How You Can Stay Donor-Centered

379714893_a11931e4a0_mMany nonprofits don’t seem to understand what it means to be donor-centered. I think it’s fairly obvious. It means focusing on your donors’ needs and interests, acknowledging them in your letters and other communication, and taking into account that not all donors are the same.

I guess it’s not obvious enough because you see countless examples of generic, organization-centered communication that barely acknowledges the donor.

Your communication suffers if it’s not donor-centered, but you can change that. Before you send your next appeal, thank you letter, or newsletter, run it through this donor-centered checklist.

Fundraising Appeals

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

Thank you letters

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

Newsletters

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

Always think of your donors first

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

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

Read on for more information about staying donor-centered.

Lots of donor-centric sentences for you to steal

Creating a Donor-Centered Appeal Letter: A Makeover!

Donor-Centered Storytelling Boosts Fundraising. Period.

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The Importance of Keeping Things Simple

Keep it -simpleOver the years I’ve come to find the value of keeping things simple. Whether it’s preparing a dish with just a few ingredients or not cramming my schedule with one thing after another.

But keeping it simple doesn’t have to mean a bare bones existence. There’s a Swedish term called lagom (there are also several books about it) meaning everything in moderation or not too much, not too little. It’s definitely a concept I agree with and it’s much needed in our society of too much, too much.

Keeping things simple is also important for your nonprofit communication. Donors are busy and are receiving an abundance of messages from a variety of sources.

You don’t want to get bogged down with a bunch of complex content. Here are a few ways to simplify your communication.

Keep it simple by sticking to one call to action

Your communication needs to be clear. Before you send an email message or letter, ask what is your intention? Is it to ask for a donation, say thank you, invite someone to an event, or recruit volunteers?

Stick to one call to action. If you ask for a donation, try to recruit volunteers, and invite someone to an event all in the same message, it’s likely your donors won’t respond to any of your requests.

In your fundraising appeals, don’t bury your ask. Start with a story, followed by a clear, polite ask. Recognize your reader. Thank previous donors and invite potential donors to be a part of your family of donors.

Your thank you letter should thank the donor. Simple, right? Make them feel good about giving to your organization. Welcome new donors and welcome back returning donors. You don’t need a lot of wordy text explaining what your organization does.

Keep your messages simple, yet sincere, and include a clear call to action.

5 Nonprofit Email Call-to-Actions That Inspire Action

Keep it simple with shorter, easy to read messages

If your communication is too long, most people won’t read it. Limit print communication, such as newsletters and annual reports, to four pages or less. Your email messages should be just a few paragraphs. On the other hand, you don’t want to be terse or say too little.

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Mark Twain

Be sure your communication is easy to read and scan. Use short paragraphs, especially for electronic communication, and include lots of white space. Don’t clutter up the page.

Keep it simple by using conversational language

There’s nothing worse than reading an appeal letter or newsletter article that sounds like a Ph.D. thesis. Write at a sixth to eighth-grade level. That’s what most major newspapers do. This is not dumbing down. You’re being smart by ensuring your donors will understand you.

Keep out the jargon and other confusing language. Use the active voice and there’s no need to get fancy by using a lot of SAT vocabulary words. Again, you want your donors to understand you.

You May Love Your Jargon, But Your Donor’s Don’t

Keep it simple by creating a clutter-free website

Your website is still a place where people will go to get information. Make sure it’s clear and clutter-free, as well as easy to read and navigate. Don’t forget about short paragraphs and lots of white space.

How to Get Your Website in Good Shape

One of the most important parts of your website is your donation page. It needs to be easy to use and collect enough information without overwhelming your donors. If it’s too cumbersome, they may give up and leave.

If it’s a branded page (e.g. not a third-party site like PayPal), make sure it’s consistent with your messaging and look. Don’t go too minimalistic, though. Include a short description of how a donor’s gift will help you make a difference, as well as an engaging photo.

It’s not always easy to keep things simple, but your donors will appreciate it if you do. Read on for more about the importance of keeping things simple.

Is Your Fundraising Appeal Cluttered? That Won’t Do

Your Donor Communications Should Be Simple & Direct

The Complexity of Simplicity

Spring Cleaning Projects for Your Nonprofit

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Spring is officially here and depending on where you live, it may or may not feel like it. I recently returned from a trip to New Orleans where spring is in full force. Here in Boston, we have a little ways to go.

You hear a lot about spring cleaning right now. I know, groan. Those of us who don’t like to clean and organize put off these projects until piles of clutter start taking on a life of their own and your windows become so grimy you can’t even see out of them.

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

Your nonprofit organization should also do its own version of spring cleaning and decluttering. If you’re feeling reluctant about taking on these so-called cumbersome tasks, just think how happy you’ll be once you tackle them. You’ll also make some much-needed improvements to your infrastructure and donor communication.

Let’s get started!

Clean up your mailing lists and database

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

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

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

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

Run your donor list through the National Change of Address database. It may cost some money to do this, but it’s worth it if you come out with squeaky clean data. Do this at least once a year.

Also, if you haven’t already done this, segment your donors into different groups – new donors, returning donors, monthly donors, etc. You may need to make some changes. For example, if a single gift donor starts giving monthly.

You might also want to move some lapsed donors who haven’t donated for several years into an inactive file. Don’t do this until you’ve sent targeted, personalized appeals asking them to donate again. And if you’ve never gotten in touch with the lapsed donors from your last fundraising campaign, why not do that now?

Five simple steps for winning back your lapsed donors

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

HOW WE CLEANED UP OUR EMAIL LIST AND RE-ENGAGED OUR SUBSCRIBERS

Maybe you need a better database. If you’re using a spreadsheet to store your donor records, then you need an actual database. Get the best one you can afford.

Fundraising Software Advice

Spring is about bringing in the new and a better database would be a wise investment. If you plan to get a different database, make sure you can easily transfer all your records. The Agitator blog recently covered this. Here’s a link to the third post in a series, which contains links to the first two. Definitely worth reading if you’re planning to get a new database/CRM.

Steps to Avoid Calling Bullshit

Freshen up your messages

Now that you’ve cleaned up your mailing lists and segmented your donors, it’s time to freshen up your messages. Take a good look at your appeal letters, thank you letters, and other content. Have you been using the same old, stale templates for years?  Are you bragging too much about your organization and using jargon? Do your thank you letters begin with the dreaded “On Behalf of X organization….”

Spruce up your messages with some donor-centered content. Create separate templates for new donors, current donors, and monthly donors.

From what I’ve seen, many organizations need to improve their donor communication, especially thank you letters. A thank you letter is something that’s supposed to make your donors feel appreciated and it often falls short. Don’t just freshen up your letters, work on your thank you email acknowledgments and landing pages, too, so they don’t look like boring receipts.

The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan

Don’t put it off too long

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

Take on these spring cleaning projects as soon as you can. You’ll be happy once they’re done. Your donors will also be happy if they don’t get duplicate mailings or they receive a stellar thank you letter.

 

You May Love Your Jargon, But Your Donor’s Don’t

6530334269_0ba98aa219_m.jpgNonprofit organizations love their jargon, don’t they? But guess what? Your donors don’t love it as much as you do because it’s boring and they may not understand what you’re trying to say.

I think people use jargon because it’s an insider language and it makes them feel like they’re “in the know” in their professional community. It’s easy to slip into jargon-mode around the office. But the danger comes when jargon creeps outside of your insular world and into your donor communication.

People need to understand you to connect with you

We can get lazy and use jargon when we can’t think of anything fresh and original. Instead, you see appeal letters, thank you letters, and newsletter articles laced with cringe-inducing terms such as food insecurity, at-risk youth, underserved communities, and impactful.

Are You Speaking The Same Language As Your Donors?

How to do better

Sometimes you need to give a little more information. For example, instead of just using the term food insecurity, describe a situation where a single mother has to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

Let’s look at a few more of these problem terms and what you can say instead. You may use some of these terms internally and they might be in your mission statement, but try to limit them when you communicate with your donors.

  • At-risk means there’s a possibility something bad will happen. Instead of just saying at-risk students or youth, tell a story or give specific examples of something bad that could happen. Our tutoring program works with high school students who are more likely to fail, be held back, and drop out of school.   
  • Underserved means not receiving adequate help or services. Instead of saying we work with underserved communities, explain what types of services these residents don’t receive. Maybe it’s healthcare, affordable housing, or decent preschool education. Tell a story or give a specific example. Gina has to take two buses to see a doctor for her diabetes because there isn’t a good healthcare facility in her community.
  • Impact means having an effect on someone or something. How are you doing that, and why is it important? Again, give a specific example. Thanks to donors like you, we’ve helped families find affordable housing so they don’t have to live in a shelter, a motel, or their car. Now they have a place to call home. And, let’s please all agree to stop using the word impactful.

Tell a story

This is why stories are so important. You can get beyond that vague, impersonal jargon and let your donors see firsthand how they’re helping you make a difference for the people/community you serve.

If You’re Making a Difference, You Have Stories to Tell

What would Aunt Shirley think?

I like to use this analogy. Imagine you’re at a family gathering and you’re explaining what your organization does to your 75-year old Aunt Shirley. Does she look confused and uninterested when you spew out words like underserved and at-risk, or does she want you to tell her more when you mention you’ve been able to help homeless families move into their own homes?

Stop using jargon around your office

Another way to help you transition from jargon to understandable language is to stop using it around your office. That means at your staff meetings and in interoffice written communication. Maybe you go so far as to re-write your mission statement to make it more conversational. And telling staff and board members to recite your mission statement as an elevator pitch is a bad idea unless you can make it conversational.

Let’s stop using jargon when we can use clear, conversational language instead. Read on for more examples of scream-inducing jargon. Do you have any to add?

4 Reasons to Stop Using Nonprofit Jargon

Nonprofit Jargon: Do Your Supporters Understand Your Fundraising?

I Have No Idea What You’re Talking About [Nonprofit Jargon]

 

Give Your Monthly Donors the Attention and Recognition They Deserve

245744537_9b2401b807_mMonthly donors are special because they’ve committed to donating to nonprofits long-term. Retention rates for monthly donors are 90%, which is considerably better than retention rates for other types of donors.

You’d think because of this, organizations would be jumping for joy and giving these donors extra special attention. But you would be wrong. While some organizations do recognize their monthly donors, unfortunately, many do not.

This post will show you how you can give your monthly donors the attention and recognition they deserve. If you don’t have much of a monthly giving program or want to start one, here’s more information on that.

Incorporating Monthly Giving Into Your Fundraising

Welcome your new monthly donors

When someone becomes a monthly donor, whether they’re a first-time donor or have upgraded from a single-gift donor, welcome them into your family of monthly donors.

Be accommodating

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.

Speaking of letters, tax season is upon us (oh joy), and several organizations have sent me a summary of my monthly donations. 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 (more on that later).

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. I’m dreading the day I have to update my credit card information. Most likely I will miss some organizations. This will help you, as well, so you can keep receiving a steady stream of donations.

Make your thank yous more than just okay

When you send your initial thank you letter, you MUST recognize the recipient as a monthly donor.

Many organizations send a monthly acknowledgment email or letter, and I would say most are just okay. Some are basically only receipts. And while it’s helpful to know the organization received your donation, you’re not practicing good 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 donor-centered updates.

One recommendation I have is to make sure every monthly donor gets at least one handwritten thank you note a year. You don’t have to write much but you will make a good impression.

Reach out at least once a month

Besides showing #donorlove, here are some other ways to reach out to your monthly donors.

Create a special newsletter for monthly donors or include a cover letter referencing monthly donors. I’m not always a fan of the letter from the Executive Director, so see if you can keep it donor-centered. You could also give a shout out to your monthly donors and include information on how to become a monthly donor.

Hold an open house for monthly donors. Even if they don’t attend, they’ll appreciate the invitation. You could also offer tours, either at a specific time or on request.

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.

Send an email update specifically for monthly donors.

Thank yous, newsletters, and updates are not a one-time time deal. Keep it up throughout the year. Create a special section in your communications calendar specifically for monthly donors.

Keep Monthly Donors Longer With These 6 Engagement Tips

Monthly donors get their own fundraising appeals

As I mentioned before, 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. Could you help us out a little more this time 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 want to expand our tutoring program to three more elementary schools.

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

All your donors are special, but monthly donors are extra special. Don’t they deserve some attention and recognition?

 

Are You Shortchanging Your Donors?

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Your donors made a commitment to your organization by giving to you. Are you making the same commitment to them?

Donors have a choice. There are many nonprofits they could donate to, but they chose yours, along with others I’m sure.

Donors can also choose to stop giving to your organization and this could happen if you shortchange them by not giving them the recognition and appreciation they deserve.

Here are a few examples of ways you could be shortchanging your donors. Are you a guilty party?

Treating all donors the same

Your donors are not the same, yet many organizations send the same appeal and thank you letters to all their donors.

Don’t do that. At the very least, send different communication to new donors, current donors, and monthly donors. Welcome new donors, thank donors for their previous support, and acknowledge those ever so important monthly donors.

To take it a step further, get to know your donors better. A survey is a great way to do that. You could pop one in an e-newsletter or include one in the welcome packet you should be sending to new donors.

You can survey donors about what drew them to your organization, what issues are important to them, or what their communication preferences are. This way you can share information you know they’ll be interested in. Also, if you find out your donors don’t spend much time on social media and prefer email, you can concentrate your efforts there.

Some organizations allow donors to give to different initiatives. If you’re one of them, send communication specific to that program. For example, send one group an engaging update on early education and another something on childhood hunger.

Strengthen Your Donor Segmentation: 7 Successful Strategies

3 Examples of Nonprofit Donor Surveys

Not communicating enough

Funny how nonprofits go all out during appeal time and after that you hear almost nothing. You need to communicate throughout the year. Make a point to reach out to your donors between once a week and once a month. A communications calendar will help with this.

Some organizations do a good job of thanking and updating throughout the year. Others, not so much. Your donors were drawn to your organization because they’re interested in the work you do. Let them know how they’re helping you make a difference.

Find creative ways to stay in touch. One organization sent me a quiz by email, which was a great, interactive way to find out more about a certain issue.

Not communicating well

I could write an entire post about poor communication. Okay, maybe you have a newsletter, but it’s not very good. Yes, you thank your donors, but all you send is an organization-centered, generic email.

Thank your donors like you mean it. Share stories in your in your newsletter that your donors want to read (remember the survey I mentioned above). Ditch your jargon and write in a conversational style your donors will understand.

Another problem is getting bogged down in the details with a bunch of long-winded text. Get your donors interested right away. They’re busy and aren’t going to read a long, boring newsletter or annual report.

Short and more frequent is the way to go. If you email a short, and of course engaging, update every two weeks or so your donors shouldn’t get the impression you’re not interested in them.

You also want to communicate by mail periodically. You could write an amazingly personal email, but it’s so easy for that to get lost in your donor’s inbox. And what if you find out some of your donors don’t use electronic communication very often?

At the very least, make a point to send at least one non-ask piece by mail. One suggestion I like to recommend for organizations with tight mailing budgets is to spread the love throughout the year. Send a small number of handwritten notes or postcards each month ensuring that every donor gets one. Also, imagine their surprise when they get a note from you in May or September when they’re not expecting anything.

Your donors are important and they need to know that. Don’t shortchange them by treating them all the same, not communicating enough, and doing a poor job of communicating with them.

Is This The Best You Can Do?

3986997574_5aa55585a4_mI sometimes wonder if nonprofit organizations are doing the best they can when they communicate with their donors. Unfortunately, there are a lot of examples of poor communication out there.

It doesn’t have to be like this. You can do a better job of communicating with your donors if you make an effort.

Does your thank you letter make your donors smile?

I find some of the worst examples come from thank you letters or what I like to call the thank you experience (for online donors it’s the thank you landing page, thank you email, and a thank you by mail or phone). Often it’s a lack of thank you experience.

At the end of last year, I gave an example of a thank you landing page and thank you email which were basically just transactional receipts. Some Observations From the Year-End Fundraising Season

This organization also sent a thank you letter about a week after I made the donation. I was pleasantly surprised because most nonprofits don’t mail a thank you letter if you donate online, although they should.

My good feelings vanished when I saw this letter was also just a receipt. It was from the Chief Financial Officer and opened with – This letter serves to acknowledge receipt by X Organization of a donation of X dated 11/27/18. Then it when on to say my husband and I may be entitled to claim a tax deduction. At the very end, the organization said – Thank you for your generous contribution.

This organization seems to think the most important part of a donation is the tax deduction rather than making the donor feel appreciated.

The organization redeemed itself a little by sending another letter from the President, which was dated January 10. This was an actual thank you letter, although not an outstanding one (more on that in a future post).

The problem here is this organization left me with a bad impression by making their initial thank you a receipt. I should have received the actual thank you letter at the beginning of December, not six weeks after I made the donation.  I would have combined the two letters, leading with the thank you and including the tax-deductible information at the end.

Contrast this with a rare handwritten thank you note I received from Reach Out and Read, which gave specific examples by telling me my gift will enrich the lives of children by providing them with books at their wellness visits. and Their parents will receive information about the importance of reading to their children daily.

One question you can ask yourself as you write a thank you letter is will this letter make my donors smile?  It won’t if it’s like the first example but should if it resembles the second one.

I encourage you to spend six minutes watching this video How to write a great thank you letter to your year end donors, which will help you create a thank you letter that will make your donors smile.

One key to good thank you letters is giving it the personal touch. TY Thursday: A Personal Letter is Better Than a Personalized One

Fundraising appeal dodgeball

#GivingTuesday and the end of December bring back memories of playing dodgeball in gym class. Nonprofits are hurling a constant stream of email appeals with pleas for “last chance to donate.” Really, you can’t donate after December 31?

I was barraged with emails at the end of December even though I gave gifts in November or am a monthly donor. Most were just generic appeals, although a few added a thank you to people who have already donated. Personalization didn’t exist.

Fundraising letters weren’t much better. Organizations I don’t support tried to entice me with useless mailing labels and notepads. Organizations I do support don’t acknowledge my past giving.

To paraphrase one of my favorite Seth Godin quotes – More isn’t better. Better is better. –  Instead of a constant blast of appeals, work on making them better.

5 Lessons From Year-End For Fundraisers Like You

Donors Are Ticked Off By Excess Solitication

What’s holding you back?

Now that we’re in the New Year, this is a good time to figure out how you can make improvements in your donor communication.

Although a handwritten thank you note is better than a letter, you may not be able to send notes to all your donors. But that shouldn’t stop you from writing a good, heartfelt letter. Also, show your online donors some love by sprucing up your landing page and thank you email so they don’t resemble a receipt.

Maybe you can write short, personal notes on your thank you letters. Recruit board members and volunteers to help you with this.

Perhaps you’ve been sending the same boring appeal letters and thank you letters for years. Write a better letter that focuses more on relationships with your donors instead of a transaction.

Segment your donors. At the very least, thank current donors for their past support. Investing in a good database will help this.

Take time to make improvements in your donor communication so your donors don’t wonder – Is this the best you can do?