Seeing the World Through Your Donors’ Eyes

16694129500_90ff25d71d_mIn my last post, I wrote about the importance of staying donor-centered. Now let’s take it a step further. Try to think like your donors. Visualize one donor or a type of donor and imagine how they will respond to your communication.

Get to know your donors better

You may have a hard time with this if you don’t know your donors very well. One way to get to know them better is to send short surveys. The key here is short. Ask a few questions at a time.

3 Examples of Nonprofit Donor Surveys

The 5 ½ Principles of Effective Donor Surveys

GET TO KNOW YOUR DONORS: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO NONPROFIT SURVEYING

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.

How to Develop Donor Personas for Your Nonprofit

GUIDE: Using Donor Personas to Maximize Your Nonprofit Fundraising

I think some of the most important things to know about your donors are why they give to your organization, what aspects of your work are important to them, and how they like to communicate (by mail, email, social media, or a combination of those).

Let’s look at these more closely.

Why do your donors give to your organization?

Donors are human beings, not just money machines. There’s a reason they’ve chosen to give to your organization. If you can find out what drew them to your nonprofit, it will help you with your donor communication.

Most likely they feel a connection to your cause. For example, I support the American Cancer Society because way too many people I know have been affected by cancer.

The best time to find out this information is right after someone donates, especially for first-time donors. This will be easier to collect online and you could include this question on your donation form.

Of course, not everyone donates online. You could also include a short survey and a reply envelope or a link to an online survey with your thank you letter or welcome packet for new donors. (You do send those, right?)

What aspects of your work are important to your donors?

You may have already found out this information from the question above, but most likely you’re working on several initiatives. If your organization is working to prevent homelessness, you may discover your donors are most interested in finding affordable housing for homeless families. Then you can share stories and updates about that initiative.

What communication channels do your donors prefer?

It’s probably more than one, but listen carefully. Don’t spend a lot of time on channels your donors aren’t using much.

Email will probably be your biggest communication tool. You won’t use direct mail as much because of the cost, but you do need to use it at least a few times a year, especially if you find out some donors don’t use electronic communication.

You could also try to get feedback about the frequency of your communication. Shorter, more frequent messages, especially for email and social media, should be more effective. This doesn’t mean blasting your donors with a bunch of generic messages.

The advantage of email and direct mail is you have complete control of them, unlike social media. Speaking of social media, almost every day you hear about some issue with Facebook. I’ve stopped using it and only use Twitter sporadically, but that’s just me. Other people can’t get enough of social media.

This is a good opportunity to monitor your email and social media to see if people are responding to your messages. Look at the open rates, click-throughs, and likes. (I know likes don’t mean that much, but they do reflect some sort of engagement.) Monitor this frequently and focus your efforts on channels your donors are using.

Use your database

As you gather vital information about your donors, put that in your database. 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.

Putting your work into action

You’ve spent time getting to know your donors better. Now you want to make sure they respond to your messages. This can be hard, especially when donors are bombarded with messages from many sources.

Keep them in mind. What will entice them to look at your email or letter and take action, if necessary. The email subject line Find out how you helped Claudia and her family move into a home of their own is profoundly better than April e-newsletter.

Now that your donor has opened your e-newsletter, is the first thing she sees a story about Claudia? You know from surveying your donors they like to read about the people they’re helping.

Every step of the way you need to see the world through your donors’ eyes – why they give to your organization, what they would like to hear from you, and which channels are best for connecting with them. Do this for every fundraising letter, thank you letter, newsletter, or any other type of communication.

Take time to get to know your donors, so you’ll have a better chance of keeping them for a long time.

 

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How You Can Stay Donor-Centered

379714893_a11931e4a0_mMany nonprofits don’t seem to understand what it means to be donor-centered. I think it’s fairly obvious. 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.

I guess it’s not obvious enough because you see countless examples of generic, organization-centered communication that barely acknowledges the donor.

Your communication suffers if it’s not donor-centered, but you can change that. 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. Send separate appeal letters to monthly donors.
  • 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 Thanks to you! or You’re incredible 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 family can get a box of groceries at the Northside 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?  Did he upgrade to monthly giving? 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? Think about nixing the letter from your CEO unless you can guarantee it’s donor-centered.
  • 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? Lead with a story because donors love to read about the people they’re helping.
  • 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 plunge.

Read on for more information about staying donor-centered.

Lots of donor-centric sentences for you to steal

Creating a Donor-Centered Appeal Letter: A Makeover!

Donor-Centered Storytelling Boosts Fundraising. Period.

The Importance of Keeping Things Simple

Keep it -simpleOver the years I’ve come to find the value of keeping things simple. Whether it’s preparing a dish with just a few ingredients or not cramming my schedule with one thing after another.

But keeping it simple doesn’t have to mean a bare bones existence. There’s a Swedish term called lagom (there are also several books about it) meaning everything in moderation or not too much, not too little. It’s definitely a concept I agree with and it’s much needed in our society of too much, too much.

Keeping things simple is also important for your nonprofit communication. Donors are busy and are receiving an abundance of messages from a variety of sources.

You don’t want to get bogged down with a bunch of complex content. Here are a few ways to simplify your communication.

Keep it simple by sticking to one call to action

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

Stick to one call to action. If you ask for a donation, try to recruit volunteers, and invite someone to an event all in the same message, it’s likely your donors 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.

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

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

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

Keep it simple by using conversational language

There’s nothing worse than reading 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. 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.

You May Love Your Jargon, But Your Donor’s Don’t

Keep it simple by creating a clutter-free website

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

How to Get Your Website in Good Shape

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

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

It’s not always easy to keep things simple, but your donors will appreciate it if you do. Read on for more about the importance of keeping things simple.

Is Your Fundraising Appeal Cluttered? That Won’t Do

Your Donor Communications Should Be Simple & Direct

The Complexity of Simplicity

Spring Cleaning Projects for Your Nonprofit

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Spring is officially here and depending on where you live, it may or may not feel like it. I recently returned from a trip to New Orleans where spring is in full force. Here in Boston, we have a little ways to go.

You hear a lot about spring cleaning right now. I know, groan. Those of us who don’t like to clean and organize put off these projects until piles of clutter start taking on a life of their own and your windows become so grimy you can’t even see out of them.

As much as I dislike cleaning and organizing, I’m happy once it gets done. Often getting started is the hardest part.

Your nonprofit organization should also do its own version of spring cleaning and decluttering. If you’re feeling reluctant about taking on these so-called cumbersome tasks, just think how happy you’ll be once you tackle them. You’ll also make some much-needed improvements to your infrastructure and donor communication.

Let’s get started!

Clean up your mailing lists and database

Did you have an influx of address changes, returned mail, and bounced emails after you sent your year-end appeal? This is a good time to clean up and update both your direct mail and email mailing lists.

Don’t wait until right before your next mailing to clean up your donor data. Even though it’s tedious, have someone who’s familiar with your donors (your development director?) go through your mailing lists and database to see if you need to make any additions, changes, and deletions.

Be meticulous. No donor wants to see her name misspelled, be addressed as Mrs. when she prefers Ms., or receive three mailings because you have duplicate records.

Your donor database is an important tool and it needs to be up-to-date and filled with accurate information about your donors.

Run your donor list through the National Change of Address database. It may cost some money to do this, but it’s worth it if you come out with squeaky clean data. Do this at least once a year.

Also, if you haven’t already done this, segment your donors into different groups – new donors, returning donors, monthly donors, etc. You may need to make some changes. For example, if a single gift donor starts giving monthly.

You might also want to move some lapsed donors who haven’t donated for several years into an inactive file. Don’t do this until you’ve sent targeted, personalized appeals asking them to donate again. And if you’ve never gotten in touch with the lapsed donors from your last fundraising campaign, why not do that now?

Five simple steps for winning back your lapsed donors

Do the same thing with your email list. It doesn’t make sense to send email to people who don’t respond to it. Give these people a chance to re-engage, and if they’re not even opening your emails, move them to an inactive file.

HOW WE CLEANED UP OUR EMAIL LIST AND RE-ENGAGED OUR SUBSCRIBERS

Maybe you need a better database. If you’re using a spreadsheet to store your donor records, then you need an actual database. Get the best one you can afford.

Fundraising Software Advice

Spring is about bringing in the new and a better database would be a wise investment. If you plan to get a different database, make sure you can easily transfer all your records. The Agitator blog recently covered this. Here’s a link to the third post in a series, which contains links to the first two. Definitely worth reading if you’re planning to get a new database/CRM.

Steps to Avoid Calling Bullshit

Freshen up your messages

Now that you’ve cleaned up your mailing lists and segmented your donors, it’s time to freshen up your messages. Take a good look at your appeal letters, thank you letters, and other content. Have you been using the same old, stale templates for years?  Are you bragging too much about your organization and using jargon? Do your thank you letters begin with the dreaded “On Behalf of X organization….”

Spruce up your messages with some donor-centered content. Create separate templates for new donors, current donors, and monthly donors.

From what I’ve seen, many organizations need to improve their donor communication, especially thank you letters. A thank you letter is something that’s supposed to make your donors feel appreciated and it often falls short. Don’t just freshen up your letters, work on your thank you email acknowledgments and landing pages, too, so they don’t look like boring receipts.

The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan

Don’t put it off too long

Your clutter and dust at home won’t disappear on their own. The longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. The same is true for your nonprofit.

Take on these spring cleaning projects as soon as you can. You’ll be happy once they’re done. Your donors will also be happy if they don’t get duplicate mailings or they receive a stellar thank you letter.

 

You May Love Your Jargon, But Your Donors Don’t

6530334269_0ba98aa219_m.jpgNonprofit organizations love their jargon, don’t they? But guess what? Your donors don’t love it as much as you do because it’s boring and they may not understand what you’re trying to say.

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. Instead, you see appeal letters, thank you letters, and newsletter articles laced with cringe-inducing terms such as food insecurity, at-risk youth, underserved communities, and impactful.

Are You Speaking The Same Language As Your Donors?

How to do better

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 your 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. Gina has to take two buses to see a doctor for her diabetes because there isn’t a good healthcare facility 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.

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

What would Aunt Shirley think?

I like to use this analogy. Imagine you’re at a family gathering and you’re explaining what your organization does to your 75-year old Aunt Shirley. 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 you’ve been able to help homeless families move into their own homes?

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. Read on for more examples of scream-inducing jargon. Do you have any to add?

4 Reasons to Stop Using Nonprofit Jargon

Nonprofit Jargon: Do Your Supporters Understand Your Fundraising?

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

 

How You Can Create a Better Nonprofit Newsletter

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A newsletter can be a great way to engage with your donors, but the key word here is can. 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.

It’s possible to create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here are a few ways to create a better nonprofit newsletter.

Think about what your donors want

You need 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 Turner family moving into a home of their own after shuttling between motels and shelters? The answer should be obvious.

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

A print newsletter can be a good investment

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

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

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

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

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

Share 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 (more on that below).

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

Don’t veer away from your mission

A common article I see in many nonprofit newsletters is one about a foundation or major donor giving a large gift. This may be accompanied by a picture of someone holding a giant check. Of course, you should recognize these donors (and all donors), but why is this gift important? How will it help the people you serve. For example – This generous $50,000 grant from the Helping Hands Foundation will allow us to buy much-needed new computers for our afterschool program.

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

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped the Turner 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.

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

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

Show some #donorlove

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.

Keep it short

Your print newsletter should be no more than four pages. Limit your monthly e-newsletter to four articles. Some organizations send an e-newsletter twice a month. Those should be even shorter – two or three articles.

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

Send it to the right audience

Fundraising expert 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.

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

Create a better newsletter that your donors will want to read.

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

How to show your donors they matter

HOW TO MAKE NONPROFIT NEWSLETTERS THAT ENGAGE AND ENCOURAGE

7 Nonprofit E-Newsletter Best Practices

3 Pitfalls of Nonprofit Newsletters and How to Avoid Them

Image by Petr Sejba www.moneytoplist.com

It Takes More Than Luck to Keep Your Donors

422810636_b02ba5dfed_m.jpgDonor retention rates continue to be poor, especially for first-time donors. Donors don’t keep magically donating to your organization and you can’t hope you’ll get lucky and they’ll donate again. You need more than luck to keep your donors.

Pay attention to your donor retention

Many organizations spend all this time and energy on acquiring donors, concentrating more on volume and don’t seem to be concerned that they’re churning through different donors year after year.

If you don’t know your retention rate, figure that out now. A Guide to Donor Retention  If you ’re losing donors, it’s most likely because you’re either not communicating enough or communicating poorly. Fortunately, this is something you can fix, but it will take more than leprechauns granting wishes. If you want to keep reaching that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, you’ll need to work at it.

When figuring out your retention rate, you’ll find you have some lapsed donors. Take some time to reach out and let them know you miss them and want them back.

You need good donor relations

Donor relations should be easier than raising money, and it can be fun, too. Make it a priority, as well as something you do throughout the year.

The biggest hurdle is getting your first-time donors to donate again, so do something special for your new donors like sending them a welcome packet.

That said, don’t take your longer-term donors for granted. Send them a welcome back letter. I’ve donated to several organizations for a number of years, and it bothers me when they don’t acknowledge that.

Donor loyalty is also important

Your goal should be to have high-quality donors who will support you for a long time. Who has supported you for three, five, or even ten years? Go the extra mile for these loyal donors. This takes more work, but it will pay off in the long run. You don’t want to lose these valuable donors.

Keep building relationships

You may be between fundraising campaigns or events. It’s easy to get complacent right now, but don’t do that. You need to work on building relationships. Let your donors know how much you appreciate them and keep doing that again and again.

It takes more than luck to keep your donors. You need to show appreciation and stay in touch throughout the year. You could reach out now by using a St. Patrick’s Day or spring theme, or get inspired by one of the ideas in the links below.

12 Ways to Inspire and Delight Your Donors…With Examples!

The K.I.S.S. Method For Donor Retention Is Best For Most Nonprofits

Get Ready to Show Some #DonorLove