How to Create a Better Fundraising Appeal That Will Stand Out

Can you believe September is already here? It happens to be my favorite month. As someone who doesn’t like heat and humidity, I welcome the refreshing air it brings.

It also brings us to the start of the busiest time of the year for nonprofit organizations, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal. 

Even if you’re not planning on launching your campaign until later in the fall, you should get started on your appeal now. Everything takes longer than you think, especially in these uncertain times.

You need to create an appeal that will stand out and resonate with your donors. That doesn’t mean using the same boring, generic template you’ve used for years.

You need a letter that takes into account what’s going on in 2021. You must address how the current state of the pandemic is affecting your clients/community.

Your appeal also needs to be personal – both for your donors and when you write about your clients/community. Be sure to check in with your donors and wish them well.

Here are some ways to create a better appeal that will stand out.

Make a good first impression 

First, you need to get your donors to open your letter. If you can’t get them to do that, then all your hard work has gone to waste.

Perhaps you’d like to include a teaser on the outer envelope. That doesn’t mean one that says 2021 Annual Appeal. That’s not inspiring, especially now. Instead, say something like – Find out how you can help local families put food on the table.

An oversized or colored envelope can also capture your donor’s attention.

You want to be both personal and professional. If hand addressing the envelopes isn’t feasible, make sure your mailing labels look clean, are error-free, and aren’t crooked. Use stamps if you can.

Create an inviting piece of mail.

Share a compelling story

A good appeal letter should open with a compelling story. Focus on a person or family and not your organization. Your donors want to hear about the people they’ll be helping and it needs to be relevant to the current climate. 

Here’s an example – Martha, a single mother with three kids, has had a tough year. It’s been hard to find steady work and there’s barely enough money to pay the bills and buy groceries for her family. 

But thanks to generous donors like you (or because of our generous donors if you’re writing to people who haven’t given before), she’s been able to get boxes of healthy food at the Riverside Community Food Bank. At first, Martha was embarrassed that she had to rely on a food bank to feed her family, but she’s always treated with respect and dignity when she visits. 

We want to continue providing Martha and other members of our community with healthy food when they need it.

You could also share a first-person story from a client/program recipient.

Include a photo

Include an engaging color photo in your letter or on your pledge form. Photos can tell a story in an instant.

Here’s more information on creating stories and photos.

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

Keep Connecting With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

Next comes the ask

Ask for a donation at the beginning of the next paragraph (after the story). Make sure it’s prominent and clear. Also, ask your current donors if they can give a little more right now. Don’t be afraid to ask your donors to upgrade their gifts. People want to help if they can.

Phrase your ask like this – We’re so grateful for your previous gift of $50. We’re continuing to see more people coming into the food bank right now. Would you be able to help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75?

Asking for an upgrade can help you raise more money. Also, if you’ve been doing a good job of engaging your donors throughout the year (and I hope you have been), they shouldn’t mind if you ask for a larger gift. Including the amount of your donor’s previous gift is helpful since people don’t often remember what they gave before.

Be donor-centered, as well as community-centered

There’s been some dichotomy this past year between being donor-centered and being community-centered, but I think you can be both. What you don’t want is to be organization-centered.

Show your donors how they can help you make a difference for your clients/community and how much you appreciate their role in that. Make your donors feel good about supporting your nonprofit.

At the same time, respect your clients/community by not undermining them by using terms like at-risk youth or underserved communities. They are people, after all.

Share your success and challenges

I’m sure your organization continues to face challenges. Maybe you’ve started to provide in-person services or put on performances, but you’re not sure how much longer you’ll be able to do that thanks to the Delta variant. 

How you do your work is less important than why you do your work. You need to continue to provide healthy food to families while doing it safely.

Highlight some of your accomplishments, but you can share challenges, too. 

Show how you plan to continue your work with your donor’s help. Remember to stay donor-centered! You need your donors right now.

Personalization is crucial

Don’t send everyone the same appeal. Try to send different letters to current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, people on your mailing list who haven’t donated yet, event attendees, volunteers, and friends of board members. 

The more you can segment, the better, but at the very least, you must do these two things.

Send a personalized appeal to current donors. They’re your best bet for getting donations now. Let them know how much you appreciate their support. If a donor stepped up with additional contributions over the last 18 months, be sure to thank them for that. These donors are committed to helping you through this difficult time.

Also, send a specific appeal tailored to monthly donors, giving them the recognition they deserve. You can ask them to upgrade or give an additional year-end gift.

This is not the time to send a generic, one-size-fits-all appeal letter. Go the extra mile for your donors, so they’ll continue to support you.

Your appeal letter should also have a personal salutation and not be addressed to Dear Friend or Dear Valued Donor. How much do you value this relationship if you can’t even use a person’s name?

This may sound like a lot of work, but if you give yourself enough time, it should be doable. Personalizing your letters can also help you raise more money.

Make it easy for your donors to give

Include a return envelope with amounts to check off or an envelope and a pledge form. Show what each amount will fund. Do this on your donation page, too.

How To Create Donation Tiers That Drive Donations

Some donors will prefer to donate online. Direct them to a user-friendly donation page on your website.

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

Offer a monthly or recurring giving option

Monthly gifts can generate more revenue, give you a steady source of income throughout the year, and improve donor retention. Encourage your donors to give $5, $10, or even $20 a month. This may be a more viable option for some of them. 

Why Monthly Giving Makes Sense

Be careful and don’t send an appeal to your current monthly donors that invites them to become monthly donors. That’s one reason why they need their own appeal.

Your letter must be easy to read (or scan)

Use short paragraphs and bulleted lists, along with bold or color for keywords, but keep it tasteful. Make it easy to read and scan. Most people won’t read your letter word for word. Use a simple font and 14-point type.

It’s fine to go over a page, especially if you’re breaking up the text with a photo and short paragraphs. I know longer letters can perform better, but donors have a lot going on, so if you’re going to write a longer letter, make every word count. You can also add a quote or short testimonial. These can be powerful and it helps break up the narrative.

Think of your letter as a conversation with a friend

You can create a better appeal if you think of your letter as a conversation with a friend. That means not using jargon like at-risk youth and underserved communities. Be specific and use everyday language. Your goal should be for your reader to understand you.

Refer to your reader as you and use you a lot more than we.

How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?

Too many editors spoil the appeal

Your entire staff doesn’t need to be involved in writing your appeal. Generally, the more people you involve in writing your letter, the worse it becomes. Fundraising Consultant Tom Ahern refers to this as letter writing by committee.

Your best writer should craft it and then turn it over to your best editor. Whoever signs the letter (your Executive Director?) can take a quick look at it, but don’t send it to a committee.

If you don’t have someone on your staff who can write a good fundraising appeal, then hire a freelancer or consultant to do it.

Besides weakening the content, involving more people takes extra time.

How to Ruin Good Copy

Make a good lasting impression, too

Repeat your ask at the end of your appeal. Don’t forget to say please and thank you.

Be sure to add a PS. People often gravitate to the PS as they scan the letter, so include something that will capture their attention. Here you could emphasize monthly giving, ask if their company provides matching gifts, or thank them for being a donor.

Get your pens out

Include a short handwritten note, if you can. Make it relevant to each donor, such as thanking someone for a previous donation or hoping a potential donor will support you. Hand sign the letters in blue ink.

We could be looking at another tough fundraising season. That’s why you need to spend some time writing a better appeal letter that will stand out and help bring you the donations you need. Good luck!

Read on for more advice on writing a better fundraising appeal.

10 Ways to Make Your Year-End Appeal Letter Better

How To Write A Fundraising Appeal In 5 Steps

Direct Mail Appeals for Nonprofits: 5 Best Practices

So you want to write to donors

Is Your Website in Good Shape?

With everything that’s been going on over the last year and a half, you may not have had time to keep up with certain things. That includes making sure your website is in good shape.

You don’t want to neglect your website. The internet is still most people’s go-to place to get information. Unlike social media, you control your website. You want it to be up-to-date, easy to read/scan and navigate, welcoming, and audience-centered.

I created this checklist a few years ago and I think now is a good time to revisit it. 

Home page

Your home page is often the first place a newcomer will visit. Make it an entryway to the rest of your website.

  • Is it free of clutter and easy to navigate and read/scan? You can include links to other pages on your home page, so you’re not bombarding it with too much information.
  • Does it include an engaging photo and a small amount of text, such as a tagline or position statement?
  • Are you highlighting something current and important? Maybe it’s your response to the ever-changing pandemic. Maybe it’s a fundraising campaign or an event. Be sure it’s up-to-date and the most newsworthy item you can feature.
  • Does it include a Donate Now button that’s prominent without being tacky?
  • Does it include a newsletter sign-up box and social media icons?
  • Does it include your organization’s contact information or a link to a Contact Us page?
  • Is the navigation bar easy to use?
  • Does it include a search feature?

Donation page

Many people donate online. This needs to be a good experience for your donors. You don’t want to stress them out with a cumbersome and confusing donation page.

  • Is it easy to use?
  • Does it include a strong call to action with the same messages as all your other fundraising appeals? You want to include enough information to entice a potential new donor, but not too much to overwhelm any of your donors (new and long-time).
  • Does it show how the donation will be used and what different amounts will fund?
  • Does it include an option for monthly/recurring gifts?
  • Does it have an engaging photo?
  • After someone donates, does it take the person to an engaging thank you landing page and generate a personal thank you email?

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Make Your Donation Page More Effective

The rest of your pages

Be sure to take a look at the rest of your web pages, too.

  • Are they easy to read/scan and navigate?
  • Do all your pages have a consistent look?
  • Is the content well written in a conversational style (no jargon!) and free of grammatical errors and typos?
  • Are your pages audience-centered? Remember, some visitors know you well and others don’t. A person visiting your volunteer page may not know much about your organization, so you’ll need to include a compelling description of what you do.
  • Do your pages contain a clear call to action? For example, your volunteer page should entice someone to volunteer.
  • Does each page have one or two photos related to its subject matter? Going back to your volunteer page, you could include a photo of volunteers working in the community.
  • Is all the content up-to-date?
  • Do all your links work?
  • Do all your pages include a Donate Now button, navigation bar, social media icons, a newsletter sign-up box, contact information, and a search feature, so your visitors don’t have to go back to the home page?
  • Are you using analytics to see how often people visit your pages? If you have pages that aren’t generating a lot of interest, find out why that’s happening. You may need to make the page more engaging or take it down.
  • Do you periodically survey your supporters to get feedback about your website?
  • Is your website mobile-friendly? This is crucial. Fortunately, most of them are these days, but just in case yours isn’t –  How to make website mobile friendly for your nonprofit
  • Is there other content you should include (or take out)?

After you’ve made all your changes, have someone who isn’t as familiar with your organization (maybe a friend or family member) look at your website to see if the content is clear and that it’s easy to read/scan and navigate.

Your goal is to have a website that’s welcoming and audience-centered for everyone from first-time visitors to long-time donors.

Read on for more information to help you get your website in good shape.

Your Nonprofit Website: The Importance of User Experience

Website Formatting: The Anatomy of a Well-Designed Nonprofit Web Page

15 Nonprofit Website Best Practices You Need to Know in 2021

Best Practices for a Nonprofit Website

Image via www.morecustomersmoresales.com.au

Plan Ahead for Your Year-End Appeal

Some people need the stress of waiting until the last minute to get them motivated. Not me. I like to plan ahead, both professionally and in my personal life.

Speaking of planning ahead, now is a good time to start planning your year-end fundraising campaign. I know it’s still summer and there’s plenty of time to go to the beach and get ice cream, but fall will be here before you know it (like it or not).

Also, our current state of uncertainty makes it more important to plan ahead. I’ve put together a checklist to help you get started. You can also use this for fundraising campaigns at other times of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal for your year-end campaign in your 2021 fundraising plan (at least I hope you did) and maybe that has changed. 

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

Do you have a plan?

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

When do you want to launch your appeal? Plan on everything taking longer than you think it will, so earlier is better. You’ll be competing with other organizations who are doing appeals. 

I strongly encourage you to mail an appeal letter. Direct mail appeals are more successful. You can also send an email appeal and follow up that way (more on that in future posts). 

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

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

13 Steps to the Perfect Year-End Giving Campaign

An Annual Appeal Fundraising Timeline You Can Use

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

If you’ve been using the same boring, generic appeal letter template for the last few years, stop. You need a new one. Your appeal must address the current situations.

A good way to start is to create an engaging story for your appeal. How are the pandemic, systemic racism, and economic challenges impacting your clients/community right now? Focus on them, not your organization. This year is different than last year, but not the same as pre-pandemic times. That’s why you need new stories.  

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

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

Keep Connecting With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

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

Your appeal letter should highlight some of the accomplishments you’ve made recently and state what you plan to do in the coming months. 

Here’s an example from a nearby food pantry. They’re seeing a huge increase in the need for their services since the pandemic started –  from 175 households per week to 750 at three different locations. But thanks to their generous donors, they were able to move into a larger space. They want to continue serving as many families as they can as the pandemic continues.

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

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

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

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

5 Data Hygiene Methods for Your Nonprofit

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

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

According to the post below, we could be facing a paper shortage, so plan ahead!

Getting Forward to Normal: What Ketchup Packets, Yeast and Nonprofit Mail Pieces Have in Common

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

Stamps are more personal, so you might want to find some nice ones to use. Also, stamp prices are supposed to go up on August 29.  Now is a good time to stock up on Forever stamps.

Is it easy to donate online?

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

20 Easy Ways to Optimize Donation Forms for Nonprofits

Nonprofit Donation Form: Make it Easy to Make More Money

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

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

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

Why Monthly Giving Makes Sense

How will you thank your donors?

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

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

How will you keep up with your donor communication?

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

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

Don’t let stories about donors giving less scare you. Some donors may not give as much or at all, but others will give more. They won’t give anything if you don’t ask.

Best of luck!

Photo via creditscoregeek.com/

The 5 C’s of Good Nonprofit Communication

I want to revisit a topic I’ve written about in the past and that’s the 5 C’s of good nonprofit communication.

It’s important to keep these 5 C’s in mind when you’re writing a fundraising appeal, thank you letter, update, or any type of donor communication.  

Is it Clear?

What is your intention? What message are you sending to your donors? Are you asking for a donation, thanking them, or sharing an update? 

Whatever it is, make sure your message is clear. If you have a call to action, that needs to be clear as well. You also want to stick to one call to action. If you ask your donors to make a donation, volunteer, and contact their legislators in the same message, you run the risk of them not doing any of those.

What should you never put in a direct mail envelope

You want your message to produce results. Plain and simple, your fundraising appeal should entice someone to donate. Your thank you letter should thank your donors (no bragging or explaining what your organization does) and make them feel good about donating.

Use language your donors will understand (no jargon). Keep out terms like food insecurity and underserved communities. Just because something is clear to you, doesn’t mean it will be clear to others. 

Is it Concise?

Can you say more with less? Eliminate any unnecessary adverbs, adjectives, and filler. Make your point right away. Concise writing doesn’t mean you need to be terse or all your print communication has to be one page. Sometimes it will need to be longer, but the same rules apply. 

Nonprofit organizations like to pack a lot of information into their monthly/quarterly newsletters and annual reports, but many donors won’t read something if it looks like it will be too long. 

Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Shorter, more frequent communication is better. This applies to the example I gave above about not putting more than one call to action in a message. You’ll have better results if you send separate messages for each call to action.

Also, most people skim, so use short paragraphs and lots of white space, especially for electronic communication.

Make all your words count.

Is it Conversational?

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend and be personable. Use the second person – where you refer to your donors as you and your organization as we. Remember to use you much more than we. 

Avoid using jargon, cliches, multi-syllable words, and the passive voice. Is that the way you talk to your friends? I hope not.

You may think you’re impressing your donors by using jargon and big words, but most likely you’re confusing them or even worse, alienating them. Connect with your donors by using language they’ll understand.

Want to really engage your readers? Make your writing more conversational

Is it Compelling?

Is whatever you’re writing going to capture someone’s attention right away and keep them interested? The average human attention span is eight seconds, so the odds are stacked against you.

Start with a good opening sentence. Leading with a question is often good. Stories are also great. 

Put a human face on your stories and keep statistics to a minimum. Start a fundraising appeal with a story that leads to a call to action.

9 Powerful Examples of Nonprofit Storytelling

Are you establishing a connection?

Donors are drawn to your organization because they feel a connection to your cause. You also need to establish a connection with them. You can start by segmenting your donors by different types, such as new donors, current donors, and monthly donors. 

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

Get to know your donors better and give them content you know they’ll be interested in. Hint – it’s not bragging about your organization. They want to know how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community. They also want to feel appreciated. Focus on building and sustaining relationships.

Keep these 5 C’s in mind to help ensure good communication with your donors.

Making Connections With Your Monthly Donors

Monthly giving on the rise. If you haven’t capitalized on this, what are you waiting for? This post won’t focus too much on starting or growing a monthly/recurring giving program, although if you’re interested in that, here’s more information.

10 Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

I want to focus on making connections with the monthly donors you already have.

We’re edging into summer, and while this is a slower fundraising season, it’s a good time to connect with your donors, whether they’re brand new or longtime supporters.

Make a plan

Create a plan for your monthly donor communication. Although I’m emphasizing summer, you need to communicate with your monthly donors (and all donors) throughout the year. I like to say because these donors support you every month, you should reciprocate by communicating with them at least once a month.

You can incorporate this into your communications calendar. Fill it with ways to show gratitude and share updates. You can use different channels. Here are some ideas to get started.

Send something by mail

How often do you get something personal in the mail? Not often, right? And when you do, it stands out.

Take some time this summer to create a postcard thank you and/or update or send a handwritten note. Your donors will really appreciate it.

Create a video

Videos are a great way to connect and they’re not that hard to create. If you can personalize it, all the better. Otherwise, you can create a general one that thanks your monthly donors.

5 Thank You Video Examples to Inspire Your Nonprofit

You can also create a video that gives a behind-the-scenes look at your organization or a virtual tour. 

Spruce up those automatic thank you emails

Those automatic thank you emails you may have set up don’t count as part of your monthly donor connection plan. It’s fine to create these, but you don’t have to. While these monthly acknowledgments are helpful, they’re usually uninspiring.

Spruce them up a little and change the content every few months. Use this as an opportunity to share some updates.

Here’s one that could use some work – Thank You for Your Recurring Donation. You have helped us continue our mission in a meaningful way. 

Talk about vague. A specific example of how a donor helped would improve this. Many of these acknowledgments are just receipts and a receipt is not a thank you.

Here’s a  better one. 

Thank you for donating to Malala Fund!

More than 130 million girls around the world are out of school today. Malala Fund believes that girls are the best investment in the future peace and prosperity of our world. Your gift supports our work to see every girl learn and lead without fear. 

Follow Malala Fund on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and blog for updates on our fight for girls’ education.

With gratitude, 

Malala Fund

Besides thanking their donors, they also offer other ways to engage.

Get noticed with an enticing subject line

Most likely you’ll communicate by email, which has its pros and cons. It’s easier and less expensive than a postal mailing, but since people get an enormous amount of email, they might miss your message.

One way to get noticed is to use an enticing subject line. Here’s one I like from Pet Partners – Your monthly gift in action 

It goes on to tell a story about a therapy dog who visits with soldiers before and after their deployments.

Here’s another good one, although it wasn’t specifically for monthly donors –  I found a baby bird! What should I do?

This definitely captures your attention and makes you want to read more. 

Keep your donors engaged with good content

Congratulations, your donor opened your email message. You want to keep them engaged. The email I mentioned above gave you information about what to do if you find a baby bird, along with a link to a “handy chart.”

Get personal

Be sure to address your donors by name. I would also recommend separate communication for new donors and longer-term donors. 

Welcome new monthly donors. You can go a step further with different messages for brand new donors and single gift donors who have upgraded to monthly. Be sure to give special attention to longer-term donors. The average donor retention rate for monthly donors is 90% and you don’t want that to go down.

You can give shout outs in your newsletter and social media, but those won’t be as personal. Some organizations include a cover letter or note for their monthly donors in their newsletters. You could also create separate newsletters for monthly donors.

The key is to stay in touch and keep making connections.  The post below will give you more ideas. Maybe you can think of others. And you don’t have to come with 12 different ones. It’s okay to repeat them every few months.

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

Don’t ignore your valuable, monthly donors. Keep making those important connections.

Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Many nonprofit organizations send all their donors and other supporters exactly the same communication, such as appeal letters, thank you letters, and annual reports. One size doesn’t fit all and in the case of a 55 page (yes, that’s right) annual report I received a few weeks ago, the size was XXL.

I’m not a fan of these massive annual reports for any donor. My husband and I would be considered smaller dollar donors and I believe these reports are wasted on them.

You don’t have to do an annual report and if you do, it should be about one fifth the size at the most. I wrote about annual reports a couple of months ago, so I won’t rant too specifically on this.

Here’s another post that asks the question – Is This the Year to Trash that Annual Report?

To the organization’s credit, their annual report is visually beautiful. Maybe it’s a little too nice and I’ll get to that later. It includes several stories and many photographs. They did address how COVID-19 presented a number of challenges for their clients and community. They also mentioned their commitment to racial equity, since 80% of the people they work with are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). It would have been clueless of them not to address these.

It’s clear the organization is very proud of their annual report, as evidenced by the opening line of the cover letter from the CEO – “On behalf of the entire X organization community, it is with great pride – and great appreciation for all our friends and supporters – that I provide you with this copy of X Organization’s Annual Report for 2020.” This is one of the few examples where they thanked donors.

It’s also clear they sent this annual report to all their donors and possibly potential donors instead of creating different types of reports for different types of donors. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

What do your donors want?

When we received this annual report, my husband’s first reaction was “I don’t want them spending our money on some fancy report.” Donors don’t always react well to something that looks too nice or expensive.

“Dale’s” mail (pt 4): everything else…

Since I’m not a typical donor and probably spent more time looking at this annual report than most smaller dollar donors, I know you do need to invest in a budget for donor communications. This organization has a large operating budget and reports that a majority of its expenses were program specific.

Think about how your donors would react if you sent them a huge annual report. Some are going to toss it right in the recycling bin or trash. Others may set it aside to look at later, realize they don’t have time to read it, and then pitch it. Others may flip through it, possibly annoyed that it’s so long. 

Most of your donors should receive a shorter annual report.

Create different types of annual reports for different donors

Why are you producing an annual report? If it’s for your donors, you need to acknowledge their role in helping you make a difference. This annual report rarely does that. It’s very focused on the organization.

I always recommend a short annual report of no more than four pages or an infographic postcard for most of your donors. Smaller dollar donors deserve to feel appreciated, not inundated with a lot of information. You can create slightly longer reports for major donors and grant funders.

This organization has several different programs you can support or you can give to where it’s needed most. They could have sent separate short impact reports for their different programs. Maybe one to people who supported early education and another one for homelessness prevention rather than lumping it all into one big report.

Creating different types of annual reports may be more work, but it probably took a lot of work to produce that massive one. Since the organization has all the information anyway, they could have broken it down into smaller reports. They could also share some of the stories in their newsletters instead. Besides, is a little more work such a bad thing? Personalized donor communication usually pays off.

Write your donor communication in the second person

All your donor communication should be written in the second person using you much more than we. This annual report was written in the third person. You know what’s written in the third person – press releases and other promotional material. This annual report seems very promotional. 

When you write in the second person you can write directly to your donor. Again, is this report supposed to be for donors? It doesn’t seem like it.

Nonprofit organizations often include an annual report when they submit a grant proposal. They may also bring one along when they meet with a major donor. Because they barely referenced their donors, this annual report seems more appropriate for potential funders.

Would it be so hard to include statements such as Thanks to you or Because of our generous donors along with a description of accomplishments (although not 40+ pages of them)? What’s the harm in giving an annual report like that to potential donors? Surely not as high as mostly ignoring current donors.

This happens too much

I see way too many examples of one size fits all communication. Organizations often send everyone the same appeal letter regardless of whether they are current donors, potential donors, or monthly donors. The same is true with thank you letters. 

Donors also have different interests and reasons for giving.  If you recognize this and send different types of communication to different types of donors, you’re letting them know they matter. 

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

When It Comes to Reaching Donors, One Size Doesn’t Fit All

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.