How to Create a Better Fundraising Appeal That Will Stand Out

Can you believe September is already here? It happens to be my favorite month. As someone who doesn’t like heat and humidity, I welcome the refreshing air it brings.

It also brings us to the start of the busiest time of the year for nonprofit organizations, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal. 

Even if you’re not planning on launching your campaign until later in the fall, you should get started on your appeal now. Everything takes longer than you think, especially in these uncertain times.

You need to create an appeal that will stand out and resonate with your donors. That doesn’t mean using the same boring, generic template you’ve used for years.

You need a letter that takes into account what’s going on in 2021. You must address how the current state of the pandemic is affecting your clients/community.

Your appeal also 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 appeal that will stand out.

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 2021 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 – Martha, a single mother with three kids, has had a tough year. It’s been hard to find steady work and there’s barely enough money to pay the bills and buy groceries for her family. 

But thanks to generous donors like you (or because of our generous donors if you’re writing to people who haven’t given before), she’s been able to get boxes of healthy food at the Riverside Community Food Bank. At first, Martha was embarrassed that she had to rely on a food bank to feed her family, but she’s always treated with respect and dignity when she visits. 

We want to continue providing Martha and other members of our community with healthy food when they need it.

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.

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

Keep Connecting With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

Next comes the 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. Don’t be afraid to ask your donors to upgrade their gifts. People want to help if they can.

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

Asking for an upgrade can help you raise more money. Also, if you’ve been doing a good job of engaging your donors throughout the year (and I hope you have been), they shouldn’t mind if you ask for a larger gift. Including the amount of your donor’s previous gift is helpful since people don’t often remember what they gave before.

Be donor-centered, as well as community-centered

There’s been some dichotomy this past year 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 your organization continues to face challenges. Maybe you’ve started to provide in-person services or put on performances, but you’re not sure how much longer you’ll be able to do that thanks to the Delta variant. 

How you do your work is less important than why you do your work. You need to continue to provide healthy food to families while doing it safely.

Highlight some of your accomplishments, but you can share challenges, too. 

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 crucial

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 stepped up with additional contributions over the last 18 months, 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 to give

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. 

Why Monthly Giving Makes Sense

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.

How to Ruin Good Copy

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.

We could be looking at another tough fundraising season. That’s why you need to spend some time writing a better appeal letter that will stand out and help bring you the donations you need. Good luck!

Read on for more advice on writing a better fundraising appeal.

10 Ways to Make Your Year-End Appeal Letter Better

How To Write A Fundraising Appeal In 5 Steps

Direct Mail Appeals for Nonprofits: 5 Best Practices

So you want to write to donors

Keep Connecting With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of connecting with your donors by sharing stories. Written stories are great, but donors may not have the time or energy to read a story.

This is why you also need to use visual stories. Some people respond better to visual stimuli, anyway. Here are a few ways to tell visual stories.

Tell a story in an instant with a great photo

You’ve probably heard the phrase a picture is worth a 1000 words. Cliche, yes, but it’s true.

You can capture your donors’attention in an instant with a great photo. That doesn’t mean one of your executive director receiving an award. Use photos of your programs in action or something else that’s engaging.

Print newsletters and annual reports tend to be dominated by long-winded text. Most of your donors won’t want to read the whole thing. But if you share some engaging photos, your donors can get a quick glance at the impact of their gift without having to slog through a bunch of tedious text.

Photos can enhance your print communication by breaking up the narrative. You can also complement your written stories with photos. Here’s a great example from an update I recently received.

You’ll notice that it’s a short, but engaging update. There’s no need for long print pieces. If you’re worried about mailing costs, postcards and other short pieces with photos are the way to go. You could even do a Postcard Annual Report 

If you use social media, you need to communicate several times a week. As your donors scroll through an endless number of Facebook and Twitter posts, an engaging photo can stand out and get their attention.

Use photos everywhere – fundraising appeals, thank you letters/cards, newsletters, annual reports, updates, your website, and social media. Create a photo bank to help you with this.

It’s fine to use the same photos in different channels. It can help with your brand identity. Be sure to use high-quality pictures. Also, make sure your photos match your messages. If you’re writing a fundraising appeal about children who aren’t getting enough to eat each day, don’t use a picture of happy kids.

Work with your program staff to get photos and videos (more on videos below). Confidentiality issues may come up and you’ll need to get permission to use pictures of kids.

10 Ways Nonprofits Can Leverage Visual Storytelling

6 Ways to Tell Your Nonprofit Story With Images

6 Steps to Establishing a Photo Policy that Boosts Giving & Shows Respect

Highlight your work with a video

Videos are becoming a more popular way to connect. They can be used to show your programs in action, share an interview, give a behind-the-scenes look at your organization, or my favorite – thanking your donors. 

You can share videos that are relevant to our current situations. If you’re a museum that’s re-opened, you can show people how they can visit it safely. You could give a virtual tour of some of your collections for people who aren’t comfortable visiting. You could also talk about how the pandemic or systemic racism has impacted the people/community you work with. 

I would definitely recommend creating a personalized thank you video. If that’s not possible, you can make a general one.

How to (Easily) Thank Donors with Video

Make your videos short and high quality. Short is key. People are still spending a lot more time online. If your video is more than a couple of minutes, they may not bother to watch it.

You can use videos on your website, in an email message, on social media, and at an event (virtual or in person, when it’s safe).

6 Ways to Fundraise With Video

5 Examples of Nonprofit Storytelling that Compel People to Give

5 Inspirational Nonprofit Impact Story Videos

Spruce up your statistics by using infographics

A typical annual report is loaded with statistics. You want to share these, along with your accomplishments, but you don’t want to overwhelm your donors with a lot of text.

Why not use an infographic instead of the usual laundry list of statistics and accomplishments? Here are some examples. 

A Great Nonprofit Annual Report in a Fabulous Infographic

Infographics are also great in other types of communication such as newsletters and updates.

6 Types of Nonprofit Infographics to Boost Your Campaigns

3 Infographic Tips for Nonprofits

10 Tools for Creating Nonprofit Infographics

Good visuals will enhance both your print and electronic communication. Keep your donors engaged with all types of stories.

A Beginner’s Guide to Visual Storytelling in Your Nonprofit Communications

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

After the year we’ve just been through, most people have realized the importance of connection. Your nonprofit organization also needs to make connections with your donors. One of the best ways to do that is to share stories.

Donors want to hear your stories

I would guess you’re not using stories as much as you should. That’s a mistake because people respond better to stories than a bunch of facts and statistics. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene.

You may be reluctant to use stories because it’s more work for your organization, but that shouldn’t stop you. The summer is a good time to come up with some new stories.

Your stories need to be relevant

I don’t need to tell you the world has changed since March 2020. Your stories need to take the current climate into account. That’s why you new need ones. This year is different than last year, but not the same as 2019. Let your donors know how the pandemic (which is still with us, by the way), the economy, and systemic racism are impacting your clients/community right now.

Create a culture of storytelling

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

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. Do this virtually if you’re not in the office.

How To Create A Culture of Storytelling in Your Nonprofit

When you put together a story, ask.

  • Why is this important?
  • Who is affected?
  • Why would your donors be interested in this story?
  • 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. Remember, donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.

Another way to find stories is to put a Share Your Story page on your website. This could be a good way to get some current, relevant stories.

4 INSPIRATIONAL “SHARE YOUR STORY” PAGES THAT WILL KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF

Language is important

It’s time to stop using jargon such as at-risk and underserved. These terms undermine your clients/community. These aren’t terms your donors use, anyway. Use language they’ll understand. 

You also don’t want to give the impression that your organization is coming in to save someone. This is especially important if the majority of your staff and donors are white, but your clients are people of color. This is known as white savior complex. Most likely that’s not intentional on your part, but watching how you tell your stories will help you avoid that. Be respectful of your clients/community.

4 Resources to Help Shift the Narrative for Equity in Nonprofit Communications

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Remember, your stories aren’t about your organization. Your organization may have had to make a lot of changes to do some of the work you do, but that’s not your story. Your story is why this is important for the people/community you work with. 

Maybe you had to change the way you run your food pantry, but what’s most important is that people in your community continue to have access to healthy food. 

Make your stories personal 

Tell a story of one (person or family). 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

Use different stories for different types of communication

Create a story bank to help you organize all your stories. You want to use stories as much as possible. Use them in your appeals, thank you letters, newsletters, updates, annual reports, website, blog, and other types of social media. 

While you can come up with some core stories, they’ll be slightly different depending on the type of communication. 

In a fundraising appeal, you want to highlight a problem or need. Let’s say you run a tutoring program. Here you can tell a story about James, a high school student who didn’t fare well with remote learning and is behind in his grade level. Because of this, he could benefit from a tutor. 

In your thank you letter, you can let your donors know that because of their generous gift, James will be able to start tutoring sessions with Mark, a local college student. 

Then in your newsletter, annual report, or update, you can tell a success story about how James is doing much better in school after starting weekly tutoring sessions with Mark. 

Make connections with your donors by sharing stories. Read on below for more information about creating stories. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories. 

Making a Great Story into a Powerful Fundraising Story

How to Write an Impact Story that Moves Hearts & Minds

A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Nonprofit Impact Stories

INFOGRAPHIC: A Nonprofit Storytelling How-To

Let’s Try to Stop Using Jargon So Much

Over the last year, we’ve seen many examples of real problems affecting real people. We’ve also seen more authenticity. So why are some nonprofit organizations still using jargon in their donor communication?

They may be using the same, boring templates they’ve used for years or they’re so used to some of these terms that they don’t realize they fall flat with their donors. I think people use jargon because it’s insider language that makes them feel like they’re “in the know” in their professional community. It’s easy to slip into jargon mode in your work environment (whether that’s in person, virtual, or a combination of both). But the danger comes when jargon creeps outside of your insular world and into your donor communication.

People need to understand you to connect with you

We can get lazy and use jargon when we can’t think of anything fresh and original. Instead, you see appeal letters, thank you letters, newsletter articles, and annual reports laced with cringe-worthy terms such as food insecurity, at-risk youth, underserved communities, and impactful. While donors may know what some of these terms mean, they’re vague, impersonal, and can come across as demeaning.

Are You Speaking The Same Language As Your Donors?

How to do better

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

  • Food insecurity The USDA defines it as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” Well, that’s a mouthful. I’ve never liked the term food insecurity because it’s so impersonal. We’re hearing this term a lot right now because it’s a huge problem. Let’s go a step further and put it in human terms by describing a situation where a single mother has to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.
  • At-risk means there’s a possibility something bad will happen. Instead of just saying at-risk students or youth, tell a story or give specific examples of something bad that could happen. Our tutoring program works with high school students who are more likely to fail their classes, be held back, and drop out of school. Last year it was crucial that we were able to provide students with Chromebooks, so they could continue their weekly tutoring sessions virtually. 
  • Underserved means not receiving adequate help or services. Instead of saying we work with underserved communities, explain what types of services these residents don’t receive. Maybe it’s healthcare, affordable housing, decent preschool education, or all of the above. Tell a story or give a specific example. Tina has to take two buses to see a doctor for her diabetes because there isn’t a good healthcare facility in her community. This made her anxious during the height of the pandemic and sometimes she skipped her regular appointments.
  • Impact means having an effect on someone or something. How are you doing that, and why is it important? Again, give a specific example. Thanks to donors like you, we’ve helped families find affordable housing so they don’t have to live in a shelter or with other family members, which isn’t always safe during the pandemic. Now they have a place to call home. And, let’s please all agree to stop using the word impactful.

Tell a story

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

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

What would Aunt Shirley think?

I always like to use this analogy. Imagine you’re at a family gathering (provided everyone is either vaccinated or taking other measures to stay safe) and you’re explaining what your organization does to your 75-year old Aunt Shirley. Does she look confused and uninterested when you use words like underserved and at-risk, or does she want you to tell her more when you mention you’ve been able to help homeless families move into their own homes?

Stop using jargon in your work environment

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

Let’s stop using jargon when we can use clear, conversational language instead. Read on for more examples of why you should stop using jargon.

The Curse of Knowledge: You’re Using Jargon and You Don’t Even Know It

4 Reasons to Stop Using Nonprofit Jargon

Nonprofit Jargon: Do Your Supporters Understand Your Fundraising?

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

Some Lessons for Nonprofits After Doing my Taxes

I just finished tallying our 2020 donations for our taxes. Always a fun task. Going through all the donation letters and emails triggered a few insights I’d like to share.

Sending a yearly donation summary is very helpful

Most of the gifts I make are monthly donations, and organizations that sent a summary of all those gifts made it so much easier for me. I made some additional contributions when the pandemic started and those were also included.

You may not need to send a summary if someone just made one gift. Your thank you letter can include the important tax information, but there’s no guarantee your donor will keep that.

My suggestion is to send all donors a yearly summary of their gifts the following January. Send it by mail, if you can. This is also an opportunity to reach out. Make it more than just a receipt. Thank your donors and let them know how their gift helped your clients/community during the past year. Some organizations send two pages – one is a thank you letter and the other is a list of all the donations.

Did you forget about me?

I make a spreadsheet of all our donations. I’ll copy the one from the previous year and make changes as needed.

While I was doing this, I discovered I never gave to an organization that I had the previous two years. I forgot about them, but they also forgot about me.

My speculation is they never sent me an appeal. If they sent one by mail, I would have noticed it and made a point to donate again. If it came by email, who knows since I get so much of it.

I also don’t remember this organization communicating in other ways, such as showing gratitude and sharing updates.

I’ve now set up a monthly donation for this organization, so I won’t have to do anything until the credit card expires.

If you don’t even bother to send an appeal letter (and you should send at least one by mail for each campaign), you can’t expect your donors to always remember to give. Running a multichannel campaign with scheduled reminders will help. But you do need to ask, as well as communicate in other ways. 

Don’t let your donors forget about you.

No monthly donor hiccups last year

In past years, I noticed my monthly donations sometimes stopped getting charged to my credit card. Most likely it was because the organization changed their donation platform.

I’m happy to report that this year none of them mysteriously stopped charging. A few organizations did change their donation platforms, but contacted me ahead of time so I could switch to the new system.

If you’re planning to change your donation platform, be sure to give your donors a heads up so you don’t lose any donations. And, be sure to flag expiring credit cards, as well.

Pay attention to what’s going on with your monthly donors. These are some of your most valuable donors.

Donor communication is a mixed bag

It’s not surprising that some organizations do a better job of communicating with their donors than others. A few knock it out of the park, but most range from okay to nonexistent.

If you use PayPal for your monthly donations, they send a receipt each month. In some cases, that’s the only time I hear about that gift. Are you letting PayPal do your work for you?

Other organizations do send their own automated monthly gift receipts and that’s about it. I’ve mentioned before that these can be helpful, but don’t count as a legitimate thank you or any type of donor communication.

Besides monthly donations, I gave some additional donations last year to emergency campaigns when the pandemic started. Some organizations noticed, some didn’t – typical. One organization thanked me by sending a personalized video. Others sent handwritten thank you cards, as well as some pre-printed ones, but they were cards I received in the mail! 

It’s often the same few organizations that go the extra mile, so the rest of you need to step up.

Always remember that better donor communication will help you raise more money. 

Photo via www.audio-luci-store.it

How to Engage With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

35835135741_c9a4a643a4_wGetting your donors’attention in the best of times is hard enough and we’re not in the best of times right now. In my last post, I wrote about the importance of telling your stories. Written stories are great, but donors may not have the time or energy to read a story right now. 

This is why you also need to use visual stories. Some people respond better to visual stimuli, anyway. Here are a few ways to tell visual stories.

Tell a story in an instant with a great photo

You can capture your donors’attention in an instant with a great photo. That doesn’t mean one of your executive director receiving an award. Use photos of your programs in action or something else that’s engaging.

Print newsletters and annual reports tend to be dominated by long-winded text. Most of your donors won’t want to read the whole thing, and long print communication isn’t in your best interest right now. But if you share some engaging photos, your donors can get a quick glance at the impact of their gift without having to slog through a bunch of tedious text.

A Postcard Annual Report is a better option, anyway. Postcards with an engaging photo are also great for thank you cards and updates. I’m a big fan of postcards because they’re a quick, less expensive way to communicate by mail.

If you use social media, you need to communicate several times a week. As your donors scroll through an endless amount of Facebook and Twitter posts, an engaging photo can pop out and get their attention.

Use photos everywhere – fundraising appeals, thank you letters/cards, newsletters, annual reports, updates, your website, and social media. Create a photo bank to help you with this.

It’s fine to use the same photos in different channels. It can help with your brand identity. Be sure to use high-quality pictures. Also, make sure your photos match your messages. If you’re writing a fundraising appeal about children who aren’t getting enough to eat each day, don’t use a picture of happy kids.

Work with your program staff to get photos and videos (more on videos below). Confidentiality issues may come up and you’ll need to get permission to use pictures of kids. It may be hard to get new photos right now. If so, I hope you already have some good ones to use.

6 Ways to Tell Your Nonprofit Story With Images

How to Create a Compelling Fundraising Story Using Images

6 Steps to Establishing a Photo Policy that Boosts Giving & Shows Respect

Highlight your work with a video

Videos are becoming a more popular way to connect. They can be used to show your programs in action, share an interview, give a behind the scenes look at your organization, or my favorite – thanking your donors. 

You can share videos that are relevant to our current situations. If you’re a museum that’s about to re-open, you can show how people can visit it safely. If you haven’t re-opened, you could give a virtual tour of some of your collections. You could also talk about how the COVID-19 outbreak or systemic racism is affecting the people/community you work with. 

I would definitely recommend a thank you video. I received a personalized video a few months ago that specifically thanked me for making a donation in addition to my monthly gifts. It was such a nice gesture. If it’s not feasible to make personalized thank you videos, you can make a general one.

How to (Easily) Thank Donors with Video

Make your videos short and high quality. Short is key. People are spending a lot more time online now, especially on Zoom. If your video is more than a couple of minutes, they may not bother to watch it.

You can use videos on your website, in an email message, on social media, and at an event (virtual for now).

The Science of Nonprofit Video Engagement: How To Use Emotion to Increase Social Sharing

5 Examples of Nonprofit Storytelling that Compel People to Give

Enhance your statistics by using infographics

A typical annual report is loaded with statistics. You want to share these, as well as your accomplishments, but you don’t want to overwhelm your donors with a lot of text.

Why not use an infographic instead of the usual laundry list of statistics and accomplishments?  

Here are some examples. A Great Nonprofit Annual Report in a Fabulous Infographic

This is no time for a long annual report. Also, if you send out your annual report too late, it becomes irrelevant. I just received an organization’s 2019 annual report with no insert referencing COVID-19, and right now I’m not interested in what this organization did last year.

With everything changing at a rapid pace, I would recommend short quarterly or even monthly updates with infographics and other visuals instead of the typical annual report.

6 Types of Nonprofit Infographics to Boost Your Campaigns

Infographics for Nonprofits: How to Create One and Why They’re Effective

7 Tools for Creating Nonprofit Infographics

Good visuals will enhance both your print and electronic communication. Keep your donors engaged with all types of stories.

Nonprofit Visual Storytelling: Using the Power of Story to Spark Human Connection

 

 

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

18761109699_50d9b19a78_oWe’re halfway through 2020 and it looks like this will be a year that will stand out in history. We’re having a global pandemic, along with a severe economic downturn. The horrific killing of George Floyd by a police officer spawned protests against racism and police brutality.

Systemic racism is something that’s been part of the United States (and other countries) for centuries. Are we just now realizing that Aunt Jemima is a racist symbol?

It’s not surprising that the COVID-19 outbreak and economic devastation are affecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities at a much higher level. It’s very likely that all of these situations are affecting the people/community you work with.

I want to briefly address racism right now. If your nonprofit organization works with the BIPOC community, then they are affected by racism. If you’re working on issues such as affordable housing, homelessness, education, health care, etc, these have ties to racism.

Your organization shouldn’t be afraid to talk about racism when you tell your stories or communicate in other ways. Vu Lee addressed this last month.

Have nonprofit and philanthropy become the “white moderate” that Dr. King warned us about?

You may have made a statement against racism, which is a good first step. Don’t stop with that.

Donors want to hear your stories

Stories are one of the best ways to communicate with your donors. Unfortunately, you’re probably not using them enough. That’s a mistake because people respond better to stories than a bunch of facts and statistics. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene.

You may be reluctant to use stories because it’s more work for your organization, but that shouldn’t stop you. I know it’s even harder now since the COVID-19 outbreak has upended the way you work. Maybe everyone is still working at home or only some of you are back at the office. You can still do this. The summer is a good time to come up with some new stories.

Your stories need to be relevant

Just as it’s been for the last few months, your stories need to take the current climate into account. That’s why you new need ones. You’re seeing real people with real problems in real time. These posts address this more.

4 Resources to Help Shift the Narrative for Equity in Nonprofit Communications

HOW TO TELL YOUR NONPROFIT’S STORY, EVEN IN THE MIDST OF CRISIS

How to Communicate with Supporters During COVID-19: Nonprofit & Brand Examples

Create a culture of storytelling

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

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. Do this virtually if you’re not in the office.

When you put together a story, ask.

  • Why is this important?
  • Who is affected?
  • Why would your donors be interested in this story?
  • 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, especially now.

Another way to find stories is to put a Share Your Story page on your website. This could be a good way to get some current, relevant stories.

4 INSPIRATIONAL “SHARE YOUR STORY” PAGES THAT WILL KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF

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

Language is important

It’s time to stop using jargon such as at-risk and underserved. These terms undermine your clients/community. These aren’t terms your donors use, anyway. Use language they’ll understand. 

You also don’t want to give the impression that your organization is coming in to save someone. This is especially important if the majority of your staff and donors are white, but your clients are people of color. This is known as white savior complex. Most likely that’s not intentional on your part, but watching how you tell your stories will help you avoid that. Be an ally and be respectful of your clients/community.

I have to admit I don’t know the best way to approach some of this and would welcome suggestions.

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Remember, your stories aren’t about your organization. Your organization may have had to make a lot of changes to do some of the work you do, but that’s not your story. Your story is why this is important for the people/community you work with. 

Maybe you had to change the way you run your food pantry, but what’s most important is that people in the community continue to have access to healthy food. 

Make your stories personal 

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

There continues to be a lot going on and your organization can’t ignore the current climate. Tell stories that address these situations and be respectful of the people/community you work with.

Finally, COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. Please be smart – wear a mask, practice social distancing, and avoid crowds. Stay safe and be well!

 

Entice Your Donors With Visual Stories

46728822135_8c5d713f5b_mIn these days of information overload, it can be hard to get your donors’ attention. In my last post, I wrote about the importance of telling stories. Written stories are great, but since donors get so many messages from different sources they may not want to read another word. 

This is why you also need to use visual stories. Some people respond better to visual stimuli, anyway. Here are a few ways to tell visual stories.

Tell a story in an instant with a photo

You can capture your donors’ attention in an instant with a great photo. That doesn’t mean a one of your executive director receiving an award. Use photos of your programs in action.

Print newsletters and annual reports tend to be dominated by long-winded text. Most of your donors won’t have time to read the whole thing. But if you share some engaging photos, your donors can get a quick glance of the impact of their gift without having to muddle through a bunch of tedious text.

You may want to try a Postcard Annual Report instead of the usual boring booklet. Postcards with an engaging photo are also great for thank you cards and updates. I’m a big fan of postcards because they’re a quick, less expensive way to communicate by mail.

If you use social media, you need to communicate several times a week. As your donors scroll through an endless amount of Facebook and Twitter posts, an engaging photo can pop out and get their attention.

Use photos everywhere – appeal letters, thank you letters/cards, newsletters, annual reports, updates, your website, and social media. Create a photo bank to help you with this. It’s fine to use the same photos in different channels. It can help with your brand identity. Be sure to use high-quality pictures. Hire a professional photographer or find one to work pro bono.

Work with your program staff to get photos and videos (more on videos below). Confidentiality issues may come up and you’ll need to get permission to use pictures of kids.

5 Killer Photography Tips for Nonprofit Brands

6 Steps to Establishing a Photo Policy that Boosts Giving & Shows Respect

5 Photo Tips For World-Changing Nonprofits

Highlight your work with a video

Create a video to show your programs in action, share an interview, give a behind the scenes look at your organization, or my favorite – thanking your donors. Make your videos short and high quality. If you’re interviewing someone, make sure that person is good on camera.

You can use videos on your website, in an email message, on social media, and at an event.

Nonprofits should Use Video Storytelling to Create Impact!

TIPS FOR CREATING A NONPROFIT VIDEO MARKETING STRATEGY

5 Steps to Successful Video Storytelling

Liven up your statistics by using infographics

A typical annual report is loaded with statistics. You want to share these, as well as your accomplishments, but you don’t want to overwhelm your donors with a lot of text.

Why not use an infographic instead of the usual laundry list of statistics and accomplishments?  

Here are some examples. A Great Nonprofit Annual Report in a Fabulous Infographic

Brochures are becoming a relic of the past, but what if you want an informational print piece to give to potential donors or volunteers?  An oversized infographic postcard should do the trick.

5 Must-Have Nonprofit Infographic Templates to Supercharge Your Campaigns

Infographics for Nonprofits: How to Create One and Why They’re Effective

10 Nonprofit Infographics That Inspire and Inform

Good visuals will enhance both your print and electronic communication. Keep your donors engaged with all types of stories.

Using Visual Storytelling in Your Nonprofit for Greater Impact

 

Tell the Stories Your Donors Want to Hear

7803683540_76d8f5f45d_zHow often do you use stories when you communicate with your donors? Most likely, not enough. That’s a mistake because people respond better to stories. 

Imagine your donors opening an appeal letter or newsletter and glossing over a bunch of mind-numbing statistics as opposed to being captivated by a story about how the Mason 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 that shouldn’t stop you. Keep in mind that donors want to hear your stories. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene. Here’s an example.

The past several months have been tough for Janet and her three young kids. After losing her job and being evicted from her apartment, she moved between her sister’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, Janet 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/community 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.

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. Instead of emphasizing their professional background, concentrate on what drew them to your organization. Perhaps she has a brother with autism or he knows what it’s like to arrive in the United States as an immigrant.

Another way to find stories is to put a Share Your Story page on your website. 

4 INSPIRATIONAL “SHARE YOUR STORY” PAGES THAT WILL KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF

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, Brenda 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.

Here are some great resources to help you tell your stories.

The Storytelling Nonprofit

INFOGRAPHIC: A Nonprofit Storytelling How-To

The Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit Storytelling (30+ Tips)

How To Create A Culture of Storytelling in Your Nonprofit

 

Are You Boring Your Donors By Bragging Too Much?

2614924934_df1befa254_mI’m sure you’ve been stuck in a conversation with someone who brags about all the wonderful things he’s done or talks too much about herself while ignoring you. As they drone on and on, you think – “Hey, I’m part of this conversation, too.”  

Imagine your donors having the same reaction when all your communication sounds like one big bragfest that’s all about your organization and doesn’t even acknowledge them. Then imagine all your hard work going to waste when your boring appeal or newsletter goes straight to the recycling bin.

Yes, you want to share your accomplishments, but you don’t want to annoy your donors by focusing too much on your organization. It’s possible to do this without bragging. Here’s how.

Be donor-centered

You don’t need to tell your donors your organization is great. They wouldn’t have given you money if they didn’t think highly of you.

Let your donors know they’re great because they helped you make a difference for the people or community you serve. Give specific examples. Because of donors like you, the Coleman family can move out of a shelter and into a home of their own.

All your communication should be donor or audience-centered. One way to ensure this is to use the word you more than we or us.

Why is it So Hard to be Donor-Centered?

Share a story

Telling a story is a great way to share accomplishments. Whether it’s in the first or third person, you can give a personal account of how you’re making a difference. Remember to focus on the people you serve and keep your organization in the background.

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

Photos and videos featuring the people you serve is another good way to share accomplishments.

Why is what you do important

Instead of the usual laundry list you see in annual reports, such as we served over X number of students in our tutoring program, focus on why that’s important, too. Students in our tutoring program are now reading at their grade level and have a better chance of graduating from high school on time.

Instead of focusing on what you do, let your donors know why it’s important.

Show don’t tell

Too many newsletters and annual reports ramble on about how an organization is number one in such and such, or there was a crisis and X organization came in to solve it.

Go back to stories and examples. You can’t ignore your organization altogether, but instead of saying we were the first organization to come in and help the flood victims or we’re the number one hospital in the community, say Thanks to you, Fuller county residents now have access to clean drinking water and can start rebuilding their homes after the devastating flood or Thanks to you, the Brookfield neighborhood has a new outpatient clinic so residents don’t have to travel far to see their health care providers.

How you made a difference is more important than being first or best.

Current donors want to see the results of their gift. Potential donors may be more interested in your reputation, but they also want to see how their donation will make a difference.

How to do better

Before you share accomplishments in an appeal letter, thank you letter, newsletter article, social media update, annual report, etc, ask yourself these questions:

-Is this donor/audience-centered?
-Are we focusing on the people/community we serve?
-Are we showing results?
-Are we saying why this is important?
-Are we bragging too much about ourselves?

Read on for more about the perils of bragging.

Bragging Versus Mission

Are you thanking donors, or just using the moment to brag?