Your Donors Want to Hear from You

214409794_5c34b1f1f4_wI hope everyone is doing okay and staying safe. Please wear a mask and practice social distancing.

Summer is often a quieter time for nonprofits, although I don’t need to tell you we’re not having a normal summer. You don’t want to be too quiet and ignore your donors. In fact, this is a good time to do some relationship building.

You may be holding back because of the pandemic and economic downturn, but you actually want to communicate more with your donors right now. First, we’re looking at a tough fundraising season, but better donor engagement could help. Also, while some people may be on vacation, many are staying home this year, so it’s a good time to reach them. 

You should be communicating with your donors at least once a month, if not more. Don’t make the mistake of taking a vacation from your donor communication – never a smart decision.

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

Check in and send an update

Check in with your donors and see how they’re doing. Wish them well. This is especially important if you haven’t communicated with them since the COVID-19 outbreak started earlier this year (I hope that’s not the case). Even if you have been in touch more recently, send a message of kindness. Many states are seeing a rising number of COVID cases and we’re all dealing with a lot.

Send an update to let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community right now. Share what’s going on whether it’s success stories, challenges, or some of each. Be authentic and specific. Don’t get trapped in jargon land.

One of my favorite ways to connect is with a 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 your donors.

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

Show some #donorlove

You don’t need a reason to thank your donors. Just do it and do it often. Most organizations don’t do a good job of thanking their donors, so you’ll stand out if you do. My last post was all about thanking your donors. Create a thank you plan to help you with this.

This is another situation where a postcard will work wonders. You can do a combo thank you and update. Go one step further and make your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you card. You could also create a thank you photo for a card or you can share your photo by email and social media. Another great way to connect is to make a thank you video.

There are so many ways to thank your donors. Spend a little time thinking of ways to show some #donorlove. 

20 Unique Donor Thank You Ideas

Create a better newsletter

You may already keep in touch with your newsletter, whether it’s electronic, print, or both. In theory, newsletters can be a great way to engage, but in reality, most of them are long, boring bragfests.

For the time being, I would suggest a shorter newsletter to capture your donors’ attention. You could also opt not to do an official newsletter and just stay in touch with short, engaging updates instead.

Focus more on relationship building in your fundraising appeals

A fundraising appeal can be a way to connect with your donors if you make relationship building the main focus. This rarely happens because most appeals are transactional and generic.

You shouldn’t stop fundraising. You won’t raise the money you need if you don’t ask. Plus, donors want to give if they can.

Remember to keep relationship building front and center at all times. Thank donors for their past support, share some updates, and show them how their gift will help you make a difference for your clients/community.

Cultivating Donor Relationships in 2020: 5 Best Practices

Keep it up 

Your donors want to hear from you this summer and throughout the year. A communications calendar will be a huge help with this so your donors won’t wonder why you haven’t been in touch lately. 

Making Smart Investments is More Important than Ever

10688617385_ce1214d44d_w (1)Nonprofit organizations will be facing some tough times ahead. During an economic downturn, the need for nonprofit services grows while some donors won’t be able to give as much, if at all.

Your first inclination may be to make cuts or continue working with a bare-bones budget with the mindset “we can’t afford this.” 

I understand you want to be cautious. But you also want to use caution before you eliminate something you think you can’t afford. It may be something you should be investing in.

This is why you need to make smart investments. It may seem counterintuitive to spend money when you have so little, but if you make the right decisions, these investments can help you raise more money.

Invest in a good CRM/database

A good CRM (Customer Relationship Management)/database is a must for a number of reasons. First, it can help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by gift amount and politely ask them to give a little more in your next appeal – $35 or $50 instead of $25.

A good database can also help you with retention, which will save you money since it costs less to keep donors than to acquire new ones. You can personalize your letters and email messages. Some CRM’s also have an email component. Otherwise, make sure to invest in a good email service provider, too.

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

You also want a CRM that everyone on your staff can access remotely. When the pandemic hit earlier this year and most everyone was forced to work from home, organizations that could access their CRM and still communicate with their donors had a clear advantage.

Invest in the best CRM/donor database you can afford, and Excel is not a database.

Nonprofit Software

Nonprofit CRM | Complete Guide to Choosing the Best Solution

Invest in monthly giving

Monthly donations are more important than ever now. If you already have monthly donors, or any type of recurring donor, you’ve been receiving a steady stream of revenue throughout the pandemic and economic downtown.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program or you want to grow the one you have, it’s not hard to do. Plus it’s a win-win for your organization since you can raise more money and raise your retention rate as well. The retention rate for monthly donors 90%. That’s significantly higher than other retention rates. 

It’s also easier for your donors if they’re worried about their financial situation, but still want to help. They can make small donations of $5.00 or $10.00 a month instead of giving the entire amount at once. 

Monthly giving is an investment you must make.

Invest in donor communications and that includes direct mail

Years ago, I was working at a nonprofit and our executive director said we shouldn’t do an e-newsletter anymore because we needed to concentrate on raising money.

I wish I knew then what I know now. Fundraising isn’t just about sending appeals. And to quote Tom Ahern – If you do better donor communications, you’ll have more money. 

Yet many nonprofits have a similar view. They don’t want to spend much time thanking their donors and sending newsletters and other updates, even though those types of donor communications can help you raise more money, provided you do it well. 

You don’t want to skimp on your communications budget and that includes direct mail. If you never or rarely use direct mail, you’re missing out on an effective and more personal way to communicate with your donors. Think of the enormous amount of email and social media posts you receive as opposed to postal mail. Your donors will be more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail.

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

Creating thank you cards and infographic postcards are a smart investment and a necessity, not a luxury. Thank you cards are a much better investment than mailing labels and other useless swag.

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

Shorter is better. Lengthy communication (goodbye long annual reports) will cost more and your donors are less likely to read it.

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

You want to communicate with your donors at least once or twice a month. Use a communications calendar to help you with this.

5 Rules for a Successful Donor Communications Program

9 Best Practices for Communications That Stand Out

Nonprofit Fundraising: The Case for Direct Mail

Don’t limit yourself by saying you can’t afford certain expenses. If you invest in a good CRM/database, monthly giving, and donor communications, you should be able to raise more money.

Image by Thomas Lapperre  www.bloeise.nl.

How to Engage With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

35835135741_c9a4a643a4_wGetting your donors’attention in the best of times is hard enough and we’re not in the best of times right now. In my last post, I wrote about the importance of telling your stories. Written stories are great, but donors may not have the time or energy to read a story right now. 

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 a great photo

You can capture your donors’attention in an instant with a great 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, and long print communication isn’t in your best interest right now. But if you share some engaging photos, your donors can get a quick glance at the impact of their gift without having to slog through a bunch of tedious text.

A Postcard Annual Report is a better option, anyway. Postcards with an engaging photo are also great for thank you cards and updates. I’m a big fan of postcards because they’re a quick, less expensive way to communicate by mail.

If you use social media, you need to communicate several times a week. As your donors scroll through an endless amount of Facebook and Twitter posts, an engaging photo can pop 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.

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. It may be hard to get new photos right now. If so, I hope you already have some good ones to use.

6 Ways to Tell Your Nonprofit Story With Images

How to Create a Compelling Fundraising Story Using Images

6 Steps to Establishing a Photo Policy that Boosts Giving & Shows Respect

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. If you’re a museum that’s about to re-open, you can show how people can visit it safely. If you haven’t re-opened, you could give a virtual tour of some of your collections. You could also talk about how the COVID-19 outbreak or systemic racism is affecting the people/community you work with. 

I would definitely recommend a thank you video. I received a personalized video a few months ago that specifically thanked me for making a donation in addition to my monthly gifts. It was such a nice gesture. If it’s not feasible to make personalized thank you videos, you can make a general one.

How to (Easily) Thank Donors with Video

Make your videos short and high quality. Short is key. People are spending a lot more time online now, especially on Zoom. If your video is more than a couple of minutes, they 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 for now).

The Science of Nonprofit Video Engagement: How To Use Emotion to Increase Social Sharing

5 Examples of Nonprofit Storytelling that Compel People to Give

Enhance your statistics by using infographics

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

Why not use an infographic instead of the usual laundry list of statistics and accomplishments?  

Here are some examples. A Great Nonprofit Annual Report in a Fabulous Infographic

This is no time for a long annual report. Also, if you send out your annual report too late, it becomes irrelevant. I just received an organization’s 2019 annual report with no insert referencing COVID-19, and right now I’m not interested in what this organization did last year.

With everything changing at a rapid pace, I would recommend short quarterly or even monthly updates with infographics and other visuals instead of the typical annual report.

6 Types of Nonprofit Infographics to Boost Your Campaigns

Infographics for Nonprofits: How to Create One and Why They’re Effective

7 Tools for Creating Nonprofit Infographics

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

Nonprofit Visual Storytelling: Using the Power of Story to Spark Human Connection

 

 

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

18761109699_50d9b19a78_oWe’re halfway through 2020 and it looks like this will be a year that will stand out in history. We’re having a global pandemic, along with a severe economic downturn. The horrific killing of George Floyd by a police officer spawned protests against racism and police brutality.

Systemic racism is something that’s been part of the United States (and other countries) for centuries. Are we just now realizing that Aunt Jemima is a racist symbol?

It’s not surprising that the COVID-19 outbreak and economic devastation are affecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities at a much higher level. It’s very likely that all of these situations are affecting the people/community you work with.

I want to briefly address racism right now. If your nonprofit organization works with the BIPOC community, then they are affected by racism. If you’re working on issues such as affordable housing, homelessness, education, health care, etc, these have ties to racism.

Your organization shouldn’t be afraid to talk about racism when you tell your stories or communicate in other ways. Vu Lee addressed this last month.

Have nonprofit and philanthropy become the “white moderate” that Dr. King warned us about?

You may have made a statement against racism, which is a good first step. Don’t stop with that.

Donors want to hear your stories

Stories are one of the best ways to communicate with your donors. Unfortunately, you’re probably not using them enough. 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. I know it’s even harder now since the COVID-19 outbreak has upended the way you work. Maybe everyone is still working at home or only some of you are back at the office. You can still do this. The summer is a good time to come up with some new stories.

Your stories need to be relevant

Just as it’s been for the last few months, your stories need to take the current climate into account. That’s why you new need ones. You’re seeing real people with real problems in real time. These posts address this more.

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

HOW TO TELL YOUR NONPROFIT’S STORY, EVEN IN THE MIDST OF CRISIS

How to Communicate with Supporters During COVID-19: Nonprofit & Brand Examples

Create a culture of storytelling

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

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

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, especially now.

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

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

Create a story bank to help you organize all your stories. Take advantage of slower times of the year to gather 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. You can use the same stories in different channels.

Language is important

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

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

I have to admit I don’t know the best way to approach some of this and would welcome suggestions.

Your stories aren’t about your organization

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

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

Make your stories personal 

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

Fundraising with Names Have Been Changed Disclaimers

There continues to be a lot going on and your organization can’t ignore the current climate. Tell stories that address these situations and be respectful of the people/community you work with.

Finally, COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. Please be smart – wear a mask, practice social distancing, and avoid crowds. Stay safe and be well!

 

Donor Retention Strategies: From CRMs to Annual Reports

Bloomerang_Ann Green Nonprofit_Donor Retention Strategies From CRMs to Annual Reports_Feature

By Jay Love

Nonprofit professionals have a lot on their minds. You’re probably thinking about methods to keep your staff and constituents safe during the pandemic, effective work-from-home strategies to keep everyone productive, and how to maintain programming while adhering to social distancing guidelines. 

Whatever you do, don’t stop fundraising during these difficult times. While this fundraising may look different, it should never cease entirely. You need revenue to keep your organization alive amidst a shifting economy. 

Not only that, but it’s imperative that you analyze your fundraising strategy and consider additional strategies you can take to ensure that when all of this has subsided, your organization comes out on top.

This means one of your organization’s main priorities right now should be maintaining and improving your donor retention rate.

According to Bloomerang’s donor retention guide, the average donor retention rate has been sitting between 40% and 50% for the last fifteen years. The image below shows its progression.

Bloomerang_Ann Green Nonprofit_Donor Retention ExampleYour nonprofit should aim to be above average in your donor retention now so when the pandemic ends, you’ll have developed these relationships and have an even stronger base of support. 

A higher donor retention rate translates directly to higher revenue for a few reasons. First, retaining donors is substantially less expensive than acquiring new donors. Second, donor gifts tend to increase as they develop stronger connections with your mission. Finally, donor retention leads to a more predictable revenue stream, putting it in a good position to increase steadily. 

In order to increase your nonprofit’s donor retention rate and secure additional funding, even during difficult times, we recommend the following strategies: 

  1. Make donor retention a priority. 
  2. Create strong first impressions. 
  3. Focus on engagement. 
  4. Stay transparent with supporters. 

Here at Bloomerang, we’ve helped nonprofits just like yours increase their fundraising revenue by focusing their attention on donor retention. These strategies can help you too! Let’s get started. 

Bloomerang_Ann Green Nonprofit_Donor Retention Strategies From CRMs to Annual Reports_Header 1

1. Make donor retention a priority. 

In order to effectively improve your organization’s donor retention, you must make it a priority. You simply can’t wish that it will improve, barely adjust your approach, and then expect your rates to drastically increase. Rather, you should recognize that the work you put into developing your donor retention strategies is directly correlated to the results you’ll see in your fundraising revenue. 

One of the best ways to make sure you’re making donor retention a priority is to put donor retention information front-and-center for you and your staff to see. 

To do this, you may consider the following placements: 

  • On the fundraising dashboard in your CRM. The best option is to choose a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solution that emphasizes donor retention and its importance for your organization. This will automatically track your retention rate for your team to see. Plus, effective engagement and donation tracking within donor profiles will help drive your retention rates up. This guide can help you choose a solution that prioritizes your donor retention rates. 

Bloomerang_Ann Green Nonprofit_CRM Example

  • In regular communication documents with your team. If your team hosts regular organization-wide check-in meetings, create a standing slide in your presentation tool to update them about the current progress and status of your donor retention rate. 
  • On your office’s wall. When your team is back in the office, consider tracking your progress with a “donor retention meter” posted in a common space. This meter should show your current donor retention rate, your goal rate, and the trend line that measures your progress so far. 

If your organization sets quarterly or annual goals, consider incorporating donor retention into these goals. This will make sure your whole team is on the same page and working toward improving these metrics. 

Bloomerang_Ann Green Nonprofit_Donor Retention Strategies From CRMs to Annual Reports_Header 2

2. Create strong first impressions. 

Donor retention is all about strengthening your relationships with supporters. The beginning of that relationship is crucial for achieving your retention goals. After all, the majority of donors donate once and then never again. 

According to reports from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, the average new donor retention rate is very low (around 20%) while repeat donor retention rates jump drastically (to over 60%). This means if your nonprofit can convince people to donate a second time, chances are they’ll keep giving in the future. That’s why the second donation is often referred to as the golden donation

Bloomerang_Ann Green Nonprofit_new vs existing donor retention comparisonTo make sure your nonprofit begins relationships with supporters on the right foot, we recommend you consider the following strategies: 

  • Streamline the donation process. Donation abandonment occurs when you’re able to get people to your donation page, but they never hit “submit” on the donation itself. This can occur when your donation process is not optimized. We recommend strategically organizing your donation page so the process is quick and easy for supporters to complete. You can do this by only asking for the information you need, ensuring everything fits on one page, and including a clear “submit” button. 
  • Send immediate appreciation. In addition to including a confirmation page after the donation is submitted, be sure your organization is following up immediately after every donation by sending a thank-you note. This will further confirm that you received the donation and show your donor that you’re grateful for their contribution. Consider sending new supporters a welcome packet or other information to greet them after their initial gift.
  • Call your new supporters. Calling new supporters personally shows them your organization cares deeply and wants to start a relationship. It’s a more personal way to thank them. In fact, our own research shows that calling donors at least once within 90 days of their first donation increases first-time donor retention by over 20%

Bloomerang_Ann Green Nonprofit_Calling First-Time Donors

As you can see, increasing the first-time donor retention rate is an effective first step to take in increasing your overall donor retention. You’re lucky to have such incredible supporters for your cause. Show them that gratitude and kick off your relationships right!

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3. Focus on engagement. 

Nonprofits have a bad habit of treating their donors like ATMs. When you need funding for something, your donors are there to support you. Well, that’s not quite right. Your donors are happy to help support your organization when they feel engaged and connected to your cause. 

Therefore, it’s important that nonprofits focus their attention on enhancing the engagement of and experience given to your donors. After all, they’ve already given to your cause, signaling that they want to be involved. 

Focus on engaging your supporters by: 

  • Showing them they’re partners in your mission. Give your supporters an opportunity to provide input on your organization’s activities through feedback and potential (virtual) meetings. This is especially important for your major donors. It shows them they’re true partners. After all, without their generous contributions, your philanthropic activities wouldn’t be possible. 
  • Tracking supporter engagement activities. Keeping track of supporters’ engagement can help your organization see when donors are in danger of lapsing so you can prevent that from happening. It also shows the types of activities your supporters are interested in so you can personalize outreach for further involvement. For example, if a donor has attended all of your events throughout the last year, you might send a personalized invitation to your next one because you know they enjoy that type of activity. 
  • Communicating with them frequently. Frequent communication is the key to staying at the forefront of your donors’ minds. Make sure to strike the perfect balance between contacting them frequently and not overloading their inboxes. Every communication you send should include helpful information so you’re not just sending messages solely for the sake of staying in contact. 

If you’re not sure how to incorporate additional engagement activities into your fundraising strategy, a nonprofit consultant may be able to help you refine your strategy. To find a consultant who is a good fit with your nonprofit, check out listings of top firms from trusted organizations. For instance, you may reference Bloomerang’s consultant directory or Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s list of top consultants.

Bloomerang_Ann Green Nonprofit_Donor Retention Strategies From CRMs to Annual Reports_Header 4

4. Stay transparent with supporters. 

Your supporters appreciate transparency. Not only do they want to know your organization is using their contributions wisely, they also want to help truly further your mission about which you and your supporters are both passionate. 

This means you should be transparent with your supporters about the successful strategies you try as well as those that aren’t successful. When you run into troubles or setbacks, communicate these, but be sure to also provide context. For instance, if you have a negative return on a fundraising campaign, explain what went wrong and how you’ll remedy the situation going forward. 

You can use resources such as email, your tax forms, your website, and newsletters to communicate ongoing updates and campaigns with your supporters. Our favorite method for summarizing and synthesizing your financial and philanthropic information to supporters is through your annual report

Your annual report should be used to support a larger fundraising strategy while honestly communicating status and progress to supporters. 

Some of the important elements to include in your nonprofit annual report are: 

  • Financial data. Provide a graph or a visual that makes it easy for supporters to see how much of your funding went towards philanthropic initiatives, overhead expenses, and fundraising costs. 
  • Projects completed. Tell your supporters about your wins from last year. Show them the impact of their support by explaining the projects and programs you were able to implement together. 
  • Donor appreciation. Consider giving a shout-out to your top supporters in your annual report. This shows these individuals how much they mean to your cause and can drive others to give more in hopes of being featured next year. 

In addition to your annual report this year, you may consider sending a report to supporters about the impact the pandemic has had on your organization. What were the disruptions it caused? Then, be sure to explain how you’ll get back on track, as well as how supporters can help with this process. 

Transparency instills a sense of trust with your supporters. If they think you’re being dishonest in any way, they won’t trust you and will likely stop giving. Building trust through transparent communication is key to building more effective relationships with supporters. 

Donor retention stems from building strong relationships with your supporters. This is especially important during difficult times such as these. Focus your time now on building relationships and improving donor retention so when things go back to normal, your organization will come out on top. Good luck!

 Jay Love, Co-Founder and current Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang

Jay has served this sector for 33 years and is considered the most well-known senior statesman whose advice is sought constantly.

Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth.

He is a graduate of Butler University with a B.S. in Business Administration. Over the years, he has given more than 2,500 speeches around the world for the charity sector and is often the voice of new technology for fundraisers.

The 5 C”s of Good Communication

112660480_e48d18a191_wOne of the first posts I wrote when I started this blog was the 4 C’s of Good Content (clear, concise, conversational, and compelling). I decided to revisit that post and add a 5th C (connection). I gave it a new title, too.

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 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. Get to the 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. 

Keep in mind that many donors won’t read something if it looks like it will be too long. That’s especially true now when we’re dealing with more information than we can take in.

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 dreaded passive voice. Is that the way you talk to your friends?

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. 

HOW TO MAKE YOUR NONPROFIT WRITING MORE CONVERSATIONAL

Is it Compelling?

Is whatever you’re writing going to capture someone’s attention right away and keep them interested? Start with a good opening sentence. Leading with a question is often good. Stories are also great. 

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

9 Powerful Examples of Nonprofit Storytelling

Are you establishing a connection?

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

The Importance of Segmenting Your 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 the people/community you serve. They also want to feel appreciated.

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

In Praise of Postcards

15190799333_66b26279cc_wIf you’ve been fundraising and communicating with your donors the last couple of months, you’ve probably been doing most of it electronically. 

Electronic communication is good, but communicating by mail is better. Start thinking about communicating by mail again. If not now, sometime soon. Especially if donors contributed since the COVID-19 outbreak. They deserve to receive something nice in the mail.

Now you might say – “But mail is too expensive. So is printing something. We have a small staff. We’re just now going back to the office.” I understand all that. I know direct mail can be expensive and putting together a mailing takes more time, but it’s an investment that can help you raise more money.

One way to mail that shouldn’t cost too much is using postcards. First, you can probably do them in house. Also, if you do it well, it’s a quick, easy way to capture your donor’s attention right away. Creating a postcard will be less expensive than creating a four-page newsletter. In the best of times, donors don’t want to be overwhelmed with a lot of information.

People never get nearly as much mail as they do email. Direct mail is a proven way to communicate and engage. I’m starting to see more mail now, even from nonprofits.

Donors are more likely to see something that comes in the mail. Mail is more personal and people need connection right now.

If landscaping and roofing companies can send postcards, so can you. Here are a couple of ways you can use postcards.

Thank your donors

A few months ago when I was encouraging you to keep fundraising, which you should be doing, I gave you a pass on thanking your donors by mail. 

If and when it’s feasible for you to mail, you can send your donors a thank you postcard. Find an engaging photo and pour on the gratitude. If you ran an emergency campaign, thank your donors for contributing to that. Show how your donors’ gifts are helping you make a difference for the people/community you serve right now. 

You could also send your donors a thank you postcard because they’re great and you couldn’t do your work without them.

Add a handwritten personal note, too. Of course, you can also send handwritten thank you cards, but a postcard may be a little easier right now. I would opt for a thank you postcard over the usual boring form letter.

The world doesn’t feel like a very nice place right now. Use this as an opportunity to show kindness, and keep doing that as much as possible.

Share an update

A postcard can be a good way to share an update with your donors. You could make an infographic to give them a quick glance at some of your progress. Some organizations use oversize postcards for their annual report. I’m not suggesting you do your 2019 annual report this way if you haven’t done one yet. Right now, I would send something that’s relevant to what you’ve been doing over the last couple of months.

6 Types of Nonprofit Infographics to Boost Your Campaigns

10 Nonprofit Infographics That Inspire and Inform

Other ways to use postcards

You can also use a postcard for fundraising. While not as effective as a direct mail package (letter, reply envelope,etc.), it can be used as a heads up for a campaign or a reminder. If you’re worried about mailing costs, I would use a direct mail package for fundraising. And if you haven’t sent a fundraising appeal by mail in the last few months, you could be missing out.

Christmas In Your Mailbox

You can use a postcard for a Save the Date for an event. It’s likely you won’t be holding in-person events for a while, but a Save the Date postcard could draw more people to your virtual event.

What to keep in mind

Your postcard needs to capture your donor’s attention right away. It needs to be visual and not include a lot of text. The text you do include needs to be engaging, conversational, and donor-centered. Examples could include Thank You, Because of you, or Look what you helped us do.

Yes, communicating by mail costs more, but it can pay off if you create something more personal that your donors will see. Whether you’re saying thank you, sharing an update, or a combination of both, connect with your donors by sending them a postcard.

What to Use When: Letters, Postcards, Catalogs, Folded Newsletters

Fundraising Postcard Ideas

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

 

How Nonprofits Can Benefit from Remote Work

49833571136_54d28261f7_wThe nonprofit sector is experiencing an urgent need to conduct business from a remote location. The perks of this arrangement include preventing workers and volunteers from contracting illnesses, spending less money on overhead, having people across the world become involved in your organization, and more. However, it does take work to make your organization function in a digital world.

Communication is key

Just about everyone knows that communication is crucial to running a successful organization. However, a remote work environment can make this more challenging. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to be proactive and communicate with your team.

No matter the size of your organization, reaching out to all staff on a regular basis to check in is important. Setting up meetings with tools such as Zoom or Google Hangouts allows you to visually check in with staff and make sure they have what they need to complete their tasks, as well as holding them accountable for their work. This is also a great time to address triumphs and challenges in their day-to-day lives.

Encouraging employees to have casual conversations is also important in building an organizational culture. Instant messaging apps such as Slack or Discord provide a great outlet for employees to talk to one another in a more casual setting. These applications are also great for quick questions and a way for teams to talk throughout the day.

Follow Cybersecurity Best Practices

As a nonprofit, donors and those you serve depend on you to keep their personal information secure. Cybersecurity starts with your employees. It’s important to train everyone affiliated with your organization on cybersecurity best practices. This includes things such as how to identify a phishing email, the importance of using strong passwords, and what to do if they suspect a cyberattack.

It’s also very important to use the proper software. Provide organizational laptops, if you are able to, and require that employees only work on these devices. If this isn’t feasible, stress the importance of staff installing an antivirus program on whichever device they use. In addition, stress the importance of using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if employees are working from a public Wi-Fi network, such as those at libraries and coffee shops if those are open.

If you are the victim of a cyberattack, it’s important to be upfront and honest with donors and the public. Having data backed up in another location will help you put everything back together quicker. However, when it comes to cybersecurity, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Work smarter, not harder

Creating an efficient workflow is important for every organization, but even more so for nonprofits. Technology like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can streamline many day-to-day tasks for your organization. A few examples would be emailing potential donors, donation processing, website chatbots, and tracking for tax and payroll purposes. These automated “bots” can be programmed from any location to perform any task for your organization, and can even make basic decisions on their own.

Automating tasks can help save you money on payroll and overhead, as well as making your organization active 24/7/365. This also frees up your workforce for tasks that require a human touch, such as connecting with donors and the public, creating strategy, and creating content for your nonprofit. In today’s world, this is technology that can be used by organizations of any size.

Be visible

In 2020, having a digital presence is more important than ever. This means having an easy-to-use and up-to-date website; being active on social media platforms; and reaching out to donors, other organizations, and the general public.

One great way to take advantage of online communication is communicating via video chat. Studies have shown that communicating visually is far more effective than audio-only communication. Reaching out to potential donors and volunteers via video is a great way to boost fundraising efforts. Thanking donors with a personalized video call is an excellent substitute for letting someone know you appreciate them if you can’t communicate in person.

Finally, in a sluggish economy, it’s especially important to communicate with the general public about what you’re doing and that you’re still active in the community. You can do this with frequent posting by email and on social media platforms, as well as encouraging staff to share updates on their own personal accounts.

In today’s unprecedented times, nonprofit organizations are some of the first to struggle. However, this does not mean that work needs to come to a standstill. Remote work and e-commerce are critically important today, and this trend will only continue in the future. Working to create a strong remote workplace will benefit your organization now, and in years to come. 

How to do a Better Job of Donor Engagement

1411805770_c4776a4e8a_wDonor engagement is always important, and it’s especially important right now. Your inclination may be to do less when you actually should be doing more.

Donor Communications: Now is the time for MORE communications, not less

I’d put your more formal newsletter on hold right now and send short updates instead. This will help you stay in touch more often. Aim for once a week, if you can, or every other week. I’ve been advocating for shorter, more frequent updates for a while and now is a good time to start doing this.

In the best of times, nonprofit organizations don’t do a very good job with their donor engagement. Both by not communicating enough and/or sending something that’s uninspiring.

The fact that you have a donor newsletter doesn’t mean you’re engaging with people. Most newsletters are boring and organization-centered. Often they contain articles that don’t interest your donors. That needs to change.

Here are a few ways to do a better job with your donor engagement – both now and in the future.

Relevance rules

Your updates must be relevant to the current COVID-19 situation. Otherwise, it’s beyond clueless. Try to send updates in which you aren’t asking for donations. You can still do fundraising in separate messages. In fact, you should still be fundraising. Share success stories if you can.

HOW TO BE RELEVANT NOW (AND WHAT NOT TO SAY)

Some organizations are sharing their 2019 annual reports. Doing this now emphasizes how quickly an annual report becomes out of date. If you had sent it in January or February, it would have been more relevant. 

Perhaps your annual report was already in the works, so if you feel you must share it now, you have to reference the current situation.

Should we send our scheduled appeal/newsletter/annual report in the midst of COVID-19?

Remember that an annual report is for your donors, and do you think your donors are that interested in what you did last year?

Your donors are interested in what you’re doing NOW. 

Being donor-centered is key

After all, it’s donor engagement, not organizational engagement. Think about what your donors want to hear. Most likely it’s how you’re making difference for the people/community you serve during this time of crisis. Let your donors know how they’re helping you with this.

I realize nonprofits have gone to great lengths to change the way they do things. That’s great, but don’t brag about your organization. Maybe you run a community dinner every Thursday and now you have to serve boxed to-go meals. Instead of patting yourself on the back explaining how you were able to pull this off, say something like – Thanks to donors like you, we are able to continue providing much-needed healthy dinners to people in the community.

Focus on your mission

Why you’re doing something is more important than how or what. If your homeless shelter has to take on extra measures to keep it clean, emphasize the importance of the health and safety of your clients, many of whom are at greater risk of getting COVID-19. You want to continue to provide them with a safe place where they will be treated with dignity and respect.

If you decide to do your usual monthly e-newsletter, don’t give it the subject line April Newsletter. A better subject line would be – Find out how you’re helping families continue to put food on the table.

All stories/articles should pertain to the current situation. You can thank your major funders, in fact, you should thank all your donors, but bring your focus back to your mission. 

Find ways to stay in touch

It shouldn’t be that hard to find something to share. Remember, shorter is better. Maybe just one subject consisting of a few paragraphs. Your donors don’t want something that’s going to require too much attention. You could also go the visual route by including a photo or video.

An organization that works with immigrants and refugees had a group of people make masks for health care workers and posted a picture of the colorful masks they made.

Museums are offering virtual tours. Some theatres are showing videos of performances. If you’re an environmental organization, you could share nature photos or videos. If you work with animals, pictures of our furry friends are always welcome.

You could send an advocacy alert. These are a great way to engage without asking for a donation. One organization is asking people to contact their federal legislators to make it easier for people to get food stamps, which would reduce the burden on food banks.

Maybe you could use some volunteer help. In my last post, I mentioned getting volunteers to help with thank you calls or personalized emails. Perhaps you have other projects for virtual volunteers. Give a shout-out to any volunteers who are helping you right now.

This is a good time to revise your communications calendar to help you plan ways to stay in touch during this time.

HEARTBEATS AND REMARKABLES OF NONPROFIT COMMUNICATIONS

Use the right channels

Most likely you’ll communicate by email and social media. Monitor what channels your donors are using. If only a handful of people are on Instagram, don’t use it much. Pay attention to their engagement and track open rates, click-throughs, likes, comments, etc. Of course, people may miss your electronic messages, which is one of the reasons you should communicate regularly.

Send something by mail if you can. You could also use the phone if you’ve established a connection with people that way. Maybe they gave a donation to help you get laptops for your tutoring programs. You can let them know that the kids and their tutors are meeting via Zoom so they can continue their weekly reading time.

Be sure to keep your website up to date, too. It needs to address the current situation on your home page, donation page, and other sections that include updates.

Pay attention to your donor retention 

Good donor engagement often leads to good donor retention. As the economy worsens, it will be harder for some people to give this year, but hopefully, they’ll give again when they can.

They may give less or cut back on organizations they donate to. Don’t let yours be one of them. They might decide between the organization that sends handwritten notes or the one that just blasts generic fundraising appeals.

The need for nonprofits will grow for a while. You’ll need your donors and keeping them engaged will help you get through the tough times ahead.

Donor Preservation in the Pandemic

Stay safe, wear a mask when you’re out in public, be well, and practice random or not so random acts of kindness as much as possible.