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

 

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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

 

Don’t Brag So Much

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I’m sure you’ve been to a party and ended up stuck in a conversation with someone who talks too much about himself or brags about all the wonderful things she’s done. It’s exasperating and you can’t get away fast enough.

Imagine your donors having the same reaction when all your communications sound like one big bragfest that have nothing to do with them. Then imagine all your hard work going to waste when your boring appeal or newsletter goes straight to the recycle bin.

Yes, you want to share your accomplishments, but you don’t don’t want to sound like that annoying person at the party. 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 Smith family doesn’t have to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

All your communications should be donor or audience-centered. One way to ensure this is to use the word you more than we or us. Can Your Organization Pass the Donor-Centered Test?

Tell 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. Connect With Your Donors by Telling Stories

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 Y 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 hurricane victims or we’re the number one hospital in the community, say Thanks to you, the hurricane victims now have access to clean drinking water and can start rebuilding their homes or Thanks to you, Westside residents have a new outpatient clinic within walking distance of their homes, so they have easy access to all 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.

Your anti-bragging checklist

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 is not fundraising

Bragging Versus Mission

Connect With Your Donors by Telling Stories

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When your donors open your appeal letter or newsletter, do you bore them with a bunch of mind-numbing statistics, or do you share a story about how the Wilson family moved out of a shelter and into a home of their own?

If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell

Donors love stories. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene. Here’s an example.

Diane woke up feeling good for the first time in awhile. After losing her job and being evicted from her apartment, she moved between her sister’s place, motels, and shelters. It was taking a toll on her family and her kids were falling behind in school.

That was about to change because thanks to donors like you, Diane and her family will be moving into a home of their own.

Can you tell a story like that? If you’re making a difference, you can. Stories should show your donors how they’re helping you making a difference for the people you serve.

Create a culture of storytelling

If you create a storytelling culture in your organization, you can make storytelling the norm instead of the exception.

Creating stories takes a little more work, but they will help you connect with your donors. When you put together a story, ask.

  • Why would your donors be interested in this story?
  • Why is this important?
  • Are you using clear, everyday language (no jargon) to make sure your donors understand your story?
  • Who are you helping?
  • How are your donors helping you make a difference?

Client or program recipient stories are best. You’ll need to work together with your program staff to get these stories. Everyone needs to understand how important this is. Share stories at staff meetings and/or set up regular meetings with program staff to gather stories.

Another way to find stories is to put a Share Your Story page on your website. Share-Your-Story Page | an addition to the fundraiser’s arsenal of tools

You can also share profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Many organizations profile new board members in their newsletters. That’s okay, but instead of emphasizing their professional background, concentrate on what drew them to your organization. Perhaps she benefited from having a tutor when she was in school or he’s passionate about human rights.

Create a story bank to help you organize all your stories. Take advantage of slower times of the year to gather stories. You want to use stories often. Use them in your appeal letters, thank you letters, newsletters, annual reports, website, blog, and other types of social media. You can use the same stories in different channels.

Give your stories the personal touch

Use people’s names to make your stories more personal. I realize you might run into confidentiality issues, but you can change names to protect someone’s privacy. You could also do a composite story, but don’t make up anything. Fundraising with Names Have Been Changed Disclaimers

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Let your donors know how with their help, Janet doesn’t have to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill. Your organization stays in the background. And remember, Your Mission Statement is NOT Your Story

Connect with your donors by telling them a story. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories.

Resources to help you tell your stories

The Storytelling Nonprofit

INFOGRAPHIC: A Nonprofit Storytelling How-To

NON-PROFIT STORYTELLING: HOW TO STAND OUT IN A CROWD

Do You Need an Appeal Letter Refresher Course?

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You may have noticed an influx of appeal letters over the last few weeks. Some organizations do their main fundraising drive in the spring, especially if their fiscal year ends on June 30. Others do theirs at the end of the year and some do more than one.

That’s all fine. What’s not fine is the mediocre letters I see. Some of these organizations need a refresher course in appeal letter writing.

Whether you’re planning a spring campaign or one later in the year, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Don’t call it an annual appeal

Okay, you can use the term annual appeal around the office, but not in your appeal letter. That also goes for 2017 annual fund drive, 2017 Massachusetts Drive, or spring fund drive.

Some of the letters I received opened by saying their annual fund drive is underway. Others state it in a header or a teaser on the outer envelope.

The fact that your annual appeal is underway means nothing to your donors and is not a compelling way to open your appeal. The same goes for the end of your fiscal year.

Given how some people feel about fundraising, an envelope teaser that says “Spring Appeal Enclosed” could end up in the recycle bin. If you want to use a teaser, try something like “What if you awoke each day crying from hunger, but you had nothing to eat?

That organization opened their appeal with a story about Kevin, a six-month-old baby in Haiti who’s suffering from malnutrition. That’s what you need to do – open your appeal with an engaging story.

It should be obvious you’re sending an appeal unless you bury your ask. Your ask should come after the story.

Why should I give to your organization?

Most of the appeals I’ve received have come from organizations I don’t already support. I need a good reason to give to your organization and I’m not seeing that.

It’s clear these letters are one size fits all and most likely my name is on a list they purchased or exchanged. Even so, give me some indication that you know me as a person. If I already support hunger-relief organizations, emphasize how you’re making a difference because you know that’s important to me.

Another gift so soon?

I do most of my giving in December so if you’re sending me another appeal now, you need to convince me why I should give again so soon. In many cases, you never acknowledge that I’ve given before. It’s the same old boring stuff.

Of course, you can make more than one ask a year, but first I need to be thanked, and thanked well, and hear from you regularly.

Always thank donors for a previous gift. Let them know why you need an additional donation now. Perhaps you’re losing funding because of budget cuts or you want to launch a new program.

This is also a good opportunity to upgrade your current donors to monthly giving. And you can always try to woo back some of your lapsed donors with a personalized letter.

Enough with the mailing labels

Please don’t send me mailing labels, notepads, calendars, etc. It’s not going to help convince me to donate to your organization. One organization I’ve never supported just sent me a calendar. They opened their letter with “Because you’re someone who cares deeply for nature….” Okay, they tried to make a connection, but if I’m someone who cares about nature why would I want you to waste paper by sending me calendar I don’t need?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds your swag to be wasteful. Instead, invest your print budget in creating thank you cards and donor-centered updates.

Make your appeal shine

It’s never easy to raise money, but you’ll have a better chance if you send a donor-centered appeal that shows how you’re making a difference. Here’s more information on creating a great appeal.

Stand Out With an Amazing Appeal Letter

6 Ways to Improve Your Annual Fundraising Appeal

11 Top Fundraising Consultants Weigh In on Donation Request Letters

Don’t Be Part of the Noise – Make Your Email Messages Stand Out

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Email is usually the primary mode of communication for nonprofits 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.

But guess what? You’re not the one sending email. People get hundreds of emails a day plus messages from other sources such as social media. It’s information overload on steroids right now and much of it is just noise.

Here’s how you can rise above the noise and make your email messages stand out.

What’s your intention?

What’s the purpose of your message? What do you want your reader to do? Maybe it’s to donate, volunteer, attend an event, or contact her legislators. Maybe you’re sharing an update.

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

Keep it simple and stick to one call to action.

Pay attention to your subject line

A good subject line is the key to getting someone to open your email message. If he doesn’t bother to open it, your hard work has gone to waste.

Give some thought to it. Instead of Donate to our Annual Appeal or May 2017 Newsletter, try Find out how you can help Gina learn to read or Thanks to you, the Miller family can put food on the table tonight.

Improve the ROI of Your Nonprofit Email with a Great Subject Line

Short and sweet

Just because someone has opened your email message, doesn’t mean she’ll read it. Keep her interested. Remember your email is one of hundreds your reader will receive that day. Make it short, but engaging, and get to the point right away.

Make it easy to read and scan

Besides sending a short message, use short paragraphs, too. It needs to be easy to read (and scan) in an instant. Don’t use micro-sized font either.

Be personal and conversational

Write directly to your reader using clear, conversational language – no jargon. Address your message to a person – Dear Susan and not Dear Friend.

Use an email service provider that lets you segment your lists so you can personalize your messages. For example, you’ll create different messages for current donors, potential donors, and lapsed donors.

Send your email to the right audience

You may want to reach out to tons of people about an upcoming event, but you’ll have better luck concentrating on people who will be interested, such as past attendees. Just because email lets you communicate with a large audience, doesn’t mean you should. Otherwise, you’re just generating more noise.

Be a welcome visitor

If you communicate regularly and do it well, your readers should recognize you as a reputable source and are more likely to read your message.

Make sure people know your message is coming from your organization. In the from field, put DoGood Nonprofit or Sarah Wilson, 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.

Create a no spam zone

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.

Once is not enough

If you’re using email to send a fundraising appeal or event invitation, you’ll probably have to send more than one message. Try not to send messages to people who have already responded.

Be mobile friendly

Many people read their email on a mobile device. If your message isn’t mobile friendly, you’re missing out.

Your email messages can stand out and not become part of the noise if you give some thought to them and do it well. Here’s more information about communicating by email.

How to Make Your Marketing Emails Stand Out in Your Donor’s Inbox

11 Fundraising Email Best Practices To Drive High Response Rates

Nonprofit Marketing: Email Marketing Benefits, How-Tos and Best Practices

 

Your Audience Isn’t Everyone

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The board chair at a place where I used to work would often say, “We need more people to know about us.” Does that sound familiar? It’s tempting to cast a wide net so as many people as possible can find out about your organization, but that’s not a good strategy.

Not everyone is interested in your organization and that’s okay. The key is to find people who are interested in what you do and keep them interested.

Who is your audience?

You already have a core group of donors and other supporters, but how well do you know them?  You could send them a short survey asking them why they donate, what issues are important to them, and how they like to communicate (by mail, email, or both). Another idea is to put a poll in your e-newsletter to find out their favorite article.

While surveys are a great way to connect, not everyone is going to respond to them. Another tactic to try is to create donor personas. You can use your database to figure out vital information and/or interview a few donors.

Your database also comes in handy because you want to segment your donors  – first-time donors, long-term donors, monthly donors, etc –  so you can personalize their communication as much as possible.

You can also create personas to help you recruit volunteers.

What does your audience like?

Now that you’ve gotten to know your audience, think about what they would like. Each time you write an appeal letter, thank you letter, newsletter article, etc, keep your donor/audience in mind. What are their interests? What will capture their attention, make them read more, and take action?  Remember, you are not your donor/audience. The worst mistake you can make in fundraising

If you’ve surveyed your donors about your newsletter, you’ll probably find they like success stories about the people/community you serve and are not so interested in board member profiles.They don’t need to hear you brag about your organization, but they do want to know how their donations are helping you make a difference.

Your donors/audience are busy. They’re not going to have time to weed through a bunch of long-winded messages. Make your point clearly and concisely and leave out the jargon. Make sure people understand what you’re trying to say.

Pay attention to what your audience is doing.

Is your audience paying attention to you?  Are they making donations, opening your email messages, or responding to your social media posts?   

If they’re not paying attention you, it may be because you’re communicating with the wrong audience, your messages don’t interest them, they’re busy, or you’re using the wrong channels.

These are things you can fix. Send the right messages to the right audience using the right channels.

Expanding your reach.

Of course, you’ll want to find new donors and other supporters, but reach out to people who already have a connection with you. New donors could be volunteers, event attendees, newsletter subscribers, social media followers, or friends of board members and other donors. Putting up a billboard on a highway or ad on a subway train won’t get you a lot of new supporters.

The answer to the question How do I ask strangers for money? is you find a connection first. And, keep in mind – your audience isn’t everyone.