Improve Your Fundraising and Communications by Segmenting Your Donors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Current single gift donors

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

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

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

Potential/new single gift donors

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

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

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

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

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

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

New monthly donors

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

Current monthly donors

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

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

Current donors who become monthly donors

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

Segment as much as you can

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

Segmenting your donors makes a difference

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

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

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

How You Can Create a Thank You Plan

Thanking your donors is just as important, if not more important than fundraising. Yet many organizations spend a lot of time putting together a fundraising campaign and treat thanking their donors as an afterthought.

We’re still in a time of uncertainty. While some people have been generous over the last two years, we don’t know how long that will continue.

Prioritizing gratitude and donor relations will help. If you don’t do a good job of thanking your donors, as well as building relationships throughout the year, you’ll have a hard time getting people to people to donate again, which is one of the keys to your success.

This is why having a thank you plan is crucial. It’s not only important when you’re running a fundraising campaign, but also during the “between times.”

Many organizations just thank their donors after they receive a gift and then disappear until the next fundraising appeal. Your donors deserve better than that. 

Thanking your donors is something you need to do throughout the year – at least once a month, if you can. A thank you plan will help you stay focused on gratitude all year round.  

Here’s what you need to include in your thank you plan.

Plan to make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it shouldn’t resemble Amazon checkout. It should make a person feel good about giving a donation.

Open with Thank you, Susan! or You’re amazing! Include an engaging photo or video and a short, easy-to-understand description of how the donation will help your clients/community right now. Put all the tax-deductible information after your message or in the automatically generated thank you email.

If you use a third-party giving site, you might be able to customize the landing page. If not, follow up with a personal thank you email message within 48 hours.

Plan to write a warm and personal automatic thank you email

Set up an automatic thank you email to go out after someone donates online. This email thank you is more of a reassurance to let your donor know you received her donation. You still need to thank her by mail or phone.

Just because your thank you email is automatically generated, doesn’t mean it needs to sound like it was written by a robot. Write something warm and personal.

Give some thought to the email subject line, too. At the very least make sure it says Thank You or You did something great today and not anything boring like Your Donation Receipt or Donation Received. And please stop using words like transaction and processed. A donation is not a transaction. It’s the start or continuation of a relationship.

Plan to thank your donors by mail or phone

I’m a firm believer that every donor, no matter how much she’s given or whether she donated online, gets a thank you card or letter mailed to her or receives a phone call.

Try to thank your donors within 48 hours or within a week at the latest. It might be hard to do that right now, but it will be easier if you plan to carve out some time to thank your donors each day you get a donation. Remember, thanking your donors should be a priority. If you wait too long, you’re not making a good impression.

Instead of sending the usual generic thank you letter, mail a handwritten card or call your donors. Making thank you calls or writing thank you notes is something your board can do. 

Find board members, staff, and volunteers to make phone calls or write thank you notes. Come up with sample scripts. You may want to conduct a short training. Make sure to get your team together well before your next fundraising campaign so you’re ready to go when the donations come in. 

Here’s a sample phone script, which you can modify for a thank you note/letter/email. 

Hi Ben, this is Laura Kramer and I’m a board member at the Riverside Community Food Bank. I’m calling to thank you for your generous donation of $50. Thanks to you, we can continue to provide neighborhood families with healthy food. This is great. We’re seeing more people come in right now because of rising food costs, so we really appreciate your support.

You’ll stand out if you can send a handwritten thank you card. I get a few of these a year and they tend to come from the same organizations, which shows you what they prioritize! 

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal and heartfelt letter. If you’ve been using the same letter template for a while, take time to freshen it up. Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization, we thank you for your donation of…. 

Open your letter with You’re incredible or Because of you, the Sanders family can finally move into their own home. Create separate letters for new donors, renewing donors, and monthly donors.

Add a personal handwritten note to the letter, preferably something that pertains to that particular donor. For example, if the donor has given before, mention that. Hand sign the letters, if you can.

Let your donors know how much you appreciate them and highlight what your organization is doing with their donations.

In addition, write your thank you letter at the same time you write your appeal letter. Make sure they’re ready to go as soon as the donations come in. Don’t wait three weeks.

Plan to keep thanking your donors all year round

This is where having a thank you plan makes a difference because as I mentioned before – thanking your donors is something you must do all year round.

You can use your communications calendar to incorporate ways to thank your donors, but why not go one step further and create a specific thank you calendar?

Remember to try to say thank you at least once a month. Here are some ways to do that. 

  • Send cards or email messages at Thanksgiving, during the holidays, on Valentine’s Day, or mix it up a little and send a note of gratitude in June or September when your donors may not be expecting it. Try to send at least one or two gratitude messages a year by mail, since your donors will be more likely to see those. And you don’t need a holiday or special occasion to thank your donors. Thank them just because….
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories, as well as how the current situations are impacting your work. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude. Be sure to keep thanking your donors in your newsletter and other updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without your donors’ support.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your thank you landing page, by email, and on social media. Go one step further and personalize it. 
  • Send a warm-up letter or email about a month before your next campaign (no ask). This is a great way to show appreciation BEFORE you send your appeals.
  • COVID makes it tricky to plan an open house or tours right now, but you could do something virtual to let your donors see your nonprofit up close and personal. Also, a virtual gathering or tour may be easier to pull off. 
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors. You can repeat some of the ones listed above over the year.

The tactics that work best are going to differ for each organization. I would definitely send something by mail a few times a year. Email and social media may not be as successful, especially if your donors don’t use electronic communication very much. You could survey them to find out their communication preferences, as well as their interests. This will help with your engagement.

Creating a thank you plan will make it easier to keep showing appreciation to your donors all year round. You need your donors right now, so don’t hold back on that always-important gratitude.

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

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

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

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

How much money do you need to raise?

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

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

Do you have a plan?

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

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

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

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

How can your donors help you make a difference?

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

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

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

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

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

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

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

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

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

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

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

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

Is it easy to donate online?

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

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

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

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

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

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

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

How will you thank your donors?

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

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

How will you keep up with your donor communication?

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

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

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

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

Best of luck!

Get Noticed in an Instant by Sharing Visual Stories

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of sharing stories with your donors. Written stories are great, but donors may not have the time or energy to read a story.

This is why you also need to use visual stories. Some people respond better to visual stimuli, anyway. Here are a few ways to tell visual stories.

Tell a story in an instant with an engaging photo

You’ve probably heard the phrase a picture is worth a 1000 words. Cliche, yes, but it’s true.

You can capture your donors’ attention in an instant with an engaging photo. That doesn’t mean one of your executive director receiving an award. Use photos of your programs in action or something else that’s engaging.

Print newsletters and annual reports tend to be dominated by long-winded text. Most of your donors won’t want to read the whole thing. But if you share some engaging photos, they can get a quick glance at the impact of their gift without having to plow through a bunch of tedious text.

Photos can enhance your print communication by breaking up the narrative. You can also complement your written stories with photos. If you’re worried about mailing costs, postcards and other short pieces with photos are the way to go. You could even do a Postcard Annual Report.

If you use social media, you need to communicate several times a week. As your donors scroll through an endless number of posts, an engaging photo can stand out and get their attention.

Use photos everywhere – fundraising appeals, thank you letters/cards, newsletters, annual reports, updates, your website, and social media. Create a photo bank to help you with this.

It’s fine to use the same photos in different channels. It can help with your brand identity. Be sure to use high-quality pictures. Also, make sure your photos match your messages. If you’re writing a fundraising appeal about children who aren’t getting enough to eat each day, don’t use a picture of happy kids.

If you use a caption with a photo, make sure it emphasizes the donor’s role in what’s happening in the picture.

Work with your program staff to get photos and videos (more on videos below). Confidentiality issues may come up and you’ll need to get permission to use pictures of kids.

Highlight your work with a video

Videos are becoming a more popular way to connect. They can be used to show your programs in action, share an interview, give a behind-the-scenes look at your organization, or my favorite – thanking your donors. 

You can share videos that are relevant to our current situations. You could talk about how the pandemic, inflation, or systemic racism is impacting the people/community you work with. 

I would definitely recommend creating a personalized thank you video. If that’s not possible, you can make a general one.

Make your videos short and high quality. Short is key. If your video is more than a couple of minutes, your donors may not bother to watch it. 

You can use videos on your website, in an email message, on social media, and at an event (virtual or in person, if it’s safe).

Spruce up your statistics by using infographics

A typical annual report is loaded with statistics. You want to share these, along with your accomplishments, but you don’t want to overwhelm your donors with a lot of text.

Why not use an infographic in your annual report instead of including the usual laundry list of statistics and accomplishments? 

Infographics are also great in other types of communication such as newsletters and updates.

Good visuals will enhance both your print and electronic communication. Keep your donors engaged with all types of stories.

How Are You Sharing Stories With Your Donors?

People have been sharing stories of various kinds for centuries. I’m a big reader and always appreciate a good story.

Your nonprofit organization also needs to share stories in order to connect with your donors.

Donors want to hear your stories

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

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

Your stories need to be relevant

I don’t need to tell you the world has changed over the last two years. Your stories need to take the everchanging current situations into account. We may be done with COVID, but COVID isn’t done with us. We’re also seeing inflation and a possible recession. Let your donors know how all this is impacting your clients/community right now.

Create a culture of storytelling

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

Work with your program staff to create stories that will help you connect with your donors. Everyone needs to understand how important this is. Share stories at staff meetings and/or set up regular meetings with program staff to gather stories. 

When you put together a story, ask.

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

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

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

Language is important

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

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

Your stories aren’t about your organization

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

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

Make your stories personal 

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

Use different stories for different types of communication

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

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

In a fundraising appeal, you want to highlight a problem or need. Let’s return to the food pantry example. Here you can tell a story about Lisa, a working single mother with three kids who’s having trouble feeding her family because of rising food costs. 

In your thank you letter, you can let your donors know that because of their generous gift, Lisa can get healthy food for her family at the Westside Community Food Bank.

Then in your newsletter, annual report, or update, you can tell a success story that because of your generous donors, Lisa doesn’t have to worry so much about how she’ll be able to put food on the table.

Make connections with your donors by sharing stories. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories.

How to Build Relationships With Your Monthly Donors

Over the summer I’ve written about the importance of building relationships and having a strong monthly giving program. This post combines both of these topics.

Specifically, I want to focus on building relationships with your current monthly donors. 

Don’t take these donors for granted. Monthly donors stepped up during the height of the pandemic and you should be able to rely on them during any economic uncertainty.

This doesn’t magically happen. You need to devote time to connecting with these valuable donors. 

Make a plan

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

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

Send something by mail

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

How about sending a handwritten note to your monthly donors? Another option is to create a postcard thank you and/or update. Your donors will really appreciate this nice gesture.

Create a video

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

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

Spruce up those automatic thank you emails

Those automatic thank you emails you may have set up don’t count as part of your monthly donor connection plan. It’s fine to create these, but you don’t have to. While these monthly acknowledgments offer donors reassurance that the organization received their gift, they’re often uninspiring. Many of these acknowledgments are just receipts and a receipt is not a thank you.

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

Here’s a timely example from Planned Parenthood.

Ann,

Thank you for supporting Planned Parenthood! Your tax-deductible monthly gift of ___has been processed.

The recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. JWHO is horrifying and dangerous. But all of us at Planned Parenthood remain committed to working to ensure that every patient who needs high-quality, affordable health care can access it.

In this crisis for abortion access, independent providers, abortion funds, and Planned Parenthood health centers will do everything they can to connect anyone who wants an abortion with the care they need.

Your monthly gift to Planned Parenthood fuels our efforts to expand access to abortion and protect affordable sexual and reproductive health care.

With our gratitude for your support, we also want to uplift our partners — abortion funds and independent providers — who are also doing the necessary work to make sure people who need care can access it.

We know you’re invested in our movement because of your generous monthly gift, and, if you’re so inclined, we encourage you to take a few minutes in the next few days to find your local abortion fund or independent provider and connect with them to see how you can help.

On behalf of all of the individuals that your support has allowed us to help, thank you for standing with us.

If you need to change your credit card or billing information, please visit the Self-Service Portal, or contact our Donor Services team by submitting a question online or calling 1-800-430-4907.

Thank you again for your support.

With the exception of using the word processed, I think this is a good acknowledgment. They also include information on how to change your credit card by accessing a self-service portal. This can also give people the opportunity to easily upgrade their gifts.

Get noticed with an enticing subject line

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

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

It goes on to tell a story about a therapy dog who visits a school and interacts with kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD, who have been placed in foster care, and who are dealing with other difficult situations.

Keep your donors engaged with good content

Congratulations, your donor opened your email message. You want to keep them engaged. Here’s the full message from Pet Partners, along with a picture of a thank you note from the kids and the therapy dog Dusty Rose.

Dear Ann,

Your monthly commitment to Pet Partners allows for stability within our organization that directly affects our volunteer experience and the visits they make. Without your support of the human-animal bond, the beautiful impact that our therapy animal teams make wouldn’t be felt. Thank you.

Many handlers partner with other local therapy animal teams to create local community-based groups, as is the case with Santa Clarita Pet Partners Therapy Dogs. Handler Sharon reflects on her time working with this group alongside her therapy dog Dusty Rose as they finish up their visits for the school year at the local elementary school:

“We visit at the school once a week during the school year with children who have been diagnosed with ADHD, who have been placed in foster care, and who are dealing with other difficult situations. They always look forward to our dogs. Typically we have three dogs visiting at a time, each assigned to a student by the school therapist. The students will sit on the floor with the therapy dogs to pet them, do tricks, talk, and relax together.

“Dogs create a nonjudgmental environment for these children. Many times during our visits they will share private information and feelings that they have never told anyone else. They might share that someone is being mean to them, or that when they were gone their parents gave away their dog. Life is difficult for many of these students, but they light up at the sight of their furry friends and the unconditional love the dogs offer.”

During one of the latest visits, the children showed their appreciation through a beautiful thank you note. Though this note is written directly to the therapy animal teams, it is because of your support that the children get to experience the heartwarming impact of therapy animal visits.

Make it personal

Be sure to address your donors by name, just like what you see in the examples above. I would also recommend separate communication for new donors and longer-term donors. 

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

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

The key is to stay in touch and keep making connections. Remember to thank these donors every month

Don’t ignore your valuable monthly donors. Keep building those important relationships

The 5 C’s of Good Nonprofit Communication

I’d like to revisit a topic I’ve written about in the past and that’s the 5 C’s of good nonprofit communication. You can think of this as a summer rerun. Some of you will remember the time networks (and even longer ago there were just a few of them) didn’t release new TV shows in the summer and we just watched reruns. But I digress….  

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

Is it Clear?

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

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

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

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

Is it Concise?

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

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

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

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

Make all your words count.

Is it Conversational?

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

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

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

Is it Compelling?

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

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

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

Are you establishing a connection?

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

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

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

We’re Halfway Through the Year – Are You Meeting Your Goals So Far?

It’s hard to believe we’re halfway through 2022, isn’t it? The mid-point of the year is always a good time to see if you’re meeting your fundraising and communications goals. In this continuous time of uncertainty, your fundraising may be down. Yes, we’re seeing inflation and a possible recession, but that doesn’t mean you should stop fundraising. Another important lesson from the pandemic – Never stop fundraising!  Donors will give if they can.

You may need to make some changes to your fundraising plan and other goals. And, if you never made a fundraising plan for this year, stop right there and put one together now and use it for the remainder of the year. Don’t fly blind.

Take a look at what’s working and what’s not. It will be different for every organization. If you’re doing okay, keep it up. If you’re falling short, figure out where you need to make changes.

If you’re relying too much on grants and events and those are not bringing in the revenue you need, focus more on individual giving. Many nonprofits raise the most money from individual giving. Here are a few other suggestions to help you stay on track this year.

Start or enhance your monthly giving program

Monthly giving is doable for all sizes of nonprofit organizations, even small ones. It’s a great way to raise more money, as well as your donor retention rate. Retention rates for monthly donors are 90%, much better than other retention rates. You’ll have a steady stream of income and it may be more feasible for your donors, especially if they’re feeling pinched financially.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program, get started now. To get more monthly donors, send a special targeted letter to current donors inviting them to become monthly donors. This is a good opportunity to upgrade smaller dollar donors, or any donors for that matter.

Also, do something special for your current monthly donors. Send them a thank you postcard or email. They’ve made a commitment to you, now make a commitment to them.

I’ve always been a fan of monthly giving, even more so over the last two years. Organizations with strong monthly giving programs did better at the height of the pandemic.

Look into higher levels of giving

Another advantage of monthly giving is that these donors are more likely to become mid-level and major donors. Starting a major gift program will take time, but it’s doable even for small organizations. Look into starting one soon. Organizations with strong major gift programs have also done better over the last two years.

Ramp up your donor engagement

My last post was all about how you can engage with your donors this summer. The summer is usually a slower time for fundraising, but it’s a good time to show some donor love and plan for fall.

Some donors will pull back on their giving, but that doesn’t mean ghosting them. Keep engaging with them to help ensure they’ll give again, if they can.

Make improvements to your donor communication

Look at metrics such as website visits and email open rates. I know these don’t always tell the whole story, but if you’re not seeing a lot of engagement, figure out why.

Often, it’s because your content isn’t great or it’s too long. Maybe it’s layout and design. You could also be targeting the wrong audience. Summer is a good time to make some changes.

It’s not too late, yet

If you’re falling short of your goals, you still have time to do better, but you have to make an effort.

Be sure to keep evaluating your progress for the rest of the year. Even if you’re doing okay now, circumstances can change. You may want to monitor your progress more frequently (once a month instead of once a quarter) so you can try to stay on track. You don’t want to get caught off guard. 

Keep monitoring your progress to help ensure a successful year.

Image via PlusLexia.com.

Don’t Take a Vacation From Your Donor Communication

Summer is here, although once again, we’re not having a normal summer. More people are traveling despite rising gas prices, airport delays, a tough economy, and the ongoing pandemic. Nevertheless, we all deserve some kind of a vacation. I hope you’ll get a chance to take one. I know you’ve been through a lot. 

This may be a quieter time for your nonprofit, but you don’t want to be too quiet and ignore your donors. Something the pandemic taught us is we should communicate more during tough times. This would be a great time to do some relationship building.

You should be communicating with your donors at least once a month and that includes the summer months. Don’t make the mistake of taking a vacation from your donor communication. Continuing to stay in touch with your donors will help you when you launch your fall fundraising campaign. 

Here are a few ways you can connect with your donors this summer, as well as throughout the year, and build those important relationships. 

Say thank you

Nonprofit organizations don’t thank their donors enough. You don’t need a reason to thank your donors. Just do it and do it often. You’ll stand out if you do.

This is a good time to do something personal, such as sending a handwritten thank you card. I have a subscription to a local theatre. Every year during the last show of the season, they put a thank you card, along with a piece of chocolate (!), on our seats. Usually, it’s a pre-printed card, but this year they gave out handwritten cards. I was touched. This theatre, like many others, didn’t put on live performances for a year and a half. They weathered some tough times, but got through them thanks to their donors. 

You can do something similar. Pour on the gratitude and let your donors know how you much you’ve appreciated their support over the last few years. Again, try to make it personal. If handwritten cards sound like too much, you could send a postcard, make a video, or connect through email.

You don’t need anything fancy and make it easy for yourself by keeping it simple. There are so many ways to thank your donors. It’s okay to have a little fun and get creative.

Send an update

If you haven’t communicated with your donors much since your last appeal, send them an update sharing your success and challenges. You could combine an update with a thank you, if you’d like.

Try to send something by mail if you can. Your donors are more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail. You could consider an infographic postcard.

I know mail is expensive, but a postcard shouldn’t cost too much. It’s also a quick way to share an update with busy donors. Also, consider that this investment could pay off if your postcard (or handwritten card) entices a donor to give again and possibly upgrade.

If it’s impossible to send something by mail right now, you can use email.

Tie in current situations

I don’t need to tell you there’s a lot going in the world right now. Will certain policies or budget cuts affect your organization? Many states are working on their budget for the next fiscal year.

Share ways your donors can help – perhaps by contacting their legislators, volunteering, or making a donation.

Advocacy alerts can be a great way for people to engage with your organization. Be sure to thank participants and keep them updated on any outcomes.

When all levels of government make funding cuts or policy changes, the need in the community grows, which puts more burden on nonprofit organizations.

Make room for improvement and plan ahead

The summer can be a good time to make improvements in your existing communication. Spend time finding some engaging stories and photos for your newsletters and other updates.

Start working on your appeal and thank you letters for your next campaign. Make sure they focus on building relationships and are donor-centered. Segment your donors by different types – new, renewing, monthly, etc.  

If you’re feeling pinched financially, you may want to start your fall campaign earlier – September/October instead of November/December. I’ll write more about this in future posts, but a few ways to raise additional revenue are to invite current donors to join your family of monthly donors and reach out to your lapsed donors.

For now, keep relationship building front and center. Keep communicating with your donors. They want to hear from you. Don’t take a vacation from your donor communication.

How Your Nonprofit Can Keep Things Simple

Over the years I’ve realized the importance of keeping things simple. For some of us, the pandemic forced us to keep things simple since we were limited in what we could do, especially outside the house. I found pleasure in simple things such as taking a walk, reading, and doing yoga, all of which I continue to make time for, if I can. 

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

Keeping things simple is also important for your nonprofit organization. I feel like we are in a constant vortex of change. I know you’re continuing to navigate this uncertain climate.

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

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

Keep it simple by planning ahead

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

Keep it simple by sticking to one call to action

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

Stick to one call to action. Suppose you send a message that includes requests for a donation, volunteers, and for people to contact their legislators. It’s likely your donors won’t respond to all of your requests and may not respond to any of them. Send separate messages for each request.

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

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

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

Keep it simple with shorter, easy-to-read messages

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

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

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

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

Keep it simple by using conversational language

I find it annoying when I 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. There are programs out there that can help you determine the reading level. Plus, you can raise more money if your messages are easy to read.

Keep out 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. 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.

Keep it simple by creating a clutter-free website

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

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

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

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

Photo via One Way Stock