Don’t Ignore Your Donors This Summer

37260748030_6285b8673f_mSummer is almost here, yea! This is often a quieter time for most nonprofits, but you don’t want to be too quiet and ignore your donors. In fact, this is a great time to do some relationship building.

You should be communicating with your donors at least once a month and that includes the summer months. Don’t make the mistake of taking a vacation from your donor communication – never a wise decision.

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

Send an update

If you haven’t communicated with your donors much since your last appeal, send them an update to let them know how they’re helping you make a difference.

One of my favorite ways to connect is with a postcard. This is a donor communication win-win. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the importance of investing in direct mail.

I know mail is expensive, but a postcard shouldn’t cost too much. It’s also a quick way to share an update with busy donors. I recently received one that included a bunch of donor-centered phrases such as your support is helping and thanks to your support.

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

Show some #donorlove

You don’t need a reason to thank your donors. Just do it and do it often. Most organizations don’t do a good job of thanking their donors, so you’ll stand out if you do.

This is another situation where a postcard will work wonders. You can do a combo thank you and update. Go one step further and make your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you card. You could also create a thank you video.

There are so many ways to thank your donors. Have some fun and get creative.

15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors

Create a better newsletter

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

For the summer, I would suggest a shorter newsletter to capture your donors’ attention. Also, can you jazz up your newsletter to create a better one going forward? Spend time this summer working on finding some engaging stories and photos.

How You Can Create a Better Nonprofit Newsletter

Tie in current events

There’s a lot going in the world right now. Will certain policies or budget cuts affect your organization? Many states are working on their budget for the next fiscal year.

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

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

Focus more on relationship building in your fundraising appeals

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

Whether you have an appeal planned soon or later in the year, keep relationship building front and center. Thank donors for their past support, share some updates, and show them how their gift will help you make a difference.

A couple of other ways to connect and raise additional revenue this summer are to invite current donors to join your family of monthly donors and send a special letter to your lapsed donors letting them know you miss them and want them back.

Building meaningful relationships with Donors: What it takes

Keep it up throughout the year

Your donors want to hear from you this summer and throughout the year. A communications calendar will be a huge help with this so your donors won’t wonder why you’re ignoring them.

 

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A Few Common Donor Communication Problems and How You Can Fix Them

8775923664_553640db9e_mSome nonprofits do a good job of communicating with their donors, but many do not and that’s a problem.

Mediocre or poor donor communication will hinder your success. If you wonder why your retention rates are floundering that may be the reason. Here are a few common donor communication problems and how you can fix them.

Sending your donors the same appeal letter

Your donors are not the same, so why are you sending everyone the same generic appeal letter? When you do this, you’re showing your donors you don’t know who they are.

I recently received a letter that was a good appeal, but didn’t recognize me as a monthly donor or acknowledge any previous donations. Monthly donors shouldn’t get a generic appeal like this. What should have happened is the organization should have thanked me for my monthly gifts and either asked for an upgrade or an additional one-time gift.

The same applies if someone is a theatre subscriber, museum member, or college alumni. I spend a significant amount of money on a theatre subscription. It’s perfectly fine for this theatre to ask for an additional donation, but I also want them to thank me for being a long-time subscriber.

This happens way too often. You should always recognize a donor’s past support.

Here’s an organization that did that. Their appeal letter opened with For the past 4 years, your generosity has made a world of difference. Wow, this organization knows me! The appeal included several instances where they mentioned how my support has made a difference.

What kind of message are you sending to your donors? That you recognize them for who they are or that they’re just a source of revenue for you?

6 easy ways to segment your fundraising appeal letter

Thank you letters that don’t focus on gratitude

The purpose of a thank you letter is to thank your donor. It’s not to brag about your organization or explain what your organization does. It’s also not a receipt. You can include a donation summary, but don’t lead with that or make it the main focus of your letter. If you do that, you’re implying that the donation is a transaction instead of the beginning or continuation of a relationship.

I use the term thank you letter, because that’s what most organizations send. Although, sometimes it’s just an email. You can do a better job of thanking your donors if you send a handwritten note or make a phone call.

I get so many thank you letters and emails that are uninspiring. They lead with the usual On Behalf of X organization before veering into receipt territory. Occasionally, I’ll get a card in the mail that pours on the gratitude with phrases like We cannot thank YOU enough and You make it possible.

Also, the thank you that you send after you receive a donation is just beginning, not the end, of a donor engagement journey that lasts throughout the year.

Take Thanking Your Donors to the Next Level

Newsletters that ignore donors

Newsletters are a big problem area. They’re usually too long, boring, and organization-focused. I recently received an eight-page newsletter written in the third person that primarily mentioned a bunch of accomplishments. It had no stories and read like a promotional piece, which is not the purpose of a donor newsletter.

Your newsletter should show your donors how they’re helping you make a difference.

The magic word you was nowhere to be found in any of the articles. That’s why your newsletter needs to be written in the second person dominated with phrases such as Thanks to you or Because of you.

The only time the organization mentioned donors and used the word you was in a section asking people to give to a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). It was basically a solicitation and required a minimum contribution of $100,000, which most people aren’t going to be able to do. As someone who gives $5.00 a month, I’m certainly not in that demographic.

They didn’t even thank their current donors before asking them to make such a big financial commitment. They would have been better off targeting people who would be likely to donate to their DAF.

You’re ignoring your donors (or at least most of them) when you include a message that’s only relevant to a small number of people.

Of course, you can share your success in your newsletter, but you need to let your donors know how they helped with that. Another organization did a better job with their newsletter. It included a cover letter thanking donors, as well as a success story and a section titled You Make a Difference.

A good rule of thumb for your newsletter is more donor appreciation – less bragging.

Why your fancy newsletter is failing you

You don’t want to upset your donors with poor communication. Send different appeals to different types of donors, write a thank you letter that focuses on gratitude, and continue that appreciation in your newsletter instead of bragging so much about your accomplishments.

 

Don’t Get Lost in the Shuffle – Make Your Messages Stand Out

4698746521_0f3d47dd0f_mInformation overload is an understatement right now. We’re bombarded by messages of all kinds from many different sources.

How can your nonprofit keep up with all this? You want to communicate with your donors, but you don’t want your messages to get lost in the shuffle. It won’t be easy, but here are a few ways to make your messages stand out.

What’s your intention?

What’s the purpose of your message? What do you want your reader to do? Maybe it’s to donate, volunteer, attend an event, or contact her legislators. Maybe you’re sharing an update.

Think from your reader’s perspective. What would she be interested in or what would make him take action?

Keep it simple and stick to one call to action.

Choose the right channels

Most likely you’ll use more than one channel to communicate. Pay attention to the channels your donors are using and focus your efforts there.

Email is often the primary way nonprofits communicate and there’s a reason for that. It’s fast, easy, relatively inexpensive, and almost everyone has an email address. You can quickly get a message out to a lot of people. Also, unlike social media, it’s something you can control. You don’t have to rely on a social media algorithm to hope your message ends up in your donor’s feed.

But email has its drawbacks. People can get hundreds of emails a day plus messages from other sources such as social media. It’s easy for your messages to get lost in this melee. I often don’t read all my email. I usually scan through the burgeoning list to see what looks interesting. That, of course, depends on if I even have time to look at my email.

Some email messages, such as a fundraising appeal or an event invitation, you’ll probably need to send more than once. Try not to send messages to people who have already responded.

You can also go multichannel. For example, include a link to your e-newsletter on your social media platforms.

While you’ll likely use electronic communication pretty regularly, don’t discount direct mail. Your donors are more likely to see these messages. We get far less postal mail than electronic communication. Also, a person can put a piece of mail aside and look at it later. Don’t count on that happening with any type of electronic communication.

Get noticed right away

A good subject line is the key to getting someone to open your email message. If he doesn’t bother to open it, all your work has gone to waste.

Give some thought to it. Instead of Donate to our Spring Appeal or May 2019 Newsletter, try Find out how you can help Michael learn to read or Thanks to you, Dara won’t go to bed hungry tonight.

For postal mail, consider an engaging envelope teaser or a colored envelope with a stamp. You don’t want your letter to look like junk mail.

Keep it short

Your next step is to get your donor to read your message. Keep her interested. With email, yours may be one of hundreds she’ll receive that day, along with whatever else is going on in her life.

Make your messages short, but engaging, and get to the point right away.

Keep this in mind when you send your e-newsletter or updates. You might want to consider a two-article newsletter twice a month instead of one with four articles (and it’s unlikely your donors will read all four articles) once a month.

Given the cost of direct mail, why send a six-page annual report when you can wow your donors in an instant with an infographic postcard?

Photos and other visuals can be a great way to stand out, especially on social media.

Make it easy to read and scan

Besides sending a short message, use short paragraphs and lots of white space, too. Your messages need to be easy to read (and scan) in an instant. Don’t use microscopic font either.

Be personal and conversational

Write directly to your reader using clear, conversational language – no jargon. Address your message to a person – Dear Janet and not Dear Friend.

Segment your lists so you can personalize your messages. For example, you’ll create different messages for current donors, potential donors, and monthly donors.

Don’t cast a wide net

It’s important that you send your message to the right audience and your audience isn’t everyone.

You’ll have more luck with a fundraising appeal when you send it to past donors or people who have a connection to your cause. The same is true for event invitations or recruiting volunteers.

You may want to reach out to as many people as possible, but that won’t guarantee you’ll get more donations or event attendees. Segmenting and engaging with the right audience will bring you better results.

Be a welcome visitor

If you communicate regularly and do it well, your donors should recognize you as a reputable source and are more likely to read your messages. If all you do is blast them with generic fundraising appeals, well good luck to you.

Make sure people know your email is coming from your organization. In the from field, put DoGood Nonprofit or Lisa Wilson, DoGood Nonprofit. If you just put a person’s name or info@dogoodnonprofit.org, people may not know who it’s from and ignore your message.

Only send email to people who have opted into your list. Otherwise, you’re spamming them. Some people will choose not to receive email from you, and that’s okay. The ones who do are interested in hearing from you. Give people the option to unsubscribe, too.

Even though people only get a few pieces of mail a day, most of it’s junk mail. You never want any of your letters, newsletters, or postcards to be perceived as junk mail.

It’ll take a little more work, but it’s possible to make your messages stand out so you don’t get lost in the shuffle.

 

Let’s Skip the Formalities

14125863156_9a20cd1a47_mWhy is it that so many nonprofit newsletters, annual reports, and even fundraising letters sound like a Ph.D. thesis? Why are they so formal and impersonal? It often seems as if someone likes to show off their big vocabulary.

Unfortunately, when you do this, there’s a good chance your donors will lose interest. It’s hard enough to get them to look at your messages in the first place. Make it easier for them by dialing down on the formality and being more personal.

Here’s what you can do.

Write in the second person

All your fundraising letters, thank you letters, newsletter articles, etc. should be written in the second person. Pretend you’re having a conversation with your reader. Keep that person in mind when you write and think about what they would want to read.

Seeing the World Through Your Donors’ Eyes

Use the word you much more than we. When you’re having a conversation with someone, do you spend a lot of time talking about yourself? I hope not.

Use language your donors will understand

Quiz time. Which sounds better? a) food insecurity or b) a family choosing between buying groceries or paying their heating bill? How about a) at-risk youth or b) high school students who might not graduate on time?

I hope you answered b for both questions. Jargon is confusing, and even if your donors know what the word means, it’s boring and impersonal. The second two examples give a clearer picture of the need your donors will help you meet.

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

Mistakes were made when you decided to write in the passive voice

I’m not a fan of the passive voice because it weakens your writing. Like jargon, it distances you from what you’re trying to say.  

Another quiz. Which one sounds better? a) Over 5,000 meals were served at the Riverside Community Center or b) Our volunteers served over 5,000 meals at the Riverside Community Center. What was your answer?

In addition to using the active voice, use strong, active verbs and avoid adjectives and adverbs. Say depleted instead of really tired.

You want your readers to take action whether it’s donating, volunteering, or reading a success story. Active language will help with that.

Back to school time

Write at a sixth to eighth-grade level. You’re not dumbing down; you’re being smart because you’re making it easier for your readers.

Don’t use a lot of fancy words. It makes you sound pretentious. You don’t want your readers to have to hunt for a dictionary. Most likely they won’t, and they’ll miss out on what you’re trying to say. Your goal should be for your donors to understand you.

Now, forget what you learned in English class. It’s okay to start a sentence with a conjunction and use sentence fragments.

Do some serious editing

It’s important that you take time to edit before you send your messages. Check for passive verbs, adjectives, and adverbs to see if you need them. Also, be on the lookout for jargon and SAT vocabulary words. Can you simplify?

Read your content out loud. Do you sound like a friendly person or a robot?

Readability programs such as Flesch-Kincaid (this link contains examples of other readability programs, as well) might be useful because it determines grade level and finds passive sentences. I’ve never used the Hemingway Editor, but some people like it. None of these are perfect. It’s best if you can get into the habit of producing clear, conversational writing.

Always think of your readers

Your donors are busy. They don’t want to slog through a newsletter that looks like a legal brief. Skip the formalities and give them something they’ll enjoy reading.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR NONPROFIT WRITING MORE CONVERSATIONAL

8 Tools to Be a More Effective Nonprofit Writer

 

Seeing the World Through Your Donors’ Eyes

16694129500_90ff25d71d_mIn my last post, I wrote about the importance of staying donor-centered. Now let’s take it a step further. Try to think like your donors. Visualize one donor or a type of donor and imagine how they will respond to your communication.

Get to know your donors better

You may have a hard time with this if you don’t know your donors very well. One way to get to know them better is to send short surveys. The key here is short. Ask a few questions at a time.

3 Examples of Nonprofit Donor Surveys

The 5 ½ Principles of Effective 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 Develop Donor Personas for Your Nonprofit

GUIDE: Using Donor Personas to Maximize Your Nonprofit Fundraising

I think some of the most important things to know about your donors are why they give to your organization, what aspects of your work are important to them, and how they like to communicate (by mail, email, social media, or a combination of those).

Let’s look at these more closely.

Why do your donors give to your organization?

Donors are human beings, not just money machines. There’s a reason they’ve chosen to give to your organization. If you can find out what drew them to your nonprofit, it will help you with your donor communication.

Most likely they feel a connection to your cause. For example, 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 aspects of your work are important to your donors?

You may have already found out this information from the question above, but most likely you’re working on several initiatives. If your organization is working to prevent homelessness, you may discover your donors are most interested in finding affordable housing for homeless families. 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.

Email will probably 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.

You could also try to get feedback about the frequency of your communication. Shorter, more frequent messages, especially for email and social media, should be more effective. This doesn’t mean blasting your donors with a bunch of generic messages.

The advantage of email and direct mail is you have complete control of them, unlike social media. Speaking of social media, almost every day you hear about some issue with Facebook. I’ve stopped using it and only use Twitter sporadically, but that’s just me. Other people can’t get enough of social media.

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.) Monitor this frequently and focus your efforts on channels your donors are using.

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

You’ve spent time getting to know your donors better. Now you want to make sure they respond to your messages. This can be hard, especially when donors are bombarded with messages from many sources.

Keep them in mind. What will entice them to look at your email or letter and take action, if necessary. The email subject line Find out how you helped Claudia and her family move into a home of their own is profoundly better than April e-newsletter.

Now that your donor has opened your e-newsletter, is the first thing she sees a story about Claudia? You know from surveying your donors they like to read about the people they’re helping.

Every step of the way you need to see the world through your donors’ eyes – 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 for every fundraising letter, thank you letter, newsletter, or any other type of communication.

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

 

How You Can Stay Donor-Centered

379714893_a11931e4a0_mMany nonprofits don’t seem to understand what it means to be donor-centered. I think it’s fairly obvious. 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.

I guess it’s not obvious enough because you see countless examples of generic, organization-centered communication that barely acknowledges the donor.

Your communication suffers if it’s not donor-centered, but you can change that. 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. Send separate appeal letters to monthly donors.
  • 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 Thanks to you! or You’re incredible 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 family can get a box of groceries at the Northside 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?  Did he upgrade to monthly giving? 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? Think about nixing the letter from your CEO unless you can guarantee it’s donor-centered.
  • 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? Lead with a story because donors love to read about the people they’re helping.
  • 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 plunge.

Read on for more information about staying donor-centered.

Lots of donor-centric sentences for you to steal

Creating a Donor-Centered Appeal Letter: A Makeover!

Donor-Centered Storytelling Boosts Fundraising. Period.

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]