Building Relationships is Just as Important as Raising Money

Why does making a donation often feel like a transaction? Organizations get so caught up in the raising money part that they forget about building relationships with their donors.

Giving Tuesday is the worst example of this, with Year End close behind. Generally, it happens way too often.

Remember this – Building relationships is just as important as raising money. 

It’s hard to keep raising money if you don’t build a good relationship with your donors. The two go together. Every single interaction with your donors needs to focus on building relationships. That includes fundraising appeals. It’s possible to raise money and build relationships at the same time.

Follow this formula – ask, thank, update, repeat. Thanking and updating should naturally evolve into building relationships, although that doesn’t always happen.

You’ll have more success if you move away from transactional fundraising and focus on building relationships. Here are some ways to do that.

Stop using transactional language

First, the word transaction should not appear anywhere in your fundraising. Sometimes I see the words “Transaction complete” after I make an online donation. That’s not giving me a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling at all. I made a gift, not a transaction.

Even more prevalent is the word receipt, which is often used in lieu of thank you. After a donor makes a gift, they should feel appreciated. 

An email subject line is one of your first chances to connect with your donor. How would you feel if this is what you saw? 

“Your Recurring Donation Receipt” 

“Donation tax receipt”

This again is emphasizing the transaction. Payment information should not be the lead of any type of thank you. Where are the words thank you?

It’s not easy to find good thank you email subject lines. Here are some that are better.

“Thank you for your generous monthly gift”

“You are wonderful!”

“Thank you for investing in Peace!”

“Your monthly gift in action” 

That last subject line leads into an email that emphasizes how the donor is helping that organization make a difference, which is a good example of building relationships.

When organizations lead their fundraising appeals by saying “It’s our year-end appeal” or “It’s GivingTuesday,” they’re not connecting with their donors by concentrating on why donors give. 

Many donors don’t care that it’s your year-end appeal. They care about your work and want to help. Instead, say something like – How you can help families put food on the table. 

Make relationship building part of your fundraising campaigns

You need to build relationships before, during, and after each of your fundraising campaigns. Keep this in mind – Your Fundraising IS Your Relationship.

Before your next appeal, send your donors an update to let them know how they’re helping you make a difference. This is especially important if you do more than one fundraising campaign a year. You don’t want your donors to think the only time they hear from you is when you’re asking for money.

Segment your donors

One way to help ensure you’re focusing on relationships is to segment your donors and personalize your appeal letters and other types of donor communication. 

Don’t send the same appeal to everyone on your mailing list. What is your relationship with these individuals? Maybe they’ve given once or many times. Perhaps they’re event attendees, volunteers, e-newsletter subscribers, or friends of board members. Mention your relationship in your appeal letter. For example, thank a long-time donor for supporting you these past five years.

Monthly donors get their own appeal letter. This doesn’t happen enough and it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Build relationships with these committed donors. Recognize they’re monthly donors and either invite them to upgrade their gift or give an additional donation.

Create an attitude of gratitude

Your focus on building relationships continues when you thank your donors. Many organizations do a poor job with this. Send a handwritten note or make a phone call, if you can.

Welcome your new donors. Let them know how much you appreciate this new relationship. If you don’t, it’s likely to be a short relationship.

Be sure to also shower your current donors with appreciation so you can keep your relationship going. Do something special for donors who have supported you for several years.

Make sure your donors get a heartfelt thank you, not something that resembles a receipt.

Thanking donors is something you can do at any time of the year. I think one of the best ways to connect is by sending a handwritten note. I just received a handwritten thank you note acknowledging my two-year anniversary as a donor. It always warms my heart when an organization connects in this way.

Holiday cards are a nice way to reach out, but don’t put a donation envelope in one. You have other opportunities to make appeals. Make it 100% about showing appreciation.

You can also send thank you cards at other times of the year. If money is tight, spread out your mailings over the year so each donor gets at least one card.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships

There are many ways you can build relationships with your donors throughout the year. 

You can give donors other opportunities to connect, such as volunteering, participating in advocacy alerts, signing up for your email mailing list, and following you on social media. You could also offer virtual or in-person (if it’s safe) tours.

Newsletters and annual reports that focus too much on the organization are the equivalent of being at a party where someone just talks about himself and you may as well not even be there. Done well, a newsletter, annual report, or another form of an update can be a good relationship-building tool.

I’m amazed that after I attend an event, support someone in a walkathon, or give a memorial gift, most organizations don’t do a good job of building a relationship. I could be a potential long-time donor. Personally, I would never give a memorial gift or support someone in a charity walk if I didn’t believe in that organization’s cause. Don’t miss out on a potential opportunity to build longer-term relationships.

You’ll have a better chance of building relationships if you can tap into your donors’ passions and interests.

Hold a relationship-building day

My main objection to giving days, such as GivingTuesday, is they focus so much on asking. What if we put all the time and energy we focus on giving days into a relationship-building day?

I’m not saying you can’t participate in giving days, but instead of the relentless begging, follow the formula above and build relationships before, during, and after your appeal.

Of course, you could choose not to participate in a giving day and have an all-out relationship-building day instead.

Build relationships all year round

It’s easier to stay focused on donors when you’re sending an appeal or thank you, but this is just the beginning. Many organizations go on communication hiatus at certain times of the year and that’s a huge mistake. Ideally, you should keep in touch with your donors every one to two weeks, once a month at the most.

Always stay focused on relationships. Good relationships with your donors will help you raise more money and keep your donors for a long time. 

Steps You Can Take to Ensure a Successful 2023

Happy New Year! I hope you had a nice holiday and weren’t affected by severe weather and flight cancellations. My family rented a house on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland that wasn’t well suited for temperatures in the teens, but fortunately our return flight on Southwest took place after they were “back to normal.”

Now that the New Year is here do you wonder what’s ahead for us? The last three years have brought about so much change and uncertainty. Sometimes it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next. 

I’m sure your nonprofit continues to face challenges, but since the pandemic started many organizations were able to confront these challenges and make changes to the way they ran their programs and implemented their fundraising and communications. Some were successful and some weren’t.

If 2022 was not a successful year for your organization, you can work to make 2023 a better year. 

Here are some ways to ensure a more successful year.

Have a plan in place

You must have fundraising and communications/marketing plans. If you haven’t put together these plans yet, do that now! 

You know from past experience that you may need to make changes to your plans. In 2020, organizations that were able to make changes to a plan already in place were most successful.

Take a look back at 2022 to see what worked and what didn’t in your fundraising and communications/marketing. Incorporate what you’ve learned into your 2023 plans. 

Be sure your fundraising plan includes a diverse stream of revenue. Individual giving has proven to be successful. A lot of small donations can add up! Start or grow your monthly giving program (more on that below). Also, look into major and legacy giving. 

You can apply for grants and hold events, but those sometimes require more effort than its worth. Invest in strategies that make sense for your organization.

Revisit your fundraising and communications/marketing plans regularly and make changes as needed. Do this at least every two to three months.

Make sure that donor relations and donor retention are part of your fundraising plan. Those are key to your success.

Pay attention to your donor retention

Many donors have stepped up over the past three years to support nonprofit organizations. You don’t want to lose these valuable donors.

Donor retention should be a priority. You’ll have more success if you work to keep the donors you already have instead of focusing on getting new ones.

First, if you don’t already know it, figure out your retention rate. Do this after every fundraising campaign.

If it’s low, it’s something you can fix, usually with better communication. Donor retention is a huge problem for nonprofits. Your goal should be to have donors who support you for a long time.

It’s easier and less expensive to keep your current donors than to find new ones, so, once again, make donor retention a priority.

That said, you may have some new donors who saw a need and felt a connection to your cause. Don’t let these donors slip away either.

Ramp up your monthly giving program

Speaking of retention, the retention rate for monthly donors is 90%. These donors are dedicated to your nonprofit. 

I’m a huge fan of monthly giving. It’s always made sense, but it’s been especially crucial over the last three years. Organizations that had monthly giving programs saw a steady stream of revenue throughout the year. Donors who opt for monthly giving find it’s easier on their finances. Dedicated monthly donors have also stepped up and have given additional donations.

Work on starting or growing your monthly giving program so you can have a bunch of highly committed donors. A good way to start is to invite your current donors to become monthly donors.

Monthly donors are also potential major and legacy donors. Remember the importance of individual giving

Do a better job of communicating with your donors 

It’s time to say goodbye to boring, generic communication. Over the past three years, donors have seen real people with real problems in real time. They turned on the news and saw long lines at food pantries. They’ve witnessed a much-needed awareness of systemic racism in our society. They’re hearing stories about how families can barely make ends meet in the current economy.

It makes a difference if you can put things in human terms. Organizations that do this did a better job of connecting with their donors.

Don’t use jargon, such as at-risk and underserved. These terms are demeaning to your clients, especially if they’re people of color. Tell more stories and go easy on the statistics. If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell.

Better communication also means more frequent communication. Donors want to hear from you and they want to feel appreciated, too. Better, more frequent communication will help you raise more money. A communications calendar will help you with this. 

Keep relationships front and center

You may think the most important component of fundraising is raising money. While that’s important, so is building relationships with your donors

It’s hard to raise money year after year if you don’t build a good relationship with your donors. Every single interaction with your donors needs to focus on building relationships. That includes fundraising appeals. It’s possible to raise money and build relationships at the same time.

Good relationships with your donors will help you with retention.

Don’t forget about gratitude

A big part of building relationships is showing gratitude to your donors. Many nonprofits do a poor job with this. 

You need to start by sending a heartfelt thank you immediately after you receive a donation and then find ways to thank your donors throughout the year. Put together a thank you plan to help you with this.

Start the New Year off by making fundraising and communications/marketing plans, if you haven’t already done so. Prioritize donor retention, monthly giving, showing gratitude, and building relationships with your donors. This will help bring you more success in 2023.

How to Incorporate Gratitude Into Your Year-End Fundraising Campaign

Year-end fundraising coincides with the gratitude season, which includes Thanksgiving in the U.S. and the December holidays. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems as if stores go into holiday mode earlier each year.

Now is a great opportunity to show some gratitude to your donors. You could hold a thankathon, especially if you haven’t launched your appeal yet. Traditionally, thankathons are done by phone, but you can use other channels, too.

If you’re thinking you’re too busy with your year-end campaign to spend much time thanking your donors right now, that’s precisely why you need to get on the thank you train.

You’re never too busy to thank your donors. Showing gratitude and building relationships should help you raise more money. Plus, many donors stepped up to support you over the last two and half years. Don’t they deserve some extra attention?

Showing gratitude doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should, but you need to spend just as much time thanking your donors and building relationships as you do on fundraising.

Here are a few ways to incorporate thanking your donors into your year-end fundraising campaign.

Say thank you in your appeal

Does your appeal thank donors for their past or potential gifts? It should. Remember, you need to be showing gratitude while you’re trying to raise money.

This is especially important around #GivingTuesday and I’ll write more about that in my next post.

Wish your donors a Happy Thanksgiving

One way to show gratitude right now is to send your donors a special Thanksgiving message. A lot of nonprofits already do this. If you’re not one of them, make this the year you start. If you can send a card or postcard, that’s great, but an email message is also fine.

In a recent post about running a multichannel campaign, I suggested skipping the reminder during Thanksgiving week and pour on the gratitude instead. That can also be beneficial if you’re planning to send appeals on #GivingTuesday, which tends to be very transactional.

We’re still living in a time of uncertainty and your donors will appreciate a heartfelt message from you. Let them know how grateful you are to have them as part of your donor family. 

Don’t stop with Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving isn’t the only time to show some appreciation. The holidays and New Year’s are coming up soon and that’s a good opportunity, especially for those of you outside the U.S., to express gratitude. But you don’t need a holiday or other special occasion. Just thank your donors and do it often. 

Whatever you decide, DO NOT include a donation envelope or any other type of ask with your thank you message. This is known as a thask and it’s guaranteed to deflate your donor’s good feelings in an instant.

Be ready to thank your donors as soon as you receive a donation

Every single donor, no matter how much they’ve given or whether they donated online, gets a thank you card/letter mailed to them or receives a phone call.

Planning ahead will help you thank your donors as soon as possible. I’m sure you’re spending a lot of time and effort getting your fundraising appeal out. Perhaps you’ve recruited other staff or volunteers to help you.

You need to do the same thing when you thank your donors. Get your board, other staff, and volunteers to help make phone calls, write thank you notes, or include a handwritten note on a thank you letter. This is another opportunity for a thankathon.

Make thanking your donors a priority

Your donors deserve more than just the same boring, generic thank you letter. The initial thank you right after you receive a donation is important. So is the next one and the one after that and the one after that….

Thanking your donors is not something you just do after receiving a donation. You want to thank your donors at least once a month. Here are some ideas to show gratitude throughout the year.

  • Send a handwritten note.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your website, by email, and on social media. Better yet, personalize it.
  • Send welcome packages to your new donors.
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated on your success and challenges. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude.
  • Thank your donors in your newsletters and other updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without their support.
  • Create a virtual tour or other engaging video content so your donors can see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Thank your donors just because they’re great.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

Create a thank you plan to help you with this.

Always choose kindness 

The world could use some more kindness right now. We’re all still dealing with a lot and the divisiveness doesn’t help. In the spirit of kindness, show some gratitude to your donors and make them feel special.

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.