Improve Your Fundraising and Communications by Segmenting Your Donors

Do you send all your donors the same appeal and thank you letter? Do you also feel your appeals aren’t bringing you the donations you need?

Hmm, there may be a correlation here. If you’re not segmenting your donors into different groups, you’re missing a chance to raise more money and let your donors know you recognize them for who they are.

Your donors are not the same. Some donors have given for at least five years (these donors should get a lot of attention). Some are monthly donors. Yet, nonprofit organizations fail to recognize that and send everyone the same letter. 

I often receive generic, one-size-fits-all communication from organizations that don’t acknowledge I’m a longtime donor or recognize that I’m a monthly donor. Um, hello!

These organizations are missing opportunities to do a better job of connecting with their donors. Unfortunately, this happens way too often.

Don’t you think it’s time to start segmenting your donors? If you’re already segmenting your donors, kudos to you!

You may be worried about how much time this will take. Plus, you don’t think your current CRM/database can handle it and it will cost too much to get a better one. 

In reality, it may cost you more not to segment. A good CRM/database is worth the investment. Segmenting your donors will help you with retention, which costs less than trying to find new donors. 

You also don’t need to create a 100 different types of letters. Four or five should be sufficient. Your appeals and thank you letters will stand out if you can personalize them and not send everyone the same generic letter.

Here are a few different types of donor groups to help get you started. Remember, investing in a good CRM/database will help you with this.

Current single gift donors

An appeal letter to current single gift donors (Monthly donors get their own appeal. More on that below.) must acknowledge their past support. This is also a good opportunity to ask for an upgrade. Many organizations don’t do this, but it’s a good way to increase your revenue.

Your donors will be more receptive to upgrading their gifts if you’ve been doing a good job of thanking them and staying in touch throughout the year.

If these donors give again, they should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter letting them know how much you appreciate their continued support. If they’ve upgraded their gift, be sure to acknowledge that, too. 

Potential/new single gift donors

If you’re sending an appeal to someone who’s never donated to your nonprofit before, what is your connection to them? Are they volunteers, event attendees, or people on a list you purchased?

The more you can establish a connection, the better chance you have of getting a donation.

The retention rate for first-time donors is horrible. One of the reasons is poor communication. You can help boost your retention rate by making your new donors feel special.

New donors should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter welcoming them as donors. Invite them to connect with you in other ways such as signing up for your newsletter, following you on social media, and volunteering.

Then a week or so later, send them a welcome package by mail or email. Personalization is crucial with new donors.

One of the biggest hurdles nonprofits face is ensuring first-time donors give a second time. If they keep giving after that, they’re showing their commitment to your organization. That’s why the second gift is called a golden donation. Don’t blow it by ignoring this.

New monthly donors

Brand new donors who opt for monthly or other recurring donations get the same special thank you treatment mentioned above. Welcome them to your family of monthly donors. 

Current monthly donors

Your current monthly donors must get their own appeal that recognizes them as monthly donors. In this appeal, you can either ask them to upgrade their gift or give an additional gift. 

When your donors renew or upgrade their monthly gifts, they, of course, get an amazing thank you.

Current donors who become monthly donors

Your current donors who decide to become monthly donors are also showing their commitment to you. They get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter thanking them for their continued support and for joining your family of monthly donors. From now on they should get specialized appeals and other communications targeted to monthly donors. 

Segment as much as you can

While I’ve suggested a few ways you can segment, there are many more options. You can segment by gift amount and number of years someone has been a donor. You can segment volunteers, event attendees, and non-donors. You can also use segmentation in other types of communications, such as creating a special newsletter for monthly donors (or at the very least including a cover letter for monthly donors with your newsletter) and sending handwritten thank you notes to donors who have given for over two years.

Segmenting your donors makes a difference

As we continue to navigate through uncertain times, some donors may cut back on their giving. Don’t let them choose between organizations that communicate throughout the year with engaging personalized appeals, thank yous, and updates and organizations that just send generic, one-size-fits-all communications. People like personal connection.

Spending some extra time segmenting your donors and personalizing your communications will be worth it if you can raise additional revenue and boost your retention rate.

In a future post, I’ll highlight specific ways segmenting your donors can help you raise more money.

Let Your Donors Know How Much You Appreciate Them

Year-end fundraising season is underway. You may have started working on your appeal, which is great. But don’t stop there. It’s just as important, if not more important, to plan how you’ll thank your donors. 

I highly recommend creating a thank you plan, which will help you show gratitude before, during, and after a campaign. 

Many organizations treat thanking their donors as an afterthought and it shows. You can’t do that. It will hurt your chances to get future donations. If someone gives to your organization, they deserve to be showered with appreciation. 

There are many ways to thank your donors after an appeal – by mail, phone, email, on your website, or a combination of those. The more you can do, the better.

Thanking your donors is something you need to do well. Don’t shortchange your donors with a lame, generic thank you.

Make thanking your donors a priority. Here are a few ways to do a better job of thanking your donors. 

Start planning now

Don’t wait until the day after your appeal goes out. Give yourself plenty of time to plan. Write your thank you letter at the same time you write your appeal. Remember, things often take longer than you think.

Figure out what you’ll be able to do. I highly recommend a handwritten note or phone call. Can you do that for all your donors? If not, maybe you’ll break it down by new donors, long-time donors, or donors who have given a certain amount.

I understand that handwritten notes and phone calls may be hard to do right now. At the very least, your donors should get a letter, even if they’ve donated online. Whatever you decide, remember to get started on the content now. 

In the past, the standard was to send thank you letters within 48 hours. If that’s too hard to do now, don’t wait much longer than a week. Make sure you’re ready to go when the donations come in. 

Make your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you note

I love it when a nonprofit sends a handwritten thank you note. This is a rare occurrence, so if you do it, your thank you note will stand out in your donor’s mailbox.

Handwritten notes are great in many ways, but one advantage is you don’t have to write that much. In fact, you can do one in just a few minutes.

You could make thank you cards with an engaging photo or buy some nice thank you cards. Get together a team of board members, staff, and volunteers right after your appeal goes out to help you with this.

Think about how much your donors will appreciate this nice gesture. Here’s a sample note.

Dear Jill,

Thank you so much for upgrading your gift to $75. We’re still seeing more people coming into the Northside Community Food Pantry. Rising food prices are making it difficult for many families to afford groceries. Your generous gift will help a lot. We’re so happy you’ve been a donor these past five years.

Phone calls are another personal way to show gratitude

Calling first-time donors is known to improve retention rates. But you could also call long-time donors to make them feel special.

Again, you want to get a team together to help. This is a great thing for your board to do. You may need to do a short training first. Here’s a sample phone script.

Hi Steve, this is Lisa Walsh and I’m a board member at the Northside Community Food Pantry. Thank you so much for your generous donation of $50 and welcome to our donor family. Your gift will help feed more local families right now. Many of them are struggling due to rising food prices.

Write an incredible thank you letter

If it’s impossible to send handwritten notes or make phone calls, you can still impress your donors with an incredible thank you letter. Many thank you letters aren’t incredible at all and are mediocre at best. You’ll have an advantage if you take some time to create a great, donor-centered letter.

The purpose of a thank you letter is to thank your donors. Keep that in mind at all times.  

Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization…. If you’re sending it on your letterhead, it should be obvious it’s coming from your organization. Instead, start your letter with – Thank you, You’re amazing, or You did something great today!

You also don’t need to explain what your organization does. This often comes across as bragging by saying something like – As you know, X organization has been doing great work in the community for 20 years…. Someone who’s donated to your organization should already be familiar with what you do. 

And, don’t ask for another gift in your thank you letter. You did that in your appeal letter. You can ask again another time. Always keep gratitude front and center.

Write separate thank you letters for different types of donors. Welcome new donors and welcome back your current donors. Monthly donors should also get special recognition.

Your thank you letter needs to make your donors feel good about giving to your organization. Let them know how their gift is helping you make a difference. Include a brief story or example. Make it relevant to our current situations.

As with all writing, make your letter personal and conversational. Write to the donor using you much more than we and leave out jargon and any other language your donors won’t understand. Also, you must address your donors by name – not Dear Friend.

A few other ways to make your letter stand out are to use a colored envelope or include a teaser that says Thank You!, and use a nice stamp (You can buy thank you stamps). Hand address the envelopes and include a handwritten note inside that will help make it more personal. You could also include an engaging photo in the letter.

Yes, you do need to include the tax-deductible information, but do that at the end, after you impress your donors with your letter, or include it on a separate page. It’s easiest to include this with the thank you letter or email. Then you don’t have to send it again unless your donor requests it.

Create a more personal online thank you

The thank you plan I reference above gives you advice on how to create better thank you landing pages and email acknowledgments. These often come across as transactional. You need to think of the donations you receive as the start or continuation of a relationship, not a transaction.

Remember, even though your online donors will get an electronic acknowledgment, they should still get thanked by mail or phone.

With all the uncertainty that’s going on, it’s crucial to do a good job of thanking your donors, both now and throughout the year. 

Keep reading for more advice on letting your donors know how much you appreciate them.

Guide to thanking donors

How to Thank and Retain Year-End Donors

Sample Phrases You Can Use to Thank Your Donors

How You Can Create a Thank You Plan

Thanking your donors is just as important, if not more important than fundraising. Yet many organizations spend a lot of time putting together a fundraising campaign and treat thanking their donors as an afterthought.

We’re still in a time of uncertainty. While some people have been generous over the last two years, we don’t know how long that will continue.

Prioritizing gratitude and donor relations will help. If you don’t do a good job of thanking your donors, as well as building relationships throughout the year, you’ll have a hard time getting people to people to donate again, which is one of the keys to your success.

This is why having a thank you plan is crucial. It’s not only important when you’re running a fundraising campaign, but also during the “between times.”

Many organizations just thank their donors after they receive a gift and then disappear until the next fundraising appeal. Your donors deserve better than that. 

Thanking your donors is something you need to do throughout the year – at least once a month, if you can. A thank you plan will help you stay focused on gratitude all year round.  

Here’s what you need to include in your thank you plan.

Plan to make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it shouldn’t resemble Amazon checkout. It should make a person feel good about giving a donation.

Open with Thank you, Susan! or You’re amazing! Include an engaging photo or video and a short, easy-to-understand description of how the donation will help your clients/community right now. 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.

Plan to write a warm and personal automatic thank you email

Set up an automatic thank you email to go out after someone donates online. This email thank you is more of a reassurance to let your donor know you received her donation. You still need to thank her by mail or phone.

Just because your thank you email is automatically generated, doesn’t mean it needs to sound like it was written by a robot. Write something warm and personal.

Give some thought to the email subject line, too. At the very least make sure it says Thank You or You did something great today and not anything boring like Your Donation Receipt or Donation Received. And please stop using words like transaction and processed. A donation is not a transaction. It’s the start or continuation of a relationship.

Plan to thank your donors by mail or phone

I’m a firm believer that every donor, no matter how much she’s given or whether she donated online, gets a thank you card or letter mailed to her or receives a phone call.

Try to thank your donors within 48 hours or within a week at the latest. It might be hard to do that right now, but it will be easier if you plan to carve out some time to thank your donors each day you get a donation. Remember, thanking your donors should be a priority. If you wait too long, you’re not making a good impression.

Instead of sending the usual generic thank you letter, mail a handwritten card or call your donors. Making thank you calls or writing thank you notes is something your board can do. 

Find board members, staff, and volunteers to make phone calls or write thank you notes. Come up with sample scripts. You may 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/letter/email. 

Hi Ben, this is Laura Kramer and I’m a board member at the Riverside Community Food Bank. I’m calling to thank you for your generous donation of $50. Thanks to you, we can continue to provide neighborhood families with healthy food. This is great. We’re seeing more people come in right now because of rising food costs, so we really appreciate your support.

You’ll stand out if you can send a handwritten thank you card. I get a few of these a year and they tend to come from the same organizations, which shows you what they prioritize! 

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal and heartfelt letter. If you’ve been using the same letter template for a while, take time to freshen it up. Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization, we thank you for your donation of…. 

Open your letter with You’re incredible or Because of you, the Sanders family can finally move into their own home. Create separate letters for new donors, renewing donors, and monthly donors.

Add a personal handwritten note to the letter, preferably something that pertains to that particular donor. For example, if the donor has given before, mention that. Hand sign the letters, if you can.

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.

Plan to keep thanking your donors all year round

This is where having a thank you plan makes a difference because as I mentioned before – thanking your donors is something you must do all year round.

You can use your communications calendar to incorporate ways to thank your donors, but why not go one step further and create a specific thank you calendar?

Remember to try to say thank you at least once a month. Here are some ways to do that. 

  • Send cards or email messages at Thanksgiving, during the holidays, on Valentine’s Day, or mix it up a little and send a note of gratitude in June or September when your donors may not be expecting it. Try to send at least one or two gratitude messages a year by mail, since your donors will be more likely to see those. And you don’t need a holiday or special occasion to thank your donors. Thank them just because….
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories, as well as how the current situations are impacting your work. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude. Be sure to keep thanking your donors in your newsletter and other updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without your donors’ support.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your thank you landing page, by email, and on social media. Go one step further and personalize it. 
  • Send a warm-up letter or email about a month before your next campaign (no ask). This is a great way to show appreciation BEFORE you send your appeals.
  • COVID makes it tricky to plan an open house or tours right now, but you could do something virtual to let your donors see your nonprofit up close and personal. Also, a virtual gathering or tour may be easier to pull off. 
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors. You can repeat some of the ones listed above over the year.

The tactics that work best are going to differ for each organization. I would definitely send something by mail a few times a year. Email and social media may not be as successful, especially if your donors don’t use electronic communication very much. You could survey them to find out their communication preferences, as well as their interests. This will help with your engagement.

Creating a thank you plan will make it easier to keep showing appreciation to your donors all year round. You need your donors right now, so don’t hold back on that always-important gratitude.

It’s Time to Plan Your Year-End Fundraising Campaign

Wow, this summer is flying by. September will be here before you know it. I know that may be hard to believe since many of us have been suffering through record-breaking temperatures, especially in areas where it’s usually not that hot, such as parts of Europe and the Pacific Northwest.

Despite all this, now is a good time to start planning your year-end fundraising campaign. If you’re behind in your revenue goals, you may even want to launch it earlier. Our current state of uncertainty makes it more important to plan ahead.

I’ve put together a checklist to help you get started. You can also use this for fundraising campaigns at other times of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal for your year-end campaign in your 2022 fundraising plan (at least I hope you did) and maybe that has changed. 

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

Do you have a plan?

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

When do you want to launch your appeal? Plan on everything taking longer than you think it will, so earlier is better. Keep in mind you’ll be competing with many other organizations who are doing appeals. 

I strongly encourage you to mail an appeal letter. Direct mail appeals are more successful. You can also send an email appeal and follow up with email, as well (more on that in future posts). 

Maybe you want to send your appeal letters the first week in November. Maybe it’s better to send them out in October. Whenever it is, make your goal to have the letters done at least a week before that. 

Also, how are you mailing your appeal? Do you use a mail house or get staff and volunteers together to stuff envelopes? Either way, plan ahead, so you’re not scrambling at the last minute.

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

If you’ve been using the same boring, generic appeal letter template for the last few years, stop. You need a new one. Your appeal must address the current situations, which I know are always changing.

A good way to start is to create an engaging story for your appeal. How are the pandemic, systemic racism, and economic challenges impacting your clients/community right now? Focus on them, not your organization. This year is different than last year, which was different than 2020, but not the same as pre-pandemic times. This is why you need new stories.  

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

How can your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should focus on a need and let your donors know how they can help you make a difference. You might want to start by creating a brief and an outline.

You may be seeing more people at your food pantry because of rising food costs. Maybe your clients are struggling to find affordable housing.

You can also highlight some of the accomplishments you’ve made recently and state what you would like to do in the coming year, although these are usually more appropriate for a newsletter or annual report. One way to frame this is to describe a situation where students are falling behind in school. You can mention the success of your tutoring program and the need to keep that going and serve more students.

Remember to focus on your clients/community and don’t brag about your organization.

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

Make sure your mailing lists are up-to-date. Check for duplicate addresses and typos. Your donors don’t want to receive three letters at the same time or have their names misspelled. Take a little time to do some data hygiene. Give your email list some attention, too.

Also, now is a good time to segment your mailing lists – current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. This is so important. Your current donors are your best source of donations. You should have more success if you can personalize your appeal letters. You can also ask donors to upgrade their gifts (more on this to come).

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until September or October to check your supply of letterhead and envelopes. Make sure you have enough. Perhaps you want to produce a special outer envelope. You may also want to create some thank you cards. 

We’re still dealing with paper shortages and may be for a while, so plan ahead!

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

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

Is it easy to donate online?

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

One way to ensure a good experience is to have someone on your staff or, even better, someone outside of your organization make a donation on your website. If they want to tear their hair out, you have some work to do.

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

I’m a huge fan of monthly giving. It’s a win-win for your organization. You can raise more money, boost your retention rate, receive a steady stream of revenue, and allow your donors to spread out their gifts.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program or you have a small one, don’t wait any longer to start one or grow the one you have.

Do you want to find a major funder who will give a matching gift?

One way to raise additional revenue is to find a major funder to match a portion or all of what you raise in your year-end appeal. If you want to go down this route, now would be a good time to reach out to these potential funders.

How will you thank your donors?

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

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

How will you keep up with your donor communication?

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

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

Don’t let stories about donors giving less scare you. Some donors may not give as much or at all, but others will give more. They won’t give anything if you don’t ask.

There’s still plenty of time to go to the beach and get ice cream, but right now find an air-conditioned space and start planning your year-end campaign.

Best of luck!

Don’t Take a Vacation From Your Donor Communication

Summer is here, although once again, we’re not having a normal summer. More people are traveling despite rising gas prices, airport delays, a tough economy, and the ongoing pandemic. Nevertheless, we all deserve some kind of a vacation. I hope you’ll get a chance to take one. I know you’ve been through a lot. 

This may be a quieter time for your nonprofit, but you don’t want to be too quiet and ignore your donors. Something the pandemic taught us is we should communicate more during tough times. This would be a great time to do some relationship building.

You should be communicating with your donors at least once a month and that includes the summer months. Don’t make the mistake of taking a vacation from your donor communication. Continuing to stay in touch with your donors will help you when you launch your fall fundraising campaign. 

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

Say thank you

Nonprofit organizations don’t thank their donors enough. You don’t need a reason to thank your donors. Just do it and do it often. You’ll stand out if you do.

This is a good time to do something personal, such as sending a handwritten thank you card. I have a subscription to a local theatre. Every year during the last show of the season, they put a thank you card, along with a piece of chocolate (!), on our seats. Usually, it’s a pre-printed card, but this year they gave out handwritten cards. I was touched. This theatre, like many others, didn’t put on live performances for a year and a half. They weathered some tough times, but got through them thanks to their donors. 

You can do something similar. Pour on the gratitude and let your donors know how you much you’ve appreciated their support over the last few years. Again, try to make it personal. If handwritten cards sound like too much, you could send a postcard, make a video, or connect through email.

You don’t need anything fancy and make it easy for yourself by keeping it simple. There are so many ways to thank your donors. It’s okay to have a little fun and get creative.

Send an update

If you haven’t communicated with your donors much since your last appeal, send them an update sharing your success and challenges. You could combine an update with a thank you, if you’d like.

Try to send something by mail if you can. Your donors are more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail. You could consider an infographic postcard.

I know mail is expensive, but a postcard shouldn’t cost too much. It’s also a quick way to share an update with busy donors. Also, consider that this investment could pay off if your postcard (or handwritten card) entices a donor to give again and possibly upgrade.

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

Tie in current situations

I don’t need to tell you there’s a lot going in the world right now. Will certain policies or budget cuts affect your organization? Many states are working on their budget for the next fiscal year.

Share ways your donors can help – perhaps by contacting their legislators, volunteering, or making a donation.

Advocacy alerts can be a great way for people to engage with your organization. Be sure to thank participants and keep them updated on any outcomes.

When all levels of government make funding cuts or policy changes, the need in the community grows, which puts more burden on nonprofit organizations.

Make room for improvement and plan ahead

The summer can be a good time to make improvements in your existing communication. Spend time finding some engaging stories and photos for your newsletters and other updates.

Start working on your appeal and thank you letters for your next campaign. Make sure they focus on building relationships and are donor-centered. Segment your donors by different types – new, renewing, monthly, etc.  

If you’re feeling pinched financially, you may want to start your fall campaign earlier – September/October instead of November/December. I’ll write more about this in future posts, but a few ways to raise additional revenue are to invite current donors to join your family of monthly donors and reach out to your lapsed donors.

For now, keep relationship building front and center. Keep communicating with your donors. They want to hear from you. Don’t take a vacation from your donor communication.

Time for a Little Nonprofit Spring Cleaning 

It’s spring here in the Northern Hemisphere, although depending on where you live, it may or may not feel like it. 

A lot of people use this time of the year to do some spring cleaning. I know, groan. I envy the people who have taken on a bunch of cleaning and decluttering projects since the pandemic started. I’m not one of them. 

I know I should do more. As much as I dislike cleaning and organizing, I’m happy once it gets done. Often getting started is the hardest part.

Your nonprofit organization may have put off some version of your own spring cleaning and decluttering. It’s been a tumultuous two years and counting.

Take some time to tackle these so-called cumbersome tasks. Just think how happy you’ll be when you’re done. You’ll also make some much-needed improvements to your infrastructure and donor communication.

Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.

Clean up your mailing lists and database/CRM

Has it been a while since you’ve updated your mailing lists? Did you have an influx of address changes, returned mail, and bounced emails after you sent your year-end appeal? This is a good time to clean up and update both your direct mail and email mailing lists.

Don’t wait until right before your next mailing to clean up your donor data. If it’s been a while since you’ve done this, then you really need to do what is known as data hygiene.

Even though it’s tedious, have someone who’s familiar with your donors (your development director?) go through your mailing lists and database/CRM (customer relationship management) to see if you need to make any additions, changes, and deletions.

Be meticulous. No donor wants to see her name misspelled, be addressed as Mrs. when she prefers Ms., or receive three mailings because you have duplicate records.

Your donor database is an important tool and it needs to be up-to-date and filled with accurate information about your donors.

CLEAN UP YOUR ACT: DONOR DATA MANAGEMENT FOR NONPROFITS

Donor Database Best Practices To Care For Your Data Like You Care For Your Donors

Run your donor list through the National Change of Address database. It may cost some money to do this, but it’s worth it if you come out with squeaky clean data. Do this at least once a year.

Also, if you haven’t already done this, segment your donors into different groups – new donors, returning donors, monthly donors, etc. You may need to make some changes. For example, if a single gift donor starts giving monthly.

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

You might also want to move some lapsed donors who haven’t donated for several years into an inactive file. Don’t do this until you’ve sent targeted, personalized appeals asking them to donate again. And if you’ve never gotten in touch with any lapsed donors from 2021, you could reach out to them now.

Do the same thing with your email list. It doesn’t make sense to send email to people who don’t respond to it. Give these people a chance to re-engage, and if they’re not even opening your emails, move them to an inactive file. Don’t worry if people unsubscribe. You’re better off with an email list of engaged subscribers.

What’s in My Inbox | The Benefits of Cleaning Your Email List

Maybe you need a better CRM/database. If you’re using a spreadsheet to store your donor records, then you need an actual database. Get the best one you can afford.

Choosing a Donor Database: The Ultimate Guide for Nonprofits

Spring is about bringing in the new and a better database would be a wise investment. It can help you raise more money. You can also save money by having clean mailing lists.

Freshen up your messages

Now that you’ve cleaned up your mailing lists and segmented your donors, it’s time to freshen up your messages, if you haven’t done that for a while. I’ve written about this in a couple of recent posts, emphasizing that your donor communication needs to reference the current situations and steer clear of generic language and jargon. If you’re still using templates from before March 2020, you need a refresh.

Your thank you letters need to actually thank your donors, not brag about your organization. Make sure your automatically generated thank you emails and landing pages don’t look like boring receipts. Create separate templates for new donors, current donors, and monthly donors.

Why You Need a Thank You Plan

Let go of what you don’t need

The pandemic forced many organizations to rethink the way they did certain things. You may have held an in-person event for years, but in the spring of 2020 had to switch to virtual or run an emergency campaign. Maybe this worked better for you.

In-person events take a lot of staff time and don’t always bring in that much money. It’s also not clear they’re safe to put on right now. Just like those old clothes taking up room in your closet or a file cabinet stuffed with years of paperwork, it may be time to let go of this event (or anything else that doesn’t serve you) and find a different way to raise money.

Think better rather than new

In uncertain times, it’s better to focus on what’s going to work for your nonprofit instead jumping onto the latest craze. Focus on what you can do better. Instead of going on TikTok, think about growing your monthly giving program and building relationships with your donors. These are proven ways to help you raise more money.

Don’t wait too long

I know you have a lot going on, but you need to take on these initiatives sooner rather than later. Just like the clutter and dust in your home won’t disappear on their own, the longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. 

Get started on these spring cleaning projects as soon as you can. You’ll be happy once they’re done. Your donors will also be happy if they don’t get duplicate mailings and a fundraising letter laced with jargon, but do receive a personalized appeal and a stellar thank you letter.

Image by Marco Verch

Steer Clear of Generic Communication

Are you still sending all your donors the same appeal and thank you letters? In these letters, you never thank a donor for their past support or acknowledge they’re a monthly donor.

If that’s not bad enough, many of these letters use vague and impersonal language and even worse, jargon.

Since the pandemic started, some nonprofits have done better and have created more nuanced, personal communication. Let’s keep this up and all do better. Your donors deserve that.

Steer clear of anything generic and create something more personal. Here’s what you can do.

Segment your donors

Your donors aren’t the same, so they shouldn’t all get the same letter. Segment your donors into different groups as much as you can. At the very least, create different letters for new donors, repeat donors, and monthly donors. You can also personalize letters to lapsed donors, event attendees, volunteers, etc.

I emphasize segmenting your donors a lot in my posts because it’s so important. Donors like it if you recognize their past giving or anything that shows them this is more than a generic, one-size-fits-all message.

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

Donor Segmentation | Comprehensive Guide + Tips For Success

And while we’re on the subject of personalization, please stop sending Dear Friend letters, as well. You’re not being a good friend if you don’t even use your donors’ names.

I know this 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 are more likely to give again, possibly at a higher level.

Use language your donors understand

If you use vague, generic language and jargon, you’re going to instantly bore and/or confuse your donors. Most of your donors don’t have a medical or social services background. They don’t use terms like food insecurity, at-risk populations, and underserved communities, and neither should you.

Connect with your donors by using language they’ll understand. Instead of talking about food insecurity, give an example of a family choosing between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

What do you mean by at-risk or underserved? Are high school students less likely to graduate on time? Do residents of a certain community not have good health care nearby? Is housing too expensive? Get specific, but at the same time, keep it simple. Also, terms like at-risk and underserved undermine your clients/community. Remember, these are human beings you’re talking about.

Let’s Try to Stop Using Jargon So Much

How Jargon Destroys Nonprofit Fundraising & Marketing

A great way to steer clear of generic language and jargon is to tell stories. Most people respond better to a human-interest story than a bunch of boring statistics.

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

Why your good story leads to a better world

Make time for improvement

You may be between fundraising campaigns right now and have a little more time (maybe). If so, work on segmenting the donors in your database, if you haven’t already done that. Segmenting your donors isn’t a one-time deal. Make changes as needed. For example, some of your single-gift donors may have upgraded to monthly. If you can do this after every campaign, you should have fairly up-to-date information on your donors.

In addition, dust off those templates and freshen up your appeal letters and thank you letters. We’re living in an ever-changing world and you need to acknowledge current situations in your communication. Create letter templates for different donor groups and replace your vague, generic language with something clear, conversational, and specific.

You can also use this time to add new stories to your story bank or start putting one together, if you don’t already have one

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.

Steer clear of your generic communication with something that shows your donors how much you appreciate them by recognizing who they are and giving them engaging content they can relate to.

How You Can Improve Your Donor Communication

One of the many lessons since the pandemic started is generic, organization-centered communication has to go.

I know there has been some conflict about donor-centered vs community-centered over the last two years and I think we can have both. What you don’t want is to be organization-centered. You can’t communicate with your donors without focusing on them. This is true for any type of audience. Write to your readers.

Explained: Donor-Centric and Community Centric Fundraising

We’re also seeing real people with real problems. Using vague, generic terms such as at-risk and underserved is demeaning to your clients/community.

You can do better if you make some of these improvements to your donor communication.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Your fundraising appeal shouldn’t be focused too much on your organization – rambling on about how great you are. Your organization may be great, but let your donors figure that out. Your donors are the ones who are great, and they want to hear how they can help you make a difference for your clients/community.
  • Segment your appeal to the appropriate audience. Thank past donors or reference your relationship to a potential donor. Maybe they’re event attendees, volunteers, or friends of board members.
  • Address your appeal to a person and not Dear Friend.
  • Don’t use jargon or other language your donors won’t understand. Instead of saying we’re helping at-risk youth, say something like – With your support, our tutoring program can help more students graduate from high school on time. Many students fell behind when the pandemic started.
  • Your appeal should make people feel good about donating to your organization.

Thank you letters

  • Your thank you letter shouldn’t come across as transactional and resemble a receipt. This is one of my huge pet peeves. Yes, you need to acknowledge the donation is tax-deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Your thank you letter (or better yet, a handwritten note) needs to be filled with appreciation. Start your letter with You’re amazing! or Thanks to You!, and not On behalf of X organization.
  • Address your thank you letter to a person and not Dear Friend.
  • Tell your donors the impact of their gift. For example – Thanks to your generous donation of $50, a family can get a box of groceries at the Westside Community Food Bank. This is crucial since we’ve been seeing triple the number of people over the past two years.
  • Recognize each donor. Is this the first time someone has donated? If someone donated before, did she increase her gift? Acknowledge this in your letter/note.

Newsletters

  • Your newsletter shouldn’t sound self-promotional and focus on all the wonderful things your organization is doing. Since the pandemic started, I’ve seen organizations patting themselves on the back because of all the changes they needed to make to their programs. What’s most important is how this is affecting your clients/community. Yes, you may have changed the protocols (possibly several times depending on COVID positivity rates) at your homeless shelter, but that’s because you needed to continue to offer a safe place to those who need it.  
  • Write your newsletter in the second person. Write to the donor and use the word you more often than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass? Keep in mind, all your donor communication should be written in the second person. It’s much more personal.
  • Include stories about clients, engaging photos, and other content your donors like to see. Remember, donors want to see the impact of their gift.
  • Use the right channels. Perhaps you only send an e-newsletter, but some of your donors prefer print.
  • Show gratitude to your donors/supporters in your newsletter.

These suggestions for improvement can be used in other types of donor communication such as annual reports, your website, email messages, and social media posts.

Better donor communication can help you build relationships. This is especially important now when your goals should be donor retention and sustaining long-term donors.

9 Best Practices for Communications That Stand Out

Nonprofit Communication Best Practices To Make Communications More Impactful 

Improving Donor Communications: 7 Tactics to Keep In Mind

Image credit –  www.epictop10.com

Go Above and Beyond When You Thank Your Donors

Many donors have gone above and beyond to help nonprofit organizations over the last two years.

This means you need to go above and beyond when you thank them. Are you doing that? Most likely, you’re not. I know running your organization is hard right now, but you need to prioritize donor appreciation.

Thanking your donors is not just something you do after you receive a donation and then do nothing for a while. 

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

Maybe you would rather not go the Valentine’s Day route, which is understandable. But you should still do something to show appreciation this month (and every month). The holidays are over and February can be a dreary month, even in the best of times. Your donors could use a little kindness right now.

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

Here are a few ways you can go above and beyond when you thank your donors.

Create a thank you photo

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

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 a great way to connect with your donors. They’re simple, yet effective, so don’t worry if you weren’t a film major. It’s not too hard to create a video.

How to Create a Donor Thank You Video

One idea for your video is to show a bunch of people saying thank you. You’ll want your video to be short, donor-centered, and show your organization’s work up close and personal. You can also create personalized videos, which are always a nice gesture.

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

10 Tips For Thanking Your Donors With Video

Nonprofit Thank You Video Script

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. Other valuable donors are the ones who have been generous since the pandemic started. Don’t take any of these donors for granted.

That said, I do think you should make every effort to send a card to ALL your donors at least once a year. You can spread it out so you mail a certain number of cards each month, ensuring all your donors get one sometime during the year. 

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

Share an update 

In addition to saying thank you, share a brief update on your success and challenges. Emphasize how you couldn’t have helped someone without your donor’s support. For example –Thanks to you, David won’t go to bed hungry tonight. It’s been tough for his family to make ends meet this year.

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

Plan to do better

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.

Also, make sure your thank you note/letter puts gratitude front and center. You don’t need to explain what your organization does, brag, or ask for another donation. You have plenty of opportunities to ask for donations. Plain and simple, the purpose of a thank you letter is to thank your donors.

Make thanking your donors a priority

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

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

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

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

Keep thinking of ways to let your donors know how much you appreciate them. 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.

Keep reading for more ways you can go above and beyond when you thank your donors.

Donor Appreciation: Creating a Strategy (And 22+ Ideas!) 

15 Sincere Ways to Say Thank You to Your Donors

Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

Make Time to Welcome Your New Donors

I hope your year-end fundraising campaign is going well. Perhaps you also participated in #GivingTuesday. The latter often brings in new donors and that’s never something you want to take for granted. 

Even in this time of continued uncertainty, these donors saw a need and found a connection to your cause. Or maybe they were drawn into whatever #GivingTuesday promotion you initiated, but I like to think they wanted to help you make a difference. 

Unfortunately, the likelihood these donors will stick with you is also uncertain. Retention rates for first-time donors average around 20%.

That’s why it’s so important to get a second donation, also known as a golden donation. Once you get that golden donation, you’re more likely to have long-time donors who will stick with you. One way to ensure that, is to make your new donors feel welcome.

Start with a special thank you

According to fundraising expert, Dr. Adrian Sargeant, “The thank you is the single most important piece of communication that your donors get. They have a higher recall of it than the appeal that generated the gift.”

This is something to keep in mind, especially for your new donors.

If someone donates online, it’s hard to tailor the thank you email specifically to new donors. But you can do that with a phone call, handwritten note, or thank you letter.

Try to call your new donors or send a handwritten note. This will make a great impression on them. Get together a group of board members, other volunteers, and staff to help you. If that’s not possible, create a thank you letter specifically for your new donors.

*Make sure these are actually new donors. A good database will help you avoid any missteps.*

Create a welcome plan

A week or two after the initial thank you, send a welcome package. You can do this by mail, email, or a combination of both.

Welcome your new donors. Thank them again and show them other ways they can connect with you. Invite them to subscribe to your newsletter, join you on social media, and volunteer.

Your welcome package should include a warm introductory message and a few facts about your organization, but don’t brag too much. Keep it donor-centered. You could also direct people to your website for more information about your organization.

Be careful about how much information you send. Donors want to feel welcome not overwhelmed.

I don’t recommend sending unsolicited swag. Personally, I don’t like it, but some donors might. You could offer your new donors a gift and they can let you know if they want to receive it, but it’s not necessary. What donors really want from you is to know how they’re helping you make a difference.

How To Build Relationships With A Storytelling Welcome Email Series

7 Things to Include in Your New Donor Welcome Kit

How to Write a Nonprofit Welcome Email (With Examples!)

Who are your new donors?

They could be event attendees, volunteers, or newsletter subscribers. If you know, refer to that in your thank you note, letter, or phone call. If not, send a short survey with your welcome package and ask, “How did you hear about us?” or “What drew you to our organization?” 

Another question to ask is whether your donors prefer print or electronic communication. Short surveys are also a good way to connect throughout the year. The more you know about your donors the easier it will be to communicate with them.

Make your current donors feel special, too

While I’ve been focusing on new donors in this post, retention rates for current donors aren’t anything to celebrate. Remember the golden donation, but don’t stop there. You want a third (would that be platinum?) and a fourth, etc. donation.  

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.  

These valuable, long-time donors could leave at any time, so ignore them at your own peril. Make sure they also get a special thank you from you.

Keep it up throughout the year

It’s so important to communicate with your donors regularly. Plan on special mailings or emails specifically targeted to new donors. Try to send something by mail if you can. It’s more personal and your donors are more likely to see it. 

Think of other ways to do something special for your new donors too, such as offering virtual tours or an invitation to a Zoom discussion.

Of course, don’t ignore your other donors. Keep reaching out – at least once or twice a month. 

Show appreciation and share updates. A huge factor in donor retention is a good donor relations plan that you’ll carry out regularly as long as your donors support you, which hopefully will be for many years.