How to Bring Simplicity and Balance to Your Nonprofit Communications

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Lagom is a Swedish concept meaning everything in moderation or not too much, not too little. Keeping things simple. This is not to be confused with the Danish concept of Hygge, which means getting cozy. Not surprisingly there isn’t an English translation of these terms, even though they are much needed in our overstressed world.

The term lagom can be used in almost any context – the home, relationships, work, etc.

You can bring this concept of simplicity and balance into your nonprofit communications, too. Here’s how.

How much communication is too much

Most likely you’re not communicating enough. Communication is a year-round effort that includes asking, thanking, sharing updates, and engaging your donors.

Of course, asking is part of the picture and you can send appeals throughout the year, but only after you’ve thanked and engaged your donors.

You’ll notice at the end of the year you’re barraged with fundraising appeals. Then at other times of the year you might receive a scant newsletter or update. Donors often complain that nonprofits ask too much, but how often do you hear complaints about being overthanked?

You need to be thanking your donors and sharing updates every one to two weeks – once a month at the very least.

Donors shouldn’t think you’re communicating too much if you aren’t just asking for money and you keep your messages donor-centered.

How to tell if you’re mailing your donors too often

Stick to one call to action

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

Stick to one call to action. If you ask for a donation, recruit volunteers, and ask someone to contact their elected officials all in the same message, it’s likely your donor won’t respond to any of your requests.

In your fundraising appeals, don’t bury your ask. 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 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.

How to improve your call to action in 6 easy steps

Choose the right length

If your communication is too long, people won’t read it. Limit written 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 to make your communication easy to read and scan by including lots of white space. Don’t clutter up the page.

Make it understandable

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.

Last week I wrote one of my periodic rants against jargon, which you should definitely avoid.  Deconstructing Your Jargon Use the active voice and don’t get fancy by using a lot of SAT vocabulary words. Again, you want your donors to understand you.

Keep it simple by using conversational language.

Create 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.

Two components of your website that need simplicity and balance are your donation page and your thank you landing page.

Your donation page needs to be easy to use and collect enough information without overwhelming your donors. 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 Donation Page Examples to Inspire Your Online Fundraising

Speaking of minimalistic, most thank you landing pages go bare bones and look more like store receipts. Here you have to step it up with a prominent Thank You or You’re Amazing! Include a photo or better yet, a thank you video.

21 Ideas For Your Nonprofit’s Donation Confirmation Page

It’s not always easy to keep things simple and balanced, but your donors will appreciate it if you do. The Complexity of Simplicity

 

 

 

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The Perils of Generic Communication

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How would you feel if a nonprofit organization sent you an appeal or thank you letter and never mentions you’ve been a generous donor for over five years? All you get is a boring, generic letter that doesn’t acknowledge who you are. Chances are most of the other donors of that organization are getting the exact same letter.

This is a problem. Your donors aren’t the same, so they shouldn’t all get the same letter. You need to segment your donors into different groups. I know segment is kind of a jargony word, and I’m no fan of jargon as you’ll see, but this is something that makes a lot of sense.

Segmenting your donors can help you raise more money

Segment your donors as much as possible. At the very least, create different letters for new donors and repeat donors. You can also personalize letters to lapsed donors, event attendees, volunteers, etc. 11 Ways To Segment Your Donors To Improve Your Fundraising

Thank your donors for their previous gifts and/or upgrades. Speaking of upgrades, many organizations don’t ask donors to increase their gifts because they’re sending everyone the same, generic letter. If you don’t ask, you most likely won’t receive.

Although, even if you ask for an upgrade, it won’t happen if you ignore your donors or only blast them with appeals. You need to practice stewardship, too. How to Get Last Year’s Donors to Give More this Year

You can craft an appeal like this – Thank you so much for your donation of $50 last year. Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75 or even $100? This way we can serve even more people at the community food bank.

Also, giving donors the amount of their last gift helps them out. Donors are busy and give to other organizations besides yours. They may not remember what they’ve given before.

And let’s stop sending Dear Friend letters, too. You’re not being a good friend if you don’t even recognize your donors’ names.

You may be saying it’s going to take too much time to do this. Yes, it 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 may give you more money, but you do have to ask.

Generic language is uninspiring and confusing

Another problem I see in nonprofit communication is vague, generic language or even worse, jargon. Here’s an example from a thank you letter.  X organization shines a spotlight on community needs, inspires philanthropy and awards strategic grants to build a more vibrant, engaged and equitable (name of community).

This organization has a variety of programs and initiatives, and does good work, by the way. But the example above is uninspiring. It doesn’t say anything. Even if your organization has a variety of programs, focus on something specific.

My donation to that organization goes to a specific initiative. If that’s the case for you, too, tailor your communication to that. Let your donors know their donation is helping families who were left homeless due to a fire or provided heating assistance during a recent cold spell.

Most of your donors don’t have a medical or social services background. They’re not going to use terms like at-risk populations and underserved communities, and neither should you.

Jargon just confuses your donors. Imagine them looking glazed when you write about capacity building and disenfranchised communities. Use language they’ll understand. Enough With the Jargon

One way to burst past generic language and jargon is to tell stories. Most people respond better to a human-interest story than a bunch of boring statistics. Connect With Your Donors by Telling Stories

How to do better

You may be between fundraising campaigns right now and have a little more time (or maybe not). If so, now is a good time to start segmenting your donors in your database, if you haven’t already done that.

In addition, dust off those templates and freshen up your appeal letters and thank you letters. Create letter templates for different donor groups and replace your vague, generic language with something clear, conversational, and specific.

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.

Show your donors how much you appreciate them by recognizing who they are and giving them content they can relate to.

Don’t Brag So Much

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I’m sure you’ve been to a party and ended up stuck in a conversation with someone who talks too much about himself or brags about all the wonderful things she’s done. It’s exasperating and you can’t get away fast enough.

Imagine your donors having the same reaction when all your communications sound like one big bragfest that have nothing to do with them. Then imagine all your hard work going to waste when your boring appeal or newsletter goes straight to the recycle bin.

Yes, you want to share your accomplishments, but you don’t don’t want to sound like that annoying person at the party. It’s possible to do this without bragging. Here’s how.

Be donor-centered

You don’t need to tell your donors your organization is great. They wouldn’t have given you money if they didn’t think highly of you.

Let your donors know they’re great because they helped you make a difference for the people or community you serve. Give specific examples. Because of donors like you, the Smith family doesn’t have to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

All your communications should be donor or audience-centered. One way to ensure this is to use the word you more than we or us. Can Your Organization Pass the Donor-Centered Test?

Tell a story

Telling a story is a great way to share accomplishments. Whether it’s in the first or third person, you can give a personal account of how you’re making a difference. Remember to focus on the people you serve and keep your organization in the background. Connect With Your Donors by Telling Stories

Photos and videos featuring the people you serve is another good way to share accomplishments.

Why is what you do important

Instead of the usual laundry list you see in annual reports, such as we served over X number of students in our tutoring program, focus on why that’s important, too. Students in our tutoring program are now reading at their grade level and have a better chance of graduating from high school on time.

Instead of focusing on what you do, let your donors know why it’s important.

Show don’t tell

Too many newsletters and annual reports ramble on about how an organization is number one in such and such, or there was a crisis and Y organization came in to solve it.

Go back to stories and examples. You can’t ignore your organization altogether, but instead of saying we were the first organization to come in and help the hurricane victims or we’re the number one hospital in the community, say Thanks to you, the hurricane victims now have access to clean drinking water and can start rebuilding their homes or Thanks to you, Westside residents have a new outpatient clinic within walking distance of their homes, so they have easy access to all their health care providers.

How you made a difference is more important than being first or best.

Current donors want to see the results of their gift. Potential donors may be more interested in your reputation, but they also want to see how their donation will make a difference.

Your anti-bragging checklist

Before you share accomplishments in an appeal letter, thank you letter, newsletter article, social media update, annual report, etc, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this donor/audience-centered?
  • Are we focusing on the people/community we serve?
  • Are we showing results?
  • Are we saying why this is important?
  • Are we bragging too much about ourselves?

Read on for more about the perils of bragging.

Bragging is not fundraising

Bragging Versus Mission

Making the Most of Monthly Giving

 

Image via Bloomerang

Monthly or recurring giving is a great way to raise more money and give you a constant stream of revenue throughout the year. More nonprofits are taking advantage of this. According to CauseVox, 54% of donors give through a sustainer (recurring) program, with 82% giving monthly.

Plus, monthly giving will raise your retention rate. According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, the retention rate for monthly donors is 90%. These donors are committed to your organization!

How to get started

If you don’t already have a monthly/recurring giving program, get one set one up before your next big appeal and let your donors know about it. While this post will focus on monthly giving, you should certainly give your donors other options for recurring giving, such as quarterly.

Setting up a monthly giving program will take a little work upfront, but will pay off in the end.  Mention it in your appeal letters and make it a prominent option on your donation page. How to Create a Monthly Giving Program for Your Nonprofit

Get donors on board

One way to get monthly donors is to ask your current donors to switch to monthly giving. Send targeted appeals to donors who have given at least twice. These donors have already shown you their commitment.

Let them know how much you appreciate their support and invite them to join your family of monthly donors. Show them how their $50 or $100 gift is helping you make a difference and how they can help even more with gifts of $5 or $10 a month. The 7 Steps to Launching a Monthly Giving Program at Your Non-Profit

Monthly donors get their own special appeal

If you already have monthly donors, send a special appeal just for them. Don’t send them a generic appeal that doesn’t recognize that they’re monthly donors. You should be personalizing and segmenting all your appeal letters, anyway.

Thank them for being a monthly donor and let them know you couldn’t do your work without their continued support. Politely ask monthly donors who’ve supported you for at least six months if they can upgrade their gift.

Keep in touch throughout the year

I donate monthly to a number of organizations and wrote about my experience earlier this year. Raise More Money With Monthly Gifts

Some organizations do a better job of communicating with their monthly donors than others. Be one that shows these donors how much you appreciate them.

Since your donors have committed to donating every month, show them the same courtesy by communicating with them at least once a month. You could send an e-mail update and at least a couple of updates by mail. Show your donors how they’re helping you make difference in your updates. Share a story or give specific examples.

A few ways I’ve seen organizations recognize their monthly donors are by giving them a special shout out in their newsletter, thanking them in their annual report, and inviting them to take a tour of the organization. Other ideas could include an open house, a thank you video, a thank you postcard, or a handwritten note. Whatever you do, keep in touch throughout the year and make your monthly donors feel special.

Take advantage of this opportunity to raise more money and boost your retention rate by starting or enhancing your monthly giving program.

More monthly giving resources.

Appeal Letter Writing 101

 

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September is here and you know that means. Yes, it’s year-end appeal season – the time many nonprofits rely on to raise a good chunk of their revenue.

While your donors will be receiving a multitude of appeal letters, many organizations seem to go on autopilot and send a generic, boring appeal.

You can make yours stand out by giving some thought to it. Let’s get back to basics with a little appeal letter writing 101.

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. That doesn’t mean one that says 2017 Annual Appeal. Instead, say something like Learn how you can help the Stevens family find their own home.

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 story

Start your letter with a compelling story. Focus on a person or family and not your organization. Your donors want to hear about the people they’re helping. For example, you could tell a story about the Stevens family and their struggle to find affordable housing.

Include a photo

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

Here’s more information on creating stories and photos.

Connect With Your Donors by Telling Stories

Get Noticed in an Instant with a Visual Story

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 this year.

Phrase your ask like this – We’re so grateful for your previous gift of $50. Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75?

If you’ve been doing a good job of engaging your donors throughout the year, they shouldn’t mind if you ask for a larger gift. Including the amount of your donor’s previous gift is helpful since people often don’t remember what they gave before.

Be donor-centered

Don’t make your letter all about your organization. Show how you’re making a difference and how much you appreciate your donor’s role in that. Make your donors feel good about supporting your nonprofit.

Share your success

Highlight a few accomplishments from the year and show how you plan to continue your good work with your donor’s help. Remember to stay donor-centered!

Get personal

Send different letters to people who have donated before and thank them for supporting you. You can also tailor letters to other groups such as monthly donors, lapsed donors, people on your mailing list who haven’t donated yet, event attendees, volunteers, and friends of board members.

Your appeal will stand out if you can personalize it. Make every effort to do this, especially for people who have given before. Go the extra mile for your donors, so they’ll continue to support you.

Your letter should also have a personal salutation and not be addressed to Dear Friend, which is really more like Dear Anonymous Stranger.

Make it easy for your donors

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. Using Giving Levels to Drive Donations

Some donors may prefer to donate online. Direct them to a user-friendly donation page on your website. The Top 10 Most Effective Donation Form Optimizations You Can Make

Offer a monthly or recurring giving option

Monthly gifts can generate more revenue. Encourage your donors to give $10 or $20 a month. If they do, you’re getting gifts over $100 each! How to Create a Monthly Giving Program for Your Nonprofit

Your letter must be easy to read (or scan)

Use short paragraphs and bulleted lists, along with bold or color for key words, 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.

It’s fine to go over a page, especially if you’re breaking up the text with a photo and short paragraphs, but I wouldn’t go over four pages. You can also add a quote or short testimonial. These can be powerful and it helps break up the narrative.

Think of your letter as a conversation with a friend

Please skip the formalities. Use a conversational tone and keep out jargon like at-risk youth and underserved communities. Be specific and use everyday language. Refer to your reader as you and use you a lot more than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?

Too many editors spoil the 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.

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

Final impressions matter, too

Repeat your ask at the end of the letter. 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 her for a previous donation or letting him know it was nice to see him at a recent event. Hand sign the letters in blue ink.

Are you ready?

Stand out with an appeal letter that will capture your donors’ attention and bring you the donations you need. Good luck!

Read on for more advice on writing a great appeal letter.

4 Ways to Spice Up Your Fall Fundraising Appeal

Fundraising Letter: How To Write A Compelling Appeal (+ Examples)

8 Steps to Writing Successful Fundraising Letters

8 Ways to Write a Better Fundraising Letter

Image by Howard Lake

 

It’s Time to Start Planning for Your Year-End Appeal

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August is here. People are already starting to talk about fall and back to school sales are underway, like it or not.

Even though you may still be in summer mode, September will be here in a flash. Fall is a busy time, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal.

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

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal in your 2017 fundraising plan (at least I hope you did) and perhaps you need to revise that goal. If you haven’t set a goal, determine how much money you need to raise before you start your campaign.

Do you have a plan?

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

When do you want to send your appeal? At the beginning of November? Figure out what you need to get done and how long it will take. Keep in mind things usually take longer than you think. If you want to send your appeal at the beginning of November, make your goal the end of October.

Also, how are you mailing your appeal? You may need to recruit extra volunteers or get your materials to a mail house.

An Annual Appeal Fundraising Timeline You Can Use

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

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

Connect With Your Donors by Telling Stories

Get Noticed in an Instant with a Visual Story

How did your donors help you make a difference?

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

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

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

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

Also, segment your lists – current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. A personalized appeal letter will make a huge difference.

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

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

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

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

Is it easy to donate online?

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

8 Best Practices for Building an Online Donation Page

The Top 10 Most Effective Donation Form Optimizations You Can Make

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

Is Your Nonprofit Website in Good Shape?

How does a donation help the people you serve?

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

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

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

Boost Your Fundraising Results With a Match From a Major Donor

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

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

How will you thank your donors?

Don’t treat this as an afterthought. 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. Create a thank you plan to help you with this.

Are you showing the love?

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 success stories and gratitude. Pour on the appreciation and create a thank you video or hold an informal open house.

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

The Importance of Building Relationships

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One of the most important things nonprofit organizations need to do is build relationships with their donors. Building relationships should be front and center in everything you do. Here are some ways you can incorporate building relationships in every aspect of your work.

Appeal letters aren’t just about raising money

You may think the primary purpose of an appeal letter is to raise money, but building relationships is just as important.

Before your next fundraising 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.

Don’t send the same appeal to everyone on your mailing list. It’s crucial that you segment your donors and personalize your appeal letters. What is your relationship with these people? 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-term donor for supporting you these past five years.

Let your donors know how much you appreciate them

Your focus on building relationships continues when you thank your donors. Send a handwritten note or make a phone call if you can.

Send welcome packets to your new donors. Let them know how much you appreciate this new relationship. If you don’t, it’s likely to be a short-term relationship.

Be sure to also shower your current donors with love to keep your relationship going.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships with your event attendees

I’m amazed how many organizations fail to establish a relationship when they hold an event. First, give your attendees an opportunity to sign up for your mailing list. Next, call or send thank you notes afterwards.

Besides thanking people for attending your event, let them know how much money you raised, and share specific ways their support is helping you make a difference. Then invite these supporters to connect in other ways such as signing up to receive your newsletter or volunteering.

The same thing applies if you hold a charity run or walkathon. These events often generate new donors. Someone might donate to your 10K because her friend is running in it. Thank everyone who donated and invite them to be a part of your community.

Turn a giving day into a relationship building day

My main objection to giving days, such as GivingTuesday, is they focus so much on asking. Instead of being part of the relentless begging, send a donor-centered appeal followed by a heartfelt thank you, new donor welcome packets, and an invitation to connect with you in other ways.

Relationship building is a year-round effort

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 seem to go on communication hiatus at certain times of the year, and you don’t want to do that.

Ideally, you should keep in touch with your donors every one to two weeks. You can do this with newsletters, updates, thank you messages, advocacy alerts, and surveys. You’ll have a better chance of building relationships if you keep your messages donor-centered and use channels your donors prefer.

Staying focused on building relationships will help you with your donor retention because you want donors who will support you for a long time.

Giving is Up. Donor Retention is Down. What to Do?

Why Your Donor Will Give Again