Keep Calm and Stay Strong

As summer wanes and we move toward fall, many nonprofit organizations are entering the busiest time of the year as they launch their year-end fundraising campaigns. In the best of times, this is stressful, and we are not in the best of times.

We’re still living in a time of uncertainty. I feel there’s more uncertainty now than last year. In the spring it looked like we were on track to something better and then along comes the Delta variant, not to mention low vaccination rates in some states.

I’m sure your nonprofit organization is still dealing with many challenges. People may have returned to the office and now you’re wondering if that’s safe. You may be falling short of your revenue goals. You may be stressed out figuring out how you’ll pull off your year-end campaign and that’s understandable, but it’s important to keep calm and stay strong.

The need your clients/community face is still there. You can’t raise money if you don’t ask. Donors still want to help if they can.

It’s possible to get through the next few months. Do the best that you can, but make smart choices that will help you succeed.

Plan ahead

My last few posts had a plan-ahead theme. You want to start gearing up for your year-end appeal as soon as possible. This includes figuring out how you’ll thank your donors and getting your website in shape. Now would be a good time to get started.

If this sounds overwhelming, take a deep breath, and start working on a few things each day. Putting together a quality campaign will help you raise more money.

Segment your donors

One aspect of a good fundraising appeal is personalization. You must segment your donors as much as you can. At the very least, segment them by current donors, monthly donors, and people who haven’t donated before.

You’ll have the best luck with people who’ve donated before, and they’re going to want to see a letter that thanks them for their past support.

You can ask past donors to upgrade their gifts. This is an easy way to raise more money, yet many organizations don’t do this because they don’t segment their donors.

Monthly donors are the backbone of many nonprofit organizations and have a retention rate of 90%. Any time you communicate with them you must recognize them as monthly donors. You can ask your monthly donors to upgrade or give an additional donation.

Donors who have supported you before deserve a great appeal letter, and thank you letter too!

Focus on retention 

Donor retention should always be one of your top priorities – before, during, and after your appeal. Remember, your best bet for donations are your current donors. Think about sending a warm-up letter or email to these donors before your next appeal. Don’t ignore them.

Focusing on retention will help during tough economic times. Some donors may not be able to give this year, but maybe they’ll be able to in the future. Keep engaging with them.

A Guide to Donor Retention

Make time for what’s important 

I’m not trying to give you more work. I’m trying to give you better work. You may be saying you don’t have time to do some of these things, but this is important. 

What’s taking so much of your time? Is it meetings you don’t need to have? Are you chasing fundraising sources that don’t make sense? Maybe that online auction or event isn’t worth the time since you don’t raise much money.

Recess time

I just heard a story on the news about how important recess is for kids, especially during these difficult times. Adults need recess, too. Maybe you won’t go out on the playground, but why not?  

There are plenty of things you can do to take care of yourself. Don’t eat lunch in your workspace (at the office or at home). Take breaks! Step away from your screens. Go for a walk, exercise, do yoga, or maybe even take a short nap. I love this phrase – Rest is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. It will make you more productive.

I know there’s a lot going on both at your organization and in the world. Make time for what’s important, take care of yourself, and do the best that you can.

Photo by Marco Verch

Making Connections With Your Monthly Donors

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

10 Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

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

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

Make a plan

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

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

Send something by mail

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

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

Create a video

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

5 Thank You Video Examples to Inspire Your Nonprofit

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

Spruce up those automatic thank you emails

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

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

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

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

Here’s a  better one. 

Thank you for donating to Malala Fund!

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

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

With gratitude, 

Malala Fund

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

Get noticed with an enticing subject line

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

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

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

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

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

Keep your donors engaged with good content

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

Get personal

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

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

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

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

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

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

Some Important Investments That Can Help You Raise More Money

Your nonprofit organization may have cut some expenses over the past year. When times are tough, some organizations, especially small ones with limited resources, veer towards trimming, with the mindset “we can’t afford this.”

Use caution before you nix something you think you can’t afford. It may be something you should be investing in.

This doesn’t mean going wild with your budget. You need to make good investments. Here are a few areas you should be investing more money in. The good news is, if you do it right, these investments will help you raise more money.

Invest in a good CRM/database

Plain and simple, a good CRM (customer relationship management)/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 a 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.

In short, you can do a lot with a good CRM/database. Invest in the best one you can afford, and Excel is not a database.

Nonprofit Software

Invest in direct mail

You may not have used direct mail that much over the last year when many workplaces were closed and the mail was unreliable. But some organizations were never or rarely using it before the pandemic.

If that’s the case for you, you’re missing out on an effective and more personal way to communicate with your donors. Think of the enormous 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.

Yes, direct mail is more expensive, but 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 letters/cards; Thanksgiving, holiday, or Valentine’s Day cards; infographic postcards; two to four-page newsletters; and annual/progress reports. You could put a donation envelope in your newsletter to raise some additional revenue, but do not 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. Case in point, the 55-page annual report I received last month.

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.

Why Direct Mail is Your Best Option to Raise Funds Right Now (With Examples)

Turbocharge Your Direct Mail and Digital

Invest in donor communications

By donor communications I mean thank you letters/notes, newsletters, and other updates. Some organizations don’t prioritize these and want to spend their time “raising money.” They don’t seem to realize they can raise more money with better donor communications. Remember this cycle – ask, thank, report, repeat.

Don’t skimp on your communications budget. Creating thank you cards and infographic postcards is a good investment and a necessity, not a luxury. Thank you cards are a much better investment than mailing labels and other useless swag.

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 with professional looking templates for your e-newsletter and other updates.

5 ELEMENTS OF A STELLAR DONOR COMMUNICATIONS PLAN THAT BUILDS DONOR LOYALTY

Speaking of unrestricted funding 

We need to stop treating overhead or infrastructure as something bad. Some funders want us to spend our budget on programs, but how can we successfully run our programs if we don’t have enough staff and can barely afford to pay the people we do have? A rotating door of development staff makes it hard to maintain those important relationships. Even though some people may be working from home, we still have rent and other expenses.

Until these funders stop worrying so much about overhead, you may want to invest some time in finding unrestricted funding sources – often individual gifts, including major gifts.

Don’t limit yourself by saying you can’t afford certain expenses. If you make the right investments, you should be able to raise more money.

Photo by  CreditScoreGeek.com

How to Engage Donors to Keep Them Giving Year After Year

By Korrin Bishop

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

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

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

1. Send a Timely Thank You

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

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

2. Send a Welcome Package

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

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

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

3. Make Use of Surveys

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

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

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

4. Make Use of Donor Data

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

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

5. Regularly Show Impact

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

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

6. Encourage Recurring Donations

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Don’t Ask Them to Give Too Often

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

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

8. Get Them Involved in Other Ways

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

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

9. Surprise & Delight

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

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

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

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

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

Why Monthly Giving Makes Sense

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

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

Monthly giving helps you raise more money

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

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

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

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

It raises your retention rate, too

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

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

These are long-term donors

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

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

How to get started

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

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

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

Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

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

Make monthly giving the go-to option

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

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

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

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

Make your monthly donors feel special

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

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

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

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

You could spruce up these monthly acknowledgments, both by not making them sound like they were written by a robot and by providing some engaging updates.

One thing you should do is send your donors an annual summary of their monthly gifts. This is extremely helpful for people who itemize deductions. Make this letter more than just a receipt. Thank your donors and let them know how their monthly donations are helping you make a difference.

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

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

Best Practices For Recognizing, Thanking And Retaining Monthly Donors

Reach out at least once a month

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

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

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

Include a list of your monthly donors in a newsletter, annual report, or on your website. Donor lists are just one of many ways to show appreciation and not the only one, so do much more than just that. Of course, honor any donor’s wish to remain anonymous.

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

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

Go all out for your monthly donors

I highly recommend a contact person for your monthly donors in case they need to update their credit card information or make a change to their gift, hopefully an upgrade. Include this information in their welcome letter or email. I wanted to upgrade one of my monthly donations recently and the organization made it really easy by including a link in their monthly acknowledgment email. Yes, these emails can be useful.

Another way to help out your monthly donors is to let them know when their credit cards are about to expire. Don’t rely on your donors to remember this, because most likely they won’t, especially now. You also don’t want to miss out on any revenue. Remember, small donations add up.

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

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

Once a monthly donor, always a monthly donor

Once someone becomes a monthly donor, you must always recognize them as such. You most certainly should send fundraising appeals to monthly donors, but not the same ones you send to other donors.

I think the best way to raise additional money from monthly donors is to ask them to upgrade their monthly gift. Be as specific as possible. For example – We’re so happy you’re part of our family of monthly donors and are grateful for your gift of $5.00 a month. We’re serving triple the number of people at the community food bank right now. Could you help us out a little more with a gift of $7.00 or even $10.00 a month?

You can also ask monthly donors for an additional gift during one of your fundraising campaigns, but you MUST recognize they’re monthly donors – We really appreciate your gift of $10 a month. Could you help us out a little more right now with an additional gift? We need to run our tutoring program virtually for the time being and we want to continue serving as many students as we can.

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

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

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

Moving Away from Transactional Fundraising

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

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

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

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

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

Stop using transactional language

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

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

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

“Your Recurring Donation Receipt” 

“Payment Receipt” 

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

Contrast those with these ones that really emphasize their appreciation.

“Thank you for your generous gift”

“You are wonderful!”

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

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

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

Make relationship building part of your fundraising campaigns

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

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

Segment your donors

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

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

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

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

Create an attitude of gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships

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

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

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

Have a relationship-building day

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

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

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

Giving Tuesday: What if it was called Living Schmoozeday?

Build relationships all year round

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

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

Some Insights From 2020 to Bring Into the New Year

I hope everyone had a safe holiday. I’m sure you’re relieved 2020 is over, although uncertainty will stay with us for a while.

No doubt this past year brought a lot of challenges to your nonprofit. Even so, many organizations were able, for lack of a better word, to pivot and make changes to the way they ran their programs. 

Donations to nonprofits increased in the first half of the year. Hopefully, your organization was the beneficiary of some generous donors. That would have required you to continue fundraising and not pull back.

The pandemic and other outcomes from 2020, such as the economic downturn and a heightened awareness of systemic racism, have opened our eyes and taught us a lot. I hope we continue to learn from this as we progress through 2021.

We’ve also gained insight on better ways to do fundraising and communications. Here are some insights from the past year that we can take into 2021 and future years.

Make a plan, but be prepared to make changes

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

If you had plans in place last year, you know you had to start making changes in March, but you did have a plan. Perhaps you had a gala or walkathon planned for the spring and you made those virtual. Maybe you ran an emergency fundraising campaign. Organizations that were able to make changes to a plan already in place were most successful.

Take a look back at 2020 to see what worked and what didn’t in your fundraising and communications. Incorporate what you’ve learned into your 2021 plans. 

Since we’re entering another year of uncertainty, make a plan to change your plans as the year progresses. Most likely you still won’t be able to do a large in-person event in the spring, but you might able to in the fall. If you can’t, make sure you have a contingency plan in place. And don’t stop fundraising!

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

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

How to Prepare a Nonprofit Fundraising Plan

10 ELEMENTS FOR FUNDRAISING PLANNING – 2020-21

How NOT to Make a Fundraising Plan

Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template: 9 Simple Steps to Achieve Your Goal

A step-by-step guide to creating a nonprofit communications strategy

Donors are heroes

The pandemic has shown us the world is full of heroes, such as health care professionals and other essential workers. Donors are also heroes because you could not have gotten through the last year without them. Think of who came through for you. Most likely, it was long-term donors. 

This is why donor retention is so important and needs to be a priority. We’ve known this for a long time, but you’ll have more success if you work to keep the donors you already have instead of focusing on getting new ones.

Keep track of your retention rate. If it’s low, it’s something you can fix, usually with better communication. 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.

A Guide to Donor Retention

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.

The Importance of Making Your New Donors Feel Welcome

Whether a donor has supported you for 10 years or is brand new, they are heroes. Please don’t forget that.

3 Steps to Light Up Your Donor Engagement Strategy Through COVID-19 and Beyond

Monthly giving is the way to go

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 was especially crucial this past year. 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 also stepped up and gave additional donations last year.

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.

How Monthly Giving is a Win-Win for Your Nonprofit

Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

Better communication makes a difference

I’d like to see us say goodbye to boring, generic communication. This past year donors saw real people with real problems in real time. They turned on the news and saw long lines at food banks. They read about theatres and museums that had to shut their doors to patrons.

It makes a difference if you can put things in human terms. Organizations that did 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. I know it’s hard right now, but better, more frequent communication will help you raise more money. A communications calendar will help you with this. 

Start the New Year off by making fundraising and communications plans, if you haven’t already done so. Put donor retention and donor engagement front and center. This will help bring you more success in 2021.

The Importance of Making Your New Donors Feel Welcome

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

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

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

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

Start with a special thank you

Go the extra mile when you thank your new donors.

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

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

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

Create a welcome plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you doing now to welcome new donors?

How to Create an Effective New Donor Welcome Series

Anatomy of a Stellar First-Time Donor Welcome Packet

Who are your new donors?

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

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

Make your current donors feel special, too

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

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

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

Keep it up throughout the year

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

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

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

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

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

A few weeks ago I mentioned one of the themes for your fundraising and communications this year should be this is more important than ever. I don’t need to remind you we’re not living in normal times.

I know you have a lot going on and it may be tempting to send all your donors the same appeal and thank you letter. Don’t do that. 

Your donors are not the same. Some donors have given for at least five years (these donors should get a lot of attention). Some are monthly donors. Yet, nonprofit organizations fail to recognize that and send everyone a one-size-fits-all letter. 

This is why you need to segment your donors. If you don’t segment your donors and send different letters to different types of donors, you’re telling them you don’t recognize them for who they are.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to create 100 different types of letters. Four or five should be sufficient. Your appeal and thank you letter will stand out if it’s not the same old, same old.

Here are a few different types of donor groups. Feel free to add more if that’s relevant. The more you can segment, the better. Investing in a good database will help you with this.

Current single gift donors

One of the biggest hurdles nonprofits face is ensuring first-time donors give a second time. If they keep giving after that, they’re showing their commitment to your organization. Don’t blow it by ignoring this.

An appeal letter to current single gift donors (Monthly donors get their own appeal. More on that below.) must acknowledge their past support. This is also a good opportunity to ask for an upgrade. Many organizations don’t do this, but it’s a good way to increase your revenue. Even in a pandemic and economic downturn, it’s okay to ask donors to give a little more. They will if they can.

If these donors give again, they should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter letting them know how much you appreciate their continued support. If they’ve upgraded their gift, acknowledge that, too. 

Potential/new single gift donors

If you’re sending an appeal to someone who’s never donated to your nonprofit before, what is your connection to them? Are they volunteers, event attendees, or people on a list you purchased?

The more you can establish a connection, the better chance you have of getting a donation.

The retention rate for first-time donors is terrible. One of the reasons is poor communication. You can help boost your retention rate by making your new donors feel special.

New donors should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter welcoming them as donors. Invite them to connect with you in other ways such as signing up for your newsletter, following you on social media, or volunteering.

Then a week or so later, send them a welcome packet by mail or email. Personalization is crucial with new donors.

Are We Sure An Automated Email Welcome Series For New Donors Is A Good Idea?

New monthly donors

Brand new donors who opt for monthly or other recurring donations get the same special thank you treatment mentioned above. Welcome them to your family of monthly donors. 

Current monthly donors

Your current monthly donors must get their own appeal that recognizes them as monthly donors. In this appeal, you can either ask them to upgrade their gift or give an additional year-end gift. 

When your donors renew or upgrade their monthly gifts, they, of course, get a super fabulous thank you.

Current donors who become monthly donors

Your current donors who decide to become monthly donors are also showing their commitment to you. They get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter thanking them for their continued support and for joining your family of monthly donors. From now on they should get specialized appeals and other communication targeted to monthly donors. 

Segmenting your donors can pay off

In this down economy, some donors may cut back on their giving. Don’t let them choose between organizations that communicate throughout the year with engaging, personalized appeals, thank yous, and updates and organizations who just send generic, one-size-fits-all communications.

You need your donors. Spending extra time segmenting your donors and personalizing your communications will be worth it if you can raise additional revenue and boost your retention rate.

4 Smart Donor Segmentation Strategies for Nonprofits

11 Ways To Segment Your Donors To Improve Your Fundraising

How to Effectively Segment Your Donors and Audiences 

Do the Best that You Can

Times are tough now and there’s so much uncertainty. Everyone is feeling it. I’m sure your nonprofit organization has been dealing with many challenges over the last several months.

Even though it’s hard, you need to keep going. If you haven’t been fundraising or have done very little of it, you’ll need to unless you have a good amount of reserve funding, which many organizations don’t.

If you’re wondering whether or not you should run your fall fundraising campaign, here are a couple of things to keep in mind. You can’t raise money if you don’t ask. Also, what would happen if your organization didn’t exist?  

The need your clients/community face is still there and has most likely increased. And while social and human service organizations are vital, arts and culture organizations are also important for the community. 

We need our nonprofit organizations to succeed.

You can do this! Just do the best that you can and that may mean going smaller in some instances. 

Quality counts

You want to get started on your year-end campaign as soon as possible. Now would be good. One of the first things you should do is figure out what worked and what didn’t from past campaigns. 

I wrote about getting ready for your year-end campaign in a previous post. You want to produce quality fundraising appeals and thank you letters. Don’t use the same templates you’ve used in the past. You must address the current situations. I’ll have more on this in future posts.

It’s worth the time and effort to craft a stellar appeal because it should help you raise more money.

Segment your donors

One aspect of a good appeal letter is personalization. You must segment your donors as much as you can. At the very least, segment them by current donors, monthly donors, and people who haven’t donated before.

You’ll have the best luck with people who’ve donated before and they’re going to want to see a letter that thanks them for their past support.

Monthly donors are the backbone of many nonprofit organizations and have a retention rate of 90%. Any time you communicate with them you must recognize them as monthly donors. You can ask your monthly donors to upgrade or give an additional donation.

Donors who have supported you before deserve a great appeal letter, and thank you letter too!

Mail your letters if you can

You should try to mail your appeal letters if you can. This is a proven way to raise money. I know mail can be expensive and who knows what’s going on with the post office. Everyone may have to work remotely again later this fall. I hope that’s not the case. Do your part to keep COVID at bay.

If cost is an issue, you could just mail letters to current donors and monthly donors and send email to other donor groups. Think segmentation! 

This is a good opportunity to look at your previous fundraising campaigns. If you have people on your mailing list who have never given or haven’t given for a while, it’s probably in your best interest not to mail them a letter. For lapsed donors who haven’t given for more than three years, you could send them a targeted letter or email telling them you miss them and want them back. If that doesn’t produce results, consider moving them to an inactive file. 

Focus on donors who will be more likely to give.

An electronic campaign can work

If it’s impossible to mail your appeals, run a high-quality email campaign with lots of reminders, but not so many that you overwhelm your donors. Think quality, not quantity. Don’t make it like the onslaught of political emails I’m getting now.

Use enticing subject lines and the amazing appeal you’re going to create. Many organizations ran successful electronic campaigns in the spring when the pandemic broke out so this is something that can work. 

These organizations were able to access their CRM/database remotely and you want to make sure you can do that.

If you can only do electronic thank yous right now, make them sparkle. You could make a thank you video, photo, or word cloud. And remember, thanking your donors isn’t a one and done deal. Keep thanking them throughout the year. 

Use this opportunity to see what channels your donors are using. Maybe social media makes sense for you, maybe it doesn’t. Also, consider calling some of your longer-term donors, especially if they don’t use email.

Focus on retention 

Donor retention should always be one of your top priorities – before, during, and after your appeal. Remember, your best bet for donations are your current donors.

Focusing on retention will help during the economic downturn. Some donors may not be able to give this year, but maybe they’ll be able to in the future. Keep engaging with them.

Retention: Still Your Best Strategy

Make time for what’s important and take care of yourself

I know there’s a lot going on both at your organization and in the world. Make time for what’s important, take care of yourself, and do the best that you can.