, many nonprofits have abysmal retention rates, especially for first-time donors. Now is a good time to figure out your retention rate.

One way to raise your retention rate is with the second R – relationships. Building relationships with your donors is a key component of fundraising.

This starts with a good thank you experience and continues as you update your donors regularly throughout the year letting them know how they’re helping you make a difference.

One reason you may be behind in your fundraising goals is because you just blasted out a bunch of generic appeals without targeting them to specific donors and trying to build relationships.

How To Actually Calculate Donor Retention (The Right Way) & 8 Essential Tips For Effective Donor Retention

What Comes Next

The New Year is a good time to evaluate what’s working and what’s not in your fundraising. You should be able to raise more money by reaching out to your lapsed donors, starting or growing a monthly giving program, paying attention to your donor retention, and focusing on building relationships.

Photo by: http://401kcalculator.org

Your Donors Want to Hear From You. A Communications Calendar Will Help.

Some nonprofit organizations do a good job of communicating with their donors, but many do not. Often the only times you hear from organizations is when they’re asking for donations.

Raising money is only part of the fundraising equation. You also need to thank donors, keep them updated on how their gifts are helping you make a difference, and build relationships.

To do all that you need to communicate with your donors at least once or twice a month throughout the year. If that’s stressing you out because you don’t think you can pull that off (you can), then you need a communications calendar (also known as an editorial calendar).

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

A communications calendar will take a little work at first, but will make life easier for you in the long run. Once you have a system in place you can update it as needed.

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

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

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

While this post is primarily about setting up a communications calendar, you also have to share high-quality content your donors will be interested in. I’ll write more about that in future posts.

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

Updates

You need to keep your donors updated on how they’re helping you make a difference. Your print and e-newsletter should be included in your communications calendar. If you don’t do a newsletter, make a plan to share updates another way – maybe by postcard, email, or social media. Sometimes short updates are more effective.

News stories

There’s a lot going on in the news these days (a whole lot). You won’t be able to predict news stories in advance. However, if there’s a hot item in the news that’s relevant to the work you do, that could be something to share or use as an example of how you’re helping to make a difference for the people/community you serve.

Legislation

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

Time of year

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

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

However, your organization’s anniversary doesn’t mean much to donors unless you can tie that in with how they’re helping you make a difference.

Events

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

Fundraising and recruitment

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

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

Thank your donors

This is crucial! Find different ways to let your donors know how much you appreciate them. You can combine a thank you with an update. Do this at least once a month.

Ongoing content

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

Create a story bank to help you with this.

Keep it up

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

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

How to create a donor communications calendar

How to Create a Nonprofit Editorial Calendar

2018 Nonprofit Editorial Calendar Template

EDITORIAL CALENDARS – RESOURCES FOR YOU