Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

After the year we’ve just been through, most people have realized the importance of connection. Your nonprofit organization also needs to make connections with your donors. One of the best ways to do that is to share stories.

Donors want to hear your stories

I would guess you’re not using stories as much as you should. That’s a mistake because people respond better to stories than a bunch of facts and statistics. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene.

You may be reluctant to use stories because it’s more work for your organization, but that shouldn’t stop you. The summer is a good time to come up with some new stories.

Your stories need to be relevant

I don’t need to tell you the world has changed since March 2020. Your stories need to take the current climate into account. That’s why you new need ones. This year is different than last year, but not the same as 2019. Let your donors know how the pandemic (which is still with us, by the way), the economy, and systemic racism are impacting your clients/community right now.

Create a culture of storytelling

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

Work with your program staff to create stories that will help you connect with your donors. Everyone needs to understand how important this is. Share stories at staff meetings and/or set up regular meetings with program staff to gather stories. Do this virtually if you’re not in the office.

How To Create A Culture of Storytelling in Your Nonprofit

When you put together a story, ask.

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

Client or program recipient stories are best. Remember, donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.

Another way to find stories is to put a Share Your Story page on your website. This could be a good way to get some current, relevant stories.

4 INSPIRATIONAL “SHARE YOUR STORY” PAGES THAT WILL KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF

Language is important

It’s time to stop using jargon such as at-risk and underserved. These terms undermine your clients/community. These aren’t terms your donors use, anyway. Use language they’ll understand. 

You also don’t want to give the impression that your organization is coming in to save someone. This is especially important if the majority of your staff and donors are white, but your clients are people of color. This is known as white savior complex. Most likely that’s not intentional on your part, but watching how you tell your stories will help you avoid that. Be respectful of your clients/community.

4 Resources to Help Shift the Narrative for Equity in Nonprofit Communications

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Remember, your stories aren’t about your organization. Your organization may have had to make a lot of changes to do some of the work you do, but that’s not your story. Your story is why this is important for the people/community you work with. 

Maybe you had to change the way you run your food pantry, but what’s most important is that people in your community continue to have access to healthy food. 

Make your stories personal 

Tell a story of one (person or family). Use people’s names to make your stories more personal. I realize you might run into confidentiality issues, but you can change names to protect someone’s privacy. You could also do a composite story, but don’t make up anything.

Fundraising with Names Have Been Changed Disclaimers

Use different stories for different types of communication

Create a story bank to help you organize all your stories. You want to use stories as much as possible. Use them in your appeals, thank you letters, newsletters, updates, annual reports, website, blog, and other types of social media. 

While you can come up with some core stories, they’ll be slightly different depending on the type of communication. 

In a fundraising appeal, you want to highlight a problem or need. Let’s say you run a tutoring program. Here you can tell a story about James, a high school student who didn’t fare well with remote learning and is behind in his grade level. Because of this, he could benefit from a tutor. 

In your thank you letter, you can let your donors know that because of their generous gift, James will be able to start tutoring sessions with Mark, a local college student. 

Then in your newsletter, annual report, or update, you can tell a success story about how James is doing much better in school after starting weekly tutoring sessions with Mark. 

Make connections with your donors by sharing stories. Read on below for more information about creating stories. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories. 

Making a Great Story into a Powerful Fundraising Story

How to Write an Impact Story that Moves Hearts & Minds

A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Nonprofit Impact Stories

INFOGRAPHIC: A Nonprofit Storytelling How-To

5 Data Hygiene Methods for Your Nonprofit

Is your nonprofit database starting to look like a library without a librarian? Use these 5 tips to clean it up and establish better hygiene practices. 

By Gabrielle Perham

Your nonprofit’s donor database is like a library. When a librarian is present, the library stays clean and orderly, with everything in the right place so visitors can quickly find what they’re looking for. Without a librarian, the system falls apart — you’ve got books everywhere, it takes visitors hours to find what they’re looking for, and no one’s getting the information they need!

The same thing can happen to your nonprofit’s donor database. If your nonprofit has operated for many years, you may have gone through different iterations of your data input procedures. Now, your database looks like a library with several different coding systems. If this sounds familiar, you’ll want to set aside time to do some cleaning and establish better data hygiene practices. 

As AccuData Integrated Marketing’s data hygiene guide explains, data hygiene is important for businesses because “dirty” data leads to inefficiencies in tracking leads, marketing missteps, and the inability to personalize outreach materials. The same concerns apply to nonprofits seeking to connect with supporters to increase engagement and boost donations. 

To clean up your nonprofit database, here are five data hygiene steps to take: 

  1. Conduct an audit of your nonprofit database. 
  2. Remove unnecessary or harmful information.
  3. Take a closer look at the data you have left. 
  4. Standardize processes for ongoing maintenance.
  5. Bring an expert on board to help. 

Conducting a little data cleaning now will put you on the road to better donor engagement. You’ll have greater confidence that you’re communicating with real people who are excited to hear your message. Let’s take a closer look at each step!

1. Conduct an audit of your nonprofit database.

To start the process of cleaning up your database, first assess the current state of your data. With an audit, you can conduct an official review of your database to understand which areas contain the highest number of inaccuracies, what information is missing, and where there are gaps in your data. Recharity’s guide to data hygiene best practices explains that an audit provides a “high-level overview of your database’s health.” 

To conduct a database audit:

  1. Identify problems you’re facing regarding data collection. What are the main issues your organization is facing that impede proper data collection? What are you looking to get out of the audit process? Identify these problems and goals up front so you can keep them in mind as you move through the rest of the audit process. 
  2. Pinpoint unhelpful information. Some of your data points (pieces of information) are probably inaccurate, outdated, or completely incorrect. Make note of these points because this information is more harmful than helpful. 
  3. Identify inconsistencies. Over the years, your team has probably gone through several different data input procedures, leading to different ways of uploading names, addresses, dates, and other types of information. Even if your process has stayed the same, there’s always the human error factor that can lead to variability. Use your audit to note any inconsistencies that have occurred. 
  4. Share the findings with your team. After the audit is complete, ensure all stakeholders (such as your board members and development director) are aware of the findings and on board with moving to the next steps of the data hygiene process. 

After reviewing your database from a bird’s-eye view, you’ll have a better idea of where you stand. This allows you to create a more accurate timeline and action plan for correcting irregularities and establishing better data procedures moving forward. Your nonprofit may even consider using an external source to audit your database, such as AlumniFinder’s free Data Quality Report, which provides a free analysis of the contact names, phone numbers, postal and email addresses, and dates of birth in your database.

2. Remove unnecessary or harmful information.

The audit process will reveal any information in your database that is irrelevant or extraneous. You don’t want to waste time and money sending marketing materials and messages to those who don’t want or aren’t able to engage with the information. Plus, you shouldn’t overload your database with useless information. 

Examples of these unusable data points include:

  • People on do not call lists: People who wish to opt out of telemarketing calls register with the National Do Not Call Registry. Businesses cannot call those who are listed on the registry. Nonprofits are generally exempt from these regulations, but if you partner with a commercial telemarketing company, you will have to comply with these guidelines. If this is the case for you, be sure to frequently scrub your call lists according to the registry. 
  • People on do not mail lists: Similarly, consumers who wish to not receive mail and emails from businesses can register with the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) website, DMAchoice. If you work with a direct mail provider, keep an eye out for those who have registered for this service and respect their wishes. 
  • Minors: Remove names of minors (those under 18) from your database. If you conduct direct marketing to children, you can be fined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 
  • Incarcerated individuals: Those who are currently within the prison system cannot respond to marketing materials. Remove the names of those currently held within federal and state prisons, county correctional facilities, and jails. 
  • Deceased persons: Remove any information about people who are now deceased. This helps prevent sending unwanted marketing materials to their family members. 

When you eliminate this extraneous information, you’re left with a database that contains only information about those who are interested in hearing from you and able to respond to your messages. If you don’t know exactly where to start on a process like this, data hygiene providers, such as AccuData Integrated Marketing, can assist you with removing these types of records from your database or suppressing them from your direct marketing efforts.

In future data-gathering efforts, remember that more data isn’t necessarily better. It’s more important to focus on gathering high-quality information that will help you get in touch with interested audience members. 

3. Take a closer look at the data you have left. 

After you’ve eliminated unwanted information, assess your remaining data with a magnifying glass. Getting the small details right could be the difference between conducting a successful marketing campaign or wasting your marketing dollars on sending materials with inaccurate names, physical addresses, phone numbers, or email addresses. 

In particular, it’s important to assess and correct the database errors you identified during the audit stage. Ensure your records are clean by:

  • Eliminating duplicate entries: Perhaps you accidentally recorded information on the same donor twice, inputting a slightly different spelling of their name. Or, maybe a certain donor changed their name, and now you have two separate entries for the same individual. Verify the correct entry and eliminate any copies that might have popped up over the years. 
  • Standardizing mailing addresses: For instance, are some addresses written out with the full spelling of “Street” while others just have the abbreviation “St.?” Do some addresses use the standard five-digit postal code, while others use the ZIP+4 code? Take this opportunity to standardize all mailing addresses.
  • Verifying email addresses: Scrub your email addresses to ensure all remaining addresses are real and active. This helps increase your email engagement rate and allows you to save time and resources by only sending newsletters and other messages to correct, active email addresses. 
  • Ensuring numbers and abbreviations are standardized: Besides just mailing addresses, you’ll want to make sure any numbers or abbreviations your team uses are standardized. This includes titles, ages, and any code words your team uses to categorize donors or prospects. 

Taking a fine-tooth comb to your data helps correct small inconsistencies that can add up to large issues. Your team will have more confidence in your marketing strategy moving forward. Remember, data hygiene companies can assist with these processes too.

Plus, this adjustment process will also give you an idea of areas where you can enhance your database. Using a process like data append, you can add missing information to donor records for a more complete picture of your donor base. This information may include adding accurate phone numbers, email addresses, employment status, net worth, or details about philanthropic involvement. 

For example, let’s say you’re looking to identify prospective major donors. You can use a data append to add information about a certain donor’s history of charitable giving to determine their affinity to give your cause and their ability to contribute a larger gift. This will give you a better idea of potential donors who are most likely to become major donors. 

As you can see, cleaning your data can open a new world of possibilities to enhance your marketing efforts and target a more specific audience. 

4. Standardize processes for ongoing maintenance.

To save yourself time and hassle in the future, it’s better to adopt continuous data hygiene practices than conduct occasional major cleanses. Set your team up for future success by creating an ongoing process for standardized data entry and maintenance. This includes: 

  • Standardizing data input practices. Outline the rules for team members to follow when they input new information into your nonprofit database. This includes procedures for inputting names, phone numbers, physical and email addresses, employment information, and all other relevant data points. 
  • Creating a data training process for staff members. Create a shared document that includes all the details team members need to use the database effectively. Review the process in a meeting or training seminar so everyone’s on the same page. 
  • Defining rules for handling errors. Mistakes are inevitable, but how will you correct them when they occur? Define this process and include it within your data input process documentation. 
  • Streamlining your donor-facing forms (like your newsletter sign-up page or online donation form) to only ask for essential information. This helps prevent the buildup of unnecessary or harmful data that clogs your database. By asking for only essential information, you can reduce the amount of extraneous information in your database. 

These regulations don’t have to be set in stone. Check in with your team and review your database frequently to ensure all new measures are effective and make adjustments as necessary. By creating a centralized, uniform process up front, you’ll have a strong framework from which to make changes or updates as needed. 

5. Bring an expert on board to help. 

Establishing good data hygiene practices can be challenging, especially if your database isn’t in good shape to start with. Whether you’re an in-house marketing specialist for a nonprofit or an external marketer who’s been hired by a nonprofit, you may not have all the expertise needed to take a deep dive into the data review process. 

If this is the case for you, it’s helpful to bring an expert on board to help you out. 

Professionals that specialize in data hygiene can help set your team up with a concrete plan for future data management practices. 

According to this blog post, database marketing specialists can assist with all of the processes above, plus provide services such as: 

  • Merge and purge: Identifying and combining or eliminating duplicate records in your database. 
  • File conversion: Converting files into useful formats according to your organization’s needs. 
  • A/B splits: Segmenting your data into groups to determine which marketing strategies are most effective. 
  • Parsing: Splitting up the elements of one record into separate fields in your database. 

These are all advanced services that take a deep dive into your database and configure it based on your needs. Beyond just data hygiene services, data marketing firms also conduct data enhancement, audience building, targeted digital marketing, and other long-term marketing efforts, leaving you with a stronger framework for future campaigns. 


By thoroughly cleaning your database and establishing standardized maintenance procedures, you can focus less on dealing with the effects of dirty data and more on making your marketing message stand out. Remember, a database marketing service provider might offer the push you need to carry out the data cleaning process more successfully. Good luck!

Gabrielle Perham is the Director of Marketing for AccuData Integrated Marketing. She joined the organization in 2017 and possesses more than 15 years of experience in strategic marketing, branding, communications, and digital marketing. She earned a B.S. in Marketing and an M.B.A in Marketing Management from the University of Tampa.

The 5 C’s of Good Nonprofit Communication

I want to revisit a topic I’ve written about in the past and that’s the 5 C’s of good nonprofit communication.

It’s important to keep these 5 C’s in mind when you’re writing a fundraising appeal, thank you letter, update, or any type of donor communication.  

Is it Clear?

What is your intention? What message are you sending to your donors? Are you asking for a donation, thanking them, or sharing an update? 

Whatever it is, make sure your message is clear. If you have a call to action, that needs to be clear as well. You also want to stick to one call to action. If you ask your donors to make a donation, volunteer, and contact their legislators in the same message, you run the risk of them not doing any of those.

What should you never put in a direct mail envelope

You want your message to produce results. Plain and simple, your fundraising appeal should entice someone to donate. Your thank you letter should thank your donors (no bragging or explaining what your organization does) and make them feel good about donating.

Use language your donors will understand (no jargon). Keep out terms like food insecurity and underserved communities. Just because something is clear to you, doesn’t mean it will be clear to others. 

Is it Concise?

Can you say more with less? Eliminate any unnecessary adverbs, adjectives, and filler. Make your point right away. Concise writing doesn’t mean you need to be terse or all your print communication has to be one page. Sometimes it will need to be longer, but the same rules apply. 

Nonprofit organizations like to pack a lot of information into their monthly/quarterly newsletters and annual reports, but many donors won’t read something if it looks like it will be too long. 

Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Shorter, more frequent communication is better. This applies to the example I gave above about not putting more than one call to action in a message. You’ll have better results if you send separate messages for each call to action.

Also, most people skim, so use short paragraphs and lots of white space, especially for electronic communication.

Make all your words count.

Is it Conversational?

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend and be personable. Use the second person – where you refer to your donors as you and your organization as we. Remember to use you much more than we. 

Avoid using jargon, cliches, multi-syllable words, and the passive voice. Is that the way you talk to your friends? I hope not.

You may think you’re impressing your donors by using jargon and big words, but most likely you’re confusing them or even worse, alienating them. Connect with your donors by using language they’ll understand.

Want to really engage your readers? Make your writing more conversational

Is it Compelling?

Is whatever you’re writing going to capture someone’s attention right away and keep them interested? The average human attention span is eight seconds, so the odds are stacked against you.

Start with a good opening sentence. Leading with a question is often good. Stories are also great. 

Put a human face on your stories and keep statistics to a minimum. Start a fundraising appeal with a story that leads to a call to action.

9 Powerful Examples of Nonprofit Storytelling

Are you establishing a connection?

Donors are drawn to your organization because they feel a connection to your cause. You also need to establish a connection with them. You can start by segmenting your donors by different types, such as new donors, current donors, and monthly donors. 

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

Get to know your donors better and give them content you know they’ll be interested in. Hint – it’s not bragging about your organization. They want to know how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community. They also want to feel appreciated. Focus on building and sustaining relationships.

Keep these 5 C’s in mind to help ensure good communication with your donors.

Making Connections With Your Monthly Donors

Monthly giving on the rise. If you haven’t capitalized on this, what are you waiting for? This post won’t focus too much on starting or growing a monthly/recurring giving program, although if you’re interested in that, here’s more information.

10 Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

I want to focus on making connections with the monthly donors you already have.

We’re edging into summer, and while this is a slower fundraising season, it’s a good time to connect with your donors, whether they’re brand new or longtime supporters.

Make a plan

Create a plan for your monthly donor communication. Although I’m emphasizing summer, you need to communicate with your monthly donors (and all donors) throughout the year. I like to say because these donors support you every month, you should reciprocate by communicating with them at least once a month.

You can incorporate this into your communications calendar. Fill it with ways to show gratitude and share updates. You can use different channels. Here are some ideas to get started.

Send something by mail

How often do you get something personal in the mail? Not often, right? And when you do, it stands out.

Take some time this summer to create a postcard thank you and/or update or send a handwritten note. Your donors will really appreciate it.

Create a video

Videos are a great way to connect and they’re not that hard to create. If you can personalize it, all the better. Otherwise, you can create a general one that thanks your monthly donors.

5 Thank You Video Examples to Inspire Your Nonprofit

You can also create a video that gives a behind-the-scenes look at your organization or a virtual tour. 

Spruce up those automatic thank you emails

Those automatic thank you emails you may have set up don’t count as part of your monthly donor connection plan. It’s fine to create these, but you don’t have to. While these monthly acknowledgments are helpful, they’re usually uninspiring.

Spruce them up a little and change the content every few months. Use this as an opportunity to share some updates.

Here’s one that could use some work – Thank You for Your Recurring Donation. You have helped us continue our mission in a meaningful way. 

Talk about vague. A specific example of how a donor helped would improve this. Many of these acknowledgments are just receipts and a receipt is not a thank you.

Here’s a  better one. 

Thank you for donating to Malala Fund!

More than 130 million girls around the world are out of school today. Malala Fund believes that girls are the best investment in the future peace and prosperity of our world. Your gift supports our work to see every girl learn and lead without fear. 

Follow Malala Fund on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and blog for updates on our fight for girls’ education.

With gratitude, 

Malala Fund

Besides thanking their donors, they also offer other ways to engage.

Get noticed with an enticing subject line

Most likely you’ll communicate by email, which has its pros and cons. It’s easier and less expensive than a postal mailing, but since people get an enormous amount of email, they might miss your message.

One way to get noticed is to use an enticing subject line. Here’s one I like from Pet Partners – Your monthly gift in action 

It goes on to tell a story about a therapy dog who visits with soldiers before and after their deployments.

Here’s another good one, although it wasn’t specifically for monthly donors –  I found a baby bird! What should I do?

This definitely captures your attention and makes you want to read more. 

Keep your donors engaged with good content

Congratulations, your donor opened your email message. You want to keep them engaged. The email I mentioned above gave you information about what to do if you find a baby bird, along with a link to a “handy chart.”

Get personal

Be sure to address your donors by name. I would also recommend separate communication for new donors and longer-term donors. 

Welcome new monthly donors. You can go a step further with different messages for brand new donors and single gift donors who have upgraded to monthly. Be sure to give special attention to longer-term donors. The average donor retention rate for monthly donors is 90% and you don’t want that to go down.

You can give shout outs in your newsletter and social media, but those won’t be as personal. Some organizations include a cover letter or note for their monthly donors in their newsletters. You could also create separate newsletters for monthly donors.

The key is to stay in touch and keep making connections.  The post below will give you more ideas. Maybe you can think of others. And you don’t have to come with 12 different ones. It’s okay to repeat them every few months.

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

Don’t ignore your valuable, monthly donors. Keep making those important connections.

Why It’s Important to Keep Things Simple

Over the years I’ve realized the importance of keeping things simple. This past year we needed to keep things simple since we were limited in what we could do, especially outside the house. Instead of running back and forth from place to place, we stayed put, although we spent more time online.

Things are starting to open up, but there’s still a lot of stress and uncertainty. Even though I’m fully vaccinated, I’m not that excited about being anywhere that’s crowded. The pandemic allowed me to find pleasure in simple things such as taking a walk, reading a novel, and doing yoga, which I’m going to continue to make time for, if I can. 

Keeping it simple doesn’t have to mean a bare-bones existence. There’s a Swedish term called lagom meaning everything in moderation or not too much, not too little. Or think of Goldilocks and choose what’s “just right.” This can apply to how much information we take in about the pandemic, politics, etc. – enough to know what’s going on, but not too much so it’s overwhelming. 

Keeping things simple is also important for your nonprofit organization. You’ve gone through a lot this past year. You had to make changes in the way you do your work. Maybe you’re starting to provide in-person services again and some people are back in the office. All this change has made your work more complicated. 

You need to continue to raise money and communicate fairly regularly with your donors, while not taking on too much. Donors are also navigating the changing situations, but they want to help if they can and they want to hear from you. What they don’t want is a lot of complex content.

Here are a few ways to simplify your donor communication without making it too difficult for you.

Keep it simple by planning ahead

If communicating regularly with your donors sounds overwhelming, plan ahead by using a communications calendar. You should be in touch every one to two weeks, if possible. Otherwise, aim for once a month. Fill your calendar with different ways to do that and update it as needed. A good rule of thumb is – ask, thank, update/engage, repeat. And as I mention below, you can keep it simple with shorter communication.

Keep it simple by sticking to one call to action

Your communication needs to be clear. Before you send an email message or letter, ask what is your intention? Is it to ask for a donation, say thank you, or send an update?

Stick to one call to action. If you pack too much information into your message, it’s likely your donors won’t respond to any of your requests.

In your fundraising appeals, don’t bury your ask. You can start with a story, followed by a clear, polite ask. Recognize your reader. Thank previous donors and invite potential donors to be a part of your family of donors.

Your thank you letter or email should thank the donor. Simple, right? Make them feel good about giving to your organization. Welcome new donors and welcome back returning donors. You don’t need a lot of wordy text explaining what your organization does.

Keep your messages simple, yet sincere, and include a clear call to action.

6 Tips for Effective CTAs That Get Clicks

Keep it simple with shorter, easy to read messages

Plain and simple, if your communication is too long, most people won’t read it. 

Limit print communication, such as newsletters and annual reports, to four pages or less. Your email messages should be just a few paragraphs. On the other hand, you don’t want to be terse or say too little.

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Mark Twain

Be sure your communication is easy to read and scan. Use short paragraphs, especially for electronic communication, and include lots of white space. Don’t clutter up the page.

Keep it simple by using conversational language

I find it annoying to read an appeal letter or newsletter article that sounds like a Ph.D. thesis. Write at a sixth to eighth-grade level. That’s what most major newspapers do. This is not dumbing down. You’re being smart by ensuring your donors will understand you.

Keep out the jargon and other confusing language. Instead of saying something like We’re helping underserved communities who are experiencing food insecurity, say  – Thanks to donors like you, we can serve more families at the Westside Community Food Bank. 

We’re seeing real people being affected by real problems. Don’t diminish this with jargon and other vague language.

Use the active voice and there’s no need to get fancy by using a lot of SAT vocabulary words. Again, you want your donors to understand you.

Let’s Try to Stop Using Jargon So Much

Keep it simple by creating a clutter-free website

Your website is still a place where people will go to get information. Make sure it’s clear and clutter-free, as well as easy to read and navigate. Don’t forget about short paragraphs and lots of white space.

One of the most important parts of your website is your donation page. It needs to be easy to use and collect enough information without overwhelming your donors. If it’s too cumbersome, they may give up and leave.

If it’s a branded page (e.g. not a third-party site like PayPal), make sure it’s consistent with your messaging and look. Don’t go too minimalistic, though. Include a short description of how a donor’s gift will help you make a difference, as well as an engaging photo.

15 Nonprofit Website Best Practices You Need to Know in 2021

Make it easier for your nonprofit and your donors by keeping things simple.

Easier is Better

Your Donor Communications Should Be Simple & Direct

Photo by Marco Verch

4 Cybersecurity Best Practices for Community Nonprofits

Cybersecurity is a stressor for many nonprofits and community organizations. Make sure you’re doing your part to keep data safe with these best practices.

By Jay Love

In an increasingly digital world, it is important for nonprofits to ensure that employees and donors have the tools to operate safely and effectively online. With over 33 years in the mission-driven sector, Co-founder and Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang Jay Love offers the following advice for organizations.

During 2020, both for-profit and nonprofit employees began working from home to ensure safe practices during the COVID-19 pandemic. While remote work has its benefits, this desire to keep everyone safe and healthy was also accompanied by other risks, particularly when it came to cybersecurity. 

According to this resource, in 2020 alone, 330 million individuals across 10 countries fell victim to cybercrime. Plus, in the remote work environment, 73% of Americans say they’re spending more time online than ever before, 59% say they’re worried about cybercrime, and 56% find it difficult to distinguish credible versus non-credible sources. 

Nonprofits aren’t exempt from these concerns. Cybersecurity is necessary to keep your data, your donor information, and your finances safe. When you experience a breach, you run the risk of losing your supporter’s faith for a long time, potentially ruining your organization’s reputation.

In this guide, we’ll cover four best practices community-based organizations that might not have extensive experience in the security sector can implement today. This is the first step to keeping your organization safe. We’ll cover the following strategies: 

  1. Ensure Secure Password Policies
  2. Pay Attention to Security News
  3. Update Your Apps Frequently
  4. Educate Your Staff Members

These tips are all taken from Bloomerang’s comprehensive nonprofit cybersecurity guide. After you’ve implemented these four foundational best practices to get your feet wet in the cybersecurity world, we recommend revisiting the complete guide to determine additional protocols you can implement to keep your organization safe. 

1. Ensure Secure Password Policies

Do you use the same passwords for all of your logins? Is your password your pet’s name, spouse’s name, or a birthday? These are a few of the most common passwords that individuals use to “secure” their systems. The problem is that using the same password for everything and/or creating passwords based on personal information makes your system weaker and more vulnerable to attack. 

Therefore, one of the best things you can do to protect your system is for your staff members to use modern password protocols. Ask your staff members to create a unique password for each separate login they have with your organization. You might even encourage them to use a secure password manager like LastPass or Dashlane to store these passwords and make logins faster.

Encourage staff members to use password best practices such as: 

  • Create a long password, at least a minimum of 8 characters.
  • Use a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols. 
  • Avoid the common password types (pet names, significant dates, child’s name, partner’s name, etc.).
  • Avoid keyboard pathways, like “qwerty.” 
  • Use either complete passphrases or a randomized mix of letters and numbers for passwords.

In addition to asking staff members to follow these password guidelines, your organization should also be sure to configure your system and adjust permissions so staff members only have access to the information they need.

Let’s say you’ve configured your nonprofit CRM so everyone has full access to everything. You did this because you trust everyone at your organization and don’t see the purpose in trying to hide anything from them. This would mean everyone has access to all data in your donor profiles, including addresses, contact information, and even payment information. 

Let’s say someone at your organization uses the incredibly insecure password, “qwerty123.” Their system gets hacked. Now that hacker also has easy access to all of this sensitive information in your system. Investing in a system that offers secure permissions, configures those permissions properly, and allows team members to only see the information they need, depending on their positions, is one more defense you have against external penetration. 

2. Pay Attention to Security News

When major hacks happen, there are usually a number of patches and immediate fixes that are released to the public. Learning about these fixes right away can help your organization identify potential threats before they become irreparable.

For example, consider the recent cyber attack on the Microsoft Exchange server. Companies were hacked using empty web shells in their systems and their information was held at ransom for upwards of $50,000. 

Microsoft offered a one-click mitigation tool that companies could use to find potential vulnerabilities in their own systems. 

If organizations didn’t pay attention to security news and didn’t know about the hack or mitigation tool, they wouldn’t be able to take action immediately to address the issue. 

During the Microsoft hack, the software company also offered patches to address four of the critical vulnerabilities from the attack. Therefore, organizations that updated their systems right away experienced more immediate protection from these cybersecurity threats. 

3. Update Your Apps Frequently 

When you first invest in any software, vendor, plugins, or apps that your nonprofit uses, you likely do a lot of research to make sure you’re picking the right solution. You might look at guides like this one to determine the features that are most important for your organization, budget, and more. 

But after your initial investment (so long as you’ve made a good choice in software), you probably don’t think a whole lot about how your tools are changing unless you’ve outgrown it or something drastically changes. However, updating your apps as frequently as possible is one of the best ways to make sure you’re keeping your system safe. 

Consider, for example, your nonprofit’s website. When was the last time you saw a notification on the back end of the site that said you had an update available? What went through your head? Chances are, you thought something like this: “Ugh, I just wanted to post to the blog. I’m sure the update can wait until I’m finished.” Then, you probably didn’t go back and install the update. 

When software solutions come out with updates, they usually contain new protocols to create a more secure system. For instance, they might offer updates such as: 

  • Bug fixes or removal
  • Security patches
  • Add new features
  • Remove outdated features

If you’re curious about what types of updates are rolled out with each update of your software, revisit the solution website and look for a changelog. Changelogs explain what the different updates have completed over the years and how those changes have impacted the system. 

Then, be sure you update your software as soon as you see that notification pop up, even if it might take a couple of extra minutes. Your cybersafety is worth it. 

4. Educate Your Staff Members

Finally, as a community-based nonprofit, each of your staff members probably wears several hats at the organization. Undoubtedly, a multi-functional team like this has its advantages. It means your staff members are probably aware of the various activities going on at your organization and how each of those activities helps you meet your ultimate goals. 

This type of organizational structure also usually means your staff members have some level of experience with using the different software solutions available at your organization. They might even use most or all of your software tools daily. For example, a web designer at your organization may also serve as a marketing specialist, meaning they’ll be working with your website and databases. Therefore, they need to prioritize security in every aspect of their role. 

To make sure your staff members are being as safe as possible with your organization’s sensitive data, roll out staff training opportunities to help them learn more about cybersecurity. 

Start by looking through guides like this Nonprofit Courses resource list to see if there are any immediately available security options that you can encourage your team to engage with. 

Then, come together as a group to reflect on the various lessons you learned and apply them to the organization. For instance, your staff members might learn skills like: 

  • The importance of creating strong passwords and tips for doing so.
  • How to recognize phishing scams. 
  • What their responsibilities are when it comes to security. 

When your staff members are well informed about common security risks and threats, they’ll be more likely to take the necessary steps to protect themselves and the organization. You can even take additional security measures like sending regular phishing tests to your staff members to keep them on their toes and reinforce what they’ve learned during cybersecurity courses. 


The shift to remote work and increased use of online networks has led to growing concerns about cybersecurity. Your organization can stay ahead of the game by taking some immediate next steps to keep your system more secure. Having a strategic approach to the most vulnerable aspects of your organization such as password protocols and software updates will help you create a better security procedure. 

Make sure you also take cybersecurity education seriously. Explaining to staff members the importance of safe online procedures will help them implement best practices at your organization and in their personal lives.

How Fundraising is Like Strength Training

I’ve been doing strength training with a personal trainer for about three and a half years. My initial assessment was humbling, to say the least, and at the beginning, there were several times I wondered “Why am I doing this?”

But I’ve benefited so much. Not only am I stronger, I’ve lost weight, I’m sleeping better, my mood is better, and I have a more robust immune system. I’ve also been able to keep up with it during the pandemic, although now I’m doing it virtually.

Believe it or not, strength training has a lot in common with fundraising and when I say fundraising, I’m including the all-important stewardship and relationship-building components. Here’s what they have in common.

It’s supposed to be hard, but doable

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

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

Fundraising is hard. It doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it, but you also need to be realistic. I’m not lifting 100-pound weights. That would be too much for me. If you’re a small organization, trying to pull off a huge event would probably be too much for you.

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

Starting small is often the way to go

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

This same formula can work for your organization when you concentrate on individual gifts. Many of these will be under $100 each, but you’ll be able to get a larger number of them. You can also raise a good bit of revenue from monthly gifts, even if they’re only $5 or $10 a month.

Be patient and you’ll see results

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

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

But if you persevere, you should see results.

Take it to the next level

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

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

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

You need to stick with it

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

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

Moving Away from Transactional Fundraising

You need a plan

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

You shouldn’t be raising revenue without a plan in place. You also need a donor communications and thank you plan. 

You may need to make adjustments to your plans. Most likely that happened for you last year when the pandemic started. I had to make adjustments early on in my training when I tweaked my knee doing a quad exercise and had to strengthen my hamstrings, as well as do a modified version of it for a while.

How to Prepare a Nonprofit Fundraising Plan

The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan

5 ELEMENTS OF A STELLAR DONOR COMMUNICATIONS PLAN THAT BUILDS DONOR LOYALTY

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

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

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

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

Photo via www.ptpioneer.com

Some Important Investments That Can Help You Raise More Money

Your nonprofit organization may have cut some expenses over the past year. When times are tough, some organizations, especially small ones with limited resources, veer towards trimming, with the mindset “we can’t afford this.”

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

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

Invest in a good CRM/database

Plain and simple, a good CRM (customer relationship management)/database can help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by amount and politely ask them to give a little more in your next appeal – $35 or $50 instead of $25.

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

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

In short, you can do a lot with a good CRM/database. Invest in the best one you can afford, and Excel is not a database.

Nonprofit Software

Invest in direct mail

You may not have used direct mail that much over the last year when many workplaces were closed and the mail was unreliable. But some organizations were never or rarely using it before the pandemic.

If that’s the case for you, you’re missing out on an effective and more personal way to communicate with your donors. Think of the enormous amount of email and social media posts you receive as opposed to postal mail. Your donors will be more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail.

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

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

Shorter is better. Lengthy communication will cost more and your donors are less likely to read it. Case in point, the 55-page annual report I received last month.

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

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

Why Direct Mail is Your Best Option to Raise Funds Right Now (With Examples)

Turbocharge Your Direct Mail and Digital

Invest in donor communications

By donor communications I mean thank you letters/notes, newsletters, and other updates. Some organizations don’t prioritize these and want to spend their time “raising money.” They don’t seem to realize they can raise more money with better donor communications. Remember this cycle – ask, thank, report, repeat.

Don’t skimp on your communications budget. Creating thank you cards and infographic postcards is a good investment and a necessity, not a luxury. Thank you cards are a much better investment than mailing labels and other useless swag.

Maybe you need to reallocate your budget to cover some of these expenses. You could also look into additional sources of unrestricted funding. 

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

5 ELEMENTS OF A STELLAR DONOR COMMUNICATIONS PLAN THAT BUILDS DONOR LOYALTY

Speaking of unrestricted funding 

We need to stop treating overhead or infrastructure as something bad. Some funders want us to spend our budget on programs, but how can we successfully run our programs if we don’t have enough staff and can barely afford to pay the people we do have? A rotating door of development staff makes it hard to maintain those important relationships. Even though some people may be working from home, we still have rent and other expenses.

Until these funders stop worrying so much about overhead, you may want to invest some time in finding unrestricted funding sources – often individual gifts, including major gifts.

Don’t limit yourself by saying you can’t afford certain expenses. If you make the right investments, you should be able to raise more money.

Photo by  CreditScoreGeek.com

Let’s Try to Stop Using Jargon So Much

Over the last year, we’ve seen many examples of real problems affecting real people. We’ve also seen more authenticity. So why are some nonprofit organizations still using jargon in their donor communication?

They may be using the same, boring templates they’ve used for years or they’re so used to some of these terms that they don’t realize they fall flat with their donors. I think people use jargon because it’s insider language that makes them feel like they’re “in the know” in their professional community. It’s easy to slip into jargon mode in your work environment (whether that’s in person, virtual, or a combination of both). But the danger comes when jargon creeps outside of your insular world and into your donor communication.

People need to understand you to connect with you

We can get lazy and use jargon when we can’t think of anything fresh and original. Instead, you see appeal letters, thank you letters, newsletter articles, and annual reports laced with cringe-worthy terms such as food insecurity, at-risk youth, underserved communities, and impactful. While donors may know what some of these terms mean, they’re vague, impersonal, and can come across as demeaning.

Are You Speaking The Same Language As Your Donors?

How to do better

Sometimes you need to give a little more information. Let’s look at these problem terms and what you can say instead. You may use some of these terms internally and they might be in your mission statement, but try to limit them when you communicate with your donors.

  • Food insecurity The USDA defines it as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” Well, that’s a mouthful. I’ve never liked the term food insecurity because it’s so impersonal. We’re hearing this term a lot right now because it’s a huge problem. Let’s go a step further and put it in human terms by describing a situation where a single mother has to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.
  • At-risk means there’s a possibility something bad will happen. Instead of just saying at-risk students or youth, tell a story or give specific examples of something bad that could happen. Our tutoring program works with high school students who are more likely to fail their classes, be held back, and drop out of school. Last year it was crucial that we were able to provide students with Chromebooks, so they could continue their weekly tutoring sessions virtually. 
  • Underserved means not receiving adequate help or services. Instead of saying we work with underserved communities, explain what types of services these residents don’t receive. Maybe it’s healthcare, affordable housing, decent preschool education, or all of the above. Tell a story or give a specific example. Tina has to take two buses to see a doctor for her diabetes because there isn’t a good healthcare facility in her community. This made her anxious during the height of the pandemic and sometimes she skipped her regular appointments.
  • Impact means having an effect on someone or something. How are you doing that, and why is it important? Again, give a specific example. Thanks to donors like you, we’ve helped families find affordable housing so they don’t have to live in a shelter or with other family members, which isn’t always safe during the pandemic. Now they have a place to call home. And, let’s please all agree to stop using the word impactful.

Tell a story

This is why stories are so important. You can get beyond that vague, impersonal jargon and let your donors see firsthand how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

What would Aunt Shirley think?

I always like to use this analogy. Imagine you’re at a family gathering (provided everyone is either vaccinated or taking other measures to stay safe) and you’re explaining what your organization does to your 75-year old Aunt Shirley. Does she look confused and uninterested when you use words like underserved and at-risk, or does she want you to tell her more when you mention you’ve been able to help homeless families move into their own homes?

Stop using jargon in your work environment

Another way to help you transition from jargon to understandable language is to stop using it in your work environment. That means at staff meetings and in interoffice written communication. Maybe you go so far as to re-write your mission statement to make it more conversational. And telling staff and board members to recite your mission statement as an elevator pitch is a bad idea unless you can make it conversational.

Let’s stop using jargon when we can use clear, conversational language instead. Read on for more examples of why you should stop using jargon.

The Curse of Knowledge: You’re Using Jargon and You Don’t Even Know It

4 Reasons to Stop Using Nonprofit Jargon

Nonprofit Jargon: Do Your Supporters Understand Your Fundraising?

I Have No Idea What You’re Talking About [Nonprofit Jargon]

Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Many nonprofit organizations send all their donors and other supporters exactly the same communication, such as appeal letters, thank you letters, and annual reports. One size doesn’t fit all and in the case of a 55 page (yes, that’s right) annual report I received a few weeks ago, the size was XXL.

I’m not a fan of these massive annual reports for any donor. My husband and I would be considered smaller dollar donors and I believe these reports are wasted on them.

You don’t have to do an annual report and if you do, it should be about one fifth the size at the most. I wrote about annual reports a couple of months ago, so I won’t rant too specifically on this.

Here’s another post that asks the question – Is This the Year to Trash that Annual Report?

To the organization’s credit, their annual report is visually beautiful. Maybe it’s a little too nice and I’ll get to that later. It includes several stories and many photographs. They did address how COVID-19 presented a number of challenges for their clients and community. They also mentioned their commitment to racial equity, since 80% of the people they work with are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). It would have been clueless of them not to address these.

It’s clear the organization is very proud of their annual report, as evidenced by the opening line of the cover letter from the CEO – “On behalf of the entire X organization community, it is with great pride – and great appreciation for all our friends and supporters – that I provide you with this copy of X Organization’s Annual Report for 2020.” This is one of the few examples where they thanked donors.

It’s also clear they sent this annual report to all their donors and possibly potential donors instead of creating different types of reports for different types of donors. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

What do your donors want?

When we received this annual report, my husband’s first reaction was “I don’t want them spending our money on some fancy report.” Donors don’t always react well to something that looks too nice or expensive.

“Dale’s” mail (pt 4): everything else…

Since I’m not a typical donor and probably spent more time looking at this annual report than most smaller dollar donors, I know you do need to invest in a budget for donor communications. This organization has a large operating budget and reports that a majority of its expenses were program specific.

Think about how your donors would react if you sent them a huge annual report. Some are going to toss it right in the recycling bin or trash. Others may set it aside to look at later, realize they don’t have time to read it, and then pitch it. Others may flip through it, possibly annoyed that it’s so long. 

Most of your donors should receive a shorter annual report.

Create different types of annual reports for different donors

Why are you producing an annual report? If it’s for your donors, you need to acknowledge their role in helping you make a difference. This annual report rarely does that. It’s very focused on the organization.

I always recommend a short annual report of no more than four pages or an infographic postcard for most of your donors. Smaller dollar donors deserve to feel appreciated, not inundated with a lot of information. You can create slightly longer reports for major donors and grant funders.

This organization has several different programs you can support or you can give to where it’s needed most. They could have sent separate short impact reports for their different programs. Maybe one to people who supported early education and another one for homelessness prevention rather than lumping it all into one big report.

Creating different types of annual reports may be more work, but it probably took a lot of work to produce that massive one. Since the organization has all the information anyway, they could have broken it down into smaller reports. They could also share some of the stories in their newsletters instead. Besides, is a little more work such a bad thing? Personalized donor communication usually pays off.

Write your donor communication in the second person

All your donor communication should be written in the second person using you much more than we. This annual report was written in the third person. You know what’s written in the third person – press releases and other promotional material. This annual report seems very promotional. 

When you write in the second person you can write directly to your donor. Again, is this report supposed to be for donors? It doesn’t seem like it.

Nonprofit organizations often include an annual report when they submit a grant proposal. They may also bring one along when they meet with a major donor. Because they barely referenced their donors, this annual report seems more appropriate for potential funders.

Would it be so hard to include statements such as Thanks to you or Because of our generous donors along with a description of accomplishments (although not 40+ pages of them)? What’s the harm in giving an annual report like that to potential donors? Surely not as high as mostly ignoring current donors.

This happens too much

I see way too many examples of one size fits all communication. Organizations often send everyone the same appeal letter regardless of whether they are current donors, potential donors, or monthly donors. The same is true with thank you letters. 

Donors also have different interests and reasons for giving.  If you recognize this and send different types of communication to different types of donors, you’re letting them know they matter. 

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

When It Comes to Reaching Donors, One Size Doesn’t Fit All