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

11276455354_8e888bdc19_mWhen your donors open your appeal letter or newsletter, do you bore them with a bunch of mind-numbing statistics, or do you share a story about how the Clark family moved out of a shelter and into a home of their own?

Donors want to hear your stories

You may be reluctant to use stories because it’s more work for your organization, but don’t use that as an excuse. Donors love stories and they want to hear yours. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene. Here’s an example.

Mara woke up feeling good for the first time in a while. After losing her job and being evicted from her apartment, she moved between her cousin’s house, motels, and shelters. It was taking a toll on her family. Everyone was stressed out and her kids were falling behind in school.

That was about to change because thanks to donors like you, Mara and her family will be moving into a home of their own.

Can you tell a story like that? If you’re making a difference, you can. Stories should show your donors how they’re helping you make a difference for the people you serve.

Create a culture of storytelling

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

Break down your silos and 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.

When you put together a story, ask.

  • Why would your donors be interested in this story?
  • Why is this important?
  • Who are you helping?
  • 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. You can also share profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Many organizations profile new board members in their newsletters. That’s okay, but instead of emphasizing their professional background, concentrate on what drew them to your organization. Perhaps she has a brother who’s struggled with mental health issues or he benefited from having a mentor.

Another way to find stories is to put a Share Your Story page on your website. Share-Your-Story Page | an addition to the fundraiser’s arsenal of tools

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

Give your stories the personal touch

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

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Let your donors know how with their help, Kate doesn’t have to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill. Your organization stays in the background. And remember, Your Mission Statement is NOT Your Story

Tell your donors the stories they want to hear. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories.

Resources to help you tell your stories

The Storytelling Nonprofit

INFOGRAPHIC: A Nonprofit Storytelling How-To

Best Practices in Nonprofit Storytelling – How to Structure Your Stories

Top 10 Nonprofit Storytelling Best Practices

Photo by Howard Lake

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Email Newsletters: 5 Reasons to Stay in Touch with Donors

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By John Killoran

Your email newsletter is a great way to stay in touch with supporters, but using extra tools and strategies can have a huge payoff! Check out the reasons why.

Like all nonprofits, your organization relies on the support of its donors and partners.You know that maintaining strong relationships year in and year out is essential to continually growing a stable base of support.

You already know, too, how to draft an effective email solicitation that attracts attention, gets to the point, and directly provides a way to give. But do you put this much thought and strategy into your email newsletters?

Think back to the earliest days of your organization. Starting a nonprofit requires consciously building a tight network of initial support to get your efforts off the ground. There’s no reason why actively developing strategies to keep everyone informed and involved shouldn’t still be a priority now that you’ve grown!

It becomes surprisingly easy to drift away from your founding mission when you don’t prioritize communication.That’s why email newsletters are such a crucial tool for nonprofits looking to stay focused, driven, and in touch with their stakeholders.

While every organization understands the need to stay in touch with donors and volunteers, they might not recognize all the interconnected reasons why focusing on your newsletter pays off in the long run. Crafting a perfect email newsletter gives your nonprofit the opportunity to:

  1. Promote all your digital giving outlets.
  2. Loop everyone in on your projects and goals.
  3. Boost overall donor and volunteer engagement.
  4. Connect all your campaigns and events.
  5. Build stronger relationships with donors.

Strengthening even one element of your email newsletters will boost their overall effect! By crafting more engaging strategies for your newsletters, you can make a serious long-term investment in your nonprofit’s ability to attract and retain committed supporters.

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1. Promote all your digital giving outlets.

Email newsletters are a perfect place to promote and explain new donation tools that your nonprofit adopts as its strategies evolve.

This doesn’t necessarily mean soliciting donations! You already conduct separate email campaigns to reach your fundraising goals. While you can certainly ask for donations in your newsletter, your recipients are presumably already committed to supporting your work.

Rather, focus on raising awareness and explaining new donation tools and platforms in the context of your next fundraising campaigns.

Check out Snowball’s rundown of PayPal alternatives for nonprofits for more information on how nonprofit-centric payment and donation platforms will catch your donors’ attention, help you pursue your goals, and conduct more engaging campaigns.

Consider how you could promote and explain these donation platforms in your newsletter:

  • Text-to-give tools to incorporate into your events
  • Mobile-optimized donation forms to boost mobile donations
  • Crowdfunding campaigns for specific goals or projects
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns leading up to major events

Plus, your email newsletter provides the perfect opportunity to learn more about your supporters’ preferred methods of communication and giving. Linking your recipients to a quick survey can have a major payoff for your mobile engagement levels by helping you refine your marketing and digital fundraising strategies.

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2. Loop everyone in on your projects and goals.

Another reason to focus on your email newsletters is that keeping all your donors, volunteers, and stakeholders fully informed about your projects and goals is the first step to getting them excited and involved!

Use your newsletter to announce your next campaign or provide a sneak peek of your next major event. Give your readers the sense that they’ve received a special ‘inside scoop’ to build excitement and rally support. You might share updates on any of your projects, like:

  • Client success stories
  • Upcoming fundraising campaigns
  • New community initiatives
  • Advocacy projects and campaigns
  • Capital campaigns and major developmental goals
  • Grant writing projects and donor surveys
  • New partners and sponsorships

Aside from making it easier to get everyone involved, sharing regular updates is useful because it provides the opportunity to collect more feedback. Keeping everyone informed and engaged means you’ll be able to gather more information and insights to guide your plans.

How well do you know your donors? Simply asking for feedback on your projects or campaigns with a suggestion form in your newsletter can be a surprisingly effective method for guiding your marketing and fundraising strategies.

Plus, your most dedicated supporters will have plenty of ideas of how you could approach your goals. For instance, a longtime volunteer can likely share important insights as you develop a programming proposal for a grant application!

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3. Boost overall donor and volunteer engagement.

Keeping everyone aware of new ways to support your organization’s work and updated on upcoming projects will provide a natural boost to donor engagement. Your newsletter recipients will feel more involved, which will encourage them to get more involved!

This engagement boost will take several familiar forms:

  • Digital engagement. Keep your base of support updated on your online fundraising and social media campaigns to see an increase in digital interactions.
  • Volunteering. Use your newsletter to make volunteering easier. Promote upcoming projects, provide sign-up forms, and mention any incentives you’ll offer.
  • Financial support. Explain new campaigns and tools in your newsletter, giving your recipients a more intimate view of your goals and planning process.

Remember to take the opportunity in your email newsletter to provide some easy tools for recipients to further their engagement, too.

Corporate philanthropy search tools are a great example. Include a search tool that allows your supporters to search for their employers’ corporate philanthropy programs. Matching gifts and volunteer grants are the perfect way for supporters to boost their impact.

These programs are generally not used much, so some programs can be extremely generous. If your organization has an active volunteer program, check out the top volunteer grant companies from 360MatchPro for an idea of the extra funds you might be eligible to receive!

As a way to potentially address all of your supporters at once, your email newsletter is the best place to promote extra tools and options that can boost the impact of your supporters’ engagement with your work.

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4. Connect all your campaigns and events.

Actively connecting your various activities is a great way to grow engagement and make more effective solicitations when fundraising. Your email newsletter is the perfect place to put this strategy into practice!

Solicitations become more effective when supporters can clearly understand how all your events, activities, and campaigns fit together in pursuit of your mission.

Think about it: an online fundraising campaign that feels disjointed or disconnected from any of your nonprofit’s overarching goals isn’t particularly inspiring.

Rather, use your newsletter to clarify the connections! For example, here’s how you might explain and promote some campaign elements in your newsletter by framing them around the shared purpose of supporting an upcoming 5K:

  • A peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. Encourage recipients to donate, volunteer, and form teams as you raise pledges for the big race.
  • Your marketing campaign. As you promote the 5K online, ask your newsletter readers to share your posts and invitations on social media.
  • Merchandise promotion. Link to your online store, t-shirt crowdfunding campaign, or order form for your 5K shirts. Or explain how teams can design their own!
  • The grand finale event. Promote the big 5K in your newsletter, invite all your recipients, and provide important necessary information for participants and attendees.

In this example, all the cross-promotional effort and campaigning will result in a hugely successful event! Giving supporters multiple ways to get involved and using your newsletter to clearly explain how it all connects to support the 5K gives your entire network of support a clearer, more focused goal.

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5. Build stronger relationships with donors.

Finally, remember that the long-term benefit of focusing effort on your email newsletter is that it’s an effective tool for expressing gratitude to your supporters.

By thanking your donors and volunteers and showing how their support directly helps further your mission, you can reinforce those important relationships. Plus, you’ll be contributing to a healthy culture for your nonprofit, ensuring it can retain more and more satisfied donors.

There are a number of ways to use your email newsletter to build stronger relationships with supporters:

  • Provide updates and success stories on campaigns and projects.
  • Promote and thank your important community partners.
  • Recognize individuals who go above and beyond in supporting your work.
  • Invite your newsletter recipients to special thank-you events.
  • Share surveys and field suggestions to better refine your retention strategies.

Thanking your supporters means you’ll need to switch out of solicitation mode for a moment.

Building strong mutual relationships and genuinely expressing your gratitude does more in the long run for retaining valuable support than constantly soliciting more funds, even if your donors are consistently happy to support your campaigns.

A great way to make sure your messages of thanks in your newsletter stay effective is to focus on the language you use. Drop the fundraising jargon, and keep your tone warm and natural. After all, the support of these important partners is worth celebrating!

The most basic function of a nonprofit email newsletter is to share updates with your supporters and announce new projects, but incorporating some smart strategies and being aware of all the roles a newsletter can play will make them even more effective.

By using your email newsletter as a space to communicate, explain new donation tools, provide ways to boost engagement, and connect all your campaigns, you’ll strengthen your donor relations overall!

John Killoran

John Killoran is CEO of Snowball, an exciting new fundraising technology that makes it easy for people to donate in two clicks from text, email, web and social media sites.John pioneered SMTP payments and has been a major innovator in the mobile payments space for the past 5 years. When he is not running a company, he is cooking food for his family and telling his dogs to stop barking.

The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan

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I’ve written about the importance of having a thank you plan before, but I think we need to revisit this because many nonprofits are not doing a good job of thanking their donors. You may have every intention to, but that’s not happening. Thanking donors often takes a back seat to fundraising when you should spend equal time doing both.

A thank you plan will help. You probably have a fundraising plan and maybe a donor relations plan, but a specific thank you plan is just as important. Donor retention rates are poor and one reason is donors don’t feel appreciated. 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 often is just a boring receipt rather than something lets me feel good about making a donation.

Open with Thank you, Jeff! or You’re amazing!  Include an engaging photo or video and a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help the people you serve. 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 Optimize Your Donation Thank You Page + Examples Of Nonprofits Who Do It Right

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 (see below).

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 and not something boring like Your Donation Receipt.

Thanking a Donor by Email: Best Practices and Examples

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 if you can. This shouldn’t be hard to do if you plan to carve out some time to thank your donors each day you get a donation. If you wait too long, you’re not making a good impression.

Instead of sending a generic, boring thank you letter, mail a handwritten card or call your donors. Calling your donors to thank them is something your board can do. It’s often a welcome surprise and can raise retention rates among first-time donors.

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. 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.

Hi, this is Jennifer Douglas and I’m a board member at the Lakeside Community Food Bank. I’m calling to thank you for your generous donation of $50. Thanks to you, we can provide a family with a week’s worth of groceries. This is great. We’re seeing more people coming in right now because of cuts to food stamp programs. We really appreciate your support.

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal and heartfelt letter. 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, Jacob won’t go to bed hungry tonight.”  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 or attended one of your recent events, 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.

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.

INFOGRAPHIC: The ULTIMATE Thank You for Nonprofits

5 Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

Plan to keep thanking your donors all year round

This is where having a thank you plan makes a difference because organizations usually send some kind of thank you letter after they receive a donation and then donor communication starts to wane after that. Thanking donors is something you must do all year round.

Use your communications calendar to incorporate ways to thank your donors. 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 won’t 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.
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude. Be sure to keep thanking your donors in your newsletter and social media 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.
  • Hold an open house at your organization or offer tours so your donors can see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

Creating a thank you plan will make it easier to keep showing appreciation to your donors all year round. If you treat them well, maybe they’ll treat you well the next time you send a fundraising appeal.

It’s Kind of Quiet Out There

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Hello, nonprofits! What have you been doing lately? I’m asking because I haven’t heard much from you. Okay, a few of you have been sending updates, e-newsletters, action alerts, and appeals. But mostly – nothing.

I know it’s a quieter time, but that doesn’t mean you need to disappear. You should be communicating with your donors at least once a month. In fact, the period between campaigns is an excellent time to reach out. And, since many nonprofits seem to have decided to take a break from their donor communication (not a wise decision), your message will be one of the few they’ll receive.

Your donors want to hear from you. Here are a few ways you can connect.

Share an update

Let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference. Send something by mail if you can. Maybe a two-page update or infographic postcard. This is one of my favorites. Knock it Out of the Park  If it’s impossible to send something by mail right now, you can use email.

Say thank you

You don’t need a reason to thank your donors. Just do it. Send them a nice thank you card or you can combine a thank you and an update. You could also make a video. There are so many ways to thank your donors. Have some fun and get creative.

10 Ways to Thank your Nonprofit Donors

Create a better newsletter

You may already keep in touch with your newsletter. Newsletters can be a great way to engage, but many of them are about as exciting as income tax forms.

A good summer project for you is to create a better newsletter that won’t bore your donors. Find some engaging stories to share. Think about what your donors want. Hint – It’s not a lot of bragging.

How to Create an Engaging Newsletter Your Donors Will Want to Read

HOW TO CREATE A BETTER NON-PROFIT NEWSLETTER

Tie in current events

There’s a lot going in the world right now. Will certain policies or budget cuts affect your organization? Share ways your donors can help – perhaps by contacting their legislators, volunteering, or making a donation.

Appeals are about more than raising money

Throughout the year, I receive more fundraising appeals than any other type of communication. Most of them are transactional and generic.

An appeal can be a way to connect with your donors if you make relationship building the main focus. Thank donors for their past support, share some updates, and show them how their gift will help you make a difference.

A couple of other ways to connect and raise additional revenue are to invite current donors to join your family of monthly donors, and send a special letter to your lapsed donors letting them know you miss them and want them back.

Keep it up throughout the year

Your donors want to hear from you throughout the year. A communications calendar could be just the ticket to help you with this so your donors won’t wonder why they haven’t heard from you.

How Making Smart Investments Will Help You Raise More Money

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

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

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

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

Invest in a good database

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

It bears repeating because a good database can help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by amount and politely ask them to give a little more in your next appeal – $35 or $50 instead of $25.

A good database can help you with retention, which will save you money since it costs less to keep donors than to acquire new ones. You can personalize your letters and email messages. Make sure to invest in good email service provider, too.

Personalized letters and messages mean you can address your donors by name and not Dear Friend. You can welcome new donors and thank current donors for their previous support. You can send targeted mailings to lapsed donors to try to woo them back. You can send special mailings to your monthly donors. You can record any personal information, such as conversations you had with a donor and their areas of interest.

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

Invest in direct mail

If you never or rarely use direct mail, you’re missing out on an effective and more personal way to communicate with your donors. Think of the immense amount of email and social media posts you receive as opposed to postal mail. Your donors will be more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail.

If money is tight, you don’t have to mail that often. Quality is more important than quantity but aim for three or four times a year.

Give some thought to what you send. Some ideas, besides appeal letters, include thank you cards; Thanksgiving, holiday, or Valentine’s Day cards; infographic postcards; two to four-page newsletters, and annual/progress reports. Whatever you choose, remember to keep it donor-centered. You could put a donation envelope in your newsletter to raise some additional revenue, but don’t put one in a thank you or holiday card.

Shorter is better. Lengthy communication will cost more and your donors are less likely to read it.

A few ways you can use direct mail without breaking your budget are to clean up your mailing lists to avoid costly duplicate mailings, spread thank you mailings throughout the year – perhaps sending something to a small number of donors each month, and look into special nonprofit mailing rates. You may also be able to get print materials done pro bono or do them in-house, as long as they look professional.

Of course, you can use email and social media, but your primary reason for communicating that way shouldn’t be because it’s cheaper. It should be because that’s what your donors use. If your donors prefer you to communicate by mail, then that’s what you should do.

Invest in donor communications

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

Don’t skimp on your communications budget. Creating thank you cards and infographic postcards are a smart investment and a necessity, not a luxury. So is hiring at least one communications staff member. Maybe you need to reallocate your budget to cover some of these expenses. You could also look into additional sources of unrestricted funding.

Remember, you can also use email and social media to communicate with donors. This reiterates the need for a good email service provider that has professional looking templates you can use for your e-newsletter and other updates.

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

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

How to Make Your Email Messages Stand Out

27350190733_eda43b9c77_mEmail is often the primary way nonprofits communicate with their donors and there’s a reason for that. It’s fast, easy, relatively inexpensive, and almost everyone has an email address. You can quickly get a message out to a lot of people.

Email, unlike social media, is something you can control. You don’t have to rely on a social media algorithm to hope your message ends up in your donor’s feed.

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

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

What’s your intention?

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

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

Keep it simple and stick to one call to action.

A good subject line is crucial

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

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

Better Open Rates: How to Write Killer Email Subject Lines

Short and sweet

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

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

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

Make it easy to read and scan

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

Be personal and conversational

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

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

Send your message to the right audience

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

Your audience isn’t everyone.

Be a welcome visitor

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

Make sure people know your message is coming from your organization. In the from field, put DoGood Nonprofit or Jennifer Smith, DoGood Nonprofit. If you just put a person’s name or info@dogoodnonprofit.org, people may not know who it’s from and ignore your message.

No spam,spam,spam

Only send email to people who have opted into your list. Otherwise, you’re spamming them. Some people will choose not to receive email from you, and that’s okay. The ones who do are interested in hearing from you. Give people the option to unsubscribe, too.

Repeat performance

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

Be mobile friendly

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

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

5 Ways Nonprofits can Drive More Value from the Email Channel

Email Marketing: Tips and Tactics for Nonprofits

The 5 W’s of Effective Nonprofit Email Marketing

Appeal Letter Do’s and Don’ts

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

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

DON’TS

Your annual fund drive means nothing to me

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

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

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

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

The Best Fundraising Appeal Opening Lines

4 Unique Openings to Get Your Fundraising Appeals Read

You don’t know me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough with the swag

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

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

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

DO’S

Share engaging, personal stories

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

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

Make a connection and request an upgrade

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

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

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

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

Write a better appeal

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