How to Create Your 2020 Annual Report

The nonprofit annual report is a mixed bag. Organizations do need to share accomplishments and show gratitude to their donors, but many annual reports are done poorly. They’re often too long, boring, and basically a demonstration of the organization patting itself on the back. There’s often very little appreciation for donors. It’s also time consuming to put together, even when we’re not in a pandemic.

COVID-19 and our other current situations have brought about many changes, or at least they should. You can’t create the same type of annual report you’ve done in the past. I think some of the changes I’m going to suggest should be carried out in the future, as well.

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. This makes a lot of sense now when things are changing rapidly and you don’t have time to take on a big report. 

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. Shorter is better.

You also need to address how your organization is faring with the current situations – the pandemic, economic downturn, racial reckoning, etc.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you create an annual report that’s relevant during the current situations, won’t put your donors to sleep, and make it a little easier for you to put together.

Your annual report is for your donors

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

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

Make it a gratitude report

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

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. Get inspired by these examples. I know these are on the longer side, but they still have some good examples.

Oregon Zoo Gratitude Report

Power of Storytelling | The most moving gratitude report I’ve ever seen

How are you making a difference?

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

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. I know your organization had to make a lot of changes due to the pandemic, but what’s most important is why you needed to do that.

You can say something like this – In the past year, we have seen triple the number of people at the Northside Community Food Bank. We also had to make changes at our facility so we could continue to serve people safely. Thanks to donors like you, we were able to meet our demands and provide local residents with boxes of healthy food.

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

Tell a story

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

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

Make it visual

Your donors have a lot going on and won’t have 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 volunteers working at a food bank or clients, if you have their permission.

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

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

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

Planning is key

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

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

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

With everything changing at a rapid pace, I hope you’ve been updating your donors frequently. If not, you need to start doing that. 

Whatever you decide, put together an annual report that’s a better experience for everyone. Read on for more information about creating a relevant annual or impact report for 2020.

How to Create a Meaningful Nonprofit Annual Report in the Year of the Pandemic

Creating a Nonprofit Impact Report in the Time of COVID-19

8 Annual Reports We Love

How to Craft a 1-Page Nonprofit Annual Report

On the Road to Better Donor Communication

With all that’s gone on this year, if you’re still sending generic, organization-centered communication, you’re doing a huge disservice.

I know there has been some conflict about donor-centered vs community-centered, and I think we can have both. What you don’t want is to be organization-centered. You can’t communicate with your donors without focusing on them. This is true for any type of audience. Also, donor-centricity leads to community.

Think Twice Before You Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater | Donor-Centered vs Community-Centered

We’re also seeing real people with real problems. Your vague, generic communication that uses demeaning terms such as at-risk and underserved needs to end.

It’s harder to fundraise now, but you need to still do it. You’ll be more successful if you make some of these improvements to your donor communications.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Your fundraising appeal shouldn’t be 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 your clients/community.
  • Segment your appeal 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.
  • Address your appeal to a person and not Dear Friend.
  • Don’t use vague, impersonal language and jargon your donors won’t understand. Instead of saying we’re helping at-risk youth, say something like – With your support, our tutoring program can help more students graduate from high school on time. It’s been challenging this past year as many schools switched to remote learning.
  • Your appeal should make people feel good about donating to your organization.

Thank you letters

  • Your thank you letter shouldn’t come across as transactional and resemble a receipt. This is one of my huge pet peeves right now. Yes, you need to acknowledge the donation is tax-deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Your thank you letter (or better yet, a handwritten note) needs to pour on the appreciation. Start your letter with You’re amazing or Thanks to You!, and not On behalf of X organization.
  • Address your thank you letter to a person and not Dear Friend.
  • Tell your donors the impact of their gift. For example – Thanks to your generous donation of $50, a family can get a box of groceries at the Eastside Community Food Bank. This is crucial now since we’ve seen triple the number of people in the past year.
  • 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

  • Your newsletter shouldn’t sound self-promotional and focus on all the wonderful things your organization is doing. Since the pandemic, I’ve seen organizations patting themselves on the back because of all the changes they needed to make to their programs. What’s most important is how this is affecting your clients/community. Yes, you may have changed the protocols at your homeless shelter, but that’s because you needed to continue to offer a safe place to those who need it.  
  • Write your newsletter 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? Keep in mind, all your donor communication should be written in the second person. It’s much more personal.
  • Include stories about clients, engaging photos, and other content your donors like to see. Remember, donors want to see the impact of their gift.
  • Use the right channels. Perhaps you only send an e-newsletter, but some of your donors prefer print.
  • Show gratitude to your donors/supporters in your newsletter.

These suggestions for improvement can be used for other types of donor communication such as annual reports, your website, email messages, and social media posts.

Better donor communication can help you build relationships. This is especially important now when your goals should be donor retention and sustaining long-term donors.

9 Best Practices for Communications That Stand Out

Nonprofit Communication Best Practices To Make Communications More Impactful 

How to Give Your Donors a More Personal Online Thank You Experience

Many people donate online now. There’s a good reason for this. It’s usually fast and easy, or at least it should be. You may be opting for an online only year-end campaign this fall, although I do recommend mailing an appeal letter if you can.

One issue with online donations is the poor thank yous that come after your donor has given you a gift. I like to think of what happens after someone donates online as a thank you experience, which consists of a thank you landing page, thank you email, and a thank you by mail or phone, plus additional bursts of gratitude throughout the year.

Even though your thank you landing page and thank you email are automatically generated, it doesn’t mean they need to sound like they were written by a robot.

There’s a human being on the other end and they just did something great by donating to your organization. Don’t they deserve to be lavished with gratitude? Of course they do. Especially in 2020, possibly one of the worst years ever, when we’re dealing with so much and missing out on personal connections.

It’s not hard to make your online thank yous more personal. Here’s what you need to do.

Use words that convey gratitude

First, make a list of words you associate with gratitude. Did you come up with words such as transaction and processed? I hope not, although those are words I often see after I make an online gift. I cringe every time I see transaction complete or your gift was successfully processed.

Words matter and some words of gratitude include appreciate, grateful, and of course, thank you. 

Think of the donations you receive as the start or continuation of a relationship and not a transaction. 

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 seen online shopping receipts that are more personal than some nonprofit “thank you” landing pages.

Remember to use words that convey gratitude. You could open with Thank you, Kara! or You’re amazing! Capture your donor’s attention with an engaging photo or video. You could also create a thank you word cloud. Include a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help your clients/community during these uncertain times.

Invite donors to connect with you in other ways such as signing up to receive your newsletter, following you on social media, and volunteering.

If you use a third-party giving site, you might be able to customize the landing page. If you can’t, follow up with a personal thank you email message within 48 hours.

Don’t let your donors think they only made a transaction.

How to Create Post Donation Thank You Pages That Delight Donors

How To Optimize Your Donation Thank You Page + Examples Of Nonprofits Who Do It Right

Write a thank you email that your donors will appreciate

Start off by thinking of a good subject line. At the very least say Thank You! and not Donation Received. Stay away from the dreaded words processed and transaction. You want your thank you email to stand out in your donor’s overflowing inbox.

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

You want to follow the rules of writing a good thank you letter. The key word here is good. It amazes me how many thank you letters/emails don’t do a good job of saying thank you.

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

Speaking of monthly donations, many organizations send their monthly donors an email acknowledgment each month. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what’s wrong is many of these are just plain boring and usually include the same generic message each month.

Your monthly donors have made a long-term commitment to you. You can show the same commitment to them by writing a better thank you email and mixing up the content by sharing updates. This is even more important now.

You can include a donation summary or receipt with your thank you email, but that should be at the end – AFTER you pour on the gratitude. I prefer the term donation summary because it doesn’t sound as transactional.

Remember, you’re a human writing to another human. Don’t make your message sound like it was written by a robot. Write something warm and personal.

Examples of Email Thank You Letters to Online Donors

Best Fundraising Thank You Emails for Your Supporters

Don’t stop showing gratitude 

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. An online thank you is not enough. Also, your donors may not see your thank you email, but you want to make sure they feel appreciated.

You also want to keep thanking your donors throughout the year – at least once a month if you can. If it’s too hard to use mail or make phone calls right now, you can keep thanking by email, as well as social media. A personalized thank you video is another great way to show some gratitude.

You want to give your donors a thank you experience. 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 show gratitude to your donors throughout the year.

Get Ready to Pour on the Gratitude

You may have started working on your year-end appeal. Just as important, if not more important, is planning how you’ll thank your donors. 

Some of the themes of 2020 should be –  this is more important than ever and planning ahead.

Many organizations leave thanking their donors as a last-minute to-do item and it shows. You can’t do that this year, as well as in future years. You may have a harder time getting donations right now. If someone gives to your organization, they deserve to be showered with gratitude. 

There are many ways to thank your donors after an appeal – by mail, phone, email, on your website, or a combination of those. The more you can do, the better.

Thanking your donors is something you need to do well. Don’t shortchange your donors with a lame, generic thank you.

Here are a few ways to do a better job of thanking your donors.

Start planning now

Don’t wait until the day after your appeal goes out. Give yourself plenty of time to plan. 

Figure out what you’ll be able to do. I highly recommend a handwritten note or phone call. Can you do that for all your donors? If not, maybe you’ll break it down by new donors, long-time donors, or donors who have given a certain amount.

I understand that handwritten notes and phone calls may be hard to do right now. At the very least, your donors should get a letter, even if they’ve donated online. Whatever you decide, get started on the content now. 

Brighten your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you note

I love it when a nonprofit sends a handwritten thank you note. This is a rare occurrence, so if you do this, your thank you note will stand out in your donor’s mailbox.

Handwritten notes are great in many ways, but one advantage is you don’t have to write that much 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 to help with this.

Think about how much your donors will appreciate this nice gesture. Here’s a sample note.

Dear Lisa,

Thank you so much for upgrading your gift to $75. We’ve been serving three times the number of people at the Northside Community Food Bank. Your generous gift will help a lot. We’re so happy you’ve been a donor these past five years.

Phone calls are another personal way to show some donor love

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 to help. This is a great thing for your board to do. You may need to do a short virtual training at first. Here’s a sample phone script.

Hi Bob, this is Diana Turner and I’m a board member at the Northside Community Food Bank. Thank you so much for your generous donation of $50 and welcome to our donor family. Your gift will help feed more local families during this difficult time. 

How to Call Donors Just to Say Thank You for Donating

Write an incredible thank you letter

If it’s impossible to send handwritten notes or make phone calls, you can still impress your donors with an incredible thank you letter. Many thank you letters aren’t incredible and are mediocre at best. You’ll have an advantage if you take some time to create a great, donor-centered letter.

The purpose of a thank you letter is to thank your donors. Keep that in mind at all times.  

Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization…. If you’re sending it on your letterhead, it should be obvious it’s coming from your organization. Instead, start your letter with – Thank you or You’re amazing! Here’s another example from a letter I recently received – What a great friend you are to …….

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. You can ask again another time. Keep gratitude front and center.

Write separate thank you letters for different types of donors.  Welcome new donors and welcome back your current donors. Monthly donors should also get special recognition.

Your thank you letter needs to make your donors feel good about giving to your organization. Let them know how their gift is helping you make a difference. Include a brief story or example. Make it relevant to the current climate.

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, use a nice stamp, and include a handwritten note inside, that will help make it more personal. You could also include an engaging photo in the letter.

Yes, you do need to include the tax-deductible information, but do that at the end, after you impress your donors with your letter, or include it on a separate page. It’s easiest to include this with the thank you letter or email. Then you don’t have to send it again unless your donor requests it.

An example from an organization that did it right

I mentioned the opening line from a recent thank you letter I received. This organization, a local theatre that’s unable to do live performances until sometime next year, did a lot of things right with their letter. Starting with sending the letter right away. I was surprised to get it so quickly, although 48 hours is what’s recommended, but rarely followed.

The envelope was hand addressed and the letter included phrases like – you are providing a sense of stability and hope as we all continue to navigate through these uncharted waters, and X theatre is still here – and is still strong – because of you! The phrase because of you is a must in a thank you letter. This letter also included a handwritten note saying – Looking forward to welcoming you back……

With everything that’s going on right now, it’s crucial to do a good job of thanking your donors, both now and throughout the year. In my next post, I’ll share some ways to improve your online thank yous.

Here’s more on thanking your donors.

5 Donor Love Must-Do’s for the COVID-19 Crisis

How to Write The Best Thank-You Letter for Donations + Three Templates and Samples

A Guide to Crafting the Perfect Donation Thank-You Letter

5 Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

How to Create a Fundraising Appeal that’s Relevant in the Current Climate

September is here. It’s my favorite month and the more moderate temperatures and lower humidity are a nice respite from all the uncertainty going on in the world.

Fall is the busiest time of the year for nonprofit organizations, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal. The current climate (pandemic, economic downturn, heightened awareness of systemic racism, having to cope with all of this, etc)  will require you to create a new, more relevant appeal, although many of the components will be the same.

Even if you’re not planning on launching your campaign until later in the fall, you should get started on your appeal now. You need to create an appeal that will stand out and resonate with your donors.

A couple of things. You must address the current climate in your appeal. Instead of the usual boring, generic letter, you need to specifically address what’s been going on since the pandemic started. 

Also, your appeal needs to be personal – both for your donors and when you write about your clients/community. Be sure to check in with your donors and wish them well.

Here are some ways to create a better, more relevant appeal.

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 2020 Annual Appeal. That’s not inspiring, especially now. Instead, say something like – Find out how you can help local families put food on the table.

An oversized or colored envelope can also capture your donor’s attention.

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 compelling story

A good appeal letter should open 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 and it needs to be relevant to the current climate. 

Here’s an example – Sarah, a single mother with three kids, was laid off earlier this year and had trouble finding enough money to buy groceries for her family. But thanks to generous donors like you, she was able to get boxes of healthy food at the Northside Community Food Bank. Sarah was embarrassed that she said to rely on a food bank to feed her family, but she is treated with respect and dignity each time she visits. 

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.

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

How to Engage With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

Make a prominent 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 right now. I know we’re in an economic downturn, but don’t be afraid to ask your donors to upgrade their gift. People want to help if they can.

Phrase your ask like this – We’re so grateful for your previous gift of $50. We’re serving three times the number of people at the food bank right now. Would you be able to help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75?

Your donors know times are tough. Also, if you’ve been doing a good job of engaging your donors throughout the year (this is so important now), 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.

Be donor-centered, as well as community-centered

There’s some dichotomy right now between being donor-centered and being community-centered, but I think you can be both. What you don’t want is to be organization-centered.

Show your donors how they can help you make a difference for your clients/community and how much you appreciate their role in that. Make your donors feel good about supporting your nonprofit.

At the same time, respect your clients/community by not undermining them by using terms like at-risk youth or underserved communities. They are people, after all.

Share your success and challenges

I’m sure this has been a challenging year for you. Maybe you’ve had to do things differently, but how you had to make changes to your food bank is less important than why you had to do it. You need to continue providing healthy food to families, while doing it safely.

Highlight some of your accomplishments, but you can share challenges, too. A theatre where I’m a subscriber had to shut down in March and won’t be able to open again until sometime next year. Understandably, this created a budget shortfall and they’re trying to raise $100,000 by December 31.

Show how you plan to continue your work with your donor’s help. Remember to stay donor-centered! You need your donors right now.

Personalization is more important than ever

Don’t send everyone the same appeal. Try to 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. 

The more you can segment, the better, but at the very least, you must do these two things.

Send a personalized appeal to current donors. They’re your best bet for getting donations now. Let them know how much you appreciate their support. If a donor contributed to an emergency campaign earlier in the year, be sure to thank them for that. These donors are committed to helping you through this difficult time.

Also, send a specific appeal tailored to monthly donors, giving them the recognition they deserve. You can ask them to upgrade or give an additional year-end gift.

This is not the time to send a generic, one-size-fits-all appeal letter. Go the extra mile for your donors, so they’ll continue to support you.

Your appeal letter should also have a personal salutation and not be addressed to Dear Friend or Dear Valued Donor. How much do you value this relationship if you can’t even use a person’s name?

This may sound like a lot of work, but if you give yourself enough time, it should be doable. Personalizing your letters can also help you raise more money.

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

Donation Page Best Practices For Nonprofits; Tips for Great Donation Pages

Offer a monthly or recurring giving option

Monthly gifts can generate more revenue, give you a steady source of income throughout the year, and improve donor retention. Encourage your donors to give $5, $10, or even $20 a month. This may be a more viable option for some of them. 

How Monthly Giving is a Win-Win for Your Nonprofit

Be careful and don’t send an appeal to your current monthly donors that invites them 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. I know longer letters can perform better, but donors have a lot going on, so if you’re going to write a longer letter, make every word count. 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

You can create a better appeal if you 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. Your goal should be for your reader to understand you.

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.

If you don’t have someone on your staff who can write a good fundraising appeal, then hire a freelancer or consultant to do it.

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

Make a good lasting impression, too

Repeat your ask at the end of your appeal. 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 someone for a previous donation or hoping a potential donor will support you. Hand sign the letters in blue ink.

This could be a tough fundraising season. That’s why you need to spend some time writing a better, more relevant appeal letter that will resonate with your donors and help bring you the donations you need. Good luck!

Read on for more advice and resources on writing a better fundraising appeal for the current climate.

10 Tips for Nonprofit Direct Mail Fundraising During COVID-19

3 Strategies Every Nonprofit Should Use for Year-End Fundraising in 2020

7 Wise COVID-19 Fundraising Templates

Image by Howard Lake

Get a Head Start on Your Year-End Fundraising Campaign

5524669257_ab67585fd0_wWe’re already halfway through August. Pandemic or not, we still have seasons and fall is traditionally fundraising season for nonprofit organizations.

If you had a campaign planned for this fall, but are thinking against it, don’t do that. You should still do your campaign. You can’t raise money if you don’t ask.

Yes, it will be harder, which is why you should start planning it now. And summer’s not over yet, so there’s still time to get ice cream and go to the beach (please stay safe and practice social distancing when you do).

Here’s a checklist to help you get started. You can also use this for fundraising campaigns at other times of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal for your year-end campaign in your 2020 fundraising plan and most likely that has changed. Perhaps you were able to raise money earlier in the year with an emergency campaign and/or a virtual event.

There’s a good chance you need to raise more money if you’ve had to shift the way you run your programs and there’s a greater need for your services.

You must determine how much money you need to raise before you start your campaign – raising as much as we can is not a goal.

Do you have a plan?

Put together a plan for your appeal that includes a timeline, task list, and the different channels you’ll use. Make it as detailed as possible.

When do you want to launch your appeal? Plan on everything taking longer, so I think earlier is better. You’ll be competing with other organizations who are doing appeals. It’s also an election year in the United States, but that doesn’t always affect nonprofit fundraising.

Maybe you want to send your appeal letters the first week in November. If so, make your goal to have the letters done at least a week before that. Maybe more if people are working remotely.

Also, how are you mailing your appeal? Do you use a mail house or do you get staff and volunteers together to stuff envelopes?  If it’s the latter, it will be harder to get a group together, so you’ll need more time. 

An Annual Appeal Fundraising Timeline You Can Use

13 End-of-Year Appeal Strategies

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

This is going to be the year you’ll retire your boring, generic appeal letter (more on that in future posts). Your appeal must address the current situations.

A good way to start is to create an engaging story for your appeal. How are the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, and the economic downturn affecting your clients/community? What challenges are they facing? Focus on them, not your organization.

You’ll want some good photos for your letter and donation page, too. Quotes from clients will also enhance your appeal.

3 Strategies Every Nonprofit Should Use for Year-End Fundraising in 2020

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

How to Engage With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

How did/can your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should highlight some of the accomplishments you’ve made recently and state what you plan to do in the coming months. For example, let’s say you run a tutoring program. You were able to get Chromebooks for half of the students who didn’t have access to a computer so they could do their sessions remotely. You still need to buy more, and with the pandemic looming, remote sessions will be the norm for a while. This is important because thanks to your donors, regular tutoring sessions help students read at or above their grade level and that needs to continue. 

Remember to focus on your clients and show how your donors are helping you make a difference or can help you make a difference. Don’t brag about your organization.

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

Make sure your postal and email mailing lists are up-to-date. Check for duplicate addresses and typos. Your donors don’t want to receive three letters at the same time or have their names misspelled.

Also, now is a good time to segment your mailing lists – current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. This is more important than ever. Your current donors are your best source of donations. You should have more success if you can personalize your appeal letters.

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until October to check your supply of letterhead and envelopes. Make sure you have enough. Perhaps you want to produce a special outer envelope. You may also want to create some thank you cards. It could take longer to get some of these things.

Even though many people donate online, you want to make it easy for donors who prefer to mail a check. Include a pledge envelope or a return envelope and a preprinted form with the donor’s contact information and the amount of their last gift.

Stamps are more personal so you might want to find some nice ones to use.

Is it easy to donate online?

Be sure your donation page is user-friendly and consistent with your other fundraising materials. Highlight your year-end appeal on your homepage and include a prominent Donate Now button.

Crafting the Perfect Donation Form: 6 Key Features

Donation Page Best Practices For Nonprofits; Tips for Great Donation Pages

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

A monthly giving program is a win-win for your organization. You can raise more money, boost your retention rate, receive a steady stream of revenue, and allow your donors to spread out their gifts.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program or you have a small one, now is an excellent time to start one or grow the one you have.

How will you thank your donors?

Spend as much time on your thank you letter/note as you do on your appeal letter and write them at the same time. You need to thank your donors, and thank them well, as soon as you receive their gifts so have a thank you letter/note ready to go.

Handwritten notes and phone calls are much better than a preprinted letter. Create or buy some thank you cards (see above) and start recruiting board members and volunteers to make thank you calls or write notes. Put together a thank you plan to help you with this.

How will you keep up with your donor communication?

Even though you’ll be busy with your appeal, you want to ramp up your donor communication this fall. Keep engaging your donors and other supporters (who may become donors) by sharing updates and gratitude. Pour on the appreciation! 

Send at least one warm-up letter or email. You could create a thank you video or a video that gives a behind the scenes look at your organization right now. Just don’t disappear until appeal time.

I know it will be hard this year, but you still need to run a campaign. Some donors may not give as much or at all, but others will give more. They won’t give anything if you don’t ask.

Best of luck!

The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan

1528715736_98556a9c65_w (1)I feel like the theme of most of my posts over the last several months is this is more important than ever. This could be a tough fundraising season, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a campaign this fall.

Something that should help is having a thank you plan. Thanking donors often takes a back seat to fundraising when you should spend equal time doing both. Many organizations just thank their donors after they receive a gift and then disappear until the next fundraising appeal.

With everything going on this year, your donors deserve heaps of gratitude. 

Thanking your donors is something you need to do throughout the year – at least once a month, if you can. Creating a thank you plan will help you stay focused on gratitude all year round.  

Here’s what you need to include in your thank you plan.

Plan to make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it shouldn’t resemble Amazon check out. It should make a person feel good about making a donation.

Open with Thank you, Jen or You’re amazing! Include an engaging photo or video and a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help your clients/community right now (reference COVID-19). Put all the tax-deductible information after your message or in the automatically generated thank you email.

If you use a third-party giving site, you might be able to customize the landing page. If not, follow up with a personal thank you email message within 48 hours.

How to Create Post Donation Thank You Pages That Delight Donors

Plan to write a warm and personal automatic thank you email

Set up an automatic thank you email to go out after someone donates online. This email thank you is more of a reassurance to let your donor know you received her donation. You still need to thank her by mail or phone.

Just because your thank you email is automatically generated, doesn’t mean it needs to sound like it was written by a robot. Write something warm and personal.

Give some thought to the email subject line, too. At the very least make sure it says Thank You or You did something great today and not anything boring like Your Donation Receipt or Donation Received. And please stop using words like transaction and processed.

How to Write a Great Donation Thank-you Email (with Examples)

Email Thank You Letter Examples for Donors

Plan to thank your donors by mail or phone

I’m a firm believer that every donor, no matter how much she’s given or whether she donated online, gets a thank you card or letter mailed to her or receives a phone call.

Try to thank your donors within 48 hours or within a week at the latest. I know it’s harder to do now, but it will be easier if you plan to carve out some time to thank your donors each day you get a donation. Remember, thanking donors should be a priority. If you wait too long, you’re not making a good impression.

Instead of sending the usual generic thank you letter, mail a handwritten card or call your donors. Making thank you calls or writing thank you notes is something your board can do. 

Find board members, staff, and volunteers to make phone calls or write thank you notes. Come up with sample scripts. You may also want to conduct a short training (most likely via Zoom). Make sure to get your team together well before your next fundraising campaign so you’re ready to go when the donations come in. 

Here’s a sample phone script, which you can modify for a thank you note/letter/email. 

Hi, this is Rachel Clark and I’m a board member at the Riverside Community Food Bank. I’m calling to thank you for your generous donation of $50. Thanks to you, we can continue to provide neighborhood families with healthy food. This is great. Our numbers have almost tripled over the last few months and we know that will continue, so we really appreciate your support.

You’ll stand out if you can send a thank you card. I received a couple of cards this summer, both from the same organization, which shows you what they prioritize! One was a postcard with a handwritten note. The other was a lovely card with a pre-printed personal message (addressing me by name and including a gift amount). While not as personal as a handwritten note, it may be more doable.

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal and heartfelt letter. If you’ve been using the same letter template for a while, it’s time to freshen it up. 

Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization, we thank you for your donation of…. Open the letter with You’re incredible or Because of you, the Davis family can finally move into their own home. Create separate letters for new donors, renewing donors, and monthly donors.

Add a personal handwritten note to the letter, preferably something that pertains to that particular donor. For example, if the donor has given before, mention that. Make sure all letters are hand signed.

Let your donors know how much you appreciate them and highlight what your organization is doing with their donations. Remember to keep it current.

In addition, write your thank you letter at the same time you write your appeal letter. Make sure they’re ready to go as soon as the donations come in. Don’t wait three weeks.

How to Write The Best Thank-You Letter for Donations + Three Templates and Samples

How to write a donation thank you letter

How to Craft a Killer Thank You Letter

Plan to keep thanking your donors all year round

This is where having a thank you plan makes a difference because as I mentioned before – thanking your donors is something you must do all year round.

You can use your communications calendar to incorporate ways to thank your donors, but why not go one step further and create a specific thank you calendar.

Remember to try to say thank you at least once a month. Here are some ways to do that. 

  • Send cards or email messages at Thanksgiving, during the holidays, Valentine’s Day, or mix it up a little and send a note of gratitude in June or September when your donors may not be expecting it. Try to send at least one or two gratitude messages a year by mail, since your donors will be more likely to see those. And you don’t need a holiday or special occasion to thank your donors. Thank them just because….
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories, as well as how the current situations are affecting your work. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude. Be sure to keep thanking your donors in your newsletter and other updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without your donors’ support.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your thank you landing page, by email, and on social media.
  • Send a warm-up letter or email about a month before your next campaign (no ask). This is a great way to show appreciation BEFORE you send your appeals.
  • While open houses and tours are off the table for now, you could do something virtual to let your donors see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

The post below references a donor acknowledgment plan for monthly donors with some personal ways to connect and you don’t have to come up with 12 different ideas. It’s okay to repeat some. While these are for monthly donors, and monthly donors should get their own thank yous, you can use them for other donors, too. 

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

Creating a thank you plan will make it easier to keep showing appreciation to your donors all year round. You need your donors right now, so don’t hold back on that ever-important gratitude.

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

18761109699_50d9b19a78_oWe’re halfway through 2020 and it looks like this will be a year that will stand out in history. We’re having a global pandemic, along with a severe economic downturn. The horrific killing of George Floyd by a police officer spawned protests against racism and police brutality.

Systemic racism is something that’s been part of the United States (and other countries) for centuries. Are we just now realizing that Aunt Jemima is a racist symbol?

It’s not surprising that the COVID-19 outbreak and economic devastation are affecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities at a much higher level. It’s very likely that all of these situations are affecting the people/community you work with.

I want to briefly address racism right now. If your nonprofit organization works with the BIPOC community, then they are affected by racism. If you’re working on issues such as affordable housing, homelessness, education, health care, etc, these have ties to racism.

Your organization shouldn’t be afraid to talk about racism when you tell your stories or communicate in other ways. Vu Lee addressed this last month.

Have nonprofit and philanthropy become the “white moderate” that Dr. King warned us about?

You may have made a statement against racism, which is a good first step. Don’t stop with that.

Donors want to hear your stories

Stories are one of the best ways to communicate with your donors. Unfortunately, you’re probably not using them enough. That’s a mistake because people respond better to stories than a bunch of facts and statistics. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene.

You may be reluctant to use stories because it’s more work for your organization, but that shouldn’t stop you. I know it’s even harder now since the COVID-19 outbreak has upended the way you work. Maybe everyone is still working at home or only some of you are back at the office. You can still do this. The summer is a good time to come up with some new stories.

Your stories need to be relevant

Just as it’s been for the last few months, your stories need to take the current climate into account. That’s why you new need ones. You’re seeing real people with real problems in real time. These posts address this more.

4 Resources to Help Shift the Narrative for Equity in Nonprofit Communications

HOW TO TELL YOUR NONPROFIT’S STORY, EVEN IN THE MIDST OF CRISIS

How to Communicate with Supporters During COVID-19: Nonprofit & Brand Examples

Create a culture of storytelling

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

Work with your program staff to create stories that will help you connect with your donors. 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. Do this virtually if you’re not in the office.

When you put together a story, ask.

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

Client or program recipient stories are best, especially now.

Another way to find stories is to put a Share Your Story page on your website. This could be a good way to get some current, relevant stories.

4 INSPIRATIONAL “SHARE YOUR STORY” PAGES THAT WILL KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF

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

Language is important

It’s time to stop using jargon such as at-risk and underserved. These terms undermine your clients/community. These aren’t terms your donors use, anyway. Use language they’ll understand. 

You also don’t want to give the impression that your organization is coming in to save someone. This is especially important if the majority of your staff and donors are white, but your clients are people of color. This is known as white savior complex. Most likely that’s not intentional on your part, but watching how you tell your stories will help you avoid that. Be an ally and be respectful of your clients/community.

I have to admit I don’t know the best way to approach some of this and would welcome suggestions.

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Remember, your stories aren’t about your organization. Your organization may have had to make a lot of changes to do some of the work you do, but that’s not your story. Your story is why this is important for the people/community you work with. 

Maybe you had to change the way you run your food pantry, but what’s most important is that people in the community continue to have access to healthy food. 

Make your stories personal 

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

There continues to be a lot going on and your organization can’t ignore the current climate. Tell stories that address these situations and be respectful of the people/community you work with.

Finally, COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. Please be smart – wear a mask, practice social distancing, and avoid crowds. Stay safe and be well!

 

The 5 C”s of Good Communication

112660480_e48d18a191_wOne of the first posts I wrote when I started this blog was the 4 C’s of Good Content (clear, concise, conversational, and compelling). I decided to revisit that post and add a 5th C (connection). I gave it a new title, too.

Keep these 5 C’s in mind when you’re writing a fundraising appeal, thank you letter, update, or any type of donor communication.  

Is it Clear?

What is your intention? What message are you sending to your donors? Are you asking for a donation, thanking them, or sharing an update? 

Whatever it is, make sure your message is clear. If you have a call to action, that needs to be clear as well. You want your message to produce results. Plain and simple, your fundraising appeal should entice someone to donate. Your thank you letter should thank your donors (no bragging or explaining what your organization does) and make them feel good about donating.

Use language your donors will understand (no jargon). Keep out terms like food insecurity and underserved communities. Just because something is clear to you, doesn’t mean it will be clear to others. 

Is it Concise?

Can you say more with less?  Eliminate any unnecessary adverbs, adjectives, and filler. Get to the point right away. Concise writing doesn’t mean you need to be terse or all your print communication has to be one page. Sometimes it will need to be longer, but the same rules apply. 

Keep in mind that many donors won’t read something if it looks like it will be too long. That’s especially true now when we’re dealing with more information than we can take in.

Also, most people skim, so use short paragraphs and lots of white space, especially for electronic communication.

Make all your words count.

Is it Conversational?

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend and be personable. Use the second person – where you refer to your donors as you and your organization as we. Remember to use you much more than we. 

Avoid using jargon, cliches, multi-syllable words, and the dreaded passive voice. Is that the way you talk to your friends?

You may think you’re impressing your donors by using jargon and big words, but most likely you’re confusing them or even worse, alienating them. 

HOW TO MAKE YOUR NONPROFIT WRITING MORE CONVERSATIONAL

Is it Compelling?

Is whatever you’re writing going to capture someone’s attention right away and keep them interested? Start with a good opening sentence. Leading with a question is often good. Stories are also great. 

Put a human face on your stories and keep statistics to a minimum. Start a fundraising appeal with a story that leads to a call to action.

9 Powerful Examples of Nonprofit Storytelling

Are you establishing a connection?

Donors are drawn to your organization because they feel a connection to your cause. You also need to establish a connection with them. You can start by segmenting your donors by different types, such as new donors, current donors, and monthly donors. 

The Importance of Segmenting Your Donors

Get to know your donors better and give them content you know they’ll be interested in. Hint – it’s not bragging about your organization. They want to know how they’re helping you make a difference for the people/community you serve. They also want to feel appreciated.

Keep these 5 C’s in mind to help ensure good communication with your donors.

The Value of Keeping Things Simple

8942956212_3c06d69a16_mOver the years I’ve come to find the value of keeping things simple. In a way, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced us to keep things simple since we’re limited in what we can do, especially outside the house. Instead of running back and forth from place to place, we’re staying put, although we’re spending more time online.

I realize the pandemic has also complicated our lives and brought with it a lot of stress and uncertainty. But during this time, we can find pleasure in simple things such as taking a walk, reading a novel, or baking bread (which is not keeping it simple for me since I don’t bake anything that involves yeast or rolling dough). 

Keeping it simple doesn’t have to mean a bare-bones existence. There’s a Swedish term called lagom meaning everything in moderation or not too much, not too little. Right now, this can apply to how much we read about COVID-19 – enough to know what’s going on, but not too much so it’s overwhelming. 

Keeping things simple is also important for your nonprofit organization. You’re going through a lot. You’ve had to make changes in the way you do your work. That may be providing limited contact or remote services or not be being open at all. Some of you may still be working from home, which can make your work more complicated. 

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

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

Keep it simple by planning ahead

If communicating regularly with your donors sounds too overwhelming, plan ahead by using a communications calendar. You should be in touch every one to two weeks right now. Fill your calendar with different ways to do that. Think ask, thank, update/engage, repeat. And as I mention below, shorter communication is the way to go.

Keep it simple by sticking to one call to action

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

Stick to one call to action. If you pack too much information into your message, it’s likely your donors won’t respond to any of your requests.

In your fundraising appeals, don’t bury your ask. Make it relevant to the current situation. You can 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 email or 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.

5 Nonprofit Email Call-to-Actions That Inspire Action

Keep it simple with shorter, easy to read messages

If your communication is too long, most people won’t read it. This is crucial now. People are getting so much information it’s hard to take it all in.

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

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

Keep it simple by using conversational language

I find it annoying to read an appeal letter or newsletter article that sounds like a Ph.D. thesis. Write at a sixth to eighth-grade level. That’s what most major newspapers do. This is not dumbing down. You’re being smart by ensuring your donors will understand you.

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

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

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

How Jargon Destroys Nonprofit Fundraising & Marketing

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

Photo by One Way Stock