How You Can Create a More Engaging Nonprofit Newsletter

In theory, a newsletter can be a great way to engage with your donors. In reality, that often doesn’t happen 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.

You can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s how.

Think about what your donors want

You need to include content that will interest your donors. You also need to reference the current situations. Do you think your donors would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about Alicia, a single mother who is having trouble making ends meet, but is grateful she can get food for her family at the Riverside Community food bank? 

The answer should be obvious. Your donors want to hear about how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.

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

Don’t shy away from a print newsletter 

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.

In my last post, I mentioned the importance of having a clean mailing list. If you can get rid of duplicate and undeliverable addresses, that’s another way to save a little money.

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 your stories

Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. I’m sure you have a lot of stories from the past year that you can share.

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 stories to use every year.

Don’t stray 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 your clients/community? For example – This generous $50,000 grant from the Better World Foundation will allow us to buy much-needed laptops for our tutoring 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 Sarah Davis, Vice President of First National Bank, to our board. Sarah 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 Alicia put food on the table or Because of donors like you, X number of families have been able to get healthy food every week. 

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 gratitude

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. Many donors stepped up this past year and they deserve to be thanked as often as possible. 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 some color, as well as tell a story in an instant.

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

Also, 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 – maybe just two articles. People have a lot going on and don’t want to be bombarded with too much information.

Do the best you can

For some of you, putting together a newsletter may be too much to take on, especially now. You don’t have to do an actual newsletter, but you do need to keep your donors updated.

Do what you can, but be sure to update your donors at least once a month. You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent email updates and postcards with an infographic a few times a year.

Create an engaging newsletter that your donors will want to read.

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

Nonprofit Donor Newsletters | Print or Enews?

7 Nonprofit E-Newsletter Best Practices

24 Content Ideas for Your Next Nonprofit Newsletter

Photo by Petr Sejba www.moneytoplist.com.

5 Tips to Use Your Nonprofit Site as A Donor Engagement Tool

By Anne Stefanyk

Your nonprofit website is a valuable tool for modern fundraising. Not only is it the first place prospects look to learn more about your organization, it’s also where current supporters go for updates on your mission and to explore upcoming opportunities. 

As the focal point of almost all of your donor engagements, without your nonprofit website, you’d have trouble both recruiting new supporters and retaining current ones.

There are a number of elements that play a critical role in how your website performs, the way visitors engage with it, and your online conversion rates. To position your site as a successful donor engagement tool, you’ll need an optimized nonprofit website. 

The best nonprofit sites are well-designed, scalable, easy to use, and effectively meet your target users’needs. If you want to leverage your own site as a donor engagement tool, make sure to follow these five tips:

  1. Review general website development best practices
  2. Integrate your site with other nonprofit solutions
  3. Advertise your upcoming campaigns and events
  4. Add consistent content to your blog roll
  5. Consider starting an online webinar series

Let’s dive in by reviewing the basics. 

1. Review general website development best practices

Taking some insight from Kanopi’s team of website user experience (UX) experts: “As the centerpiece of your digital engagements, your nonprofit website UX is extremely important if you want to not only acquire new supporters, but continue to retain current ones.”

Nonprofit website UX encompasses how users interact with your site. From how long it takes to load to how easy it is to navigate through different pages, there are a number of factors that can either encourage site visitors to continue engaging with your site or push them away. 

If you want to improve your own site UX, reviewing general nonprofit website maintenance practices is the best place to start. 

Here are the basic essentials to know:

  • Stick to simple user-based design. Your website already hosts a variety of different engagements. To minimize confusion and benefit your site UX, make sure each page and section stays simple and serves one clear purpose. Cramming too much information or site elements into one place can be overwhelming. 
  • Test your site load time. If your website doesn’t load fast enough, the chances of users giving up on it drastically increases. Regularly test your site and flag any obvious loading pain points, like large image or video files.  
  • Make sure it is mobile-optimized. With 51% of online site traffic coming from mobile phones, it’s critical that your site works on any size screen. If not, you’re missing out on over half of your supporters. 
  • Feature Call to actions (CTAs) to popular engagements. It’s likely people are visiting your site because they want to learn more, donate, sign up for an event (virtual for now), or become a volunteer. Include clear buttons and links, as well as a navigation menu that takes site visitors to these pages.

These are just some general tips for making sure your website is in good shape. With these basics down, you can start focusing on specific tools and content you’ll need to take your donor engagement to the next level. Above all, UX is a top priority. Explore these examples of top nonprofit websites to see these best practices in action.  

2. Integrate your site with other nonprofit solutions

As the center of your online engagements, your nonprofit website is doing a very important job: collecting data. This includes metrics of how prospective and current donors find your site and the specific links and pages that they frequent. Information like this can help you create targeted marketing strategies and give you a sense of the different types of supporters you have.

To make good use of this data and expand your donor engagement capabilities, we recommend integrating your other nonprofit solutions as well. Tech integrations connect separate software platforms to centralize their data. 

For nonprofits, having integrations between your online donation tools, constituent relationship management (CRM) database, email communications tool, and website is critical. This ensures that you have real-time access to accurate engagement data. 

What does this mean for your nonprofit website? Use your nonprofit and donor data to help strategize the best ways to create a meaningful and valuable experience for site visitors. This can not only help you capitalize on engagement efforts, but also deepen your donor relationships. It also leverages the best of other tools so your site and staff don’t have to do all the heavy lifting.

3. Advertise your upcoming campaigns and events

This might seem like a no-brainer, but your website should showcase all of your upcoming fundraising campaigns and events. If prospects or current supporters want to participate, they’ll go to your website to find out more. 

For one thing, we recommend dedicating entire pages to each event or campaign. This way, you have ample space to discuss details, how supporters can participate, and even embed a customized and branded online donation form. Then, using website design and layout, make sure to effectively advertise those exciting opportunities.

Here are some ways you can do this:

  • Put your event or campaign marketing content front and center on your homepage. Remember to switch out this content once the event is over or else your website risks looking outdated.
  • Link to your events calendar within your navigation menu.
  • Incorporate key calls-to-action to event sign-ups and donation pages across different web pages wherever it seems valuable. 
  • Include links back to the event or campaign page in other marketing content like email newsletters and social media posts.

Whether you want to get a head start on your year-end giving campaign or you’re announcing a brand new event, connect prospects to your nonprofit website so they have actionable and concrete next steps. 

4. Add consistent content to your blog roll

What if you don’t have any events or campaigns coming up? How can you still send users to your online site? Consider creating consistent and active blog content! You can do this right on your nonprofit website with a dedicated blog roll.

Many organizations, software companies, and services in the philanthropic space create blog posts for their websites. Not only does this paint them as an authoritative figure, but it’s a valuable digital strategy that increases website SEO (search engine optimization). The more high-quality content your website has, the better Google and other search engines will rank it.

But what kind of blog posts should you create and what kind of content is your audience interested in? Use this list to start brainstorming with your marketing team:

  • News stories relevant to your mission
  • Advice and tips for those in the community that your nonprofit serves
  • Updates on nonprofit events, campaigns, and other major accomplishments
  • Announcements for new nonprofit developments
  • Testimonials from community members you’ve helped

For instance, The American Heart Association has blog content specific to healthy living and other health-related topics. Even though these blog posts aren’t directly discussing the campaigns and accomplishments they’ve achieved, they still provide value and offer an additional engagement point for their supporters. 

5. Consider starting an online webinar series

Similar to creating blog content, starting an online webinar series is a key way to position your organization as a thought leader. Webinars are usually meetings or presentations that are hosted online, either live or pre-recorded, and led by professionals of the topic at hand.

Many nonprofit organizations and related businesses host webinars to talk about topics ranging from top fundraising strategies to new advancements in their particular field. But these aren’t just beneficial to teach your nonprofit supporters and peers best practices. They also offer an additional layer of interactivity!

Depending on the webinar and video conferencing platform you use, audience members should be able to comment, ask questions, and even talk to each other. This doesn’t just engage your supporters, but also encourages them to interact with each other and build an online community

Consider asking top staff members or other experts serving similar missions to lead these conversations. You might even crowdsource some good ideas from viewers that you can implement into future fundraising efforts. DonorSearch has a helpful list of nonprofit webinar series that you can explore for inspiration. 

Start small. Don’t commit to too many webinars. If you can only handle one per quarter, that’s just fine. And once the webinar is over? You can repurpose that content into a blog post, which helps address item #4 on our list.

Conclusion

Don’t let your nonprofit website fall to the wayside. As one of your most important donor engagement tools, a well-designed and valuable site can take your fundraising and important relationships to the next level. 

Make sure to review basic site best practices for a solid foundation and then brainstorm creative content to keep visitors engaged. Soon, your website will become the go-to for supporters and donors who want to learn more—not just about what your nonprofit is doing, but about the major updates regarding your mission in general. Good luck!

As Founder and CEO of Kanopi Studios, Anne Stefanyk helps create clarity around project needs and turns client conversations into actionable outcomes. She enjoys helping clients identify their problems, and then empowering the Kanopi team to execute great solutions.

Anne is an advocate for open source and co-organizes the Bay Area Drupal Camp. When she’s not contributing to the community or running her thoughtful web agency, she enjoys yoga, meditation, treehouses, dharma, cycling, paddle boarding, kayaking, and hanging with her nephew.

Twitter – @Anne_Kanopi

https://www.drupal.org/u/annabella

https://www.linkedin.com/in/annestefanyk/

Some Lessons for Nonprofits After Doing my Taxes

I just finished tallying our 2020 donations for our taxes. Always a fun task. Going through all the donation letters and emails triggered a few insights I’d like to share.

Sending a yearly donation summary is very helpful

Most of the gifts I make are monthly donations, and organizations that sent a summary of all those gifts made it so much easier for me. I made some additional contributions when the pandemic started and those were also included.

You may not need to send a summary if someone just made one gift. Your thank you letter can include the important tax information, but there’s no guarantee your donor will keep that.

My suggestion is to send all donors a yearly summary of their gifts the following January. Send it by mail, if you can. This is also an opportunity to reach out. Make it more than just a receipt. Thank your donors and let them know how their gift helped your clients/community during the past year. Some organizations send two pages – one is a thank you letter and the other is a list of all the donations.

Did you forget about me?

I make a spreadsheet of all our donations. I’ll copy the one from the previous year and make changes as needed.

While I was doing this, I discovered I never gave to an organization that I had the previous two years. I forgot about them, but they also forgot about me.

My speculation is they never sent me an appeal. If they sent one by mail, I would have noticed it and made a point to donate again. If it came by email, who knows since I get so much of it.

I also don’t remember this organization communicating in other ways, such as showing gratitude and sharing updates.

I’ve now set up a monthly donation for this organization, so I won’t have to do anything until the credit card expires.

If you don’t even bother to send an appeal letter (and you should send at least one by mail for each campaign), you can’t expect your donors to always remember to give. Running a multichannel campaign with scheduled reminders will help. But you do need to ask, as well as communicate in other ways. 

Don’t let your donors forget about you.

No monthly donor hiccups last year

In past years, I noticed my monthly donations sometimes stopped getting charged to my credit card. Most likely it was because the organization changed their donation platform.

I’m happy to report that this year none of them mysteriously stopped charging. A few organizations did change their donation platforms, but contacted me ahead of time so I could switch to the new system.

If you’re planning to change your donation platform, be sure to give your donors a heads up so you don’t lose any donations. And, be sure to flag expiring credit cards, as well.

Pay attention to what’s going on with your monthly donors. These are some of your most valuable donors.

Donor communication is a mixed bag

It’s not surprising that some organizations do a better job of communicating with their donors than others. A few knock it out of the park, but most range from okay to nonexistent.

If you use PayPal for your monthly donations, they send a receipt each month. In some cases, that’s the only time I hear about that gift. Are you letting PayPal do your work for you?

Other organizations do send their own automated monthly gift receipts and that’s about it. I’ve mentioned before that these can be helpful, but don’t count as a legitimate thank you or any type of donor communication.

Besides monthly donations, I gave some additional donations last year to emergency campaigns when the pandemic started. Some organizations noticed, some didn’t – typical. One organization thanked me by sending a personalized video. Others sent handwritten thank you cards, as well as some pre-printed ones, but they were cards I received in the mail! 

It’s often the same few organizations that go the extra mile, so the rest of you need to step up.

Always remember that better donor communication will help you raise more money. 

Photo via www.audio-luci-store.it

How to Engage Donors to Keep Them Giving Year After Year

By Korrin Bishop

As you know, it takes staff time, resources, and diligence to attract new donors to your nonprofit. With the upfront investment you put into cultivating donor relationships, you might be wondering how you can turn those first-time donors into supporters who give to your mission each year. 

Engaging one-time donors to become recurring donors has a lot of value. One study found that monthly donors give 42% more in a year than one-time donors, and another showed they were worth over 52% more in their first year of giving.

So, if you’re looking to up your engagement game to keep donors giving year after year, you’re taking a great step for your organization. In this article, we’ll cover nine ideas to help with your engagement planning.

1. Send a Timely Thank You

One of the most important steps in building relationships with your donors is the thank you. When a donor gives to your nonprofit, make sure to acknowledge their gift with a phone call or email within 24 hours. This shows them you noticed their effort and value their support.

If this is a one-time donation (rather than a recurring monthly donation), follow up with a thank you letter and tax receipt within 72 hours of the gift, as well. This both demonstrates that your nonprofit is organized and able to get your donors the documentation they need and is also another chance to say thank you and let them know you appreciate their gift.

2. Send a Welcome Package

After a donor’s first gift, you have a chance to make them feel not just like someone who gave your organization some money, but rather, a valued member of your philanthropic community. Following their first gift, send a welcome package to tell them a little more about your work, what their gift will allow you to do, and how grateful you are that they’re joining your mission.

Your welcome package can be physical or digital. If you mail your welcome package, you can include a signed thank you card, a brochure about your work, a copy of your last annual report, and even some branded swag like an awareness bracelet, pen, or hat. 

If you email your welcome package, consider adding a personal video message. You can also include imagery that captures the emotion of your mission, links to your social media pages where your new donors can continue to follow your work, and some key takeaways about the impact their gift will have.

3. Make Use of Surveys

As you’ve probably noticed, not all donors like to be engaged in the same ways. Some prefer emails, others like texts, and some still like good old-fashioned snail mail. Donors may also have different interests in how they want to continue to support your nonprofit. Some may be interested in your major fundraising events, while others may be more attracted to volunteer opportunities.

Surveys are a great way to show your new donors that you care about how they want to engage with you and that you’re being proactive to learn what works best for them. You can ask them what attracted them to your organization in the first place, whether they have any special interests related to your mission, and what their communication preferences are.

Surveys help you get to know your donors better and meet them where they are.

4. Make Use of Donor Data

Many of us can’t remember the details of every one of our organization’s supporters off the top of our head, so if that resonates with you, you’re in good company! Keeping track of all your interactions with each donor in a customer relationship management (CRM) system can help you better connect with each individual. 

You can collect information in your CRM on how much a donor has given in the past, their birthday, whether they’ve attended any of your events or volunteered their time, if they’re a member of any local associations or businesses that could make good partners for your nonprofit, and more. This donor data will help you create more meaningful communications and deepen your relationships.

5. Regularly Show Impact

Donors want to know that when they give money to your organization, you are using it well. They want to know their gift is really making an impact. You can help engage them in your mission by highlighting this impact on a regular basis.

There are several channels you can consider for sharing your work. You can send an annual report to summarize your impact over the course of the year and monthly newsletters to show what you’re accomplishing each month. Staying active on social media is also a great way to announce your nonprofit’s big updates, highlight testimonials from your beneficiaries, and even give shoutouts to your donors who make things possible.

6. Encourage Recurring Donations

Donors who give monthly, even if it’s a small amount, tend to stay donors for a longer time. To encourage monthly giving, incorporate an option on your donation form that supporters can check to make their gift automatically repeat each month.

If a supporter makes a one-time gift, consider ways to let them know about your recurring donor option. You may also want to give your recurring donor community its own name and branding or message it as being a part of the “family.” 

You can also highlight the benefits of a monthly gift for both your donor and your organization. 

Your donor won’t have to remember to keep returning to your website to give, and they’ll also have the option to donate as much or as little as they want every month. If they can’t afford to make a large one-time gift, you can remind them that just ten dollars a month over the course of a year will add up to a $120 gift. Emphasize the ease of a recurring donation.

You can also let donors know how recurring gifts create a sustainable, reliable funding stream for your mission so that even in uncertain times, you’re able to rely on your recurring donor family to keep making an impact.

Recurring donors should get their own special thank you, and remember to keep showing gratitude and sharing updates throughout the year.

7. Don’t Ask Them to Give Too Often

Have you ever had an organization or an individual only get in touch with you when they want something? If you have, you probably know how icky or irritating the situation can feel. You may have even found yourself pulling away from the dynamic. Relationships are give and take, so when one person is constantly asking for more but not connecting in other ways, it can be a real turnoff. 

Asking for donations too often will discourage people from wanting to give to and support your organization. Most of your communications should be about showing the impact of your donors’gifts. By demonstrating what you’re able to do with their donations, you’re building the case for why they should give again without even needing to ask.

8. Get Them Involved in Other Ways

While monetary donations are critical for nonprofits, they’re not the only way supporters can be involved with your mission. A great way to engage one-time donors is to get them involved with your organization in a variety of ways. You can invite them to attend your events, share volunteer opportunities with them, participate in a peer-to-peer campaign, and ask them to help spread the word about your nonprofit to their friends and family via social media or other channels.

As donors engage with your nonprofit in new ways, their commitment to your work grows. They’re able to interact with your mission and get a hands-on experience that they’ll likely remember more than a donation envelope.

9. Surprise & Delight

When someone you care about gives you flowers or writes you a note on your birthday, it can feel really nice. But, sometimes it’s even nicer to get those flowers or notes completely out of the blue! People enjoy knowing that others are thinking about them and value them, especially when they don’t expect it.

You can show your donors some love by letting them know you’re thinking of them when they don’t expect it. Rather than only saying thank you right after a gift or a volunteer shift, consider sending them a simple handwritten card in the mail on a random day throughout the year. This heartfelt approach will work wonders! 

Engage Your Donors to Keep Them Committed to Your Mission and Giving Each Year

Each new donor to your organization is an opportunity to build a lifelong relationship. Using the tips above, you can engage your donors in a way that keeps them involved with your mission and coming back to donate year after year.

Korrin Bishop is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in the nonprofit world. She studied Nonprofit Administration at the University of Oregon, serves as the pro bono Development Director for Sundress Academy for the Arts, and has been involved with nonprofit work spanning audits, volunteering, communications, fundraising, and more. You can learn about her work at: www.korrinbishop.com.

How to Create Your 2020 Annual Report

The nonprofit annual report is a mixed bag. Organizations do need to share accomplishments and show gratitude to their donors, but many annual reports are done poorly. They’re often too long, boring, and basically a demonstration of the organization patting itself on the back. There’s often very little appreciation for donors. It’s also time consuming to put together, even when we’re not in a pandemic.

COVID-19 and our other current situations have brought about many changes, or at least they should. You can’t create the same type of annual report you’ve done in the past. I think some of the changes I’m going to suggest should be carried out in the future, as well.

First, you don’t have to do an annual report, but you do have to share accomplishments with your donors. You might want to ditch the annual report and send short progress reports a couple of times a year or monthly e-updates instead. This makes a lot of sense now when things are changing rapidly and you don’t have time to take on a big report. 

If you decide to do an annual report, I encourage you to move away from the traditional multi-page one. Aim for something no longer than four pages. Shorter is better.

You also need to address how your organization is faring with the current situations – the pandemic, economic downturn, racial reckoning, etc.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you create an annual report that’s relevant during the current situations, won’t put your donors to sleep, and make it a little easier for you to put together.

Your annual report is for your donors

Keep your donors in mind when you create your annual report and include information you know will interest them. Also, donors have a lot going on, so that’s another reason to not create a huge report that they may or may not read.

You might want to consider different types of annual reports for different donor groups. You could send an oversized postcard with photos and infographics or a one-to-two-page report to most of your donors. Your grant and corporate funders might want more detail, but not 20 pages. See if you can impress them with no more than four pages.

Make it a gratitude report

Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit. Think of this as a gratitude report. You may want to call it that instead of an annual report. Many donors have stepped up to help during this past year and deserve to be thanked for that.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. Get inspired by these examples. I know these are on the longer side, but they still have some good examples.

Oregon Zoo Gratitude Report

Power of Storytelling | The most moving gratitude report I’ve ever seen

How are you making a difference?

The theme of many annual reports is look how great we are. They are organization-centered instead of being donor-centered and community-centered.

They also include a bunch of boring lists, such as the number of clients served. You need to share specific accomplishments that show how you’re making a difference.

Focus on the why and not the what. I know your organization had to make a lot of changes due to the pandemic, but what’s most important is why you needed to do that.

You can say something like this – In the past year, we have seen triple the number of people at the Northside Community Food Bank. We also had to make changes at our facility so we could continue to serve people safely. Thanks to donors like you, we were able to meet our demands and provide local residents with boxes of healthy food.

Phrases like Thanks to you and Because of you should dominate your annual report or any type of impact report.

Tell a story

Donors want to hear about the people they’re helping. You can tell a story with words, a photo, or a video. 

For example –  Leah, a single mother with three kids, lost her full-time job earlier in the year and has been trying to make ends meet with periodic work. Ever since the pandemic started it’s been a struggle for her family. She could barely afford groceries, rent, and utilities. Leah had never gone to a food bank before and felt ashamed to have to do that. But when she reached out to the Northside Community Food Bank, she was treated with respect and dignity. Now she’s able to bring home healthy food for her family.

Make it visual

Your donors have a lot going on and won’t have a lot of time to read your report. Engage them with some great photos, which can tell a story in an instant. Choose photos of people participating in an activity, such as volunteers working at a food bank or clients, if you have their permission.

Use colorful charts or infographics to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand. Include some quotes and short testimonials to help break up the text.

Be sure your report is easy to read. Use at least a 12-point font and black type on a white background. A colored background may be pretty, but it makes it hard to read. You can, however, add a splash of color with headings, charts, and infographics.

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend

Beware of using jargon. Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you. Use everyday language such as – Because of you, we found affordable housing for over 100 homeless families. This is even more important during COVID-19, since living in a shelter or with other families isn’t safe. Now, these families have a place to call home.

Write in the second person and use a warm, friendly tone. Use you much more than we.

Planning is key

I know putting together an annual report can be time-consuming. One way to make it easier is to set aside a time each month to make a list of accomplishments. This way you’re not going crazy at the end of the year trying to come up with a list. You can just turn to the list you’ve been working on throughout the year.

You also want to create a story and photo bank and you can draw from those when you put together your annual report.

Creating a shorter report or an infographic postcard will also help make this easier for you. Remember, you also have the option of not doing an annual report and sending periodic short updates instead.

With everything changing at a rapid pace, I hope you’ve been updating your donors frequently. If not, you need to start doing that. 

Whatever you decide, put together an annual report that’s a better experience for everyone. Read on for more information about creating a relevant annual or impact report for 2020.

How to Create a Meaningful Nonprofit Annual Report in the Year of the Pandemic

Creating a Nonprofit Impact Report in the Time of COVID-19

8 Annual Reports We Love

How to Craft a 1-Page Nonprofit Annual Report

On the Road to Better Donor Communication

With all that’s gone on this year, if you’re still sending generic, organization-centered communication, you’re doing a huge disservice.

I know there has been some conflict about donor-centered vs community-centered, and I think we can have both. What you don’t want is to be organization-centered. You can’t communicate with your donors without focusing on them. This is true for any type of audience. Also, donor-centricity leads to community.

Think Twice Before You Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater | Donor-Centered vs Community-Centered

We’re also seeing real people with real problems. Your vague, generic communication that uses demeaning terms such as at-risk and underserved needs to end.

It’s harder to fundraise now, but you need to still do it. You’ll be more successful if you make some of these improvements to your donor communications.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Your fundraising appeal shouldn’t be 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 your clients/community.
  • Segment your appeal 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.
  • Address your appeal to a person and not Dear Friend.
  • Don’t use vague, impersonal language and jargon your donors won’t understand. Instead of saying we’re helping at-risk youth, say something like – With your support, our tutoring program can help more students graduate from high school on time. It’s been challenging this past year as many schools switched to remote learning.
  • Your appeal should make people feel good about donating to your organization.

Thank you letters

  • Your thank you letter shouldn’t come across as transactional and resemble a receipt. This is one of my huge pet peeves right now. Yes, you need to acknowledge the donation is tax-deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Your thank you letter (or better yet, a handwritten note) needs to pour on the appreciation. Start your letter with You’re amazing or Thanks to You!, and not On behalf of X organization.
  • Address your thank you letter to a person and not Dear Friend.
  • Tell 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 Eastside Community Food Bank. This is crucial now since we’ve seen triple the number of people in the past year.
  • Recognize each donor. Is this the first time someone has donated? If someone donated before, did she increase her gift? Acknowledge this in your letter/note.

Newsletters

  • Your newsletter shouldn’t sound self-promotional and focus on all the wonderful things your organization is doing. Since the pandemic, I’ve seen organizations patting themselves on the back because of all the changes they needed to make to their programs. What’s most important is how this is affecting your clients/community. Yes, you may have changed the protocols at your homeless shelter, but that’s because you needed to continue to offer a safe place to those who need it.  
  • Write your newsletter 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? Keep in mind, all your donor communication should be written in the second person. It’s much more personal.
  • Include stories about clients, engaging photos, and other content your donors like to see. Remember, donors want to see the impact of their gift.
  • Use the right channels. Perhaps you only send an e-newsletter, but some of your donors prefer print.
  • Show gratitude to your donors/supporters in your newsletter.

These suggestions for improvement can be used for other types of donor communication such as annual reports, your website, email messages, and social media posts.

Better donor communication can help you build relationships. This is especially important now when your goals should be donor retention and sustaining long-term donors.

9 Best Practices for Communications That Stand Out

Nonprofit Communication Best Practices To Make Communications More Impactful 

Let Your Donors Know How Much You Appreciate Them

Many donors have gone above and beyond to help nonprofit organizations this past year, despite everything that’s been going on. Often in times of crisis, people find ways to help.

This means you need to go above and beyond when you thank them. Are you doing that? Most likely, you’re not. I know running your organization is harder now, but you need to ramp up your gratitude practice.

Thanking your donors is not a we do this after we receive a donation and then we don’t have to do anything for awhile situation. 

Gratitude is something you need to show all year-round and with Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s a perfect opportunity to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support.

Maybe you would rather not go the Valentine’s Day route, which is understandable. But you should still do something to show appreciation this month (and every month). The holidays are over and February can be a dreary month, even in the best of times. Your donors could use a little kindness 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 appreciation since your year-end appeal, don’t wait much longer.

Here are a few ways you can let your donors know how much you appreciate them.

Create a thank you photo

Make your donor’s day with a great photo like this one.

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 a great way to connect with your donors. They’re simple, yet effective, so don’t worry if you weren’t a film major. It’s not too hard to create a video.

How to Create a Donor Thank You Video

One idea for your video is to show a bunch of people saying thank you. You’ll want your video to be short, donor-centered, and show your organization’s work up close and personal. You can also create personalized videos, which would be a nice gesture right now.

Your thank you landing page is a perfect place to put a video. This is your first opportunity to say thank you and most landing pages are just boring receipts (and receipts don’t cut it as a way to show gratitude). You can also put your thank you video on your website and share it by email and social media.

Nonprofit Thank You Video Script

How to Create Thank-You Video that Promotes Donor Retention

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. Other valuable donors are the ones who have been generous since the pandemic started. Don’t take any of these donors for granted.

That said, I do think you should make every effort to send a card to ALL your donors at least once a year. You can spread it out so you mail a certain number of cards each month, ensuring all your donors get one sometime in the year. 

Most organizations don’t send thank you cards, so you’ll stand out if you do.

Share an update 

In addition to saying thank you, share a brief update on your success and challenges. Emphasize how you couldn’t have helped someone without your donor’s support. For example –Thanks to you, Jenna won’t go to bed hungry tonight. It’s been tough for her family since her mother lost her job last year.

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

Aim to do better

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.

Also, make sure your thank you note/letter puts gratitude front and center. You don’t need to explain what your organization does, brag, or ask for another donation. You have plenty of opportunities to ask for donations. Your thank you letter should be all about thanking your donors.

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 are skittish about 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. Think of these as essential expenses for your essential donors.

Maybe you need a change of culture – a culture of gratitude. This comes from the top, but you also need to get your board, all staff, and volunteers invested and involved in thanking your donors. 

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. Planning ahead and creating systems makes a difference.

Keep thinking of ways to let your donors know how much you appreciate them. 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.

Rock These Outstanding Nonprofit Donor Thank You Templates

Sample Phrases You Can Use to Thank Your Donors

How to Write The Best Thank-You Letter for Donations + Three Templates and Samples

Why Monthly Giving Makes Sense

A bit of good news from the fundraising world – monthly giving is on the rise! If your organization doesn’t have a monthly/recurring giving program or it’s fairly small, now is a great time to start or grow your monthly giving.

In this post, I’ll tell you why monthly giving makes sense (or cents) on so many levels, how to start or grow your program, and how to nurture it going forward. 

Monthly giving helps you raise more money

Monthly or recurring donations can help donors spread out their gifts and it’s easier on their bank accounts. They may be apprehensive about giving a one-time gift of $50 or $100. But if you offer them the option of giving $5 or $10 a month, that may sound more reasonable.  

It can also give you a consistent stream of revenue throughout the year instead of certain times, such as when you do individual appeals and (virtual) events and when grants come in.

Monthly gifts are smaller, but you can raise a lot of money with lots of small gifts. Political candidates do it all the time. Also, monthly gifts aren’t as small as you think. The average is over $20 a month.

It can also be a more feasible way to get larger gifts. A gift of $100 a month may be more appealing to a donor than giving a large sum all at once. Even if they start with a smaller donation, monthly donors are more likely to become major donors and legacy donors.

It raises your retention rate, too

The retention rate for monthly donors is an impressive 90%. That’s significantly higher than other retention rates. 

One reason is that monthly gifts are ongoing. But your donors have agreed to that, so this shows they’re committed to your organization. 

These are long-term donors

This post highlights Charity Water’s successful monthly donor program. The key to their success – they moved from a short-term approach to a long-term focus.

I know Charity Water is a large organization, but that doesn’t mean your smaller organization can’t take the same focus. Long-term donors should always be one of your priorities.

How to get started

If you don’t already have a monthly giving program, make this the year you start one. It will help you raise more money in what’s expected to be another tough fundraising year.

A good way to start is to invite your current donors to become monthly donors. Your best bet for monthly donors are people who’ve given at least twice. These are donors who have shown a commitment to you. 

That doesn’t mean you can’t ask first-time donors. This could be a good way to connect with donors from your most recent campaign. And if you haven’t officially welcomed your new year-end donors, do that now. 

Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

How To Start A Monthly Giving Program (In 6 Simple Steps)

Make monthly giving the go-to option

Make monthly giving front and center in all your campaigns. It should be an easy option on your donation page. Include it on your pledge form and make it a prominent part of your appeal letter, maybe as a PS.

I can speak from personal experience that once I started giving monthly, that’s the way I wanted to give to all organizations. Your donors would probably agree.

A handful of organizations don’t offer a monthly giving option, which is a mistake. Some have a minimum donation, which I would also not recommend, if possible. If you do have a minimum, make it $5 a month instead of $10. 

If your reason to have a minimum donation amount is to save money on expenses, is that happening if your minimum deters someone from giving at all? You often have to invest a little to raise more money.

Make your monthly donors feel special

You need to do a good job of thanking your monthly donors. Go the extra mile and segment your monthly donors into new monthly donors, current monthly donors, and current donors who become monthly donors.

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

This way you can personalize their thank you letters to make them feel special. Be sure to mail a thank you letter, or even better, send a handwritten note. An email acknowledgment is not enough.

Many organizations send a monthly acknowledgment email or letter, and most are just okay. Some are basically only receipts, and as I mentioned in a recent post, your thank yous need to be more than a receipt. Yes, it’s helpful to know the organization received your donation, but you’re not practicing good donor 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 engaging updates.

One thing you should do is send your donors an annual summary of their monthly gifts. 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.

[ASK AN EXPERT] How Often Should We Thank Monthly Donors, and How?

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

Best Practices For Recognizing, Thanking And Retaining Monthly Donors

Reach out at least once a month

Your monthly donors made a commitment to you by giving every month. Make the same commitment to them by reaching out at least once a month.

You could create a special newsletter for monthly donors or include a cover letter referencing monthly donors. If that’s too much, you could give a shout out to your monthly donors and include information on how to become a monthly donor in your newsletter.

A thank you video is always welcome. Considering personalizing it, if you can. You could also offer a video tour or Zoom discussions for monthly donors.

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.

Thank yous, newsletters, and updates are not a one-time time deal. Keep it up throughout the year. Many nonprofits start out communicating regularly with their monthly donors and then disappear after a couple of months. You need to stay in touch with your donors right now.

Create a special section in your communications calendar specifically for monthly donors to help with this.

Go all out for your monthly donors

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 or email. I wanted to upgrade one of my monthly donations recently and the organization made it really easy by including a link in their monthly acknowledgment email. Yes, these emails can be useful.

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, because most likely they won’t, especially now. You also don’t want to miss out on any revenue. Remember, small donations add up.

Set up a system where you can flag credit cards that will expire in the next month or two. Then send these donors a friendly reminder email/letter or give them a call. 

You could encourage donors to give via an electronic funds transfer from their bank account instead. Then neither you nor your donors need to worry about credit cards expiring.

Once a monthly donor, always a monthly donor

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. We’re serving triple the number of people at the community food bank right now. Could you help us out a little more 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 need to run our tutoring program virtually for the time being and we want to continue serving as many students as we can.

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

But if you let those committed monthly donors know you think they’re special, they’ll be more likely to upgrade or give an additional gift. Many monthly donors have stepped up and given additional donations during the pandemic. That’s what you want.

Don’t miss out on this proven way to raise more money, boost donor retention rates, and provide an easier giving option for your donors. 

Moving Away from Transactional Fundraising

Unfortunately, we’re looking at another tough year for fundraising. I’ve heard some people predict donations will decrease, while others say they’ll increase.

In this era of uncertainty, who knows? That doesn’t mean you should stop fundraising. Not at all. You just need to do it better. 

You may think the most important component of fundraising is raising money. While that’s important, so is building relationships with your donors. 

It’s hard to keep raising money if you don’t build a good relationship with your donors. Every single interaction with your donors needs to focus on building relationships. That includes fundraising appeals. It’s possible to raise money and build relationships at the same time.

You’ll have more success if you move away from transactional fundraising and focus on building relationships. Here are some suggestions.

Stop using transactional language

First, the word transaction should not appear anywhere in your fundraising. Sometimes I see the words “Transaction complete”after I make an online donation. That’s not giving me a nice warm and fuzzy feeling at all. I made a gift not a transaction.

Even more prevalent is the word receipt, which is often used in lieu of thank you. After a donor makes a gift, they should be feeling a lot of appreciation from you. 

Here are some actual thank you email subject lines I received recently.

“Your Recurring Donation Receipt” 

“Payment Receipt” 

This again is emphasizing the transaction. Payment information should not be the lead of any type of thank you. 

Contrast those with these ones that really emphasize their appreciation.

“Thank you for your generous gift”

“You are wonderful!”

This post by Richard Perry Avoiding Transactional Terms in Fundraising mentions other terms such as prospect and annual fund. These are often internal terms, but they reduce donors to a monetary unit. 

When organizations lead their fundraising appeals by saying “It’s our annual appeal” or “It’s GivingTuesday,” they’re not connecting with their donors by concentrating on why donors give. 

Many donors don’t care that it’s your year-end appeal. They care about your work and want to help. Instead, say something like, How you can help families put food on the table. 

Make relationship building part of your fundraising campaigns

You need to build relationships before, during, and after each of your fundraising campaigns.

Before your next appeal, send your donors an update to let them know how they’re helping you make a difference. This is especially important if you do more than one fundraising campaign a year. You don’t want your donors to think the only time they hear from you is when you’re asking for money.

Segment your donors

One way to help ensure you’re focusing on relationships is to segment your donors and personalize your appeal letters and other types of donor communication. 

Don’t send the same appeal to everyone on your mailing list. What is your relationship with these individuals? Maybe they’ve given once or many times. Perhaps they’re event attendees, volunteers, e-newsletter subscribers, or friends of board members. Mention your relationship in your appeal letter. For example, thank a long-time donor for supporting you these past five years.

Monthly donors get their own appeal letter. This doesn’t happen enough and it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Build relationships with these committed donors. Recognize they’re monthly donors and either invite them to upgrade their gift or give an additional donation.

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

Create an attitude of gratitude

Your focus on building relationships continues when you thank your donors. Many organizations do a poor job with this. Send a handwritten note or make a phone call, if you can.

Welcome your new donors. Let them know how much you appreciate this new relationship. If you don’t, it’s likely to be a short relationship.

Be sure to also shower your current donors with love to keep your relationship going. Do something special for donors who have supported you for several years.

Make sure your donors get a heartfelt thank you, not something that resembles a receipt.

Thanking donors is something you can do at any time of the year. I think one of the best ways to connect is by sending a handwritten note.  I recently received a holiday card and a mug full of Lindt chocolate from a small, local nonprofit. It definitely warmed my heart, although you can always win me over with chocolate.

Holiday cards are a nice way to reach out, but don’t put a donation envelope in one. You have other opportunities to make appeals. Make it 100% about showing appreciation.

You can also send thank you cards at other times of the year. If money is tight, spread out your mailings over the year so each donor gets at least one card.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships

There are many ways you can build relationships with your donors throughout the year. This is so important right now.

You can give donors other opportunities to connect, such as volunteering, participating in advocacy alerts, and signing up for your newsletter. Done well, a newsletter or other form of an update is a good relationship-building tool. You could also offer virtual tours or Zoom discussions.

I’m amazed that after I attend an event, support someone in a walkathon, or give a memorial gift, most organizations don’t do a good job of building a relationship. I could be a potential long-time donor. Personally, I would never give a memorial gift or support someone in a charity walk if I didn’t believe in that organization’s cause. Don’t miss out on a potential opportunity to build longer-term relationships.

Have a relationship-building day

My main objection to giving days, such as GivingTuesday, is they focus so much on asking. What if we put all the time and energy we focus on giving days into a relationship-building day?

I’m not saying you can’t participate in giving days, but instead of the relentless begging, follow the formula above and build relationships before, during, and after your appeal.

Of course, you could choose not to participate in a giving day and have an all-out relationship-building day instead.

Giving Tuesday: What if it was called Living Schmoozeday?

Build relationships all year round

It’s easier to stay focused on donors when you’re sending an appeal or thank you, but this is just the beginning. Many organizations go on communication hiatus at certain times of the year and that’s a big mistake, especially now. Ideally, you should keep in touch with your donors every one to two weeks.

Stay focused on relationships. Good relationships with your donors will help you with retention, especially as we enter another tough fundraising year. 

The Importance of Making Your New Donors Feel Welcome

As your year-end donations come in, you may have some new donors. If you get new donors this year, don’t take that for granted. 

In this tumultuous year, these donors saw a need and found a connection to your cause. Maybe you’re a food bank that’s seeing a record number of people. Perhaps you’re a beloved performing arts organization that’s temporarily closed.

Unfortunately, the likelihood these donors will stick with you is questionable. Even in the best of times, the retention rate for new donors is a little over 20%.

One of the many lessons from this pandemic is the importance of having long-term donors who will stick with you when you need them most. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to hang on to your new donors.

Start with a special thank you

Go the extra mile when you thank your new donors.

If someone donates online, it’s hard to tailor the thank you email specifically to new donors. But you can do that with a phone call, handwritten note, or thank you letter.

Try to call your new donors or send a handwritten note. This will make a great impression on them. Get together a group of board members, other volunteers, and staff to help you.

*Make sure these are actually new donors. A good database will help you avoid any snafus.*

Create a welcome plan

A week or two after the initial thank you, send a welcome package. You can do this by mail, email, or a combination of both.

Welcome your new donors. Thank them again and show them other ways they can connect with you. Invite them to subscribe to your newsletter, join you on social media, and volunteer (most likely virtually for now).

Your welcome package should include a warm introductory message and a few facts about your organization, but don’t brag too much. Keep it donor-centered. You could also direct people to your website for more information about your organization.

Be careful about how much information you send. Donors want to feel welcome not overwhelmed.

I don’t recommend sending unsolicited swag. You could offer your new donors a gift and they can let you know if they want to receive it, but it’s not necessary. I don’t like it when organizations send me things I don’t need, such as a wall calendar.

What donors really want from you is to know how they’re helping you make a difference.

What are you doing now to welcome new donors?

How to Create an Effective New Donor Welcome Series

Anatomy of a Stellar First-Time Donor Welcome Packet

Who are your new donors?

They could be event attendees, volunteers, or newsletter subscribers. If you know, refer to that in your thank you note, letter, or phone call. If not, send a short survey with your welcome package and ask, “How did you hear about us?” or “What drew you to our organization?” 

Another question to ask is whether your donors prefer print or electronic communication. Short surveys are also a good way to connect throughout the year. The more you know about your donors the easier it will be to communicate with them.

Make your current donors feel special, too

While I’ve been focusing on new donors in this post, retention rates for current donors have also been declining. The biggest hurdle is getting from the first to the second gift. That second gift is known as the golden donation. But don’t stop there. You want a third and a fourth, etc. donation.  

If you’re not acknowledging a donor’s past support, you’re making a huge mistake. Imagine how you would feel if you gave to an organization for over five years and they never thank you for your long-time support.  

These valuable, long-term donors could leave at any time, so ignore them at your own peril. Remember the importance of long-term donors. Make sure they get a special thank you from you.

Keep it up throughout the year

You should know you need to communicate with your donors regularly, especially now. Plan on special mailings or emails specifically targeted to new donors. Try to send something by mail if you can. It’s more personal and your donors are more likely to see it. 

Think of other ways to do something special for your new donors too, such as offering virtual tours or an invitation to a Zoom discussion.

Of course, don’t ignore your other donors. Keep reaching out – at least once or twice a month. 

Show appreciation and share updates. A huge factor in donor retention is a good donor relations plan that you’ll carry out regularly as long as your donors support you, which hopefully will be for many years.