Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few different types of donor groups. Feel free to add more if that’s relevant. The more you can segment, the better. Investing in a good database will help you with this.

Current single gift donors

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

An appeal letter to current single gift donors (Monthly donors get their own appeal. More on that below.) must acknowledge their past support. This is also a good opportunity to ask for an upgrade. Many organizations don’t do this, but it’s a good way to increase your revenue. Even in a pandemic and economic downturn, it’s okay to ask donors to give a little more. They will if they can.

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

Potential/new single gift donors

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

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

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

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

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

Are We Sure An Automated Email Welcome Series For New Donors Is A Good Idea?

New monthly donors

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

Current monthly donors

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

When your donors renew or upgrade their monthly gifts, they, of course, get a super fabulous thank you.

Current donors who become monthly donors

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

Segmenting your donors can pay off

In this down economy, some donors may cut back on their giving. Don’t let them choose between organizations that communicate throughout the year with engaging, personalized appeals, thank yous, and updates and organizations who just send generic, one-size-fits-all communications.

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

4 Smart Donor Segmentation Strategies for Nonprofits

11 Ways To Segment Your Donors To Improve Your Fundraising

How to Effectively Segment Your Donors and Audiences 

How Matching Gifts Can Help Your Fundraising Team Succeed

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Matching gifts can have a huge impact on your organization. Learn how to successfully leverage this corporate giving program and boost your nonprofit’s revenue.

By Adam Weinger

As a nonprofit professional, it can be difficult running a fundraising campaign, especially when there’s competition for funds among many organizations with similar missions. But even in the current climate, it’s important to keep fundraising

You might have already run into scenarios where you have to get creative with your fundraising appeals in order to be successful. However, there’s an additional avenue you can take to boost your donation revenue: matching gifts.

What are matching gifts?

Matching gifts are a form of corporate philanthropy in which companies match donations their employees make to nonprofits after the employee has submitted the relevant request forms. Many companies match at the typical 1:1 ratio, but some companies will match at an even higher rate, such as 2:1 or 3:1!

Unfortunately, many organizations don’t leverage matching gifts as a primary source of revenue because they don’t have the resources, time, or staff needed to pursue it. This leaves a lot of money on the table that could otherwise go toward serving their mission.

So how can you incorporate matching gifts into your fundraising strategy?

We’ll discuss these top strategies that can help you successfully leverage matching gifts and double donations made to your nonprofit:

  1. Use a Matching Gift Database
  2. Incorporate Matching Gifts into Your Fundraising Events
  3. Promote Matching Gifts Across Multiple Channels
  4. Continue Engaging Your Supporters

Trying out these approaches can help boost your matching gift revenue without too much extra effort from your team! Let’s get started.

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1. Use a Matching Gift Database

It can be a challenge to make donors aware of employer matching gift programs, especially since this opportunity doesn’t occur to most individuals! To alleviate this issue, your nonprofit can leverage a matching gift database.

What is a matching gift database?

A matching gift database houses information on thousands of companies with matching gift programs, including the forms and guidelines needed for employees to submit their match requests.

A matching gift database is accessible by implementing a matching gift search tool plugin onto your donation pages, confirmation pages, and other areas of your website. All donors need to do is type in their company name, and the search tool will populate all the information they need about their employer’s matching gift program.

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But it’s not just about the ease with which donors can search for their companies. It’s about raising awareness in general. Now, more than ever, it’s important to leverage matching gifts as a source of income for your organization. This is because even during a global pandemic, matching gifts are continuing to make a difference.

Many companies like the ones listed here are expanding their matching gift programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This means companies are increasing their match ratios, matching gift limits, and other components of their programs to better assist organizations like yours.

A matching gift database that stays up-to-date with these changes can help your nonprofit keep donors informed. And when your donors know their gift can go twice as far, they’ll be more likely to give in the first place!

Bonus! Looking for more COVID-19 resources? Check out Double the Donation’s top resources for nonprofits. Continue reading

Get a Head Start on Your Year-End Fundraising Campaign

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

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

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

Here’s a checklist to help you get started. You can also use this for fundraising campaigns at other times of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal for your year-end campaign in your 2020 fundraising plan and most likely that has changed. Perhaps you were able to raise money earlier in the year with an emergency campaign and/or a virtual event.

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

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

Do you have a plan?

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

When do you want to launch your appeal? Plan on everything taking longer, so I think earlier is better. You’ll be competing with other organizations who are doing appeals. It’s also an election year in the United States, but that doesn’t always affect nonprofit fundraising.

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

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

An Annual Appeal Fundraising Timeline You Can Use

13 End-of-Year Appeal Strategies

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

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

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

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

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

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

How to Engage With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

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

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

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

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

Make sure your postal and email mailing lists are up-to-date. Check for duplicate addresses and typos. Your donors don’t want to receive three letters at the same time or have their names misspelled.

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

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until October to check your supply of letterhead and envelopes. Make sure you have enough. Perhaps you want to produce a special outer envelope. You may also want to create some thank you cards. It could take longer to get some of these things.

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

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

Is it easy to donate online?

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

Crafting the Perfect Donation Form: 6 Key Features

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

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

A monthly giving program is a win-win for your organization. You can raise more money, boost your retention rate, receive a steady stream of revenue, and allow your donors to spread out their gifts.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program or you have a small one, now is an excellent time to start one or grow the one you have.

How will you thank your donors?

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

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

How will you keep up with your donor communication?

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

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

I know it will be hard this year, but you still need to run a campaign. Some donors may not give as much or at all, but others will give more. They won’t give anything if you don’t ask.

Best of luck!

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.

Donor Relationships: 5 Challenges and How to Overcome Them

by Steven Shattuck

Donor relationship development is vital for your nonprofit’s retention rate and revenue consistency. Overcome the challenges of relationship building.

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Building donor relationships is one of the most important things your nonprofit can do in order to maintain a consistent revenue stream and fund your mission. This is because effective donor relationships lead to higher retention rates. 

However, there are some challenges that many nonprofits run into when it comes to building these relationships, and many organizations can’t seem to overcome the common roadblocks!

That’s why we’ve created this guide. We want to make sure nonprofits have no excuse to let donor relationships go to the wayside. Each of the challenges we’ve stated here is directly related to statistics compiled by Ann Green originating from Bloomerang Chief Scientist Adrian Sargeant and Fundraising Effectiveness Project research. These challenges and related statistics are as follows: 

  • Donor Dissatisfaction – 36% of lapsed donors leave because they thought other organizations were more deserving of their contribution. 
  • Limited Time for Personal Interactions – 9% of lapsed donors left because the organization didn’t leave a lasting impression on them.
  • Donors are Treated like ATMs – 54% of lapsed donors did so because they could no longer afford to contribute. 
  • Lack of Prioritization of Retention – The average donor retention rate after the first gift is 19%, while it’s 63% after the second donation. 
  • Limited Technology – 18% of lapsed donors did so due to poor communication strategies. 

Ready to dive a little deeper into the implication of these statistics and how your nonprofit can overcome these common challenges? Let’s get started. 

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1. Donor Dissatisfaction

36% of lapsed donors leave because they thought other organizations were more deserving of their contribution. 

These donors leave because they’re dissatisfied with your organization. This doesn’t mean that other organizations are truly more deserving, but that they give the impression of being so with their communication strategy. Therefore, to overcome this challenge, your nonprofit needs to show all of your supporters that your organization makes the biggest splash using their donation. 

This concept can be boiled down to a single word: impact. 

In order to show your donors the impact that they make toward your mission, consider the following strategies: 

  • Tell impact stories at every opportunity. You don’t have to wait for the annual report or gala to tell stories about who has benefited from your programs and services. Weave them into acknowledgments, appeals, and stewardship pieces. There’s no limit to the amount of good news you can send. 
  • Communicate project progress updates to your supporters. Supporters want to know that your organization is moving forward with your mission. Expressing progress on larger projects is a great way to show campaign donors (and those who may have contributed to another campaign) that your nonprofit is always moving forward. 
  • Acknowledge achievements made through past gifts. Don’t make long-term donors feel like they haven’t made a dent in the issue your nonprofit is trying to alleviate. While your mission may never be truly completed, this is about being more than just donor-centric. Donors should be recognized for the impact they’ve made even when they’re being asked to fund new initiatives.

As your nonprofit creates its communication strategy, be sure you’re taking intentional steps to tell your supporters about the impact they’ve made on your nonprofit. This will help ensure they’re satisfied with the choice they make to give. 

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2. Limited Time for Personal Interactions

9% of lapsed donors leave because they have no memory of supporting the nonprofit.

If a donor doesn’t remember giving to your nonprofit, this is much deeper than simply a memory problem. The issue is really that your nonprofit didn’t make an impression on that individual. 

Personalizing your communications with supporters shows that your organization wants to develop a relationship with them. 

Relationships are not one-sided. If your nonprofit is sending the same message to all of your supporters, you’re not making the effort to get to know them. Essentially, this implies the expectation that your supporters should do all of the work to get to know your nonprofit, but you won’t do the same for them. The challenge is that there’s not enough time to individually communicate with each and every donor. 

There are several ways you can overcome this challenge. Consider the following strategies: 

  • Segment your supporters. Segmentation is the tried and true strategy that allows your organization to address the individual interests of your supporters without sending individual emails to each one. Create donor segments based on commonalities in their donor profiles. Then, when it comes time to communicate, you can craft messages that specifically target recipients with those traits and commonalities. 
  • Include personal details in messages. With the best software, your nonprofit should be able to autofill personal details like your supporters’ preferred name, past donation amount, past campaigns supported, and more. Bloomerang’s guide to nonprofit CRM software explains how personalization leads to donor cultivation and larger donations over time. 
  • Conduct research before interacting with major donors. Before your staff members go to meet with major donors or major prospects, make sure they have access to plenty of information from that person’s donor profile to help guide the conversation. You should always conduct research about individual donors before meeting with them in person to remind you about their interests, their past involvement, and future opportunities. 

Making the most of the limited time your nonprofit has is what matters most for personalizing conversations. Automate as much of this personalization as you can and don’t be afraid to take the time to research individuals when the opportunity presents itself. It will be worth it!

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3. Treating Donors like an ATM

54% of lapsed donors left because they could no longer afford to give.

Your donors are not ATMs. Too many nonprofits reach out to their supporters only when they need donations to help with projects and campaigns. Donors who receive too many asks for donations too frequently start feeling used. This is especially true if your supporter wants to contribute, but can’t afford to (as happens with such a large percentage of lapsed donors). 

In order to make sure your donors don’t feel like you’re simply using them for their cash, you should approach them with a variety of opportunities for engagement. 

Providing new and unique opportunities helps donors stay engaged with your nonprofit even as the economy or their personal finances fluctuate. Create a communications calendar so you can be sure to space out fundraising asks and ensure a variety of opportunities throughout the year. You may choose to include opportunities such as: 

  • Recurring donation opportunities. Instead of giving all at once, recurring donations allow supporters to give a smaller amount every month. It impacts their finances less while still resulting in the same final donation at the end of the year.
  • Encouraging volunteers. Ask your supporters to donate time rather than money. This helps your nonprofit get more done around the office or at an event and ensures the supporter still feels connected to your cause. 
  • Asking for in-kind donations. If you know your supporters have access to materials or a resource that your nonprofit could make use of, you may consider asking for an in-kind donation rather than a monetary one. 
  • Take unique fundraising approaches. Instead of just asking for straight donations, you may offer programs that make donating more approachable. For instance, Funds2Orgs’ fundraising ideas guide includes unique options like shoe drive fundraisers, raffles, penny wars, used book sales, and restaurant giving nights.

Building a relationship with your donors means making sure they know that you appreciate their support, not just their cash. Give them plenty of opportunities to show you how they can help in addition to your traditional giving pages. 

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4. Lack of Prioritization of Retention

First-time donor retention is 19%, while it is 63% for repeat donors

As we said in the beginning, building donor relationships is especially important to improve your nonprofit’s donor retention rate. One common challenge that nonprofits run into is that they simply don’t see the importance of retention. 

Organizations tend to think that they have to continuously expand and acquire new supporters in order to grow. However, if you’re not retaining these donors that you acquire over a long period of time, how can you expect to continue growing? 

The key to nonprofit growth is striking a balance between your donor retention and donor acquisition strategies. And to do this, your nonprofit should focus on the “golden donation.” This is the second donation an individual makes to your organization. After the golden donation, your supporters are 63% more likely to continue giving to your nonprofit. 

In order to prioritize donor retention, your nonprofit should be sure to: 

  • Make sure new donors feel welcome. Thank them immediately for giving to your organization and stress how grateful you are for their support. 
  • Create a complete stewardship plan. Be sure you know what strategies you’re going to use to steward donors throughout the calendar year. 
  • Be better than average. With first-time donor retention so low across the board, don’t settle for being average. Keep working to help your nonprofit advance and grow quickly. 

Make sure donor retention is one of the metrics your nonprofit keeps at the forefront of your CRM dashboard so your staff members are always thinking about it.

Your nonprofit’s priorities show through as you design your growth strategy. Make sure you’re emphasizing building relationships and improving retention as one of your top priorities. 

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5. Limited Technology

18% of lapsed donors leave due to poor service or communication

Did you notice a commonality between the above strategies? They all allow you to leverage technology in order to build your relationships. You can use technology to help communicate impact, save time, create a communications plan, and track your retention rate. 

This requires your nonprofit to have access to effective technology. Investing in a cheap solution runs the risk of it not being high enough quality to help the nonprofit grow. By cheap, we don’t mean that all inexpensive solutions are bad. Cheap quality is what your nonprofit should avoid. 

Before investing in a software solution where the price seems too good to be true, make sure you conduct your research to make sure you’ll have access to everything you need. 

If 18% of lapsed donors leave due to ineffective communication or service, the last thing you want is for your tech to limit you in these areas. Make sure your nonprofit has the capability to offer the best communication and service to your supporters. If you’re unsure of how to start looking for the best tech, check out this guide to purchasing top-notch software. 

Building donor relationships is the key to establishing effective donor retention. While there are challenges to building relationships, overcoming them will help your nonprofit continue growing and get closer to achieving your mission.

Author: Steven Shattuck

Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang

Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang and Executive Director of Launch Cause. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to “Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition” and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member.

Three Wise Investments That Can Help You Raise More Money

32943656503_65029c172f_mIf you have a July 1 fiscal year start date, you’re most likely working on your budget for next year (at least you should be). Those of you who use the calendar year as your fiscal year will be working on yours later in the year.

Whatever the case may be, putting together a budget can be a pain, especially if you’re a small nonprofit with limited resources. It may be tempting to create a bare-bones budget with the mindset “we can’t afford this.”

Use caution before you nix something you think you can’t afford. It may be something you should be investing in.

This doesn’t mean going wild with your budget. You need to make wise investments. Here are three areas you should be investing more money in. The good news is, if you do it right, these investments will help you raise more money.

Invest in a good database

Plain and simple, a good database can help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by amount 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 personalize your letters and email messages. 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.

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

Nonprofit Software

Invest in 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.

Give some thought to what you send. Some ideas, besides appeal letters, include thank you cards; Thanksgiving, holiday, or Valentine’s Day cards; infographic postcards; two to four-page newsletters; and annual/progress reports. Whatever you choose, be sure to keep it donor-centered. You could put a donation envelope in your newsletter to raise some additional revenue, but do not put one in a thank you or holiday card.

Shorter is better. Lengthy communication will cost more and your donors are less likely to read it.

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.

Of course, you can use email and social media, but your primary reason for communicating that way 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 that’s what you should do.

Turbocharge Your Direct Mail and Digital

Invest in donor communications

I like this quote from Tom Ahern – If you do better donor communications, you’ll have more money. Makes a lot of sense doesn’t it? Yet many nonprofits don’t practice this. Better donor communications means thanking your donors and keeping in touch with them throughout the year.

Don’t skimp on your communications budget. Creating thank you cards and infographic postcards are a wise investment and a necessity, not a luxury. Thank you cards are a much better investment than mailing labels and other useless swag.

Hiring at least one communications staff member is another wise investment. Maybe you need to reallocate your budget to cover some of these expenses. You could also look into additional sources of unrestricted funding.

Remember, you can also use email and social media to communicate with donors. This reiterates the need for a good email service provider that has professional looking templates you can use for your e-newsletter and other updates.

Build Relationships With Your Donors Every Step of the Way

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

Image via  www.gotcredit.com 

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.

 

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

11276455354_8e888bdc19_mWhen your donors open your appeal letter or newsletter, do you bore them with a bunch of mind-numbing statistics, or do you share a story about how the Clark family moved out of a shelter and into a home of their own?

Donors want to hear your stories

You may be reluctant to use stories because it’s more work for your organization, but don’t use that as an excuse. Donors love stories and they want to hear yours. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene. Here’s an example.

Mara woke up feeling good for the first time in a while. After losing her job and being evicted from her apartment, she moved between her cousin’s house, motels, and shelters. It was taking a toll on her family. Everyone was stressed out and her kids were falling behind in school.

That was about to change because thanks to donors like you, Mara and her family will be moving into a home of their own.

Can you tell a story like that? If you’re making a difference, you can. Stories should show your donors how they’re helping you make a difference for the people you serve.

Create a culture of storytelling

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

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

When you put together a story, ask.

  • Why would your donors be interested in this story?
  • Why is this important?
  • Who are you helping?
  • 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. You can also share profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Many organizations profile new board members in their newsletters. That’s okay, but instead of emphasizing their professional background, concentrate on what drew them to your organization. Perhaps she has a brother who’s struggled with mental health issues or he benefited from having a mentor.

Another way to find stories is to put a Share Your Story page on your website. Share-Your-Story Page | an addition to the fundraiser’s arsenal of tools

Create a story bank to help you organize all your stories. Take advantage of slower times of the year to gather stories. You want to use stories often. Use them in your appeal letters, thank you letters, newsletters, annual reports, website, blog, and other types of social media. You can use the same stories in different channels.

Give your stories the personal touch

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

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Let your donors know how with their help, Kate doesn’t have to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill. Your organization stays in the background. And remember, Your Mission Statement is NOT Your Story

Tell your donors the stories they want to hear. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories.

Resources to help you tell your stories

The Storytelling Nonprofit

INFOGRAPHIC: A Nonprofit Storytelling How-To

Best Practices in Nonprofit Storytelling – How to Structure Your Stories

Top 10 Nonprofit Storytelling Best Practices

Photo by Howard Lake

How Making Smart Investments Will Help You Raise More Money

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Those of you with a July 1 fiscal year start date are most likely working on your budget for next year. Some of you may have a calendar year budget, so you’ll be working on yours later in the year.

Whatever the case may be, putting together a budget is hard, especially if you’re a small nonprofit with limited resources. It may be tempting to create a minimalist budget with the mindset “we can’t afford this.”

But be careful. What are you saying you can’t afford? It may be something you should be investing in.

You’ve probably heard the phrase you need to spend money to make money. Here are three areas you should be investing more money in. Don’t be scared. If you do it right, these investments will help you raise more money.

Invest in a good database

I wrote a post about this a few weeks ago. Why You Need a Good Donor Database

It bears repeating because a good database can help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by amount 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 personalize your letters and email messages. Make sure to invest in 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.

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

Invest in 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 immense 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.

If money is tight, you don’t have to mail that often. Quality is more important than quantity but aim for three or four times a year.

Give some thought to what you send. Some ideas, besides appeal letters, include thank you cards; Thanksgiving, holiday, or Valentine’s Day cards; infographic postcards; two to four-page newsletters, and annual/progress reports. Whatever you choose, remember to keep it donor-centered. You could put a donation envelope in your newsletter to raise some additional revenue, but don’t put one in a thank you or holiday card.

Shorter is better. Lengthy communication will cost more and your donors are less likely to read it.

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.

Of course, you can use email and social media, but your primary reason for communicating that way 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 that’s what you should do.

Invest in donor communications

Here’s some great wisdom from Tom Ahern – If you do better donor communications, you’ll have more money. This means thanking your donors and keeping in touch with them throughout the year.

Don’t skimp on your communications budget. Creating thank you cards and infographic postcards are a smart investment and a necessity, not a luxury. So is hiring at least one communications staff member. Maybe you need to reallocate your budget to cover some of these expenses. You could also look into additional sources of unrestricted funding.

Remember, you can also use email and social media to communicate with donors. This reiterates the need for a good email service provider that has professional looking templates you can use for your e-newsletter and other updates.

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

Photo by 401kcalculator – http://401kcalculator.org

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.