5 Fatal Donor Communication Mistakes Nonprofits Should Avoid

Donor communication can be the key to growing your nonprofit’s community and reaching your fundraising goals. Be wary of these 5 fatal communication mistakes!

By Steve Page

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When your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts are in full swing, it can be easy to get caught up in a numbers game of trying to reach your fundraising benchmarks.

However, if your team wants to raise as much money as possible for your cause, there’s one area of your fundraising strategy that you shouldn’t disregard: your donor communications.

Having an air-tight donor communication strategy in place is one of the fundamentals of perfecting your fundraising strategy. Without optimizing how your organization connects with donors, your nonprofit could be missing out on some of your most important supporters.

Not sure if your nonprofit is making the most of how you communicate with donors? Look out for these five fatal donor communication mistakes that could derail your fundraising efforts:

  1. You don’t have a donor communication strategy in place
  2. You’re failing to communicate through diverse channels
  3. You’re discounting traditional donor communication channels
  4. You’re not thinking through your social media strategy
  5. You’re not making the most out of your email communications

Ready to learn how to overcome these common donor communication missteps? Let’s dive right in!

Bonus! Is your nonprofit looking to strengthen all areas of your fundraising strategy? Check out MobileCause’s fundraising software buyer’s guide to learn about how investing in the right online tools can help your team fundraise better, as well as improve your donor communications.

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1. You don’t have a communication strategy in place

One of the biggest mistakes nonprofit organizations make is failing to identify where and how they want to see their communication strategy grow like they would for their fundraising strategy as a whole.

It’s important that your team takes the time to develop an overarching communication strategy to shape each individual strategy from its foundation. As your team makes changes to improve the way you connect with donors, consider some of the following tactics.

Identify your communications goals.

While the ultimate goal of your communication strategy should be to increase donations and achieve the goals of your fundraising strategy, you also need to identify tangible benchmarks to meet that are specific to donor communications, such as adding new supporters to your email list or increasing profile views on your social media pages.

Create a communications calendar.

When your team plans out a fundraising campaign, you likely create a fundraising calendar to structure how the campaign plays out. Similarly, your team should create a communications calendar that accounts for each channel of your communications with donors. This way, you can easily keep track of what each channel is responsible for and when you will communicate.

Keep your plan flexible and responsive.

Now that you’ve developed actionable goals for your overall communication strategy, periodically follow up on them throughout your fundraising calendar and see what’s working. If you’re not progressing as planned, make the necessary changes across all arms of your communication with donors.

Bonus! Thinking through your nonprofit’s communication strategy should be one of the central parts of developing your fundraising plan. Check out Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s guide to crafting your nonprofit’s fundraising plan for more tips to get ahead!

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2. You’re failing to communicate through diverse channels

When it comes to your nonprofit’s community of supporters, your team should know better than anyone that they have donors from many different walks of life.

To paint them with the same brush would be shortsighted, and your fundraising strategy likely already accounts for differences in giving capacity, age, gender, region, and more.

That being said, with supporters coming in all shapes and sizes, it’s doubly important that your donor communication strategy takes account of these differences by thoughtfully implementing multiple channels of donor communication.

Put simply, your team needs to have a targeted multichannel donor communication strategy in place if you want to effectively communicate with your supporters.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! Develop specific communication strategies for:

  • Social media
  • Email
  • Phone
  • Direct mail

Many of your donors will respond better to certain communication channels over others. Some may not even use a particular channel of communication and will be completely blind to any calls to action, invitations to upcoming fundraising events, or other information that might be primarily shared on that channel.

To avoid missing out on members of your donor community, you can assess the reach of campaigns on different communication channels by using A/B testing as a means of comparison.

Additionally, by carefully segmenting your lists of supporters, you can more accurately identify the demographics of your donors and volunteers. With this knowledge, you’ll have a better idea of which communication channels to prioritize and how to better approach communicating across all channels.

The next sections will show you how to communicate more effectively on specific channels.

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3. You’re discounting traditional donor communication channels

These days, when nonprofits talk about donor communication the conversation usually circles back to one thing: social media. Having an effective social media communication strategy certainly is important and your team should take the time to hone how you communicate with donors within that important medium.

However, although donors are increasingly turning to digital means of accessing and engaging with nonprofits online, that doesn’t mean your organization should completely discount more traditional communication channels.

In particular, communicating with donors via the phone and through direct mail can both be useful ways to build relationships with supporters who might not respond well to email communication or who don’t spend much time on social media.

Even better? Just because these methods have been around for a long time, that doesn’t mean they can’t be brought into the 21st century! You can easily integrate online fundraising tools and tactics into your phone and direct mail donor communication strategies.

For example, your team could set up a phonathon run by staff or volunteers. They can call potential supporters and process their donations using your online donation forms in a matter of minutes. With this method, you can access potential donors who may need assistance in completing their online donation or those who simply need an extra reminder to give.

When it comes to direct mail, you could include a QR code or the URL of your online donation form in any mail communication you have with donors. Because this communication is on paper, these supporters can keep the letter up on their fridge or desk if they’re not immediately able to donate, which serves as a more permanent reminder of your ongoing campaign.

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4. You’re not thinking through your social media strategy

In much the same way that a nonprofit might lean too heavily on social media communications to connect with donors and end up neglecting more traditional communication methods, it’s just as easy for your team to fail to think through your social media strategy entirely.

Many nonprofits seem to see social media communication as a new frontier for connecting with donors. Because of this, some organizations think that any form of social media communication will be effective and that just having an active Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram page will help boost their fundraising efforts.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it appears! Effectively using social media to engage with donors should take time, research, and a strategic approach.

Your team can start this process by asking yourselves the following questions.

What are we posting about?

Your nonprofit’s social media profiles should be sharing a variety of relevant information with supporters, but not overwhelming them with a lot of white noise. Aim to consistently post 3-5 times each day, and vary the types of posts you share. You should share upcoming events, call supporters to action with donation requests, post impact videos, and even interact with supporters’ own posts.

Are we steering supporters toward donation tools?

Some of your supporters will only encounter your organization on social media and never venture onto your nonprofit’s main website. Because of this, it’s important to get your online donation form in front of these visitors while they’re on your social media pages. By sharing links to your forms or even embedding these forms in your Facebook page, these supporters are more likely to give.

How can we learn more about our community through social media?

What’s great about social media communication with donors is that it can tell you a lot about who you’re interacting with, their habits, and the types of engagement strategies that work with them. Track metrics such as post views, click through rates, and more by analyzing how your supporters respond to your social media strategy. Armed with this knowledge, you can tailor your approach to better serve your social media audience in the future.

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5. You’re not making the most out of your email communications

In much the same way that your team should take a dynamic approach to communicating with donors via social media, the same can apply to how your nonprofit uses email to connect with donors.

Right now, your organization may simply be using email to remind supporters about upcoming donation deadlines or the next big fundraising event. However, your email communication strategy can do so much more!

Consider some of the following ways your team can maximize email communications with your donors:

  • Enable giving through email. Just as you should enable giving through your social media pages, your team can make giving easier for supporters by directing them to your online donation form right from your email messages.
  • Pair email campaigns with text-to-donate messages. Strengthen your email campaigns with text-to-donate reminders. When you pair email calls to action with a text reminder to give, you can increase your nonprofit’s email open rate from an average of 14% to 90%!
  • Track campaigns with shortlinks and keywords. Be sure to create unique keywords and short links for each of your fundraising campaign’s donation pages. This way, by including these in your email communication with donors, you can track engagement.
  • Use email to thank your donors and send updates. Your donors need to feel appreciated and receive regular updates from you. Email is a great way to stay in touch.

Just like with social media communication, it’s important to not relegate your email strategy to simply performing one task. Make the most of your email communications by using them to both steer supporters toward donating and to learn more about your community.

Keeping in touch with donors can be daunting! Now that your nonprofit knows what missteps to look out for, it’s time to start perfecting the way you connect with your supporters.

Steve Page is a blogger, marketer, and webmaster for MobileCause, the world’s leading mobile and online fundraising platform. MobileCause helps organizations reach their goals with a full suite of mobile-friendly solutions that allow donors to connect and give to your cause from any device. When he’s not working at MobileCause, Steve can usually be found helping organizations with their websites, learning the latest marketing trends, or working on his golf game.

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Low-Cost Fundraising: 6 Innovative Ideas

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By Kerri Moore

It’s hard to raise money and it’s more difficult if you have limited resources. In this post, Kerri Moore of Booster has some low-cost fundraising ideas for you. Some don’t even involve asking for money but emphasize building relationships with the donors you already have.


Low-cost fundraising isn’t just about saving your nonprofit some extra cash.

After all, a cost can be:

  • The time it takes to plan and execute a fundraising campaign or event.
  • The labor of your staff, volunteers, and fundraising team.
  • Net fundraising expenses, which you can measure as cost per dollar.

This might sound paradoxical, but to keep all of your costs low, your organization will need to make an investment. 1

An investment in your donors, that is.

It’s much more expensive to acquire new donors than it is to work with the supporters you already have.

That’s why building up donor relationships is the best way to keep fundraising costs low.

Check out these six innovative ideas that focus on your nonprofit’s relationship with your donors:

  1. Brand t-shirts and products.
  2. Strategize with social media.
  3. Host a thank-a-thon.
  4. Leverage your supporters.
  5. Host a community drive.
  6. Appeal for recurring donations.

Let’s get started with number 1.

1. Brand t-shirts and products.

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Low-cost product fundraisers are an effective way to entice donors to give without breaking your budget.

But to create long-term low-cost fundraising, you’ll need to brand your products so that donors become invested in your organization.

T-shirts are one of the most effective products, but there are plenty of options that can suit your organization’s needs, whether it be a school, church, or traditional nonprofit. 2

That said, t-shirts for your fundraising campaign allow supporters to:

  • Support your organization with a donation.
  • Promote your nonprofit by wearing the shirt and spreading the word.
  • Remind your supporters of your nonprofit and their connection to your cause.

That’s why it’s vital that you brand your t-shirts or products with the name of your fundraising campaign and/or your nonprofit’s name and logo.

Make your cause tangible on the shirts, so that anyone who sees them can understand your message. 3

Since t-shirts can be extremely affordable, or even free (with a cost per shirt sold, rather than an upfront charge), they’ll help keep your costs low. 4

2. Strategize with social media.

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With rising print costs, communicating and advertising over mail can be a strain on your organization’s budget.

While we would never advise that you forgo print communication channels, a strong social media strategy can supplement your print efforts and diminish your donor acquisition costs.

After all, social media allows your supporters to share information about your nonprofit with their own networks. Many peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns capitalize on social media for this very reason.

Producing quality material for social media is important and the internet offers plenty of free or affordable software to help you advertise on the web. 5

Social media integration for your online fundraising platform is important, and mobile-friendly pages are a must. 6

Beyond the technical basics, how can you use social media to keep your costs low?

  • Spread awareness with a hashtag. A hashtag is the perfect tool to advertise your fundraising campaign, and they’re free to make! You will, however, want to take the time to choose a hashtag that encompasses your campaign. Something simple, something catchy, an alluring alliteration — all of these factors are elements of a strong hashtag.
  • Host a soft launch. One of the most cost-effective means of building hype for your campaign is hosting a soft launch, where your supporters and board members donate to your campaign before it’s launched to the public. A soft launch taps into social psychology. If people see that others have already donated, then they’ll be more inclined to give themselves.
  • Live tweet your campaign. Twitter allows you to update your followers on your fundraising campaign — for free! A social media coordinator can post live updates about your campaign. A little wit goes a long way. You could, for example, tie your campaign into current, trending topics to attract retweets and favorites.

Creating an effective social media strategy is the perfect low-cost way to advertise your campaign and connect with more supporters.

3. Host a thank-a-thon.

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If you’ve heard of walkathons, you’ll get the gist of a thank-a-thon. 7  Your fundraising team, as well as volunteers, board members, and supporters, come together for an hour or two of pure gratitude to thank people for their recent donations.

If you can’t call everyone during the thank-a-thon, call major or mid-level donors with major donor potential. Calling first-time donors often results in repeat gifts.

This fundraising strategy does not involve asking for money.

Instead, you’re building stronger donor relationships in a single, deliberate effort, which will ultimately benefit your fundraising down the road. 8

A thank-a-thon is a low-cost activity that you can modify to suit your needs.

Besides making calls, you can, for example:

  • Hand-write thank you notes.
  • Thank each social media supporter in the comments.
  • Have each team member hold up a sign with a donor’s name, take a picture, and post it to your campaign’s Facebook page.

The possibilities are endless.

The goal is to go beyond your typical thanking strategy to ensure that your donors feel more appreciated at your organization than they do anywhere else.   

4. Leverage your supporters.

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Keeping your fundraising costs low means using the resources you already have to your advantage.

You can reach out to your supporters directly, or you can perform preliminary research and make targeted appeals. 9

Here are just a few ideas of how you can leverage your supporters:

  • Board members can host events. A fancy, intimate event is a staple of major donor relations, but venues, food, and entertainment costs can add up quickly. A board member may be able to offer a nice property or valuable connections that can cut overhead costs. Take 10 minutes during a meeting to have each member write down three possible contributions that they could offer.
  • Hold a skills clinic. Everyone has talent. Your organization is probably full of people with unique skill sets. A skills clinic allows your supporters to contribute to your organization and the community, all while having fun at a unique and cost-effective event.
  • Promote matching gifts. Many companies offer matching gifts opportunities, where a company will match their employees’ gifts. Taking a look at your supporters’ business affiliations can indicate who’s sitting on a donation that could be doubled. You can also promote matching gifts to your entire organization so that everyone is aware of the opportunity.

Whether you’re looking for business affiliations or valuable connections, keeping an organized database of your supporters can help you identify the people with the potential to offset costs — and further your cause! 10

5. Host a community drive.

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A community drive not only benefits your nonprofit, but it helps your community!

There are plenty of different ways that this type of campaign can work, but the concept is the same: supporters supply the products, and your nonprofit makes a nearly pure profit.

Here are some ideas for community drives that your organization can try:

  • Bottle and can drive.
  • Upcycled artwork.
  • Prom dress drive.
  • Used batteries.
  • Old cell phones.
  • Used book sale.

You can even turn some of these drives into an event or an auction to promote more fundraising. 11

Ultimately, your product drive should help people in your community or the environment.

The most important part of pulling off a community drive is spreading awareness so that people donate their recyclables or gently used products.

6. Appeal for recurring donations.

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A fundraising campaign can reap great rewards for your nonprofit, but part of keeping your cost-to-benefit ratio in good territory means planning for long-term success.

Recurring donations are a means for donors to continue their support after your fundraising campaign ends.

Creating a strong appeal for recurring donations can encourage supporters to make more than a one-time, in-the-moment donation when they give to your campaign. 12

You can, for example, emphasize the simplicity and ease of recurring donations (especially at churches, where recurring tithes are an easy way for supporters to make their weekly contributions). 13

Or, you can craft your campaign’s focus around recurring donations. For example, you can suggest that supporters give up one $30 meal per month to feed hungry children for 30 days. Hashtag with #30for30, and you’re set for low-cost fundraising!

Are you ready to innovate your low-cost fundraising? Well, don’t forget to keep your donors in mind.

Their relationships with your nonprofit are priceless, so building strong connections is the most cost-effective fundraising you can do!

Sources
  1. https://anngreennonprofit.com/2015/11/24/make-an-investment-in-your-donors/
  2. http://blog.booster.com/school-fundraising-ideas/
  3. https://anngreennonprofit.com/2015/03/04/steer-clear-of-generic/
  4. https://doublethedonation.com/product-fundraising-ideas/
  5. https://anngreennonprofit.com/2012/06/27/choose-quality-over-quantity-part-two-social-media/
  6. https://doublethedonation.com/nonprofit-software-and-resources/online-fundraising-guide/
  7. http://blog.booster.com/walkathon-guide/
  8. https://anngreennonprofit.com/2015/07/13/dont-treat-thanking-your-donors-as-an-afterthought/
  9. http://www.donorsearch.net/
  10. https://www.360matchpro.com/top-matching-gift-companies/
  11. http://www.bidpal.com/charity-auction-item-ideas/
  12. https://anngreennonprofit.com/2015/09/02/how-to-create-an-a-appeal-letter/
  13. https://www.atpay.com/church-management-tips/

Kerri Moore is the Director of Marketing at Booster, Created by CustomInk. She Headshot-Kerri-Mooreand her team help create content aimed at maximizing organizers’ fundraising potential and furthering their mission to raise awareness for the cause or passion that means the most to them.

Choose Quality Over Quantity – Part Two – Social Media

One of my favorite quotes is this one from marketing expert Seth Godin. Is more always better?  Sometimes, better is better.”  I’ve been exploring ways this applies to nonprofit communications. In Part One I covered email newsletters. Choose Quality Over Quantity – Part One – Your Email Newsletter Part Two is about social media.

If you are on social media, you know it often seems to be more about quantity than quality.  People will post just about anything, such as what they ate for lunch or that they are at Starbucks.  But to be successful on social media you need to focus on quality.

Social media is social
In this post, I’m going to focus on Facebook and Twitter.  For both of these, the number of followers you have isn’t as important as how good they are.  Some of your followers may not be paying that much attention to you.  How often do people comment on or share any of your content?  If you receive a comment, do you respond back?  Don’t forget about the social in social media.

Putting your face on Facebook
Post content your followers will be interested in. This can include links to success stories on your website, links to newsletter articles that show how you are making a difference, engaging photos, and high-quality videos.   

One of the great things about Facebook is that you can start a conversation. Ask questions and encourage feedback from your followers.  Respond to comments you receive.  Keep the conversation going.

Navigating the Twitter stream
To me the Twitter stream is more like a fire hydrant. A lot of information is pouring out of it. Some of it good – some not so much. Make whatever you send out something that will rise above the waves of constant information.

You only have 140 characters, so use them wisely. Can you make your tweet clear and compelling?  Don’t abbreviate so much that your message is not understandable. Make sure it looks professional and not like teenager’s text message.

Remember that good social media is sharing other people’s content. Retweet messages your supporters might be interested in. You can also use Twitter to engage in a conversation. Ask questions.  Replying to tweets is another way to engage. If someone retweets any of your content, be sure to thank them.  Keep it social.

Think it through
Social media can be an “in the moment” type of communication, but it shouldn’t be when you use it professionally. It should require just as much planning and strategy as your other types of communication. Also, be sure your content is consistent with your organization’s messaging.

Bridgegspan recommends organizations spend between two and six hours a week posting to Facebook and Twitter, and one to four hours a week responding to comments. You can use Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, or a similar program to set up posts in advance. But some spontaneity is good, too. That’s why you should try to go on at least once a day to see what’s new and to check if you have received any comments.

You can post several times a day, as long as you have quality content to share. But don’t send out a lot of messages at once.  Spread them out over of the course of the day. 

Be consistent with how often you post.  If you only have time for one or two posts a day, then stick to that. What’s most important is that you have something good to share.  Quality trumps quantity.

Get organized
Use an editorial calendar for all your communication including social media. This way you can keep track of when your newsletters go out, events, and other relevant dates, and use social media to promote these. LightBox Collaborative’s 2012 Editorial Calendar 

In addition, keep track of your engagement. Both Facebook and Twitter have analytical tools to help with this, so do platforms such as Hootsuite.


Still the new kid on the block
Social media is still fairly new, and may not be your primary mode of communication right now. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth investing a little time in creating well-written, high-quality content so you can engage with your supporters.

Quality check
Before you post anything on Facebook or Twitter, ask yourself:

Does it include information our supporters care about?

Is it high-quality?

If in doubt, don’t send it out.

Quality counts!

How does your organization use social media?