How to Make Your Nonprofit Messages Stand Out

The average attention span for humans is a mere eight seconds. Goldfish have longer attention spans, but they lead much simpler lives and aren’t inundated with information the way we are.

Goldfish pay more attention than humans (but goldfish can’t make gifts)

I feel as if our information overload gets worse every year. And, I don’t need to remind you how much is going on right now. Getting your messages out is never easy, but like everything else, it’s gotten a whole lot harder this past year.

Your nonprofit organization needs to continue communicating regularly with your donors and you need to do it well. With everything that’s going on, it’s possible they’ll miss your messages. 

Here are a few ways to make your messages stand out. 

What’s your intention?

What’s the purpose of your message? What do you want your reader to do? Are you asking for a donation? Maybe you’re thanking your donor or sharing an update.

Think from your reader’s perspective. What would she be interested in or what would make him take action?

Don’t muddle your messages with too much information. Keep it simple and stick to one call to action or type of message. 

Choose the right channels

Most likely you’ll use more than one channel to communicate. Pay attention to the channels your donors are using and focus your efforts there.

Email may be the primary way you’re communicating right now and there’s a reason for that. It’s fast, easy, relatively inexpensive, and almost everyone has an email address. You can quickly get a message out to a lot of people. Also, unlike social media, it’s something you can control. You don’t have to rely on a social media algorithm to hope your message ends up in your donor’s feed.

The downside is people get a huge amount of email from a variety of different sources. The same is true with social media. It’s easy for your messages to get lost in the shuffle. Plus, factor in Zoom and Netflix and at some point people don’t want to look at a screen anymore. 

While you’ll likely use electronic communication pretty regularly, don’t discount direct mail. Your donors are more likely to see these messages. We get far less postal mail than electronic communication. Also, a person can put a piece of mail aside and look at it later. Don’t count on that happening with any type of electronic communication. You can also communicate by phone. This is a great way to thank your donors.

Going multichannel is another option. This is very common for fundraising campaigns and inviting people to events, as well as including a link to your e-newsletter on your social media platforms. This way if people miss your initial message on one platform, they may see it on a different one.

Get noticed right away

Remember, your donors have a lot going on and you need to capture their attention right away.

Your fundraising letters and anything else you send by mail needs to look appealing enough to open. You could put a tagline on the envelope. That doesn’t mean something like It’s Our Annual Appeal. Try something like – How you can help students boost their reading skills. Your envelope should look personal and not resemble a bill or junk mail.

“Dale’s” mail

Once your donor opens your fundraising appeal, lead with a story followed by a clear, prominent ask. When they open your thank you letter, they should be greeted with gratitude.

A good subject line is the key to getting someone to open your email message. Keep in mind that your donor’s inbox is crammed with messages. Don’t use something boring like April e-newsletter or Donation Received. Entice them with Find out how you helped students boost their reading skills. or You just did something amazing today!  

Keep them engaged once they open your message.

Keep it short

In many cases, a shorter message is best. You want a good balance between saying too much and saying too little. All your words should count, so be careful about adding too much filler. That often includes bragging about your organization and explaining what you do.

I recently received an annual report that was 55 pages long. While this is not a post about how to create an annual report, I imagine most donors are going to look at it and think,“I don’t have time to read this.”

Plus, people have short attention spans.

What’s in My Inbox | Shorter attention spans means you need to deliver with your enews

Your goal is to get your donors to read your messages. If it looks long and boring, they probably won’t bother.

Make it easy to read and scan

Besides sending a short message, use short paragraphs and lots of white space, too. Your messages need to be easy to read and scan in an instant. Most people aren’t going to read something word for word. Be sure they can quickly get the gist of what you want to say. Don’t use microscopic font either – use 12 point or higher.

Be personal and conversational

Write directly to your reader using clear, conversational language – no jargon. Don’t confuse your donors with generic messages.

Don’t cast a wide net

It’s important that you send your messages to the right audience and your audience isn’t everyone.

You’ll have more luck with a fundraising appeal when you send it to past donors or people who have a connection to your cause. The same is true for event invitations or recruiting volunteers.

You may want to reach out to as many people as possible, but that won’t guarantee you’ll get more donations or event attendees. Segmenting and engaging with the right audience will bring you better results.

Going back to that annual report, it seemed more appropriate for major funders and prospective funders than smaller dollar donors. It also wasn’t very donor-centered, but I digress. It looks like that organization decided to send all their donors this massive annual report instead of trying to engage smaller dollar donors with something shorter.

Be a welcome visitor

If you communicate regularly and do it well, your donors should recognize you as a reputable source and are more likely to read your messages. If all you do is send them generic fundraising appeals, then you need to make some changes.

When you send email, make sure people know it’s coming from your organization. In the from field, put DoGood Nonprofit or Susan Taylor, DoGood Nonprofit. If you just put a person’s name or info@dogoodnonprofit.org, people may not know who it’s from and ignore your message.

Only send email to people who have opted into your list. Otherwise, you’re spamming them. Some people will choose not to receive email from you, and that’s okay. The ones who do are interested in hearing from you. Give people the option to unsubscribe, too.

Even though people only get a few pieces of mail a day, most of it’s junk mail. You never want any of your letters, newsletters, or postcards to be perceived as junk mail (see above).

By putting in a little time and effort, you can help ensure that your messages stand out.

3 Strategies for Nonprofit Messages that Stand Out in Donors’ Mailboxes

How to Write Awesome Emails Your Donors Want to Read

Make Time for Some Spring Cleaning

Spring is officially here and depending on where you live, it may or may not feel like it. Here in Boston, we’re starting to see the beginning of warmer weather.

I’ve been hearing a lot about spring cleaning lately. I know, groan. Some people took on a bunch of cleaning and decluttering projects during the pandemic. I wasn’t one of them. It was too much to deal with, although I did shred two years of financial documents recently. 

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. You were just trying to run your organization during a tumultuous year.

Make time to take on these so-called cumbersome tasks. Just think how happy you’ll be once you tackle them. 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

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. And, if you didn’t communicate by mail over the last year, then you really need to do some 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

7 strategies for keeping your nonprofit donor database clean

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.

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

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 2020, 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.

Spring cleaning for your email list(s)

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.

Fundraising Software Advice

Spring is about bringing in the new, and a better database would be a wise investment. It can help you raise more money. Organizations with good databases were able to quickly launch an emergency fundraising campaign when the pandemic hit.

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. As I mentioned in my last post, your donor communication needs to reference the current situations. When it doesn’t, it leads me to wonder if you’re using a template from way back when. 

It’s important for you to update your fundraising and thank you letter templates. If you’re still using vague jargon, such as at risk or underserved, you’re undermining your clients/community. Your donors look at the news every day and see people lined up at food banks or countless examples of discrimination. You can’t ignore this by hiding behind your jargon. Over the last year, we’ve seen a lot of authenticity. Bring that into your donor communication.

This post From Jargon to Generosity references a fundraising letter that opens with “Your gift of as little as $44 can provide quality resources for a child at the children’s home.” What do quality resources mean? Is it healthy food, a warm bed at night, a safe environment with a compassionate staff? Be specific and use language your donors will understand. 

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.

The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan 

Don’t put it off too long

I know you have a lot going on, but you need to tackle these projects 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. 

Take 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.

On the Road to Better Donor Communication

With all that’s gone on this year, if you’re still sending generic, organization-centered communication, you’re doing a huge disservice.

I know there has been some conflict about donor-centered vs community-centered, 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. Also, donor-centricity leads to community.

Think Twice Before You Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater | Donor-Centered vs Community-Centered

We’re also seeing real people with real problems. Your vague, generic communication that uses demeaning terms such as at-risk and underserved needs to end.

It’s harder to fundraise now, but you need to still do it. You’ll be more successful if you make some of these improvements to your donor communications.

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 vague, impersonal language and jargon 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. It’s been challenging this past year as many schools switched to remote learning.
  • 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 right now. 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 pour on the 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 Eastside Community Food Bank. This is crucial now since we’ve seen triple the number of people in the past year.
  • 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, 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 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 for 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 

Moving Away from Transactional Fundraising

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

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

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

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

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

Stop using transactional language

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

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

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

“Your Recurring Donation Receipt” 

“Payment Receipt” 

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

Contrast those with these ones that really emphasize their appreciation.

“Thank you for your generous gift”

“You are wonderful!”

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

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

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

Make relationship building part of your fundraising campaigns

You need to build relationships before, during, and after each of your fundraising campaigns.

Before your next appeal, send your donors an update to let them know how they’re helping you make a difference. This is especially important if you do more than one fundraising campaign a year. You don’t want your donors to think the only time they hear from you is when you’re asking for money.

Segment your donors

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

Don’t send the same appeal to everyone on your mailing list. What is your relationship with these individuals? Maybe they’ve given once or many times. Perhaps they’re event attendees, volunteers, e-newsletter subscribers, or friends of board members. Mention your relationship in your appeal letter. For example, thank a long-time donor for supporting you these past five years.

Monthly donors get their own appeal letter. This doesn’t happen enough and it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Build relationships with these committed donors. Recognize they’re monthly donors and either invite them to upgrade their gift or give an additional donation.

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

Create an attitude of gratitude

Your focus on building relationships continues when you thank your donors. Many organizations do a poor job with this. Send a handwritten note or make a phone call, if you can.

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

Be sure to also shower your current donors with love to keep your relationship going. Do something special for donors who have supported you for several years.

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

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

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

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

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships

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

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

I’m amazed that after I attend an event, support someone in a walkathon, or give a memorial gift, most organizations don’t do a good job of building a relationship. I could be a potential long-time donor. Personally, I would never give a memorial gift or support someone in a charity walk if I didn’t believe in that organization’s cause. Don’t miss out on a potential opportunity to build longer-term relationships.

Have a relationship-building day

My main objection to giving days, such as GivingTuesday, is they focus so much on asking. What if we put all the time and energy we focus on giving days into a relationship-building day?

I’m not saying you can’t participate in giving days, but instead of the relentless begging, follow the formula above and build relationships before, during, and after your appeal.

Of course, you could choose not to participate in a giving day and have an all-out relationship-building day instead.

Giving Tuesday: What if it was called Living Schmoozeday?

Build relationships all year round

It’s easier to stay focused on donors when you’re sending an appeal or thank you, but this is just the beginning. Many organizations go on communication hiatus at certain times of the year and that’s a big mistake, especially now. Ideally, you should keep in touch with your donors every one to two weeks.

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

Raise More Money With a Multichannel Fundraising Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEFORE YOU START

Clean up your mailing lists/database

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

7 strategies for keeping your nonprofit donor database clean

Make it easy to donate online

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

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

Which channels do your donors use?

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

SAMPLE SCHEDULE AND STRATEGY

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

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

November 4

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

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

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

Week of November 9

Mail your appeal letters.

Week of November 16

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

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

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

Week of November 23

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

Week of November 30

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

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

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

Week of December 7

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

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

The rest of December and beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multi-Channel Fundraising: What Your Nonprofit Needs to Know

How to Make a Multichannel Fundraising Ask: the Basics

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

A few weeks ago I mentioned one of the themes for your fundraising and communications this year should be this is more important than ever. I don’t need to remind you we’re not living in normal times.

I know you have a lot going on and it may be tempting to send all your donors the same appeal and thank you letter. Don’t do that. 

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. 

This is why you need to segment your donors. If you don’t segment your donors and send different letters to different types of donors, you’re telling them you don’t recognize them for who they are.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to create 100 different types of letters. Four or five should be sufficient. Your appeal and thank you letter will stand out if it’s not the same old, same old.

Here are a few different types of donor groups. Feel free to add more if that’s relevant. The more you can segment, the better. Investing in a good 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. Even in a pandemic and economic downturn, it’s okay to ask donors to give a little more. They will if they can.

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, 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 terrible. 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 packet 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 year-end gift. 

When your donors renew or upgrade their monthly gifts, they, of course, get a super fabulous 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 communication targeted to monthly donors. 

Segmenting your donors can pay off

In this down economy, 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.

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

4 Smart Donor Segmentation Strategies for Nonprofits

11 Ways To Segment Your Donors To Improve Your Fundraising

How to Effectively Segment Your Donors and Audiences 

How to Create a Fundraising Appeal that’s Relevant in the Current Climate

September is here. It’s my favorite month and the more moderate temperatures and lower humidity are a nice respite from all the uncertainty going on in the world.

Fall is the busiest time of the year for nonprofit organizations, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal. The current climate (pandemic, economic downturn, heightened awareness of systemic racism, having to cope with all of this, etc)  will require you to create a new, more relevant appeal, although many of the components will be the same.

Even if you’re not planning on launching your campaign until later in the fall, you should get started on your appeal now. You need to create an appeal that will stand out and resonate with your donors.

A couple of things. You must address the current climate in your appeal. Instead of the usual boring, generic letter, you need to specifically address what’s been going on since the pandemic started. 

Also, your appeal needs to be personal – both for your donors and when you write about your clients/community. Be sure to check in with your donors and wish them well.

Here are some ways to create a better, more relevant 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. That doesn’t mean one that says 2020 Annual Appeal. That’s not inspiring, especially now. 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 – Sarah, a single mother with three kids, was laid off earlier this year and had trouble finding enough money to buy groceries for her family. But thanks to generous donors like you, she was able to get boxes of healthy food at the Northside Community Food Bank. Sarah was embarrassed that she said to rely on a food bank to feed her family, but she is treated with respect and dignity each time she visits. 

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.

Here’s more information on creating stories and photos.

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

How to Engage With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

Make a prominent 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. I know we’re in an economic downturn, but don’t be afraid to ask your donors to upgrade their gift. People want to help if they can.

Phrase your ask like this – We’re so grateful for your previous gift of $50. We’re serving three times the number of people at the food bank right now. Would you be able to help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75?

Your donors know times are tough. Also, if you’ve been doing a good job of engaging your donors throughout the year (this is so important now), 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, as well as community-centered

There’s some dichotomy right now 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 by using terms like at-risk youth or underserved communities. They are people, after all.

Share your success and challenges

I’m sure this has been a challenging year for you. Maybe you’ve had to do things differently, but how you had to make changes to your food bank is less important than why you had to do it. You need to continue providing healthy food to families, while doing it safely.

Highlight some of your accomplishments, but you can share challenges, too. A theatre where I’m a subscriber had to shut down in March and won’t be able to open again until sometime next year. Understandably, this created a budget shortfall and they’re trying to raise $100,000 by December 31.

Show how you plan to continue your work with your donor’s help. Remember to stay donor-centered! You need your donors right now.

Personalization is more important than ever

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 now. Let them know how much you appreciate their support. If a donor contributed to an emergency campaign earlier in the year, be sure to thank them for that. These donors are committed to helping you through this difficult time.

Also, send a specific appeal tailored to monthly donors, giving them the recognition they deserve. You can ask them to upgrade or give an additional year-end gift.

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

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.

How To Create Donation Tiers That Drive Donations

Some donors will prefer to donate online. Direct them to a user-friendly donation page on your website.

Donation Page Best Practices For Nonprofits; Tips for Great Donation Pages

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. 

How Monthly Giving is a Win-Win for Your Nonprofit

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.

It’s fine to go over a page, especially if you’re breaking up the text with a photo and short paragraphs. I know longer letters can perform better, but donors have a lot going on, so if you’re going to write a longer letter, make every word count. 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

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.

How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?

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.

This could be a tough fundraising season. That’s why you need to spend some time writing a better, more relevant appeal letter that will resonate with your donors and help bring you the donations you need. Good luck!

Read on for more advice and resources on writing a better fundraising appeal for the current climate.

10 Tips for Nonprofit Direct Mail Fundraising During COVID-19

3 Strategies Every Nonprofit Should Use for Year-End Fundraising in 2020

7 Wise COVID-19 Fundraising Templates

Image by Howard Lake

Do the Best that You Can

Times are tough now and there’s so much uncertainty. Everyone is feeling it. I’m sure your nonprofit organization has been dealing with many challenges over the last several months.

Even though it’s hard, you need to keep going. If you haven’t been fundraising or have done very little of it, you’ll need to unless you have a good amount of reserve funding, which many organizations don’t.

If you’re wondering whether or not you should run your fall fundraising campaign, here are a couple of things to keep in mind. You can’t raise money if you don’t ask. Also, what would happen if your organization didn’t exist?  

The need your clients/community face is still there and has most likely increased. And while social and human service organizations are vital, arts and culture organizations are also important for the community. 

We need our nonprofit organizations to succeed.

You can do this! Just do the best that you can and that may mean going smaller in some instances. 

Quality counts

You want to get started on your year-end campaign as soon as possible. Now would be good. One of the first things you should do is figure out what worked and what didn’t from past campaigns. 

I wrote about getting ready for your year-end campaign in a previous post. You want to produce quality fundraising appeals and thank you letters. Don’t use the same templates you’ve used in the past. You must address the current situations. I’ll have more on this in future posts.

It’s worth the time and effort to craft a stellar appeal because it should help you raise more money.

Segment your donors

One aspect of a good appeal letter is personalization. You must segment your donors as much as you can. At the very least, segment them by current donors, monthly donors, and people who haven’t donated before.

You’ll have the best luck with people who’ve donated before and they’re going to want to see a letter that thanks them for their past support.

Monthly donors are the backbone of many nonprofit organizations and have a retention rate of 90%. Any time you communicate with them you must recognize them as monthly donors. You can ask your monthly donors to upgrade or give an additional donation.

Donors who have supported you before deserve a great appeal letter, and thank you letter too!

Mail your letters if you can

You should try to mail your appeal letters if you can. This is a proven way to raise money. I know mail can be expensive and who knows what’s going on with the post office. Everyone may have to work remotely again later this fall. I hope that’s not the case. Do your part to keep COVID at bay.

If cost is an issue, you could just mail letters to current donors and monthly donors and send email to other donor groups. Think segmentation! 

This is a good opportunity to look at your previous fundraising campaigns. If you have people on your mailing list who have never given or haven’t given for a while, it’s probably in your best interest not to mail them a letter. For lapsed donors who haven’t given for more than three years, you could send them a targeted letter or email telling them you miss them and want them back. If that doesn’t produce results, consider moving them to an inactive file. 

Focus on donors who will be more likely to give.

An electronic campaign can work

If it’s impossible to mail your appeals, run a high-quality email campaign with lots of reminders, but not so many that you overwhelm your donors. Think quality, not quantity. Don’t make it like the onslaught of political emails I’m getting now.

Use enticing subject lines and the amazing appeal you’re going to create. Many organizations ran successful electronic campaigns in the spring when the pandemic broke out so this is something that can work. 

These organizations were able to access their CRM/database remotely and you want to make sure you can do that.

If you can only do electronic thank yous right now, make them sparkle. You could make a thank you video, photo, or word cloud. And remember, thanking your donors isn’t a one and done deal. Keep thanking them throughout the year. 

Use this opportunity to see what channels your donors are using. Maybe social media makes sense for you, maybe it doesn’t. Also, consider calling some of your longer-term donors, especially if they don’t use email.

Focus on retention 

Donor retention should always be one of your top priorities – before, during, and after your appeal. Remember, your best bet for donations are your current donors.

Focusing on retention will help during the economic downturn. Some donors may not be able to give this year, but maybe they’ll be able to in the future. Keep engaging with them.

Retention: Still Your Best Strategy

Make time for what’s important and take care of yourself

I know there’s a lot going on both at your organization and in the world. Make time for what’s important, take care of yourself, and do the best that you can.

Get a Head Start on Your Year-End Fundraising Campaign

5524669257_ab67585fd0_wWe’re already halfway through August. Pandemic or not, we still have seasons and fall is traditionally fundraising season for nonprofit organizations.

If you had a campaign planned for this fall, but are thinking against it, don’t do that. You should still do your campaign. You can’t raise money if you don’t ask.

Yes, it will be harder, which is why you should start planning it now. And summer’s not over yet, so there’s still time to get ice cream and go to the beach (please stay safe and practice social distancing when you do).

Here’s 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 2020 fundraising plan and most likely that has changed. Perhaps you were able to raise money earlier in the year with an emergency campaign and/or a virtual event.

There’s a good chance you need to raise more money if you’ve had to shift the way you run your programs and there’s a greater need for your services.

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

Do you have a plan?

Put together a plan for your appeal 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, so I think earlier is better. You’ll be competing with other organizations who are doing appeals. It’s also an election year in the United States, but that doesn’t always affect nonprofit fundraising.

Maybe you want to send your appeal letters the first week in November. If so, make your goal to have the letters done at least a week before that. Maybe more if people are working remotely.

Also, how are you mailing your appeal? Do you use a mail house or do you get staff and volunteers together to stuff envelopes?  If it’s the latter, it will be harder to get a group together, so you’ll need more time. 

An Annual Appeal Fundraising Timeline You Can Use

13 End-of-Year Appeal Strategies

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

This is going to be the year you’ll retire your boring, generic appeal letter (more on that in future posts). Your appeal must address the current situations.

A good way to start is to create an engaging story for your appeal. How are the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, and the economic downturn affecting your clients/community? What challenges are they facing? Focus on them, not your organization.

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

3 Strategies Every Nonprofit Should Use for Year-End Fundraising in 2020

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

How to Engage With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

How did/can your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should highlight some of the accomplishments you’ve made recently and state what you plan to do in the coming months. For example, let’s say you run a tutoring program. You were able to get Chromebooks for half of the students who didn’t have access to a computer so they could do their sessions remotely. You still need to buy more, and with the pandemic looming, remote sessions will be the norm for a while. This is important because thanks to your donors, regular tutoring sessions help students read at or above their grade level and that needs to continue. 

Remember to focus on your clients and show how your donors are helping you make a difference or can help you make a difference. Don’t brag about your organization.

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, now is a good time to segment your mailing lists – current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. This is more important than ever. Your current donors are your best source of donations. You should have more success if you can personalize your appeal letters.

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until 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. It could take longer to get some of these things.

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.

Crafting the Perfect Donation Form: 6 Key Features

Donation Page Best Practices For Nonprofits; Tips for Great Donation Pages

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

A monthly giving program is 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, now is an excellent time to start one or grow the one you have.

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. Put together a thank you plan to help you with this.

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.

I know it will be hard this year, but you still need to run a campaign. 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.

Best of luck!

The Value of Keeping Things Simple

8942956212_3c06d69a16_mOver the years I’ve come to find the value of keeping things simple. In a way, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced us to keep things simple since we’re limited in what we can do, especially outside the house. Instead of running back and forth from place to place, we’re staying put, although we’re spending more time online.

I realize the pandemic has also complicated our lives and brought with it a lot of stress and uncertainty. But during this time, we can find pleasure in simple things such as taking a walk, reading a novel, or baking bread (which is not keeping it simple for me since I don’t bake anything that involves yeast or rolling dough). 

Keeping it simple doesn’t have to mean a bare-bones existence. There’s a Swedish term called lagom meaning everything in moderation or not too much, not too little. Right now, this can apply to how much we read about COVID-19 – enough to know what’s going on, but not too much so it’s overwhelming. 

Keeping things simple is also important for your nonprofit organization. You’re going through a lot. You’ve had to make changes in the way you do your work. That may be providing limited contact or remote services or not be being open at all. Some of you may still be working from home, which can make your work more complicated. 

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

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

Keep it simple by planning ahead

If communicating regularly with your donors sounds too overwhelming, plan ahead by using a communications calendar. You should be in touch every one to two weeks right now. Fill your calendar with different ways to do that. Think ask, thank, update/engage, repeat. And as I mention below, shorter communication is the way to go.

Keep it simple by sticking to one call to action

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

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

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

Your thank you email or 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.

5 Nonprofit Email Call-to-Actions That Inspire Action

Keep it simple with shorter, easy to read messages

If your communication is too long, most people won’t read it. This is crucial now. People are getting so much information it’s hard to take it all in.

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

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

Keep it simple by using conversational language

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

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

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

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

How Jargon Destroys Nonprofit Fundraising & Marketing

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

Photo by One Way Stock