How Your Nonprofit Can Keep Things Simple

Over the years I’ve realized the importance of keeping things simple. For some of us, the pandemic forced us to keep things simple since we were limited in what we could do, especially outside the house. I found pleasure in simple things such as taking a walk, reading, and doing yoga, all of which I continue to make time for, if I can. 

Keeping it simple doesn’t have to mean a bare-bones existence. There’s a Swedish term called lagom meaning everything in moderation or not too much, not too little. Or think of Goldilocks and choose what’s “just right.” This can apply to how much information we take in about the pandemic, the economy, politics, the war in Ukraine, etc. – enough to know what’s going on, but not too much so it’s overwhelming. 

Keeping things simple is also important for your nonprofit organization. I feel like we are in a constant vortex of change. I know you’re continuing to navigate this uncertain climate.

That said, you need to continue to raise money and communicate fairly regularly with your donors, while not taking on too much. Donors are also navigating the changing situations, but they want to help if they can and they want to hear from you. What they don’t want is a lot of complex content.

Here are a few ways to simplify your donor communication without making it too difficult for you.

Keep it simple by planning ahead

If communicating regularly with your donors sounds overwhelming, plan ahead by using a communications calendar. You should be in touch every one to two weeks, if possible. Otherwise, aim for once a month. Fill your calendar with different ways to do that and update it as needed. A good rule of thumb is – ask, thank, update/engage, repeat. And as I mention below, you can keep it simple with shorter communication.

Keep it simple by sticking to one call to action

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

Stick to one call to action. Suppose you send a message that includes requests for a donation, volunteers, and for people to contact their legislators. It’s likely your donors won’t respond to all of your requests and may not respond to any of them. Send separate messages for each request.

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

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

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

Keep it simple with shorter, easy-to-read messages

Plain and simple, if your communication is too long, most people won’t read it. 

Limit print communication, such as newsletters and annual reports, to four pages or less. Your email messages should be just a few paragraphs. On the other hand, you don’t want to be terse or say too little.

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

Be sure your communication is easy to read and scan. Use short paragraphs, especially for electronic communication, and include lots of white space. Don’t clutter up the page.

Keep it simple by using conversational language

I find it annoying when I read an appeal letter or newsletter article that sounds like a Ph.D. thesis. Write at a sixth to eighth-grade level. That’s what most major newspapers do. This is not dumbing down. You’re being smart by ensuring your donors will understand you. There are programs out there that can help you determine the reading level. Plus, you can raise more money if your messages are easy to read.

Keep out jargon and other confusing language. Instead of saying something like – We’re helping underserved communities who are experiencing food insecurity, say  – Thanks to donors like you, we can serve more families at the Eastside Community Food Bank. 

We’re seeing real people being affected by real problems. Don’t diminish this with jargon and other vague language.

Use the active voice and there’s no need to get fancy by using a lot of SAT vocabulary words. Again, you want your donors to understand you.

Keep it simple by creating a clutter-free website

Your website is still a place where people will go to get information. Make sure it’s clear, clutter-free, and easy to read and navigate. Don’t forget about short paragraphs and lots of white space.

One of the most important parts of your website is your donation page. It needs to be easy to use and collect enough information without overwhelming your donors. If it’s too cumbersome, they may give up and leave.

If it’s a branded page (e.g. not a third-party site like PayPal), make sure it’s consistent with your messaging and look. Don’t go too minimalistic, though. Include a short description of how a donor’s gift will help you make a difference, as well as an engaging photo.

Make it easier for your nonprofit and your donors by keeping things simple.

Photo via One Way Stock

Are You Still Using Jargon?

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

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

People need to understand you to connect with you

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

Are You Speaking The Same Language As Your Donors?

How to do better

You may know you need to freshen up some of your messages, but aren’t sure how to start. You may also have a lot going on and feel pressed for time. 

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

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

Tell a story

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

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

What would Aunt Shirley or Uncle Ted think?

I always like to use this analogy. Imagine you’re at a family gathering and you’re explaining what your organization does to your 75-year-old Aunt Shirley, or maybe it’s Uncle Ted. Does she look confused and uninterested when you use words like underserved and at-risk, or does he perk up and want you to tell him more when you mention you’ve been able to help homeless families move into their own homes?

Stop using jargon in your work environment

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

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

Too Much Jargon, Too Little Time: 3 Easy Tips to Simplify Your Copy

Nonprofit Jargon: Do Your Supporters Understand Your Fundraising?

How Jargon Destroys Nonprofit Fundraising & Marketing

How You Can Make Your Messages Stand Out

Do you feel as if information overload is getting worse every year? There’s so much going on right now. Getting your messages out is never easy, but like everything else, it’s gotten a whole lot harder over the past two years.

Your nonprofit organization needs to continue communicating regularly with your donors and you need to do it well. With everything that’s going on, it’s possible they’ll miss your messages. 

Here are a few ways you can make your messages stand out. 

What’s your intention?

What’s the purpose of your message? What do you want your reader to do? Are you asking for a donation? Maybe you’re thanking your donor or sharing an update.

Think from your reader’s perspective. What would she be interested in or what would make him take action?

Don’t muddle your messages with too much information. Keep it simple and stick to one call to action or type of message. 

Choose the right channels

Most likely you’ll use more than one channel to communicate. Pay attention to the channels your donors are using and focus your efforts there.

Email may be the primary way you’re communicating right now and there’s a reason for that. It’s fast, easy, relatively inexpensive, and almost everyone has an email address. You can quickly get a message out to a lot of people. Also, unlike social media, it’s something you can control. You don’t have to rely on a social media algorithm to hope your message ends up in your donor’s feed.

The downside is people get a huge amount of email from a variety of different sources. Plus, the average open rate is around 20%. I don’t know what’s going on in the conservative world, but some liberal political groups send way too much email, which I pretty much ignore. And, social media is often just a lot of of a lot.  

It’s easy for your electronic messages to get lost in the shuffle. Your donors may just tune things out, even if you have something engaging to share. 

While you’ll likely use electronic communication pretty regularly, don’t discount direct mail. Your donors are more likely to see these messages. We get far less postal mail than electronic communication. Also, someone can put a piece of mail aside and look at it later. Don’t count on that happening with any type of electronic communication. You can also communicate by phone. This is a great way to thank your donors.

Going multichannel is usually your best bet. This is very common for fundraising campaigns and inviting people to events, as well as including a link to your e-newsletter on your social media platforms. This way if people miss your initial message on one platform, they may see it on a different one. You’ll also want to send regular reminders for fundraising appeals and event invitations.

Get noticed right away

Remember, your donors have a lot going on and you need to capture their attention right away.

Your fundraising letters and anything else you send by mail needs to look appealing enough to open. You could put a tagline on the envelope. That doesn’t mean something like It’s Our Annual Appeal. Try something like – How you can help families put food on the table. Your envelope should look personal and not resemble a bill or junk mail.

“Dale’s” mail

Once your donor opens your fundraising appeal, lead with a story followed by a clear, prominent ask. When they open your thank you letter, they should be greeted with gratitude.

A good subject line is the key to getting someone to open your email message. Keep in mind that your donor’s inbox is bursting with messages. Don’t use something boring like April e-newsletter or Donation Received. Entice them with Find out how you helped families put food on the table or You just did something amazing today!  

Keep them engaged once they open your message.

Keep it short

In many cases, a shorter message is best. You want a good balance between saying too much and saying too little. All your words should count, so be careful about adding too much filler. That often includes bragging about your organization and explaining what you do.

Keep in mind the average human attention span is a mere eight seconds.

What’s in My Inbox | Shorter attention spans means you need to deliver with your enews

Your goal is to get your donors to read your messages. If it looks long and boring, they probably won’t bother.

Make it easy to read and scan

Besides sending a short message, use short paragraphs and lots of white space, too. Your messages need to be easy to read and scan in an instant. Most people aren’t going to read something word for word. Be sure they can quickly get the gist of what you want to say. Don’t use microscopic font either – use 12 point or higher.

Be personal and conversational

Write directly to your reader using clear, conversational language – no jargon. Don’t confuse your donors with generic messages.

Don’t cast a wide net

It’s important that you send your messages to the right audience and your audience isn’t everyone.

You’ll have more luck with a fundraising appeal when you send it to past donors or people who have a connection to your cause. The same is true for event invitations or recruiting volunteers.

You may want to reach out to as many people as possible, but that won’t guarantee you’ll get more donations or event attendees. Segmenting and engaging with the right audience will bring you better results.

Be a welcome visitor

If you communicate regularly and do it well, your donors should recognize you as a reputable source and are more likely to read your messages. If all you do is send them generic fundraising appeals, then it’s time for a change.

When you send email, make sure people know it’s coming from your organization. In the from field, put DoGood Nonprofit or Brenda Davis, DoGood Nonprofit. If you just put a person’s name or info@dogoodnonprofit.org, people may not know who it’s from and ignore your message.

Only send email to people who have opted into your list. Otherwise, you’re spamming them. Some people will choose not to receive email from you and that’s okay. The ones who do are interested in hearing from you. Give people the option to unsubscribe, too.

Even though people only get a few pieces of mail a day, most of it’s junk mail. You never want any of your letters, newsletters, or postcards to be perceived as junk mail (see above).

By putting in a little time and effort, you can help ensure that your messages stand out.

3 Strategies for Nonprofit Messages that Stand Out in Donors’ Mailboxes

How to Write Awesome Emails Your Donors Want to Read

Your Nonprofit Newsletter Should Engage Your Donors, Not Bore Them

A newsletter can be a great way to engage with your donors. Unfortunately, that doesn’t often happen because most donor newsletters can put you right to sleep. They’re too long and filled with boring articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

The good news is you can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s what you need to do.

Think about what your donors want

You need to include content that will interest your donors. You also need to reference the current situations. Do you think your donors would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about Marla, a single mother who is having trouble making ends meet, but is grateful she can get food for her family at the Eastside Community food bank? 

The answer should be obvious. Your donors want to hear about how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.

If you’re a larger organization, you could create different newsletters for different programs or one specifically for monthly donors.

Don’t shy away from a print newsletter 

You may opt not to do a print newsletter because it’s expensive and takes too much time, but you’re making a mistake if many of your donors prefer print.

I think you’ll have more success if you can do both print and electronic newsletters. I recommend a short e-newsletter once or twice a month and one to four print newsletters a year.

Many organizations put a donation envelope in their print newsletter. This is a proven way to raise additional money and you may be able to recoup your expenses.

You can also save money by creating a shorter print newsletter (maybe two pages instead of four) or only mailing once or twice a year. You can print them in-house, as long as it looks professional.

Be sure you have a clean mailing list. If you can get rid of duplicate and undeliverable addresses, that’s another way to save a little money.

Donors are more likely to read a print newsletter. But ask them what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer print, then you need to find a way to accommodate them.

Share your stories

Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell.

Client stories are best, but you could also do profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Focus on what drew them to your mission (more on that below).

Create a story bank that includes at least four client stories to use every year.

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

Don’t stray from your mission

A common article I see in many nonprofit newsletters is one about a foundation or major donor giving a large gift. This may be accompanied by a picture of someone holding a giant check. Of course, you should recognize these donors (and all donors), but why is this gift important? How will it help your clients/community?

For example – This generous $50,000 grant from the Eastside Community Foundation will help us serve more students in our tutoring program. Many students have fallen behind since the pandemic started.

Something else I see a lot is a profile of a new board member. Instead of focusing so much on their professional background, let your donors know what drew them to your organization. We welcome Lisa Clark, Vice President of First National Bank, to our board. Lisa has a brother with autism and is very passionate about finding ways for people with autism to live independent lives. 

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped Marla feed her family or Because of donors like you, X number of families have been able to get healthy food every week. 

Leave out the jargon and other language your donors won’t understand. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.

I’m not a fan of the letter from the CEO because those tend to be organization-centered instead of donor-centered.  

Pour on the gratitude 

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. Many donors have stepped up over the last two years and they deserve to be thanked as often as possible. Every one of your newsletters needs to show gratitude and emphasize how much you appreciate your donors.

Make it easy to read (and scan)

Most of your donors aren’t going to read your newsletter word for word, especially your e-newsletter. Include enticing headlines and email subject lines (if you don’t, your donors may not read it at all), at least a 12-point font, and lots of white space so your donors can easily scan your newsletter.

Stick to black type on a white background as much as possible. Colors are pretty, but not if it’s hindering your donor’s ability to read your newsletter. Photos can be a great way to add some color, as well as tell a story in an instant.

Use the inverted pyramid and put the most important story first (client story or profile), keeping in mind your donors may not get to all the articles.

Keep it short

Your print newsletter should be no more than four pages. Limit your monthly e-newsletter to four articles. Some organizations send an e-newsletter twice a month. Those should be even shorter – maybe just two articles. People have a lot going on and don’t want to be bombarded with too much information.

Do the best you can

For some of you, putting together a newsletter may be too much to take on right now. You don’t have to do an actual newsletter, but you do need to keep your donors updated.

Do what you can, but be sure to update your donors at least once a month. You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent email updates and postcards with an infographic a few times a year.

Create an engaging newsletter that won’t bore your donors.

Keep reading for more information on how to create a great donor newsletter.

Nonprofit Donor Newsletters | Print or Enews?

Worthwhile Nonprofit Newsletters: Content Donors Adore 

Tips for Using your Nonprofit Newsletter to Get More Donations Without Even Asking

10 Nonprofit Newsletter Ideas and Examples to Save for Later

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 Create a Better Annual Report

What do you think of when you hear the word annual report? If you’re a donor you might think “Oh, it’s that long, boring thing I don’t have time to read.” If you’re a nonprofit professional, you might think “It’s such a pain to put together.”

What do you do? Organizations need to share accomplishments and show gratitude to their donors, but is the annual report the way to do that? It can be if you do it well. 

Unfortunately, many nonprofits fall short with this. Most annual reports are too long, boring, and basically a demonstration of the organization patting itself on the back. There’s often very little appreciation for donors. And yes, it’s time-consuming to put together.

It’s possible to make this a better experience for both donors and nonprofit organizations. Here’s how.

You don’t have to do an annual report

One way to make this a better experience is to not do an annual report at all. This doesn’t let you off the hook for sharing accomplishments with your donors. You could send short progress reports a couple of times a year or monthly e-updates instead. This makes a lot of sense if taking on a big report sounds too overwhelming.

If you decide to do an annual report, I encourage you to move away from the traditional multi-page one. Aim for something no longer than four pages. Bigger isn’t always better.

Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Your annual report is for your donors

Keep your donors in mind when you create your annual report and include information you know will interest them. Also, donors have a lot going on, so that’s another reason not to create a huge report that they may or may not read.

You might want to consider different types of annual reports for different donor groups. You could send an oversized postcard with photos and infographics or a one-to-two-page report to most of your donors. Your grant and corporate funders might want more detail, but not 20 pages. See if you can impress them with no more than four pages.

Make it a gratitude report

Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit. Think of this as a gratitude report. You may want to call it that instead of an annual report. Many donors have stepped up to help during the past two years and deserve to be thanked for that.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. 

What’s in My Mailbox | This Nonprofit Gratitude Report Shines

Why You Should Stop Saying “Annual Report” (And What to Call it Instead)

Address the current situations

We’re still in a pandemic, which I’m sure is affecting your work. We’re also dealing with a precarious economy and the heightened awareness of systemic racism. Your donors will want you to address these situations and focus on how they’re affecting your clients/community. I go into more detail about this below.

How are you making a difference?

The theme of many annual reports is look how great we are. They’re organization-centered instead of being donor-centered and community-centered.

They also include a bunch of statistics, such as the number of clients served. You need to share specific accomplishments that show how you’re making a difference.

Focus on the why and not the what. I know your organization has had to make a lot of changes due to the pandemic, but what’s most important is why you needed to do that.

You can say something like this – Over the past two years, we have seen triple the number of people at the Riverside Community Food Bank. As COVID rates fluctuate, we need to ensure that we can continue to serve people safely. Thanks to donors like you, we are able to meet our demands and provide local residents with boxes of healthy food.

Phrases like Thanks to you and Because of you should dominate your annual report or any type of impact report.

Tell a story

Donors want to hear about the people they’re helping. You can tell a story with words, a photo, or a video. 

For example – Diana, a single mother with three kids, has been trying to make ends meet with periodic work. Ever since the pandemic started it’s been a struggle for her family. She could barely afford groceries, rent, and utilities. Diana had never gone to a food bank before and felt ashamed to have to do that. But when she reached out to the Riverside Community Food Bank, she was treated with respect and dignity. Now she’s able to bring home healthy food for her family.

Make it visual

Your donors have a lot going on and won’t have much time to read your report. Engage them with some great photos, which can tell a story in an instant. Choose photos of people participating in an activity, such as volunteers working at a food bank or a one-to-one tutoring session. Be sure to get permission if you want to use pictures of clients.

Use colorful charts or infographics to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand. Include some quotes and short testimonials to help break up the text.

Be sure your report is easy to read (and scan). Use at least a 12-point font and black type on a white background. A colored background may be pretty, but it makes it hard to read. You can, however, add a splash of color with headings, charts, and infographics.

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend

Beware of using jargon. Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you. Use everyday language such as – Because of you, we found affordable housing for over 100 homeless families. This is even more important as COVID-19 continues to be a part of our lives and living in a shelter or with other families isn’t always safe. Now, these families have a place to call home.

Write in the second person and use a warm, friendly tone. Use you much more than we.

Skip the donor list

Think twice about including a donor list in your annual report. It takes up a lot of space and there are better ways to show appreciation. If you feel you must have a donor list, you could put one on your website or just include major funders. 

Planning is key

I know putting together an annual report can be time-consuming. One way to make it easier is to set aside a time each month to make a list of accomplishments. This way you’re not going crazy at the end of the year trying to come up with a list. You can just turn to the list you’ve been working on throughout the year.

This will help ensure that your 2021 annual report doesn’t go out in the middle of 2022. Ideally, you should send out an annual report by the first quarter of the following year. When nonprofits sent out their 2019 reports after the pandemic started, it seemed irrelevant.

You also want to create a story and photo bank and you can draw from those when you put together your annual report.

Creating a shorter report or an infographic postcard will also help make this easier for you. Remember, you also have the option of not doing an annual report and sending periodic short updates instead.

Whatever you decide, put together an annual report that’s a better experience for everyone. Here is more information about creating a great annual or impact report.

Useful Tips & Resources for Your Nonprofit’s Annual Report

Your Nonprofit Annual Report: 10 Things to Include This Year

Nonprofit Annual Reports: 8 Essential Tips [& Template]

How to Craft a 1-Page Nonprofit Annual Report

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

The Gratitude Season

Now that November is here, many of you are working on your year-end fundraising campaign. It’s also the beginning of the gratitude season with Thanksgiving in the U.S. and the December holidays just around the corner. Is it just me, or did it seem as if stores got into holiday mode earlier than ever this year?

Now is a great opportunity to show some gratitude to your donors. How about having a thankathon, especially if you haven’t launched your appeal yet?

Gear Up for a Thankathon Now

If you’re thinking you’re too busy with your year-end appeal 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. Besides, many donors stepped up to support you over the last 18+ months. Don’t they deserve some extra love?

Some donors may have cut back on their giving or haven’t given at all since the pandemic started, but they should still get some attention. Hopefully, they’ll give again in the future. There’s a better chance of that if you treat them well.

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 thank your donors and let them know they’re special.

Incorporate thanking your donors into your year-end fundraising campaign

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.

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 #donorlove. 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’ve spent 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. Much of this can be done from home.

Do a better job of thanking your donors

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.
  • 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.

We need more kindness right now

I often feel there’s not enough kindness in the world. 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.

Read on for more inspiration on how to thank your donors.

Don’t Treat Thanking Your Donors as an Afterthought 

13 Top Secrets of Donor Thank You Letters Revealed

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

15 Sincere Ways to Say Thank You to Your Donors

4 Storytelling Tips for Your Online Donation Page

Every nonprofit has a story, but not every nonprofit knows how to tell their story on their fundraising page to drive online donations. Check out these tips!

By Murad Bushnaq

Humans have been telling stories for at least 30,000 years. Why? Good stories create connection and understanding between people, helping us cultivate empathy and positive change within our communities. 

What does this mean for you as a nonprofit professional? Storytelling is a critical skill for you to master. If you can tell stories that help people connect with your cause, you’ll generate more support that will help you keep your organization moving toward accomplishing your mission. 

While your nonprofit won’t be recording stories on cave walls like humans did thousands of years ago, you do have an excellent tool for sharing stories related to your cause — your organization’s website, and more specifically, your donation page. Your donation page is the last chance you have to capture a potential donor’s support. By using stories, you can inspire your donors to give to your cause. 

You might be unsure of how to begin your storytelling journey, but don’t worry. We’ve rounded up four tips for leveraging your nonprofit content management system (CMS) to help you share stories on your donation page: 

  1. Incorporate striking visuals. 
  2. Share real people’s stories. 
  3. Use words to create emotional connections.
  4. Use strategically-placed CTAs. 

As you work to enhance your donation page (and other parts of your website) with strong storytelling, think through what stories will resonate with your specific audience. After all, stories aren’t one-size-fits-all. Let’s get started! 

1.Incorporate striking visuals. 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in some ways, that’s true. Though strong writing will be vital to sharing your organization’s story on your donation page (more on this to come), pictures can often communicate things that words simply can’t. 

Plus, visuals can tug at our heartstrings, getting us to feel something while our brain digests the information we’re reading. This is why having an eye for great images and knowing how to best use them on your donation page will benefit you as a storyteller. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you choose visuals and use your CMS to incorporate them into your donation page: 

  • Remember that photos of real people go a long way. Visuals help drum up emotion in your audience, so why not tap into their empathetic side by choosing a picture of a real person (or an animal or a place, depending on your cause.) to illustrate the issue at hand? Being able to see a real person who is affected by the issue your organization is trying to resolve will encourage your donors to put themselves in your beneficiaries’ shoes and inspire them to give. 
  • Make sure the style of the image matches with your branding. If all of the images on your website are black and white, make sure you aren’t throwing a brightly colored image onto your donation page or vice versa. Keeping the visual brand on your donation page consistent with the rest of your website will make you appear professional and organized.
  • Use your CMS to optimize your images. The right nonprofit CMS can help ensure your images are up-to-par for a professional and conversion-driving donation page. Use your CMS to convert your images to web-friendly versions and resize them appropriately. Also, don’t forget to zoom and crop your images to get your desired focus. 
  • Consider adding in other multimedia elements. If you think your donation page would benefit from a short video overlaid with music or even an audio clip, consider adding these to your page. However, use these multimedia elements sparingly. You don’t want your donor to get bogged down in your donation page and never make it to your donation form. 

As you choose and edit visuals for your donation page, don’t forget to take inspiration from other websites. Check out Morweb’s list of the best nonprofit websites to see some great examples of sites that clearly display what the organization is all about and create an excellent user experience!

2. Share real people’s stories. 

Just as your supporters will benefit from seeing pictures or videos of real people on your donation page, you should aim to share real people’s written stories. Having a face or a name associated with an issue they care about will help your cause stand out to your donors and convey the importance of contributing to your mission. 

Here are a few ways you can share real people’s stories on your donation page: 

  • Include one longer story about a specific individual at the top of your donation page. When a potential donor navigates to your donation page, your goal is to have them fill out or click through to a donation form. Catch their eye at the top of your donation page with the story of one specific beneficiary. Keep the story to a few paragraphs at most and share the beneficiary’s background and how your organization helped them. 
  • Use your CMS to create a section of “testimonials” supporters can scroll through. Gather quotes from your beneficiaries that you can use as short testimonials. This option will let you tell multiple stories at once without slowing your donor down in their giving journey. 
  • Add a gallery of beneficiary pictures donors can click through to read specific stories. Some donors may want to read multiple stories about your beneficiaries. Offer this option by using your CMS to create a gallery of pictures that act as buttons for your donors to access specific stories. A striking visual and a call to action (CTA) like “Read Joseph’s recovery story here” or “Learn more about Whisker’s adoption journey” can draw your donor in and get them reading these stories. 

No matter how you decide to share your beneficiaries’ stories, remember to show that they are real people. Use plain language and try to capture people’s real voices, perspectives, and journeys. This will make your stories feel more authentic to your donors, which in turn will make your cause seem more legitimate and worth supporting. If confidentiality is an issue, you can change someone’s name.

3. Use words to create emotional connections. 

Every word in a story counts, and the right words can help your reader feel something. That means you need to choose your words carefully when writing a story to share on your donation page. 

Here are a few different ways to use your words to tap into your readers’ emotions: 

  • Be descriptive. Remember when your high school English teacher taught you the “show, don’t tell” rule? Well, it applies here, too. If you’re an animal shelter, don’t just tell us you recently rescued a dog. Describe the conditions the dog was living in. Then, share how the dog looks and behaves now that you’ve rescued him. Describe how much he loves his new home. Descriptions and details make stories much more interesting and emotionally captivating!
  • Include the donor in the story. To feel truly involved with and emotionally invested in your cause, your donors need to be part of the narrative. Use pronouns like “you,” “your,” “we,” and “ours” to make your donor feel included. For example, you might write a sentence like, “Because of donors like you, last summer’s peer-to-peer fundraiser was a great success, allowing us to provide 500 meals to families in need.” Language like this will show donors they have an important part to play in making a difference for your beneficiaries. 
  • Illustrate how your organization can provide solutions to problems. A story isn’t a story without both conflict and resolution: A princess is captured by a dragon (conflict) and then rescued by a prince (resolution). An alien crash lands on Earth (conflict) and meets humans that help him find his way home (resolution). Once your donors are presented with the problem your organization is focused on solving, you need to show them how, with their help, you’re going to solve it. This helps convince donors that your organization is the one they should entrust with their support because it helps you look like you’re the one who’s going to get the job done. Plus, conflict creates tension in a story, so when you can resolve that by providing a solution, your story will bring much more emotional satisfaction to your reader. 

You don’t have to be a trained writer to construct an emotionally engaging story to include on your donation page. Simply focus on providing a lot of details and showcasing solutions to a problem, and your readers will start to feel that emotional connection to your cause. 

4. Use strategically-placed CTAs. 

A call to action (CTA) is simply a statement that encourages someone to complete an action. In the context of storytelling on your donation page, you may craft calls to action asking your donors to do something after learning about a particular issue or learning about a specific beneficiary’s experience with your organization. Those CTAs could lead your donor to: 

  • Donate to your cause using your donation form 
  • Opt into your monthly giving program 
  • Explore information about matching gifts 
  • Share your donation page on social media 
  • Register for an upcoming event 
  • Sign up for a volunteering opportunity 

Though your CTA to donate to your cause will be most important on your donation page, other CTAs can help you engage your donors further, so don’t be afraid to include them in your storytelling. 

When writing a CTA, remember to keep it clear and simple, but tailor it specifically to your cause. Something like “Give now” won’t be as effective as “Give now to help stomp out cancer.” 

In addition to writing out your CTAs, you can also use your CMS to make your CTAs into buttons that link to different resources, like your donation form or your volunteer page. Including these in the body of a story can help break up the text and ensure that when your donor feels inspired to act, they can do so right away. 


According to Morweb’s guide to donation page design, 54% of donors prefer to give online, which means you should pay special attention to your donation page and the stories you’re sharing on it. Remember to tap into the human element of your organization’s story and use your CMS to enhance your story with visuals, multimedia elements, and CTAs. 

The greatest stories can motivate us to act, and once you’ve honed your storytelling skills with these tips, you’ll be able to inspire your donors to give and engage with your cause for the long haul. Good luck! 

Murad Bushnaq is the Founder and CEO of Morweb. Since its inception in 2014, Murad has acted as Creative Director and Chief Technologist to help nonprofits spread their vision online through engaging design, intuitive software, and strategic communication.