Why You Need a Good Donor Database

14390202154_de5010e80c_mWhat type of donor database do you have, or do you even have one at all? If you’re using Excel instead of a database because it’s free, stop doing that. A spreadsheet is not a database.

Your Worst Fundraising Enemy

A good database won’t be free, but there are affordable options for small organizations.

Donation Management Software

You don’t want to limit yourself by having a database that can only hold a certain number of records or can only be used on one computer because you don’t want to pay for additional licenses.

I’m not an expert on databases, but I do know how important it is to invest in a good one.

A good database can help you raise more money

Although you’ll have to spend a little upfront, a good database will help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by the amount they give and politely ask them to give a little more in your next appeal – $35 or $50 instead of $25.

A good database can help you with retention, which will save you money since it costs less to keep donors than to acquire new ones. You can segment your mailing lists by current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. Donors like it when you recognize them for who they are. A personalized appeal letter will make a huge difference.

An organization that I support recently sent an appeal for a special initiative. Instead of sending a generic appeal, they specifically thanked me for being a generous donor and for my most recent gift before asking me to consider an additional gift this year. They couldn’t have done that without using a database that can segment donors.

Segmenting your donors is so important. You can welcome new donors and thank donors for their previous support. You can also send targeted mailings to lapsed donors to try to woo them back. You may be able to raise a little more money by reaching out to your lapsed donors.

Don’t cut corners when it comes to your donor database. You can’t afford to do that.

Why Your Donor Database Is Your Nonprofit’s Greatest Asset

Take good care of your donor data

Having a good database is the first step. The best database in the world won’t do you much good if you don’t take good care of your donor data.

Many nonprofits don’t pay enough attention to their donor data and leave data entry as a last minute to-do item for volunteers.

Don’t wait until right before your next mailing to clean up your donor data. I know it’s tedious, but have someone who’s familiar with your donors (your development director?) go through your mailing lists to see if you need to make any additions, changes, and deletions.

You can have volunteers do your data entry, but they need to be meticulous. No donor wants to see her name misspelled, be addressed as Mrs. when she prefers Ms., or receive three mailings because you have duplicate records. It will also save you money if you’re not sending unnecessary mail.

It may not seem like a big deal, but you don’t want to annoy your donors. Paying more attention to your data entry shows your donors you care.

Take care of any address changes as soon as you get them. You can also run your donor list through the National Change of Address database. It may cost some money to do this, but it’s worth it if you come out with pristine data.

Your donor database is an important tool. You need a good one and it needs to be up-to-date and filled with accurate information about your donors. It’s well worth the investment.

 

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How Well Do You Know Your Donors?

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You already have a core group of donors and other supporters, but how well do you know them? One way to get to know them better is to send short surveys asking why they donate, what issues are important to them, and how they like to communicate (by mail, email, social media, or a combination of those).

Let’s look at some of these more closely.

Why do your donors give to your organization?

Donors are not just money machines. They’re people who have a reason to support you.

Do you know why your donors give to your organization? This is very important and if you can find out, it will help you with your donor communication.

Most likely they feel a connection to your cause. After the Parkland shooting, I felt compelled to start giving to a couple of organizations that advocate for gun control. I support the American Cancer Society because way too many people I know have been affected by cancer.

The best time to find out this information is right after someone donates, especially for first-time donors. This will be easier to collect online and you could include this question on your donation form.

Of course, not everyone donates online. You could also include a short survey and a reply envelope or a link to an online survey with your thank you letter or welcome packet for new donors. (You do send those, right?)

What issues are important to them?

You also want to know what issues are important to your donors. If you’re an organization that’s working to combat hunger, you may find your donors are most interested in free, healthy school lunch programs for low-income students. Then you can share stories and updates about that initiative.

What communication channels do your donors prefer?

It’s probably more than one, but listen carefully. Don’t spend a lot of time on channels your donors aren’t using much.

Most likely email will be your biggest communication tool. You won’t use direct mail as much because of the cost, but you do need to use it at least a few times a year, especially if you find out some donors don’t use electronic communication.

The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston recently included a link to an online survey about direct mail on one of their flyers. One question they asked was where you were more likely to go to get information – direct mail, email, website, or any combination of those.

They also asked about frequency of mailings – twice a month, once a month, or every other month. Since they’re a large organization, they can afford to mail quite often. You could also ask this question about email.

The advantage of email and direct mail is you have complete control of them, unlike social media. Speaking of social media, some of your donors may have deleted their Facebook accounts or are taking a break from it. I’m on hiatus with Facebook and I’m not sure I’m going to return since I don’t like it that much. But that’s just me. Other people love it.

What If Facebook Died Tomorrow?

This is a good opportunity to monitor your email and social media to see if people are responding to your messages. Look at the open rates, click-throughs, and likes. (I know likes don’t mean that much, but they do reflect some sort of engagement.) You may be seeing a drop on Facebook and who knows if another social media platform will have some kind of scandal. Monitor this frequently.

Other ideas to connect

You could ask your donors what’s their favorite article in an issue of your e-newsletter. You could also get feedback on your annual report. Going back to the MFA survey, they asked if you preferred flyers for a single exhibit or one that covered everything going on in one particular month. Here you could ask if people prefer your monthly e-newsletter or shorter updates.

Creating a survey

Instead of overwhelming your donors with a long survey, start with short surveys focusing on one topic at a time throughout the year. Here is more information about creating a survey.

3 Examples of Nonprofit Donor Surveys

GET TO KNOW YOUR DONORS: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO NONPROFIT SURVEYING

While surveys are a great way to connect, not everyone is going to respond to them. Another tactic to try is to create donor personas. You can use your database to figure out vital information and/or interview a few donors.

How to Identify your Nonprofit Donor Personas

How to Create and Use Donor Personas

Use your database

As you gather vital information about your donors, put that in your database. Your database also comes in handy because you want to segment your donors  – first-time donors, long-term donors, monthly donors, etc – so you can personalize their communication as much as possible.

Putting your work into action

Now that you’ve gotten to know your donors, think about why they give to your organization, what they would like to hear from you, and which channels are best for connecting with them. Do this before you send a fundraising letter, thank you letter, or newsletter.

If you take the time to get to know your donors, you’ll have a better chance of keeping them for a long time.

Why is it So Hard to be Donor-Centered?

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The term donor-centered is pretty self-explanatory. It means focusing on your donors’ needs and interests, acknowledging them in your letters and other communication, and taking into account that not all donors are the same.

If it’s so obvious, then why are many nonprofits so bad at it? You see countless examples of generic, organization-centered communication that barely acknowledges the donor.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Before you send your next appeal, thank you letter, or newsletter, run it through this donor-centered checklist.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Is your fundraising appeal focused too much on your organization – rambling on about how great you are? Your organization may be great, but let your donors figure that out. Your donors are the ones who are great, and they want to hear how they can help you make a difference for the people/community you serve.
  • Is your appeal segmented to the appropriate audience? Thank past donors or reference your relationship to a potential donor. Maybe they’re event attendees, volunteers, or friends of board members.
  • Is your appeal addressed to a person and not Dear Friend?
  • Is your appeal vague, impersonal, and filled with jargon your donors won’t understand? Don’t say we’re helping underserved members of the community. A donor-centered appeal would say something like – With your support, we can help low-income families find affordable housing.
  • Does your appeal make people feel good about donating to your organization?

Thank you letters

  • Does your thank you letter come across as transactional and resemble a receipt? Yes, you need to acknowledge the donation is tax deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Does your thank you letter (or better yet, a handwritten note) shower your donors with love?  Start your letter with You’re amazing or Thanks to You!, and not On behalf of X organization.
  • Are you telling your donors the impact of their gift?  For example – Thanks to your generous donation of $50, a local family can get a box of groceries at the Eastside Community Food Bank.
  • Do you recognize each donor?  Is this the first time someone has donated?  If someone donated before, did she increase her gift?  Acknowledge this in your letter/note.

Newsletters

  • Does your newsletter sound self-promotional and focus on all the wonderful things your organization is doing instead of showing your donors how they’re helping you make a difference?
  • Is your newsletter written in the second person? Write to the donor and use the word you more often than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?  BTW, all your donor communication should be written in the second person. It’s much more personal.
  • Does your newsletter include success stories, engaging photos, and other content your donors like to see?
  • Are you using the right channels?  Perhaps you only send an e-newsletter, but some of your donors prefer print.
  • Are you showing gratitude to your donors in your newsletter?

Always think of your donors first

Use this checklist for other donor communication such as annual reports (these are rarely donor-centered), your website, and social media posts.

Make sure the messages you send to your donors focus on them and make them feel special. Staying donor-centered can help you build relationships. This is especially important as retention rates continue to plummet.

Read on for more information on the importance of being donor-centered.

3 Ways A Donor Centric Pledge Can Improve Your Retention

How to Create a Donor-Centered Fundraising Letter

3 Steps to a Donor-Centered Communication Strategy

 

How to Bring Simplicity and Balance to Your Nonprofit Communications

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

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

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

How much communication is too much

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stick to one call to action

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

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

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

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

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

How to improve your call to action in 6 easy steps

Choose the right length

If your communication is too long, people won’t read it. Limit written communication, such as newsletters and annual reports, to four pages or less. Your email messages should be just a few paragraphs. On the other hand, you don’t want to be terse or say too little.

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

Be sure to make your communication easy to read and scan by including lots of white space. Don’t clutter up the page.

Make it understandable

Write at a sixth to eighth-grade level. That’s what most major newspapers do. This is not dumbing down. You’re being smart by ensuring your donors will understand you.

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

Keep it simple by using conversational language.

Create a clutter-free website

Your website is still a place where people will go to get information. Make sure it’s clear and clutter-free, as well as easy to read and navigate.

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

Your donation page needs to be easy to use and collect enough information without overwhelming your donors. If it’s a branded page (e.g. not a third-party site like PayPal), make sure it’s consistent with your messaging and look. Don’t go too minimalistic, though. Include a short description of how a donor’s gift will help you make a difference, as well as an engaging photo.

15 Donation Page Examples to Inspire Your Online Fundraising

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

21 Ideas For Your Nonprofit’s Donation Confirmation Page

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

 

 

 

Deconstructing Your Jargon

 

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I’m not a fan of jargon, but nonprofit organizations seem to love it. If I see one more appeal letter, thank you letter, and newsletter article laced with terms like at-risk youth, underserved communities, leverage, and impactful, I’m going to scream.

I think people use jargon because it’s an insider language and it makes them feel like they’re “in the know” in their professional community. It’s easy to slip into jargon-mode around the office. But the danger comes when jargon creeps outside of your insular world and into your donor communication.

People need to understand you to connect with you

We can get lazy and use jargon when we can’t think of anything fresh and original. And that’s the problem because jargon is boring and your donors may not understand what you’re trying to say. Your donors don’t use these terms and neither should you.

Jargon fixes

Sometimes you need to give a little more information. For example, instead of just using the term food insecurity, describe a situation where a single mother has to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

Let’s look at a few more of these problem terms and what you can say instead. You may use some of these terms internally and they might be in your mission statement, but try to limit them when you communicate with donors.

  • At-risk means there’s a possibility something bad will happen. Instead of just saying at-risk students or youth, tell a story or give specific examples of something bad that could happen. Our tutoring program works with high school students who are more likely to fail, be held back, and drop out of school.   
  • Underserved means not receiving adequate help or services. Instead of saying we work with underserved communities, explain what types of services these residents don’t receive. Maybe it’s healthcare, affordable housing, or decent preschool education.Tell a story or give a specific example. Susan can’t send her son Kyle to a good preschool because there isn’t an affordable one in her community.
  • Impact means having an effect on someone or something. How are you doing that, and why is it important? Again, give a specific example. Thanks to donors like you, we’ve helped families find affordable housing so they don’t have to live in a shelter, a motel, or their car. Now they have a place to call home. And, let’s please all agree to stop using the word impactful.

Tell a story

This is why stories are so important. You can get beyond that vague, impersonal jargon and let your donors see firsthand how they’re helping you make a difference for the people/community you serve.

What would Aunt Shirley think?

Imagine you’re at a family gathering and you’re explaining what your organization does to your 75-year old Aunt Shirley. Does she look confused and uninterested when you spew out words like underserved and at-risk, or does she want you to tell her more when you mention kids in your tutoring program are doing much better in school?

Stop using jargon around your office

Another way to help you transition from jargon to understandable language is to stop using it around your office. That means at your staff meetings and in interoffice written communication. Maybe you go so far as to re-write your mission statement to make it more conversational. And telling staff and board members to recite your mission statement as an elevator pitch is a bad idea unless you can make it conversational.

Let’s stop using jargon when we can use clear, conversational language instead. Here are more examples of scream-inducing jargon. I’d love to hear some of your least favorites, as well.

14 irritating jargon phrases, and awesome new cliches you should use instead

I Have No Idea What You’re Talking About [Nonprofit Jargon]

Nonprofit Jargon: 22 Phrases We Love to Hate

 

 

 

How to Create an Engaging Newsletter Your Donors Will Want to Read

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I’ve written several posts recently about the importance of staying in touch with your donors throughout the year. Some of you may be saying, “We do that because we have a newsletter.”

A newsletter can be a great way to engage with your donors, but how often does that actually happen? Unfortunately, not very much because most donor newsletters can be used as a cure for insomnia. They’re too long and filled with boring articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

Don’t worry. You can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s how.

Think about what your donors want

You may opt not to do a print newsletter because it’s expensive and takes too much time, but you’re making a mistake if many of your donors prefer print.

I think you’ll have more success if you can do both print and electronic newsletters. I recommend a short e-newsletter once or twice a month and one to four print newsletters a year. But ask your donors what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer one over the other, then doing both may not make sense.

You also want to include content that will interest your donors. Do you think they would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about the Davis family moving into a nice home of their own after struggling to find a decent place to live? The answer should be obvious.

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference.

Share stories

Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. Client stories are best, but you could also do profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Focus on what drew them to your mission.

Create a story bank that includes at least three client success stories to use every year.

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped the Davis family move into a home of their own or Because of donors like you, X number of families have been able to move out of shelters and into their own homes.

Ditch the jargon and other language your donors won’t understand. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.

I’m not a fan of the letter from the CEO because those tend to be organization-centered instead of donor-centered.  

Say thank you

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. Every one of your newsletters needs to show gratitude and emphasize how much you appreciate your donors.

Make it easy to read (and scan)

Most of your donors aren’t going to read your newsletter word for word, especially your e-newsletter. Include enticing headlines and email subject lines (if you don’t, your donors may not read it at all), at least a 12-point font, and lots of white space so your donors can easily scan your newsletter.

Stick to black type on a white background as much as possible. Colors are pretty, but not if it’s hindering your donor’s ability to read your newsletter. Photos can be a great way to add color, as well as tell a story in an instant.

Use the inverted pyramid and put the most important story first (client success story or profile), keeping in mind your donors may not get to all the articles.

Very important –  make sure your donors can read your e-newsletter on a mobile device.

Short and sweet

Your print newsletter should be no more than four pages. Limit your monthly e-newsletter to four articles. Some organizations send an e-newsletter twice a month. Those should be even shorter – two or three articles.

You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent email updates.

Send it to the right audience

Fundraising guru Tom Ahern recommends sending your print newsletter only to donors. This can help you keep it donor-centered, as well as cut down on mailing costs.

Send e-newsletters only to people who have signed up for it. They may or may not be donors, but an e-newsletter can also be a good cultivation tool. Quality is more important than quantity. Not everyone will want to sign up for your newsletter and that’s okay. Focus on the people who are interested in it.

Let’s put an end to boring newsletters. Create one your donors will want to read.

Read on for more information on how to create a great donor newsletter.

The stuff that makes your donor newsletter a failure

10 Email Newsletter Tips That Will Inspire People to Give

3 Pitfalls of Nonprofit Newsletters and How to Avoid Them

Follow The Domain Formula For Donor Newsletters

One-and-Done Fundraising is Just March Madness

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In college basketball, players are allowed to turn pro after playing one season. This is known as one-and-done. If you watch the NCAA tournament (aka March Madness), it’s likely many of the players won’t be around next year.

Like it or not, it looks like one-and-done will be the norm in college basketball for a while. Another place where one-and-done seems to be the norm is in nonprofit fundraising. According to The Fundraising Effectiveness Report, the retention rate for first-time donors is 23%. It’s been consistently bad for the last several years.

We need to stop hemorrhaging donors. Here are a few ways to avoid having your fundraising go the one-and-done route.

Pay attention to your donor retention

If you don’t know your retention rate, figure that out now. A Guide to Donor Retention Most likely you’re losing donors because you’re either not communicating enough or communicating poorly. Fortunately, this is something you can fix.

Donor loyalty is also important

What you want are high-quality donors who will support you for a long time. You can have the best donor relations program in the world, but that won’t guarantee you’ll keep every donor, although you should keep many more than you would if you do nothing.

Many organizations spend all this time and energy on acquiring donors, concentrating more on volume and don’t seem to be concerned that they’re churning through different donors year after year.

Send welcome packets to new donors, but show the love to your valuable long-time donors, too.  Send them a welcome back letter. I’ve donated to several organizations for a number of years, and it bothers me when they don’t acknowledge that.

Given the lousy retention rates, don’t take it for granted when donors support you for more than one year. Otherwise, you could be looking at two-and-through.

Pay attention to your donors. Who’s supported you for three, five, or even ten years? Go the extra mile for these loyal donors. This takes more work, but it will pay off in the long run.

Want to Keep Your Donors? Then Answer These Unspoken Questions

5 Ways to Build and Strengthen Donor Loyalty

There’s no off-season

Continuing on the sports theme, most athletes train during the off-season and some even play in leagues. You may be between fundraising campaigns, but that doesn’t mean you can take much of a break.

Keep connecting with your donors. You can’t ignore them. Here are some ways to show appreciation and stay in touch throughout the year.

All You Need is #DonorLove

Stay in Touch Throughout the Year by Using a Communications Calendar

One-and-done is not something you want in your fundraising. Make sure your donors stick with you for a long time.