Online Community-Building for Nonprofit Members

How important is online community-building for your nonprofit members? Read our guide to learn how online engagements can strengthen your membership base.

By Jake Fabbri

Creating a membership program for your nonprofit is a smart way to increase fundraising and donor stewardship. In exchange for charitable gifts in the form of membership dues, nonprofits grant their members privileges or perks, host engaging events for them, and offer additional opportunities to drive their mission. The people who join your nonprofit membership program are going to be some of your most passionate supporters.

One of the top reasons why supporters become members is to meet other like-minded people with aligned goals and to be a part of a community. The stronger this community is, the better you can attract new members and retain current ones. 

However, your nonprofit member community can only build and grow if you provide them with the right engagement tools and offer them meaningful experiences. 

Let’s say your nonprofit often hosts in-person events. There are certain tools and solutions you can invest in for community-building that will help attract new members and make the event more enjoyable. 

However, with the modern world growing increasingly dependent on digital solutions and a global pandemic keeping most of us inside, your nonprofit should be taking the steps to expand its online community-building. The bottom line is that 90% of Americans use the internet. These steps are crucial if you want to ensure your membership program is a success.

When you put the effort into building your online community, your nonprofit can:

  1. Offer unique opportunities and attract new members.
  2. Boost engagement among current members.
  3. Get people excited about the next (virtual) event.
  4. Manage nonprofit data better.

Don’t miss out on these community-building efforts. Look at your current membership management solution and ensure you’re doing all you can to engage your online community. Your current members will appreciate it and prospects will be attracted to it. Let’s begin!

1. Offer unique opportunities and attract new members.

For many nonprofits with membership programs, a top priority is attracting new supporters and growing your membership base. To keep your membership growing and get people interested in your mission, it’s important to have an established online presence.

For starters, your online space is the first place people visit to learn more about your organization, your mission, and any program guidelines. How you present your organization and membership program is crucial, especially if you want to keep everyone on the same page about your goals and mission. 

However, the internet is also saturated with others trying to do the same thing. It’s likely you’re not the only organization targeting your specific audience. That’s why it’s imperative to ensure that your nonprofit stands out, particularly through digital strategies. Consider these top tips:

  • Leverage your nonprofit website. Make sure your website clearly represents your organization. With a dedicated website, you can effectively explain your mission and provide a calendar of upcoming events. Host all necessary information in an intuitive way so prospective members and supporters can easily take the steps to join. 
  • Use microsites for member committees. Along with your dedicated nonprofit website, consider creating microsites. Microsites are websites that are associated with a main webpage, but also stand alone as an independent entity. This is a good way for you to organize and manage your various nonprofit member committees. You can even make these microsites private to host exclusive member-only content.
  • Offer online learning opportunities. Many members join your nonprofit to learn more about your mission and play a larger role. Consider offering online learning opportunities through video courses and classes. Make sure to advertise this on your website so potential members have a clear impression of all you have to offer.

By focusing on your online presence, you can showcase your nonprofit’s opportunities for community-building. Encourage people to join your organization, start their online journey off on a positive note, and set the foundation for future engagement.

2. Boost engagement between your current members.

While one of the main attractions of nonprofits are live fundraising events and other experiences, it’s challenging for every member to participate and attend. This gets increasingly difficult as your membership grows and spans across different locations. 

Therefore, it’s important to have a dedicated online place where you can engage current members and they can also interact with each other. Remember: a huge driver to joining your nonprofit membership program is the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals who are already a part of the community. 

Your best bet to encourage online member engagement is to provide members with a portal that’s accessible from your nonprofit website. As soon as they join, members can start experiencing what you have to offer instead of waiting around for a live event.

Within your member portal, allow members to:

  • Navigate a searchable member directory. Give your members an opportunity to get to know their community even if they can’t actually meet them. This way, each member can have their own profile with a photo and basic details.
  • Communicate within message boards and forums. Online message boards and forums are popular places to discuss various topics. For instance, members can use message boards to discuss major events that may affect your nonprofit mission.

Active efforts to engage your members online will increase their chance of renewing their membership. 

To further drive online engagement with current members, evaluate your existing management tools and determine if you have the ability to automate triggered communications. For instance, if a member begins a form and doesn’t complete it or there are long periods of inactivity, you can automatically send out email reminders nudging them in the right direction.

Even if your membership is large, your nonprofit won’t create a meaningful impact if your members aren’t active. Ensure your online engagement efforts are at their best with a member portal and smart communication methods.

3. Get people excited about the next (virtual) event.

With most in-person engagements on pause, your nonprofit is likely planning a variety of virtual membership events. As you prepare for these events, consider the strategic online steps you can take to increase excitement and even attract new attendees. 

In addition to keeping current members satisfied, events are a great way to showcase your nonprofit’s accomplishments and mission for prospective members. It all comes down to how you market the event beforehand.

It’s not enough to just send out a mass email to your entire membership directory and think your online strategy is complete. Engage in additional digital efforts to help bring your members together. This way, you can garner excitement and encourage more member-to-member interaction. 

Consider these online engagement tips to market your next nonprofit membership event:

  • Get your members’opinions on event preferences. If you’re live streaming a speaker or multiple panels, send out a survey to get a sense of what topics your members are looking for. 
  • Host a dedicated event website. Consider building a microsite for each of your nonprofit membership events. This is a great way to attract new members! Non-members can easily find your event and a dedicated microsite eliminates the chance of getting distracted by other information. You can also capture leads and determine which of your marketing efforts are working best.
  • Customize targeted communication leading up to the event. As the event gets closer, make sure you segment your members based on registration status and ticket level (general admission vs. VIP) to send more personalized messages. According to this article, segmenting your constituents is one of the best ways to increase online engagement and build meaningful relationships. Your members are more likely to engage back when they’re only receiving communications that are uniquely relevant to them.
  • Let members build the perfect event schedule. If your virtual event consists of multiple speakers or activities, empower your guests by letting them create their own event schedule. This way, they know about all available opportunities and can plan their route in advance of the big day. If you offer a mobile event app, your guests can access their schedule from there.

Nonprofit membership events are successful because they provide a dedicated space for members to engage with each other and your mission. Take these additional steps to increase online engagement and continue to build your community. Additionally, the more you put into your online engagements, the more excited your members will be about your event.

4. Manage nonprofit data better

When increasing your online efforts and working to build your digital community, this offers a great opportunity to start tracking those engagements. As reported by Fonteva’s guide to the best membership management software, a solid software solution will effectively record and manage all important member data and metrics.

Along with your nonprofit management and fundraising tools, you likely also depend on a constituent relationship management (CRM) system to track all the data produced by these tools. Rather than manually transferring data to your CRM, many intuitive tools have integration capabilities and some are even native to the CRM. This eliminates the need for complicated and time-consuming integrations later.

A strong software solution will provide a complete view of strategic insights like revenue forecasting, trends, and member engagement. With your management tools and CRM collaborating, it’s easier for you to review past data and gain valuable insights. 

For instance, generate comprehensive reports to see which of your events were most popular in the last year. This can help you determine the types of events your members might want in the future or solidify a core marketing strategy that can be applied to all events. 

The best way to build your online community is to learn from past mistakes and always strive for improvement. Staying stagnant won’t motivate prospective members to join and may even discourage current members from renewing. 


If you’re wondering if increasing your online engagement is necessary for your nonprofit, the answer is yes. Don’t miss out on the chance to nurture a valuable online environment for your members, whether that’s with enhanced online member communications or with key data management strategies. This is the best way to keep members coming back year after year!

Jake Fabbri is the Chief Marketing Officer at Fonteva with over 18 years of experience working in marketing management. He has experience with lead generation, content marketing, marketing automation, and events. 

Social Channels:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacob-fabbri-329b59/

https://www.facebook.com/Fonteva/

Moving Away from Transactional Fundraising

Unfortunately, we’re looking at another tough year for fundraising. I’ve heard some people predict donations will decrease, while others say they’ll increase.

In this era of uncertainty, who knows? That doesn’t mean you should stop fundraising. Not at all. You just need to do it better. 

You may think the most important component of fundraising is raising money. While that’s important, so is building relationships with your donors. 

It’s hard to keep raising money if you don’t build a good relationship with your donors. Every single interaction with your donors needs to focus on building relationships. That includes fundraising appeals. It’s possible to raise money and build relationships at the same time.

You’ll have more success if you move away from transactional fundraising and focus on building relationships. Here are some suggestions.

Stop using transactional language

First, the word transaction should not appear anywhere in your fundraising. Sometimes I see the words “Transaction complete”after I make an online donation. That’s not giving me a nice warm and fuzzy feeling at all. I made a gift not a transaction.

Even more prevalent is the word receipt, which is often used in lieu of thank you. After a donor makes a gift, they should be feeling a lot of appreciation from you. 

Here are some actual thank you email subject lines I received recently.

“Your Recurring Donation Receipt” 

“Payment Receipt” 

This again is emphasizing the transaction. Payment information should not be the lead of any type of thank you. 

Contrast those with these ones that really emphasize their appreciation.

“Thank you for your generous gift”

“You are wonderful!”

This post by Richard Perry Avoiding Transactional Terms in Fundraising mentions other terms such as prospect and annual fund. These are often internal terms, but they reduce donors to a monetary unit. 

When organizations lead their fundraising appeals by saying “It’s our annual appeal” or “It’s GivingTuesday,” they’re not connecting with their donors by concentrating on why donors give. 

Many donors don’t care that it’s your year-end appeal. They care about your work and want to help. Instead, say something like, How you can help families put food on the table. 

Make relationship building part of your fundraising campaigns

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.

Segment your donors

One way to help ensure you’re focusing on relationships is to segment your donors and personalize your appeal letters and other types of donor communication. 

Don’t send the same appeal to everyone on your mailing list. 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.

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

Create an attitude of gratitude

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.

Welcome 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. Do something special for donors who have supported you for several years.

Make sure your donors get a heartfelt thank you, not something that resembles a receipt.

Thanking donors is something you can do at any time of the year. I think one of the best ways to connect is by sending a handwritten note.  I recently received a holiday card and a mug full of Lindt chocolate from a small, local nonprofit. It definitely warmed my heart, although you can always win me over with chocolate.

Holiday cards are a nice way to reach out, but don’t put a donation envelope in one. You have other opportunities to make appeals. Make it 100% about showing appreciation.

You can also send thank you cards at other times of the year. If money is tight, spread out your mailings over the year so each donor gets at least one card.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships

There are many ways you can build relationships with your donors throughout the year. This is so important right now.

You can give donors other opportunities to connect, such as volunteering, participating in advocacy alerts, and signing up for your newsletter. Done well, a newsletter or other form of an update is a good relationship-building tool. You could also offer virtual tours or Zoom discussions.

I’m amazed that after I attend an event, support someone in a walkathon, 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. 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.

Have 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.

Giving Tuesday: What if it was called Living Schmoozeday?

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, especially now. Ideally, you should keep in touch with your donors every one to two weeks.

Stay focused on relationships. Good relationships with your donors will help you with retention, especially as we enter another tough fundraising year. 

Some Insights From 2020 to Bring Into the New Year

I hope everyone had a safe holiday. I’m sure you’re relieved 2020 is over, although uncertainty will stay with us for a while.

No doubt this past year brought a lot of challenges to your nonprofit. Even so, many organizations were able, for lack of a better word, to pivot and make changes to the way they ran their programs. 

Donations to nonprofits increased in the first half of the year. Hopefully, your organization was the beneficiary of some generous donors. That would have required you to continue fundraising and not pull back.

The pandemic and other outcomes from 2020, such as the economic downturn and a heightened awareness of systemic racism, have opened our eyes and taught us a lot. I hope we continue to learn from this as we progress through 2021.

We’ve also gained insight on better ways to do fundraising and communications. Here are some insights from the past year that we can take into 2021 and future years.

Make a plan, but be prepared to make changes

You must have fundraising and communications plans. If you haven’t put together these plans yet, do that now! 

If you had plans in place last year, you know you had to start making changes in March, but you did have a plan. Perhaps you had a gala or walkathon planned for the spring and you made those virtual. Maybe you ran an emergency fundraising campaign. Organizations that were able to make changes to a plan already in place were most successful.

Take a look back at 2020 to see what worked and what didn’t in your fundraising and communications. Incorporate what you’ve learned into your 2021 plans. 

Since we’re entering another year of uncertainty, make a plan to change your plans as the year progresses. Most likely you still won’t be able to do a large in-person event in the spring, but you might able to in the fall. If you can’t, make sure you have a contingency plan in place. And don’t stop fundraising!

Revisit your fundraising and communications plans regularly and make changes as needed. You may need to do this more often than in past years.

Remember that donor engagement and donor retention should be part of your fundraising plan. Those are key to success.

How to Prepare a Nonprofit Fundraising Plan

10 ELEMENTS FOR FUNDRAISING PLANNING – 2020-21

How NOT to Make a Fundraising Plan

Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template: 9 Simple Steps to Achieve Your Goal

A step-by-step guide to creating a nonprofit communications strategy

Donors are heroes

The pandemic has shown us the world is full of heroes, such as health care professionals and other essential workers. Donors are also heroes because you could not have gotten through the last year without them. Think of who came through for you. Most likely, it was long-term donors. 

This is why donor retention is so important and needs to be a priority. We’ve known this for a long time, but you’ll have more success if you work to keep the donors you already have instead of focusing on getting new ones.

Keep track of your retention rate. If it’s low, it’s something you can fix, usually with better communication. Your goal should be to have donors who support you for a long time.

It’s easier and less expensive to keep your current donors than to find new ones, so, once again, make donor retention a priority.

A Guide to Donor Retention

That said, you may have some new donors who saw a need and felt a connection to your cause, Don’t let these donors slip away.

The Importance of Making Your New Donors Feel Welcome

Whether a donor has supported you for 10 years or is brand new, they are heroes. Please don’t forget that.

3 Steps to Light Up Your Donor Engagement Strategy Through COVID-19 and Beyond

Monthly giving is the way to go

Speaking of retention, the retention rate for monthly donors is 90%. These donors are dedicated to your nonprofit. 

Monthly giving makes sense at any time, but it was especially crucial this past year. Organizations that had monthly giving programs saw a steady stream of revenue throughout the year. Donors who opt for monthly giving find it’s easier on their finances. Dedicated monthly donors also stepped up and gave additional donations last year.

Work on starting or growing your monthly giving program so you can have a bunch of highly committed donors. A good way to start is to invite your current donors to become monthly donors.

How Monthly Giving is a Win-Win for Your Nonprofit

Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

Better communication makes a difference

I’d like to see us say goodbye to boring, generic communication. This past year donors saw real people with real problems in real time. They turned on the news and saw long lines at food banks. They read about theatres and museums that had to shut their doors to patrons.

It makes a difference if you can put things in human terms. Organizations that did this did a better job of connecting with their donors.

Stop using jargon, such as at-risk and underserved. These terms are demeaning to your clients, especially if they’re people of color. Tell more stories and go easy on the statistics. If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell.

Better communication also means more frequent communication. Donors want to hear from you and they want to feel appreciated, too. I know it’s hard right now, but better, more frequent communication will help you raise more money. A communications calendar will help you with this. 

Start the New Year off by making fundraising and communications plans, if you haven’t already done so. Put donor retention and donor engagement front and center. This will help bring you more success in 2021.

Keep in Touch with Your Donors Throughout the Year by Using a Communications Calendar

I like to emphasize the importance of keeping in touch with your donors throughout the year. During the pandemic, this has become more important than ever, even though it may be harder due to everything that’s going on.

Your donors want to hear from you and don’t just want to be blasted with fundraising appeals. The good news is that better donor communication (thank yous and updates) can help you raise more money.

Ideally, you should communicate with your donors at least once or twice a month throughout the year. If that sounds impossible, it will be a whole lot easier if you put together a communications calendar (also known as an editorial calendar).

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

Some of you may already have a communications calendar, which is great. Now is a good time to update yours for the coming year. For the rest of you, here are some suggestions to help you get started. Even though it will take a little time to put together, it will be worth it in the end because you’ll be able to do a better job of communicating with your donors.

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

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

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

Your communications calendar is a fluid document and this last year is a good example of how you needed to make changes, especially as the pandemic started. We’re still in unchartered territory even as the vaccines roll out, so be prepared to keep things current.

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

Current Events/News stories

At the beginning of 2020, most of us couldn’t predict the year we were about to have. In other years, current happenings wouldn’t dominate your communication as much as they did this year.

At the start of the pandemic, I hope you reached out to your donors to wish them well and update them on your clients/community.

After George Floyd was killed, many organizations professed their support for Black Lives Matter. I hope that was the beginning of any communication about systemic racism and not the only one.

Our world has changed a lot this past year and many donors will expect more communication about social and economic issues. Keep them apprised of how all this is affecting your clients/community.

Updates

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

Share your success and challenges, especially as we continue to navigate through the current climate.

Legislation

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

Time of year

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

Thanksgiving, the holidays, and winter can be a difficult time for some people. How can you weave that into an engaging story to share with your supporters? This will be an especially hard winter for many people.

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

Fundraising and recruitment

Be sure to add your fundraising campaigns to your communications calendar. Obviously, these campaigns are important, but you also want to show gratitude and send updates during this time without inundating your donors with too many messages. Planning ahead will help you strike this balance.

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

Thank your donors

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

Events

Your organization may not be holding any in-person events next year, but perhaps you’ll continue to do virtual events. Besides your events, are there other events (virtual or in-person) in your community that would be of interest to your supporters? If so, you could share it on social media.

Ongoing content

If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell. Share a story at least once a month. Client stories (either in the first or third person) are best. Your stories need to be relevant to the current situations, so you may need to create some new ones.

You could also profile a board member, volunteer, donor, or staff member. Be sure to highlight what drew them to your organization.

Put together a story bank to help you with this.

Keep it up

As you hear about other relevant information, add it to your calendar, so you can stay connected with your donors/supporters throughout the year. Information will be changing quickly next year, so you’ll want to keep on top of it.

Here’s more information to help you create a communications/editorial calendar. A couple of these links also include templates.

How to create and use a nonprofit editorial calendar

Make Your Fundraising Easier with a Donor Communications Calendar

Creating the Perfect Editorial Calendar – A Cinderella Story

EDITORIAL CALENDARS – RESOURCES FOR YOU

The Importance of Making Your New Donors Feel Welcome

As your year-end donations come in, you may have some new donors. If you get new donors this year, don’t take that for granted. 

In this tumultuous year, these donors saw a need and found a connection to your cause. Maybe you’re a food bank that’s seeing a record number of people. Perhaps you’re a beloved performing arts organization that’s temporarily closed.

Unfortunately, the likelihood these donors will stick with you is questionable. Even in the best of times, the retention rate for new donors is a little over 20%.

One of the many lessons from this pandemic is the importance of having long-term donors who will stick with you when you need them most. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to hang on to your new donors.

Start with a special thank you

Go the extra mile when you thank your new donors.

If someone donates online, it’s hard to tailor the thank you email specifically to new donors. But you can do that with a phone call, handwritten note, or thank you letter.

Try to call your new donors or send a handwritten note. This will make a great impression on them. Get together a group of board members, other volunteers, and staff to help you.

*Make sure these are actually new donors. A good database will help you avoid any snafus.*

Create a welcome plan

A week or two after the initial thank you, send a welcome package. You can do this by mail, email, or a combination of both.

Welcome your new donors. Thank them again and show them other ways they can connect with you. Invite them to subscribe to your newsletter, join you on social media, and volunteer (most likely virtually for now).

Your welcome package should include a warm introductory message and a few facts about your organization, but don’t brag too much. Keep it donor-centered. You could also direct people to your website for more information about your organization.

Be careful about how much information you send. Donors want to feel welcome not overwhelmed.

I don’t recommend sending unsolicited swag. You could offer your new donors a gift and they can let you know if they want to receive it, but it’s not necessary. I don’t like it when organizations send me things I don’t need, such as a wall calendar.

What donors really want from you is to know how they’re helping you make a difference.

What are you doing now to welcome new donors?

How to Create an Effective New Donor Welcome Series

Anatomy of a Stellar First-Time Donor Welcome Packet

Who are your new donors?

They could be event attendees, volunteers, or newsletter subscribers. If you know, refer to that in your thank you note, letter, or phone call. If not, send a short survey with your welcome package and ask, “How did you hear about us?” or “What drew you to our organization?” 

Another question to ask is whether your donors prefer print or electronic communication. Short surveys are also a good way to connect throughout the year. The more you know about your donors the easier it will be to communicate with them.

Make your current donors feel special, too

While I’ve been focusing on new donors in this post, retention rates for current donors have also been declining. The biggest hurdle is getting from the first to the second gift. That second gift is known as the golden donation. But don’t stop there. You want a third and a fourth, etc. donation.  

If you’re not acknowledging a donor’s past support, you’re making a huge mistake. Imagine how you would feel if you gave to an organization for over five years and they never thank you for your long-time support.  

These valuable, long-term donors could leave at any time, so ignore them at your own peril. Remember the importance of long-term donors. Make sure they get a special thank you from you.

Keep it up throughout the year

You should know you need to communicate with your donors regularly, especially now. Plan on special mailings or emails specifically targeted to new donors. Try to send something by mail if you can. It’s more personal and your donors are more likely to see it. 

Think of other ways to do something special for your new donors too, such as offering virtual tours or an invitation to a Zoom discussion.

Of course, don’t ignore your other donors. Keep reaching out – at least once or twice a month. 

Show appreciation and share updates. A huge factor in donor retention is a good donor relations plan that you’ll carry out regularly as long as your donors support you, which hopefully will be for many years.

Fundraising During the COVID-19 Outbreak: 4 Best Practices

Fundraising during a pandemic can be a challenge. Check out our top four strategies for maintaining revenue and morale at your nonprofit during COVID-19.

By Leigh Kessler 

Nonprofits all across the globe have been met with substantial and unprecedented financial challenges so far this year.

As a result of widespread unemployment and economic hardships, many generous donors have had to press pause on their financial support of charitable causes. Therefore, organizations that depend highly on individual donations have seen significant drops in fundraising revenue. 

Additionally, the seamless flow of day-to-day operations has been disrupted as some of the most powerful and profitable fundraising events had to be canceled or postponed.

While you may have some doubts about continuing fundraising practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s crucial that you don’t quit altogether. Instead, here are some best practices to consider as you rework your fundraising strategy to meet the shifting demands you’re encountering.

  1. Use data-driven fundraising strategies.
  2. Implement a multi-channel approach.
  3. Consider a virtual fundraising event.
  4. Make the most of matching gifts.

Even if you chose to scale back your fundraising outreach at the beginning of the pandemic, it’s crucial that you continue to implement strategic donor retention practices. This way, you can engage supporters for the long haul and your post-pandemic fundraising will be off to a great start. Are you ready to learn more about keeping your nonprofit afloat in a season of financial uncertainty? Let’s jump in!

1. Use data-driven fundraising strategies.

Ensuring effective fundraising strategies is one of the most important processes involved in successfully running any organization. That being said, it’s essential that you don’t leave your fundraising plans up to chance. Instead, use previously collected fundraising data to inform your future strategy.

Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What is your average donation size? Has it increased or decreased recently?
  • What is your average frequency of donations? Has it changed recently?
  • How many new donors have you acquired during the pandemic?
  • Which types of campaigns have brought in the highest revenue in the past?

Thankfully, with the right nonprofit CRM software, this information (and much more) can be waiting right at your fingertips. Now, you can craft your fundraising plan based on this data to better refine your tactics to target your ideal audience.

Once you’ve established your data-driven fundraising goals, it’s time to get the word out about your upcoming campaign. 

According to AccuData’s handy guide to effective data marketing, data-driven strategies aren’t limited to just setting goals. It’s also best employed for your outreach plan to ensure you have an informed communication plan as well. For instance, using this data to set up a multi-channel fundraising strategy will result in your messages getting across to more supporters.

In other words, make note of which communication strategies have seen the most success in your previous marketing strategies and go from there.

2. Implement a multi-channel approach.

As you begin supporter outreach to solicit donations, diversify your communication strategy so your reach stretches further across channels, networks, and communities. 

Keep in mind that your donors want to hear from you — and the most effective way to do that will often require a combination of tactics. After all, in a world so saturated with marketing materials, a single-channel approach can be too easily drowned out and lead to substantial missed opportunities. That’s where multi-channel fundraising comes in.

A powerful multi-channel fundraising campaign can include the following communication channels:

  • Email: Email is a popular method of donor communication and fundraising requests for many reasons. For one thing, your team can quickly and easily send messages to thousands of recipients at once, even while automating content customization for each recipient. After all, personalized emails are known to generate a median ROI of 122% as compared to their generic counterparts. Use marketing software to automatically put the individual’s name in the salutation, personalize ask amounts, and to craft messages specifically for certain donor segments. 
  • Direct mail: While more costly than email, direct mail can be a great way to gain supporter attention and really make your organization (and your fundraising appeals) stand out. That’s because a direct mailing provides a physical reminder of your cause that can keep you at top of mind for longer periods of time. Plus, studies show that the human mind is able to better retain information on paper as compared to on a screen.
  • Phone: Encompassing both text and voice calls, phone communication is an effective way to grab your desired audience’s attention. Besides face-to-face interactions (which are significantly limited right now), phone and video calls are the most personal fundraising approach possible. That can be extremely worthwhile when targeting your mid-to high-range donors.
  • Social media: Your social media platforms are a fantastic way to engage with new and potential donors who you may not already have on your email or mailing lists. Plus, you can encourage dedicated supporters to interact with and share your posts with their own networks, effectively expanding your reach in seconds.

One common mistake made by many organizations attempting a multi-channel campaign is using the same fundraising messages and tactics across each channel. However, this does not give your team the room to accommodate for differences in mediums, and therefore risks a repetitive and unintuitive approach. Instead, adjust your strategy for each communication platform, while maintaining the same overarching campaign message.

3. Consider a virtual fundraising event.

Just because in-person events are canceled for the time being doesn’t mean you can’t find new and exciting ways to engage your audience while raising money for your cause. In fact, organizations all over the world are turning to virtual fundraising events as a powerful alternative to traditional face-to-face interactions. 

If you’re interested in pivoting an existing event to the virtual space or planning a new one from scratch, these are a few of our favorite suggestions:

  • Online auctions: Charity auctions are a favorite fundraiser for many, and with the right tools, they can be easily transitioned to a virtual fundraising event. Collect items to auction off, then upload pictures and descriptions to a detailed auction catalog. When the event begins, encourage donors to bid on their favorites from the comfort of their own homes.
  • Virtual walk-a-thons: Using a smartphone app or another tracking device, encourage supporters to take part in a virtual run or walk-a-thon. Participants can reach out to family and friends asking them to make a pledge, then the supporter completes the physical activity in a local park or another remote location.
  • Digital classes: With all this time stuck at home, many people are taking up new hobbies. You can leverage that trend with digital classes— some of our favorites include cooking classes and art workshops. Find an experienced individual willing to teach and have them explain their skill step-by-step over a live-streamed platform.

For more ideas and best practices, take a look at CharityEngine’s guide to pulling off virtual fundraising events. More than likely, your donors will jump at the chance to get involved with a fundraiser during a time when most of their favorite events are no longer possible. 

4. Make the most of matching gifts.

Matching gift programs are one aspect of corporate philanthropy that can significantly boost any organizations’ fundraising revenue without a ton of extra effort. Although corporate philanthropy is a powerful fundraising tool at any time, its potential in the current economic climate is something that you do not want to miss out on.

Here are a few reasons why a matching gift database with an easy-to-use employer search tool is one of the smartest investments any nonprofit can make, especially during a financial crisis:

  • Donors are more likely to give. Now more than ever, many of your supporters are likely on the fence about giving. They may be asking themselves things like, “is it a smart financial decision to donate right now?” Luckily, matching gift eligibility might be just the deciding factor. Studies show that more than 84% of donors are more likely to give if they’re aware that a company will match their gift.
  • Donors tend to make larger donations. In the same way, many donors tend to increase their donation size if they know it’s being matched. When an individual is aware that their gift can make double (or even triple) the impact, they’re more likely to contribute more in the first place. 
  • Donors can request a match from a previous gift. Even for your supporters who are unable to make additional donations at the moment, matching gifts provide a unique opportunity to help out and further your cause. Since most companies allow employees to request donation matches for up to a year after the initial gift, many of your past donors are likely still eligible!

Plus, many employers are even expanding their matching gift programs for the remainder of the year as a result of the pandemic and its health, economic, and social consequences. Companies are offering higher ratios or match limits to encourage their employees to help out in any way they can. Check out this list of top participating employers and their program adjustments for more information.


Regardless of the fundraising strategies you choose, it’s crucial that you don’t neglect the importance of effectively thanking your donors. Especially in a time like now, showing your appreciation is more important than ever to build donor relationships. 

With these best practices (and the right tools), you’ll be well-equipped to bring your nonprofit team out to the other side. Plus, tips like these can set you up for future success down the line. Good luck!

Leigh Kessler is VP of Marketing and Communications at donor management software platform CharityEngine and a frequent speaker on branding, fundraising, data and technology.  He is a former nationally touring headline comedian and has appeared on numerous TV shows including VH1’s “Best Week Ever”, CNN’s “Showbiz Tonight”, Discovery Channel & Sirius Radio. He has overseen and informed research and branding strategies for some of the most well known brands in America. 

This Shouldn’t be the Usual #GivingTuesday

I imagine most of you are familiar with #GivingTuesday, the annual giving day that takes place the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. This year it will be on December 1.

I don’t need to remind you the world is in a very different place than it was last year at this time. You can’t run the same type of #GivingTuesday campaign you’ve run in the past. What I mean is just blasting a bunch of generic appeals that resemble Black Friday ads or those relentless requests for political donations. 

Giving Tuesday and Why We’re Killing It

Perhaps you’re one of the few organizations that sent more personalized appeals. If so, kudos to you because that’s what everyone needs to do this year. I think this can happen because I did see more personalized, nuanced appeals during #GivingTuesdayNow in the spring. 

I’m not going to tell you whether or not you should participate in #GivingTuesday. Perhaps you’ve participated in the past and it’s been successful, or maybe it wasn’t. Perhaps you’re planning to participate for the first time. Maybe it’s just too hard to do right now. 

Whether you participate or not, #GivingTuesday is now part of the nonprofit landscape and if you’re doing a year-end appeal, you’ll need to factor it into your campaign.

Here a few things to keep in mind for #GivingTuesday 2020.

People want to give if they can

Your donors want to give if they can. That means you should be fundraising. Many people give at year-end so it’s a good idea to run some type of campaign, even if you don’t participate in #GivingTuesday.

As I’ve mentioned many times, you can’t raise money if you don’t ask.

Just because it’s #Giving Tuesday isn’t compelling enough

I’ve seen so many emails that say donate because it’s #GivingTuesday. Many donors don’t care if it’s #GivingTuesday or it’s your “annual appeal.” That’s often not why they donate. They give because they care about your cause and want to help make a difference. 

It’s not just about the money either

A successful #GivingTuesday campaign is about more than just raising a lot of money. You also want to build relationships and make your donors feel good about supporting your organization. This is where it often falls short.

I haven’t been a huge fan of #GivingTuesday or any giving days, for that matter, because they focus too much on getting donations. Many of these donors are first-time donors who don’t give again. The end result is you’ve just spent a lot of time and effort on getting one-time gifts. That’s not what you want right now. You need donors who will support you for many years.

You must address the current situations

Your appeals need to address how the pandemic and economic downturn are affecting your clients/community. Don’t send generic appeals that are basically begging for donations.

Segmentation is crucial

Speaking of generic, many organizations send the same appeals to everyone. Don’t do that.

If someone donated last year on #GivingTuesday, this is the perfect opportunity to thank them for that gift and ask them to donate again this year. If they donated two weeks ago, maybe they shouldn’t get an appeal right now.

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

Also, if you’re sending an appeal to your monthly donors, recognize them as monthly donors. They can either upgrade or give an additional gift. They get their own thank you, too. 

Should You Thank Monthly Donors Who Make an Extra Gift?

Focus on relationship building

Now that you’ve segmented your donors, you can do a better job of building those important relationships. Keep your appeal donor-centered. Thank current donors and find a way to make a connection with potential donors.

Use #GivingTuesday as a way to follow up with your donors

If you don’t want to launch a full #Giving Tuesday campaign (understandable), it can be a great opportunity to follow up with people who haven’t donated to your year-end appeal. You should be sending regular reminders, anyway.

Send email and social media messages before and on #Giving Tuesday encouraging people to donate. You can use the #GivingTuesday logos, etc. if you’d like. Obviously, you’ll want to keep following up with anyone who didn’t donate on #GivingTuesday.

Keep in mind your donors will be barraged with email and social media messages on #GivingTuesday. Make yours stand out and be prepared to keep following up.

Next comes the gratitude

Your donors should be feeling the love right after they make their donation.

Make sure you have an engaging thank you landing page and thank you email for your online donors. You could even create ones especially for #GivingTuesday. Then you need to follow that with a phone call, handwritten note, or thank you letter.

Send welcome packets to new donors or welcome back messages to current donors. That’s also very important now.

#GivingTuesday has had a transactional feel to it, although it doesn’t need to. Go the extra mile and do a good job of thanking these donors – both right after they’ve made their donation and throughout the year.

3 Ways to Follow Up with Your Donors After Giving Tuesday

We want to skip #GivingTuesday 

Maybe you’ll decide to bypass #GivingTuesday all together. Keep in mind other organizations will be participating and your messages will be competing with the onslaught of #GivingTuesday appeals. 

You have an opportunity to stand out here by keeping your fundraising campaign focused on gratitude and relationship building. Year-end is a good time to ramp up your donor communication (examples include thank you messages, holiday greetings, and updates) so people don’t think you’re only asking them for money.

A New Approach to Giving Tuesday: Be different and stand out from the crowd

Give back to your donors

I think you’ll find your #GivingTuesday campaign, or any fundraising campaign, will be more successful if you focus on more than just the giving part. And a big part of a successful campaign is getting repeat donations. This means giving back to your donors, as well.

More on #GivingTuesday.

How to make #GivingTuesday more than a gimme

How to Keep Your Giving Tuesday Donors

3 Things Your Nonprofit Needs to Say After #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday 2020 Ideas & Best Practices

This is the Year to be Truly Thankful for Your Donors

Thanksgiving is coming up and it’s a time of the year in the U.S. when we show gratitude to the special people in our lives. For many, it will be a different Thanksgiving. Some people may not gather with family and friends and if they do, it will be with fewer people, while taking precautions to stay safe. 

Your donors are also special people. Many of them have gone the extra mile this year to help you during these difficult times. Don’t they deserve to be showered with gratitude?  

Even if donors cut back on their giving or haven’t given at all this year, they should still get some attention. Hopefully, they’ll give again in the future. There’s a better chance of that if you treat them well.

Showing gratitude doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should, but you need to spend just as much time thanking your donors as you do on fundraising.

Here are a few ways to thank your donors and let them know they’re special.

Wish your donors a Happy Thanksgiving

Send your donors a special Thanksgiving message. A lot of nonprofits already do this, but I think as many organizations as possible should do it this year. If you can send a card or postcard, that’s great, but an email message is also fine.

As I hope you’ve been doing for the last several months, wish your donors well. Let them know how grateful you are to have them as part of your family. Your donors will appreciate a heartfelt message right now. 

Don’t stop with Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving isn’t the only time to show some #donorlove. The holidays and New Year’s are just around the corner and that’s a good opportunity, especially for those of you outside the U.S., to express gratitude. But you don’t need a reason. Just thank your donors and do it often. 

Whatever you decide, DO NOT include a donation envelope or any other type of ask with your thank you message. This is known as a thask and it’s guaranteed to deflate your donor’s good feelings in an instant.

Incorporate thanking your donors into your year-end fundraising campaign

Many of you are working on your year-end fundraising campaign. I know you’re trying to raise money, but you should also be showing gratitude. Does your appeal thank donors for their past or potential gifts?

Besides wishing your donors a Happy Thanksgiving, find other ways to show gratitude while you’re also sending appeals. This is especially important around #GivingTuesday and I’ll write more about that in my next post.

Be ready to thank your donors as soon as you receive a donation

Every single donor, no matter how much they’ve given or whether they donated online, gets a thank you card/letter mailed to them or receives a phone call.

Planning ahead will help you thank your donors as soon as possible. I’m sure you’ve spent a lot of time and effort getting your fundraising appeal out. Perhaps you’ve recruited other staff or volunteers to help you.

You need to do the same thing when you thank your donors. Get your board, other staff, and volunteers to help make phone calls, write thank you notes, or include a handwritten note on a thank you letter. Much of this can be done from home.

Do a better job of thanking your donors

Your donors deserve more than just the same, lame generic thank you letter. I write a lot about thanking donors. Here are a couple of recent posts that cover ways to do a better job of thanking your donors.

Get Ready to Pour on the Gratitude

How to Give Your Donors a More Personal Online Thank You Experience

The initial thank you right after you receive a donation is important. So is the next one and the one after that and the one after that….

Thanking your donors is not a one-time deal. You want to thank your donors at least once a month. Here are some ideas to show gratitude throughout the year.

  • Send a handwritten note.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your website, by email, and on social media.
  • Send welcome packets to your new donors.
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated on your success and challenges. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude.
  • Thank your donors in your newsletters and other updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without their support.
  • Create a virtual tour or other engaging video content so your donors can see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Thank your donors just because they’re great.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

5 Donor Love Must-Do’s for the COVID-19 Crisis

9 Donor Stewardship Ideas to Keep Your Donors Feeling Connected While Practicing Social Distancing

We need more kindness right now

During these tumultuous times, we keep getting more and more divided. Wherever you live and whichever way you lean politically, we should all show more kindness towards each other. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, some people put hearts and teddy bears in their windows, along with signs of support for essential workers. That’s mostly disappeared and I’d like to see it return. I know everyone is tired of wearing masks and socially distancing, but it’s either that or you risk getting infected. Some kindness, both towards ourselves and others, will help us get through this.

In the spirit of kindness, show some gratitude to your donors and make them feel special. 

Setting Goals, Reaching Donors, and Other Crowdfunding Tips

Crowdfunding is a flexible and relatively easy way to tap into supporters’ generosity. Learn the best tactics to see long-term benefits from your campaign.

By Lomesh Shah

As a result of COVID-19, it’s now more important than ever to actively engage your supporters and keep them up to date with your nonprofit’s latest happenings. With year-end fundraising campaigns quickly approaching, you want your nonprofit to be at the forefront of your supporters’ minds.

The needs that your constituents and communities face are still as present as ever, so it’s crucial to continue raising support and awareness for your cause. 

The technique of crowdfunding helps individuals and nonprofits alike raise needed support quickly and across a large donor base. Not only does crowdfunding raise funds and awareness for your nonprofit, but it can help you recruit donors and strengthen those donor relationships.

Curious about what the crowdfunding process looks like? It’s a fairly straightforward technique whether you’re raising funds as an individual or as a nonprofit. Organizations create campaigns with fixed, often short-term timelines that are designed to raise funds for a specific project.

First, you select your platform and set up your campaign. Next, promote your fundraiser and watch your progress. Finally, thank your generous donors for their support!

Today, we’ll take a look at the best practices for maximizing your crowdfunding efforts and a few other helpful tips to benefit your nonprofit as a whole. Here’s an overview of the tips we’ll suggest:

  1. Embrace the Versatility of Crowdfunding
  2. Keep Your Donors Updated
  3. Promote Matching Gifts to Donors Post-Contribution
  4. Actively Promote Your Campaign Supporters
  5. Utilize Engaging Content

Ready to learn more about the best way to improve your fundraising? Let’s dive in. 

Tip #1: Embrace the Versatility of Crowdfunding

One massive benefit of raising money through crowdfunding? Its wide array of options! You can raise funds for pretty much any project you or your organization can think of. Crowdfunding campaigns can be adapted for any type of nonprofit project, occur on shorter time frames, and typically have lower goals than full-scale fundraising campaigns. These give you a lot of flexibility that you wouldn’t necessarily get with a major campaign that requires more investment of your time and resources to plan.

For nonprofits, crowdfunding reduces many restrictions and provides unmatched flexibility for your fundraising needs. 

While crowdfunding is extremely versatile, you have to make sure your supporters will be motivated to support your campaign. A specific, timely project related to your nonprofit’s mission or operations will be the most effective choice. This will engage existing donors and attract new donors who will be likely to stick around with your organization after the crowdfunding campaign ends.

Tip #2: Keep Your Donors Updated

As you set up your crowdfunding campaign and invite donors to contribute, it’s vital to keep those generous supporters up to date on your campaign. Set up a system to inform donors on the latest happenings in your organization and your progress towards your crowdfunding goals. Do this weekly, if you can.

Remember, donors want to see and hear about the ways their money is having an impact on your mission, so keeping them informed not only keeps them happy, but encourages them to give, and give again. In order to keep these donor updates professional and consistent, it’s a good idea to invest in a high-quality constituent relationship management system (also known as a CRM).

Consistent updates show your supporters that you’re personally invested in your campaign and encourages them to share it with their own networks. According to Fundly’s statistics, crowdfunding campaigns that updated their supporters at least every 5 days raised 3 times more in donations than less communicative campaigns. 

Communicating updates on your campaign’s progress is vital for its success. Having a weekly outlet to do this makes it easier to boost energy if you’re falling behind or to give donors new ways to engage with your nonprofit if your campaign is attracting a lot of support.

Tip #3: Promote Matching Gifts

One commonly forgotten aspect of crowdfunding is additional promotion of donations and engagement after your supporters have contributed. 

After receiving a generous contribution, try engaging even further with your supporters by promoting matching gifts. Through these programs, donations might be financially matched by the donor’s employer. Donors love to see their contribution grow, so by reminding them to check on matching donations, you’re giving your supporters the opportunity to see their gift literally double. Ask them to check their eligibility in your follow-up messages after they make a donation.

Contrary to popular belief, many companies are actively growing their matching gift programs amid COVID-19. These gifts are often underused, so take advantage of the opportunities that most people easily miss! While some companies offer matching gifts at a 1:1 ratio, many also offer 2:1 or 3:1 options! Matching gifts are a great way to help your fundraising team succeed, and they also lay the groundwork for long-term engagement and support after your crowdfunding campaign ends.

Tip #4: Actively Promote Your Campaign to Supporters Via Email & Social Media

Crowdfunding doesn’t work unless you spread the word. Without successful promotion, supporters will be less likely to see and engage with your campaign. When you raise awareness, you give your organization the opportunity to speak for itself. 

Promoting your campaign on social media is a great way to get it in front of a wide audience and encourage supporters to share it with their own networks. Additionally, email marketing is still one of the most efficient ways to get your message out and see tangible results, so embrace the ability to put a message directly in your supporters’ inboxes and see higher numbers in giving. Check out these email statistics from DNL OmniMedia:

  • Run, walk, and ride fundraisers that used email marketing raised 76% more than those that didn’t.
  • Email messages drove 28% of all online fundraising revenue for nonprofits in 2017.
  • Over 50% of people who receive an email about a crowdfunding campaign donate.

Email marketing is an extremely effective way to share updates with your existing supporters and generate more interest in your crowdfunding campaign. Once you’ve successfully captivated your audience via email, you can encourage them to share your campaign on social media to reach new supporters and begin building more relationships.

Tip #5: Put Your Heart Into Your Content

In a time when maintaining your audience’s interest is everything, prioritize content that will grab their attention and hold it. Whether it’s through offering incentives or using multimedia, your message needs to get across in an engaging way.

Your organization is fighting for a cause that’s near and dear to your heart. It’s crucial that your audience gets a window into that emotional connection that your organization holds. Let your prospective donors see how much your campaign means to your organization by creating unique photo and video content that tells the story of your mission and how your specific project (and their support) will help fund it. 

Incentives are another fantastic way to make content worth engaging with. For various giving levels of your crowdfunding campaign, offer gift incentives that will excite your audience. Whether it’s a free t-shirt or tickets to your organization’s next virtual event, offer a gift that will engage your audience and thank them for their contribution. When your donors are excited about what they’re getting, they’re more likely to turn to social media and share their big news, resulting in more shared content for your organization.


At the end of the day, nonprofits are in uncharted territory when it comes to effective fundraising in a pandemic. As your organization heads forward, remember to focus on doing your best and not get too dragged down by new challenges. 

Fortunately, people want to help and support those most hurting. It’s important to not get too discouraged and instead focus on all the good your organization can bring to the world with the money you raise. 

Crowdfunding is a flexible and relatively easy way to tap into supporters’ generosity and investment in your mission. You’ll just have to back it up with the right communication, engagement, and promotional tactics to see long-term benefits from your campaign.

Lomesh Shah has over 25 years of experience in international corporate leadership with a strong emphasis on marketing technology and data management systems. Lomesh has worked with small to mid-size businesses, privately-held companies and Fortune 500 corporations in various capacities; from sales and marketing to overseeing automation and re-engineering of processes and operations.

As CEO of Fundly, Lomesh spends much of his time immersed in the nonprofit industry both as an industry leader, speaker, and in service to several organizations as a board member and volunteer. Outside of the industry, Lomesh is a technology junkie and will give anyone willing to listen an assessment of the latest trends in anything from espresso makers and mobile gadgets to electric cars and wind power.

Raise More Money With a Multichannel Fundraising Campaign

Year-end fundraising season is starting to gear up. This is a year-end like no other. The pandemic, economic downturn, heightened awareness of systemic racism, climate disasters, and political turmoil have turned our world upside down. Yet, the need for your services is growing among all this. 

If you’ve always relied on year-end for the bulk of your revenue, but are thinking about sitting this one out, please don’t do that. As I’ve emphasized over the last several months – don’t stop fundraising. 

Yes, it’s hard, but donors will help if they can. You should also try to mail an appeal letter. People respond better to mail and it’s well worth the investment. 

However, if you just send one fundraising letter and wait for the donations to come in, prepare to be disappointed. Your donors have a lot going on and may put your letter aside to handle later, and never get to it.

Of course, you can also send email appeals, but you’ll need to plan to send more than one appeal due to the enormous volume of email people receive. Some donors will respond to the first appeal, but most are going to need a few reminders.

Your fundraising campaign will be more effective if you use a combination of mail, email, social media, and phone calls. Some donors may respond to your direct mail piece but donate online. Others will see your email message but prefer to send a check.

You’ll have a lot of competition since you’re not the only organization seeking year-end donations. Plus, donors are just generally overwhelmed with everything that’s going on, but many do want to help.

This is why you need a multichannel fundraising campaign with a series of asks.

BEFORE YOU START

Clean up your mailing lists/database

If you haven’t already done this, clean up and organize your mailing lists/database. Do you have both postal and email addresses for all your donors?  Be sure to segment your donors into different groups (current, monthly, etc), as well.

7 strategies for keeping your nonprofit donor database clean

Make it easy to donate online

You must have a donation page that’s engaging and easy to use on all platforms, including mobile. Test all links in email messages and social media posts. The last thing you want is a donor contacting you about a broken link or have to hunt around on your website for a link to your donation page.

When you’re ready to launch your campaign, include a blurb on your homepage that says your appeal is underway. Make sure your donate button is in a prominent place and stand out even more with a heartfelt appeal message referencing the current situations.

Which channels do your donors use?

Don’t spend a lot of time on channels your donors aren’t using. Figure out in advance where you want to focus your efforts.

SAMPLE SCHEDULE AND STRATEGY

Come up with a schedule of when the appeals will go out. I’ve created a sample schedule below. Of course, you can adjust the time frame as needed and use this for campaigns at other times of the year. For those of you in the United States, I’d wait until after the upcoming election.

That said, I do recommend starting your year-end campaign sooner than later. If you’ve already mailed your appeal, you can start planning your reminders.

November 4

Give your supporters a heads up by email and social media. Let them know your year-end appeal is underway and they should receive a letter from you soon, provided you have their mailing address. Encourage them to donate online right now. This means your donation page needs to be in great shape.

Keep in mind that the fact your year-end appeal is going on will matter to some donors and not to others. Referencing the current situations will help. Use an enticing subject line such as How you can help local families put food on the table.  

Make sure it’s obvious your message is coming from your organization so you have a better chance of getting it opened. 

Week of November 9

Mail your appeal letters.

Week of November 16

Start sending follow-up reminders via email and social media. Weekly reminders are a proven way to help you raise more money. If possible, don’t send reminders to people who have already donated. Otherwise, be sure to thank your recent donors. You can even phrase your reminders as more of a thank you or an update.

Thank you so much to all of you who donated to our year-end appeal. This has been a tough year, but we’re well on our way to our goal of serving more local families at the food bank. This is crucial. Our numbers have tripled since March.

If you haven’t donated yet, please help us out today by visiting our website (include a link to your donation page) or sending us a check (provide address).

Week of November 23

Send another reminder, along with a Happy Thanksgiving message. Show some gratitude to your donors.

Week of November 30

December 1 is #GivingTuesday so you could tie that into a reminder message. You may already have a campaign planned.

Your donors’ inboxes will be bursting at the seams on #GivingTuesday and your messages can easily get lost in the melee. Make your messages stand out and remember to show some gratitude, too. 

Don’t just send generic weekly reminders. Also, keep it positive. Don’t make your donors feel bad because they haven’t donated yet.

Week of December 7

Start making reminder calls, along with sending electronic messages. If time is an issue, you could just call people who have donated before. That’s probably most effective. Leaving a voice mail message is fine. 

It’s a busy time of the year and your donors may need a gentle prompt.

The rest of December and beyond

Keep sending reminders throughout December. It’s tricky because you want to get your messages across without being annoying. This is another reason why you should only send reminders to people who haven’t donated yet.

Be sure to keep up with your donor communication (newsletter and other updates). You don’t want the only messages your donors receive to be fundraising appeals. December is also a great time to show some #donorlove and send holiday greetings.

The end of December is the busiest time of this already busy fundraising season. Send a reminder email on December 29th, 30th, and 31st. This is also proven to be an effective strategy. And, it’s especially relevant if your fiscal year ends on December 31 or your donor wants to give before the end of the calendar year.

Even though you’re trying to raise money, don’t forget about building relationships, too. That’s just as important.

Look to see who hasn’t contributed yet. Concentrate on people who are most likely to donate, such as past donors. You may need to send another letter or a reminder postcard to donors who don’t use electronic communication.

In addition, plan to get in touch with your lapsed donors at the beginning of January.

Once is not enough, especially this year. Your fundraising campaign will be more successful with multiple asks and by using multiple channels. Good luck!

Multi-Channel Fundraising: What Your Nonprofit Needs to Know

How to Make a Multichannel Fundraising Ask: the Basics