Improve Your Fundraising and Communications by Segmenting Your Donors

Do you send all your donors the same appeal and thank you letter? Do you also feel your appeals aren’t bringing you the donations you need?

Hmm, there may be a correlation here. If you’re not segmenting your donors into different groups, you’re missing a chance to raise more money and let your donors know you recognize them for who they are.

Your donors are not the same. Some donors have given for at least five years (these donors should get a lot of attention). Some are monthly donors. Yet, nonprofit organizations fail to recognize that and send everyone the same letter. 

I often receive generic, one-size-fits-all communication from organizations that don’t acknowledge I’m a longtime donor or recognize that I’m a monthly donor. Um, hello!

These organizations are missing opportunities to do a better job of connecting with their donors. Unfortunately, this happens way too often.

Don’t you think it’s time to start segmenting your donors? If you’re already segmenting your donors, kudos to you!

You may be worried about how much time this will take. Plus, you don’t think your current CRM/database can handle it and it will cost too much to get a better one. 

In reality, it may cost you more not to segment. A good CRM/database is worth the investment. Segmenting your donors will help you with retention, which costs less than trying to find new donors. 

You also don’t need to create a 100 different types of letters. Four or five should be sufficient. Your appeals and thank you letters will stand out if you can personalize them and not send everyone the same generic letter.

Here are a few different types of donor groups to help get you started. Remember, investing in a good CRM/database will help you with this.

Current single gift donors

An appeal letter to current single gift donors (Monthly donors get their own appeal. More on that below.) must acknowledge their past support. This is also a good opportunity to ask for an upgrade. Many organizations don’t do this, but it’s a good way to increase your revenue.

Your donors will be more receptive to upgrading their gifts if you’ve been doing a good job of thanking them and staying in touch throughout the year.

If these donors give again, they should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter letting them know how much you appreciate their continued support. If they’ve upgraded their gift, be sure to acknowledge that, too. 

Potential/new single gift donors

If you’re sending an appeal to someone who’s never donated to your nonprofit before, what is your connection to them? Are they volunteers, event attendees, or people on a list you purchased?

The more you can establish a connection, the better chance you have of getting a donation.

The retention rate for first-time donors is horrible. One of the reasons is poor communication. You can help boost your retention rate by making your new donors feel special.

New donors should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter welcoming them as donors. Invite them to connect with you in other ways such as signing up for your newsletter, following you on social media, and volunteering.

Then a week or so later, send them a welcome package by mail or email. Personalization is crucial with new donors.

One of the biggest hurdles nonprofits face is ensuring first-time donors give a second time. If they keep giving after that, they’re showing their commitment to your organization. That’s why the second gift is called a golden donation. Don’t blow it by ignoring this.

New monthly donors

Brand new donors who opt for monthly or other recurring donations get the same special thank you treatment mentioned above. Welcome them to your family of monthly donors. 

Current monthly donors

Your current monthly donors must get their own appeal that recognizes them as monthly donors. In this appeal, you can either ask them to upgrade their gift or give an additional gift. 

When your donors renew or upgrade their monthly gifts, they, of course, get an amazing thank you.

Current donors who become monthly donors

Your current donors who decide to become monthly donors are also showing their commitment to you. They get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter thanking them for their continued support and for joining your family of monthly donors. From now on they should get specialized appeals and other communications targeted to monthly donors. 

Segment as much as you can

While I’ve suggested a few ways you can segment, there are many more options. You can segment by gift amount and number of years someone has been a donor. You can segment volunteers, event attendees, and non-donors. You can also use segmentation in other types of communications, such as creating a special newsletter for monthly donors (or at the very least including a cover letter for monthly donors with your newsletter) and sending handwritten thank you notes to donors who have given for over two years.

Segmenting your donors makes a difference

As we continue to navigate through uncertain times, some donors may cut back on their giving. Don’t let them choose between organizations that communicate throughout the year with engaging personalized appeals, thank yous, and updates and organizations that just send generic, one-size-fits-all communications. People like personal connection.

Spending some extra time segmenting your donors and personalizing your communications will be worth it if you can raise additional revenue and boost your retention rate.

In a future post, I’ll highlight specific ways segmenting your donors can help you raise more money.

Raise More Money With a Better Fundraising Appeal

Can you believe September is already here? Depending on where you live, you may or may not be getting that nice refreshing air September often brings. 

It also brings us to the start of the busiest time of the year for nonprofit organizations, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal. 

If you’re falling short of your revenue goals, you may want to start your campaign earlier than you have in the past. Even if you’re not planning on launching your campaign until later in the fall, you should get started on your appeal now. Everything always takes longer than you think.

You need to create an appeal that will stand out and resonate with your donors. That doesn’t mean using the same boring, generic template you’ve used for years.

You need a letter that takes into account what’s going on in 2022. How are the everchanging current situations affecting your clients/community?

Your appeal also needs to be personal – both for your donors and when you write about your clients/community. 

Here are some ways you can create a better appeal.

Make a good first impression 

First, you need to get your donors to open your letter. If you can’t get them to do that, then all your hard work has gone to waste.

Perhaps you’d like to include a teaser on the outer envelope. This doesn’t mean one that says 2022 Annual Appeal. That’s not inspiring. Instead, say something like – Find out how you can help local families put food on the table.

An oversized or colored envelope can also capture your donor’s attention.

You want to be both personal and professional. If hand addressing the envelopes isn’t feasible, make sure your mailing labels look clean, are error-free, and aren’t crooked. Use stamps if you can.

Create an inviting piece of mail.

Share a compelling story

A good appeal letter should open with a compelling story. Focus on a person or family and not your organization. Your donors want to hear about the people they’ll be helping and it needs to be relevant to the current climate. 

Here’s an example – Lara, a single mother with three kids, has gone through a lot over the past couple of years. It’s been hard to find work that pays enough and now groceries are even more expensive. 

But thanks to generous donors like you (or because of our generous donors if you’re writing to people who haven’t given before), she’s been able to get boxes of healthy food at the Northside Community Food Pantry. At first, Lara was embarrassed that she had to rely on a food pantry to feed her family, but she’s always treated with respect and dignity when she visits. 

We want to continue providing Lara and other members of our community with healthy food when they need it.

You could also share a first-person story from a client/program recipient.

Include a photo

Include an engaging color photo in your letter or on your pledge form. Photos can tell a story in an instant.

Next comes the ask

Ask for a donation at the beginning of the next paragraph (after the story). Make sure it’s prominent and clear. Also, ask your current donors if they can give a little more right now. Don’t be afraid to ask your donors to upgrade their gifts. People want to help if they can.

Phrase your ask like this – We’re so grateful for your previous gift of $50. We’re continuing to see more people coming into the food pantry right now. Would you be able to help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75?

Asking for an upgrade can help you raise more money. Also, if you’ve been doing a good job of engaging your donors throughout the year (and I hope you have been), they shouldn’t mind if you ask for a larger gift. Including the amount of your donor’s previous gift is helpful since people don’t often remember what they gave before.

Be donor-centered, as well as community-centered

There’s been some dichotomy over the past two years between being donor-centered and being community-centered, but I think you can be both. What you don’t want is to be organization-centered.

Show your donors how they can help you make a difference for your clients/community and how much you appreciate their role in that. Make your donors feel good about supporting your nonprofit.

At the same time, respect your clients/community by not undermining them when you use terms like at-risk youth or underserved communities. They are people, after all.

Share your success and challenges

Highlight some of your accomplishments, but you can share challenges, too. 

I’m sure your organization continues to face challenges as the pandemic and economic uncertainty continue. But how you do your work is less important than why you do your work. You need to continue to provide healthy food to families while doing it safely.

Show how you plan to continue your work with your donor’s help. Remember to stay donor-centered! 

Personalization is a must

Don’t send everyone the same appeal. Try to send different letters to current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, people on your mailing list who haven’t donated yet, event attendees, volunteers, and friends of board members. 

The more you can segment, the better, but at the very least, you must do these two things.

Send a personalized appeal to current donors. They’re your best bet for getting donations. Let them know how much you appreciate their support. If a donor stepped up with additional contributions over the last two and a half years, be sure to thank them for that. These donors are committed to helping you through difficult times.

Also, send a specific appeal tailored to monthly donors, giving them the recognition they deserve. For your year-end appeal, I would thank them for all their generous support and ask them to give an additional gift. You can ask them to upgrade at a different time.

This is not the time to send a generic, one-size-fits-all appeal letter. Go the extra mile for your donors, so they’ll continue to support you.

Your appeal letter should also have a personal salutation and not be addressed to Dear Friend or Dear Valued Donor. How much do you value this relationship if you can’t even use a person’s name?

This may sound like a lot of work, but if you give yourself enough time, it should be doable. Personalizing your letters can also help you raise more money.

Make it easy for your donors to give

Include a return envelope with amounts to check off or an envelope and a pledge form. Show what each amount will fund. Do this on your donation page, too.

Some donors will prefer to donate online. Direct them to a user-friendly donation page on your website. You could create a QR code for your letter 

Offer a monthly or recurring giving option

Monthly gifts can generate more revenue, give you a steady source of income throughout the year, and improve donor retention. Encourage your donors to give $5, $10, or even $20 a month. This may be a more viable option for some of them. 

Be careful and don’t send an appeal to your current monthly donors that invites them to become monthly donors. That’s one reason why they need their own appeal.

Your letter must be easy to read (or scan)

Use short paragraphs and bulleted lists, along with bold or color for keywords, but keep it tasteful. Make it easy to read and scan. Most people won’t read your letter word for word. Use a simple font and 14-point type.

Human attention spans are less than 10 seconds. But go figure, longer fundraising letters (four pages as opposed to two) have been shown to perform better. 

This doesn’t mean cramming a bunch of 8-point text on a page. With a longer letter, you’ll have more space to tell a story and repeat messages. You can also break up the text with a photo, testimonials, and short paragraphs

Quality and readability are key here. Make every word count. 

Think of your letter as a conversation with a friend

You can create a better appeal if you think of your letter as a conversation with a friend. That means not using jargon like at-risk youth and underserved communities. Be specific and use everyday language. Your goal should be for your reader to understand you.

Refer to your reader as you and use you a lot more than we.

Too many editors spoil the appeal

Your entire staff doesn’t need to be involved in writing your appeal. Generally, the more people you involve in writing your letter, the worse it becomes. Fundraising Consultant Tom Ahern refers to this as letter writing by committee.

Your best writer should craft it and then turn it over to your best editor. Whoever signs the letter (your Executive Director?) can take a quick look at it, but don’t send it to a committee.

If you don’t have someone on your staff who can write a good fundraising appeal, then hire a freelancer or consultant to do it.

Besides weakening the content, involving more people takes extra time.

Make a good lasting impression, too

Repeat your ask at the end of your appeal. Don’t forget to say please and thank you.

Be sure to add a PS. People often gravitate to the PS as they scan the letter, so include something that will capture their attention. Here you could emphasize monthly giving, ask if their company provides matching gifts, or thank them for being a donor.

Get your pens out

Include a short handwritten note, if you can. Make it relevant to each donor, such as thanking someone for a previous donation or hoping a potential donor will support you. Hand sign the letters in blue ink.

We could be looking at another tough fundraising season. That’s why you need to spend some time writing a better appeal letter that will stand out and help bring you the donations you need. Good luck!

Keep reading for more advice on how to write a better fundraising appeal.

10 Steps to Create a Fundraising Appeal Letter That Brings in the Money

THINK YOU’RE NOT A WRITER? YOUR GUIDE TO WRITING A GREAT FUNDRAISING APPEAL

How to Write a Fundraising Letter: 10 Tips for Persuasive Appeals (+ Examples)

Image by Howard Lake

It’s Time to Plan Your Year-End Fundraising Campaign

Wow, this summer is flying by. September will be here before you know it. I know that may be hard to believe since many of us have been suffering through record-breaking temperatures, especially in areas where it’s usually not that hot, such as parts of Europe and the Pacific Northwest.

Despite all this, now is a good time to start planning your year-end fundraising campaign. If you’re behind in your revenue goals, you may even want to launch it earlier. Our current state of uncertainty makes it more important to plan ahead.

I’ve put together a checklist to help you get started. You can also use this for fundraising campaigns at other times of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal for your year-end campaign in your 2022 fundraising plan (at least I hope you did) and maybe that has changed. 

You must determine how much money you need to raise before you start your campaign, and raising as much as we can is not a goal.

Do you have a plan?

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

When do you want to launch your appeal? Plan on everything taking longer than you think it will, so earlier is better. Keep in mind you’ll be competing with many other organizations who are doing appeals. 

I strongly encourage you to mail an appeal letter. Direct mail appeals are more successful. You can also send an email appeal and follow up with email, as well (more on that in future posts). 

Maybe you want to send your appeal letters the first week in November. Maybe it’s better to send them out in October. Whenever it is, make your goal to have the letters done at least a week before that. 

Also, how are you mailing your appeal? Do you use a mail house or get staff and volunteers together to stuff envelopes? Either way, plan ahead, so you’re not scrambling at the last minute.

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

If you’ve been using the same boring, generic appeal letter template for the last few years, stop. You need a new one. Your appeal must address the current situations, which I know are always changing.

A good way to start is to create an engaging story for your appeal. How are the pandemic, systemic racism, and economic challenges impacting your clients/community right now? Focus on them, not your organization. This year is different than last year, which was different than 2020, but not the same as pre-pandemic times. This is why you need new stories.  

You’ll want some good photos for your letter and donation page, too. Quotes from clients will also enhance your appeal.

How can your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should focus on a need and let your donors know how they can help you make a difference. You might want to start by creating a brief and an outline.

You may be seeing more people at your food pantry because of rising food costs. Maybe your clients are struggling to find affordable housing.

You can also highlight some of the accomplishments you’ve made recently and state what you would like to do in the coming year, although these are usually more appropriate for a newsletter or annual report. One way to frame this is to describe a situation where students are falling behind in school. You can mention the success of your tutoring program and the need to keep that going and serve more students.

Remember to focus on your clients/community and don’t brag about your organization.

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

Make sure your mailing lists are up-to-date. Check for duplicate addresses and typos. Your donors don’t want to receive three letters at the same time or have their names misspelled. Take a little time to do some data hygiene. Give your email list some attention, too.

Also, now is a good time to segment your mailing lists – current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. This is so important. Your current donors are your best source of donations. You should have more success if you can personalize your appeal letters. You can also ask donors to upgrade their gifts (more on this to come).

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

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

We’re still dealing with paper shortages and may be for a while, so plan ahead!

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

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

Is it easy to donate online?

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

One way to ensure a good experience is to have someone on your staff or, even better, someone outside of your organization make a donation on your website. If they want to tear their hair out, you have some work to do.

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

I’m a huge fan of monthly giving. It’s a win-win for your organization. You can raise more money, boost your retention rate, receive a steady stream of revenue, and allow your donors to spread out their gifts.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program or you have a small one, don’t wait any longer to start one or grow the one you have.

Do you want to find a major funder who will give a matching gift?

One way to raise additional revenue is to find a major funder to match a portion or all of what you raise in your year-end appeal. If you want to go down this route, now would be a good time to reach out to these potential funders.

How will you thank your donors?

Spend as much time on your thank you letter/note as you do on your appeal letter and write them at the same time. You need to thank your donors, and thank them well, as soon as you receive their gifts, so have a thank you letter/note ready to go.

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

How will you keep up with your donor communication?

Even though you’ll be busy with your appeal, you want to ramp up your donor communication this fall. Keep engaging your donors and other supporters (who may become donors) by sharing updates and gratitude. Pour on the appreciation! 

Send at least one warm-up letter or email. You could create a thank you video or a video that gives a behind-the-scenes look at your organization right now. Just don’t disappear until appeal time.

Don’t let stories about donors giving less scare you. Some donors may not give as much or at all, but others will give more. They won’t give anything if you don’t ask.

There’s still plenty of time to go to the beach and get ice cream, but right now find an air-conditioned space and start planning your year-end campaign.

Best of luck!

Time for a Little Nonprofit Spring Cleaning 

It’s spring here in the Northern Hemisphere, although depending on where you live, it may or may not feel like it. 

A lot of people use this time of the year to do some spring cleaning. I know, groan. I envy the people who have taken on a bunch of cleaning and decluttering projects since the pandemic started. I’m not one of them. 

I know I should do more. As much as I dislike cleaning and organizing, I’m happy once it gets done. Often getting started is the hardest part.

Your nonprofit organization may have put off some version of your own spring cleaning and decluttering. It’s been a tumultuous two years and counting.

Take some time to tackle these so-called cumbersome tasks. Just think how happy you’ll be when you’re done. You’ll also make some much-needed improvements to your infrastructure and donor communication.

Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.

Clean up your mailing lists and database/CRM

Has it been a while since you’ve updated your mailing lists? Did you have an influx of address changes, returned mail, and bounced emails after you sent your year-end appeal? This is a good time to clean up and update both your direct mail and email mailing lists.

Don’t wait until right before your next mailing to clean up your donor data. If it’s been a while since you’ve done this, then you really need to do what is known as data hygiene.

Even though it’s tedious, have someone who’s familiar with your donors (your development director?) go through your mailing lists and database/CRM (customer relationship management) to see if you need to make any additions, changes, and deletions.

Be meticulous. No donor wants to see her name misspelled, be addressed as Mrs. when she prefers Ms., or receive three mailings because you have duplicate records.

Your donor database is an important tool and it needs to be up-to-date and filled with accurate information about your donors.

CLEAN UP YOUR ACT: DONOR DATA MANAGEMENT FOR NONPROFITS

Donor Database Best Practices To Care For Your Data Like You Care For Your Donors

Run your donor list through the National Change of Address database. It may cost some money to do this, but it’s worth it if you come out with squeaky clean data. Do this at least once a year.

Also, if you haven’t already done this, segment your donors into different groups – new donors, returning donors, monthly donors, etc. You may need to make some changes. For example, if a single gift donor starts giving monthly.

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

You might also want to move some lapsed donors who haven’t donated for several years into an inactive file. Don’t do this until you’ve sent targeted, personalized appeals asking them to donate again. And if you’ve never gotten in touch with any lapsed donors from 2021, you could reach out to them now.

Do the same thing with your email list. It doesn’t make sense to send email to people who don’t respond to it. Give these people a chance to re-engage, and if they’re not even opening your emails, move them to an inactive file. Don’t worry if people unsubscribe. You’re better off with an email list of engaged subscribers.

What’s in My Inbox | The Benefits of Cleaning Your Email List

Maybe you need a better CRM/database. If you’re using a spreadsheet to store your donor records, then you need an actual database. Get the best one you can afford.

Choosing a Donor Database: The Ultimate Guide for Nonprofits

Spring is about bringing in the new and a better database would be a wise investment. It can help you raise more money. You can also save money by having clean mailing lists.

Freshen up your messages

Now that you’ve cleaned up your mailing lists and segmented your donors, it’s time to freshen up your messages, if you haven’t done that for a while. I’ve written about this in a couple of recent posts, emphasizing that your donor communication needs to reference the current situations and steer clear of generic language and jargon. If you’re still using templates from before March 2020, you need a refresh.

Your thank you letters need to actually thank your donors, not brag about your organization. Make sure your automatically generated thank you emails and landing pages don’t look like boring receipts. Create separate templates for new donors, current donors, and monthly donors.

Why You Need a Thank You Plan

Let go of what you don’t need

The pandemic forced many organizations to rethink the way they did certain things. You may have held an in-person event for years, but in the spring of 2020 had to switch to virtual or run an emergency campaign. Maybe this worked better for you.

In-person events take a lot of staff time and don’t always bring in that much money. It’s also not clear they’re safe to put on right now. Just like those old clothes taking up room in your closet or a file cabinet stuffed with years of paperwork, it may be time to let go of this event (or anything else that doesn’t serve you) and find a different way to raise money.

Think better rather than new

In uncertain times, it’s better to focus on what’s going to work for your nonprofit instead jumping onto the latest craze. Focus on what you can do better. Instead of going on TikTok, think about growing your monthly giving program and building relationships with your donors. These are proven ways to help you raise more money.

Don’t wait too long

I know you have a lot going on, but you need to take on these initiatives sooner rather than later. Just like the clutter and dust in your home won’t disappear on their own, the longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. 

Get started on these spring cleaning projects as soon as you can. You’ll be happy once they’re done. Your donors will also be happy if they don’t get duplicate mailings and a fundraising letter laced with jargon, but do receive a personalized appeal and a stellar thank you letter.

Image by Marco Verch

Steer Clear of Generic Communication

Are you still sending all your donors the same appeal and thank you letters? In these letters, you never thank a donor for their past support or acknowledge they’re a monthly donor.

If that’s not bad enough, many of these letters use vague and impersonal language and even worse, jargon.

Since the pandemic started, some nonprofits have done better and have created more nuanced, personal communication. Let’s keep this up and all do better. Your donors deserve that.

Steer clear of anything generic and create something more personal. Here’s what you can do.

Segment your donors

Your donors aren’t the same, so they shouldn’t all get the same letter. Segment your donors into different groups as much as you can. At the very least, create different letters for new donors, repeat donors, and monthly donors. You can also personalize letters to lapsed donors, event attendees, volunteers, etc.

I emphasize segmenting your donors a lot in my posts because it’s so important. Donors like it if you recognize their past giving or anything that shows them this is more than a generic, one-size-fits-all message.

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

Donor Segmentation | Comprehensive Guide + Tips For Success

And while we’re on the subject of personalization, please stop sending Dear Friend letters, as well. You’re not being a good friend if you don’t even use your donors’ names.

I know this will take more time, but it’s worth the investment. So is a good database to help you with this. Your donors will feel appreciated and are more likely to give again, possibly at a higher level.

Use language your donors understand

If you use vague, generic language and jargon, you’re going to instantly bore and/or confuse your donors. Most of your donors don’t have a medical or social services background. They don’t use terms like food insecurity, at-risk populations, and underserved communities, and neither should you.

Connect with your donors by using language they’ll understand. Instead of talking about food insecurity, give an example of a family choosing between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

What do you mean by at-risk or underserved? Are high school students less likely to graduate on time? Do residents of a certain community not have good health care nearby? Is housing too expensive? Get specific, but at the same time, keep it simple. Also, terms like at-risk and underserved undermine your clients/community. Remember, these are human beings you’re talking about.

Let’s Try to Stop Using Jargon So Much

How Jargon Destroys Nonprofit Fundraising & Marketing

A great way to steer clear of generic language and jargon is to tell stories. Most people respond better to a human-interest story than a bunch of boring statistics.

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

Why your good story leads to a better world

Make time for improvement

You may be between fundraising campaigns right now and have a little more time (maybe). If so, work on segmenting the donors in your database, if you haven’t already done that. Segmenting your donors isn’t a one-time deal. Make changes as needed. For example, some of your single-gift donors may have upgraded to monthly. If you can do this after every campaign, you should have fairly up-to-date information on your donors.

In addition, dust off those templates and freshen up your appeal letters and thank you letters. We’re living in an ever-changing world and you need to acknowledge current situations in your communication. Create letter templates for different donor groups and replace your vague, generic language with something clear, conversational, and specific.

You can also use this time to add new stories to your story bank or start putting one together, if you don’t already have one

Have someone outside your organization, a friend or family member, look at your messages. Something that’s clear to you may mean nothing to others.

Steer clear of your generic communication with something that shows your donors how much you appreciate them by recognizing who they are and giving them engaging content they can relate to.

How You Can Improve Your Donor Communication

One of the many lessons since the pandemic started is generic, organization-centered communication has to go.

I know there has been some conflict about donor-centered vs community-centered over the last two years and I think we can have both. What you don’t want is to be organization-centered. You can’t communicate with your donors without focusing on them. This is true for any type of audience. Write to your readers.

Explained: Donor-Centric and Community Centric Fundraising

We’re also seeing real people with real problems. Using vague, generic terms such as at-risk and underserved is demeaning to your clients/community.

You can do better if you make some of these improvements to your donor communication.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Your fundraising appeal shouldn’t be focused too much on your organization – rambling on about how great you are. Your organization may be great, but let your donors figure that out. Your donors are the ones who are great, and they want to hear how they can help you make a difference for your clients/community.
  • Segment your appeal to the appropriate audience. Thank past donors or reference your relationship to a potential donor. Maybe they’re event attendees, volunteers, or friends of board members.
  • Address your appeal to a person and not Dear Friend.
  • Don’t use jargon or other language your donors won’t understand. Instead of saying we’re helping at-risk youth, say something like – With your support, our tutoring program can help more students graduate from high school on time. Many students fell behind when the pandemic started.
  • Your appeal should make people feel good about donating to your organization.

Thank you letters

  • Your thank you letter shouldn’t come across as transactional and resemble a receipt. This is one of my huge pet peeves. Yes, you need to acknowledge the donation is tax-deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Your thank you letter (or better yet, a handwritten note) needs to be filled with appreciation. Start your letter with You’re amazing! or Thanks to You!, and not On behalf of X organization.
  • Address your thank you letter to a person and not Dear Friend.
  • Tell your donors the impact of their gift. For example – Thanks to your generous donation of $50, a family can get a box of groceries at the Westside Community Food Bank. This is crucial since we’ve been seeing triple the number of people over the past two years.
  • Recognize each donor. Is this the first time someone has donated? If someone donated before, did she increase her gift? Acknowledge this in your letter/note.

Newsletters

  • Your newsletter shouldn’t sound self-promotional and focus on all the wonderful things your organization is doing. Since the pandemic started, I’ve seen organizations patting themselves on the back because of all the changes they needed to make to their programs. What’s most important is how this is affecting your clients/community. Yes, you may have changed the protocols (possibly several times depending on COVID positivity rates) at your homeless shelter, but that’s because you needed to continue to offer a safe place to those who need it.  
  • Write your newsletter in the second person. Write to the donor and use the word you more often than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass? Keep in mind, all your donor communication should be written in the second person. It’s much more personal.
  • Include stories about clients, engaging photos, and other content your donors like to see. Remember, donors want to see the impact of their gift.
  • Use the right channels. Perhaps you only send an e-newsletter, but some of your donors prefer print.
  • Show gratitude to your donors/supporters in your newsletter.

These suggestions for improvement can be used in other types of donor communication such as annual reports, your website, email messages, and social media posts.

Better donor communication can help you build relationships. This is especially important now when your goals should be donor retention and sustaining long-term donors.

9 Best Practices for Communications That Stand Out

Nonprofit Communication Best Practices To Make Communications More Impactful 

Improving Donor Communications: 7 Tactics to Keep In Mind

Image credit –  www.epictop10.com

Fundraising Should be About Building Relationships, Not Making a Transaction

Why does making a donation often feel like a transaction? Organizations get so caught up in the raising money part, that they forget about building relationships with their donors.

Yes, relationships! This is just as important as raising money. 

It’s hard to keep raising money if you don’t build a good relationship with your donors. The two go together. 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, 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 feel appreciated. 

An email subject line is one of your first chances to connect with your donor. How would you feel if this is what you saw? 

“Your Recurring Donation Receipt” 

“Donation tax receipt”

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

It’s not easy to find good thank you email subject lines. Here are some that are better.

“Thank you for your generous monthly gift”

“You are wonderful!”

“Your monthly gift in action” 

That last subject line leads into an email that emphasizes how the donor is helping that organization make a difference, which is a good example of building relationships.

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.

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

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. It always warms my heart when an organization does this.

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. 

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 another 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 huge mistake. Ideally, you should keep in touch with your donors every one to two weeks, once a month at the most.

Stay focused on relationships. Good relationships with your donors will help you raise more money and keep your donors for a long time. 

9 Ways to Build Strong Donor Relationships

4 Relationship-Building Strategies for Nonprofits to Know

How to Make #GivingTuesday a Better Experience for Your Donors

Logos - 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 November 30.

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 you’re on the fence. 

Should we do Giving Tuesday this year?

Whether you participate or not, #GivingTuesday is part of the nonprofit landscape and if you’re doing a year-end appeal, you’ll need to factor it into your campaign. If you do participate, you want to make it a better experience for your donors instead of the usual barrage of generic email messages.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as #GivingTuesday approaches.

Just because it’s #Giving Tuesday isn’t a compelling reason to give

I see 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. 

Let them know that with their help Darren can sleep in a warm bed tonight or Sarah can boost her reading skills.

We’re still in a pandemic and people and communities are struggling. You need to acknowledge this in your appeals.

It’s not just about the money

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. You need donors who will support you for many years.

Make it personal and segment your donors

Don’t just blast a bunch of generic appeals that resemble Black Friday ads or those relentless requests for political donations. I received so many emails for the Virginia governor’s race and I don’t even live in Virginia.

Giving Tuesday and Why We’re Killing It

You also don’t want to send all your donors the same appeal. 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.

Acknowledge past donors and make a connection with potential donors. 

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

Focus on building relationships with your donors instead of pleading for donations.

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. Monthly donors are one of your most loyal types of donors. Be sure to make them feel special.

Should You Thank Monthly Donors Who Make an Extra Gift?

If you’re one of the few organizations that send more personalized appeals, then kudos to you because that’s what everyone needs to do. I saw some evidence of more personalized, nuanced appeals in 2020, so let’s keep that up.

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.

Get ready for 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 packages to new donors or welcome back messages to current donors. 

#GivingTuesday has 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’re going to skip #GivingTuesday 

Maybe you’ll decide to bypass #GivingTuesday altogether. Remember, 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.

Read on for more information on how to make #GivingTuesday a better experience for your donors.

TIS THE SEASON: BUT IS GIVING TUESDAY REALLY COMMUNITY-CENTERED?

Giving Tuesday Without Giving Gratitude

3 Things to Include in Your Giving Tuesday Thank You Message

How to make #GivingTuesday more than a gimme

Following Up After #GivingTuesday: 5 Crucial Steps

STANDING OUT IN THE NOISY SPACE OF THE NON-PROFIT SECTOR

The Importance of Having a Multichannel Fundraising Campaign

Year-end fundraising season is starting to gear up. I just returned from a short vacation and came home to a mailbox that included a bunch of appeal letters, and this is just the beginning.

Speaking of appeal letters, you should plan to send one by mail. I know email is easier and less expensive, but 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 then 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 will 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. Most nonprofits rely on year-end for the bulk of their fundraising. Plus, donors may be overwhelmed with everything that’s going on in the world, but they still 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.

5 Data Hygiene Methods for Your Nonprofit

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.

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. 

That said, I do recommend starting your year-end campaign sooner than later. Remember, you’re not the only game in town. If you’ve already mailed your appeal, you can start planning your reminders.

Also, if you haven’t already done this, you could send your donors a warm-up letter or email before you launch your campaign.

October 27

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. 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 1

Mail your appeal letters.

Week of November 8

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. We’re well on our way to our goal of moving into a larger facility. This is crucial. We’re still seeing more people coming into the food bank and can barely function in our current location.

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 15

Send another round of reminders.

Week of November 22

Send a reminder, along with a Happy Thanksgiving message. Or skip the reminder and make this week all about gratitude.

Week of November 29 

November 30 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 chaos. Make your messages stand out and remember to show some gratitude, too. 

How to Make Your Nonprofit Messages Stand Out

Also, not all of your donors will care that it’s #GivingTuesday. Focus on how they can help you make a difference.

Make sure your reminders don’t look like spam. And, keep it positive. Don’t make your donors feel bad because they haven’t donated yet.

Week of December 6

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. The more you can personalize, the better.

You can continue following up in the New Year when donors aren’t as busy.

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

Direct Mail in a Multi-Channel Fundraising Strategy

A Roadmap to Multichannel Marketing For Nonprofits

12 Year-End Fundraising Email Examples to Add to Your Campaign

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

Do you send all your donors the same appeal and thank you letter? Do you also feel your appeals aren’t bringing you the donations you need?

There may be a correlation here. If you’re not segmenting your donors into different groups, you’re missing a chance to raise more money and let your donors know you recognize them for who they are.

Your donors are not the same. Some donors have given for at least five years (these donors should get a lot of attention). Some are monthly donors. Yet, nonprofit organizations fail to recognize that and send everyone a one-size-fits-all letter. 

Sometimes smaller organizations do a better job of personalization. Not that long ago, I received a generic, one-size-fits-all appeal from a large, national organization. I’m a monthly donor and they didn’t acknowledge that. In fact, the letter included a blurb encouraging people to become monthly donors. Um….

That organization missed an opportunity to do a better job of connecting with their donors. Unfortunately, they are one of many.

When you’re too big to succeed

If you’re not segmenting your donors, make this the year you start. And if you’re already segmenting your donors, kudos to you!

You may be worried about how much time this will take. Plus, you don’t think your current database can handle it and it will cost too much to get a better one. 

In reality, it may cost you more not to segment.  A good database/CRM is worth the investment. Segmenting your donors will help you with retention, which costs more than trying to find new donors. Donor stewardship/engagement is usually easier and it’s more fun.

You also don’t need to create 100 different types of letters. Four or five should be sufficient. Your appeals and thank you letters will stand out if you can personalize them and not send everyone the same generic letter.

Here are a few different types of donor groups. You may want to include others. The more you can segment, the better. Remember, investing in a good CRM/database will help you with this.

Current single gift donors

One of the biggest hurdles nonprofits face is ensuring first-time donors give a second time. If they keep giving after that, they’re showing their commitment to your organization. Don’t blow it by ignoring this.

An appeal letter to current single gift donors (Monthly donors get their own appeal. More on that below.) must acknowledge their past support. This is also a good opportunity to ask for an upgrade. Many organizations don’t do this, but it’s a good way to increase your revenue.

Your donors will be more receptive to upgrading their gifts if you’ve been doing a good job of thanking them and staying in touch throughout the year.

If these donors give again, they should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter letting them know how much you appreciate their continued support. If they’ve upgraded their gift, be sure to acknowledge that, too. 

Potential/new single gift donors

If you’re sending an appeal to someone who’s never donated to your nonprofit before, what is your connection to them? Are they volunteers, event attendees, or people on a list you purchased?

The more you can establish a connection, the better chance you have of getting a donation.

The retention rate for first-time donors is horrible. One of the reasons is poor communication. You can help boost your retention rate by making your new donors feel special.

New donors should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter welcoming them as donors. Invite them to connect with you in other ways such as signing up for your newsletter, following you on social media, or volunteering.

Then a week or so later, send them a welcome package by mail or email. Personalization is crucial with new donors.

Are We Sure An Automated Email Welcome Series For New Donors Is A Good Idea?

New monthly donors

Brand new donors who opt for monthly or other recurring donations get the same special thank you treatment mentioned above. Welcome them to your family of monthly donors. 

Current monthly donors

Your current monthly donors must get their own appeal that recognizes them as monthly donors. In this appeal, you can either ask them to upgrade their gift or give an additional gift. 

When your donors renew or upgrade their monthly gifts, they, of course, get an amazing thank you.

Current donors who become monthly donors

Your current donors who decide to become monthly donors are also showing their commitment to you. They get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter thanking them for their continued support and for joining your family of monthly donors. From now on they should get specialized appeals and other communications targeted to monthly donors. 

Segmenting your donors makes a difference

In these uncertain times, some donors may cut back on their giving. Don’t let them choose between organizations that communicate throughout the year with engaging personalized appeals, thank yous, and updates and organizations who just send generic, one-size-fits-all communications. People are also looking for a personal connection right now. 

Spending some extra time segmenting your donors and personalizing your communications will be worth it if you can raise additional revenue and boost your retention rate.

Here’s more information about segmenting your donors.

How to Segment Your Donors

Donor Segmentation: The Ultimate Guide for Nonprofits

4 Smart Donor Segmentation Strategies for Nonprofits

KEY DONOR SEGMENTS FOR A BETTER YEAR-END APPEAL