Spring Forward to Better Donor Retention

Donor retention is a perennial problem for nonprofit organizations. Many organizations spend all this time and energy on acquiring donors, concentrating more on volume and don’t seem to be concerned that they’re churning through different donors year after year.

You should be keeping track of your retention rate. If you’re losing donors, it could be because you’re either not communicating enough or communicating poorly. Fortunately, this is something you can fix, but donors don’t magically donate, or more important, keep donating to your organization.

You need good donor relations

One of the most important components of fundraising is building relationships with your donors.

Donor relations should be easier than raising money, and it can be fun, too. Make it a priority, as well as something you do throughout the year.

But it will take more than leprechauns granting wishes. If you want to keep reaching for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, you’ll need to work at it. If you ignore your donors or communicate poorly, they’re unlikely to donate again.

New beginnings

Spring is just around the corner (hopefully) and it’s 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. 

5 Ways to Improve New Donor Retention

One-and-done fundraising is just March Madness

In college basketball, players are allowed to turn pro after playing one season. This is known as one-and-done. If you watch the NCAA tournament (aka March Madness), it’s likely many of the players won’t be around next year.

Another place you’ll find one-and-done is in nonprofit fundraising. The donor retention rate for first-time donors is around 25%. Obviously, we can do better.

If you can get your first-time donors to give again, it’s much more likely they’ll keep giving. That second donation is known as the golden donation. This is why it’s important to engage with your new donors. But don’t stop there, you also want to acknowledge your longer-term donors and make them feel special.

A consistent stream of donor communication is key

Here in the Boston area where I live, we have the most inconsistent weather. This winter has been no exception. One day it was 65 and two days later we got a foot of snow.

Inconsistent levels of donor communication should have no place in the nonprofit world. You don’t want to barrage donors with appeals and then go silent for a while.

Ideally, you want to reach out somewhere between once a week and once a month. And not just with appeals. You need to thank donors and share updates. This is crucial for good donor retention.

A communications calendar will help. So will sending shorter, more frequent updates.

How will you reach out?

March may be a slower time for you. Maybe you have a fundraising campaign or event planned this spring. If so, you definitely want to engage with your donors first. If you don’t, the in-between times are just important. 

As you’ll notice, I’ve made references to a bunch of March themes – St. Patrick’s Day, daylight saving time, March Madness, spring. But you don’t need a holiday, special occasion, or a theme as a reason to reach out to your donors. Do it just because they’re great and you can’t do your work without them.

Keep reading for more ways you can spring forward to better donor retention.

Donor Retention Strategies: Get Donors to Give Again

7 Donor Retention Tips for Growing Organizations

Two Key Strategies For Donor Retention And Engagement As We Emerge From The Pandemic

3 Strategies to Find New Nonprofit Supporters Online

Are you ready to build your nonprofit’s online audience in the new year? Consider these three innovative strategies to connect with new supporters in 2022.

By Cassie Losquadro, Solutions Executive at GoodUnited

There are many strategies for discovering new donors for your nonprofit. Perhaps you rely on word of mouth and encourage existing supporters to share their stories and bring their peers into the fold. Or, perhaps you use direct mail to send information about upcoming events in your local area.

These strategies aren’t bad, by any means. However, there is power in embracing entrepreneurship and taking a risk on innovative strategies to find new supporters online.

For example, your nonprofit likely has an entire audience of potential supporters online that you haven’t encountered or attempted to engage with before. By embracing the third wave of giving, social fundraising, you can not only find those online supporters but also retain them for the long term.

This guide will focus on three social fundraising-driven strategies for finding new supporters online, including:

  • Virtual-First Fundraising
  • Thank-You Notes
  • Conversational Messaging

The GoodUnited team specializes in helping nonprofits elevate their social giving practices, so we’ve seen firsthand the power that these strategies can have when discovering new supporters online. With that in mind, all three of the following strategies are related to social giving— whether it’s virtual-first fundraising experiences, thanking existing supporters, or stewarding social supporters for long-term relationships.

Let’s dive in.

Virtual-First Fundraising

Virtual-first or virtual-native fundraising experiences describe fundraisers that are created to take place entirely online through social networking sites. Rather than planning a traditional, in-person fundraiser and formulating ways to incorporate online engagement into it, virtual-native fundraisers are conceptualized with the internet in mind from step one.

This is part of what we call the third shift in fundraising, a new frontier for nonprofit efforts. First, nonprofits were fundraising through direct mail and using mailing addresses to send and receive gifts. Later, the second shift occurred as nonprofits embraced online fundraising through email and websites. Now, the third shift— fully in-channel fundraising and engagement through virtual-first fundraising— is here.

Virtual-native fundraising is so powerful because research has shown that it’s an additive fundraising method.

With more traditional fundraising efforts, your nonprofit likely carefully builds a fundraising calendar in which campaigns don’t overlap (or if they do, they target different audiences). This is because you don’t want to target the same donors over and over again in a short time period. Soliciting donations soon after a supporter has given to your organization can lead to donor burnout.

However, the additive nature of virtual-native fundraisers alleviates this concern. “Additive” essentially means that the fundraisers build on top of your existing campaigns, rather than drawing support away from them in the form of donors giving to the virtual campaign over another one. This is possible because virtual-first fundraisers connect with an entirely new audience — an online audience that is likely to be interested in your nonprofit but hasn’t engaged with it before.

This is noticeable in the Challenges on Facebook hosted by Susan G. Komen in 2021. The nonprofit connected with 13,000 new supporters, 90% of whom were new to Komen. 

To make the most of virtual-native fundraising in 2022, consider following Komen’s lead and incorporating Challenges on Facebook into your strategy. A Challenge is a time-bound peer-to-peer fundraising effort. During the Challenge, participants complete a task (such as running, walking, or calisthenics) while raising funds for your nonprofit using a Facebook fundraiser. Participants are added to a Facebook group to connect with one another and experience a digital community.

Here are the basic steps of hosting a Challenge on Facebook:

  1. Choose a Challenge task.
  2. Create the corresponding Challenge group on Facebook.
  3. Use Facebook ads to spread the word about the fundraiser.
  4. Once participants sign up and the Challenge begins, engage with the group by sharing discussion topics, fundraising tips, and more.

To maximize the audience-discovery potential of these fundraisers, target your ad campaigns to groups that are outside of your normal audience— such as lookalike audiences that haven’t engaged with your nonprofit before. Additionally, hold multiple events throughout the year. By layering Challenges on Facebook into your fundraising strategy, you’ll have a diverse, multichannel fundraising calendar that maximizes revenue.

Thank-You Notes

Online fundraising has evolved— now, with social fundraising tools, your supporters can start fundraisers on behalf of your nonprofit and drive those fundraisers across the finish line before you’re even aware of them. This is a major benefit of online fundraising, as donations can come in without any additional work from your nonprofit. However, it’s also a challenge as you may have existing online supporters that you’re simply unaware of!

The best way to capture one-time social supporters— for example, individuals who conduct a birthday fundraiser for your nonprofit on Facebook but haven’t engaged with you otherwise— as long-term champions is by thanking them for their efforts.

One example of expressing appreciation virtually is posting thank-you comments on all fundraisers started for your nonprofit on Facebook.

While Facebook won’t notify you when users create a fundraiser on your behalf, you can discover newly-created fundraisers using the Sort & Filter tool. Essentially, you’ll navigate to the “Fundraisers” section of your nonprofit’s profile and use the tool to:

  • Sort to show recently-created fundraisers first.
  • Filter out any fundraisers on which you’ve already posted a thank-you note.

This tool is crucial as the default “Fundraisers” view will first show campaigns that are closest to their goals or that are almost at their end date. This means you could be overlooking newer campaigns, especially if those campaigns take longer to raise a significant amount.

Once you’ve sorted and filtered your campaigns, go through and post thank-you notes on each individual campaign. Admittedly, this can be a time-intensive process, especially for nonprofits that have a significant amount of social support. Consider working with a social fundraising services provider, which can automate much of this process for you.

Discovering new supporters online isn’t always finding entirely new people to connect with— sometimes, it’s making the most of the support you already have, but that you’re unaware of.

Bonus! This section focuses on how to thank individuals who start fundraisers on your behalf. But what about the supporters who donate to those fundraisers? GoodUnited has a full guide to thanking donors on Facebook to help you get started.

Conversational Messaging

Discovering individuals online who are interested in your nonprofit and willing to fundraise on your behalf is only part of the challenge. The second part is engaging with those individuals, building a relationship between them and your nonprofit, and retaining them for years to come.

One of the best ways to do this online is through conversational messaging, or one-on-one conversations between a representative from your nonprofit and an online supporter held via a social media chat functionality. For example, in the thank-you notes from the previous section, you can invite supporters to start a chat with your nonprofit using Messenger. In Messenger, you can share:

  • Gratitude: Thank the supporter for their work on behalf of your nonprofit and discuss the impact that the funds they raised will have. The more specific you can get, the better!
  • Educational Information: From the donation payout process to whether Facebook fundraising has fees— it doesn’t— your supporters will likely have many questions about how social fundraising works.
  • Opportunities: You can share upcoming fundraisers and volunteer campaigns that the individual can participate in. Or, you can share information about matching gift programs so the supporter can speak with their employer about beginning the gift match process!
  • Questions and Surveys: This could be as straightforward as asking the supporter about what types of opportunities and communications they’d like to receive in the future, or more complex such as sharing a link to an external survey where they can provide additional information.
  • Additional Contact Data: One of the biggest controversies with social fundraising is that Facebook retains most donor and participant data, which can make it challenging for nonprofits to connect with supporters off of the platform down the line. In your messaging sequence, ask them to share additional contact information such as their mailing and email addresses. This way, you can connect with that supporter in your multichannel efforts as well!

Conversational messaging is so powerful because it can be customized to each of your individual supporters’ interests and needs. Rather than sending out information en masse, which is how social media has been used previously, you can tailor your communications to build a relationship with each individual.

And, if you’re worried about holding conversations with hundreds or even thousands of social supporters, there are social fundraising services providers that can assist with that task as well. They can create custom automated messaging sequences that are tailored to both your nonprofit and your supporters, creating a realistic and valuable experience for each individual who opts in to chat with your organization via Messenger.

Wrapping Up: Next Steps After Discovering New Supporters Online

When you discover a new audience online, you’ll suddenly have access to a wealth of information— contact details, preferences, demographics, and more. Prioritize your nonprofit’s data hygiene as you expand your online engagement efforts to ensure your organization’s constituent relationship management (CRM) system isn’t overwhelmed by all of your new supporters.

From there, it’s up to you to continue engaging with these supporters and building relationships over time! Aim to treat your newfound online supporters as you would those discovered through more traditional means. By embracing the third wave of giving, social fundraising, you’ll be set up for success in the coming years. Good luck!

Cassie Losquadro is a sales leader at GoodUnited, the social giving solution. Cassie has spent the last 5 years in the fundraising technology space. Cassie is energized by working with nonprofit leaders and changemakers who are to a person, saving the world through their initiatives. Hailing from Rhode Island, Cassie lives in Charleston, SC with her husband, two children, and a rescue pup, Bella. Connect with Cassie on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cassiefaella/

How You Can Create a Better Annual Report

What do you think of when you hear the word annual report? If you’re a donor you might think “Oh, it’s that long, boring thing I don’t have time to read.” If you’re a nonprofit professional, you might think “It’s such a pain to put together.”

What do you do? Organizations need to share accomplishments and show gratitude to their donors, but is the annual report the way to do that? It can be if you do it well. 

Unfortunately, many nonprofits fall short with this. Most annual reports are too long, boring, and basically a demonstration of the organization patting itself on the back. There’s often very little appreciation for donors. And yes, it’s time-consuming to put together.

It’s possible to make this a better experience for both donors and nonprofit organizations. Here’s how.

You don’t have to do an annual report

One way to make this a better experience is to not do an annual report at all. This doesn’t let you off the hook for sharing accomplishments with your donors. You could send short progress reports a couple of times a year or monthly e-updates instead. This makes a lot of sense if taking on a big report sounds too overwhelming.

If you decide to do an annual report, I encourage you to move away from the traditional multi-page one. Aim for something no longer than four pages. Bigger isn’t always better.

Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Your annual report is for your donors

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

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

Make it a gratitude report

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

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. 

What’s in My Mailbox | This Nonprofit Gratitude Report Shines

Why You Should Stop Saying “Annual Report” (And What to Call it Instead)

Address the current situations

We’re still in a pandemic, which I’m sure is affecting your work. We’re also dealing with a precarious economy and the heightened awareness of systemic racism. Your donors will want you to address these situations and focus on how they’re affecting your clients/community. I go into more detail about this below.

How are you making a difference?

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

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

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

You can say something like this – Over the past two years, we have seen triple the number of people at the Riverside Community Food Bank. As COVID rates fluctuate, we need to ensure that we can continue to serve people safely. Thanks to donors like you, we are able to meet our demands and provide local residents with boxes of healthy food.

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

Tell a story

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

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

Make it visual

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skip the donor list

Think twice about including a donor list in your annual report. It takes up a lot of space and there are better ways to show appreciation. If you feel you must have a donor list, you could put one on your website or just include major funders. 

Planning is key

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

This will help ensure that your 2021 annual report doesn’t go out in the middle of 2022. Ideally, you should send out an annual report by the first quarter of the following year. When nonprofits sent out their 2019 reports after the pandemic started, it seemed irrelevant.

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

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

Whatever you decide, put together an annual report that’s a better experience for everyone. Here is more information about creating a great annual or impact report.

Useful Tips & Resources for Your Nonprofit’s Annual Report

Your Nonprofit Annual Report: 10 Things to Include This Year

Nonprofit Annual Reports: 8 Essential Tips [& Template]

How to Craft a 1-Page Nonprofit Annual Report

How You Can Improve Your Donor Communication

One of the many lessons since the pandemic started is generic, organization-centered communication has to go.

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

Explained: Donor-Centric and Community Centric Fundraising

We’re also seeing real people with real problems. Using vague, generic terms such as at-risk and underserved is demeaning to your clients/community.

You can do better if you make some of these improvements to your donor communication.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Your fundraising appeal shouldn’t be focused too much on your organization – rambling on about how great you are. Your organization may be great, but let your donors figure that out. Your donors are the ones who are great, and they want to hear how they can help you make a difference for your clients/community.
  • Segment your appeal to the appropriate audience. Thank past donors or reference your relationship to a potential donor. Maybe they’re event attendees, volunteers, or friends of board members.
  • Address your appeal to a person and not Dear Friend.
  • Don’t use jargon or other language your donors won’t understand. Instead of saying we’re helping at-risk youth, say something like – With your support, our tutoring program can help more students graduate from high school on time. Many students fell behind when the pandemic started.
  • Your appeal should make people feel good about donating to your organization.

Thank you letters

  • Your thank you letter shouldn’t come across as transactional and resemble a receipt. This is one of my huge pet peeves. Yes, you need to acknowledge the donation is tax-deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Your thank you letter (or better yet, a handwritten note) needs to be filled with appreciation. Start your letter with You’re amazing! or Thanks to You!, and not On behalf of X organization.
  • Address your thank you letter to a person and not Dear Friend.
  • Tell your donors the impact of their gift. For example – Thanks to your generous donation of $50, a family can get a box of groceries at the Westside Community Food Bank. This is crucial since we’ve been seeing triple the number of people over the past two years.
  • Recognize each donor. Is this the first time someone has donated? If someone donated before, did she increase her gift? Acknowledge this in your letter/note.

Newsletters

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

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

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

9 Best Practices for Communications That Stand Out

Nonprofit Communication Best Practices To Make Communications More Impactful 

Improving Donor Communications: 7 Tactics to Keep In Mind

Image credit –  www.epictop10.com

Go Above and Beyond When You Thank Your Donors

Many donors have gone above and beyond to help nonprofit organizations over the last two years.

This means you need to go above and beyond when you thank them. Are you doing that? Most likely, you’re not. I know running your organization is hard right now, but you need to prioritize donor appreciation.

Thanking your donors is not just something you do after you receive a donation and then do nothing for a while. 

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

Maybe you would rather not go the Valentine’s Day route, which is understandable. But you should still do something to show appreciation this month (and every month). The holidays are over and February can be a dreary month, even in the best of times. Your donors could use a little kindness right now.

This is also a good opportunity to keep in touch with the people who gave to your year-end appeal, especially first-time donors. If you haven’t shown any appreciation since your year-end appeal, you don’t want to wait much longer.

Here are a few ways you can go above and beyond when you thank your donors.

Create a thank you photo

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

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

Make a video

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

How to Create a Donor Thank You Video

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

Your thank you landing page is the perfect place to put a video. This is your first opportunity to say thank you and most landing pages are just boring receipts (and receipts fall short when it comes to showing gratitude). You can also put your thank you video on your website and share it by email and social media.

10 Tips For Thanking Your Donors With Video

Nonprofit Thank You Video Script

Send a card

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

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

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

Share an update 

In addition to saying thank you, share a brief update on your success and challenges. Emphasize how you couldn’t have helped someone without your donor’s support. For example –Thanks to you, David won’t go to bed hungry tonight. It’s been tough for his family to make ends meet this year.

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

Plan to do better

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

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

Also, make sure your thank you note/letter puts gratitude front and center. You don’t need to explain what your organization does, brag, or ask for another donation. You have plenty of opportunities to ask for donations. Plain and simple, the purpose of a thank you letter is to thank your donors.

Make thanking your donors a priority

I’m a big proponent of communicating by mail, even if it’s only a few times a year. It’s much more personal. Yet, many nonprofits are skittish about spending too much on mailing costs.

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

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

You can’t say thank you enough. Make a commitment to thank your donors at least once a month. Create a thank you plan to help you with this. Planning ahead and creating systems makes a difference.

Keep thinking of ways to let your donors know how much you appreciate them. You don’t even need to wait for a holiday or special occasion. Just thank your donors because they’re amazing and you wouldn’t be able to make a difference without them.

Keep reading for more ways you can go above and beyond when you thank your donors.

Donor Appreciation: Creating a Strategy (And 22+ Ideas!) 

15 Sincere Ways to Say Thank You to Your Donors

Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

Fundraising Should be About Building Relationships, Not Making a Transaction

Why does making a donation often feel like a transaction? Organizations get so caught up in the raising money part, that they forget about building relationships with their donors.

Yes, relationships! This is just as important as raising money. 

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

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

Stop using transactional language

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

Even more prevalent is the word receipt, which is often used in lieu of thank you. After a donor makes a gift, they should feel appreciated. 

An email subject line is one of your first chances to connect with your donor. How would you feel if this is what you saw? 

“Your Recurring Donation Receipt” 

“Donation tax receipt”

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

It’s not easy to find good thank you email subject lines. Here are some that are better.

“Thank you for your generous monthly gift”

“You are wonderful!”

“Your monthly gift in action” 

That last subject line leads into an email that emphasizes how the donor is helping that organization make a difference, which is a good example of building relationships.

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

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

Make relationship building part of your fundraising campaigns

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

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

Segment your donors

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

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

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

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

Create an attitude of gratitude

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

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

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

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

Thanking donors is something you can do at any time of the year. I think one of the best ways to connect is by sending a handwritten note. It always warms my heart when an organization does this.

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

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

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships

There are many ways you can build relationships with your donors throughout the year. 

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

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

Have a relationship-building day

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

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

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

Giving Tuesday: What if it was called Living Schmoozeday?

Build relationships all year round

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

Stay focused on relationships. Good relationships with your donors will help you raise more money and keep your donors for a long time. 

9 Ways to Build Strong Donor Relationships

4 Relationship-Building Strategies for Nonprofits to Know

How Your Nonprofit Can Ensure Success in the New Year

The New Year is here. Do you wonder what’s ahead for us? The last two years have brought about so much change and uncertainty. Sometimes it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next. 

I’m sure your nonprofit continues to face challenges, but since the pandemic started many organizations were able to confront these challenges and make changes to the way they ran their programs and implemented their fundraising and communications. Some were successful and some weren’t.

If 2021 was not a successful year for your organization, you can work to make 2022 better. 

Here are some ways to ensure a more successful year.

Have a plan in place

You must have fundraising and communications plans. If you haven’t put together these plans yet, do that now! 

You know from recent past experience that you may need to make changes to your plans. In 2020, organizations that were able to make changes to a plan already in place were most successful.

Take a look back at 2021 to see what worked and what didn’t in your fundraising and communications. Incorporate what you’ve learned into your 2022 plans. 

Be sure your fundraising plan includes a diverse stream of revenue. Individual giving has been fairly successful throughout the pandemic. A lot of small donations can add up!

Planning an in-person event right now is tricky. If you rely on event revenue, it might be best to stick with virtual or have a plan to shift to virtual, depending on what’s happening with the virus.

Revisit your fundraising and communications plans regularly and make changes as needed. You may need to do this more often now.

Remember that donor engagement and donor retention should be part of your fundraising plan. Those are key to your success.

[Free Download!] Nonprofit Development Plan | 3 Helpful Tips

How to Prepare a Nonprofit Fundraising Plan

6 Simple Fundraising Plan Tips [With Free Templates!]

Nonprofit Marketing Plan in 8 Steps (+ Free Templates!)

Communications Planning 101: What Every Nonprofit Needs to Know

Pay attention to your donor retention

Many donors have stepped up over the past two years to support nonprofit organizations. You don’t want to lose these valuable donors.

Donor retention should be a priority. You’ll have more success if you work to keep the donors you already have instead of focusing on getting new ones.

First, if you don’t already know it, figure out your retention rate. Do this after every fundraising campaign.

A Guide to Donor Retention

If it’s low, it’s something you can fix, usually with better communication. Donor retention is a huge problem for nonprofits. Your goal should be to have donors who support you for a long time.

It’s easier and less expensive to keep your current donors than to find new ones, so, once again, make donor retention a priority.

That said, you may have some new donors who saw a need and felt a connection to your cause. Don’t let these donors slip away either.

Donor Retention Strategies: Get Donors to Give Again

Ultimate Guide to Donor Retention

Make Time to Welcome Your New Donors

Step up your monthly giving program

Speaking of retention, the retention rate for monthly donors is 90%. These donors are dedicated to your nonprofit. 

Monthly giving makes sense at any time, but it’s been especially crucial over the last two years. Organizations that had monthly giving programs saw a steady stream of revenue throughout the year. Donors who opt for monthly giving find it’s easier on their finances. Dedicated monthly donors have also stepped up and have given additional donations.

Work on starting or growing your monthly giving program so you can have a bunch of highly committed donors. A good way to start is to invite your current donors to become monthly donors.

Monthly donors are also potential major and legacy donors.

Why Monthly Giving Makes Sense

10 Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

Do a better job of communicating with your donors 

Lets’s say goodbye to boring, generic communication. Over the past two years, donors have seen real people with real problems in real time. They turned on the news and saw long lines at food banks. They’ve witnessed a much-needed awareness of systemic racism in our society. 

It makes a difference if you can put things in human terms. Organizations that do this did a better job of connecting with their donors.

Stop using jargon, such as at-risk and underserved. These terms are demeaning to your clients, especially if they’re people of color. Tell more stories and go easy on the statistics. If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell.

Better communication also means more frequent communication. Donors want to hear from you and they want to feel appreciated, too. Better, more frequent communication will help you raise more money. A communications calendar will help you with this. 

Keep relationships front and center

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

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

Good relationships with your donors will help you with retention.

How to Build Authentic Relationships With Nonprofit Donors

Don’t forget about gratitude

A big part of building relationships is showing gratitude to your donors. Many nonprofits do a poor job with this. 

You need to start by sending a heartfelt thank you immediately after you receive a donation and then find ways to thank your donors throughout the year. Put together a thank you plan to help you with this.

A Donor Resolution for 2022 You Will Want to Keep

Start the New Year off by making fundraising and communications plans, if you haven’t already done so. Prioritize donor retention, donor engagement, and monthly giving. This will help bring you more success in 2022.

Here are a few more ideas on how to plan for the New Year.

6 New Years Resolution Ideas for Nonprofits

Preparing for 2022: What Your Nonprofit Should Know

Photo by Marco Verch

Why Your Nonprofit Needs a Communications Calendar

I always like to emphasize the importance of keeping in touch with your donors throughout the year. I hope you’re making that a priority, too.

Your donors want to hear from you and don’t just want to be blasted with fundraising appeals. The good news is that better donor communication (thank yous and updates) can help you raise more money.

Ideally, you should communicate with your donors at least once or twice a month throughout the year. That might sound impossible, but it will be a whole lot easier if you put together a communications calendar (also known as an editorial calendar).

I like the term communications calendar because it emphasizes the importance of communicating with your donors and other supporters all year round.

Some of you may already have a communications calendar, which is great. Now is a good time to update yours for 2022. For the rest of you, here are some suggestions to help you get started. Even though it will take a little time to put together, it will be worth it in the end because you’ll be able to do a better job of communicating with your donors.

This is not just a job for your marketing department. All departments need to work together. Figure out what information you need to share and when to share it. You want a consistent stream of information – not three emails in one day and nothing for three weeks.

As you put together your communications calendar, think about how you will use different channels and which audience(s) should receive your messages. You may only send direct mail a few times a year (and I hope you do use direct mail), but send an e-newsletter once a month and communicate by social media several times a week. You’ll often use several different channels when you send a fundraising appeal or promote an event.

Start big by looking at the entire year and then break it down by months and weeks. You’ll keep adding to your communications calendar throughout the year.

Your communications calendar is a fluid document and these past 21 months are a good example of how our world is constantly changing. We’re still in a period of uncertainty, so be prepared to keep things current.

Here are some categories you can use in your communications calendar. Some items will be time-sensitive and others won’t be.

Current events/News stories

At the beginning of 2020, most of us couldn’t predict the year we were about to have. There’s still so much going on – the pandemic, economic uncertainty, supply chain issues, systemic racism, climate change. 

Many donors will expect more communication about these circumstances. Keep them apprised of how all this is affecting your clients/community.

Updates

You need to keep your donors updated on how they’re helping you make a difference. Your print and e-newsletter should be included in your communications calendar. If you don’t do a newsletter, make a plan to share updates another way – maybe by postcard, email, and/or social media. Sometimes short updates are more effective.

Share your success and challenges, especially as we continue to navigate through the current climate.

Legislation

Advocacy alerts are a wonderful way to engage with your supporters. Be on the lookout for any federal or state legislation that’s relevant to your organization. Encourage people to contact their legislators about an issue or a bill. Then report back to them with any updates and thank them for getting involved.

Time of year

Is there something going on during a particular month that’s pertinent to your organization? Perhaps it’s homelessness or foster care awareness month.

Thanksgiving, the holidays, and winter can be a difficult time for some people. How can you weave that into an engaging story to share with your supporters? This will be another hard winter for many people.

Keep in mind your organization’s anniversary doesn’t mean much to your donors unless you can tie that in with how they’re helping you make a difference.

Fundraising and recruitment

Be sure to add your fundraising campaigns to your communications calendar. Obviously, these campaigns are important, but you also want to show gratitude and send updates during this time without inundating your donors with too many messages. Planning ahead will help you strike this balance.

If your organization has specific times it needs to recruit volunteers, add that to your calendar, as well. 

Thank your donors

Make this a priority! Find different ways to let your donors know how much you appreciate them. You can combine a thank you with an update. Do this at least once a month.

Events

Your organization may not be holding any in-person events right now, but perhaps you’ll continue to do virtual events. Besides your events, are there other events (virtual or in-person) in your community that would be of interest to your supporters? If so, you could share it on social media.

Ongoing content

If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell. Share a story at least once a month. Client stories (either in the first or third person) are best. Your stories need to be relevant to the ever-evolving current situations, so you may need to create some new ones.

You could also profile a board member, volunteer, donor, or staff member. Be sure to highlight what drew them to your organization.

Put together a story bank to help you with this.

Don’t stop communicating with your donors

As you hear about other relevant information, add it to your calendar, so you can stay connected with your donors/supporters throughout the year.

Here’s more information to help you create a communications/editorial calendar. A couple of these links also include templates.

How to Effectively Plan a Nonprofit Communications Calendar (Template Included!)

How to create and use a nonprofit editorial calendar

Get Organized With a Nonprofit Editorial Calendar

Creating the Perfect Editorial Calendar – A Cinderella Story

Make Time to Welcome Your New Donors

I hope your year-end fundraising campaign is going well. Perhaps you also participated in #GivingTuesday. The latter often brings in new donors and that’s never something you want to take for granted. 

Even in this time of continued uncertainty, these donors saw a need and found a connection to your cause. Or maybe they were drawn into whatever #GivingTuesday promotion you initiated, but I like to think they wanted to help you make a difference. 

Unfortunately, the likelihood these donors will stick with you is also uncertain. Retention rates for first-time donors average around 20%.

That’s why it’s so important to get a second donation, also known as a golden donation. Once you get that golden donation, you’re more likely to have long-time donors who will stick with you. One way to ensure that, is to make your new donors feel welcome.

Start with a special thank you

According to fundraising expert, Dr. Adrian Sargeant, “The thank you is the single most important piece of communication that your donors get. They have a higher recall of it than the appeal that generated the gift.”

This is something to keep in mind, especially for your new donors.

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

Try to call your new donors or send a handwritten note. This will make a great impression on them. Get together a group of board members, other volunteers, and staff to help you. If that’s not possible, create a thank you letter specifically for your new donors.

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

Create a welcome plan

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

Welcome your new donors. Thank them again and show them other ways they can connect with you. Invite them to subscribe to your newsletter, join you on social media, and volunteer.

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

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

I don’t recommend sending unsolicited swag. Personally, I don’t like it, but some donors might. You could offer your new donors a gift and they can let you know if they want to receive it, but it’s not necessary. What donors really want from you is to know how they’re helping you make a difference.

How To Build Relationships With A Storytelling Welcome Email Series

7 Things to Include in Your New Donor Welcome Kit

How to Write a Nonprofit Welcome Email (With Examples!)

Who are your new donors?

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

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

Make your current donors feel special, too

While I’ve been focusing on new donors in this post, retention rates for current donors aren’t anything to celebrate. Remember the golden donation, but don’t stop there. You want a third (would that be platinum?) and a fourth, etc. donation.  

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

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

Keep it up throughout the year

It’s so important to communicate with your donors regularly. Plan on special mailings or emails specifically targeted to new donors. Try to send something by mail if you can. It’s more personal and your donors are more likely to see it. 

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

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

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

How to Make #GivingTuesday a Better Experience for Your Donors

Logos - GivingTuesday

I imagine most of you are familiar with #GivingTuesday, the annual giving day that takes place the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. This year it will be on November 30.

I’m not going to tell you whether or not you should participate in #GivingTuesday. Perhaps you’ve participated in the past and it’s been successful, or maybe it wasn’t. Perhaps you’re planning to participate for the first time. Maybe you’re on the fence. 

Should we do Giving Tuesday this year?

Whether you participate or not, #GivingTuesday is part of the nonprofit landscape and if you’re doing a year-end appeal, you’ll need to factor it into your campaign. If you do participate, you want to make it a better experience for your donors instead of the usual barrage of generic email messages.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as #GivingTuesday approaches.

Just because it’s #Giving Tuesday isn’t a compelling reason to give

I see so many emails that say donate because it’s #GivingTuesday. Many donors don’t care if it’s #GivingTuesday or it’s your “annual appeal.” That’s often not why they donate. They give because they care about your cause and want to help make a difference. 

Let them know that with their help Darren can sleep in a warm bed tonight or Sarah can boost her reading skills.

We’re still in a pandemic and people and communities are struggling. You need to acknowledge this in your appeals.

It’s not just about the money

A successful #GivingTuesday campaign is about more than just raising a lot of money. You also want to build relationships and make your donors feel good about supporting your organization. This is where it often falls short.

I haven’t been a huge fan of #GivingTuesday or any giving days, for that matter, because they focus too much on getting donations. Many of these donors are first-time donors who don’t give again. The end result is you’ve just spent a lot of time and effort on getting one-time gifts. That’s not what you want. You need donors who will support you for many years.

Make it personal and segment your donors

Don’t just blast a bunch of generic appeals that resemble Black Friday ads or those relentless requests for political donations. I received so many emails for the Virginia governor’s race and I don’t even live in Virginia.

Giving Tuesday and Why We’re Killing It

You also don’t want to send all your donors the same appeal. If someone donated last year on #GivingTuesday, this is the perfect opportunity to thank them for that gift and ask them to donate again this year. If they donated two weeks ago, maybe they shouldn’t get an appeal right now.

Acknowledge past donors and make a connection with potential donors. 

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

Focus on building relationships with your donors instead of pleading for donations.

Also, if you’re sending an appeal to your monthly donors, recognize them as monthly donors. They can either upgrade or give an additional gift. They get their own thank you, too. Monthly donors are one of your most loyal types of donors. Be sure to make them feel special.

Should You Thank Monthly Donors Who Make an Extra Gift?

If you’re one of the few organizations that send more personalized appeals, then kudos to you because that’s what everyone needs to do. I saw some evidence of more personalized, nuanced appeals in 2020, so let’s keep that up.

Use #GivingTuesday as a way to follow up with your donors

If you don’t want to launch a full #Giving Tuesday campaign (understandable), it can be a great opportunity to follow up with people who haven’t donated to your year-end appeal. You should be sending regular reminders, anyway.

Send email and social media messages before and on #Giving Tuesday encouraging people to donate. You can use the #GivingTuesday logos, etc. if you’d like. Obviously, you’ll want to keep following up with anyone who didn’t donate on #GivingTuesday.

Keep in mind your donors will be barraged with email and social media messages on #GivingTuesday. Make yours stand out and be prepared to keep following up.

Get ready for gratitude

Your donors should be feeling the love right after they make their donation.

Make sure you have an engaging thank you landing page and thank you email for your online donors. You could even create ones especially for #GivingTuesday. Then you need to follow that with a phone call, handwritten note, or thank you letter.

Send welcome packages to new donors or welcome back messages to current donors. 

#GivingTuesday has a transactional feel to it, although it doesn’t need to. Go the extra mile and do a good job of thanking these donors – both right after they’ve made their donation and throughout the year.

3 Ways to Follow Up with Your Donors After Giving Tuesday

We’re going to skip #GivingTuesday 

Maybe you’ll decide to bypass #GivingTuesday altogether. Remember, other organizations will be participating and your messages will be competing with the onslaught of #GivingTuesday appeals. 

You have an opportunity to stand out here by keeping your fundraising campaign focused on gratitude and relationship building. Year-end is a good time to ramp up your donor communication (examples include thank you messages, holiday greetings, and updates) so people don’t think you’re only asking them for money.

A New Approach to Giving Tuesday: Be different and stand out from the crowd

Give back to your donors

I think you’ll find your #GivingTuesday campaign, or any fundraising campaign, will be more successful if you focus on more than just the giving part. And a big part of a successful campaign is getting repeat donations. This means giving back to your donors, as well.

Read on for more information on how to make #GivingTuesday a better experience for your donors.

TIS THE SEASON: BUT IS GIVING TUESDAY REALLY COMMUNITY-CENTERED?

Giving Tuesday Without Giving Gratitude

3 Things to Include in Your Giving Tuesday Thank You Message

How to make #GivingTuesday more than a gimme

Following Up After #GivingTuesday: 5 Crucial Steps

STANDING OUT IN THE NOISY SPACE OF THE NON-PROFIT SECTOR