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

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

I Expected More

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I didn’t feel a lot of donor love after I made my year-end gifts at the end of November. I thought maybe it’s coming later. Okay, now it’s later – the middle of January. Let’s see how things are going.

How long do I have to wait for a thank you letter?

The Whiny Donor (@thewhinydonor) always shares spot on fundraising tweets, and one of her best is “Seriously. How long are you going to make me wait for that thank you letter?” I’ve been thinking the same thing over the last several weeks.

It’s recommended that organizations thank their donors within 48 hours. I made all my donations online, so technically most of these organizations did that, even though their automatically generated thank you emails weren’t laced with donor love. This is an easy fix. There’s no reason why you can’t create a warm and personal thank you email.

But you’re not off the hook. Even if someone donates online, she should get a thank you by mail or phone.

Only three organizations sent me thank you letters, and two of them came in mid-January. One was from a new organization, that due to recent events, I felt compelled to give to last year. I had been disappointed that the only thing I received from them were PayPal receipts for my monthly donation. Therefore, I was quite pleased that they welcomed me as a monthly donor and let me know that “none of our work would be possible without caring donors like you.”

The phrase better late than never applies here, but don’t wait too long. If you haven’t sent a thank you by mail do that now!  And in the future, be ready to send thank you letters/handwritten notes or make phone calls right after you receive a donation.

Naughty and nice

Thank you letters are just the beginning. You need to stay in touch throughout the year. Some organizations sent me holiday and New Year’s greetings by email. One of the holiday emails included the subject line “Celebrating Ann this season.” Several included year-end updates, one with the subject line“Here’s how we put your gift to work.” These organizations are on the nice list.

I also received a couple of holiday cards in the mail. Unfortunately, these organizations are going straight to the naughty list since they included donation envelopes with their cards. A couple of holiday emails included a donate button at the bottom of the message, but that wasn’t as obvious.

I get that you’re trying to raise money, but there are times when you should just show gratitude. Also, I had recently donated to one of the organizations that sent me a “thask”

But I just donated

Speaking of raising money, most of the communication I received from nonprofits in December were fundraising requests. I was barraged with generic fundraising appeals, even though I already gave in November or give a recurring monthly donation.

Sometimes it seems these organizations don’t know me as a donor. Do you expect me to give another gift in December even though I just gave a month earlier? If so, acknowledge my previous donation and let me know why I should give again. If I give monthly, why am I getting a request for a one-time gift? If there’s a specific need, let me know.

Again, I get that you’re trying to capitalize on year-end giving. But try not to send appeals to people who have just donated. If you can’t do that, then include a thanks to people who’ve already donated. One organization ended their appeal with “P.S. — If you’ve already made your gift, THANK YOU. We’ve had an outpouring of support and are busy processing donations.”

Monthly donors should get separate appeals recognizing that they’re monthly donors. Only a couple of organizations acknowledged me as a monthly donor.

Fundraising is more than just raising money. It’s also about building relationships. This means framing your appeal to sound less like you’re begging for money and more like you recognize your donors for who they are.

Focus on what’s important to your donors

I mentioned before the importance of staying in touch with your donors throughout the year. I do hear from some organizations through their newsletters, updates, and advocacy alerts. All the organizations I support should be staying in touch and that’s not happening. I tend to hear from the same handful of organizations.

Just sending a newsletter or an update is not enough. You need to focus on how your donors are helping you make a difference and not on your organization. I like PetPartners and what they do, and they generally create a good newsletter. But in a recent e-newsletter, they fell into the look at how great we are trap by including this organization-centered subject line – “Pet Partners Chosen As 2017 Best Animal Therapy Nonprofit!”

Looking at other articles in the newsletter, I would have used “Meet Swoosh, a cancer therapy dog” as the email subject line to help draw me in. To their credit, three out of the four articles were about therapy dogs. I’m much more interested in hearing stories about how therapy animals are helping people. That’s what drew me to the organization in the first place.

When choosing articles for your newsletter or sharing an update, think about why someone donates to your organization. It’s usually because they care about your cause and not because you’re number one in something.

Don’t leave your donors with the feeling they should be expecting more. Let your donors know how much you appreciate them and share information that shows them how they’re helping you make a difference.

 

 

How to Do Better in 2018

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Happy New Year! I hope you had a good holiday. I just returned from my family’s annual trip to Florida. It’s quite a contrast from the frigid, wintery weather we’re having in Boston.

I also hope 2017 was a good year for your organization, and 2018 will be even better. If things didn’t go so well last year, here are a few ways to help you do better.

Evaluate and plan

Take a look back at 2017 to see what worked and what didn’t in your fundraising and communications. Incorporate what you’ve learned into your 2018 plans.

If you haven’t made fundraising and communications plans yet, do that now! Don’t go too far into the New Year without plans in place. Be sure to include donor engagement and donor retention in your fundraising plan (see the first link below for more information). Also, make sure you evaluate your progress at least once a quarter.

Nonprofit Fundraising Plan: 6 Must-Do Steps For Success

COMMUNICATION PLAN TEMPLATE

How to Integrate Your Nonprofit Fundraising Plan With Your Marketing Plan

5 FUNDRAISING SUCCESS METRICS TO START TRACKING

Figure out your retention rate

As you’re doing your year-end evaluation, figure out your donor retention rate.

A Guide to Donor Retention

If it’s low, it’s something you can fix, usually with better communication. It’s easier and less expensive to keep your current donors than to find new ones, so make retention a priority.

Why you should care about donor retention

One Thing Most Nonprofits Stink at (Donor Retention) and How You Can Change It

Get in touch with your lapsed donors

If you fell short of your year-end fundraising goal, one way to raise extra revenue is to get in touch with donors who have given in the last two years, but not this past year. Call them or send a personalized note. Let them know you miss them and want them back.

They may not have given to your year-end campaign for a variety of reasons including being too busy or not wanting to spend too much in December. The New Year could be the perfect time to reach out.

We Want You Back! A Simple Strategy for Reactivating Lapsed Donors

Start or enhance your monthly giving program

Monthly or recurring giving is also an excellent way to raise more money and boost your retention rate as well. If you don’t have a monthly giving program, start one this year. If you have one, but people aren’t taking advantage of it, work on promoting it more. Invite current donors to become monthly donors and make it a prominent option on your donation page and pledge form.

Making the Most of Monthly Giving

Do a better job of thanking your donors

I hope you thanked your donors after your year-end appeal and I hope you didn’t send one of those boring, generic letters. If you never sent a thank you letter, do that now!

Either way, the New Year is a great time to thank your donors. You want to show gratitude at least once a month. Wish your donors a Happy New Year, thank them again, and share a success story. You can do this by email or social media.

I haven’t been impressed with the thank yous I received after I made my year-end donations. You can stand out if you make a resolution to do a better job of thanking your donors this year.

Thank You 101

Stay in touch throughout the year

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference. Don’t let them down.

It will be a whole lot easier to stay in touch with your donors if you use a communications (aka editorial) calendar. When you do communicate, remember to be donor-centered and focus on building relationships.

Stay in Touch Throughout the Year by Using a Communications Calendar

Here’s wishing you a successful 2018!

Donating Online Shouldn’t Feel Like a Transaction

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Last week I both purchased some holiday gifts and made a bunch of donations online and there wasn’t much difference in the process.The key word here is process because both felt like a transaction. My inbox was filled with pleas – last chance to get a Cyber Monday deal or make a donation on #GivingTuesday.

Many fundraising appeals focus more on the transaction than the relationship. I’m trying to help kids receive presents on Christmas morning or help low-income families stay safe and warm this winter. I’m not buying sweaters.

Yes, you’re trying to raise money, but you should also try to build a relationship with me.

I did see a few heartfelt requests for donations on #GivingTuesday, but most were focused on the imperative need to donate today because it’s #GivingTuesday. Your donors get to decide when they want to donate and not everyone is on the #GivingTuesday bandwagon. Thank God It’s Wednesday

I may rethink about making my donations on #GivingTuesday. I’m glad if there’s an opportunity for a matching gift, but it’s so transactional and that includes the thank you experience or lack there of. 

We can do better. After #GivingTuesday or anytime you receive a donation, focus on the relationship and not the transaction.

Make a good impression with your thank you landing page

Most of the landing pages of the organizations I donated to said Thank You. Some included a donation receipt, which is fine because donors often want one. But they could have included a short description of how my gift is helping them make a difference, along with an engaging photo or video. Most of the landing pages were not that different from the ones I received from online retailers.

Your subject line matters, too

Make your thank you email stand out with an engaging subject line.

The best one I received was – Thank you. We appreciate your generosity. That’s fine but not outstanding.

Others included a simple Thank you for donating X organization, Thank you for becoming a (name of monthly giving program), or just Thank You.

One for an organization where I just started making monthly donations said Sustaining Initial Thank You I trust there will be more thank yous to come.

Others had the less than inspiring Donation Receipt, Your Recurring Donation Receipt, and Electronic Receipt for your gift to X organization.

Overall, I was not impressed. A better subject line would be something like You just did something incredible! or You’re Amazing!

A receipt is not a thank you

I like to use PayPal for online donations and purchases when I can. As great as PayPal is, it doesn’t provide a warm and fuzzy experience. PayPal will send you it’s own receipts. Most organizations sent their own automatically generated thank yous and one sent a personalized email.

I made a first-time donation to one organization and all I received were PayPal receipts – nothing from the organization. So, I’m curious to see what comes next, if anything.

If your organization uses PayPal, make sure your donors receive a stellar thank you email from you.

Speaking of which, let’s look at some of the thank you emails I received.

I just became a monthly donor for one organization. They welcomed me to their monthly donor club and gave me the name of a contact person if I had questions or wanted to arrange a tour (always a great way to connect).

One of the good ones opened with Through your support – which we’re grateful for each and every day – we’re able to: Then they listed some accomplishments and included a short thank you video, which showed how my gift is making a difference.

Another good one included Thank you for standing with those from across the country in supporting common sense solutions to gun violence. We can’t achieve real change without your support. This organization also sent a second thank you email two days later!

Here are a couple that are okay, but would have been better if they gave specific examples of how their donors are helping them make a difference.

We are deeply grateful for your generosity and support of our efforts. Your gift makes a difference — it enables us to provide vital services to the community we serve. We count on you and people like you to ensure that we can continue providing these services.

Your gift on Nov 28, 2017, will help X organization provide needed services to over 100,000 people each year through its neighborhood network.

Others didn’t even bother to tell me the impact of my gift. I checked my spam filter to see if any thank yous crept in there, but alas that was not the case. Maybe I’ll hear from some of these organizations or maybe not.

Again, I was not impressed. Most of these organizations could use some Thank You 101

Is there more to come?

A week after giving, I’ve received no type of thank you in the mail or a thank you phone call. I’ll write again in the New Year to let you know what type of #DonorLove I receive, if any.

And, I’m not the only one who thought donating on #GivingTuesday felt like a transaction. 2017  #GivingTuesday Secret Shopper Review

Photo by Mike Lawrence –  CreditDebitPro.com

 

Your Appeal is the First Step

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I imagine many of you are beyond busy working on your year-end appeal, but if you think you can take a deep breath and relax once the letters have gone out, you can’t. Your appeal is only the first step.

In fact, what comes next is even more important, especially if you want to to keep your donors for a long time.

Do a good job of thanking your donors

In my last post, I asked Are You Thankful for Your Donors?  Take a few minutes to think about this, because most of the thank you letters I see don’t reflect that.

Make your donors feel good about their donations. A handwritten note or phone call is better than a letter, but if you only have the the means to do a letter, make it sparkle. Don’t send the same old boring, generic thank you letter. Take time to write something awesome.

Create a welcome plan for your new donors

Did you know over 75% of first-time donors don’t make a second gift (according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Report)? This is horrible and we must do a better job of keeping our donors.

One way to help ensure people will give again is to create a welcome plan, which will provide you with ways to let your new donors know how much you appreciate them.

Make your current donors feel special, too

You may think your most valuable donors are the ones who give the most money, but what about the people who have supported your organization for three, five, or even ten years? These are your valuable donors.

If you’re not acknowledging a donor’s past support, you’re making a huge mistake. Imagine how you would feel if you gave to an organization for over five years and they never thank you for your long-time support.

This is why segmenting your donors and personalizing their correspondence is crucial, so is a good database to help you with this. 11 Ways To Segment Your Donors To Improve Your Fundraising

Repeat donor retention rates are 60%, which is better, but still not great. The highest retention rate comes from monthly donors, which is an impressive 90%.

I highly recommend inviting your current donors to become monthly donors, especially the ones who’ve supported you for at least two years. Making the Most of Monthly Giving

Don’t skimp on your donor communication

I know you’re swamped with your year-end appeal right now, but this is not the time to scale back on your donor communication. Continue to send your newsletter and other updates. Keep them donor-centered.

Send your donors Thanksgiving and holiday greetings, either by mail or email. Intersperse your fundraising appeals with messages in which you’re not asking for donations.

Keep it up

Your first New Year’s resolution should be to communicate with your donors more. Keep reaching out to them – at least once or twice a month. Show appreciation and update them on how they’re helping you make a difference.

Think of other ways to do something special for your donors, such as offering tours of your facility or holding an open house.

You want to keep your donors for a long time and making them feel good about supporting your organization will help with this.