Improve Your Fundraising and Communications by Segmenting Your Donors

Do you send all your donors the same appeal and thank you letter? Do you also feel your appeals aren’t bringing you the donations you need?

Hmm, there may be a correlation here. If you’re not segmenting your donors into different groups, you’re missing a chance to raise more money and let your donors know you recognize them for who they are.

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 the same letter. 

I often receive generic, one-size-fits-all communication from organizations that don’t acknowledge I’m a longtime donor or recognize that I’m a monthly donor. Um, hello!

These organizations are missing opportunities to do a better job of connecting with their donors. Unfortunately, this happens way too often.

Don’t you think it’s time to start segmenting your donors? If you’re already segmenting your donors, kudos to you!

You may be worried about how much time this will take. Plus, you don’t think your current CRM/database can handle it and it will cost too much to get a better one. 

In reality, it may cost you more not to segment. A good CRM/database is worth the investment. Segmenting your donors will help you with retention, which costs less than trying to find new donors. 

You also don’t need to create a 100 different types of letters. Four or five should be sufficient. Your appeals and thank you letters will stand out if you can personalize them and not send everyone the same generic letter.

Here are a few different types of donor groups to help get you started. Remember, investing in a good CRM/database will help you with this.

Current single gift donors

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.

Your donors will be more receptive to upgrading their gifts if you’ve been doing a good job of thanking them and staying in touch throughout the year.

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, be sure to 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 horrible. 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, and volunteering.

Then a week or so later, send them a welcome package by mail or email. Personalization is crucial with new 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. That’s why the second gift is called a golden donation. Don’t blow it by ignoring this.

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 gift. 

When your donors renew or upgrade their monthly gifts, they, of course, get an amazing 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 communications targeted to monthly donors. 

Segment as much as you can

While I’ve suggested a few ways you can segment, there are many more options. You can segment by gift amount and number of years someone has been a donor. You can segment volunteers, event attendees, and non-donors. You can also use segmentation in other types of communications, such as creating a special newsletter for monthly donors (or at the very least including a cover letter for monthly donors with your newsletter) and sending handwritten thank you notes to donors who have given for over two years.

Segmenting your donors makes a difference

As we continue to navigate through uncertain times, 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 that just send generic, one-size-fits-all communications. People like personal connection.

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

In a future post, I’ll highlight specific ways segmenting your donors can help you raise more money.

Let Your Donors Know How Much You Appreciate Them

Year-end fundraising season is underway. You may have started working on your appeal, which is great. But don’t stop there. It’s just as important, if not more important, to plan how you’ll thank your donors. 

I highly recommend creating a thank you plan, which will help you show gratitude before, during, and after a campaign. 

Many organizations treat thanking their donors as an afterthought and it shows. You can’t do that. It will hurt your chances to get future donations. If someone gives to your organization, they deserve to be showered with appreciation. 

There are many ways to thank your donors after an appeal – by mail, phone, email, on your website, or a combination of those. The more you can do, the better.

Thanking your donors is something you need to do well. Don’t shortchange your donors with a lame, generic thank you.

Make thanking your donors a priority. Here are a few ways to do a better job of thanking your donors. 

Start planning now

Don’t wait until the day after your appeal goes out. Give yourself plenty of time to plan. Write your thank you letter at the same time you write your appeal. Remember, things often take longer than you think.

Figure out what you’ll be able to do. I highly recommend a handwritten note or phone call. Can you do that for all your donors? If not, maybe you’ll break it down by new donors, long-time donors, or donors who have given a certain amount.

I understand that handwritten notes and phone calls may be hard to do right now. At the very least, your donors should get a letter, even if they’ve donated online. Whatever you decide, remember to get started on the content now. 

In the past, the standard was to send thank you letters within 48 hours. If that’s too hard to do now, don’t wait much longer than a week. Make sure you’re ready to go when the donations come in. 

Make your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you note

I love it when a nonprofit sends a handwritten thank you note. This is a rare occurrence, so if you do it, your thank you note will stand out in your donor’s mailbox.

Handwritten notes are great in many ways, but one advantage is you don’t have to write that much. In fact, you can do one in just a few minutes.

You could make thank you cards with an engaging photo or buy some nice thank you cards. Get together a team of board members, staff, and volunteers right after your appeal goes out to help you with this.

Think about how much your donors will appreciate this nice gesture. Here’s a sample note.

Dear Jill,

Thank you so much for upgrading your gift to $75. We’re still seeing more people coming into the Northside Community Food Pantry. Rising food prices are making it difficult for many families to afford groceries. Your generous gift will help a lot. We’re so happy you’ve been a donor these past five years.

Phone calls are another personal way to show gratitude

Calling first-time donors is known to improve retention rates. But you could also call long-time donors to make them feel special.

Again, you want to get a team together to help. This is a great thing for your board to do. You may need to do a short training first. Here’s a sample phone script.

Hi Steve, this is Lisa Walsh and I’m a board member at the Northside Community Food Pantry. Thank you so much for your generous donation of $50 and welcome to our donor family. Your gift will help feed more local families right now. Many of them are struggling due to rising food prices.

Write an incredible thank you letter

If it’s impossible to send handwritten notes or make phone calls, you can still impress your donors with an incredible thank you letter. Many thank you letters aren’t incredible at all and are mediocre at best. You’ll have an advantage if you take some time to create a great, donor-centered letter.

The purpose of a thank you letter is to thank your donors. Keep that in mind at all times.  

Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization…. If you’re sending it on your letterhead, it should be obvious it’s coming from your organization. Instead, start your letter with – Thank you, You’re amazing, or You did something great today!

You also don’t need to explain what your organization does. This often comes across as bragging by saying something like – As you know, X organization has been doing great work in the community for 20 years…. Someone who’s donated to your organization should already be familiar with what you do. 

And, don’t ask for another gift in your thank you letter. You did that in your appeal letter. You can ask again another time. Always keep gratitude front and center.

Write separate thank you letters for different types of donors. Welcome new donors and welcome back your current donors. Monthly donors should also get special recognition.

Your thank you letter needs to make your donors feel good about giving to your organization. Let them know how their gift is helping you make a difference. Include a brief story or example. Make it relevant to our current situations.

As with all writing, make your letter personal and conversational. Write to the donor using you much more than we and leave out jargon and any other language your donors won’t understand. Also, you must address your donors by name – not Dear Friend.

A few other ways to make your letter stand out are to use a colored envelope or include a teaser that says Thank You!, and use a nice stamp (You can buy thank you stamps). Hand address the envelopes and include a handwritten note inside that will help make it more personal. You could also include an engaging photo in the letter.

Yes, you do need to include the tax-deductible information, but do that at the end, after you impress your donors with your letter, or include it on a separate page. It’s easiest to include this with the thank you letter or email. Then you don’t have to send it again unless your donor requests it.

Create a more personal online thank you

The thank you plan I reference above gives you advice on how to create better thank you landing pages and email acknowledgments. These often come across as transactional. You need to think of the donations you receive as the start or continuation of a relationship, not a transaction.

Remember, even though your online donors will get an electronic acknowledgment, they should still get thanked by mail or phone.

With all the uncertainty that’s going on, it’s crucial to do a good job of thanking your donors, both now and throughout the year. 

Keep reading for more advice on letting your donors know how much you appreciate them.

Guide to thanking donors

How to Thank and Retain Year-End Donors

Sample Phrases You Can Use to Thank Your Donors

How You Can Create a Thank You Plan

Thanking your donors is just as important, if not more important than fundraising. Yet many organizations spend a lot of time putting together a fundraising campaign and treat thanking their donors as an afterthought.

We’re still in a time of uncertainty. While some people have been generous over the last two years, we don’t know how long that will continue.

Prioritizing gratitude and donor relations will help. If you don’t do a good job of thanking your donors, as well as building relationships throughout the year, you’ll have a hard time getting people to people to donate again, which is one of the keys to your success.

This is why having a thank you plan is crucial. It’s not only important when you’re running a fundraising campaign, but also during the “between times.”

Many organizations just thank their donors after they receive a gift and then disappear until the next fundraising appeal. Your donors deserve better than that. 

Thanking your donors is something you need to do throughout the year – at least once a month, if you can. A thank you plan will help you stay focused on gratitude all year round.  

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

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

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it shouldn’t resemble Amazon checkout. It should make a person feel good about giving a donation.

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

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

Plan to write a warm and personal automatic thank you email

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

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

Give some thought to the email subject line, too. At the very least make sure it says Thank You or You did something great today and not anything boring like Your Donation Receipt or Donation Received. And please stop using words like transaction and processed. A donation is not a transaction. It’s the start or continuation of a relationship.

Plan to thank your donors by mail or phone

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

Try to thank your donors within 48 hours or within a week at the latest. It might be hard to do that right now, but it will be easier if you plan to carve out some time to thank your donors each day you get a donation. Remember, thanking your donors should be a priority. If you wait too long, you’re not making a good impression.

Instead of sending the usual generic thank you letter, mail a handwritten card or call your donors. Making thank you calls or writing thank you notes is something your board can do. 

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

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

Hi Ben, this is Laura Kramer and I’m a board member at the Riverside Community Food Bank. I’m calling to thank you for your generous donation of $50. Thanks to you, we can continue to provide neighborhood families with healthy food. This is great. We’re seeing more people come in right now because of rising food costs, so we really appreciate your support.

You’ll stand out if you can send a handwritten thank you card. I get a few of these a year and they tend to come from the same organizations, which shows you what they prioritize! 

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal and heartfelt letter. If you’ve been using the same letter template for a while, take time to freshen it up. Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization, we thank you for your donation of…. 

Open your letter with You’re incredible or Because of you, the Sanders family can finally move into their own home. Create separate letters for new donors, renewing donors, and monthly donors.

Add a personal handwritten note to the letter, preferably something that pertains to that particular donor. For example, if the donor has given before, mention that. Hand sign the letters, if you can.

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

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

Plan to keep thanking your donors all year round

This is where having a thank you plan makes a difference because as I mentioned before – thanking your donors is something you must do all year round.

You can use your communications calendar to incorporate ways to thank your donors, but why not go one step further and create a specific thank you calendar?

Remember to try to say thank you at least once a month. Here are some ways to do that. 

  • Send cards or email messages at Thanksgiving, during the holidays, on Valentine’s Day, or mix it up a little and send a note of gratitude in June or September when your donors may not be expecting it. Try to send at least one or two gratitude messages a year by mail, since your donors will be more likely to see those. And you don’t need a holiday or special occasion to thank your donors. Thank them just because….
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories, as well as how the current situations are impacting your work. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude. Be sure to keep thanking your donors in your newsletter and other updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without your donors’ support.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your thank you landing page, by email, and on social media. Go one step further and personalize it. 
  • Send a warm-up letter or email about a month before your next campaign (no ask). This is a great way to show appreciation BEFORE you send your appeals.
  • COVID makes it tricky to plan an open house or tours right now, but you could do something virtual to let your donors see your nonprofit up close and personal. Also, a virtual gathering or tour may be easier to pull off. 
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors. You can repeat some of the ones listed above over the year.

The tactics that work best are going to differ for each organization. I would definitely send something by mail a few times a year. Email and social media may not be as successful, especially if your donors don’t use electronic communication very much. You could survey them to find out their communication preferences, as well as their interests. This will help with your engagement.

Creating a thank you plan will make it easier to keep showing appreciation to your donors all year round. You need your donors right now, so don’t hold back on that always-important gratitude.

Your Nonprofit Newsletter Should Engage Your Donors, Not Bore Them

A newsletter can be a great way to engage with your donors. Unfortunately, that doesn’t often happen because most donor newsletters can put you right to sleep. They’re too long and filled with boring articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

The good news is you can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s what you need to do.

Think about what your donors want

You need to include content that will interest your donors. You also need to reference the current situations. Do you think your donors would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about Marla, a single mother who is having trouble making ends meet, but is grateful she can get food for her family at the Eastside Community food bank? 

The answer should be obvious. Your donors want to hear about how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.

If you’re a larger organization, you could create different newsletters for different programs or one specifically for monthly donors.

Don’t shy away from a print newsletter 

You may opt not to do a print newsletter because it’s expensive and takes too much time, but you’re making a mistake if many of your donors prefer print.

I think you’ll have more success if you can do both print and electronic newsletters. I recommend a short e-newsletter once or twice a month and one to four print newsletters a year.

Many organizations put a donation envelope in their print newsletter. This is a proven way to raise additional money and you may be able to recoup your expenses.

You can also save money by creating a shorter print newsletter (maybe two pages instead of four) or only mailing once or twice a year. You can print them in-house, as long as it looks professional.

Be sure you have a clean mailing list. If you can get rid of duplicate and undeliverable addresses, that’s another way to save a little money.

Donors are more likely to read a print newsletter. But ask them what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer print, then you need to find a way to accommodate them.

Share your stories

Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell.

Client stories are best, but you could also do profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Focus on what drew them to your mission (more on that below).

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

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

Don’t stray from your mission

A common article I see in many nonprofit newsletters is one about a foundation or major donor giving a large gift. This may be accompanied by a picture of someone holding a giant check. Of course, you should recognize these donors (and all donors), but why is this gift important? How will it help your clients/community?

For example – This generous $50,000 grant from the Eastside Community Foundation will help us serve more students in our tutoring program. Many students have fallen behind since the pandemic started.

Something else I see a lot is a profile of a new board member. Instead of focusing so much on their professional background, let your donors know what drew them to your organization. We welcome Lisa Clark, Vice President of First National Bank, to our board. Lisa has a brother with autism and is very passionate about finding ways for people with autism to live independent lives. 

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped Marla feed her family or Because of donors like you, X number of families have been able to get healthy food every week. 

Leave out the jargon and other language your donors won’t understand. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.

I’m not a fan of the letter from the CEO because those tend to be organization-centered instead of donor-centered.  

Pour on the gratitude 

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. Many donors have stepped up over the last two years and they deserve to be thanked as often as possible. Every one of your newsletters needs to show gratitude and emphasize how much you appreciate your donors.

Make it easy to read (and scan)

Most of your donors aren’t going to read your newsletter word for word, especially your e-newsletter. Include enticing headlines and email subject lines (if you don’t, your donors may not read it at all), at least a 12-point font, and lots of white space so your donors can easily scan your newsletter.

Stick to black type on a white background as much as possible. Colors are pretty, but not if it’s hindering your donor’s ability to read your newsletter. Photos can be a great way to add some color, as well as tell a story in an instant.

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

Keep it short

Your print newsletter should be no more than four pages. Limit your monthly e-newsletter to four articles. Some organizations send an e-newsletter twice a month. Those should be even shorter – maybe just two articles. People have a lot going on and don’t want to be bombarded with too much information.

Do the best you can

For some of you, putting together a newsletter may be too much to take on right now. You don’t have to do an actual newsletter, but you do need to keep your donors updated.

Do what you can, but be sure to update your donors at least once a month. You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent email updates and postcards with an infographic a few times a year.

Create an engaging newsletter that won’t bore your donors.

Keep reading for more information on how to create a great donor newsletter.

Nonprofit Donor Newsletters | Print or Enews?

Worthwhile Nonprofit Newsletters: Content Donors Adore 

Tips for Using your Nonprofit Newsletter to Get More Donations Without Even Asking

10 Nonprofit Newsletter Ideas and Examples to Save for Later

A Fundraiser’s Guide to Measuring Donor Engagement

By Ally Smith

Donor engagement is vital to nonprofit success. By donating, volunteering, and spreading the word about your organization, donors fuel your nonprofit mission. 

As a fundraiser, you need to increase donor engagement, and the only way to do that is by tracking engagement metrics and monitoring your success. This article will show you four metrics for measuring donor engagement and tell you why they’re important for your fundraising team. 

Why is Measuring Donor Engagement Important?

Every phone call, donation, and click on your website is a part of your nonprofit’s donor engagement strategy. 

Effective donor engagement increases donor retention. Retaining donors is one of the best ways to increase fundraising efficiency because it’s much cheaper than acquiring new donors. In fact, acquiring a new donor costs about ten times more than retaining a donor.

Additionally, nonprofits retain about 52% of their engaged repeat donors. Increasing donor engagement can motivate a donor to give a second gift and keep them donating. 

However, before you improve your donor retention, you need to track metrics that tell you the effectiveness of your engagement strategies. These metrics will help you understand how engaged your donor base is and help you identify areas for improvement. 

Four Key Donor Engagement Metrics 

  1. RFM Analysis

The RFM analysis model is a method of measuring engagement levels by scoring donor contributions across three dimensions: recency, frequency, and monetary value. 

Recency of Donations 

The “recency” dimension is the amount of time that’s transpired since a donor’s last gift. First, you’ll need to determine what “recent” is for your organization. Many organizations assign their highest scores to donors who have given within the last six months. 

Having too short of a “recent” period would pressure fundraisers to solicit donations too frequently, which would result in lower donation amounts and higher donor turnover.

Frequency of Donations 

How often does a donor give? The more often a donor gives is a great indicator of how engaged they are. For example, someone who gives monthly would likely be more engaged than someone who gives sporadically every few years. The highest frequency scores are assigned to your most consistently active donors. 

Monetary Value of Donations 

How much money is a donor giving? The more a donor contributes to your nonprofit, the higher the monetary score they’ll receive. Similar to how every nonprofit has a different definition of a major gift, every organization will have a different threshold for its monetary scores.

Once you have scored your donors’ contributions across each dimension, you need to combine their scores and consider the results. 

For example, if you only look at monetary value, you may think that someone who donates $500 is more engaged than someone giving $20. However, if that person gives $20 every month for a few years, they are likely more engaged. RFM analysis helps you develop a holistic understanding of donor engagement.

To help you create your own, here’s an example of what an RFM analysis scorecard should look like: 

Once you’ve developed a scorecard that’s right for your organization, you can score each donor. For example, a donor that’s given in the last six months, given four gifts in a year, and given an average of $150, would receive a score of 5-4-4. 

Then, you can group donors with similar scores to create donor segments. This will allow you to tailor your engagement efforts to specific donor groups. For example, you can send more frequent appeals to the donor group’s frequency score that you want to increase. 

Additionally, you can observe how the distribution of your segments changes over time to determine if your engagement strategies are working. 

  1. Fundraising Participation Rate 

There are many ways to measure donor engagement beyond just tracking donation activity. 

For example, donors can participate in campaigns by becoming a fundraiser themselves. This engagement is important to measure because peer-to-peer fundraising is becoming more popular. Facebook fundraising grew by 14% in 2021

Fundraiser Participation Rate tells you the percentage of donors who fundraised on your behalf by doing things such as being sponsored in a charity run, soliciting door-to-door, or accepting donations as birthday presents. 

You can measure this metric using the following equation: 

(# of P2P Fundraisers ÷ # of Donors) x 100 = Fundraiser Participation Rate

The higher you can make this percentage, the better. A high fundraising participation rate tells you that your donors are highly engaged because they are willing to take time out of their busy days to grow support for your cause. 

  1. Social Media Metrics 

Social media engagement does not always mean donor engagement, just look at Unicef Sweden’s ad calling out “slacktivism”. Very bold!

But, if you are tracking the right social media metrics, they can help you measure donor engagement. We recommend focusing on conversion rates that tell you when social media engagement actually leads to donations. 

A great place to start is by tracking how many donations come directly from social media. Luckily, most social media platforms will be able to tell you your conversion rate.

However, you’ll also want to know how many people get to your website’s donation page from a social media post. You can track this using Google Analytics. 

To get started, there are lots of helpful Google Analytics resources for monitoring traffic that comes from social media. For example, check out Whole Whale’s video, which gives a great overview of Google Analytics for nonprofits. 

  1. Major Donor Contact Frequency

Measuring contact frequency tracks your touchpoints with a major donor or major donor prospect. Many interactions need to occur between meeting a potential donor and receiving a donation. These donor interactions are a part of donor relationship building and should be tracked to help you understand your progress towards a gift. 

You can track this as a metric by determining how many touchpoints you have with a donor in a given time period, such as a year or six months. Then, in your donor database or spreadsheet, track every communication you have with your major donor prospects, whether it’s a phone call or an email blast with a donation form attached. 

Not all contact efforts are created equal, so you may want to score communications differently. For example, if you have lunch with a donor, it may be worth five touchpoints, compared to an e-blast worth one. 

You can measure this metric using the following equation: 

(# of Touchpoints ÷ # of Months) = Major Donor Contact Frequency

While there’s no clear benchmark for Major Donor Contact Frequency, use your most engaged major donors’ scores as targets for success. And as always, don’t forget to use your fundraising common sense; if a donor doesn’t want to be contacted a lot, don’t contact them. 

—– 

As a fundraiser, you understand the value of building a deep and meaningful relationship with each donor. However, you can only tell how strong a relationship you’ve built is by tracking engagement indicators. Hopefully, these four metrics give you a good place to start!

Author Bio

Ally Smith | Content Writer at KIT

With a passion for nonprofit innovation, Ally has spent her career helping build community capacity and supporting social innovation as a customer success manager turned, youth worker, turned social researcher.

After leaving the tech start-up landscape, she pursued a Master’s in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership and has since supported nonprofits to innovate and grow. A Canadian ex-pat and social entrepreneur based in Edinburgh, she enjoys hiking, baking bread in a panic, and pursuing the full Scottish experience- rain and rugby included!

What Casablanca Can Teach Us About Nonprofit Organizations

Casablanca is one of my favorite movies. I’ve seen it many, many times and I always discover something new in that wonderful script. This year it turns 80 and with a few exceptions, it’s still very relevant now.

Over the past several years, the story of refugees fleeing Europe mirrored what was going on in other parts of the world. Now we have a new set of refugees and the storyline of the Germans invading France parallels what’s going on in Ukraine.

If you haven’t seen the movie, and I highly recommend it, here’s a synopsis. Warning – does contain spoilers. Even if you haven’t seen it, you’re probably familiar with many of the quotes.

Here are a few Casablanca quotes that can apply to nonprofit organizations.

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

One of the most important words in nonprofit communication is you. When you write to donors and other supporters, you need to write directly to them. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen as often as it should.

I just received an annual report from an organization that was quite liberal with its use of the word you. Hats off to them because most annual reports go heavy on organization-centered language. 

Here are a few examples.

You’re feeding kids today.

You gave more students access to school nutrition.

On the front line, you helped the helpers.

As fundraising expert Tom Ahern says, “You is glue.” Writing directly to your readers, using you much more than we, helps establish important connections. No one wants to hear you brag about yourself.

Do Your Donor Communications Pass the “You” Test?

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

There are a plethora of nonprofit organizations out there that your donors can choose from, but they chose yours. Once they have, your goal should be to keep them for a long time. 

Unfortunately, many organizations spend a good deal of time on getting donors, but not on keeping them.

“Louis, this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

One key to keeping your donors is establishing a relationship with them. Building relationships is just as important as raising money.

Work on keeping your new donors and getting that ever-important second gift, also known as the golden donation. Once you get that second gift, your donors are more likely to keep giving.

Keep that beautiful friendship going!

Fundraising Should be About Building Relationships, Not Making a Transaction

Besides quotes, here are a few scenes and themes from Casablanca that are relevant to nonprofits.

The passion of La Marseilles

My favorite part of Casablanca is the La Marseilles scene. The Germans are singing “Die Wacht am Rhein,” a patriotic German song, when Victor orders the band to start playing “La Marseilles,” the French equivalent. The bar is filled with refugees trying to escape to freedom. They all start singing with such a passion, which moves me every time I see it. 

Nonprofits also have a passion for their work. It would be hard to succeed if you didn’t. Plus, many of your donors are passionate about your cause.

Bring some of this passion into your fundraising letters and other donor communication instead of the usual same old, same old.

On the front lines

Before Rick came to Casablanca, he ran guns to Ethiopia in 1935 and fought in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Even though these countries had their own armies, Rick saw a need and headed to the front lines to help make a difference.

Nonprofit organizations are also out on the front lines. We’re seeing countless nonprofits working with refugees who are fleeing from Ukraine. We’ve seen nonprofits stepping up during the pandemic and also working to combat racism, economic crises, and climate disasters. They’re often going above and beyond what the government and other institutions provide. 

A story of resilience

Throughout the movie, there is an underlying story of resilience. After the two years we’ve been through, resiliency is a common theme. Not that it’s easy, but going through difficult times can make us more resilient.

How to Build Nonprofit Resilience: Three Strategies to Strengthen Organizations

Casablanca has its serious parts, but there’s also romance, intrigue, and a surprising amount of humor. It deserved its Oscar for best screenplay, as well as best picture. You might find it a nice escape from everything that’s going on in the world.

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

Why Monthly Giving is Important for Your Nonprofit Organization

Monthly giving is gaining momentum and that’s a good thing. We want that to continue. 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 is important for your nonprofit, 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 might 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 and 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. Remember, it will help you raise more money, which is even more important during these uncertain times.

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. 

10 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

Put 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.

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

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 making them sound like they were written by a human and not 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 and use this opportunity to connect with your donors. Pour on the gratitude and let them know how their monthly donations are helping you make a difference.

Best Practices For Recognizing, Thanking And Retaining Monthly Donors

Thanking and Retaining Your Monthly Donors

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank 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. Consider personalizing it, if you can. Think about offering a video tour or Zoom discussions for monthly donors.

You could 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 you 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. If you send a monthly acknowledgment email, be sure to include a link where your donor can make changes.

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 expiring credit cards.

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. At the same time, we’re not getting as many people to come in and volunteer. 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 keep running 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. And, if they do give an additional donation, be sure to send thank them for that. Here’s the opening from a great thank you card I just received – “How generous of you to make a gift that goes above and beyond your monthly donations.

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. 

More on monthly giving.

Nonprofit Monthly Giving Programs Don’t Market Themselves

The Ultimate Guide to Monthly Giving Programs (+ Examples)

5 Benefits of Recurring Giving Programs for Nonprofits

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

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.