Knock it Out of the Park


I’ve written a lot about the importance of nonprofit organizations communicating with their donors, but that’s not enough. You have to do it well. You have to knock it out of the park. Sadly, many organizations fail at this. Their communication is okay at best and just dreadful at worst.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when I received an update in the mail from Heifer International, an organization that brings sustainable farming and commerce to poor areas around the world. It went beyond the usual generic, boring update.

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Here’s what I liked about it.

It came in the mail

You may balk at communicating by mail because you think you can’t afford it, but honestly, you can’t afford not to use direct mail. Mail is more personal, and your donors will be more likely to see your message. Try to mail an update to your donors at least twice a year.

Heifer sent a simple 8½ by 11 two-sided self-mailer. Even if you’re a small organization, you can do something like that. You could also do a postcard.

Don’t cut back on mailing because it costs too much or takes too much time. Imagine how you would feel if you received something like this. INTERNAL EFFICIENCIES & TRAGIC FUNDRAISING COMMUNICATION.

Read on to learn How You Can Print and Mail Without Breaking Your Budget

“It started with your gift”

This update knocked it out of the park by opening with “It started with your gift.” It went on to say, “to show you how your support creates lasting change, here are a few of the most recent updates that we’ve received from our projects that you have helped Heifer support.” Talk about donor-centered!

It said Thank You

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. Besides thank you letters (of course), you can show gratitude in your newsletter, updates, and even fundraising appeals.

This update said “Thank you, Ann!” in big bold letters.

It told me how I was helping to make a difference

This update gave specific examples about how bringing beehives to Honduras, goats to women farmers in Nepal, and chickens to Cambodia is making a difference for the families and communities in those countries.

I heard from the recipients

Each of the examples included quotes from the recipients so we can hear first hand how these people are earning money and feeding their families.

It was visual

If I didn’t have time to read the whole update, I could get the gist of it by seeing pictures of beekeepers and farmers.

Give your donors something special

Don’t settle for mediocre communication. Knock it out of the park by giving your donors something special and letting them know how much you appreciate them.

Fundraising consultant Pamela Grow has some great (and a few not so great) examples of donor communication – both mail and email, including a different one from Heifer International.

Photo by Alan English


Why Having an Open House Makes Sense


If you’re stuck trying to figure out a special way to show appreciation to your donors, how about having an open house at your organization?  If you can’t hold one on site, have it at a restaurant or other venue. You may be able to find someone to donate space.

Invite other supporters, too

You could just have an event for donors, but why not invite other supporters such as event attendees, email subscribers, and social media followers, as well? This could be a great way to convert these supporters into donors. Encourage your donors to bring a friend.

Coordinate it with your year-end appeal

Depending on your resources, you may only be able to hold one open house a year. If you can hold more, that’s great.

A good time to have your open house is before you launch your year-end appeal, so you could hold one sometime between mid-September and early November.

Another option is spring if you have an appeal then, or you could make it a thank you event.  

Winter is tricky unless you’re fortunate to live someplace where it doesn’t snow. And summer’s not good since most people are off in vacationland.

Whenever you decide to hold your open house, don’t ask for money at this event.

Keep it informal

No three-course dinners and speeches that put you to sleep. Hold a gathering where your supporters can drop in after work, and serve something to eat and drink. You may be able to get food and beverages donated or find a sponsor.

Have a brief program. You could show a video and/or let a client share his/her story. Your executive director or board chair should thank your guests and share some accomplishments and plans for the future. Again, keep it brief. You don’t want anyone fleeing the room.

Create some photo displays and have literature available. You could also show a video on a laptop. Offer tours, if that makes sense. 7 Tips to Create an Amazing Donor Cultivation Tour

Let your donors and other supporters see the heart and soul of your organization.

Get your board involved

You must have a good turnout from your board. Encourage board members to invite friends and other potential prospects.

Make everyone feel welcome

Don’t hide in the corner or spend all your time talking to your co-workers. Your staff and board need to mingle with your guests and make them feel welcome.

You may want to go over your organization’s talking points and brush up on your elevator pitches, so everyone is prepared to talk about what you do and answer questions.

How to Get Everyone in your Organization on the Same Page

The Big Mistake That’s Hurting Your Nonprofit (and How to Fix It)

Don’t forget about the follow-up

Anyone who has taken time out of her/his busy schedule to attend your open house needs to be showered with love. Nonprofits often do a poor job of following up after an event and miss out on a great opportunity to build relationships.

Collect names and addresses of people who attended and send a thank you note right away. This is a good project for your board. Don’t ask for money (that comes later).

When you do send your next appeal, include a sentence that says, “It was great to see you at our open house.”

Not all your donors will attend your open house, but will appreciate the invitation. Donors and other supporters who do come are showing you they’re interested in your organization. Keep them interested! This will help ensure they’ll continue to support you. That’s why having an open house makes sense.

Don’t Take a Vacation from Your Donor Communication


Summer is vacation time. You and other members of your staff may have a fun vacation planned. I recently came back from a wonderful trip to Spain.

Even though this might be a slower time, don’t hold back on your donor communication. Yes, your donors are also taking vacations, but they still want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference.

Here are some tips to help you stay in touch this summer.

Keep it short

Our attention spans wane even more when it’s hot. There’s no need for a lot of long-winded text. Send a thank you or infographic update postcard instead.

Another way to get your donors’ attention in an instant is with a photo. Create a thank you photo to share on email and social media. You could create a short video, too.

Capture Your Donors’ Attention in an Instant by Using Visual Stories

Lighten up

If you’re a reader, you gravitate towards lighter fare in the summer. My favorite beach reads are mysteries.

Fundraiser Shannon Doolittle has some fun and creative ideas to stay in touch with your donors this summer. Maybe you can think of others.

Fun, sun and donor love

Meet your donors where they are

You’ll make it easier for everyone if you communicate by channels your donors use. That might be direct mail, email, social media, or a combination of those. Don’t spend time and effort communicating via channels your donors don’t use.

Is it time for a newsletter makeover?

If you already send a regular newsletter,that’s great. What’s not great is if your newsletter is just plain boring, as many are.

Take a look at yours. How can you make it better? Use your “downtime” this summer to give your newsletter a makeover.

Keep it donor-centered, Focus on sharing success stories and don’t forget to thank your donors for helping you make a difference.

Shorter is always better, especially in the summer. Send a two-page print newsletter instead of a four-page one and stick to one or two updates in your e-newsletter.

Is Your Newsletter Putting Your Donors to Sleep?

Plan for staff vacations

If the staff who are responsible for sending email updates and social media posts go on vacation, that doesn’t mean your communication comes to a screeching halt. Have someone else fill in so you don’t miss a beat.

Keep it up

Stay in touch with your donors so they have a good feeling about you come appeal time. Keep retention in mind. You want your donors to give again and you can help ensure this with good communication and by building relationships.

Read on to find out how other organizations are communicating this summer. Get Your People Out of the Heat & Into Action

Image by David Smith

Are You Ready for Your Year-End Appeal?


You may think fall is a long way off. We just celebrated Independence Day in the U.S. and temperatures are creeping into the 90’s.

Don’t let that deceive you. September will be here before you know it. Fall is a busy time, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal.

Many nonprofits rely on their year-end appeal for a good portion of their revenue. Get a jump start on your appeal and start planning it now. Use this checklist to help you get started. Of course, you can use this for fundraising campaigns at any time of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal in your 2016 fundraising plan (at least I hope you did) and perhaps you need to revise that goal. If you haven’t set a goal, determine how much money you need to raise before you start your campaign.

Do you have a plan?

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

When do you want to send your appeal? At the beginning of November?  Figure out what you need to get done and how long it will take. You may need to recruit extra volunteers or get your materials to a mail house.

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

Find a good story for your year-end appeal. You’ll want some engaging photos for your letter and donation page, too. Quotes from clients will also enhance your appeal.

Dazzle Your Donors With a Great Story

Capture Your Donors’ Attention in an Instant by Using Visual Stories

How did your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should highlight some of the year’s accomplishments and state what you plan to do next year. For example, let’s say you run a tutoring program. Let your donors know how with their help 80% of the students in your program are now reading at or above their grade level. Next year you’d like to expand to four more schools.

Focus on the people you serve and show how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

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

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until the end of October to check your supply of letterhead and envelopes. Make sure you have enough. Perhaps you want to produce a special outer envelope. You may also want to create some thank you cards.

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

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

Is it easy to donate online?

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

Elements of Donation Page Design

19 Ways to Raise More Money From Donation Pages

While you are at it, check your website for out-of-date information and broken links.

Is Your Website in Good Shape?

How does a donation help the people you serve?

Create a set of giving levels and let your donors know how their gift will help.

Using Giving Levels to Drive Donations

Do you have an incentive to entice donors to give a larger gift?

Instead of premiums, see if you can find a major donor who will match any upgrades. I know of an organization that used this as an incentive to get new donors.

Boost Your Fundraising Results With a Match From a Major Donor

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

Monthly or recurring giving is another way to get a larger gift. Some people might balk at donating $100 or more, but if you present it as $10 a month ($120 a year!), it sounds more feasible.

How will you thank your donors?

Don’t skimp on this. Spend as much time on your thank you letter/note as you do on your appeal letter. You need to thank your donors, and thank them well, as soon as you receive their gifts.

Handwritten notes and phone calls are much better than a pre-printed letter. Create or buy some thank you cards (see above) and start recruiting board members and volunteers to make thank you calls or write notes.

Give Your Donors a Great Thank You Experience

Are you showing the love?

Even though you’ll be busy with your appeal, you want to ramp up your donor communication.  Keep engaging your donors and other supporters (who may become donors) by sharing success stories and gratitude. Pour on the appreciation and create a thank you video or hold an informal open house.

How are you getting ready for your year-end appeal?

Photo by James Stoneking

What’s Your Story? Ways to Make Your Fundraising Pitch Memorable


Guest post by Jeremy S.

Over the last couple of weeks, the theme of this blog has been telling your stories. We’ve looked at both written and visual stories. This guest post by Jeremy S. of Goodwill Car Donations shows us how to tell verbal stories – either in person or on video. These tips can also be useful when writing a story.

Whatever method you use, keep telling your stories!

What’s your organization’s story? A great story can captivate and motivate your organization’s supporters as it attracts new donors, shows long-time donors that you appreciate them, and creates lasting relationships. Learn the art of storytelling as you make your fundraising pitch memorable and engaging.

Tell a Story About a Real Person

Your donors want to hear about the clients you serve, dogs you rescue, or students you tutor. Instead of telling generic stories, share a story, or case study, about a real person and how your organization helped change his or her life.

Let Real People Tell Their Story

When possible, let your clients or customers share their stories. It creates a personal touch that connects with donors.

Share Something Relatable

Every story you tell should include at least one moment where your donors can relate to something you share.

Keep It Short

The average attention span is only eight seconds. Keep your story as short as possible while still getting your point across.

Use Emotions

It’s OK to be transparent when sharing your story. Whether you’re happy, angry, sad, proud, or excited, let your true self shine through.

Keep It Current

As your organization changes, your story will change. You’ll stay relevant and relatable when you make sure your story is current.

Structure the Pitch

All good stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Yours should have structure, too.

  • Start with a strong opener that captures your audience’s attention from the beginning. A joke, statistic, or anecdote does the trick.
  • Proceed to the meat of the story that answers questions like who your organization serves, what you do, and how you do it.
  • End with a call to action. Ask your listeners to invest in your organization as they support your cause with their money, time, and resources.

Focus On Your Brand

All the details of your story should relate to your brand. Make sure your listeners have a clear understanding of your brand’s message.


Whether sharing your story live or recording it, practice, practice, practice. You want to know the material and be confident while sharing it.

Pay Attention to Your Appearance

You might share the most heartwarming story ever, but no one will listen if your appearance is sloppy, dirty, or otherwise distracting. Check your physical appearance in the mirror before going on stage or on camera, and be sure to look presentable.

Talk About the Money

You don’t have to beg, but you do need to talk about the money. Share why you need it, how much you hope to raise, what you’ll do with it, and any project deadlines — including negative effects of not reaching your goals.

A great story allows your organization to connect with your supporters. Use these tips as you personalize, maximize, and monetize the stories you tell.

Author Bio:

Jeremy S. is Vice President of Operations and Vehicle Dispatching at Goodwill Car Donations. Jeremy has handled tens of thousands of donated vehicles in the past five years he’s worked for Goodwill Car Donations. 


Photo by Tim Hettler

Capture Your Donors’ Attention in an Instant by Using Visual Stories


Stories come in many forms and people process information in different ways. Some people respond better to visual stimuli. In our information packed world, a visual story can be a great way to connect.

Tell a story in an instant with a photo

Your donors are busy and may not have time read a story, but you can capture their attention in an instant with a great photo. That doesn’t mean a photo of your executive director receiving an award. Use photos of your programs in action.

Print newsletters and annual reports tend to be too long and text-centric. Most of your donors won’t have time read them. But if you present your donors with some engaging photos, they can get a quick glance of the impact of their gift without having to slog through a bunch of long-winded text.

You may want to try a Postcard Annual Report instead of the usual boring booklet.

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

Use photos everywhere – appeal letters, thank you letters/cards, newsletters, annual reports, your website, and social media. Create a photo bank to help you with this. It’s fine to use the same photos in different channels. It can help with your brand identity. Be sure to use high-quality pictures. Hire a professional photographer or find one to work pro bono.

Work with your program staff to get photos. Confidentiality issues may come up and you’ll need to get permission to take pictures of kids. It’s okay to use stock photos. Just be sure to give proper credit.

5 Killer Photography Tips for Nonprofit Brands

Compelling Images for Nonprofits: When Babies and Puppies Aren’t in Your Mission

Highlight your work with a video

Create a video to show your programs in action, share an interview, give a behind the scenes look at your organization, or my favorite – thanking your donors. Make your videos short and high quality.  If you’re interviewing someone, be sure that person is good on camera.

You can use videos on your website, in an email message, on social media, and at an event.

How to Make a Fantastic Nonprofit Video

10 Mistakes Nonprofits Make with Video

Bring statistics to life with infographics

An annual report with a bunch of statistics is boring, and you know very few donors are going to read a lot of text. But you may have some compelling statistics or want to highlight accomplishments in your annual report.

Why not share these in an infographic instead of the usual laundry list of statistics and accomplishments?  Here are some examples. A Great Nonprofit Annual Report in a Fabulous Infographic

Brochures are becoming a relic of the past, but what if you want an informational print piece to give to potential donors or volunteers?  An oversized infographic postcard could be the way to go.

How to Create an Effective Nonprofit Infographic

4 Steps to Making an Infographic for Your Nonprofit

10 free tools for creating infographics

Keep your donors engaged with all types of stories.

Photo by Rob Briscoe

Dazzle Your Donors With a Great Story


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

If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell

Donors love stories. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene. Here’s an example.

Sheila woke up feeling good for the first time in awhile. After losing her job and being evicted from her apartment, she moved between her sister’s place, motels, and shelters. It was taking a toll on her family and her kids were falling behind in school.

That was about to change because thanks to donors like you, Sheila 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 making 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.

Creating stories takes a little more work, but they will help you connect with your donors. When putting together a story, ask

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

Client or program recipient stories are best. You’ll need to work together with program staff to get these stories.  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.

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

You can also share profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Many organizations profile new board members in their newsletters. That’s fine, but instead of emphasizing their professional background, concentrate on what drew them to your organization. Perhaps she has a brother who’s struggling with Parkinson’s or he’s passionate about the environment.

Create a story bank to help you organize all your 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. How to Tell Nonprofit Stories While Respecting Client Confidentiality

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Let your donors know how with their help, Monica 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

Dazzle your donors with a great story. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories.

Resources to help you tell your stories.

The Storytelling Nonprofit


You Have 6 Nonprofit Story Types to Tell

Photo by David Bleasdale