How to Create a Fundraising Appeal that’s Relevant in the Current Climate

September is here. It’s my favorite month and the more moderate temperatures and lower humidity are a nice respite from all the uncertainty going on in the world.

Fall is the busiest time of the year for nonprofit organizations, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal. The current climate (pandemic, economic downturn, heightened awareness of systemic racism, having to cope with all of this, etc)  will require you to create a new, more relevant appeal, although many of the components will be the same.

Even if you’re not planning on launching your campaign until later in the fall, you should get started on your appeal now. You need to create an appeal that will stand out and resonate with your donors.

A couple of things. You must address the current climate in your appeal. Instead of the usual boring, generic letter, you need to specifically address what’s been going on since the pandemic started. 

Also, your appeal needs to be personal – both for your donors and when you write about your clients/community. Be sure to check in with your donors and wish them well.

Here are some ways to create a better, more relevant appeal.

Make a good first impression 

First, you need to get your donors to open your letter. If you can’t get them to do that, then all your hard work has gone to waste.

Perhaps you’d like to include a teaser on the outer envelope. That doesn’t mean one that says 2020 Annual Appeal. That’s not inspiring, especially now. Instead, say something like – Find out how you can help local families put food on the table.

An oversized or colored envelope can also capture your donor’s attention.

You want to be both personal and professional. If hand addressing the envelopes isn’t feasible, make sure your mailing labels look clean, are error-free, and aren’t crooked. Use stamps if you can.

Create an inviting piece of mail.

Share a compelling story

A good appeal letter should open with a compelling story. Focus on a person or family and not your organization. Your donors want to hear about the people they’ll be helping and it needs to be relevant to the current climate. 

Here’s an example – Sarah, a single mother with three kids, was laid off earlier this year and had trouble finding enough money to buy groceries for her family. But thanks to generous donors like you, she was able to get boxes of healthy food at the Northside Community Food Bank. Sarah was embarrassed that she said to rely on a food bank to feed her family, but she is treated with respect and dignity each time she visits. 

You could also share a first-person story from a client/program recipient.

Include a photo

Include an engaging color photo in your letter or on your pledge form. Photos can tell a story in an instant.

Here’s more information on creating stories and photos.

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

How to Engage With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

Make a prominent ask

Ask for a donation at the beginning of the next paragraph (after the story). Make sure it’s prominent and clear. Also, ask your current donors if they can give a little more right now. I know we’re in an economic downturn, but don’t be afraid to ask your donors to upgrade their gift. People want to help if they can.

Phrase your ask like this – We’re so grateful for your previous gift of $50. We’re serving three times the number of people at the food bank right now. Would you be able to help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75?

Your donors know times are tough. Also, if you’ve been doing a good job of engaging your donors throughout the year (this is so important now), they shouldn’t mind if you ask for a larger gift. Including the amount of your donor’s previous gift is helpful since people often don’t remember what they gave before.

Be donor-centered, as well as community-centered

There’s some dichotomy right now between being donor-centered and being community-centered, but I think you can be both. What you don’t want is to be organization-centered.

Show your donors how they can help you make a difference for your clients/community and how much you appreciate their role in that. Make your donors feel good about supporting your nonprofit.

At the same time, respect your clients/community by not undermining them by using terms like at-risk youth or underserved communities. They are people, after all.

Share your success and challenges

I’m sure this has been a challenging year for you. Maybe you’ve had to do things differently, but how you had to make changes to your food bank is less important than why you had to do it. You need to continue providing healthy food to families, while doing it safely.

Highlight some of your accomplishments, but you can share challenges, too. A theatre where I’m a subscriber had to shut down in March and won’t be able to open again until sometime next year. Understandably, this created a budget shortfall and they’re trying to raise $100,000 by December 31.

Show how you plan to continue your work with your donor’s help. Remember to stay donor-centered! You need your donors right now.

Personalization is more important than ever

Don’t send everyone the same appeal. Try to send different letters to current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, people on your mailing list who haven’t donated yet, event attendees, volunteers, and friends of board members. 

The more you can segment, the better, but at the very least, you must do these two things.

Send a personalized appeal to current donors. They’re your best bet for getting donations now. Let them know how much you appreciate their support. If a donor contributed to an emergency campaign earlier in the year, be sure to thank them for that. These donors are committed to helping you through this difficult time.

Also, send a specific appeal tailored to monthly donors, giving them the recognition they deserve. You can ask them to upgrade or give an additional year-end gift.

This is not the time to send a generic, one-size-fits-all appeal letter. Go the extra mile for your donors, so they’ll continue to support you.

Your appeal letter should also have a personal salutation and not be addressed to Dear Friend or Dear Valued Donor. How much do you value this relationship if you can’t even use a person’s name?

This may sound like a lot of work, but if you give yourself enough time, it should be doable. Personalizing your letters can also help you raise more money.

Make it easy for your donors

Include a return envelope with amounts to check off or an envelope and a pledge form. Show what each amount will fund. Do this on your donation page, too.

How To Create Donation Tiers That Drive Donations

Some donors will prefer to donate online. Direct them to a user-friendly donation page on your website.

Donation Page Best Practices For Nonprofits; Tips for Great Donation Pages

Offer a monthly or recurring giving option

Monthly gifts can generate more revenue, give you a steady source of income throughout the year, and improve donor retention. Encourage your donors to give $5, $10, or even $20 a month. This may be a more viable option for some of them. 

How Monthly Giving is a Win-Win for Your Nonprofit

Be careful and don’t send an appeal to your current monthly donors that invites them to become monthly donors. That’s one reason why they need their own appeal.

Your letter must be easy to read (or scan)

Use short paragraphs and bulleted lists, along with bold or color for keywords, but keep it tasteful. Make it easy to read and scan. Most people won’t read your letter word for word. Use a simple font and 14-point type.

It’s fine to go over a page, especially if you’re breaking up the text with a photo and short paragraphs. I know longer letters can perform better, but donors have a lot going on, so if you’re going to write a longer letter, make every word count. You can also add a quote or short testimonial. These can be powerful and it helps break up the narrative.

Think of your letter as a conversation with a friend

You can create a better appeal if you think of your letter as a conversation with a friend. That means not using jargon like at-risk youth and underserved communities. Be specific and use everyday language. Your goal should be for your reader to understand you.

Refer to your reader as you and use you a lot more than we.

How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?

Too many editors spoil the appeal

Your entire staff doesn’t need to be involved in writing your appeal. Generally, the more people you involve in writing your letter, the worse it becomes. Fundraising Consultant Tom Ahern refers to this as letter writing by committee.

Your best writer should craft it and then turn it over to your best editor. Whoever signs the letter (your Executive Director?) can take a quick look at it, but don’t send it to a committee.

If you don’t have someone on your staff who can write a good fundraising appeal, then hire a freelancer or consultant to do it.

Besides weakening the content, involving more people takes extra time.

Make a good lasting impression, too

Repeat your ask at the end of your appeal. Don’t forget to say please and thank you.

Be sure to add a PS. People often gravitate to the PS as they scan the letter, so include something that will capture their attention. Here you could emphasize monthly giving, ask if their company provides matching gifts, or thank them for being a donor.

Get your pens out

Include a short handwritten note, if you can. Make it relevant to each donor, such as thanking someone for a previous donation or hoping a potential donor will support you. Hand sign the letters in blue ink.

This could be a tough fundraising season. That’s why you need to spend some time writing a better, more relevant appeal letter that will resonate with your donors and help bring you the donations you need. Good luck!

Read on for more advice and resources on writing a better fundraising appeal for the current climate.

10 Tips for Nonprofit Direct Mail Fundraising During COVID-19

3 Strategies Every Nonprofit Should Use for Year-End Fundraising in 2020

7 Wise COVID-19 Fundraising Templates

Image by Howard Lake

Get a Head Start on Your Year-End Fundraising Campaign

5524669257_ab67585fd0_wWe’re already halfway through August. Pandemic or not, we still have seasons and fall is traditionally fundraising season for nonprofit organizations.

If you had a campaign planned for this fall, but are thinking against it, don’t do that. You should still do your campaign. You can’t raise money if you don’t ask.

Yes, it will be harder, which is why you should start planning it now. And summer’s not over yet, so there’s still time to get ice cream and go to the beach (please stay safe and practice social distancing when you do).

Here’s a checklist to help you get started. You can also use this for fundraising campaigns at other times of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal for your year-end campaign in your 2020 fundraising plan and most likely that has changed. Perhaps you were able to raise money earlier in the year with an emergency campaign and/or a virtual event.

There’s a good chance you need to raise more money if you’ve had to shift the way you run your programs and there’s a greater need for your services.

You must determine how much money you need to raise before you start your campaign – raising as much as we can is not a goal.

Do you have a plan?

Put together a plan for your appeal that includes a timeline, task list, and the different channels you’ll use. Make it as detailed as possible.

When do you want to launch your appeal? Plan on everything taking longer, so I think earlier is better. You’ll be competing with other organizations who are doing appeals. It’s also an election year in the United States, but that doesn’t always affect nonprofit fundraising.

Maybe you want to send your appeal letters the first week in November. If so, make your goal to have the letters done at least a week before that. Maybe more if people are working remotely.

Also, how are you mailing your appeal? Do you use a mail house or do you get staff and volunteers together to stuff envelopes?  If it’s the latter, it will be harder to get a group together, so you’ll need more time. 

An Annual Appeal Fundraising Timeline You Can Use

13 End-of-Year Appeal Strategies

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

This is going to be the year you’ll retire your boring, generic appeal letter (more on that in future posts). Your appeal must address the current situations.

A good way to start is to create an engaging story for your appeal. How are the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, and the economic downturn affecting your clients/community? What challenges are they facing? Focus on them, not your organization.

You’ll want some good photos for your letter and donation page, too. Quotes from clients will also enhance your appeal.

3 Strategies Every Nonprofit Should Use for Year-End Fundraising in 2020

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

How to Engage With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

How did/can your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should highlight some of the accomplishments you’ve made recently and state what you plan to do in the coming months. For example, let’s say you run a tutoring program. You were able to get Chromebooks for half of the students who didn’t have access to a computer so they could do their sessions remotely. You still need to buy more, and with the pandemic looming, remote sessions will be the norm for a while. This is important because thanks to your donors, regular tutoring sessions help students read at or above their grade level and that needs to continue. 

Remember to focus on your clients and show how your donors are helping you make a difference or can help you make a difference. Don’t brag about your organization.

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

Make sure your postal and email mailing lists are up-to-date. Check for duplicate addresses and typos. Your donors don’t want to receive three letters at the same time or have their names misspelled.

Also, now is a good time to segment your mailing lists – current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. This is more important than ever. Your current donors are your best source of donations. You should have more success if you can personalize your appeal letters.

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until October to check your supply of letterhead and envelopes. Make sure you have enough. Perhaps you want to produce a special outer envelope. You may also want to create some thank you cards. It could take longer to get some of these things.

Even though many people donate online, you want to make it easy for donors who prefer to mail a check. Include a pledge envelope or a return envelope and a preprinted form with the donor’s contact information and the amount of their last gift.

Stamps are more personal so you might want to find some nice ones to use.

Is it easy to donate online?

Be sure your donation page is user-friendly and consistent with your other fundraising materials. Highlight your year-end appeal on your homepage and include a prominent Donate Now button.

Crafting the Perfect Donation Form: 6 Key Features

Donation Page Best Practices For Nonprofits; Tips for Great Donation Pages

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

A monthly giving program is a win-win for your organization. You can raise more money, boost your retention rate, receive a steady stream of revenue, and allow your donors to spread out their gifts.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program or you have a small one, now is an excellent time to start one or grow the one you have.

How will you thank your donors?

Spend as much time on your thank you letter/note as you do on your appeal letter and write them at the same time. You need to thank your donors, and thank them well, as soon as you receive their gifts so have a thank you letter/note ready to go.

Handwritten notes and phone calls are much better than a preprinted letter. Create or buy some thank you cards (see above) and start recruiting board members and volunteers to make thank you calls or write notes. Put together a thank you plan to help you with this.

How will you keep up with your donor communication?

Even though you’ll be busy with your appeal, you want to ramp up your donor communication this fall. Keep engaging your donors and other supporters (who may become donors) by sharing updates and gratitude. Pour on the appreciation! 

Send at least one warm-up letter or email. You could create a thank you video or a video that gives a behind the scenes look at your organization right now. Just don’t disappear until appeal time.

I know it will be hard this year, but you still need to run a campaign. Some donors may not give as much or at all, but others will give more. They won’t give anything if you don’t ask.

Best of luck!

Your Donors Want to Hear from You

214409794_5c34b1f1f4_wI hope everyone is doing okay and staying safe. Please wear a mask and practice social distancing.

Summer is often a quieter time for nonprofits, although I don’t need to tell you we’re not having a normal summer. You don’t want to be too quiet and ignore your donors. In fact, this is a good time to do some relationship building.

You may be holding back because of the pandemic and economic downturn, but you actually want to communicate more with your donors right now. First, we’re looking at a tough fundraising season, but better donor engagement could help. Also, while some people may be on vacation, many are staying home this year, so it’s a good time to reach them. 

You should be communicating with your donors at least once a month, if not more. Don’t make the mistake of taking a vacation from your donor communication – never a smart decision.

Here are a few ways you can connect with your donors this summer, as well as throughout the year, and build those important relationships.

Check in and send an update

Check in with your donors and see how they’re doing. Wish them well. This is especially important if you haven’t communicated with them since the COVID-19 outbreak started earlier this year (I hope that’s not the case). Even if you have been in touch more recently, send a message of kindness. Many states are seeing a rising number of COVID cases and we’re all dealing with a lot.

Send an update to let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community right now. Share what’s going on whether it’s success stories, challenges, or some of each. Be authentic and specific. Don’t get trapped in jargon land.

One of my favorite ways to connect is with a postcard. I know mail is expensive, but a postcard shouldn’t cost too much. It’s also a quick way to share an update with your donors.

If it’s impossible to send something by mail right now, you can use email.

Show some #donorlove

You don’t need a reason to thank your donors. Just do it and do it often. Most organizations don’t do a good job of thanking their donors, so you’ll stand out if you do. My last post was all about thanking your donors. Create a thank you plan to help you with this.

This is another situation where a postcard will work wonders. You can do a combo thank you and update. Go one step further and make your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you card. You could also create a thank you photo for a card or you can share your photo by email and social media. Another great way to connect is to make a thank you video.

There are so many ways to thank your donors. Spend a little time thinking of ways to show some #donorlove. 

20 Unique Donor Thank You Ideas

Create a better newsletter

You may already keep in touch with your newsletter, whether it’s electronic, print, or both. In theory, newsletters can be a great way to engage, but in reality, most of them are long, boring bragfests.

For the time being, I would suggest a shorter newsletter to capture your donors’ attention. You could also opt not to do an official newsletter and just stay in touch with short, engaging updates instead.

Focus more on relationship building in your fundraising appeals

A fundraising appeal can be a way to connect with your donors if you make relationship building the main focus. This rarely happens because most appeals are transactional and generic.

You shouldn’t stop fundraising. You won’t raise the money you need if you don’t ask. Plus, donors want to give if they can.

Remember to keep relationship building front and center at all times. Thank donors for their past support, share some updates, and show them how their gift will help you make a difference for your clients/community.

Cultivating Donor Relationships in 2020: 5 Best Practices

Keep it up 

Your donors want to hear from you this summer and throughout the year. A communications calendar will be a huge help with this so your donors won’t wonder why you haven’t been in touch lately. 

The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan

1528715736_98556a9c65_w (1)I feel like the theme of most of my posts over the last several months is this is more important than ever. This could be a tough fundraising season, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a campaign this fall.

Something that should help is having a thank you plan. Thanking donors often takes a back seat to fundraising when you should spend equal time doing both. Many organizations just thank their donors after they receive a gift and then disappear until the next fundraising appeal.

With everything going on this year, your donors deserve heaps of gratitude. 

Thanking your donors is something you need to do throughout the year – at least once a month, if you can. Creating 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 check out. It should make a person feel good about making a donation.

Open with Thank you, Jen 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 (reference COVID-19). 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.

How to Create Post Donation Thank You Pages That Delight Donors

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.

How to Write a Great Donation Thank-you Email (with Examples)

Email Thank You Letter Examples for Donors

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. I know it’s harder to do 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 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 also want to conduct a short training (most likely via Zoom). 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, this is Rachel Clark 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. Our numbers have almost tripled over the last few months and we know that will continue, so we really appreciate your support.

You’ll stand out if you can send a thank you card. I received a couple of cards this summer, both from the same organization, which shows you what they prioritize! One was a postcard with a handwritten note. The other was a lovely card with a pre-printed personal message (addressing me by name and including a gift amount). While not as personal as a handwritten note, it may be more doable.

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, it’s time to freshen it up. 

Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization, we thank you for your donation of…. Open the letter with You’re incredible or Because of you, the Davis 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. Make sure all letters are hand signed.

Let your donors know how much you appreciate them and highlight what your organization is doing with their donations. Remember to keep it current.

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.

How to Write The Best Thank-You Letter for Donations + Three Templates and Samples

How to write a donation thank you letter

How to Craft a Killer Thank You Letter

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, 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 affecting 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.
  • 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.
  • While open houses and tours are off the table for now, you could do something virtual to let your donors see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

The post below references a donor acknowledgment plan for monthly donors with some personal ways to connect and you don’t have to come up with 12 different ideas. It’s okay to repeat some. While these are for monthly donors, and monthly donors should get their own thank yous, you can use them for other donors, too. 

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

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 ever-important gratitude.

Making Smart Investments is More Important than Ever

10688617385_ce1214d44d_w (1)Nonprofit organizations will be facing some tough times ahead. During an economic downturn, the need for nonprofit services grows while some donors won’t be able to give as much, if at all.

Your first inclination may be to make cuts or continue working with a bare-bones budget with the mindset “we can’t afford this.” 

I understand you want to be cautious. But you also want to use caution before you eliminate something you think you can’t afford. It may be something you should be investing in.

This is why you need to make smart investments. It may seem counterintuitive to spend money when you have so little, but if you make the right decisions, these investments can help you raise more money.

Invest in a good CRM/database

A good CRM (Customer Relationship Management)/database is a must for a number of reasons. First, it can help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by gift amount and politely ask them to give a little more in your next appeal – $35 or $50 instead of $25.

A good database can also 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. Some CRM’s also have an email component. Otherwise, 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.

You also want a CRM that everyone on your staff can access remotely. When the pandemic hit earlier this year and most everyone was forced to work from home, organizations that could access their CRM and still communicate with their donors had a clear advantage.

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

Nonprofit Software

Nonprofit CRM | Complete Guide to Choosing the Best Solution

Invest in monthly giving

Monthly donations are more important than ever now. If you already have monthly donors, or any type of recurring donor, you’ve been receiving a steady stream of revenue throughout the pandemic and economic downtown.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program or you want to grow the one you have, it’s not hard to do. Plus it’s a win-win for your organization since you can raise more money and raise your retention rate as well. The retention rate for monthly donors 90%. That’s significantly higher than other retention rates. 

It’s also easier for your donors if they’re worried about their financial situation, but still want to help. They can make small donations of $5.00 or $10.00 a month instead of giving the entire amount at once. 

Monthly giving is an investment you must make.

Invest in donor communications and that includes direct mail

Years ago, I was working at a nonprofit and our executive director said we shouldn’t do an e-newsletter anymore because we needed to concentrate on raising money.

I wish I knew then what I know now. Fundraising isn’t just about sending appeals. And to quote Tom Ahern – If you do better donor communications, you’ll have more money. 

Yet many nonprofits have a similar view. They don’t want to spend much time thanking their donors and sending newsletters and other updates, even though those types of donor communications can help you raise more money, provided you do it well. 

You don’t want to skimp on your communications budget and that includes 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, if you can.

Creating thank you cards and infographic postcards are a smart investment and a necessity, not a luxury. Thank you cards are a much better investment than mailing labels and other useless swag.

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.

Shorter is better. Lengthy communication (goodbye long annual reports) will cost more and your donors are less likely to read it.

Of course, you can use email and social media, but your primary reason for communicating those ways 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 you should honor their request.

You want to communicate with your donors at least once or twice a month. Use a communications calendar to help you with this.

5 Rules for a Successful Donor Communications Program

9 Best Practices for Communications That Stand Out

Nonprofit Fundraising: The Case for Direct Mail

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

Image by Thomas Lapperre  www.bloeise.nl.

How Nonprofits Can Benefit from Remote Work

49833571136_54d28261f7_wThe nonprofit sector is experiencing an urgent need to conduct business from a remote location. The perks of this arrangement include preventing workers and volunteers from contracting illnesses, spending less money on overhead, having people across the world become involved in your organization, and more. However, it does take work to make your organization function in a digital world.

Communication is key

Just about everyone knows that communication is crucial to running a successful organization. However, a remote work environment can make this more challenging. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to be proactive and communicate with your team.

No matter the size of your organization, reaching out to all staff on a regular basis to check in is important. Setting up meetings with tools such as Zoom or Google Hangouts allows you to visually check in with staff and make sure they have what they need to complete their tasks, as well as holding them accountable for their work. This is also a great time to address triumphs and challenges in their day-to-day lives.

Encouraging employees to have casual conversations is also important in building an organizational culture. Instant messaging apps such as Slack or Discord provide a great outlet for employees to talk to one another in a more casual setting. These applications are also great for quick questions and a way for teams to talk throughout the day.

Follow Cybersecurity Best Practices

As a nonprofit, donors and those you serve depend on you to keep their personal information secure. Cybersecurity starts with your employees. It’s important to train everyone affiliated with your organization on cybersecurity best practices. This includes things such as how to identify a phishing email, the importance of using strong passwords, and what to do if they suspect a cyberattack.

It’s also very important to use the proper software. Provide organizational laptops, if you are able to, and require that employees only work on these devices. If this isn’t feasible, stress the importance of staff installing an antivirus program on whichever device they use. In addition, stress the importance of using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if employees are working from a public Wi-Fi network, such as those at libraries and coffee shops if those are open.

If you are the victim of a cyberattack, it’s important to be upfront and honest with donors and the public. Having data backed up in another location will help you put everything back together quicker. However, when it comes to cybersecurity, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Work smarter, not harder

Creating an efficient workflow is important for every organization, but even more so for nonprofits. Technology like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can streamline many day-to-day tasks for your organization. A few examples would be emailing potential donors, donation processing, website chatbots, and tracking for tax and payroll purposes. These automated “bots” can be programmed from any location to perform any task for your organization, and can even make basic decisions on their own.

Automating tasks can help save you money on payroll and overhead, as well as making your organization active 24/7/365. This also frees up your workforce for tasks that require a human touch, such as connecting with donors and the public, creating strategy, and creating content for your nonprofit. In today’s world, this is technology that can be used by organizations of any size.

Be visible

In 2020, having a digital presence is more important than ever. This means having an easy-to-use and up-to-date website; being active on social media platforms; and reaching out to donors, other organizations, and the general public.

One great way to take advantage of online communication is communicating via video chat. Studies have shown that communicating visually is far more effective than audio-only communication. Reaching out to potential donors and volunteers via video is a great way to boost fundraising efforts. Thanking donors with a personalized video call is an excellent substitute for letting someone know you appreciate them if you can’t communicate in person.

Finally, in a sluggish economy, it’s especially important to communicate with the general public about what you’re doing and that you’re still active in the community. You can do this with frequent posting by email and on social media platforms, as well as encouraging staff to share updates on their own personal accounts.

In today’s unprecedented times, nonprofit organizations are some of the first to struggle. However, this does not mean that work needs to come to a standstill. Remote work and e-commerce are critically important today, and this trend will only continue in the future. Working to create a strong remote workplace will benefit your organization now, and in years to come. 

Make #GivingTuesdayNow a True Day of Giving

givtuesnow_logo_stacked Blue FINALwebYou may have heard that May 5th is #GivingTuesdayNow. It’s being billed as a day of giving and unity. 

I hope that’s the case because the year-end #GivingTuesday is more about asking and sometimes even begging. Just like everything else now, we need to change the ways we do things. This needs to be a true day of giving. Don’t make it the usual money grab. 

You may or may not be planning to participate. Don’t feel as if you need to, although you should be raising money now. If you’re not, you’ll be in trouble. Please don’t stop fundraising.

Many donors are being very generous right now. That may take a dip soon.

3 Phases of the Coronavirus Crisis and How Your Fundraising will Improve and be Stronger as You Move into the Third Phase

The post below spells out five reasons you should be fundraising now. The first one being – You won’t raise any money if you don’t ask.

5 Great Examples of Electronic Donation Solicitations During Covid-19

Perhaps you’ve participated in giving days in the past and they’ve been successful, or maybe they weren’t. Perhaps you’re planning to participate in one for the first time. Maybe you’re wondering if it’s best to just skip it, which doesn’t mean skipping out on fundraising altogether.

Should My Nonprofit Start a #GivingTuesdayNow Campaign on May 5?

#GivingTuesdayNow: The Pros and Cons of Participating

A successful giving campaign is about more than just raising a lot of money. You also want to build relationships and make your donors feel good about supporting your organization. This is often where it falls short.

Given the current situation, it’s vital that you concentrate on the gratitude and relationship building components. Don’t just blast a bunch of generic appeals.

I have a few suggestions to help make #GivingTuesdayNow more successful if you decide to participate in it and other alternatives if you don’t.

Address what’s happening now

Your fundraising appeals must address how the COVID-19 situation is affecting your organization and specifically detail how your donors can help the people/community you serve. 

Again, don’t send vague, generic appeals. The fact that it’s #GivingTuesdayNow probably won’t mean much to your donors. They need a compelling reason to donate to your organization.

Segment your donors

Segmentation is more important than ever. If donors have given in the last month or so, don’t ask them again right now. You can ask your year-end donors, but be sure to thank them for that gift.

The Importance of Segmenting Your Donors

Also, if you’re sending an appeal to your monthly donors who haven’t given an additional gift recently, recognize them as monthly donors. They can either upgrade or give an additional gift. They get their own thank you, too. 

Should You Thank Monthly Donors Who Make an Extra Gift?

Serve extra helpings of #donorlove

Your donors should be feeling the love right after they make their donation.

Make sure you have an engaging thank you landing page and thank you email for your online donors. You could even create ones especially for #GivingTuesdayNow, but don’t feel like you have to. Just make it special. Then you need to follow that with a more personalized thank you.

Give Your Donors the Best Thank You Possible

Here’s where segmentation comes into play again. Send a welcome email to new donors. Acknowledge your current donors and let them know how important their support is, especially if they’re giving additional donations.

In the past, giving days have had a transactional feel to them. That can’t happen right now. Go the extra mile and do a good job of thanking these donors – both right after they’ve made their donation and throughout the year. 

Remember to stay in touch and build relationships.

Other alternatives

If you don’t want to launch a full #GivingTuesdayNow campaign (understandable), you can use it to follow up with people who haven’t donated to your emergency or spring appeal. 

Maybe you’ll decide to bypass it altogether. Keep in mind other organizations will be participating. I don’t know how many, but your messages could be competing with a lot of appeals. 

You have an opportunity to stand out here by keeping your fundraising campaign focused on gratitude and relationship building. You want to ramp up your donor communication so people don’t think you’re only asking them for money.

I think you’ll find your #GivingTuesdayNow campaign, or any fundraising campaign, will be more successful if you focus on making it a true day of giving, which means giving back to your donors.

Giving comes in many shapes and sizes. Give back to your community, if you can. You can also give to yourself. What you need now? Maybe it’s a Zoom gathering with friends or some solitude. Keep staying safe and be well.

You Have Options When Creating Your Annual Report

37807079994_1c564aee84_wAre you dreading putting together your annual report?  You think it’s time-consuming, but it’s something you always do. Plus your board wants you to do it, although you’re not sure your donors actually read it.

And why would donors want to read an annual report when many of them are long, boring, and basically a demonstration of the organization patting itself on the back?

Annual reports don’t have to be a negative experience for you or your donors. You have options when creating your annual report. 

First, you don’t have to do one, but you do have to share accomplishments with your donors. You might want to ditch the annual report and send short progress reports a couple of times a year or monthly e-updates instead.

If you decide to do an annual report, I encourage you to move away from the traditional multi-page one. Aim for something no longer than four pages. Shorter is better.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you create an annual report that won’t put your donors to sleep and make it a little easier for you to put together.

Your annual report is for your donors

Keep your donors in mind when you create your annual report and include information you know will interest them.

You may want to consider different types of annual reports for different donor groups. You could send an oversized postcard with photos and infographics or a one-to-two-page report to most of your donors. Your grant and corporate funders might want more detail, but not 20 pages. See if you can impress them with no more than four pages.

Make it a gratitude report

Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit. Think of this as a gratitude report. You may want to call it that instead of an annual report.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. Get inspired by these examples.

Oregon Zoo Gratitude Report

Power of Storytelling | The most moving gratitude report I’ve ever seen

How are you making a difference?

The theme of many annual reports is look how great we are. They are organization centered and not donor-centered.  

They also include a bunch of boring lists, such as the number of clients served. You need to share specific accomplishments that show how you’re making a difference.

Focus on the why and not the what. Something like this – Thanks to you, 85% of the students in our tutoring program have improved their math skills and now have a better chance of graduating from high school on time.

Phrases like Thanks to you and Because of you should dominate your annual report.

Tell a story

Donors love to hear about the people they’re helping. You can tell a story with words, a photo, or a video. Share a success story.

For example –  Kevin, a junior at Douglas High School, couldn’t stand math. “I don’t understand it and when am I going to actually use Geometry?” he asked. Geometry was worse than Algebra, which was” horrible.” Then Kevin started meeting weekly with Josh, one of our volunteer tutors. It was a struggle at first, but thanks to Josh’s patience and encouragement, Kevin is starting to understand math and is doing much better. Now he doesn’t dread Geometry class.

Make it visual

Your donors are busy and don’t have a lot of time to read your report. Engage them with some great photos, which can tell a story in an instant. Choose photos of people participating in an activity, such as Josh helping Kevin with his math.

Use colorful charts or infographics to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand. Include some quotes and short testimonials to help break up the text.

Be sure your report is easy to read. Use at least a 12-point font and black type on a white background. A colored background may be pretty, but it makes it hard to read. You can, however, add a splash of color with headings, charts, and infographics.

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend

Beware of using jargon. Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you. Use everyday language such as – Because of you, we found affordable housing for over 100 homeless families. Now they no longer have to live in a shelter, a motel, or their cars and have a place to call home.

Write in the second person and use a warm, friendly tone. Use you much more than we.

Planning is key

One problem with annual reports is organizations send them out months after the year is over and at that point the information is outdated.

Yes, putting together an annual report can be time-consuming. One way to make it easier is to set aside a time each month to make a list of accomplishments. This way you’re not going crazy at the end of the year trying to come up with a list. You can just turn to the list you’ve been working on throughout the year.

You also want to create a story and photo bank and you can draw from those when you put together your annual report.

Of course, a shorter report or an infographic postcard will help ensure your 2019 report doesn’t arrive in your donor’s mailbox the following spring or later. Remember, you also have the option of not doing one and sending periodic short updates.

Whatever you decide, put together an annual report that’s a better experience for everyone. Read on for more information about creating a great annual, or even better –  a gratitude report.

How to Craft a 1-Page Nonprofit Annual Report

Donor-Centered Nonprofit Annual Reports

Best Nonprofit Annual Reports 2019

Why You Should Stop Saying “Annual Report” (And What to Call it Instead)

Photo by CreditDebitPro

Make a Good Impression by Showing Some #DonorLove

4810189_15c7e30d55_zNot long ago while I was scrolling through my email, one message stood out. It was a thank you video from a nonprofit organization. A week or so before that I received a thank you card from another nonprofit.

Unfortunately, those are the only examples of #DonorLove from the last few weeks that I can share with you. I’d also like to tell you I received a bunch of wonderful thank yous after I made my year-end gifts, but I can’t. Most of them were automatically generated thank you emails or the usual boring form letter.

We can do better!

I don’t know where your organization stands, but if you’re like many, you’re sleepwalking through your #DonorLove practice. Thanking your donors is not a we do this after we receive a donation and then we don’t have to do anything situation. 

#DonorLove is something you need to show all year-round and with Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s a perfect opportunity to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support.

8 Strategies to Celebrate Nonprofit Donors on Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day: Donor Love Infographic

Maybe you would rather not go the Valentine’s Day route, but you should still do something to show appreciation this month (and every month). The holidays are over and February can be a dreary month. Your donors would appreciate a little mood booster.

This is also a good opportunity to keep in touch with the people who gave to your year-end appeal, especially first-time donors. If you haven’t shown any #DonorLove since your year-end appeal, don’t wait much longer.

Here are a few ways you can show some #DonorLove.

Create a thank you photo

Make your donor’s day with a great photo, like this.

Image result for pictures of people holding thank you signs

You can send thank you photos via email and social media, use one to create a card, and include one on your thank you landing page.

Make a video

Videos are becoming an increasingly popular way to connect. Here’s a link to the thank you video I recently received. 

Thanks to our compassionate community!

It’s simple, yet effective, so don’t worry if you weren’t a film major. It’s not too hard to create a video.

How to Create a Donor Thank You Video

One idea for your video is to show a bunch of people saying thank you. You’ll want your video to be short, donor-centered, and show your organization’s work up close and personal.

Your thank you landing page is a perfect place to put a video. This is your first opportunity to say thank you and most landing pages are just boring receipts. You can also put your thank you video on your website and share it by email and social media.

Nonprofit Thank You Video Script

A Thank You Video to Promote Donor Retention

Send a card

A handwritten note will also brighten your donor’s day. If you don’t have the budget to send cards to everyone, send them to your most valuable donors. These may not be the ones who give you the most money. Do you have donors who have supported your organization for more than three years? How about more than five years? These are your valuable donors. Don’t take them for granted.

That said, I do think you should make every effort to send a card to ALL your donors at least once a year. You can spread it out so you mail a certain number of cards each month, ensuring all your donors get one sometime in the year. I also think it’s nice to send something during times of the year when donors might least expect it, such as May or September.

Most organizations don’t send thank you cards, so you’ll stand out if you do.

Share an update or success story

In addition to saying thank you, share a brief update or success story. Emphasize how you couldn’t have helped someone without your donor’s support. For example –Thanks to you, Jeremy won’t go to bed hungry tonight.

Phrases like Thanks to you or Because of you should dominate your newsletters and updates.

Back to basics

Make this the year you do a better job of thanking your donors. Thank your donors right away and send a thank you note/letter or make a phone call. Electronic thank yous aren’t good enough.

Be personal and conversational when you thank your donors. Don’t use jargon or other language they won’t understand. Write from the heart, but be sincere. Give specific examples of how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Make thanking your donors a priority

I’m a big proponent of communicating by mail, even if it’s only a few times a year. It’s much more personal. Yet, many nonprofits are skittish about spending too much on mailing costs.

If your budget doesn’t allow you to mail handwritten cards, is there a way you can change that? You may be able to get a print shop to donate cards. You could also look for additional sources of unrestricted funding to cover cards and postage. Think of these as essential expenses.

Maybe you need a change of culture – a culture of gratitude. This comes from the top, but you also need to get your board, all staff, and volunteers invested and involved in thanking your donors. 

You can’t say thank you enough. Make a commitment to thank your donors at least once a month. Create a thank you plan to help you with this. Planning ahead and creating systems makes a difference.

Create a system for expressing gratitude

Keep thinking of ways to show some #DonorLove. Stand out and impress your donors. 

Nonprofit Donor Thank You’s: What are You Doing to Stand Out?

20 Engaging Ideas for Donation Thank You Letters

Thanking a Donor by Email: Best Practices and Examples

You don’t even need to wait for a holiday or special occasion. Just thank your donors because they’re amazing and you wouldn’t be able to make a difference without them.

How Monthly Giving is a Win-Win for Your Nonprofit

48257299076_b34347f77e_wA few weeks ago I wrote about ways to help you become more successful in 2020. One of those was to emphasize monthly giving. I’d like to elaborate on that some more in this post.

Monthly giving is a win-win for your nonprofit. You can raise more money and boost your retention rate. Also, once donors opt into monthly giving, it’s an easier way for them to support your organization.

You can raise more money

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

It’s easier on their bank accounts. 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 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 monthly gift is $24 a month.

Check out this retention rate

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. 

Getting started

If you don’t already have a monthly giving program, make this the year you start one. It’s not as hard as you think.

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. 

Are you missing this key fundraising “system?”

Make monthly giving the go-to option

Make monthly giving front and center in all your campaigns. It should be an easy option on your donation page. Include it on your pledge form and make it a prominent part of your appeal, 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, is that happening if your minimum deters someone from giving at all? You often have to invest a little to raise more money.

Show some #donorlove

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, which I explain more in the post below. 

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

Reach out at least once a month

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

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.

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.

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.  

The Holy Grail of Fundraising

These donors made a commitment to you by giving every month. Make the same commitment to them by reaching out at least once a month. Create a special section in your communications calendar specifically for monthly donors to help with this.

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.

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.

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 or letter. This will help you, as well, so you can keep receiving a steady stream of donations.

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

Once a monthly donor, always a monthly donor

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

I think the best way to raise additional money from monthly donors is to ask them to upgrade their monthly gift. Be as specific as possible. For example – We’re so happy you’re part of our family of monthly donors and are grateful for your gift of $5.00 a month. 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 high schools.

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.

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. Read on for more about monthly giving.

Planning Your Monthly Giving Strategy For The Year: A Step-By-Step Guide

Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

How to start a monthly giving program for your small nonprofit

Vector Art by Epic Top 10