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

11276455354_8e888bdc19_mWhen your donors open your appeal letter or newsletter, do you bore them with a bunch of mind-numbing statistics, or do you share a story about how the Clark family moved out of a shelter and into a home of their own?

Donors want to hear your stories

You may be reluctant to use stories because it’s more work for your organization, but don’t use that as an excuse. Donors love stories and they want to hear yours. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene. Here’s an example.

Mara woke up feeling good for the first time in a while. After losing her job and being evicted from her apartment, she moved between her cousin’s house, motels, and shelters. It was taking a toll on her family. Everyone was stressed out and her kids were falling behind in school.

That was about to change because thanks to donors like you, Mara and her family will be moving into a home of their own.

Can you tell a story like that? If you’re making a difference, you can. Stories should show your donors how they’re helping you make a difference for the people you serve.

Create a culture of storytelling

If you create a storytelling culture in your organization, you can make storytelling the norm instead of the exception.

Break down your silos and work with your program staff to create stories that will help you connect with your donors. Everyone needs to understand how important this is. Share stories at staff meetings and/or set up regular meetings with program staff to gather stories.

When you put together a story, ask.

  • Why would your donors be interested in this story?
  • Why is this important?
  • Who are you helping?
  • Are you using clear, everyday language (no jargon) to make sure your donors understand your story?
  • How are your donors helping you make a difference or How can your donors help you make a difference?

Client or program recipient stories are best. You can also share profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Many organizations profile new board members in their newsletters. That’s okay, but instead of emphasizing their professional background, concentrate on what drew them to your organization. Perhaps she has a brother who’s struggled with mental health issues or he benefited from having a mentor.

Another way to find stories is to put a Share Your Story page on your website. Share-Your-Story Page | an addition to the fundraiser’s arsenal of tools

Create a story bank to help you organize all your stories. Take advantage of slower times of the year to gather stories. You want to use stories often. Use them in your appeal letters, thank you letters, newsletters, annual reports, website, blog, and other types of social media. You can use the same stories in different channels.

Give your stories the personal touch

Use people’s names to make your stories more personal. I realize you might run into confidentiality issues, but you can change names to protect someone’s privacy. You could also do a composite story, but don’t make up anything. Fundraising with Names Have Been Changed Disclaimers

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Let your donors know how with their help, Kate doesn’t have to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill. Your organization stays in the background. And remember, Your Mission Statement is NOT Your Story

Tell your donors the stories they want to hear. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories.

Resources to help you tell your stories

The Storytelling Nonprofit

INFOGRAPHIC: A Nonprofit Storytelling How-To

Best Practices in Nonprofit Storytelling – How to Structure Your Stories

Top 10 Nonprofit Storytelling Best Practices

Photo by Howard Lake

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Email Newsletters: 5 Reasons to Stay in Touch with Donors

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By John Killoran

Your email newsletter is a great way to stay in touch with supporters, but using extra tools and strategies can have a huge payoff! Check out the reasons why.

Like all nonprofits, your organization relies on the support of its donors and partners.You know that maintaining strong relationships year in and year out is essential to continually growing a stable base of support.

You already know, too, how to draft an effective email solicitation that attracts attention, gets to the point, and directly provides a way to give. But do you put this much thought and strategy into your email newsletters?

Think back to the earliest days of your organization. Starting a nonprofit requires consciously building a tight network of initial support to get your efforts off the ground. There’s no reason why actively developing strategies to keep everyone informed and involved shouldn’t still be a priority now that you’ve grown!

It becomes surprisingly easy to drift away from your founding mission when you don’t prioritize communication.That’s why email newsletters are such a crucial tool for nonprofits looking to stay focused, driven, and in touch with their stakeholders.

While every organization understands the need to stay in touch with donors and volunteers, they might not recognize all the interconnected reasons why focusing on your newsletter pays off in the long run. Crafting a perfect email newsletter gives your nonprofit the opportunity to:

  1. Promote all your digital giving outlets.
  2. Loop everyone in on your projects and goals.
  3. Boost overall donor and volunteer engagement.
  4. Connect all your campaigns and events.
  5. Build stronger relationships with donors.

Strengthening even one element of your email newsletters will boost their overall effect! By crafting more engaging strategies for your newsletters, you can make a serious long-term investment in your nonprofit’s ability to attract and retain committed supporters.

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1. Promote all your digital giving outlets.

Email newsletters are a perfect place to promote and explain new donation tools that your nonprofit adopts as its strategies evolve.

This doesn’t necessarily mean soliciting donations! You already conduct separate email campaigns to reach your fundraising goals. While you can certainly ask for donations in your newsletter, your recipients are presumably already committed to supporting your work.

Rather, focus on raising awareness and explaining new donation tools and platforms in the context of your next fundraising campaigns.

Check out Snowball’s rundown of PayPal alternatives for nonprofits for more information on how nonprofit-centric payment and donation platforms will catch your donors’ attention, help you pursue your goals, and conduct more engaging campaigns.

Consider how you could promote and explain these donation platforms in your newsletter:

  • Text-to-give tools to incorporate into your events
  • Mobile-optimized donation forms to boost mobile donations
  • Crowdfunding campaigns for specific goals or projects
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns leading up to major events

Plus, your email newsletter provides the perfect opportunity to learn more about your supporters’ preferred methods of communication and giving. Linking your recipients to a quick survey can have a major payoff for your mobile engagement levels by helping you refine your marketing and digital fundraising strategies.

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2. Loop everyone in on your projects and goals.

Another reason to focus on your email newsletters is that keeping all your donors, volunteers, and stakeholders fully informed about your projects and goals is the first step to getting them excited and involved!

Use your newsletter to announce your next campaign or provide a sneak peek of your next major event. Give your readers the sense that they’ve received a special ‘inside scoop’ to build excitement and rally support. You might share updates on any of your projects, like:

  • Client success stories
  • Upcoming fundraising campaigns
  • New community initiatives
  • Advocacy projects and campaigns
  • Capital campaigns and major developmental goals
  • Grant writing projects and donor surveys
  • New partners and sponsorships

Aside from making it easier to get everyone involved, sharing regular updates is useful because it provides the opportunity to collect more feedback. Keeping everyone informed and engaged means you’ll be able to gather more information and insights to guide your plans.

How well do you know your donors? Simply asking for feedback on your projects or campaigns with a suggestion form in your newsletter can be a surprisingly effective method for guiding your marketing and fundraising strategies.

Plus, your most dedicated supporters will have plenty of ideas of how you could approach your goals. For instance, a longtime volunteer can likely share important insights as you develop a programming proposal for a grant application!

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3. Boost overall donor and volunteer engagement.

Keeping everyone aware of new ways to support your organization’s work and updated on upcoming projects will provide a natural boost to donor engagement. Your newsletter recipients will feel more involved, which will encourage them to get more involved!

This engagement boost will take several familiar forms:

  • Digital engagement. Keep your base of support updated on your online fundraising and social media campaigns to see an increase in digital interactions.
  • Volunteering. Use your newsletter to make volunteering easier. Promote upcoming projects, provide sign-up forms, and mention any incentives you’ll offer.
  • Financial support. Explain new campaigns and tools in your newsletter, giving your recipients a more intimate view of your goals and planning process.

Remember to take the opportunity in your email newsletter to provide some easy tools for recipients to further their engagement, too.

Corporate philanthropy search tools are a great example. Include a search tool that allows your supporters to search for their employers’ corporate philanthropy programs. Matching gifts and volunteer grants are the perfect way for supporters to boost their impact.

These programs are generally not used much, so some programs can be extremely generous. If your organization has an active volunteer program, check out the top volunteer grant companies from 360MatchPro for an idea of the extra funds you might be eligible to receive!

As a way to potentially address all of your supporters at once, your email newsletter is the best place to promote extra tools and options that can boost the impact of your supporters’ engagement with your work.

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4. Connect all your campaigns and events.

Actively connecting your various activities is a great way to grow engagement and make more effective solicitations when fundraising. Your email newsletter is the perfect place to put this strategy into practice!

Solicitations become more effective when supporters can clearly understand how all your events, activities, and campaigns fit together in pursuit of your mission.

Think about it: an online fundraising campaign that feels disjointed or disconnected from any of your nonprofit’s overarching goals isn’t particularly inspiring.

Rather, use your newsletter to clarify the connections! For example, here’s how you might explain and promote some campaign elements in your newsletter by framing them around the shared purpose of supporting an upcoming 5K:

  • A peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. Encourage recipients to donate, volunteer, and form teams as you raise pledges for the big race.
  • Your marketing campaign. As you promote the 5K online, ask your newsletter readers to share your posts and invitations on social media.
  • Merchandise promotion. Link to your online store, t-shirt crowdfunding campaign, or order form for your 5K shirts. Or explain how teams can design their own!
  • The grand finale event. Promote the big 5K in your newsletter, invite all your recipients, and provide important necessary information for participants and attendees.

In this example, all the cross-promotional effort and campaigning will result in a hugely successful event! Giving supporters multiple ways to get involved and using your newsletter to clearly explain how it all connects to support the 5K gives your entire network of support a clearer, more focused goal.

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5. Build stronger relationships with donors.

Finally, remember that the long-term benefit of focusing effort on your email newsletter is that it’s an effective tool for expressing gratitude to your supporters.

By thanking your donors and volunteers and showing how their support directly helps further your mission, you can reinforce those important relationships. Plus, you’ll be contributing to a healthy culture for your nonprofit, ensuring it can retain more and more satisfied donors.

There are a number of ways to use your email newsletter to build stronger relationships with supporters:

  • Provide updates and success stories on campaigns and projects.
  • Promote and thank your important community partners.
  • Recognize individuals who go above and beyond in supporting your work.
  • Invite your newsletter recipients to special thank-you events.
  • Share surveys and field suggestions to better refine your retention strategies.

Thanking your supporters means you’ll need to switch out of solicitation mode for a moment.

Building strong mutual relationships and genuinely expressing your gratitude does more in the long run for retaining valuable support than constantly soliciting more funds, even if your donors are consistently happy to support your campaigns.

A great way to make sure your messages of thanks in your newsletter stay effective is to focus on the language you use. Drop the fundraising jargon, and keep your tone warm and natural. After all, the support of these important partners is worth celebrating!

The most basic function of a nonprofit email newsletter is to share updates with your supporters and announce new projects, but incorporating some smart strategies and being aware of all the roles a newsletter can play will make them even more effective.

By using your email newsletter as a space to communicate, explain new donation tools, provide ways to boost engagement, and connect all your campaigns, you’ll strengthen your donor relations overall!

John Killoran

John Killoran is CEO of Snowball, an exciting new fundraising technology that makes it easy for people to donate in two clicks from text, email, web and social media sites.John pioneered SMTP payments and has been a major innovator in the mobile payments space for the past 5 years. When he is not running a company, he is cooking food for his family and telling his dogs to stop barking.

How to Create an Engaging Newsletter Your Donors Will Want to Read

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I’ve written several posts recently about the importance of staying in touch with your donors throughout the year. Some of you may be saying, “We do that because we have a newsletter.”

A newsletter can be a great way to engage with your donors, but how often does that actually happen? Unfortunately, not very much because most donor newsletters can be used as a cure for insomnia. They’re too long and filled with boring articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

Don’t worry. You can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s how.

Think about what your donors want

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. But ask your donors what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer one over the other, then doing both may not make sense.

You also want to include content that will interest your donors. Do you think they would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about the Davis family moving into a nice home of their own after struggling to find a decent place to live? The answer should be obvious.

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference.

Share stories

Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. Client stories are best, but you could also do profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Focus on what drew them to your mission.

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

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped the Davis family move into a home of their own or Because of donors like you, X number of families have been able to move out of shelters and into their own homes.

Ditch 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.  

Say thank you

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. 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 color, as well as tell a story in an instant.

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

Very important –  make sure your donors can read your e-newsletter on a mobile device.

Short and sweet

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 – two or three articles.

You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent email updates.

Send it to the right audience

Fundraising guru Tom Ahern recommends sending your print newsletter only to donors. This can help you keep it donor-centered, as well as cut down on mailing costs.

Send e-newsletters only to people who have signed up for it. They may or may not be donors, but an e-newsletter can also be a good cultivation tool. Quality is more important than quantity. Not everyone will want to sign up for your newsletter and that’s okay. Focus on the people who are interested in it.

Let’s put an end to boring newsletters. Create one your donors will want to read.

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

The stuff that makes your donor newsletter a failure

10 Email Newsletter Tips That Will Inspire People to Give

3 Pitfalls of Nonprofit Newsletters and How to Avoid Them

Follow The Domain Formula For Donor Newsletters

Don’t Be a Stranger

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I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard much lately from the nonprofits I support. There’s been a scattering of updates, e-newsletters, action alerts, and appeals. But mostly – silence.

I know it’s quieter time, but that doesn’t mean you need to go AWOL. You should be communicating with your donors at least once a month. In fact, the period between campaigns is an excellent time to reach out. You don’t want to be a stranger. And, since many nonprofits seem to have decided to take a break from donor communication (not a wise decision), your message will be one of the few they’ll receive.

Here are some ways to show your donors that you’re not a stranger.

Share an update

Let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference. Send something by mail if you can. Maybe a two-page update or infographic postcard. Here’s one of my favorites. Knock it Out of the Park  If it’s impossible to send something by mail right now, you can use email.

Say thank you

Thank your donors just because. Send them a nice thank you card or you can combine a thank you and an update. Have some fun and get creative here. 15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors

Create a better newsletter

You may already keep in touch with your newsletter. Newsletters can be a great way to engage, but before you get too complacent, I have to ask you, Is Your Newsletter Boring? Many of them are, but yours doesn’t have to be.

A good summer project for you is to create a better newsletter. Find some engaging stories to share. Think about what your donors want – Hint – It’s not a lot of bragging. 3 Ways Your Nonprofit Newsletter is Killing You

The general rule for newsletters is a monthly e-newsletter and four quarterly print newsletters. I like to recommend a short (maybe two articles) e-newsletter every two weeks. Our inboxes are overflowing right now. This way you can stay in touch regularly and not bombard people with too much information at once.

Tie in current events

There’s a lot going in the world right now. Will your organization be affected by any of the Trump administration’s policies or proposed budget cuts? Share ways your donors can help – perhaps by contacting their legislators, volunteering, or making a donation.

Focus on relationship building in your appeal

If you’re doing a fundraising appeal this spring, make the main focus relationship building. Thank donors for their past support, share some updates, and show them how their gift will help you make a difference.

Invite long-term donors to join your family of monthly donors. Send a special letter to your lapsed donors letting them know you miss them and want them back.

If you also did a year-end appeal, some of your donors may be reluctant to give again so soon. You certainly can ask for more than one gift a year, but why now?  Don’t just ask for a donation. Make a compelling case and stay focused on relationship building.

Don’t lose momentum

After I made a bunch of monthly gifts last year, several organizations sent me monthly thank you letters either by mail or email. This went on for a couple of months and then it pretty much stopped. Last month I only received two thank you letters. What happened here?

It’s easy to ride on all that year-end energy, but you have to keep it up. Whether it’s thank you letters to monthly donors or e-newsletters, once you start, you can’t stop. What kind of message does that send?  Use a communications calendar to help you communicate regularly.

Your donors want to hear from you throughout the year. Don’t be a stranger.

 

Is Your Newsletter Boring?

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There’s a good chance the answer to this question is yes. Many nonprofit organizations use a newsletter as a way to engage their donors, but the opposite is happening. That’s because most donor newsletters can be used as a cure for insomnia. They’re too long and filled with articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

Don’t worry. You can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s how.

Think about what your donors want

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. But ask your donors what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer one over the other, then doing both may not make sense.

You also want to include content that will interest your donors. Do you think they would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about Jacob acing his math test after his weekly tutoring sessions? The answer should be obvious.

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference.

Share stories

Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. Client stories are best, but you could also do profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Focus on what drew them to your mission.

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

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped Jacob improve his math skills or Because of donors like you, X number of students are now reading at their grade level or above.

Ditch 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.  

Say thank you

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. 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, 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 color, as well as tell a story in an instant.

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

Very important –  make sure your donors can read your e-newsletter on a mobile device.

Short and sweet

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 – two or three articles.

You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent email updates.

Send it to the right audience

Fundraising guru Tom Ahern recommends sending your print newsletter only to donors. This can help you keep it donor-centered, as well as cut down on mailing costs.

Send e-newsletters only to people who have signed up for it. They may or may not be donors, but an e-newsletter can also be a good cultivation tool.

Let’s put an end to boring newsletters. Create one your donors will want to read.

Read on for more information about donor newsletters.

Shhh! Secret Formula for Donor Newsletters That Delight

3 Pitfalls of Nonprofit Newsletters and How to Avoid Them

HOW TO CREATE A BETTER NON-PROFIT NEWSLETTER

How to Format Your Nonprofit Newsletter

Photo by Dwight Sipler