Something’s Missing


As the year-end giving season approaches, you may notice more activity from nonprofits in your mailbox and email inbox.

Take notice. You can learn a lot about what do to and what not to do when you communicate with donors.  Unfortunately, I see too many instances where organizations can do better.  It seems like something’s missing.

After I recently opened a one-page communication from an organization, my reactions were:

Why are you sending me this?

I wasn’t sure of the purpose of the piece. The organization may have been trying to connect before they sent out their year-end appeal, which is great. That’s something you need to do.  They share some accomplishments, so maybe it was sort of a mini annual report.  It wasn’t obvious.

It wasn’t very personal either, and I think a short, warm introduction would have helped.  They could have used the back side if they needed more space.

I’m a donor. Make me feel special.

The only example of donor-centered language was “Your Support of X Organization Makes Our Work Possible!”

They mention the number of donors who supported their work, but there’s no explicit thank you. That’s a must.

Why is what you do important?

Many nonprofits fall short in this area.  The piece included lots of numbers, but not much detail of why what they’re sharing is important. They talk about making a difference, yet there aren’t any specific examples of how they’re doing that.

They state that “more than 50 households have signed up at a new food pantry site.” Why is that important?  What would happen if these families didn’t have access to this food pantry?  Would they go to bed hungry, or have to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill?

What does that mean? 

They describe what they do as “X organization addresses critical needs and emerging trends to create an equitable [community}.”  Huh?

Then I received a fundraising email from a different organization, which gave me an empty feeling because:

They never connected during the year.

The only time I supported this organization was when I attended one of their events last March.  They never sent any type of follow up.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine.  If you hold an event, thank your donors, let them know how their support makes a difference and stay in touch throughout the year.

It wasn’t personal.

There was no salutation, and they didn’t thank me for my past support. The appeal lists what a donation will fund, but doesn’t indicate why that’s important.

There’s too much emphasis on the end of the fiscal year.

The email opened with “It’s the end of our fiscal year, please consider donating by midnight September 30 ….” It felt more like Land’s End telling me this is my last chance to get 30% off.

I know your fiscal year is important to you, but it may not mean much to your donors.  What your donors care about is how they can help you make a difference.

As you work on your year-end appeals and other communication, ask:

  • What is the purpose of this letter/email?  Is it to ask for a donation?  Is it to share an update?  Is that clear?
  • Is this donor-centered?
  • Are you showing gratitude, and thanking donors for their past gifts?
  • Is this warm and personal/conversational?
  • Are we letting our donors know why what we do is important?

Don’t let your donors come away thinking something’s missing.

Photo by Nicholas Noyes

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