What Fundraising and Strength Training Have in Common

32004749403_9d5d6ffa41_mAbout a year and a half ago I started doing strength training with a personal trainer. My initial assessment was humbling, to say the least, and at the beginning, there were several times I wondered “Why am I doing this?”

But I’ve benefited so much. Not only am I stronger, but I’ve lost weight, I’m sleeping better, my mood is better, and I have a more robust immune system.

Strength training has a lot in common with fundraising and when I say fundraising, I’m including the stewardship and relationship building components, too.

It’s supposed to be hard, but doable

If I ever say one of my training exercises is hard, my trainer will respond, “It’s supposed to be hard.” That said, it also needs to be doable.

What a wonderful world we’d live in if people just donated money to nonprofit organizations without us have to do anything.

Fundraising is hard. It doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it, but you also need to be realistic. I’m not lifting 100-pound weights. That would be too much for me. Certain fundraising endeavors, such as events, may be too much for your organization to take on right now.

How to raise money: 3 steps to creating sustainable funding for your new, young, or small nonprofit

Starting small is often the way to go

I work out twice a week and do what’s known as a circuit –  seven or eight exercises each of the days, usually three sets of 10-12 reps each. People who are more advanced might do four or five sets of two different exercises with heavier weights.

This same formula can work for your organization when you concentrate on individual gifts. Many of these will be under $100 each, but you’ll be able to get a larger number of them.

Be patient and you’ll see results

It took about two or three months for me to see the results I mentioned above. Some of your fundraising will take even longer.

You can get smaller gifts fairly quickly. Securing major gifts and grants will take longer.  It can take up to a year to cultivate major gifts and it takes a lot of relationship building to get there. If you get approved for a grant, it can take several months to get the money and there are often restrictions.

But if you persevere, you should see results.

Take it to the next level

If I kept doing the same exercises I started with, I wouldn’t make much progress. The same is true with fundraising.

Most appeal letters are generic,one-size fits all. You’re missing an opportunity to grow when you don’t ask donors to upgrade their single gifts or invite them to become a monthly donor.

There are so many opportunities to take your fundraising to the next level. Smaller dollar donors can upgrade to mid-level donors, mid-level donors can become major donors, and major donors are potential legacy donors.

You need to stick with it

If I miss a week or two of training, it suffers. The same is true with your fundraising. If all you do is send appeals a few times a year, you won’t have much success.

You need to engage with your donors regularly – at least once or twice a month. That includes showing gratitude and sharing updates.

Build Relationships With Your Donors Every Step of the Way

You need a plan

When I started strength training, my trainer designed a plan for me that we can build on and modify as needed. You need to do the same thing with your fundraising.

You shouldn’t be raising revenue without a plan in place. You also need a donor communication and stewardship plan.

Nonprofit  Fundraising Plan: 6 Must-Do Steps For Success

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

My workout consists of exercises for the upper body, lower body, and core. Your fundraising will also consist of different endeavors – individual giving, major gifts, grants, events, etc.

And as I mentioned before, and I’ll mention again since many organizations ignore this, your fundraising also needs a gratitude and relationship building component.

Fundraising takes a lot of hard work, but if you keep building and stick with it, you should see results.

Photo via https://thoroughlyreviewed.com/

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Three Wise Investments That Can Help You Raise More Money

32943656503_65029c172f_mIf you have a July 1 fiscal year start date, you’re most likely working on your budget for next year (at least you should be). Those of you who use the calendar year as your fiscal year will be working on yours later in the year.

Whatever the case may be, putting together a budget can be a pain, especially if you’re a small nonprofit with limited resources. It may be tempting to create a bare-bones budget with the mindset “we can’t afford this.”

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

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

Invest in a good database

Plain and simple, a good database can help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by amount and politely ask them to give a little more in your next appeal – $35 or $50 instead of $25.

A good database can help you with retention, which will save you money since it costs less to keep donors than to acquire new ones. You can personalize your letters and email messages. Make sure to invest in a good email service provider, too.

Personalized letters and messages mean you can address your donors by name and not Dear Friend. You can welcome new donors and thank current donors for their previous support. You can send targeted mailings to lapsed donors to try to woo them back. You can send special mailings to your monthly donors. You can record any personal information, such as conversations you had with a donor and their areas of interest.

Invest in the best donor database you can afford, and Excel is not a database.

Nonprofit Software

Invest in direct mail

If you never or rarely use direct mail, you’re missing out on an effective and more personal way to communicate with your donors. Think of the enormous amount of email and social media posts you receive as opposed to postal mail. Your donors will be more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail.

Yes, direct mail is more expensive, but you don’t have to mail that often. Quality is more important than quantity but aim for three or four times a year.

Give some thought to what you send. Some ideas, besides appeal letters, include thank you cards; Thanksgiving, holiday, or Valentine’s Day cards; infographic postcards; two to four-page newsletters; and annual/progress reports. Whatever you choose, be sure to keep it donor-centered. You could put a donation envelope in your newsletter to raise some additional revenue, but do not put one in a thank you or holiday card.

Shorter is better. Lengthy communication will cost more and your donors are less likely to read it.

A few ways you can use direct mail without breaking your budget are to clean up your mailing lists to avoid costly duplicate mailings, spread thank you mailings throughout the year – perhaps sending something to a small number of donors each month, and look into special nonprofit mailing rates. You may also be able to get print materials done pro bono or do them in-house, as long as they look professional.

Of course, you can use email and social media, but your primary reason for communicating that way shouldn’t be because it’s cheaper. It should be because that’s what your donors use. If your donors prefer you to communicate by mail, then that’s what you should do.

Turbocharge Your Direct Mail and Digital

Invest in donor communications

I like this quote from Tom Ahern – If you do better donor communications, you’ll have more money. Makes a lot of sense doesn’t it? Yet many nonprofits don’t practice this. Better donor communications means thanking your donors and keeping in touch with them throughout the year.

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

Hiring at least one communications staff member is another wise investment. Maybe you need to reallocate your budget to cover some of these expenses. You could also look into additional sources of unrestricted funding.

Remember, you can also use email and social media to communicate with donors. This reiterates the need for a good email service provider that has professional looking templates you can use for your e-newsletter and other updates.

Build Relationships With Your Donors Every Step of the Way

Don’t limit yourself by saying you can’t afford certain expenses. If you invest in a good database, direct mail, and donor communications, you should be able to raise more money.

Image via  www.gotcredit.com 

Build Relationships With Your Donors Every Step of the Way

2592683540_77e7a1ac7f_mMany nonprofits think fundraising is all about raising money. But raising money is only part of the fundraising equation.

Fundraising’s Not About Money (What???)

One of the most important things you need to do is to build relationships with your donors. Building relationships should be front and center in everything you do.

Here are some ways you can incorporate building relationships every step of the way.

Make relationship building part of your fundraising campaign

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

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

Don’t send the same appeal to everyone on your mailing list. It’s crucial that you segment your donors and personalize your appeal letters.

What is your relationship with these individuals? Maybe they’ve given once or many times. Perhaps they’re event attendees, volunteers, e-newsletter subscribers, or friends of board members. Mention your relationship in your appeal letter. For example, thank a long-time donor for supporting you these past five years.

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

Pour on the appreciation

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

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

Be sure to also shower your current donors with love to keep your relationship going. Give a shout out to donors who have supported you for several years.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships

I’m amazed that after I attend an event or give a memorial gift, most organizations don’t do a good job of building a relationship. I could be a potential long-time donor.

When you hold an event, give your attendees an opportunity to sign up for your mailing list. Next, call or send thank you notes afterward.

Besides thanking people for attending your event, let them know how much money you raised and share specific ways their support is helping you make a difference. Then invite these supporters to connect in other ways such as signing up to receive your newsletter or volunteering.

The same thing applies if you hold a charity run or walkathon. These events often generate new donors. Someone might donate to your 10K because her friend is running in it. Thank everyone who donated and invite them to be a part of your community.

Memorial gifts are another missed opportunity. Also, if a person has given a donation in memory of someone, they deserve a heartfelt response and the opportunity to connect with you in other ways.

Personally, I would never give a memorial gift or support someone in a charity walk if I didn’t believe in that organization’s cause. Don’t miss out on a potential opportunity to build longer-term relationships.

Turn a giving day into a relationship building day

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

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

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

Build relationships all year round

It’s easier to stay focused on donors when you’re sending an appeal or thank you, but this is just the beginning. Many organizations go on communication hiatus at certain times of the year and that’s a big mistake.

Ideally, you should keep in touch with your donors every one to two weeks. You can do this with newsletters, updates, thank you messages, advocacy alerts, and surveys. A communications calendar will help you with this.

Build relationships with your donors every step of the way. This will help you with that always-important donor retention because you want committed donors who will support you for a long time.

Build Loyal Donor Relationships in 3 Easy Steps.

Donor Relations: 8 Best practices for your Nonprofit

How To Build Meaningful Relationships With Your Donors

Seeing the World Through Your Donors’ Eyes

16694129500_90ff25d71d_mIn my last post, I wrote about the importance of staying donor-centered. Now let’s take it a step further. Try to think like your donors. Visualize one donor or a type of donor and imagine how they will respond to your communication.

Get to know your donors better

You may have a hard time with this if you don’t know your donors very well. One way to get to know them better is to send short surveys. The key here is short. Ask a few questions at a time.

3 Examples of Nonprofit Donor Surveys

The 5 ½ Principles of Effective Donor Surveys

GET TO KNOW YOUR DONORS: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO NONPROFIT SURVEYING

While surveys are a great way to connect, not everyone is going to respond to them. Another tactic to try is to create donor personas. You can use your database to figure out vital information and/or interview a few donors.

How to Develop Donor Personas for Your Nonprofit

GUIDE: Using Donor Personas to Maximize Your Nonprofit Fundraising

I think some of the most important things to know about your donors are why they give to your organization, what aspects of your work are important to them, and how they like to communicate (by mail, email, social media, or a combination of those).

Let’s look at these more closely.

Why do your donors give to your organization?

Donors are human beings, not just money machines. There’s a reason they’ve chosen to give to your organization. If you can find out what drew them to your nonprofit, it will help you with your donor communication.

Most likely they feel a connection to your cause. For example, I support the American Cancer Society because way too many people I know have been affected by cancer.

The best time to find out this information is right after someone donates, especially for first-time donors. This will be easier to collect online and you could include this question on your donation form.

Of course, not everyone donates online. You could also include a short survey and a reply envelope or a link to an online survey with your thank you letter or welcome packet for new donors. (You do send those, right?)

What aspects of your work are important to your donors?

You may have already found out this information from the question above, but most likely you’re working on several initiatives. If your organization is working to prevent homelessness, you may discover your donors are most interested in finding affordable housing for homeless families. Then you can share stories and updates about that initiative.

What communication channels do your donors prefer?

It’s probably more than one, but listen carefully. Don’t spend a lot of time on channels your donors aren’t using much.

Email will probably be your biggest communication tool. You won’t use direct mail as much because of the cost, but you do need to use it at least a few times a year, especially if you find out some donors don’t use electronic communication.

You could also try to get feedback about the frequency of your communication. Shorter, more frequent messages, especially for email and social media, should be more effective. This doesn’t mean blasting your donors with a bunch of generic messages.

The advantage of email and direct mail is you have complete control of them, unlike social media. Speaking of social media, almost every day you hear about some issue with Facebook. I’ve stopped using it and only use Twitter sporadically, but that’s just me. Other people can’t get enough of social media.

This is a good opportunity to monitor your email and social media to see if people are responding to your messages. Look at the open rates, click-throughs, and likes. (I know likes don’t mean that much, but they do reflect some sort of engagement.) Monitor this frequently and focus your efforts on channels your donors are using.

Use your database

As you gather vital information about your donors, put that in your database. Your database also comes in handy because you want to segment your donors – first-time donors, long-term donors, monthly donors, etc – so you can personalize their communication as much as possible.

Putting your work into action

You’ve spent time getting to know your donors better. Now you want to make sure they respond to your messages. This can be hard, especially when donors are bombarded with messages from many sources.

Keep them in mind. What will entice them to look at your email or letter and take action, if necessary. The email subject line Find out how you helped Claudia and her family move into a home of their own is profoundly better than April e-newsletter.

Now that your donor has opened your e-newsletter, is the first thing she sees a story about Claudia? You know from surveying your donors they like to read about the people they’re helping.

Every step of the way you need to see the world through your donors’ eyes – why they give to your organization, what they would like to hear from you, and which channels are best for connecting with them. Do this for every fundraising letter, thank you letter, newsletter, or any other type of communication.

Take time to get to know your donors, so you’ll have a better chance of keeping them for a long time.

 

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.

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.