The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan

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I’ve written about the importance of having a thank you plan before, but I think we need to revisit this because many nonprofits are not doing a good job of thanking their donors. You may have every intention to, but that’s not happening. Thanking donors often takes a back seat to fundraising when you should spend equal time doing both.

A thank you plan will help. You probably have a fundraising plan and maybe a donor relations plan, but a specific thank you plan is just as important. Donor retention rates are poor and one reason is donors don’t feel appreciated. Creating a thank you plan will help you stay focused on gratitude all year round.  

Here’s what you need to include in your thank you plan.

Plan to make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it often is just a boring receipt rather than something lets me feel good about making a donation.

Open with Thank you, Jeff! or You’re amazing!  Include an engaging photo or video and a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help the people you serve. Put all the tax-deductible information after your message or in the automatically generated thank you email.

If you use a third-party giving site, you might be able to customize the landing page. If not, follow up with a personal thank you email message within 48 hours.

How To Optimize Your Donation Thank You Page + Examples Of Nonprofits Who Do It Right

Plan to write a warm and personal automatic thank you email

Set up an automatic thank you email to go out after someone donates online. This email thank you is more of a reassurance to let your donor know you received her donation. You still need to thank her by mail or phone (see below).

Just because your thank you email is automatically generated, doesn’t mean it needs to sound like it was written by a robot. Write something warm and personal.

Give some thought to the email subject line, too. At the very least make sure it says Thank You and not something boring like Your Donation Receipt.

Thanking a Donor by Email: Best Practices and Examples

Plan to thank your donors by mail or phone

I’m a firm believer that every donor, no matter how much she’s given or whether she donated online, gets a thank you card or letter mailed to her or receives a phone call.

Try to thank your donors within 48 hours if you can. This shouldn’t be hard to do if you plan to carve out some time to thank your donors each day you get a donation. If you wait too long, you’re not making a good impression.

Instead of sending a generic, boring thank you letter, mail a handwritten card or call your donors. Calling your donors to thank them is something your board can do. It’s often a welcome surprise and can raise retention rates among first-time donors.

Find board members, staff, and volunteers to make phone calls or write thank you notes. Come up with sample scripts. You may also want to conduct a short training. Make sure to get your team together well before your next fundraising campaign so you’re ready to go when the donations come in.

Here’s a sample phone script, which you can modify for a thank you note.

Hi, this is Jennifer Douglas and I’m a board member at the Lakeside Community Food Bank. I’m calling to thank you for your generous donation of $50. Thanks to you, we can provide a family with a week’s worth of groceries. This is great. We’re seeing more people coming in right now because of cuts to food stamp programs. We really appreciate your support.

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal and heartfelt letter. Don’t start your letter with “On behalf of X organization we thank you for your donation of….” Open the letter with “You’re incredible” or “Because of you, Jacob won’t go to bed hungry tonight.”  Create separate letters for new donors, renewing donors, and monthly donors.

Add a personal handwritten note to the letter, preferably something that pertains to that particular donor. For example, if the donor has given before or attended one of your recent events, mention that. Make sure all letters are hand signed.

Let your donors know how much you appreciate them and highlight what your organization is doing with their donations.

In addition, write your thank you letter at the same time you write your appeal letter. Make sure they’re ready to go as soon as the donations come in. Don’t wait three weeks.

INFOGRAPHIC: The ULTIMATE Thank You for Nonprofits

5 Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

Plan to keep thanking your donors all year round

This is where having a thank you plan makes a difference because organizations usually send some kind of thank you letter after they receive a donation and then donor communication starts to wane after that. Thanking donors is something you must do all year round.

Use your communications calendar to incorporate ways to thank your donors. Try to say thank you at least once a month. Here are some ways to do that.

  • Send cards or email messages at Thanksgiving, during the holidays, Valentine’s Day, or mix it up a little and send a note of gratitude in June or September when your donors won’t be expecting it. Try to send at least one or two gratitude messages a year by mail, since your donors will be more likely to see those.
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude. Be sure to keep thanking your donors in your newsletter and social media updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without your donors’ support.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your thank you landing page, by email, and on social media.
  • Hold an open house at your organization or offer tours so your donors can see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

Creating a thank you plan will make it easier to keep showing appreciation to your donors all year round. If you treat them well, maybe they’ll treat you well the next time you send a fundraising appeal.

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It’s Kind of Quiet Out There

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Hello, nonprofits! What have you been doing lately? I’m asking because I haven’t heard much from you. Okay, a few of you have been sending updates, e-newsletters, action alerts, and appeals. But mostly – nothing.

I know it’s a quieter time, but that doesn’t mean you need to disappear. You should be communicating with your donors at least once a month. In fact, the period between campaigns is an excellent time to reach out. And, since many nonprofits seem to have decided to take a break from their donor communication (not a wise decision), your message will be one of the few they’ll receive.

Your donors want to hear from you. Here are a few ways you can connect.

Share an update

Let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference. Send something by mail if you can. Maybe a two-page update or infographic postcard. This is one of my favorites. Knock it Out of the Park  If it’s impossible to send something by mail right now, you can use email.

Say thank you

You don’t need a reason to thank your donors. Just do it. Send them a nice thank you card or you can combine a thank you and an update. You could also make a video. There are so many ways to thank your donors. Have some fun and get creative.

10 Ways to Thank your Nonprofit Donors

Create a better newsletter

You may already keep in touch with your newsletter. Newsletters can be a great way to engage, but many of them are about as exciting as income tax forms.

A good summer project for you is to create a better newsletter that won’t bore your donors. Find some engaging stories to share. Think about what your donors want. Hint – It’s not a lot of bragging.

How to Create an Engaging Newsletter Your Donors Will Want to Read

HOW TO CREATE A BETTER NON-PROFIT NEWSLETTER

Tie in current events

There’s a lot going in the world right now. Will certain policies or budget cuts affect your organization? Share ways your donors can help – perhaps by contacting their legislators, volunteering, or making a donation.

Appeals are about more than raising money

Throughout the year, I receive more fundraising appeals than any other type of communication. Most of them are transactional and generic.

An appeal can be a way to connect with your donors if you make relationship building the main focus. Thank donors for their past support, share some updates, and show them how their gift will help you make a difference.

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

Keep it up throughout the year

Your donors want to hear from you throughout the year. A communications calendar could be just the ticket to help you with this so your donors won’t wonder why they haven’t heard from you.

How Making Smart Investments Will Help You Raise More Money

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

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

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

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

Invest in a good database

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

It bears repeating because a good database can help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by amount and politely ask them to give a little more in your next appeal – $35 or $50 instead of $25.

A good database can help you with retention, which will save you money since it costs less to keep donors than to acquire new ones. You can personalize your letters and email messages. Make sure to invest in good email service provider, too.

Personalized letters and messages mean you can address your donors by name and not Dear Friend. You can welcome new donors and thank current donors for their previous support. You can send targeted mailings to lapsed donors to try to woo them back. You can send special mailings to your monthly donors. You can record any personal information, such as conversations you had with a donor and their areas of interest.

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

Invest in direct mail

If you never or rarely use direct mail, you’re missing out on an effective and more personal way to communicate with your donors. Think of the immense amount of email and social media posts you receive as opposed to postal mail. Your donors will be more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail.

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

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

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

A few ways you can use direct mail without breaking your budget are to clean up your mailing lists to avoid costly duplicate mailings, spread thank you mailings throughout the year – perhaps sending something to a small number of donors each month, and look into special nonprofit mailing rates. You may also be able to get print materials done pro bono or do them in-house, as long as they look professional.

Of course, you can use email and social media, but your primary reason for communicating that way shouldn’t be because it’s cheaper. It should be because that’s what your donors use. If your donors prefer you to communicate by mail, then that’s what you should do.

Invest in donor communications

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

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

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

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

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

Appeal Letter Do’s and Don’ts

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It’s spring appeal time and all of a sudden my mailbox is filled with requests for donations. Some good and some that could use improvement.

Whether you’re planning a spring appeal or one later in the year, here are a few lessons, courtesy of this week’s mail. We’ll start with some examples of what not to do and end with a couple of letters that got it right.

DON’TS

Your annual fund drive means nothing to me

One organization included a header saying it was their statewide annual fund drive. This means nothing to me and is not a compelling addition to your appeal.

Annual fund drive is an internal term, as is annual appeal and year-end appeal. People give to your organization because they want to help you make a difference for the people you serve. This is what you want to emphasize.

You can use the term annual fund drive around the office, but keep it out of your appeal letter. Open with a story or something such as Imagine what it would be like to go to bed hungry.

You only have few seconds to grab a reader’s attention, so don’t waste it by saying your annual appeal is underway.

The Best Fundraising Appeal Opening Lines

4 Unique Openings to Get Your Fundraising Appeals Read

You don’t know me

I receive many appeal letters from organizations I don’t support. It’s clear they don’t know me. There’s no attempt at making a connection. Most likely they got my name from a list they bought or exchanged. If I already give to homelessness prevention organizations, you could say you know ending homelessness is important to me.

One letter addressed me as Mrs.Green, which irked me because I don’t like being referred to as Mrs. I don’t know why this organization addressed me as Mrs. because I always check the Ms. box if there’s an option. Perhaps it was a typo or they don’t realize it’s 2018 and not 1958.

Be careful of how you address your donors or potential donors. These so-called little things make a difference.

I’m a donor, but you still don’t know me

An appeal from an organization I do support gave no clear indication of my previous gift. They sent a vague, one-size fits all letter that included a lot of bragging.

At the end, they thanked me for my “partnership and shared commitment to our mission,” but it wasn’t clear if they were thanking me for a previous gift or in anticipation of a gift. If it was the first, that thank you should have been at the beginning of the letter. Always thank donors for their past gifts.

The biggest fail came at the end in the P.S. when they asked me to consider a monthly gift. Someone’s not paying attention because I’m already a monthly donor.  

This is a large national organization that could easily segment their donors. That’s what you need to do, too.

Enough with the swag

So far three organizations have sent me mailing labels. Sometimes these come in handy, but right now I have enough to wallpaper a room.

Another organization enclosed a Certificate of Appreciation “In recognition of your generous support”even though I’ve never supported them. And if I did support an organization, I wouldn’t want a certificate of appreciation. What would I do with it? Hang it on the wall?

I’d like organizations to stop sending useless swag and instead invest their print budget in creating engaging thank you cards.

DO’S

Share engaging, personal stories

The letter from the organization that called me Mrs. actually sent a good appeal letter. It opened with a story about a homeless woman named Nettie. It also included a sidebar titled Meet Nettie, which included a profile and picture of Nettie. On the back, there were more short profiles of clients, along with their photos, which were titled Someone’s sister: Gina, Someone’s grandmother, Diane, and Someone’s father: Valentino.

I liked the personal nature of this appeal. We got to meet some of the people the donors are helping. This is so much better than a bunch of boring facts and statistics. Using names in stories is always a plus. You can change them for confidentiality reasons if you need to.

Make a connection and request an upgrade

When nonprofit organizations don’t take the time to segment donors, they miss an opportunity to ask for an upgrade.

Heifer International sent a letter asking me to become a monthly donor. It was from another donor, although I doubt she wrote the letter. It opened with “My name is Madge Brown. Like you, I support Heifer International……” Here, she’s making a connection.

Then she invited me to join their monthly giving program – Friend of Heifer. The envelope even included a teaser that said “Let’s be friends.”

One way to grow your monthly giving program is to ask current one-time donors to become monthly donors.

Write a better appeal

Keep all of this mind the next time you write an appeal. Start with an engaging opening and make a connection with your donors or potential donors. Share stories. Don’t send all your donors the same letter and remember the appeal is the first step. Use your print resources for a great thank you note instead of those annoying mailing labels.

Show Your Donors How Much You Care About Them

10867591394_a63f5c30d4_mHow much do you care about your donors? I’m sure your intentions are good and you think you care about your donors, but your donor communication doesn’t always reflect that.

Your donors showed they care about your cause by giving to your organization. You need to show your donors you care about them, too.

Here are a few ways to show your donors how much you care about them.

Do a stellar job of thanking your donors

One of your first steps is to do a good job of thanking your donors and most nonprofits fall short of anything that even resembles a stellar thank you.

If someone donates online, they should be directed to a thank you landing page that includes a prominent THANK YOU and a thank you photo or video. This is your first chance to make a good impression, so don’t blow it. After that, your donors should get an equally stellar thank you email.

Everyone who donates, even if they donate online, should get a thank you letter, handwritten note, or phone call as soon as possible, preferably within 48 hours. If you wait too long to thank your donors, it looks like you don’t care about them.

You’re also not showing a lot of #donorlove when you send one of those lame thank you letters that start with On behalf of X organization… Write something warm and personal.

Finally, thanking donors isn’t something you only do right after you receive a donation. It’s a year-round effort. Create a thank you plan to help you with this.

Don’t go AWOL

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference. That’s why you have to stay in touch throughout the year.

You can do this with a regular newsletter (both email and print) and short updates by mail, email, and social media.

Planning ahead is a must here. If you haven’t already done so, putting together a communications calendar will be a huge help.

Donors come first

It’s crucial that all your communication is donor-centered. Sending a newsletter or update that just brags about your organization doesn’t show your donors you care about them.

Share content you know they’ll be interested in such as success stories and client profiles. Use language like Because of you or Thanks to you.

Your donors want to be recognized for who they are. Welcome new donors and acknowledge previous gifts. Also, your donors have names so please don’t address your letters to Dear Friend.

Little things count

It may not seem like a big deal to you to address your donors as Dear Friend instead of their names, but it matters to them.

In my last post, I stressed the importance of having a good database and to monitor your database to make sure you have accurate records. Misspelling a donor’s name and sending duplicate mailings may also not seem like a big deal, but if you can give your database the attention it needs, you’re showing your donors you care about them.

Surprise and delight your donors

How many times have you received something from a nonprofit that wowed you? Probably not that often, right? Most donor communication is rote, run of the mill stuff.

Do something that will surprise and delight your donors. Send them a handwritten note or a postcard with an engaging photo. Try to send something by mail because it’s more personal and your donors will be more likely to see it.

It doesn’t take long to write a short, heartfelt handwritten note, but it will mean the world to your donors. Get board members and volunteers to help with this.

You can also surprise and delight your donors with a thank you phone call, a thank you video, or an appreciation event.

One of the biggest components of showing your donors you care about them is gratitude. Here are some more ways to show your donors how much you care about them.

26 ways to show your donors they matter

15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors

21 IDEAS TO REFRESH YOUR DONOR STEWARDSHIP

How Well Do You Know Your Donors?

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You already have a core group of donors and other supporters, but how well do you know them? One way to get to know them better is to send short surveys asking why they donate, what issues are important to them, and how they like to communicate (by mail, email, social media, or a combination of those).

Let’s look at some of these more closely.

Why do your donors give to your organization?

Donors are not just money machines. They’re people who have a reason to support you.

Do you know why your donors give to your organization? This is very important and if you can find out, it will help you with your donor communication.

Most likely they feel a connection to your cause. After the Parkland shooting, I felt compelled to start giving to a couple of organizations that advocate for gun control. I support the American Cancer Society because way too many people I know have been affected by cancer.

The best time to find out this information is right after someone donates, especially for first-time donors. This will be easier to collect online and you could include this question on your donation form.

Of course, not everyone donates online. You could also include a short survey and a reply envelope or a link to an online survey with your thank you letter or welcome packet for new donors. (You do send those, right?)

What issues are important to them?

You also want to know what issues are important to your donors. If you’re an organization that’s working to combat hunger, you may find your donors are most interested in free, healthy school lunch programs for low-income students. Then you can share stories and updates about that initiative.

What communication channels do your donors prefer?

It’s probably more than one, but listen carefully. Don’t spend a lot of time on channels your donors aren’t using much.

Most likely email will be your biggest communication tool. You won’t use direct mail as much because of the cost, but you do need to use it at least a few times a year, especially if you find out some donors don’t use electronic communication.

The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston recently included a link to an online survey about direct mail on one of their flyers. One question they asked was where you were more likely to go to get information – direct mail, email, website, or any combination of those.

They also asked about frequency of mailings – twice a month, once a month, or every other month. Since they’re a large organization, they can afford to mail quite often. You could also ask this question about email.

The advantage of email and direct mail is you have complete control of them, unlike social media. Speaking of social media, some of your donors may have deleted their Facebook accounts or are taking a break from it. I’m on hiatus with Facebook and I’m not sure I’m going to return since I don’t like it that much. But that’s just me. Other people love it.

What If Facebook Died Tomorrow?

This is a good opportunity to monitor your email and social media to see if people are responding to your messages. Look at the open rates, click-throughs, and likes. (I know likes don’t mean that much, but they do reflect some sort of engagement.) You may be seeing a drop on Facebook and who knows if another social media platform will have some kind of scandal. Monitor this frequently.

Other ideas to connect

You could ask your donors what’s their favorite article in an issue of your e-newsletter. You could also get feedback on your annual report. Going back to the MFA survey, they asked if you preferred flyers for a single exhibit or one that covered everything going on in one particular month. Here you could ask if people prefer your monthly e-newsletter or shorter updates.

Creating a survey

Instead of overwhelming your donors with a long survey, start with short surveys focusing on one topic at a time throughout the year. Here is more information about creating a survey.

3 Examples of Nonprofit Donor Surveys

GET TO KNOW YOUR DONORS: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO NONPROFIT SURVEYING

While surveys are a great way to connect, not everyone is going to respond to them. Another tactic to try is to create donor personas. You can use your database to figure out vital information and/or interview a few donors.

How to Identify your Nonprofit Donor Personas

How to Create and Use Donor Personas

Use your database

As you gather vital information about your donors, put that in your database. Your database also comes in handy because you want to segment your donors  – first-time donors, long-term donors, monthly donors, etc – so you can personalize their communication as much as possible.

Putting your work into action

Now that you’ve gotten to know your donors, think about why they give to your organization, what they would like to hear from you, and which channels are best for connecting with them. Do this before you send a fundraising letter, thank you letter, or newsletter.

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

Why is it So Hard to be Donor-Centered?

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The term donor-centered is pretty self-explanatory. It means focusing on your donors’ needs and interests, acknowledging them in your letters and other communication, and taking into account that not all donors are the same.

If it’s so obvious, then why are many nonprofits so bad at it? You see countless examples of generic, organization-centered communication that barely acknowledges the donor.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Before you send your next appeal, thank you letter, or newsletter, run it through this donor-centered checklist.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Is your fundraising appeal focused too much on your organization – rambling on about how great you are? Your organization may be great, but let your donors figure that out. Your donors are the ones who are great, and they want to hear how they can help you make a difference for the people/community you serve.
  • Is your appeal segmented to the appropriate audience? Thank past donors or reference your relationship to a potential donor. Maybe they’re event attendees, volunteers, or friends of board members.
  • Is your appeal addressed to a person and not Dear Friend?
  • Is your appeal vague, impersonal, and filled with jargon your donors won’t understand? Don’t say we’re helping underserved members of the community. A donor-centered appeal would say something like – With your support, we can help low-income families find affordable housing.
  • Does your appeal make people feel good about donating to your organization?

Thank you letters

  • Does your thank you letter come across as transactional and resemble a receipt? Yes, you need to acknowledge the donation is tax deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Does your thank you letter (or better yet, a handwritten note) shower your donors with love?  Start your letter with You’re amazing or Thanks to You!, and not On behalf of X organization.
  • Are you telling your donors the impact of their gift?  For example – Thanks to your generous donation of $50, a local family can get a box of groceries at the Eastside Community Food Bank.
  • Do you recognize each donor?  Is this the first time someone has donated?  If someone donated before, did she increase her gift?  Acknowledge this in your letter/note.

Newsletters

  • Does your newsletter sound self-promotional and focus on all the wonderful things your organization is doing instead of showing your donors how they’re helping you make a difference?
  • Is your newsletter written in the second person? Write to the donor and use the word you more often than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?  BTW, all your donor communication should be written in the second person. It’s much more personal.
  • Does your newsletter include success stories, engaging photos, and other content your donors like to see?
  • Are you using the right channels?  Perhaps you only send an e-newsletter, but some of your donors prefer print.
  • Are you showing gratitude to your donors in your newsletter?

Always think of your donors first

Use this checklist for other donor communication such as annual reports (these are rarely donor-centered), your website, and social media posts.

Make sure the messages you send to your donors focus on them and make them feel special. Staying donor-centered can help you build relationships. This is especially important as retention rates continue to plummet.

Read on for more information on the importance of being donor-centered.

3 Ways A Donor Centric Pledge Can Improve Your Retention

How to Create a Donor-Centered Fundraising Letter

3 Steps to a Donor-Centered Communication Strategy