Why is it So Hard to be Donor-Centered?

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The term donor-centered is pretty self-explanatory. It means focusing on your donors’ needs and interests, acknowledging them in your letters and other communication, and taking into account that not all donors are the same.

If it’s so obvious, then why are many nonprofits so bad at it? You see countless examples of generic, organization-centered communication that barely acknowledges the donor.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Before you send your next appeal, thank you letter, or newsletter, run it through this donor-centered checklist.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Is your fundraising appeal focused too much on your organization – rambling on about how great you are? Your organization may be great, but let your donors figure that out. Your donors are the ones who are great, and they want to hear how they can help you make a difference for the people/community you serve.
  • Is your appeal segmented to the appropriate audience? Thank past donors or reference your relationship to a potential donor. Maybe they’re event attendees, volunteers, or friends of board members.
  • Is your appeal addressed to a person and not Dear Friend?
  • Is your appeal vague, impersonal, and filled with jargon your donors won’t understand? Don’t say we’re helping underserved members of the community. A donor-centered appeal would say something like – With your support, we can help low-income families find affordable housing.
  • Does your appeal make people feel good about donating to your organization?

Thank you letters

  • Does your thank you letter come across as transactional and resemble a receipt? Yes, you need to acknowledge the donation is tax deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Does your thank you letter (or better yet, a handwritten note) shower your donors with love?  Start your letter with You’re amazing or Thanks to You!, and not On behalf of X organization.
  • Are you telling your donors the impact of their gift?  For example – Thanks to your generous donation of $50, a local family can get a box of groceries at the Eastside Community Food Bank.
  • Do you recognize each donor?  Is this the first time someone has donated?  If someone donated before, did she increase her gift?  Acknowledge this in your letter/note.

Newsletters

  • Does your newsletter sound self-promotional and focus on all the wonderful things your organization is doing instead of showing your donors how they’re helping you make a difference?
  • Is your newsletter written in the second person? Write to the donor and use the word you more often than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?  BTW, all your donor communication should be written in the second person. It’s much more personal.
  • Does your newsletter include success stories, engaging photos, and other content your donors like to see?
  • Are you using the right channels?  Perhaps you only send an e-newsletter, but some of your donors prefer print.
  • Are you showing gratitude to your donors in your newsletter?

Always think of your donors first

Use this checklist for other donor communication such as annual reports (these are rarely donor-centered), your website, and social media posts.

Make sure the messages you send to your donors focus on them and make them feel special. Staying donor-centered can help you build relationships. This is especially important as retention rates continue to plummet.

Read on for more information on the importance of being donor-centered.

3 Ways A Donor Centric Pledge Can Improve Your Retention

How to Create a Donor-Centered Fundraising Letter

3 Steps to a Donor-Centered Communication Strategy

 

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How to Bring Simplicity and Balance to Your Nonprofit Communications

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Lagom is a Swedish concept meaning everything in moderation or not too much, not too little. Keeping things simple. This is not to be confused with the Danish concept of Hygge, which means getting cozy. Not surprisingly there isn’t an English translation of these terms, even though they are much needed in our overstressed world.

The term lagom can be used in almost any context – the home, relationships, work, etc.

You can bring this concept of simplicity and balance into your nonprofit communications, too. Here’s how.

How much communication is too much

Most likely you’re not communicating enough. Communication is a year-round effort that includes asking, thanking, sharing updates, and engaging your donors.

Of course, asking is part of the picture and you can send appeals throughout the year, but only after you’ve thanked and engaged your donors.

You’ll notice at the end of the year you’re barraged with fundraising appeals. Then at other times of the year you might receive a scant newsletter or update. Donors often complain that nonprofits ask too much, but how often do you hear complaints about being overthanked?

You need to be thanking your donors and sharing updates every one to two weeks – once a month at the very least.

Donors shouldn’t think you’re communicating too much if you aren’t just asking for money and you keep your messages donor-centered.

How to tell if you’re mailing your donors too often

Stick to one call to action

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

Stick to one call to action. If you ask for a donation, recruit volunteers, and ask someone to contact their elected officials all in the same message, it’s likely your donor won’t respond to any of your requests.

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

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

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

How to improve your call to action in 6 easy steps

Choose the right length

If your communication is too long, people won’t read it. Limit written communication, such as newsletters and annual reports, to four pages or less. Your email messages should be just a few paragraphs. On the other hand, you don’t want to be terse or say too little.

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

Be sure to make your communication easy to read and scan by including lots of white space. Don’t clutter up the page.

Make it understandable

Write at a sixth to eighth-grade level. That’s what most major newspapers do. This is not dumbing down. You’re being smart by ensuring your donors will understand you.

Last week I wrote one of my periodic rants against jargon, which you should definitely avoid.  Deconstructing Your Jargon Use the active voice and don’t get fancy by using a lot of SAT vocabulary words. Again, you want your donors to understand you.

Keep it simple by using conversational language.

Create a clutter-free website

Your website is still a place where people will go to get information. Make sure it’s clear and clutter-free, as well as easy to read and navigate.

Two components of your website that need simplicity and balance are your donation page and your thank you landing page.

Your donation page needs to be easy to use and collect enough information without overwhelming your donors. If it’s a branded page (e.g. not a third-party site like PayPal), make sure it’s consistent with your messaging and look. Don’t go too minimalistic, though. Include a short description of how a donor’s gift will help you make a difference, as well as an engaging photo.

15 Donation Page Examples to Inspire Your Online Fundraising

Speaking of minimalistic, most thank you landing pages go bare bones and look more like store receipts. Here you have to step it up with a prominent Thank You or You’re Amazing! Include a photo or better yet, a thank you video.

21 Ideas For Your Nonprofit’s Donation Confirmation Page

It’s not always easy to keep things simple and balanced, but your donors will appreciate it if you do. The Complexity of Simplicity

 

 

 

Deconstructing Your Jargon

 

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I’m not a fan of jargon, but nonprofit organizations seem to love it. If I see one more appeal letter, thank you letter, and newsletter article laced with terms like at-risk youth, underserved communities, leverage, and impactful, I’m going to scream.

I think people use jargon because it’s an insider language and it makes them feel like they’re “in the know” in their professional community. It’s easy to slip into jargon-mode around the office. 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

We can get lazy and use jargon when we can’t think of anything fresh and original. And that’s the problem because jargon is boring and your donors may not understand what you’re trying to say. Your donors don’t use these terms and neither should you.

Jargon fixes

Sometimes you need to give a little more information. For example, instead of just using the term food insecurity, describe a situation where a single mother has to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

Let’s look at a few more of 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 try to limit them when you communicate with donors.

  • 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. Our tutoring program works with high school students who are more likely to fail, be held back, and drop out of school.   
  • 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, or decent preschool education.Tell a story or give a specific example. Susan can’t send her son Kyle to a good preschool because there isn’t an affordable one in her community.
  • 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, a motel, or 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 the people/community you serve.

What would Aunt Shirley think?

Imagine you’re at a family gathering and you’re explaining what your organization does to your 75-year old Aunt Shirley. Does she look confused and uninterested when you spew out words like underserved and at-risk, or does she want you to tell her more when you mention kids in your tutoring program are doing much better in school?

Stop using jargon around your office

Another way to help you transition from jargon to understandable language is to stop using it around your office. That means at your 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. Here are more examples of scream-inducing jargon. I’d love to hear some of your least favorites, as well.

14 irritating jargon phrases, and awesome new cliches you should use instead

I Have No Idea What You’re Talking About [Nonprofit Jargon]

Nonprofit Jargon: 22 Phrases We Love to Hate

 

 

 

How to Create an Engaging Newsletter Your Donors Will Want to Read

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I’ve written several posts recently about the importance of staying in touch with your donors throughout the year. Some of you may be saying, “We do that because we have a newsletter.”

A newsletter can be a great way to engage with your donors, but how often does that actually happen? Unfortunately, not very much because most donor newsletters can be used as a cure for insomnia. They’re too long and filled with boring articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

Don’t worry. You can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s how.

Think about what your donors want

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. But ask your donors what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer one over the other, then doing both may not make sense.

You also want to include content that will interest your donors. Do you think they would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about the Davis family moving into a nice home of their own after struggling to find a decent place to live? The answer should be obvious.

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference.

Share stories

Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. Client stories are best, but you could also do profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Focus on what drew them to your mission.

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

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped the Davis family move into a home of their own or Because of donors like you, X number of families have been able to move out of shelters and into their own homes.

Ditch 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.  

Say thank you

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. 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 color, as well as tell a story in an instant.

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

Very important –  make sure your donors can read your e-newsletter on a mobile device.

Short and sweet

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 – two or three articles.

You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent email updates.

Send it to the right audience

Fundraising guru Tom Ahern recommends sending your print newsletter only to donors. This can help you keep it donor-centered, as well as cut down on mailing costs.

Send e-newsletters only to people who have signed up for it. They may or may not be donors, but an e-newsletter can also be a good cultivation tool. Quality is more important than quantity. Not everyone will want to sign up for your newsletter and that’s okay. Focus on the people who are interested in it.

Let’s put an end to boring newsletters. Create one your donors will want to read.

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

The stuff that makes your donor newsletter a failure

10 Email Newsletter Tips That Will Inspire People to Give

3 Pitfalls of Nonprofit Newsletters and How to Avoid Them

Follow The Domain Formula For Donor Newsletters

The Perils of Generic Communication

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How would you feel if a nonprofit organization sent you an appeal or thank you letter and never mentions you’ve been a generous donor for over five years? All you get is a boring, generic letter that doesn’t acknowledge who you are. Chances are most of the other donors of that organization are getting the exact same letter.

This is a problem. Your donors aren’t the same, so they shouldn’t all get the same letter. You need to segment your donors into different groups. I know segment is kind of a jargony word, and I’m no fan of jargon as you’ll see, but this is something that makes a lot of sense.

Segmenting your donors can help you raise more money

Segment your donors as much as possible. At the very least, create different letters for new donors and repeat donors. You can also personalize letters to lapsed donors, event attendees, volunteers, etc. 11 Ways To Segment Your Donors To Improve Your Fundraising

Thank your donors for their previous gifts and/or upgrades. Speaking of upgrades, many organizations don’t ask donors to increase their gifts because they’re sending everyone the same, generic letter. If you don’t ask, you most likely won’t receive.

Although, even if you ask for an upgrade, it won’t happen if you ignore your donors or only blast them with appeals. You need to practice stewardship, too. How to Get Last Year’s Donors to Give More this Year

You can craft an appeal like this – Thank you so much for your donation of $50 last year. Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75 or even $100? This way we can serve even more people at the community food bank.

Also, giving donors the amount of their last gift helps them out. Donors are busy and give to other organizations besides yours. They may not remember what they’ve given before.

And let’s stop sending Dear Friend letters, too. You’re not being a good friend if you don’t even recognize your donors’ names.

You may be saying it’s going to take too much time to do this. Yes, it will take more time, but it’s worth the investment. So is a good database to help you with this. Your donors will feel appreciated and may give you more money, but you do have to ask.

Generic language is uninspiring and confusing

Another problem I see in nonprofit communication is vague, generic language or even worse, jargon. Here’s an example from a thank you letter.  X organization shines a spotlight on community needs, inspires philanthropy and awards strategic grants to build a more vibrant, engaged and equitable (name of community).

This organization has a variety of programs and initiatives, and does good work, by the way. But the example above is uninspiring. It doesn’t say anything. Even if your organization has a variety of programs, focus on something specific.

My donation to that organization goes to a specific initiative. If that’s the case for you, too, tailor your communication to that. Let your donors know their donation is helping families who were left homeless due to a fire or provided heating assistance during a recent cold spell.

Most of your donors don’t have a medical or social services background. They’re not going to use terms like at-risk populations and underserved communities, and neither should you.

Jargon just confuses your donors. Imagine them looking glazed when you write about capacity building and disenfranchised communities. Use language they’ll understand. Enough With the Jargon

One way to burst past generic language and jargon is to tell stories. Most people respond better to a human-interest story than a bunch of boring statistics. Connect With Your Donors by Telling Stories

How to do better

You may be between fundraising campaigns right now and have a little more time (or maybe not). If so, now is a good time to start segmenting your donors in your database, if you haven’t already done that.

In addition, dust off those templates and freshen up your appeal letters and thank you letters. Create letter templates for different donor groups and replace your vague, generic language with something clear, conversational, and specific.

Have someone outside your organization, a friend or family member, look at your messages. Something that’s clear to you may mean nothing to others.

Show your donors how much you appreciate them by recognizing who they are and giving them content they can relate to.

Annual Reports Don’t Need To Be Boring

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Are you thinking about doing an annual report? Perhaps you’ve been putting it off because it takes so much time and most annual reports are long, boring booklets that put your donors to sleep, if they even bother to read it in the first place.

You don’t have to do an annual report, but you do have to share accomplishments with your donors.You might want to nix 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 things to keep in mind to help you create a better annual report that won’t bore your donors to tears.

Your annual report is for your donors

It’s not for your board and you don’t have to do it the same way you’ve always done it – no more massive, boring booklets. Keep your donors front and center 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.

One way to shorten your annual report is to not include a donor list. The Annual Report Donor List is a Stupid Waste of Time If you think you must have one, put it in on your website.

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. Don’t Brag So 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 math skills and now have a better chance of graduating from high school on time.

BTW – Phrases like Thanks to you and because of you should be predominant in 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 – Megan, a sophomore at Brookfield High School, always hated math. “It’s just so hard. I don’t get it,” she said. Geometry was worse than Algebra, which was awful. Then Megan started meeting weekly with Sarah, one of our volunteer tutors. It was a struggle at first, but thanks to Sarah’s patience and encouragement, Megan gets it and is doing much better. Now math class isn’t so bad.

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 Sarah helping Megan with her math.

Use colorful charts or infographics to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand. Sprinkle in 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 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.

You can create an annual report that’s not boring. Read on for more information about creating a great annual report.

Nonprofit Annual Report Examples

7 Tips for Creating an Effective Nonprofit Annual Report

How to Write an Excellent Nonprofit Annual Report

 

Donating Online Shouldn’t Feel Like a Transaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make a good impression with your thank you landing page

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

Your subject line matters, too

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

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

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

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

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

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

A receipt is not a thank you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there more to come?

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

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

Photo by Mike Lawrence –  CreditDebitPro.com