Let Go and Freshen Up: Spring Cleaning for Your Nonprofit

The Great Clean-Up

One thing I’ve noticed now that it’s officially spring is the number of articles about spring cleaning and decluttering. For many of us, these types of projects can be overwhelming, especially if we’ve ignored that mutating pile of paperwork or our closets are overflowing with so much stuff we can barely open the door.

As much as I dislike cleaning and organizing, I’m happy once it gets done. Often getting started is the hardest part.

Your nonprofit organization should also do its own version of spring cleaning and decluttering. If you’re feeling reluctant about taking on these so-called cumbersome tasks, just think how happy you’ll be once they get done.

Let’s get started!

Clean up your mailing lists and database

Did you have an influx of address changes, returned mail, and bounced emails after you sent your year-end appeal? This is a good time to clean up and update both your direct mail and email mailing lists.

Don’t wait until right before your next mailing to clean up your donor data. Even though it’s tedious, have someone who’s familiar with your donors (your development director?) go through your mailing lists and database to see if you need to make any additions, changes, and deletions.

Be meticulous. No donor wants to see her name misspelled, be addressed as Mrs. when she prefers Ms., or receive three mailings because you have duplicate records.

Your donor database is an important tool and it needs to be up-to-date and filled with accurate information about your donors.

Letting go

As you clean up your donor database, pay particular attention to your lapsed donors. It may be time to take some of them out of your active donor file. Who are these people?  If they’ve donated in the past, is it likely they’ll donate again? For example, the mother of a former staff member who left five years ago is a good candidate for your inactive file.

Send one more targeted mailing to people who haven’t donated for at least four years. Let them know you miss them and want them back. If you don’t hear anything, let them go. 4 Tips: When to Remove a Lapsed Donor from Your Database

Do the same thing with your email list. It doesn’t make sense to send email to people who don’t respond to it. Give these people a chance to re-engage, and if they’re not even opening your emails, move them to an inactive file. Why Deleting People from Your Email List is a Good Thing

But wait you say, we want as many people in our database and email lists as possible, don’t we?  No, you want people who are still interested your organization. Quality wins over quantity.

You can save money by not mailing to people who aren’t going to support you and aren’t paying attention to you.

Freshen up your messages

Now that you’ve pared down your mailing lists to active donors and supporters, they deserve something good the next time you communicate with them. Will they get that?

Take a good look at your appeal letters, thank you letters, and other content. Have you been using the same stale, old templates for years?  Are your letters all about how great your organization is and filled with jargon?  Are your newsletter articles mind-numbingly boring?

Freshen them up with some donor-centered content. Can Your Organization Pass the Donor-Centered Test?

Don’t put it off too long

Your clutter and dust at home won’t disappear on their own. The longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. The same is true for your nonprofit.

Take on your cleaning and organization projects as soon as you can. You’ll be happy once they’re done.

Raise More Money With Monthly Gifts

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Although I often encourage monthly (or recurring) gifts as a great way to raise more money, I just started making them at the end of last year. I made all my pledges online, and it was easy to do.

It should also be relatively easy for you to start or grow a monthly giving program. Of course, this doesn’t just include asking for donations. You’ll need to thank your monthly donors and stay in touch throughout the year.

Here’s what you need to get started.

Make a special request

You should always promote monthly giving in your fundraising appeals. Your best bet to get a monthly commitment is long-term donors. One idea is to send specially targeted appeals to donors who have given for at least two years. Thank them for their past support and ask them to upgrade to becoming a monthly donor. Their previous donation of $50 could become $5 a month or $100 becomes $10 a month.

Make it easy

Be sure monthly or recurring giving options are prominent on your pledge form and donation page. Let your donors know what $5, $10, $15 etc a month will fund.

Make the online process easy, but keep in mind that some donors won’t want to set up their monthly giving online. Some may want to do this by mail or phone, and if it’s by phone, make sure there’s a friendly person on the other end to help them.

If possible, make one person responsible for monthly giving. There needs to be a contact person if your donor needs to change her credit card/bank account information or has questions.

Create an attitude of gratitude

Welcome your monthly donors with open arms. If they’re first-time donors, welcome them to your organization. If they’re current donors, thank them for going the extra mile and becoming a monthly donor.

Most of the organizations I donated to thanked me specifically for being a monthly donor. Some did it better than others.  One organization refers to their monthly donors as Friends for all Seasons. Another told me “I have joined an elite group of dedicated supporters we call our Friends of the Center.” Another thanked me for being a Monthly Partner.

These organizations are telling me I’m extra special, and most of my gifts were $5 a month.

Several organizations send me monthly thank you letters either by mail or email. While this is nice, most of them are exactly the same generic thank you every month. One sends a statement, but it includes a different update each month.

Here’s how you can do better. Yes, send your these donors a thank you each month, but don’t resort to the same old same old. One organization that helps low-income families does a good job of sending engaging updates. Here’s an excerpt from their most recent email thank you.
Boys with shoes

When a mother of three children picked up her children’s Kidpacks, she burst into tears and said “My kids will be so happy.” She couldn’t afford to spend extra money on new clothes, shoes, books or school supplies because she was barely making ends meet.

Much better than a boring letter or receipt.

Take your donors on a journey

You want to stay in touch with your monthly donors and let them know how they’re helping you make a difference. You can do this with your monthly thank you letters and other updates. You may also want to consider a special newsletter just for monthly donors.

Another idea is to introduce your monthly donors to an individual or family your organization is working with. Let’s say you run a tutoring program. You can introduce your donors to Kira and her tutor, Sophia. Each month you can share updates on how Sophia is helping Kira do better in school.

Make your monthly donors feel special

Of course, all your donors are special, but go out of your way to show the love to your monthly donors. Find creative ways to show appreciation. You could make a video or hold an open house just for monthly donors. You want them to stay committed to being monthly donors for a long time.

Erica Waasdorp is an expert in monthly giving and has tons of information to help you.

And here are some more monthly giving tips.

18 Tips to Create a Wildly Profitable Monthly Giving Program

3 Tried and True Techniques That Encourage Monthly Giving

 

You’re Lucky To Have Your Donors

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Do your donors know how lucky you feel to have them support your organization? Take time this month to let them know that and keep letting them know that throughout the year. St. Patrick’s Day is coming up so you could use that as a theme.

Luck isn’t everything

Luck isn’t everything, though. You have to work at it. Donors don’t magically keep donating to your organization. In fact, if you ignore them or communicate poorly, they’re unlikely to donate again.

It takes more than leprechauns granting wishes. You need good donor relations. Donor relations should be easier than raising money, and it can be fun, too. But not only do you have to work at it, you need to make it a priority!

New beginnings

If you don’t want to use St.Patrick’s Day as a theme, spring is just around the corner. Spring is a time for new beginnings. Maybe you can share a new initiative that you were able to launch with your donors’ help.

Speaking of new beginnings, think about sending something special to your first-time donors. Let them know how much you appreciate this new relationship. If you don’t, it’s likely to be a short-term relationship.

Also, I bet you can freshen up some of your stale old thank you messages.

Keep donors front and center

You can also send an update emphasizing how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Heifer International does a great job of communicating with their donors. I just received a couple of updates – one by mail, the other by email. They’re filled with donor-centered language such as:

See the progress you made possible!

Ann, An update on Your Gift to Heifer!

You are very much a part of this enterprise.

Read more inside about how your gift promotes strong bodies and minds through nutrition.

THANK YOU!

Many organizations seem to forget about the donor when they communicate. Make your messages stand out with donor-centered language

Keep building relationships

It’s always a good time to build relationships. It’s easy to get complacent right now, especially if you’re between fundraising campaigns or events. Don’t do that. Let your donors know how lucky you are to have them and keep doing that again and again.

Here are a few other themes you can use in March via The Nonprofit Marketing Guide.

 

Is Your Newsletter Boring?

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There’s a good chance the answer to this question is yes. Many nonprofit organizations use a newsletter as a way to engage their donors, but the opposite is happening. That’s because most donor newsletters can be used as a cure for insomnia. They’re too long and filled with articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

Don’t worry. You can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s how.

Think about what your donors want

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. But ask your donors what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer one over the other, then doing both may not make sense.

You also want to include content that will interest your donors. Do you think they would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about Jacob acing his math test after his weekly tutoring sessions? The answer should be obvious.

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference.

Share stories

Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. Client stories are best, but you could also do profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Focus on what drew them to your mission.

Create a story bank that includes at least three client success stories to use every year.

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped Jacob improve his math skills or Because of donors like you, X number of students are now reading at their grade level or above.

Ditch 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.  

Say thank you

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. 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, 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 color, as well as tell a story in an instant.

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

Very important –  make sure your donors can read your e-newsletter on a mobile device.

Short and sweet

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 – two or three articles.

You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent email updates.

Send it to the right audience

Fundraising guru Tom Ahern recommends sending your print newsletter only to donors. This can help you keep it donor-centered, as well as cut down on mailing costs.

Send e-newsletters only to people who have signed up for it. They may or may not be donors, but an e-newsletter can also be a good cultivation tool.

Let’s put an end to boring newsletters. Create one your donors will want to read.

Read on for more information about donor newsletters.

Shhh! Secret Formula for Donor Newsletters That Delight

3 Pitfalls of Nonprofit Newsletters and How to Avoid Them

HOW TO CREATE A BETTER NON-PROFIT NEWSLETTER

How to Format Your Nonprofit Newsletter

Photo by Dwight Sipler

 

Can Your Organization Pass the Donor-Centered Test?

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I recently received a newsletter from an organization that focused mainly on themselves, then their clients, and then barely mentioned their donors. There’s no question this organization does good work, but their newsletter failed the donor-centered test. Unfortunately, they’re not the only guilty culprits.

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.

Can your organization pass the donor-centered test? Take a few minutes to find out.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Are your fundraising appeals 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.
  • Are your appeals 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.
  • Are your appeals addressed to a person and not Dear Friend?
  • Are your appeals 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.
  • Do your appeals make people feel good about donating to your organization?

Thank you letters

  • Do your thank you letters 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.
  • Do your thank you letters (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 Southside 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

  • Do your newsletters 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 want you to share?
  • 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 these test questions on other donor communication such as annual reports (these are rarely donor-centered), your website, and social media posts.

How did you do?

Be sure the messages you send to your donors focuses on them and makes them feel special. Staying donor-centered can help you build relationships and keep your retention rate from plummeting.

Read on for more information on how to be donor-centered.

A donor-centered organization, your donors, & relationship building

How to Create a Donor-Centered Fundraising Letter

 

Where Did All Our Donors Go?

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The ACLU saw a record number of donations come in right after the Trump administration enacted its travel ban. This spawned a discussion on the Nonprofit Happy Hour Facebook page in which someone wondered if these would be one-time donations. That’s a good question since donor retention rates are declining again. New Study Shows Donor Retention Rates Are In Decline

Yikes! This should not be happening. I hope your organization isn’t hemorrhaging donors. If you’re not sure, then you need to figure out your retention rate to see how you’re doing. A Guide to Donor Retention

Donors stop giving to organizations for a variety of reasons. Some you can’t control, such as their financial situation, but many you can, such as how you communicate with them.

If you’re wondering where did all our donors go, here are some ways to get them back or prevent them from leaving in the first place.

Reach out to your lapsed donors

Did you have a number of donors who gave in the past, but didn’t this year?  Reach out to people who haven’t donated in the last two years by phone or personalized letter.  Let them know how much you appreciate their support, that you miss them, and you want them back. Some people may have been busy in December and didn’t have time to respond to your appeals.

Personalization is the key. Don’t send some generic appeal. That’s why I recommend mail or phone, although you could follow up by email.  

Reaching out to lapsed donors could be a good way to make up for lost revenue, Disappointing year-end campaign results? Here’s how to recover.

Show your donors how you’re making a difference

As a new monthly donor to the ACLU, my response to their court petitions was, my money is going to good use. This is what you want to show your donors. The ACLU was lucky that they were able to show results on such a grand scale, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show your donors how you’re making a difference, too. A recent newsletter from a local organization whose mission is to end homelessness shows how they’re helping people “find their road home.”

Welcome new donors and keep showing the love

According to the latest Fundraising Effectiveness Project results, new donor retention is an abysmal 23%. We spend so much time trying to get people to donate and then think our work is done, when in fact in has only just begun. Your Appeal is Just The Beginning

If you haven’t already done this, send your new donors a welcome package by mail or email. But keep showing the love to all your donors

You want as many donors as possible to give again, preferably at a higher level. This won’t happen if you don’t stay in touch throughout the year.

Break through the noise.

There’s a lot going on right now. We all get so many email messages and social media posts it’s enough to make you want to turn off your computer or put your phone away.

Don’t be part of the noise. When you communicate with your donors, make it good. It’s not enough just to send a donor newsletter or post a social media update. Show gratitude and share engaging updates.

To get noticed, aim for shorter more frequent content. Send email once a week and social media posts a few times a day. Don’t forget to reach out by mail, too. But most important, share stories and updates your donors will want to read.

Shifting priorities

Social justice organizations are seeing a huge increase in donations right now. I donated to many more nonprofits at the end of the year, but still supported the ones I had in past years. Some people might not be able to do that.

Your organization may be seeing a decline in donations because of this. That means you need to work harder to keep your donors. If you follow the advice above, you’ll have a better chance of keeping your donors for a long time.

Read on for more on declining retention rates. What are the Obstacles to Improving Donor-Retention Rates?

Let Your Donors Know How Much You Appreciate Them

 

16317995822_f23087f3eb_z-1Valentine’s Day is coming up and it’s a perfect opportunity to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support. Okay, maybe you think doing something for Valentine’s Day is hokey, but you should still do something fun and creative to show appreciation this month. The holidays are over, winter isn’t, and the world doesn’t feel like a very nice place right now, so we could all use a little pick-me-up.

This is also a good opportunity to stay in touch with the people who gave to your year-end appeal, especially first-time donors. If you haven’t shown any donor love since your year-end appeal, then you definitely need to reach out now.

Here are some ideas.

Create a thank you photo

Make your donor’s day with a great photo, like one of these.

 

You can send thank you photos via email and social media, use one to create a card, and include one on your thank you landing page.

Make a video

Videos are becoming an increasingly popular way to connect. Here are a couple that I received recently by email.

To Our Friends, With Gratitude

What You Made Possible in 2016

You’ll notice that both are short (and they need to be short), donor-centered, and show the organization’s work up close and personal.

Share an update or success story

In addition to saying thank you, share a brief update or success story. Emphasize how you couldn’t have helped someone without your donor’s support. For example – Thanks to you, Jenna won’t go to bed hungry tonight.

Send a card

A handwritten note will also brighten your donor’s day. If you don’t have the budget to send cards to everyone, send them to your most valuable donors. These may not be the ones who give you the most money. Do you have donors who have supported your organization for more than three years? How about more than five years? These are your valuable donors.

Another idea – Send a small number of thank you cards every month, ensuring that each donor gets at least one card a year. Spreading it out may be easier on your budget.

Thank You 101

Make this the year you do a better job of thanking your donors. Thank your donors right away and send a thank you note/letter or make a phone call. Electronic thank yous aren’t good enough.

Be personal and conversational when you thank your donors. Don’t use jargon or other language they won’t understand. Write from the heart, but be sincere. Give specific examples of how your donors are helping you make a difference.

If your budget doesn’t allow you to mail handwritten cards, is there a way you can change that? You may be able to get a print shop to donate cards. You can also look for additional sources of unrestricted funding to cover cards and postage.

Maybe you need a change of culture. Getting your board, all staff, and volunteers involved in thanking your donors will make a huge difference.

Keep thinking of ways to surprise and delight your donors! Get creative.

20 Unique Donor Thank You Ideas

21 IDEAS TO REFRESH YOUR DONOR STEWARDSHIP

You can’t say thank you enough. Make a commitment to thank your donors at least once a month.

You don’t even need to wait for a holiday or special occasion. Just thank your donors because they’re incredible and you wouldn’t be able to make a difference without them.