Are You Doing Better in 2018?

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It’s hard to believe we’re more than halfway through 2018. It doesn’t seem like that long ago I wrote this post –  How to Do Better in 2018

I hope your fundraising and communications are going well so far this year. Are they going well? Are you even paying attention to how things are going?

Let’s revisit that post from the beginning of the year. If things are going well for you, great. If not, I have some suggestions on how to do better, and for everyone – how to gear up for year-end.

Evaluate and plan

Are you meeting your goals so far? If not, do you a have a plan in place to get there? If you never made a fundraising plan for 2018, stop right there and put one together now.

Do’s and Don’ts for Your Annual Fundraising Plan

If you’re falling short of your fundraising goals, you may need to ramp up your year-end campaign. Also, your event may not be worth the trouble or you’re seeking out the wrong grant funders.

Spend Time Actually PLANNING to Raise More Money for Your Cause

Figure out your retention rate

Donor retention rates tend to be low. Do you know yours? If you’re behind in your fundraising, you may be losing donors. Figure out your retention rate now.

Retention rates are not that hard to fix, but you need to work at it. Better communication is often the key. More on how you can do a better job communicating with your donors later in the post.

6 Tactics for Increasing Donor Retention

Get in touch with your lapsed donors

Did you ever get in touch with people who didn’t give to your year-end appeal? Before this year’s campaign, figure out who didn’t give a year ago, but has donated in the last two or three years. Send them a special targeted letter telling them you miss them and want them back.

Then make a plan do the same thing in January for anyone who didn’t give. Here you could follow up with a phone call or email. This could help you raise additional revenue.

5 ways to win back your lapsed donors

Start or enhance your monthly giving program

A monthly or recurring giving program is a great way to raise more money. If you don’t have one, plan to promote monthly giving in your next campaign. To get more monthly donors, send a special targeted letter to current donors inviting them to become monthly donors.

Once someone has become a monthly donor, they should get their own appeal letter. One in which you thank them for being a monthly donor and politely ask them to increase their gift this year. Don’t send them a letter that asks for a one-time gift.

Other mistakes organizations make with their monthly giving program are not paying attention if a donor’s gift expires and doing a poor job of thanking their monthly donors.

You’ll notice I’ve made several recommendations to segment your appeal letters. This shows your donors you know who they are and should help you raise more money.

Do a better job of thanking your donors

Most organizations don’t do a good job of thanking their donors. Perhaps they send a nice letter after they receive a donation, although that’s wishful thinking. But the donor love usually comes to a screeching halt after that.

Thanking donors is something you need to do throughout the year. Create a thank you plan to help you with this.

A few things you should do before your year-end campaign. Take a look at your current thank you letter. If it’s not gushing with gratitude, write a new one. This goes for your thank you landing page and email acknowledgment, too. Make sure your letter is ready to go at the same time you launch your appeal. Don’t treat it as an afterthought and send something a month after you receive a donation. You’ll get gold stars if you can throw handwritten cards and/or phone calls into the mix, too. Finally, send a special thank you sometime early this fall. This could be a handwritten note or a postcard with an update. Something by mail is best, but if that’s impossible, you could send email.

Stay in touch throughout the year

This is another problem area. Many organizations go AWOL unless they’re asking for donations. It’s Kind of Quiet Out There Some send newsletters and updates, but these are often boring and focused too much on how great the organization is.

I know you’ll be busy, but you need to communicate more with your donors as you gear up for your year-end appeal. What’s In My Mailbox | How are you *warming up* your donors? You want to be on your donors’ good side come donation time.

Also, take a look at your newsletter and other donor communication. Are you leading with a story and focusing on how your donors are helping you make a difference?

You still have time to do better

If you’re falling short of your goals, you still have time to do better, but you have to work at it. Year-end is, of course, a great opportunity to raise money, as well as build relationships.

Be sure to keep evaluating your progress to help ensure a successful 2018.

 

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

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

Donors want to hear your stories

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

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

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

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

Create a culture of storytelling

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

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

When you put together a story, ask.

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

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

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

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

Give your stories the personal touch

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

Your stories aren’t about your organization

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

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

Resources to help you tell your stories

The Storytelling Nonprofit

INFOGRAPHIC: A Nonprofit Storytelling How-To

Best Practices in Nonprofit Storytelling – How to Structure Your Stories

Top 10 Nonprofit Storytelling Best Practices

Photo by Howard Lake

The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan

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I’ve written about the importance of having a thank you plan before, but I think we need to revisit this because many nonprofits are not doing a good job of thanking their donors. You may have every intention to, but that’s not happening. Thanking donors often takes a back seat to fundraising when you should spend equal time doing both.

A thank you plan will help. You probably have a fundraising plan and maybe a donor relations plan, but a specific thank you plan is just as important. Donor retention rates are poor and one reason is donors don’t feel appreciated. 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 often is just a boring receipt rather than something lets me feel good about making a donation.

Open with Thank you, Jeff! or You’re amazing!  Include an engaging photo or video and a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help the people you serve. 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 Optimize Your Donation Thank You Page + Examples Of Nonprofits Who Do It Right

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 (see below).

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 and not something boring like Your Donation Receipt.

Thanking a Donor by Email: Best Practices and Examples

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 if you can. This shouldn’t be hard to do if you plan to carve out some time to thank your donors each day you get a donation. If you wait too long, you’re not making a good impression.

Instead of sending a generic, boring thank you letter, mail a handwritten card or call your donors. Calling your donors to thank them is something your board can do. It’s often a welcome surprise and can raise retention rates among first-time donors.

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. 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.

Hi, this is Jennifer Douglas and I’m a board member at the Lakeside Community Food Bank. I’m calling to thank you for your generous donation of $50. Thanks to you, we can provide a family with a week’s worth of groceries. This is great. We’re seeing more people coming in right now because of cuts to food stamp programs. We really appreciate your support.

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal and heartfelt letter. 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, Jacob won’t go to bed hungry tonight.”  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 or attended one of your recent events, 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.

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.

INFOGRAPHIC: The ULTIMATE Thank You for Nonprofits

5 Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

Plan to keep thanking your donors all year round

This is where having a thank you plan makes a difference because organizations usually send some kind of thank you letter after they receive a donation and then donor communication starts to wane after that. Thanking donors is something you must do all year round.

Use your communications calendar to incorporate ways to thank your donors. 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 won’t 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.
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude. Be sure to keep thanking your donors in your newsletter and social media 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.
  • Hold an open house at your organization or offer tours so your donors can see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

Creating a thank you plan will make it easier to keep showing appreciation to your donors all year round. If you treat them well, maybe they’ll treat you well the next time you send a fundraising appeal.

Show Your Donors How Much You Care About Them

10867591394_a63f5c30d4_mHow much do you care about your donors? I’m sure your intentions are good and you think you care about your donors, but your donor communication doesn’t always reflect that.

Your donors showed they care about your cause by giving to your organization. You need to show your donors you care about them, too.

Here are a few ways to show your donors how much you care about them.

Do a stellar job of thanking your donors

One of your first steps is to do a good job of thanking your donors and most nonprofits fall short of anything that even resembles a stellar thank you.

If someone donates online, they should be directed to a thank you landing page that includes a prominent THANK YOU and a thank you photo or video. This is your first chance to make a good impression, so don’t blow it. After that, your donors should get an equally stellar thank you email.

Everyone who donates, even if they donate online, should get a thank you letter, handwritten note, or phone call as soon as possible, preferably within 48 hours. If you wait too long to thank your donors, it looks like you don’t care about them.

You’re also not showing a lot of #donorlove when you send one of those lame thank you letters that start with On behalf of X organization… Write something warm and personal.

Finally, thanking donors isn’t something you only do right after you receive a donation. It’s a year-round effort. Create a thank you plan to help you with this.

Don’t go AWOL

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference. That’s why you have to stay in touch throughout the year.

You can do this with a regular newsletter (both email and print) and short updates by mail, email, and social media.

Planning ahead is a must here. If you haven’t already done so, putting together a communications calendar will be a huge help.

Donors come first

It’s crucial that all your communication is donor-centered. Sending a newsletter or update that just brags about your organization doesn’t show your donors you care about them.

Share content you know they’ll be interested in such as success stories and client profiles. Use language like Because of you or Thanks to you.

Your donors want to be recognized for who they are. Welcome new donors and acknowledge previous gifts. Also, your donors have names so please don’t address your letters to Dear Friend.

Little things count

It may not seem like a big deal to you to address your donors as Dear Friend instead of their names, but it matters to them.

In my last post, I stressed the importance of having a good database and to monitor your database to make sure you have accurate records. Misspelling a donor’s name and sending duplicate mailings may also not seem like a big deal, but if you can give your database the attention it needs, you’re showing your donors you care about them.

Surprise and delight your donors

How many times have you received something from a nonprofit that wowed you? Probably not that often, right? Most donor communication is rote, run of the mill stuff.

Do something that will surprise and delight your donors. Send them a handwritten note or a postcard with an engaging photo. Try to send something by mail because it’s more personal and your donors will be more likely to see it.

It doesn’t take long to write a short, heartfelt handwritten note, but it will mean the world to your donors. Get board members and volunteers to help with this.

You can also surprise and delight your donors with a thank you phone call, a thank you video, or an appreciation event.

One of the biggest components of showing your donors you care about them is gratitude. Here are some more ways to show your donors how much you care about them.

26 ways to show your donors they matter

15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors

21 IDEAS TO REFRESH YOUR DONOR STEWARDSHIP

How to Bring Simplicity and Balance to Your Nonprofit Communications

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Lagom is a Swedish concept meaning everything in moderation or not too much, not too little. Keeping things simple. This is not to be confused with the Danish concept of Hygge, which means getting cozy. Not surprisingly there isn’t an English translation of these terms, even though they are much needed in our overstressed world.

The term lagom can be used in almost any context – the home, relationships, work, etc.

You can bring this concept of simplicity and balance into your nonprofit communications, too. Here’s how.

How much communication is too much

Most likely you’re not communicating enough. Communication is a year-round effort that includes asking, thanking, sharing updates, and engaging your donors.

Of course, asking is part of the picture and you can send appeals throughout the year, but only after you’ve thanked and engaged your donors.

You’ll notice at the end of the year you’re barraged with fundraising appeals. Then at other times of the year you might receive a scant newsletter or update. Donors often complain that nonprofits ask too much, but how often do you hear complaints about being overthanked?

You need to be thanking your donors and sharing updates every one to two weeks – once a month at the very least.

Donors shouldn’t think you’re communicating too much if you aren’t just asking for money and you keep your messages donor-centered.

How to tell if you’re mailing your donors too often

Stick to one call to action

Your communication needs to be clear. Before you send an email or letter, ask what is your intention? Is it to ask for a donation, say thank you, invite someone to an event, or recruit volunteers?

Stick to one call to action. If you ask for a donation, recruit volunteers, and ask someone to contact their elected officials all in the same message, it’s likely your donor won’t respond to any of your requests.

In your fundraising appeals, don’t bury your ask. Start with a story, followed by a clear, polite ask. Recognize your reader. Thank previous donors and invite potential donors to be a part of your family of donors.

Your thank you letter should thank the donor. Simple, right? Make them feel good about giving to your organization. Welcome new donors and welcome back returning donors. You don’t need a lot of wordy text explaining what your organization does.

Keep your messages simple, yet sincere, and include a clear call to action.

How to improve your call to action in 6 easy steps

Choose the right length

If your communication is too long, people won’t read it. Limit written communication, such as newsletters and annual reports, to four pages or less. Your email messages should be just a few paragraphs. On the other hand, you don’t want to be terse or say too little.

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Mark Twain

Be sure to make your communication easy to read and scan by including lots of white space. Don’t clutter up the page.

Make it understandable

Write at a sixth to eighth-grade level. That’s what most major newspapers do. This is not dumbing down. You’re being smart by ensuring your donors will understand you.

Last week I wrote one of my periodic rants against jargon, which you should definitely avoid.  Deconstructing Your Jargon Use the active voice and don’t get fancy by using a lot of SAT vocabulary words. Again, you want your donors to understand you.

Keep it simple by using conversational language.

Create a clutter-free website

Your website is still a place where people will go to get information. Make sure it’s clear and clutter-free, as well as easy to read and navigate.

Two components of your website that need simplicity and balance are your donation page and your thank you landing page.

Your donation page needs to be easy to use and collect enough information without overwhelming your donors. If it’s a branded page (e.g. not a third-party site like PayPal), make sure it’s consistent with your messaging and look. Don’t go too minimalistic, though. Include a short description of how a donor’s gift will help you make a difference, as well as an engaging photo.

15 Donation Page Examples to Inspire Your Online Fundraising

Speaking of minimalistic, most thank you landing pages go bare bones and look more like store receipts. Here you have to step it up with a prominent Thank You or You’re Amazing! Include a photo or better yet, a thank you video.

21 Ideas For Your Nonprofit’s Donation Confirmation Page

It’s not always easy to keep things simple and balanced, but your donors will appreciate it if you do. The Complexity of Simplicity

 

 

 

The Perils of Generic Communication

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How would you feel if a nonprofit organization sent you an appeal or thank you letter and never mentions you’ve been a generous donor for over five years? All you get is a boring, generic letter that doesn’t acknowledge who you are. Chances are most of the other donors of that organization are getting the exact same letter.

This is a problem. Your donors aren’t the same, so they shouldn’t all get the same letter. You need to segment your donors into different groups. I know segment is kind of a jargony word, and I’m no fan of jargon as you’ll see, but this is something that makes a lot of sense.

Segmenting your donors can help you raise more money

Segment your donors as much as possible. At the very least, create different letters for new donors and repeat donors. You can also personalize letters to lapsed donors, event attendees, volunteers, etc. 11 Ways To Segment Your Donors To Improve Your Fundraising

Thank your donors for their previous gifts and/or upgrades. Speaking of upgrades, many organizations don’t ask donors to increase their gifts because they’re sending everyone the same, generic letter. If you don’t ask, you most likely won’t receive.

Although, even if you ask for an upgrade, it won’t happen if you ignore your donors or only blast them with appeals. You need to practice stewardship, too. How to Get Last Year’s Donors to Give More this Year

You can craft an appeal like this – Thank you so much for your donation of $50 last year. Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75 or even $100? This way we can serve even more people at the community food bank.

Also, giving donors the amount of their last gift helps them out. Donors are busy and give to other organizations besides yours. They may not remember what they’ve given before.

And let’s stop sending Dear Friend letters, too. You’re not being a good friend if you don’t even recognize your donors’ names.

You may be saying it’s going to take too much time to do this. Yes, it will take more time, but it’s worth the investment. So is a good database to help you with this. Your donors will feel appreciated and may give you more money, but you do have to ask.

Generic language is uninspiring and confusing

Another problem I see in nonprofit communication is vague, generic language or even worse, jargon. Here’s an example from a thank you letter.  X organization shines a spotlight on community needs, inspires philanthropy and awards strategic grants to build a more vibrant, engaged and equitable (name of community).

This organization has a variety of programs and initiatives, and does good work, by the way. But the example above is uninspiring. It doesn’t say anything. Even if your organization has a variety of programs, focus on something specific.

My donation to that organization goes to a specific initiative. If that’s the case for you, too, tailor your communication to that. Let your donors know their donation is helping families who were left homeless due to a fire or provided heating assistance during a recent cold spell.

Most of your donors don’t have a medical or social services background. They’re not going to use terms like at-risk populations and underserved communities, and neither should you.

Jargon just confuses your donors. Imagine them looking glazed when you write about capacity building and disenfranchised communities. Use language they’ll understand. Enough With the Jargon

One way to burst past generic language and jargon is to tell stories. Most people respond better to a human-interest story than a bunch of boring statistics. Connect With Your Donors by Telling Stories

How to do better

You may be between fundraising campaigns right now and have a little more time (or maybe not). If so, now is a good time to start segmenting your donors in your database, if you haven’t already done that.

In addition, dust off those templates and freshen up your appeal letters and thank you letters. Create letter templates for different donor groups and replace your vague, generic language with something clear, conversational, and specific.

Have someone outside your organization, a friend or family member, look at your messages. Something that’s clear to you may mean nothing to others.

Show your donors how much you appreciate them by recognizing who they are and giving them content they can relate to.

All You Need is #DonorLove

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I’ve written a couple of times recently about the lack of #DonorLove out there. This is a problem. Your donors want to feel appreciated and know their gift is helping you make a difference, and your lame, automatic thank you email doesn’t cut it. You need to do better.

Valentine’s Day is coming up and this is a perfect opportunity to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support.

12 Ways to Send Your Donors Love With a Valentine

A simple email to send your donors on Valentine’s Day

Maybe you would prefer not to go for a Valentine’s Day theme, but you should still do something fun and creative to show appreciation this month (and every month for that matter). The holidays are over and Punxatawny Phil saw his shadow, so for those of us who live in Northern climates, you know what that means. We could all use a little mood booster right now.

This is also a good opportunity to stay 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, then you must reach out now.

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 one of these.

Image result for Nonprofit thank you photos

 

Image result for Nonprofit thank you photos

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 are some examples of thank you videos.

HRC Thank You Video

4 Smart Ways to Use Thank You Videos in Nonprofit Fundraising

Obviously, the purpose is to thank your donors. A simple video showing a bunch of people saying thank you will do the trick. You also 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 (or a photo). This is your first opportunity to say thank you and most landing pages look like boring receipts. You can also put your thank you video on your website and share it by email and social media.

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.

Another idea – Send a small number of thank you cards every month, ensuring that each donor gets at least one card a year. Spreading it out may be easier on your budget.

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, the Smith family now has a home of their own.

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

Thank you refresher course

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.

Thanking your donors needs to be a priority

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.

Maybe you need a change of culture, and this comes from the top. Hello, Executive Directors. Getting your board, all staff, and volunteers involved in thanking your donors will make a huge difference.

Keep thinking of ways to surprise and delight your donors! Get creative.

15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors

20 Unique Donor Thank You Ideas

Nail the Nonprofit Non-Ask with these 9 ideas

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.

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.