Rethinking Your Annual Report

99535218_fdfab8c28b_mWhat do you think of when you hear annual report? As a donor, you might think boring, long, a waste of resources, something I’m not going to read. As a nonprofit professional, you might think time-consuming, something we always do, something our board wants.

These are all negatives, but an annual report can be a positive experience for your donors and also doesn’t have to be something that’s going to stress you out when you put it together.

First, you don’t have to do an annual report, but you do have to share accomplishments with your donors. You might want to ditch the annual report and send short progress reports a couple of times a year or monthly e-updates instead.

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.

Here are a few ways to rethink your annual report so you won’t put your donors to sleep and also make it a little easier for nonprofit staff.

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.

You may want to consider different types of annual reports for different donor groups. You could send an oversized postcard with photos and infographics or a 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.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. Get inspired by these examples that celebrate the donor.

Oregon Zoo Gratitude Report

What’s in my Mailbox | “Annual Report”…or “Gratitude Report?

How are you making a difference?

The theme of many annual reports is look how great we are. Are You Boring Your Donors By Bragging Too Much?

They also include a bunch of boring lists, 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. Something like this – Thanks to you, 85% of the students in our tutoring program have improved their reading skills and can now read at their grade level.

Phrases like Thanks to you and because of you should dominate your annual report.

Tell a story

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

For example –  Leah, a third grader at Turner Elementary School, hated reading. She struggled with the words and the worst was when she had to read out loud in class. “Sometimes the other kids tease me,” she said. “Why do we have to read books anyway.” Then Leah started meeting weekly with Julie, one of our volunteer tutors. It was a struggle at first, but thanks to Julie’s patience and encouragement, Leah’s doing much better with her reading. She even requested a book for her birthday.

Make it visual

Your donors are busy and don’t have a lot of 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 Julie helping Leah with her reading.

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. 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

Keep out the 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. Now they no longer have to live in a shelter, a motel, or their cars and have a place to call home.

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

Plan ahead

One problem with annual reports is organizations send them out months after the year is over and by that point the information is outdated.

Yes, 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 racking your brain at the end of the year trying to come up with this list. You can just turn to the list you’ve been working on throughout the year.

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

Of course, a shorter report or an infographic postcard will help ensure your 2018 report doesn’t arrive in your donor’s mailbox the following spring or later.

Rethink your annual report to make it a better experience for everyone. Read on for more information about creating a great annual report.

NONPROFIT ANNUAL REPORTS: 7 BEST PRACTICES [TEMPLATES]

7 Tips for Creating an Effective Nonprofit Annual Report

8 Annual Reports We Love


Advertisements

Get Ready to Show Some #DonorLove

32497267743_0b58581e37_mWhen was the last time you thanked your donors? I mean really thanked them. That lame, automatic thank you email you sent after your year-end appeal doesn’t cut it. And even if you were one of the few organizations who did a good job of thanking their donors, gratitude is not a one-time deal.

#DonorLove is a yearlong endeavor and with Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s a perfect opportunity to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support.

8 Top Ways to Send Nonprofit Donors Love on Valentine’s Day

12 Ways to Send Your Donors Love With a Valentine

Okay, I get it, maybe you would rather not to go for a Valentine’s Day theme, but you should still do something fun and creative to show appreciation this month (and every month). The holidays are over and it’s been a cold winter for many of us. We could all use a little mood booster 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 #DonorLove since your year-end appeal, then you must reach out soon.

Here are a few ways you can show some #DonorLove.

Create a thank you photo

Make your donor’s day with a great photo, like one of these.

Image result for pictures of people holding thank you signs

Image result for pictures of people holding thank you signs

You can send thank you photos via email and social media, use one to create a card, and include one on your thank you landing page.

Make a video

Videos are becoming an increasingly popular way to connect and you don’t need a Hollywood production team to create one. Here are some examples of thank you videos.

4 Inexpensive Examples of Saying Thank You With Video

A Thank You Video to Promote Donor Retention

Obviously, the purpose is to thank your donors. A simple video showing a bunch of people saying thank you will do the trick. You also want your video to be short, donor-centered, and show your organization’s work up close and personal.

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

Send a card

A handwritten note will also brighten your donor’s day. If you don’t have the budget to send cards to everyone, send them to your most valuable donors. These may not be the ones who give you the most money. Do you have donors who have supported your organization for more than three years? How about more than five years? These are your valuable donors.

That said, I do think you should make every effort to send a card to ALL your donors. More on that below.

Share an update or success story

In addition to saying thank you, share a brief update or success story. Emphasize how you couldn’t have helped someone without your donor’s support. For example –Thanks to you, the Taylor family can move into a home of their own.

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

Thank you basics

Make this the year you do a better job of thanking your donors. Thank your donors right away and send a thank you note/letter or make a phone call. Electronic thank yous aren’t good enough.

Be personal and conversational when you thank your donors. Don’t use jargon or other language they won’t understand. Write from the heart, but be sincere. Give specific examples of how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Thanking your donors needs to be a priority

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 balk at 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.

Maybe you need a change of culture, and this comes from the top. Fundraising Consultant Pamela Grow recently gave an example of an organization that “is moving away from the 48-hour written thank you receipt letter to quarterly email thank you receipts” because the Executive Director thinks “most people just trash the letter without reading it.

This is wrong on so many levels and to quote Pamela, “you never get a second chance to make a great first impression.” You need to get your board, all staff (especially leadership), and volunteers invested and involved in thanking your donors. Leave a good lasting impression.

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.

Keep thinking of ways to show some #DonorLove. Get creative.

10 Ways to Thank your Nonprofit Donors

Your Donors Want Stories, Not Baubles

How to Thank Donors — and Bring Them Closer to Your Cause

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.

Are You Boring Your Donors By Bragging Too Much?

2614924934_df1befa254_mI’m sure you’ve been stuck in a conversation with someone who brags about all the wonderful things he’s done or talks too much about herself while ignoring you. As they drone on and on, you think – “Hey, I’m part of this conversation, too.”  

Imagine your donors having the same reaction when all your communication sounds like one big bragfest that’s all about your organization and doesn’t even acknowledge them. Then imagine all your hard work going to waste when your boring appeal or newsletter goes straight to the recycling bin.

Yes, you want to share your accomplishments, but you don’t want to annoy your donors by focusing too much on your organization. It’s possible to do this without bragging. Here’s how.

Be donor-centered

You don’t need to tell your donors your organization is great. They wouldn’t have given you money if they didn’t think highly of you.

Let your donors know they’re great because they helped you make a difference for the people or community you serve. Give specific examples. Because of donors like you, the Coleman family can move out of a shelter and into a home of their own.

All your communication should be donor or audience-centered. One way to ensure this is to use the word you more than we or us.

Why is it So Hard to be Donor-Centered?

Share a story

Telling a story is a great way to share accomplishments. Whether it’s in the first or third person, you can give a personal account of how you’re making a difference. Remember to focus on the people you serve and keep your organization in the background.

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

Photos and videos featuring the people you serve is another good way to share accomplishments.

Why is what you do important

Instead of the usual laundry list you see in annual reports, such as we served over X number of students in our tutoring program, focus on why that’s important, too. Students in our tutoring program are now reading at their grade level and have a better chance of graduating from high school on time.

Instead of focusing on what you do, let your donors know why it’s important.

Show don’t tell

Too many newsletters and annual reports ramble on about how an organization is number one in such and such, or there was a crisis and X organization came in to solve it.

Go back to stories and examples. You can’t ignore your organization altogether, but instead of saying we were the first organization to come in and help the flood victims or we’re the number one hospital in the community, say Thanks to you, Fuller county residents now have access to clean drinking water and can start rebuilding their homes after the devastating flood or Thanks to you, the Brookfield neighborhood has a new outpatient clinic so residents don’t have to travel far to see their health care providers.

How you made a difference is more important than being first or best.

Current donors want to see the results of their gift. Potential donors may be more interested in your reputation, but they also want to see how their donation will make a difference.

How to do better

Before you share accomplishments in an appeal letter, thank you letter, newsletter article, social media update, annual report, etc, ask yourself these questions:

-Is this donor/audience-centered?
-Are we focusing on the people/community we serve?
-Are we showing results?
-Are we saying why this is important?
-Are we bragging too much about ourselves?

Read on for more about the perils of bragging.

Bragging Versus Mission

Are you thanking donors, or just using the moment to brag?

Show Some Gratitude to Your Donors

Thanksgiving will be here soon and it’s a time of the year in the U.S. when we show gratitude to the special people in our lives. Do you extend this same gratitude to your donors?  It often doesn’t seem like it.

Nonprofit organizations tend to treat thanking their donors as an afterthought. But you need to spend just as much time thanking your donors as you do on fundraising.

Here are a few ways you can show some gratitude to your donors.

Wish your donors a Happy Thanksgiving

Send your donors a special Thanksgiving message. If you can send a card or postcard, that’s great, but an email message is also fine.

Let your donors know how grateful you are to have them as part of your family. Share a success story and a photo or video. Your donors will appreciate a heartfelt message, especially when they’re being barraged with year-end appeals.

But don’t stop with Thanksgiving

While gratitude is often front and center around Thanksgiving, that shouldn’t stop you from showing some #donorlove at other times of the year. The holidays, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day pop up as natural times to show gratitude, but mix it up a little and find other times of the year to say thank you. In fact, you don’t even need a reason. Just thank your donors.

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.

Incorporate thanking your donors into your year-end fundraising campaign

Many of you are working on your year-end fundraising campaign. I know you’re trying to raise money, but you should also be showing gratitude. Does your appeal thank donors for their past or potential gifts?

Besides wishing your donors a Happy Thanksgiving, find other ways to show gratitude while you’re also sending appeals. This is especially important around #GivingTuesday, and I’ll write more about that in my next post.

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

You’ve all heard you need to thank your donors right away, within 48 hours if you can. This usually doesn’t happen or it’s done poorly. 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.

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 together to make phone calls, write thank you notes, or include a handwritten note on a thank you letter.

Do a better job of thanking your donors

Your donors deserve more than just the same, lame generic thank you letter.

I write a lot about thanking donors. Here are a couple of recent posts that cover ways to do a better job of thanking your donors.

Take Thanking Your Donors to the Next Level

Give Your Online Donors The Recognition They Deserve

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 a one and done deal. 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 packets to your new donors.
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude.
  • Give a huge shout out to your donors in your newsletters and social media updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without their support.
  • Hold an open house at your organization or offer tours 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.

This Thanksgiving and throughout the year, show some gratitude to your donors. Don’t they deserve it?

Give Your Online Donors The Recognition They Deserve

4291193035_b893df8d66_m

Many people donate online now. There’s a good reason for this. It’s usually fast and easy, or at least it should be.

One problem with online donations is the poor thank yous that come after your donor has given you a gift. Even though your thank you landing page and thank you email are automatically generated, doesn’t mean they need to sound like they were written by a robot.

Keep in mind that a human being is on the other end and deserves to be lavished with gratitude.

Here’s how you can do a better job with your online thank yous and give your donors the recognition they deserve.

Make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it’s usually about as engaging as an Amazon receipt. In fact, I’ve received online shopping receipts that are more personal than some nonprofit “thank you” landing pages.

Open with Thank you, Jenna! or You’re amazing!  Include an engaging photo or video and a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help the people you serve.

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.

I recently made a bunch of donations and here is the text from a couple of the thank you landing pages.

*************************************************************************************

Transaction Complete

Thank you for supporting X organization

For questions about this donation, please refer to donation number 10AC8199 in your correspondence.

A detailed receipt has been sent to ag@xxx

Click here to return to our homepage.

Receipt

Donation Number: 10AC8199

Ann Green, as per your selections on the previous screens, your one-time donation in the amount of $ has been charged to your Visa card on 09/18/2018.

*************************************************************************************

Okay, there are a lot of things wrong here. The first thing I see should not be Transaction Complete. I wouldn’t even use the word transaction. A donation is much more than a transaction.

It’s not until the second line that I actually get thanked. I’ve also been reduced to a number, which I guess is how the organization keeps track of their donations.

There’s nothing about how my gift will make a difference. I’ll give the organization a little bit of a pass. This was a donation to a local community foundation that set up a special fund in response to a recent emergency. They may not have had time to change their thank you landing page, but even a generic thank you for helping to make a difference in the community would have been better than this.

Speaking of better, here’s what I received after I supported someone in a charity walk.

*************************************************************************************

Thank You!

It’s official, you’re helping the American Cancer Society to save lives from breast cancer.

Your donation of $  has been applied towards X X’s fundraising goal. See how your donation will make a difference here. (Link to website)

Your transaction summary and receipt has been emailed to you at a@xxx.

Here are three ways you can maximize the value of your donation:

Employer Matching

Check with your human resources department to see if your company has a matching gift program. You could double your donation just by filling out a form.

Share Your Donation

Tell your friends and family you donated and encourage them to do the same. Or even better, have them join you in signing up for a Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk.

Share via Facebook  Share via Twitter

Join a Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Event

Each event is unique, but our true power lies in the combined commitment of thousands of participants. (link to join an event).

*************************************************************************************

The first thing you see here is THANK YOU! in big bold letters. You want to say thank you to your donors, not tell them they’ve completed a transaction. Then they went on to tell me how my gift is helping to make a difference and other ways to get involved.

It’s hard to get away from transaction mode, and while not an outstanding thank you landing page, this is better than the first one.

Here are more examples of good thank you landing pages.

How to Create Post Donation Thank You Pages That Delight Donors

Creating a Stellar Thank You for Donating Page

Write an awesome thank you email

Start off by thinking of a good subject line. At the very least say Thank You! and not Donation Received. You want your thank you email to stand out in your donor’s ever-growing inbox.

Open your message with Thank You or You just did something incredible, and not the usual On Behalf of X organization. Then let the donor know how they’re helping you make a difference for the people/community you serve.

The subject line of the first organization I referenced above was Thank You for Supporting the X Emergency Fund!  Okay, but not great.

The body of the initial thank you email was just as uninspiring as the thank you landing page and was basically just a receipt.

*************************************************************************************

Dear Ann Green,   

Thank you for your online donation! Your donation has been successfully processed.   

DONATION NUMBER: 10AC8199     

DOLLAR AMOUNT: $

DATE AND TIME: 09/18/18 02:47 PM.   

PAYMENT METHOD: Your Visa card ending in

———————————-   

Thank you for supporting XXXX

Please print this e-mail for your records. No goods or services have been provided in consideration of this gift. For future questions about this donation please refer to the donation number in your correspondence.

If you have any comments or questions about this donation or about our organization, you may contact us at:

XXX

*************************************************************************************

There’s no human element to this at all. I hoped I would hear more about how my gift is helping to make a difference later and my wish was granted.

As I was working on this post, I received a second email a few days later that opened with.

Thank You

Your donation to X is helping to rebuild lives.

Some of the text included:  

We didn’t want another moment to go by without expressing our heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of you who donated.

Your donated dollars are a lifeline coming into these communities gripped by tragedy.

*************************************************************************************

Overall, the organization redeemed itself with the second thank you email, but their initial thank you a few days before didn’t leave a good first impression.

I think the lesson here is to have a good thank you email template in place, which you can modify as needed. Be sure yours looks like much more than a receipt.

The second organization opened their thank you email with the subject line You’re Helping Save Lives  Here’s the body of the message.

*************************************************************************************

Thank you Ann for donating to Making Strides of Boston.

By supporting the American Cancer Society, you ensure that no one dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis will walk alone. Your donation helps by funding research, providing free information and support services, and helping detect the disease early when it’s easiest to treat.

Increase Your Impact

Thank you for your gift. There are simple ways to make your gift even more impactful:

  1. Find out if your company offers matching gifts. It is an easy way to double your donation!
  2. Promote your support through social media. Tell everyone on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram about your work with our Making Strides walk. You may inspire others join you.

Join Us

Come to your local Making Strides event. You could even start your own team.

Thank you for helping save lives.

Sincerely,

XXX

Event Name: Making Strides of Boston
In Support Of: XXXX
Date: Sep 18, 2018 1:51:17 PM
Amount: $
Tracking Code: 1176-22848-1-38008066-39147184

 

Note: Your gift is tax deductible to the extent permitted by law.

*************************************************************************************

This one did a good job of thanking me. They told me how my gift would make a difference, gave me other ways to get involved, and included some engaging, colorful pictures.

Yes, there’s a receipt, which you should include in either a thank you email or letter, but AFTER you pour on the gratitude.

Again, don’t make your message sound like it was written by a robot. Write something warm and personal.

Thanking a Donor by Email: Best Practices and Examples

How to Create a Compelling Nonprofit Thank You Email

Making the thank you experience more personal

Since your thank you landing page and email are automatically generated, you can’t make them as personal as a handwritten note, phone call, or letter. That’s why you need to do at least one of those for your online donors. I wrote about that in my last post. Take Thanking Your Donors to the Next Level  An email thank you is not enough.

You won’t be able to segment much, but you should be able to distinguish between single gifts and monthly donations.

Your thank you landing page and email acknowledgment are just the beginning. Make them engaging and personal and keep up that theme as you continue to communicate with your donors throughout the year

Take Thanking Your Donors to the Next Level

7c3e1-4759535970_a0d6f918dfMany of you may be working on your year-end appeal, which is great, but have you given any thought to how you’ll thank your donors? Thanking your donors after an appeal (and throughout the year) is equally important, yet many organizations leave this as a last minute to-do item and it shows.

Thanking your donors is something you need to take seriously. Don’t shortchange your donors with a lame, generic thank you letter. Take thanking your donors to the next level. Here’s how.

Start planning now

There are many ways to thank your donors after an appeal – by mail, phone, email, on your website, or a combination of those. 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.

At the very least, your donors should get a letter, even if they’ve donated online. Whatever you decide, get started on the content now.

Impress your donors with a handwritten thank you note

I’m a big fan of handwritten thank you notes. They will stand out in your donor’s mailbox. How often do you get a handwritten card?  

Handwritten notes are great in many ways, but one advantage is you don’t have to write that much and it shouldn’t take too long. How to Write 3 Minute Thank You Notes

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 and have a thank you party. Your donors will love it. Here’s a sample note.

Dear Kate,

Thank you so much for upgrading your gift to $75. This will help us serve more students in our tutoring program. We’re so happy you’ve been a donor these past four years.

Phone calls will impress your donors, too

Another more personal way to thank your donors is with a phone call. Calling first-time donors is known to improve retention rates. But you could also call long-term donors to make them feel special.

Again, you want to get a team together for a thankathon. This is a great thing for your board to do. You may need to do a short training first. 6 Keys to Rock Thank You Calls and Retain More Donors Here’s a sample phone script.

Hi Jeff, this is Tracy Saunders and I’m a board member at One Community. Thank you so much for your donation of $50 and welcome to our donor family. Your gift will help us purchase winter coats for homeless children.

Write an awesome letter

If it’s impossible to send handwritten notes or make phone calls, you can still impress your donors with an awesome thank you letter. Many thank you letters are mediocre at best, so you’ll have an advantage if you take some time to create a great, donor-centered letter.

This sounds obvious, but thank you letters are about thanking the donor. Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization. If you’re sending it on your letterhead, it should be apparent it’s coming from your organization. Instead, start your letter with Thank you or You just did something incredible.

You also don’t need to explain what your organization does. This is usually done in a braggy way 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. Nothing diminishes that feel good moment by being asked to give more money again so soon. Remember, you’re supposed to be thanking your donors.

Let your donors know how their gift is helping you make a difference. Include a brief story or example.

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! If you can 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. 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.

20 Engaging Ideas for Donation Thank You Letters

5 Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

INFOGRAPHIC: The ULTIMATE Thank You for Nonprofits

Something else you need to do is send different letters to different types of donors. Do not send everyone the same letter.

I’ve broken it down into four basic categories, but you could include others, if relevant.

New donors

The retention rate for first-time donors is abysmal. 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, or volunteering.

Then a week or so later, send them a welcome packet by mail or email. I’ll write more about welcoming new donors in the coming weeks.

New monthly donors

Brand new donors who opt for a monthly or other recurring donation get the same special treatment mentioned above. Welcome them to your family of monthly donors. Perhaps you have a special name for your monthly donors.

Current 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. Don’t blow it by ignoring this.

Your current donors 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, acknowledge that, too.

Current donors who become monthly donors

Your current donors who 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 communication targeted to monthly donors. More on that in a future post.

Yes, this will take extra work, but it will be worth it if you can boost your retention rate. Start working on your thank yous now so you’ll be ready to roll after your appeal goes out.

In my next post, I’ll write about how to do a better job with your online thank yous.

More thank you resources

Stewardship Techniques to Build Donor Relationships

Donor Stewardship: Create Lifelong Donors in 10 Steps

How to Write an Appeal Letter that Stands Out

2651935525_8caf84f515_mLabor Day has come and gone. It may still feel like summer, but fall is coming up quickly.

Fall is a busy time of the year, especially for nonprofits who do a year-end appeal. Hopefully, you’ve started planning your appeal. Now you need to think about writing it.

Your donors will receive a multitude of appeal letters this fall and many of them will be the same old generic, boring appeal.

You can make yours stand out by giving some thought to it. Here’s how.

Make a good first impression

First, you need to get your donors to open your letter. If you can’t get them to do that, then all your hard work has gone to waste.

Perhaps you’d like to include a teaser on the outer envelope. That doesn’t mean one that says 2018 Annual Appeal. Instead, say something like Learn how you can help Jessica learn to read.

You want to be both personal and professional. If hand addressing the envelopes isn’t feasible, make sure your mailing labels look clean, are error-free, and aren’t crooked. Use stamps if you can.

Create an inviting piece of mail.

Share a story

Start your letter with a compelling story. Focus on a person or family and not your organization. Your donors want to hear about the people they’ll be helping. For example, you could tell a story about how Jessica struggled with reading until she started tutoring sessions with Lisa, a local college student.

You could also share a first-person story from a client/program recipient.

Include a photo

Include an engaging color photo in your letter or on your pledge form. Photos can tell a story in an instant.

Here’s more information on creating stories and photos.

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

A Picture Really is Worth a 1000 Words

Then you need to ask

Ask for a donation at the beginning of the next paragraph (after the story). Make sure it’s prominent and clear. Also, ask your current donors if they can give a little more this year.

Phrase your ask like this – We’re so grateful for your previous gift of $50. Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75?

If you’ve been doing a good job of engaging your donors throughout the year, they shouldn’t mind if you ask for a larger gift. Including the amount of your donor’s previous gift is helpful since people often don’t remember what they gave before.

You must be donor-centered

Don’t make your letter all about your organization. Show how your donors can help you make a difference and how much you appreciate your donor’s role in that. Make your donors feel good about supporting your nonprofit.

Share your success

Highlight a few accomplishments from the year and show how you plan to continue your good work with your donor’s help. Remember to stay donor-centered!

Make it personal

Send different letters to current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, people on your mailing list who haven’t donated yet, event attendees, volunteers, and friends of board members.

Your appeal will stand out if you can personalize it. At the very least, you must do these two things.

Send a personalized appeal to current donors. Let them know how much you appreciate their support.

Also, send a specific appeal tailored to monthly donors, giving them the recognition they deserve. You can ask them to upgrade, too.

Go the extra mile for your donors, so they’ll continue to support you.

Your letter should also have a personal salutation and not be addressed to Dear Friend, which is really more like Dear Anonymous Stranger.

Make it easy for your donors

Include a return envelope with amounts to check off or an envelope and a pledge form. Show what each amount will fund. Do this on your donation page, too.

How To Create Donation Tiers That Drive Donations

Some donors may prefer to donate online. Direct them to a user-friendly donation page on your website.

11 Donation Form Best Practices to Inspire Your Online Fundraising

Offer a monthly or recurring giving option

Monthly gifts can generate more revenue and improve donor retention. Encourage your donors to give $10 or $20 a month. If they do, you’re getting gifts over $100 each!

The Elements of a Successful Monthly Giving Program

Warning – do not ask your current monthly donors to become monthly donors. That’s one reason why they need their own appeal.

Your letter must be easy to read (or scan)

Use short paragraphs and bulleted lists, along with bold or color for keywords, but keep it tasteful. Make it easy to read and scan. Most people won’t read your letter word for word. Use a simple font and 14-point type.

It’s fine to go over a page, especially if you’re breaking up the text with a photo and short paragraphs, but I wouldn’t go over four pages. You can also add a quote or short testimonial. These can be powerful and it helps break up the narrative.

Think of your letter as a conversation with a friend

One tip for good writing is to think of your letter as a conversation with a friend. That means not using jargon like at-risk youth and underserved communities. Be specific and use everyday language. Refer to your reader as you and use you a lot more than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?

Too many editors spoil the appeal

Your entire staff doesn’t need to be involved in writing your appeal. Generally, the more people you involve in writing your letter, the worse it becomes. Fundraising Consultant Tom Ahern refers to this as letter writing by committee.

Your best writer should craft it and then turn it over to your best editor. Whoever signs the letter (your Executive Director?) can take a quick look at it, but don’t send it to a committee.

Besides weakening the content, involving more people takes extra time.

Leave a good lasting impression

Repeat your ask at the end of the letter. Don’t forget to say please and thank you.

Be sure to add a PS. People often gravitate to the PS as they scan the letter, so include something that will capture their attention. Here you could emphasize monthly giving, ask if their company provides matching gifts, or thank them for being a donor.

Get your pens out

Include a short handwritten note, if you can. Make it relevant to each donor, such as thanking her for a previous donation or letting him know it was nice to see him at a recent event. Hand sign the letters in blue ink.

Are you ready?

Stand out with an appeal letter that will capture your donors’ attention and bring you the donations you need. Good luck!

Read on for more advice on writing an appeal letter that stands out.

Don’t Make These Mistakes with Your Year-End Appeal

Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes In Your Fundraising Appeal Letter

How to Write Superior Nonprofit Fundraising Appeals: Avoid Jargon

[INFOGRAPHIC] How To Write An Annual Fundraising Appeal Letter