Spring Cleaning Projects for Your Nonprofit

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Spring is officially here and depending on where you live, it may or may not feel like it. I recently returned from a trip to New Orleans where spring is in full force. Here in Boston, we have a little ways to go.

You hear a lot about spring cleaning right now. I know, groan. Those of us who don’t like to clean and organize put off these projects until piles of clutter start taking on a life of their own and your windows become so grimy you can’t even see out of them.

As much as I dislike cleaning and organizing, I’m happy once it gets done. Often getting started is the hardest part.

Your nonprofit organization should also do its own version of spring cleaning and decluttering. If you’re feeling reluctant about taking on these so-called cumbersome tasks, just think how happy you’ll be once you tackle them. You’ll also make some much-needed improvements to your infrastructure and donor communication.

Let’s get started!

Clean up your mailing lists and database

Did you have an influx of address changes, returned mail, and bounced emails after you sent your year-end appeal? This is a good time to clean up and update both your direct mail and email mailing lists.

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

Be meticulous. No donor wants to see her name misspelled, be addressed as Mrs. when she prefers Ms., or receive three mailings because you have duplicate records.

Your donor database is an important tool and it needs to be up-to-date and filled with accurate information about your donors.

Run your donor list through the National Change of Address database. It may cost some money to do this, but it’s worth it if you come out with squeaky clean data. Do this at least once a year.

Also, if you haven’t already done this, segment your donors into different groups – new donors, returning donors, monthly donors, etc. You may need to make some changes. For example, if a single gift donor starts giving monthly.

You might also want to move some lapsed donors who haven’t donated for several years into an inactive file. Don’t do this until you’ve sent targeted, personalized appeals asking them to donate again. And if you’ve never gotten in touch with the lapsed donors from your last fundraising campaign, why not do that now?

Five simple steps for winning back your lapsed donors

Do the same thing with your email list. It doesn’t make sense to send email to people who don’t respond to it. Give these people a chance to re-engage, and if they’re not even opening your emails, move them to an inactive file.

HOW WE CLEANED UP OUR EMAIL LIST AND RE-ENGAGED OUR SUBSCRIBERS

Maybe you need a better database. If you’re using a spreadsheet to store your donor records, then you need an actual database. Get the best one you can afford.

Fundraising Software Advice

Spring is about bringing in the new and a better database would be a wise investment. If you plan to get a different database, make sure you can easily transfer all your records. The Agitator blog recently covered this. Here’s a link to the third post in a series, which contains links to the first two. Definitely worth reading if you’re planning to get a new database/CRM.

Steps to Avoid Calling Bullshit

Freshen up your messages

Now that you’ve cleaned up your mailing lists and segmented your donors, it’s time to freshen up your messages. Take a good look at your appeal letters, thank you letters, and other content. Have you been using the same old, stale templates for years?  Are you bragging too much about your organization and using jargon? Do your thank you letters begin with the dreaded “On Behalf of X organization….”

Spruce up your messages with some donor-centered content. Create separate templates for new donors, current donors, and monthly donors.

From what I’ve seen, many organizations need to improve their donor communication, especially thank you letters. A thank you letter is something that’s supposed to make your donors feel appreciated and it often falls short. Don’t just freshen up your letters, work on your thank you email acknowledgments and landing pages, too, so they don’t look like boring receipts.

The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan

Don’t put it off too long

Your clutter and dust at home won’t disappear on their own. The longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. The same is true for your nonprofit.

Take on these spring cleaning projects as soon as you can. You’ll be happy once they’re done. Your donors will also be happy if they don’t get duplicate mailings or they receive a stellar thank you letter.

 

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You May Love Your Jargon, But Your Donors Don’t

6530334269_0ba98aa219_m.jpgNonprofit organizations love their jargon, don’t they? But guess what? Your donors don’t love it as much as you do because it’s boring and they may not understand what you’re trying to say.

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. Instead, you see appeal letters, thank you letters, and newsletter articles laced with cringe-inducing terms such as food insecurity, at-risk youth, underserved communities, and impactful.

Are You Speaking The Same Language As Your Donors?

How to do better

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 your 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. Gina has to take two buses to see a doctor for her diabetes because there isn’t a good healthcare facility 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.

If You’re Making a Difference, You Have Stories to Tell

What would Aunt Shirley think?

I like to use this analogy. 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 you’ve been able to help homeless families move into their own homes?

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. Read on for more examples of scream-inducing jargon. Do you have any to add?

4 Reasons to Stop Using Nonprofit Jargon

Nonprofit Jargon: Do Your Supporters Understand Your Fundraising?

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

 

How You Can Create a Better Nonprofit Newsletter

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A newsletter can be a great way to engage with your donors, but the key word here is can. 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.

It’s possible to create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here are a few ways to create a better nonprofit newsletter.

Think about what your donors want

You need 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 Turner family moving into a home of their own after shuttling between motels and shelters? The answer should be obvious.

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

A print newsletter can be a good investment

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.

Many organizations put a donation envelope in their print newsletter. This is a proven way to raise additional money and you may be able to recoup your expenses.

You can also save money by creating a shorter print newsletter (maybe two pages instead of four) or only mailing once or twice a year. You can print them in-house, as long as it looks professional.

Donors are more likely to read a print newsletter. But ask them what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer print, then you need to find a way to accommodate them.

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 (more on that below).

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

Don’t veer away from your mission

A common article I see in many nonprofit newsletters is one about a foundation or major donor giving a large gift. This may be accompanied by a picture of someone holding a giant check. Of course, you should recognize these donors (and all donors), but why is this gift important? How will it help the people you serve. For example – This generous $50,000 grant from the Helping Hands Foundation will allow us to buy much-needed new computers for our afterschool program.

Something else I see a lot is a profile of a new board member. Instead of focusing so much on their professional background, let your donors know what drew them to your organization. We welcome Jane Simpson, Vice President of the Lewis Company, to our board. Jane has a brother with autism and is very passionate about finding ways for people with autism to live independent lives.

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 Turner 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.

Leave out 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.  

Show some #donorlove

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.

Keep it short

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 expert 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.

If you’re a larger organization, you could create different newsletters for different programs or one specifically for monthly donors.

Create a better newsletter that your donors will want to read.

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

How to show your donors they matter

HOW TO MAKE NONPROFIT NEWSLETTERS THAT ENGAGE AND ENCOURAGE

7 Nonprofit E-Newsletter Best Practices

3 Pitfalls of Nonprofit Newsletters and How to Avoid Them

Image by Petr Sejba www.moneytoplist.com

It Takes More Than Luck to Keep Your Donors

422810636_b02ba5dfed_m.jpgDonor retention rates continue to be poor, especially for first-time donors. Donors don’t keep magically donating to your organization and you can’t hope you’ll get lucky and they’ll donate again. You need more than luck to keep your donors.

Pay attention to your donor retention

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.

If you don’t know your retention rate, figure that out now. A Guide to Donor Retention  If you ’re losing donors, it’s most likely because you’re either not communicating enough or communicating poorly. Fortunately, this is something you can fix, but it will take more than leprechauns granting wishes. If you want to keep reaching that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, you’ll need to work at it.

When figuring out your retention rate, you’ll find you have some lapsed donors. Take some time to reach out and let them know you miss them and want them back.

You need good donor relations

Donor relations should be easier than raising money, and it can be fun, too. Make it a priority, as well as something you do throughout the year.

The biggest hurdle is getting your first-time donors to donate again, so do something special for your new donors like sending them a welcome packet.

That said, don’t take your longer-term donors for granted. 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.

Donor loyalty is also important

Your goal should be to have high-quality donors who will support you for a long time. Who has 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. You don’t want to lose these valuable donors.

Keep building relationships

You may be between fundraising campaigns or events. It’s easy to get complacent right now, but don’t do that. You need to work on building relationships. Let your donors know how much you appreciate them and keep doing that again and again.

It takes more than luck to keep your donors. You need to show appreciation and stay in touch throughout the year. You could reach out now by using a St. Patrick’s Day or spring theme, or get inspired by one of the ideas in the links below.

12 Ways to Inspire and Delight Your Donors…With Examples!

The K.I.S.S. Method For Donor Retention Is Best For Most Nonprofits

Get Ready to Show Some #DonorLove

Give Your Monthly Donors the Attention and Recognition They Deserve

245744537_9b2401b807_mMonthly donors are special because they’ve committed to donating to nonprofits long-term. Retention rates for monthly donors are 90%, which is considerably better than retention rates for other types of donors.

You’d think because of this, organizations would be jumping for joy and giving these donors extra special attention. But you would be wrong. While some organizations do recognize their monthly donors, unfortunately, many do not.

This post will show you how you can give your monthly donors the attention and recognition they deserve. If you don’t have much of a monthly giving program or want to start one, here’s more information on that.

Incorporating Monthly Giving Into Your Fundraising

Welcome your new monthly donors

When someone becomes a monthly donor, whether they’re a first-time donor or have upgraded from a single-gift donor, welcome them into your family of monthly donors.

Be accommodating

I highly recommend a contact person for your monthly donors in case they need to update their credit card information or make a change to their gift, hopefully an upgrade. Include this information in their welcome letter.

Speaking of letters, tax season is upon us (oh joy), and several organizations have sent me a summary of my monthly donations. This is extremely helpful for people who itemize deductions. Make this letter more than just a receipt. Thank your donors and let them know how their monthly donations are helping you make a difference (more on that later).

Another way to help out your monthly donors is to let them know when their credit cards are about to expire. Don’t rely on your donors to remember this. I’m dreading the day I have to update my credit card information. Most likely I will miss some organizations. This will help you, as well, so you can keep receiving a steady stream of donations.

Make your thank yous more than just okay

When you send your initial thank you letter, you MUST recognize the recipient as a monthly donor.

Many organizations send a monthly acknowledgment email or letter, and I would say most are just okay. Some are basically only receipts. And while it’s helpful to know the organization received your donation, you’re not practicing good stewardship if that’s all you do.

You could spruce up these monthly acknowledgments, both by not making them sound like they were written by a robot and by providing some donor-centered updates.

One recommendation I have is to make sure every monthly donor gets at least one handwritten thank you note a year. You don’t have to write much but you will make a good impression.

Reach out at least once a month

Besides showing #donorlove, here are some other ways to reach out to your monthly donors.

Create a special newsletter for monthly donors or include a cover letter referencing monthly donors. I’m not always a fan of the letter from the Executive Director, so see if you can keep it donor-centered. You could also give a shout out to your monthly donors and include information on how to become a monthly donor.

Hold an open house for monthly donors. Even if they don’t attend, they’ll appreciate the invitation. You could also offer tours, either at a specific time or on request.

Include a list of your monthly donors in a newsletter, annual report, or on your website. Donor lists are just one of many ways to show appreciation and not the only one, so do much more than just that. Of course, honor any donor’s wish to remain anonymous.

Send an email update specifically for monthly donors.

Thank yous, newsletters, and updates are not a one-time time deal. Keep it up throughout the year. Create a special section in your communications calendar specifically for monthly donors.

Keep Monthly Donors Longer With These 6 Engagement Tips

Monthly donors get their own fundraising appeals

As I mentioned before, once someone becomes a monthly donor, you must always recognize them as such. You most certainly should send fundraising appeals to monthly donors, but not the same ones you send to other donors.

I think the best way to raise additional money from monthly donors is to ask them to upgrade their monthly gift. Be as specific as possible. For example – We’re so happy you’re part of our family of monthly donors and are grateful for your gift of $5.00 a month. Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $7.00 or even $10.00 a month?

You can also ask monthly donors for an additional gift during one of your fundraising campaigns, but you MUST recognize they’re monthly donors – We really appreciate your gift of $10 a month. Could you help us out a little more right now with an additional gift? We want to expand our tutoring program to three more elementary schools.

If you send the usual generic appeal, imagine your donor saying –  “But I already give you $10 a month and you don’t seem to know that.”

All your donors are special, but monthly donors are extra special. Don’t they deserve some attention and recognition?

 

Break Free From Your Generic Communication

4002324674_cc8c5b9d3e_zHow many times have you received an appeal or thank you letter that never mentions your past giving or that you’re a monthly donor? All you get is a generic, one-size-fits-all letter that doesn’t acknowledge who you are. Chances are most of the other donors of that organization are getting the exact same letter.

This happens way too often and it’s a problem. Your donors aren’t the same, so they shouldn’t all get the same letter. Another problem is these letters continue with the generic theme by using vague language and even worse – jargon.

Break free from your generic communication and create something more personal. Here’s how.

Segment your donors

Segment your donors into different groups as much as you can. At the very least, create different letters for new donors, repeat donors, and monthly donors. You can also personalize letters to lapsed donors, event attendees, volunteers, etc.

Strengthen Your Donor Segmentation: 7 Successful Strategies

4 SIMPLE DONOR SEGMENTS THAT WILL MAXIMIZE YOUR FUNDRAISING EFFORTS

Thank your donors for their previous gifts and/or upgrades. Speaking of upgrades, many organizations don’t ask donors to increase their gifts because they’re sending everyone the same, generic letter. If you don’t ask, you most likely won’t receive. One reason (among many) to segment your donors is it can help you raise more money.

You can craft an appeal like this – Thank you so much for your donation of $50 last year. Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75 or even $100? This way we can help more homeless families find housing.

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

Although, even if you ask for an upgrade, it may not happen if you ignore your donors or only blast them with appeals. You need to practice good donor relations, too.

Top 10 Ways to Upgrade Nonprofit Donors

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

Yes, this will take more time, but it’s worth the investment. So is a good database to help you with this. Your donors will feel appreciated and may give you more money.

Generic language is uninspiring and confusing

If you’re bombarding your donors with vague, generic language or jargon, you’re going to bore and/or confuse them pretty quickly. Most of your donors don’t have a medical or social services background. They don’t use terms like food insecurity, at-risk populations, and underserved communities and neither should you.

Use language they’ll understand. Instead of talking about food insecurity, give an example of a family choosing between buying groceries and paying the heating bill. What you mean by at-risk or underserved?  Are high school students less likely to graduate on time? Do residents of a certain community not have good health care nearby? Get specific, but at the same time, keep it simple.

Deconstructing Your Jargon

Green Eggs and Ham. The quintessential primer for nonprofit donor communications.

Another way to burst past generic language and jargon is to tell stories. Most people respond better to a human-interest story than a bunch of boring statistics.

If You’re Making a Difference, You Have Stories to Tell

How you can do better

You may be between fundraising campaigns right now and have a little more time (or maybe not). If so, now is a good time to start segmenting your donors in your database, if you haven’t already done that. Also, segmenting your donors isn’t a one-time deal. Make changes if you need to. For example, some of your single-gift donors may have upgraded to monthly.

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

Have someone outside your organization, a friend or family member, look at your messages. Something that’s clear to you may mean nothing to others.

Take time to break free from your generic communication with something that will show your donors how much you appreciate them by recognizing who they are and giving them content they can relate to.

Get Ready to Show Some #DonorLove

32497267743_0b58581e37_mWhen was the last time you thanked your donors? I mean really thanked them. That lame, automatic thank you email you sent after your year-end appeal doesn’t cut it. And even if you were one of the few organizations who did a good job of thanking their donors, gratitude is not a one-time deal.

#DonorLove is a yearlong endeavor and with Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s a perfect opportunity to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support.

8 Top Ways to Send Nonprofit Donors Love on Valentine’s Day

12 Ways to Send Your Donors Love With a Valentine

Okay, I get it, maybe you would rather not to go for a Valentine’s Day theme, but you should still do something fun and creative to show appreciation this month (and every month). The holidays are over and it’s been a cold winter for many of us. We could all use a little mood booster right now.

This is also a good opportunity to keep in touch with the people who gave to your year-end appeal, especially first-time donors. If you haven’t shown any #DonorLove since your year-end appeal, then you must reach out soon.

Here are a few ways you can show some #DonorLove.

Create a thank you photo

Make your donor’s day with a great photo, like one of these.

Image result for pictures of people holding thank you signs

Image result for pictures of people holding thank you signs

You can send thank you photos via email and social media, use one to create a card, and include one on your thank you landing page.

Make a video

Videos are becoming an increasingly popular way to connect and you don’t need a Hollywood production team to create one. Here are some examples of thank you videos.

4 Inexpensive Examples of Saying Thank You With Video

A Thank You Video to Promote Donor Retention

Obviously, the purpose is to thank your donors. A simple video showing a bunch of people saying thank you will do the trick. You also want your video to be short, donor-centered, and show your organization’s work up close and personal.

Your thank you landing page is a perfect place to put a video (or a photo). This is your first opportunity to say thank you and most landing pages are just boring receipts. You can also put your thank you video on your website and share it by email and social media.

Send a card

A handwritten note will also brighten your donor’s day. If you don’t have the budget to send cards to everyone, send them to your most valuable donors. These may not be the ones who give you the most money. Do you have donors who have supported your organization for more than three years? How about more than five years? These are your valuable donors.

That said, I do think you should make every effort to send a card to ALL your donors. More on that below.

Share an update or success story

In addition to saying thank you, share a brief update or success story. Emphasize how you couldn’t have helped someone without your donor’s support. For example –Thanks to you, the Taylor family can move into a home of their own.

Phrases like Thanks to you or Because of you should dominate your newsletters and updates.

Thank you basics

Make this the year you do a better job of thanking your donors. Thank your donors right away and send a thank you note/letter or make a phone call. Electronic thank yous aren’t good enough.

Be personal and conversational when you thank your donors. Don’t use jargon or other language they won’t understand. Write from the heart, but be sincere. Give specific examples of how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Thanking your donors needs to be a priority

I’m a big proponent of communicating by mail, even if it’s only a few times a year. It’s much more personal. Yet, many nonprofits balk at spending too much on mailing costs.

If your budget doesn’t allow you to mail handwritten cards, is there a way you can change that? You may be able to get a print shop to donate cards. You could also look for additional sources of unrestricted funding to cover cards and postage.

Maybe you need a change of culture, and this comes from the top. Fundraising Consultant Pamela Grow recently gave an example of an organization that “is moving away from the 48-hour written thank you receipt letter to quarterly email thank you receipts” because the Executive Director thinks “most people just trash the letter without reading it.

This is wrong on so many levels and to quote Pamela, “you never get a second chance to make a great first impression.” You need to get your board, all staff (especially leadership), and volunteers invested and involved in thanking your donors. Leave a good lasting impression.

You can’t say thank you enough. Make a commitment to thank your donors at least once a month. Create a thank you plan to help you with this.

Keep thinking of ways to show some #DonorLove. Get creative.

10 Ways to Thank your Nonprofit Donors

Your Donors Want Stories, Not Baubles

How to Thank Donors — and Bring Them Closer to Your Cause

You don’t even need to wait for a holiday or special occasion. Just thank your donors because they’re amazing and you wouldn’t be able to make a difference without them.