What Fundraising and Strength Training Have in Common

32004749403_9d5d6ffa41_mAbout a year and a half ago I started doing strength training with a personal trainer. My initial assessment was humbling, to say the least, and at the beginning, there were several times I wondered “Why am I doing this?”

But I’ve benefited so much. Not only am I stronger, but I’ve lost weight, I’m sleeping better, my mood is better, and I have a more robust immune system.

Strength training has a lot in common with fundraising and when I say fundraising, I’m including the stewardship and relationship building components, too.

It’s supposed to be hard, but doable

If I ever say one of my training exercises is hard, my trainer will respond, “It’s supposed to be hard.” That said, it also needs to be doable.

What a wonderful world we’d live in if people just donated money to nonprofit organizations without us have to do anything.

Fundraising is hard. It doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it, but you also need to be realistic. I’m not lifting 100-pound weights. That would be too much for me. Certain fundraising endeavors, such as events, may be too much for your organization to take on right now.

How to raise money: 3 steps to creating sustainable funding for your new, young, or small nonprofit

Starting small is often the way to go

I work out twice a week and do what’s known as a circuit –  seven or eight exercises each of the days, usually three sets of 10-12 reps each. People who are more advanced might do four or five sets of two different exercises with heavier weights.

This same formula can work for your organization when you concentrate on individual gifts. Many of these will be under $100 each, but you’ll be able to get a larger number of them.

Be patient and you’ll see results

It took about two or three months for me to see the results I mentioned above. Some of your fundraising will take even longer.

You can get smaller gifts fairly quickly. Securing major gifts and grants will take longer.  It can take up to a year to cultivate major gifts and it takes a lot of relationship building to get there. If you get approved for a grant, it can take several months to get the money and there are often restrictions.

But if you persevere, you should see results.

Take it to the next level

If I kept doing the same exercises I started with, I wouldn’t make much progress. The same is true with fundraising.

Most appeal letters are generic,one-size fits all. You’re missing an opportunity to grow when you don’t ask donors to upgrade their single gifts or invite them to become a monthly donor.

There are so many opportunities to take your fundraising to the next level. Smaller dollar donors can upgrade to mid-level donors, mid-level donors can become major donors, and major donors are potential legacy donors.

You need to stick with it

If I miss a week or two of training, it suffers. The same is true with your fundraising. If all you do is send appeals a few times a year, you won’t have much success.

You need to engage with your donors regularly – at least once or twice a month. That includes showing gratitude and sharing updates.

Build Relationships With Your Donors Every Step of the Way

You need a plan

When I started strength training, my trainer designed a plan for me that we can build on and modify as needed. You need to do the same thing with your fundraising.

You shouldn’t be raising revenue without a plan in place. You also need a donor communication and stewardship plan.

Nonprofit  Fundraising Plan: 6 Must-Do Steps For Success

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

My workout consists of exercises for the upper body, lower body, and core. Your fundraising will also consist of different endeavors – individual giving, major gifts, grants, events, etc.

And as I mentioned before, and I’ll mention again since many organizations ignore this, your fundraising also needs a gratitude and relationship building component.

Fundraising takes a lot of hard work, but if you keep building and stick with it, you should see results.

Photo via https://thoroughlyreviewed.com/

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Don’t Ignore Your Donors This Summer

37260748030_6285b8673f_mSummer is almost here, yea! This is often a quieter time for most nonprofits, but you don’t want to be too quiet and ignore your donors. In fact, this is a great time to do some relationship building.

You should be communicating with your donors at least once a month and that includes the summer months. Don’t make the mistake of taking a vacation from your donor communication – never a wise 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.

Send an update

If you haven’t communicated with your donors much since your last appeal, send them an update to let them know how they’re helping you make a difference.

One of my favorite ways to connect is with a postcard. This is a donor communication win-win. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the importance of investing in direct mail.

I know mail is expensive, but a postcard shouldn’t cost too much. It’s also a quick way to share an update with busy donors. I recently received one that included a bunch of donor-centered phrases such as your support is helping and thanks to your support.

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.

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 video.

There are so many ways to thank your donors. Have some fun and get creative.

15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors

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 boring bragfests.

For the summer, I would suggest a shorter newsletter to capture your donors’ attention. Also, can you jazz up your newsletter to create a better one going forward? Spend time this summer working on finding some engaging stories and photos.

How You Can Create a Better Nonprofit Newsletter

Tie in current events

There’s a lot going in the world right now. Will certain policies or budget cuts affect your organization? Many states are working on their budget for the next fiscal year.

Share ways your donors can help – perhaps by contacting their legislators, volunteering, or making a donation.

Advocacy alerts can be a great way for people to engage with your organization. Be sure to thank participants and keep them updated on any outcomes.

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.

Whether you have an appeal planned soon or later in the year, keep relationship building front and center. 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 this summer 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.

Building meaningful relationships with Donors: What it takes

Keep it up throughout the year

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’re ignoring them.

 

A Few Common Donor Communication Problems and How You Can Fix Them

8775923664_553640db9e_mSome nonprofits do a good job of communicating with their donors, but many do not and that’s a problem.

Mediocre or poor donor communication will hinder your success. If you wonder why your retention rates are floundering that may be the reason. Here are a few common donor communication problems and how you can fix them.

Sending your donors the same appeal letter

Your donors are not the same, so why are you sending everyone the same generic appeal letter? When you do this, you’re showing your donors you don’t know who they are.

I recently received a letter that was a good appeal, but didn’t recognize me as a monthly donor or acknowledge any previous donations. Monthly donors shouldn’t get a generic appeal like this. What should have happened is the organization should have thanked me for my monthly gifts and either asked for an upgrade or an additional one-time gift.

The same applies if someone is a theatre subscriber, museum member, or college alumni. I spend a significant amount of money on a theatre subscription. It’s perfectly fine for this theatre to ask for an additional donation, but I also want them to thank me for being a long-time subscriber.

This happens way too often. You should always recognize a donor’s past support.

Here’s an organization that did that. Their appeal letter opened with For the past 4 years, your generosity has made a world of difference. Wow, this organization knows me! The appeal included several instances where they mentioned how my support has made a difference.

What kind of message are you sending to your donors? That you recognize them for who they are or that they’re just a source of revenue for you?

6 easy ways to segment your fundraising appeal letter

Thank you letters that don’t focus on gratitude

The purpose of a thank you letter is to thank your donor. It’s not to brag about your organization or explain what your organization does. It’s also not a receipt. You can include a donation summary, but don’t lead with that or make it the main focus of your letter. If you do that, you’re implying that the donation is a transaction instead of the beginning or continuation of a relationship.

I use the term thank you letter, because that’s what most organizations send. Although, sometimes it’s just an email. You can do a better job of thanking your donors if you send a handwritten note or make a phone call.

I get so many thank you letters and emails that are uninspiring. They lead with the usual On Behalf of X organization before veering into receipt territory. Occasionally, I’ll get a card in the mail that pours on the gratitude with phrases like We cannot thank YOU enough and You make it possible.

Also, the thank you that you send after you receive a donation is just beginning, not the end, of a donor engagement journey that lasts throughout the year.

Take Thanking Your Donors to the Next Level

Newsletters that ignore donors

Newsletters are a big problem area. They’re usually too long, boring, and organization-focused. I recently received an eight-page newsletter written in the third person that primarily mentioned a bunch of accomplishments. It had no stories and read like a promotional piece, which is not the purpose of a donor newsletter.

Your newsletter should show your donors how they’re helping you make a difference.

The magic word you was nowhere to be found in any of the articles. That’s why your newsletter needs to be written in the second person dominated with phrases such as Thanks to you or Because of you.

The only time the organization mentioned donors and used the word you was in a section asking people to give to a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). It was basically a solicitation and required a minimum contribution of $100,000, which most people aren’t going to be able to do. As someone who gives $5.00 a month, I’m certainly not in that demographic.

They didn’t even thank their current donors before asking them to make such a big financial commitment. They would have been better off targeting people who would be likely to donate to their DAF.

You’re ignoring your donors (or at least most of them) when you include a message that’s only relevant to a small number of people.

Of course, you can share your success in your newsletter, but you need to let your donors know how they helped with that. Another organization did a better job with their newsletter. It included a cover letter thanking donors, as well as a success story and a section titled You Make a Difference.

A good rule of thumb for your newsletter is more donor appreciation – less bragging.

Why your fancy newsletter is failing you

You don’t want to upset your donors with poor communication. Send different appeals to different types of donors, write a thank you letter that focuses on gratitude, and continue that appreciation in your newsletter instead of bragging so much about your accomplishments.

 

Three Wise Investments That Can Help You Raise More Money

32943656503_65029c172f_mIf you have a July 1 fiscal year start date, you’re most likely working on your budget for next year (at least you should be). Those of you who use the calendar year as your fiscal year will be working on yours later in the year.

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

Use caution before you nix something you think you can’t afford. It may be something you should be investing in.

This doesn’t mean going wild with your budget. You need to make wise investments. Here are three areas you should be investing more money in. The good news is, if you do it right, these investments will help you raise more money.

Invest in a good database

Plain and simple, 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 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.

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

Nonprofit Software

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 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.

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, be sure to keep it donor-centered. You could put a donation envelope in your newsletter to raise some additional revenue, but do not 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.

Turbocharge Your Direct Mail and Digital

Invest in donor communications

I like this quote from Tom Ahern – If you do better donor communications, you’ll have more money. Makes a lot of sense doesn’t it? Yet many nonprofits don’t practice this. Better donor communications 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 wise investment and a necessity, not a luxury. Thank you cards are a much better investment than mailing labels and other useless swag.

Hiring at least one communications staff member is another wise investment. 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.

Build Relationships With Your Donors Every Step of the Way

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.

Image via  www.gotcredit.com 

Don’t Get Lost in the Shuffle – Make Your Messages Stand Out

4698746521_0f3d47dd0f_mInformation overload is an understatement right now. We’re bombarded by messages of all kinds from many different sources.

How can your nonprofit keep up with all this? You want to communicate with your donors, but you don’t want your messages to get lost in the shuffle. It won’t be easy, but here are a few ways to make your 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.

Choose the right channels

Most likely you’ll use more than one channel to communicate. Pay attention to the channels your donors are using and focus your efforts there.

Email is often the primary way nonprofits communicate 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. Also, unlike social media, it’s 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 has its drawbacks. People can get hundreds of emails a day plus messages from other sources such as social media. It’s easy for your messages to get lost in this melee. I often don’t read all my email. I usually scan through the burgeoning list to see what looks interesting. That, of course, depends on if I even have time to look at my email.

Some email messages, such as a fundraising appeal or an event invitation, you’ll probably need to send more than once. Try not to send messages to people who have already responded.

You can also go multichannel. For example, include a link to your e-newsletter on your social media platforms.

While you’ll likely use electronic communication pretty regularly, don’t discount direct mail. Your donors are more likely to see these messages. We get far less postal mail than electronic communication. Also, a person can put a piece of mail aside and look at it later. Don’t count on that happening with any type of electronic communication.

Get noticed right away

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 2019 Newsletter, try Find out how you can help Michael learn to read or Thanks to you, Dara won’t go to bed hungry tonight.

For postal mail, consider an engaging envelope teaser or a colored envelope with a stamp. You don’t want your letter to look like junk mail.

Keep it short

Your next step is to get your donor to read your message. Keep her interested. With email, yours may be one of hundreds she’ll 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.

Given the cost of direct mail, why send a six-page annual report when you can wow your donors in an instant with an infographic postcard?

Photos and other visuals can be a great way to stand out, especially on social media.

Make it easy to read and scan

Besides sending a short message, use short paragraphs and lots of white space, too. Your messages need to be easy to read (and scan) in an instant. Don’t use microscopic font either.

Be personal and conversational

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

Segment your lists so you can personalize your messages. For example, you’ll create different messages for current donors, potential donors, and monthly donors.

Don’t cast a wide net

It’s important that you send your message to the right audience and your audience isn’t everyone.

You’ll have more luck with a fundraising appeal when you send it to past donors or people who have a connection to your cause. The same is true for event invitations or recruiting volunteers.

You may want to reach out to as many people as possible, but that won’t guarantee you’ll get more donations or event attendees. Segmenting and engaging with the right audience will bring you better results.

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 messages. If all you do is blast them with generic fundraising appeals, well good luck to you.

Make sure people know your email is coming from your organization. In the from field, put DoGood Nonprofit or Lisa Wilson, 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.

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.

Even though people only get a few pieces of mail a day, most of it’s junk mail. You never want any of your letters, newsletters, or postcards to be perceived as junk mail.

It’ll take a little more work, but it’s possible to make your messages stand out so you don’t get lost in the shuffle.

 

Let’s Skip the Formalities

14125863156_9a20cd1a47_mWhy is it that so many nonprofit newsletters, annual reports, and even fundraising letters sound like a Ph.D. thesis? Why are they so formal and impersonal? It often seems as if someone likes to show off their big vocabulary.

Unfortunately, when you do this, there’s a good chance your donors will lose interest. It’s hard enough to get them to look at your messages in the first place. Make it easier for them by dialing down on the formality and being more personal.

Here’s what you can do.

Write in the second person

All your fundraising letters, thank you letters, newsletter articles, etc. should be written in the second person. Pretend you’re having a conversation with your reader. Keep that person in mind when you write and think about what they would want to read.

Seeing the World Through Your Donors’ Eyes

Use the word you much more than we. When you’re having a conversation with someone, do you spend a lot of time talking about yourself? I hope not.

Use language your donors will understand

Quiz time. Which sounds better? a) food insecurity or b) a family choosing between buying groceries or paying their heating bill? How about a) at-risk youth or b) high school students who might not graduate on time?

I hope you answered b for both questions. Jargon is confusing, and even if your donors know what the word means, it’s boring and impersonal. The second two examples give a clearer picture of the need your donors will help you meet.

You May Love Your Jargon, But Your Donors Don’t

Mistakes were made when you decided to write in the passive voice

I’m not a fan of the passive voice because it weakens your writing. Like jargon, it distances you from what you’re trying to say.  

Another quiz. Which one sounds better? a) Over 5,000 meals were served at the Riverside Community Center or b) Our volunteers served over 5,000 meals at the Riverside Community Center. What was your answer?

In addition to using the active voice, use strong, active verbs and avoid adjectives and adverbs. Say depleted instead of really tired.

You want your readers to take action whether it’s donating, volunteering, or reading a success story. Active language will help with that.

Back to school time

Write at a sixth to eighth-grade level. You’re not dumbing down; you’re being smart because you’re making it easier for your readers.

Don’t use a lot of fancy words. It makes you sound pretentious. You don’t want your readers to have to hunt for a dictionary. Most likely they won’t, and they’ll miss out on what you’re trying to say. Your goal should be for your donors to understand you.

Now, forget what you learned in English class. It’s okay to start a sentence with a conjunction and use sentence fragments.

Do some serious editing

It’s important that you take time to edit before you send your messages. Check for passive verbs, adjectives, and adverbs to see if you need them. Also, be on the lookout for jargon and SAT vocabulary words. Can you simplify?

Read your content out loud. Do you sound like a friendly person or a robot?

Readability programs such as Flesch-Kincaid (this link contains examples of other readability programs, as well) might be useful because it determines grade level and finds passive sentences. I’ve never used the Hemingway Editor, but some people like it. None of these are perfect. It’s best if you can get into the habit of producing clear, conversational writing.

Always think of your readers

Your donors are busy. They don’t want to slog through a newsletter that looks like a legal brief. Skip the formalities and give them something they’ll enjoy reading.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR NONPROFIT WRITING MORE CONVERSATIONAL

8 Tools to Be a More Effective Nonprofit Writer

 

Build Relationships With Your Donors Every Step of the Way

2592683540_77e7a1ac7f_mMany nonprofits think fundraising is all about raising money. But raising money is only part of the fundraising equation.

Fundraising’s Not About Money (What???)

One of the most important things you need to do is to build relationships with your donors. Building relationships should be front and center in everything you do.

Here are some ways you can incorporate building relationships every step of the way.

Make relationship building part of your fundraising campaign

You need to build relationships before, during, and after each of your fundraising campaigns.

Before your next appeal, send your donors an update to let them know how they’re helping you make a difference. This is especially important if you do more than one fundraising campaign a year. You don’t want your donors to think the only time they hear from you is when you’re asking for money.

Don’t send the same appeal to everyone on your mailing list. It’s crucial that you segment your donors and personalize your appeal letters.

What is your relationship with these individuals? Maybe they’ve given once or many times. Perhaps they’re event attendees, volunteers, e-newsletter subscribers, or friends of board members. Mention your relationship in your appeal letter. For example, thank a long-time donor for supporting you these past five years.

Monthly donors get their own appeal letter. This doesn’t happen enough and it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Build relationships with these committed donors. Recognize they’re monthly donors and either invite them to upgrade their gift or give an additional donation.

Pour on the appreciation

Your focus on building relationships continues when you thank your donors. Many organizations do a poor job with this. Send a handwritten note or make a phone call if you can.

Send welcome packets to your new donors. Let them know how much you appreciate this new relationship. If you don’t, it’s likely to be a short relationship.

Be sure to also shower your current donors with love to keep your relationship going. Give a shout out to donors who have supported you for several years.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships

I’m amazed that after I attend an event or give a memorial gift, most organizations don’t do a good job of building a relationship. I could be a potential long-time donor.

When you hold an event, give your attendees an opportunity to sign up for your mailing list. Next, call or send thank you notes afterward.

Besides thanking people for attending your event, let them know how much money you raised and share specific ways their support is helping you make a difference. Then invite these supporters to connect in other ways such as signing up to receive your newsletter or volunteering.

The same thing applies if you hold a charity run or walkathon. These events often generate new donors. Someone might donate to your 10K because her friend is running in it. Thank everyone who donated and invite them to be a part of your community.

Memorial gifts are another missed opportunity. Also, if a person has given a donation in memory of someone, they deserve a heartfelt response and the opportunity to connect with you in other ways.

Personally, I would never give a memorial gift or support someone in a charity walk if I didn’t believe in that organization’s cause. Don’t miss out on a potential opportunity to build longer-term relationships.

Turn a giving day into a relationship building day

My main objection to giving days, such as GivingTuesday, is they focus so much on asking. What if we put all the time and energy we focus on giving days into a relationship building day?

I’m not saying you can’t participate in giving days, but instead of the relentless begging, follow the formula above and build relationships before, during, and after your appeal.

Of course, you could choose not to participate in a giving day and have an all-out relationship building day instead.

Build relationships all year round

It’s easier to stay focused on donors when you’re sending an appeal or thank you, but this is just the beginning. Many organizations go on communication hiatus at certain times of the year and that’s a big mistake.

Ideally, you should keep in touch with your donors every one to two weeks. You can do this with newsletters, updates, thank you messages, advocacy alerts, and surveys. A communications calendar will help you with this.

Build relationships with your donors every step of the way. This will help you with that always-important donor retention because you want committed donors who will support you for a long time.

Build Loyal Donor Relationships in 3 Easy Steps.

Donor Relations: 8 Best practices for your Nonprofit

How To Build Meaningful Relationships With Your Donors