Are You Ready for Your Year-End Appeal?

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You may think fall is a long way off. We just celebrated Independence Day in the U.S. and temperatures are creeping into the 90’s.

Don’t let that deceive you. September will be here before you know it. Fall is a busy time, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal.

Many nonprofits rely on their year-end appeal for a good portion of their revenue. Get a jump start on your appeal and start planning it now. Use this checklist to help you get started. Of course, you can use this for fundraising campaigns at any time of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal in your 2016 fundraising plan (at least I hope you did) and perhaps you need to revise that goal. If you haven’t set a goal, determine how much money you need to raise before you start your campaign.

Do you have a plan?

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

When do you want to send your appeal? At the beginning of November?  Figure out what you need to get done and how long it will take. You may need to recruit extra volunteers or get your materials to a mail house.

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

Find a good story for your year-end appeal. You’ll want some engaging photos for your letter and donation page, too. Quotes from clients will also enhance your appeal.

Dazzle Your Donors With a Great Story

Capture Your Donors’ Attention in an Instant by Using Visual Stories

How did your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should highlight some of the year’s accomplishments and state what you plan to do next year. For example, let’s say you run a tutoring program. Let your donors know how with their help 80% of the students in your program are now reading at or above their grade level. Next year you’d like to expand to four more schools.

Focus on the people you serve and show how your donors are helping you make a difference.

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, segment your lists – current donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc.

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until the end of 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.

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 last year’s 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.

Elements of Donation Page Design

19 Ways to Raise More Money From Donation Pages

While you are at it, check your website for out-of-date information and broken links.

Is Your Website in Good Shape?

How does a donation help the people you serve?

Create a set of giving levels and let your donors know how their gift will help.

Using Giving Levels to Drive Donations

Do you have an incentive to entice donors to give a larger gift?

Instead of premiums, see if you can find a major donor who will match any upgrades. I know of an organization that used this as an incentive to get new donors.

Boost Your Fundraising Results With a Match From a Major Donor

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

Monthly or recurring giving is another way to get a larger gift. Some people might balk at donating $100 or more, but if you present it as $10 a month ($120 a year!), it sounds more feasible.

How will you thank your donors?

Don’t skimp on this. Spend as much time on your thank you letter/note as you do on your appeal letter. You need to thank your donors, and thank them well, as soon as you receive their gifts.

Handwritten notes and phone calls are much better than a pre-printed 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.

Give Your Donors a Great Thank You Experience

Are you showing the love?

Even though you’ll be busy with your appeal, you want to ramp up your donor communication.  Keep engaging your donors and other supporters (who may become donors) by sharing success stories and gratitude. Pour on the appreciation and create a thank you video or hold an informal open house.

How are you getting ready for your year-end appeal?

Photo by James Stoneking

What’s Your Story? Ways to Make Your Fundraising Pitch Memorable

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Guest post by Jeremy S.

Over the last couple of weeks, the theme of this blog has been telling your stories. We’ve looked at both written and visual stories. This guest post by Jeremy S. of Goodwill Car Donations shows us how to tell verbal stories – either in person or on video. These tips can also be useful when writing a story.

Whatever method you use, keep telling your stories!

What’s your organization’s story? A great story can captivate and motivate your organization’s supporters as it attracts new donors, shows long-time donors that you appreciate them, and creates lasting relationships. Learn the art of storytelling as you make your fundraising pitch memorable and engaging.

Tell a Story About a Real Person

Your donors want to hear about the clients you serve, dogs you rescue, or students you tutor. Instead of telling generic stories, share a story, or case study, about a real person and how your organization helped change his or her life.

Let Real People Tell Their Story

When possible, let your clients or customers share their stories. It creates a personal touch that connects with donors.

Share Something Relatable

Every story you tell should include at least one moment where your donors can relate to something you share.

Keep It Short

The average attention span is only eight seconds. Keep your story as short as possible while still getting your point across.

Use Emotions

It’s OK to be transparent when sharing your story. Whether you’re happy, angry, sad, proud, or excited, let your true self shine through.

Keep It Current

As your organization changes, your story will change. You’ll stay relevant and relatable when you make sure your story is current.

Structure the Pitch

All good stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Yours should have structure, too.

  • Start with a strong opener that captures your audience’s attention from the beginning. A joke, statistic, or anecdote does the trick.
  • Proceed to the meat of the story that answers questions like who your organization serves, what you do, and how you do it.
  • End with a call to action. Ask your listeners to invest in your organization as they support your cause with their money, time, and resources.

Focus On Your Brand

All the details of your story should relate to your brand. Make sure your listeners have a clear understanding of your brand’s message.

Practice

Whether sharing your story live or recording it, practice, practice, practice. You want to know the material and be confident while sharing it.

Pay Attention to Your Appearance

You might share the most heartwarming story ever, but no one will listen if your appearance is sloppy, dirty, or otherwise distracting. Check your physical appearance in the mirror before going on stage or on camera, and be sure to look presentable.

Talk About the Money

You don’t have to beg, but you do need to talk about the money. Share why you need it, how much you hope to raise, what you’ll do with it, and any project deadlines — including negative effects of not reaching your goals.

A great story allows your organization to connect with your supporters. Use these tips as you personalize, maximize, and monetize the stories you tell.

Author Bio:

Jeremy S. is Vice President of Operations and Vehicle Dispatching at Goodwill Car Donations. Jeremy has handled tens of thousands of donated vehicles in the past five years he’s worked for Goodwill Car Donations. 

Sources

http://web.eecs.utk.edu/~bvz/presentation.html

http://www.statisticbrain.com/attention-span-statistics/

Photo by Tim Hettler

Capture Your Donors’ Attention in an Instant by Using Visual Stories

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Stories come in many forms and people process information in different ways. Some people respond better to visual stimuli. In our information packed world, a visual story can be a great way to connect.

Tell a story in an instant with a photo

Your donors are busy and may not have time read a story, but you can capture their attention in an instant with a great photo. That doesn’t mean a photo of your executive director receiving an award. Use photos of your programs in action.

Print newsletters and annual reports tend to be too long and text-centric. Most of your donors won’t have time read them. But if you present your donors with some engaging photos, they can get a quick glance of the impact of their gift without having to slog through a bunch of long-winded text.

You may want to try a Postcard Annual Report instead of the usual boring booklet.

If you use social media, you need to communicate several times a week. As your donors scroll through endless amounts of posts on Facebook and Twitter, an engaging photo can pop out and get noticed.

Use photos everywhere – appeal letters, thank you letters/cards, newsletters, annual reports, your website, and social media. Create a photo bank to help you with this. It’s fine to use the same photos in different channels. It can help with your brand identity. Be sure to use high-quality pictures. Hire a professional photographer or find one to work pro bono.

Work with your program staff to get photos. Confidentiality issues may come up and you’ll need to get permission to take pictures of kids. It’s okay to use stock photos. Just be sure to give proper credit.

5 Killer Photography Tips for Nonprofit Brands

Compelling Images for Nonprofits: When Babies and Puppies Aren’t in Your Mission

Highlight your work with a video

Create a video to show your programs in action, share an interview, give a behind the scenes look at your organization, or my favorite – thanking your donors. Make your videos short and high quality.  If you’re interviewing someone, be sure that person is good on camera.

You can use videos on your website, in an email message, on social media, and at an event.

How to Make a Fantastic Nonprofit Video

10 Mistakes Nonprofits Make with Video

Bring statistics to life with infographics

An annual report with a bunch of statistics is boring, and you know very few donors are going to read a lot of text. But you may have some compelling statistics or want to highlight accomplishments in your annual report.

Why not share these in an infographic instead of the usual laundry list of statistics and accomplishments?  Here are some examples. A Great Nonprofit Annual Report in a Fabulous Infographic

Brochures are becoming a relic of the past, but what if you want an informational print piece to give to potential donors or volunteers?  An oversized infographic postcard could be the way to go.

How to Create an Effective Nonprofit Infographic

4 Steps to Making an Infographic for Your Nonprofit

10 free tools for creating infographics

Keep your donors engaged with all types of stories.

Photo by Rob Briscoe

Dazzle Your Donors With a Great Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

Create a culture of storytelling

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

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

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

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

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

You can also share profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Many organizations profile new board members in their newsletters. That’s fine, but instead of emphasizing their professional background, concentrate on what drew them to your organization. Perhaps she has a brother who’s struggling with Parkinson’s or he’s passionate about the environment.

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

Give your stories the personal touch

Use people’s names to make your stories more personal. I realize you might run into confidentiality issues, but you can change names to protect someone’s privacy. You could also do a composite story, but don’t make up anything. How to Tell Nonprofit Stories While Respecting Client Confidentiality

Your stories aren’t about your organization

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

Dazzle your donors with a great story. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories.

Resources to help you tell your stories.

The Storytelling Nonprofit

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

You Have 6 Nonprofit Story Types to Tell

Photo by David Bleasdale

 

Stand Out from the Crowd with an Amazing Email Message

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Communicating by email is a mixed blessing. It’s fast, easy, relatively inexpensive, and almost everyone has an email address. You can quickly get a message out to a lot of people. But here’s the problem. People get hundreds of emails a day and don’t have much time to weed through them.

How can you stand out and make sure people read your email message?

Pay attention to your subject line

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

Give some thought to it. Instead of Donate to our Annual Appeal or May 2016 Newsletter, try Find out how you can help Sarah find her own home or Thanks to you, Jenna aced her math test.

Better Open Rates: How to Write Killer Email Subject Lines

Stick to one call to action

Don’t ask someone to donate, volunteer, and contact their legislators in the same message. Your call to action will get lost if there’s too much information.

Short and sweet

Remember that your email is one of hundreds your donor will receive that day. Make it short and get to the point right away.

Make it easy to read and scan

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

Be personal and conversational, but also professional

It may not seem like it, but email is one-to-one communication. Don’t address your message to Dear Friend. Use someone’s name.

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend, but keep it professional. You’re not a 15-year old texting to her friend. Basic grammar rules apply here.

Send your email to the right audience

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

Be a welcome visitor

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

Make sure people know your message is coming from your organization. In the from field, put DoGood Nonprofit or Lisa Jones, DoGood Nonprofit. If you just put a person’s name or info@dogoodnonprofit.org, people may not know who it’s from and ignore it.

No spam, spam, spam

Only send email to people who have opted into your list. Otherwise, you’re spamming them. Not all your donors will sign up for your e-newsletter, but that’s okay. The ones who do are interested in receiving it. Give people the option to unsubscribe,too.

Once is not enough

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

Be mobile friendly

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

Your email message can stand out if you give some thought to it and do it well. Here’s more information about communicating by email

Email Subject Line Research, Examples and Tips to Increase Your Open Rates

Get More People to Open Your Nonprofit’s Email Newsletter

11 email mistakes you really shouldn’t make

Photo by Clint Lalonde

 

Beware of Bright Shiny Objects

3214060741_db8c069c72_mIt can be tempting to jump on the latest craze and try something new. But that bright shiny object may not be the answer you’re looking for.

In fact, you can be more successful in your fundraising and communications if you use methods that have been around for awhile. Here’s how.

Give your donors the personal touch

We have lots of different ways to communicate with donors, many of them electronic. Electronic communication is great because you can get a message out to many people in an instant.

But technology isn’t always our friend. Often these electronic messages don’t sound like they’re coming from a human.

Hardly anyone writes personal letters anymore but imagine your donors’ surprise when they receive a personal, handwritten thank you note from you. Delight Donors and Volunteers With Hand-Written Thank You Notes

Another more personal way to communicate is to give your donors a call to say thank you. Thank You Calls as a Donor Retention Tool: 6 Steps to Success

In this age of automation, we need to be more personal.  

Make retention and relationship building part of your fundraising plan

Most nonprofit organizations rely on fundraising for the bulk of their revenue. It’s not easy to raise money, especially if you spend more time focusing on finding new donors than keeping the ones you already have.

You might think you can take a break after a big fundraising campaign, but your work has just begun. Thank your donors right away and continue to stay in touch throughout the year with donor-centered newsletters and other updates.

If you keep churning through donors and have a high attrition rate, you need to do a better job of building relationships. It’s not hard, but you have to work at it. This link includes a quick way for you to figure out your donor retention rate A Guide to Donor Retention, and here are a few ways to build relationships with your donors throughout the year. How Are You Building Relationships?

Your new donors are closer than you think

Of course, you’ll need new donors. You’ll have more success if you reach out to people who already know you. Potential donors are your newsletter subscribers, social media followers, event attendees, friends of board members, and volunteers.

You can cultivate these supporters by communicating regularly and showing how you are making a difference for the people you serve. If you do it well, you should have a good chance of getting them to donate.

Unfortunately, not everyone is interested in your organization. That’s why buying lists is not the best way to fundraise. Find people who will be drawn to your cause.

It’s also not enough to find people with money(forget about trying to woo Bill Gates). If you want more major donors, work with your board and other donors. Connections always help.

Again, it comes down to good old-fashioned relationship building, something most organizations need to improve.

So, beware of bright shiny objects and focus on more personal communication and building relationships.

Time For Some Spring Cleaning

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If the idea of doing any type of cleaning makes you want to scream, just think of how much better you feel when it’s done. Your house sparkles and it can be cathartic to get rid of old clothes and shred paperwork you’ve had since the Clinton Administration. Often getting started is the hardest part.

The same is true for your nonprofit organization.Yes, you have a bunch of so-called cumbersome tasks you should do. But they’re important, and you’ll benefit a lot if you take care of them.

Here are a few spring cleaning projects you should tackle.

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? Now 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.

How are you doing?

We’re three months into 2016. This is a good time to look at your fundraising and marketing plans to figure out what’s working, what isn’t, and if you’re on target with your goals. If you never created these plans, then one of your first priorities is to do that. Don’t go through the year without having any plans in place.

It may be too early to do much of an assessment, but if something clearly isn’t working or needs to be improved, you still have time to fix it.

Is your website driving people crazy?

Has it been awhile since you updated your website?  Is it cumbersome to use? Even with the popularity of social media, people will go to your website for information, whether they’re first-time visitors or long-time supporters.

Your website must be up-to-date and user-friendly. Use the checklist in this post to help you create an awesome website. Is Your Website in Good Shape?

Freshen up your appeal letters and thank you letters

Take a good look at your appeal letters, thank you letters, and other content. Have you been using the same templates for years?  Are your letters all about how great your organization is and filled with jargon? Freshen them up with some donor-centered content. Is Your Organization Donor-Centered? Find Out by Taking This Quiz

Let it go

Your organization may have held an event for years, but it takes a lot of staff time and doesn’t bring in that much money. Just like your favorite sweater that’s looking pretty ratty now, it may be time to let go of this event and find a different way to raise money. How to Calculate A Fundraising Event’s Opportunity Cost

Think better rather than new

It’s tempting to try something new, but don’t just jump into the latest craze. Focus on what you can do better. Your brand new shiny object can be creating donor-centered content and building relationships.

One “new” thing you should be doing better is to be mobile friendly. Do you know anyone who doesn’t have a smartphone?  If people can’t easily view your website and email messages on their mobile devices, you’re missing out.

Take time this spring to make the updates and changes you need.

Give Your Donors a Great Thank You Experience

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Thanking donors shouldn’t be a process –  it should be an experience. An experience that will last as long as someone donates to your organization, which hopefully will be for a long time.

If you treat thanking your donors as something  you have to do instead of something you want to do, it will show.

Make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Thanking your online donors is a three-part experience (not process). Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it often resembles the Amazon check-out page.

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

21 Ideas For Your Nonprofit’s Donation Confirmation Page

Write like a human

Next, make sure your donors receive an automatic thank you email after they donate online. This lets them know you received their gift and it didn’t get lost in cyberspace.

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.

What’s in my Inbox | Don’t you forget about me: the thank you email

How to Thank a Donor Through Email

Every donor gets thanked by mail or phone

I’m a firm believer that even if someone donates online, he should receive a thank you card, letter, or phone call within 48 hours. I made most of my donations online last year, and while I received automatically generated thank you emails, only a handful of the organizations mailed me a letter. None of them called or sent a handwritten card.

Make your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you card or phone call. You don’t have to do this alone. Recruit board members, other staff, and volunteers to write cards or make phone calls.

If that’s not possible,write an awesome letter and include a personalized handwritten note. I understand larger organizations may not be able to send all their donors a handwritten card, but they should have the resources to create a great letter.

Make your thank you message stand out

Most thank you letters fail to inspire. Create something that stands out. Be personal and conversational without using any vague jargon. Recognize past gifts or upgrades, and give a specific example of how the donation will make a difference. Something like this.

Dear Steven,

You’re amazing! Thanks to your generous donation of $75,we can provide a family with a week’s worth of groceries.

Thank you so much for being a longtime donor!

Here are some more examples, along with advice to help you create a thank you message that stands out.

Steal This Thank You Letter! A Sample Donor Thank You Letter for Your Non-Profit

Advice and Tips – Thank You Letters for Nonprofits …

16+ ways to say thank you better

Welcome your new donors with open arms

You want your new donors to keep supporting you for a long time, but that’s not happening. According to the 2016 Fundraising Effectiveness Report, the average retention rate for first-time donors is 29%.

A week or so after you thank your new donor, send her a welcome package.

Roll Out the Red Carpet for Your New Donors

Keep thanking your donors throughout the year

The thank you card/letter you send after you receive a donation is not the end, it’s the beginning.  

Donor retention rates are pretty pathetic for all donors. One reason is that organizations do a poor job of thanking their donors.

This is why you need to find ways to thank your donors throughout the year. Thank them at least once a month. A thank you plan can help you with that.

Create a memorable thank you experience for your donors.

 

A Gift For Your Donors

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A few weeks ago Kivi Leroux Miller gave a webinar for Bloomerang  – 5 Steps To A Great Nonprofit Email Newsletter  I encourage you to watch the video. It’s filled with pearls of wisdom and well worth an hour of your time.

One piece of advice that stood out for me was to think of your newsletter as a gift for your donors. They should look forward to receiving it.

That’s not usually the case, is it? Email and even direct mail can be an intrusion in our busy lives. Most nonprofit newsletters and other communication are boring, generic, and don’t seem like a gift at all.

You can change that. Here’s how you can make your newsletter and other donor communication a gift for your donors.

What makes a good gift giver?

In the webinar, Kivi asks the participants to chime in about the good and bad gift givers in their lives. I invite you to do this exercise with your marketing and fundraising staff or by yourself. Think of who gives you great gifts and why you like them so much and who misses the mark and why?

A good gift giver knows what the recipient likes and gives her something personal that shows she cares.

A bad gift giver might give something generic and doesn’t put a lot of thought into it. She thinks more about what she would like.

You want to be a good gift giver when it comes to donor communication.

Give yourself enough time

Think about when you’re in a rush and need to get a birthday or holiday gift right away. You’re going to buy whatever you can find, as opposed to taking the time to think about what the person would want.

Plan ahead and think through what you want to send to your donors. A communications calendar will help you with that.

What do I do with this?

Have you ever received a gift and you don’t know what to do with it? This is how your donors feel when they receive your boring 20-page annual report. It’s way too long and filled with mind-numbing facts and statistics. Chances are it’s going straight in the recycling bin.

Instead, impress your donors with a four-page gratitude report that’s filled with thanks to the donor for helping you make a difference.

What do your donors want?

My family gives each other wish lists at Christmas time. Put a short poll in your e-newsletter asking readers which article they liked best. Ask them what issues are important to them. Find out which channels your donors prefer. It may be more than one  

Listen to your donors and give them what they want.

Create pretty a package that your donors will want to open

The look of your communication is just as important as what’s inside. Your messages should be easy to read and scan. Use short paragraphs and lots of white space. Capture your donor’s attention right away with a great photo.

Your email subject line needs to sing. Find out how you helped Jane learn to read is going to be much more inviting than April 2016 Newsletter. I often scan through my email and only open things that look enticing.

Even though people don’t get as much direct mail, make yours stand out. Put your quarterly newsletter in an envelope and hand address your thank you notes if you can.

Attraction not interruption

Do you think you can create communication your donors will look forward to receiving? The key is to attract them by giving them what they want.

Photo by Liz West

 

Are You a Robot or a Human?

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I’m a big fan of the Haggler,The New York Times columnist who steps in to help “aggrieved consumers” with his own mix of humor and snark.

In a recent column Running the Car Rental Agreement Gantlet, he tried to help a man resolve a dispute with a rental car company. When the Haggler contacted the company, a representative responded with a robotic response reciting a bunch of rules that weren’t relevant in this case. The Haggler said “he would have opened this email with “sorry” and news of the refund. Because the way the statement reads now, it seems as if the company is far more interested in reciting the rules of the car rental heptathlon than in making amends.”

I immediately thought of some of the nonprofit communication I’ve seen – generic, robotic messages with no indication that an actual human being wrote it, or there’s a human on the other side who will read it.

Here are a few examples that sound like they were written by robots.

X organization shines a spotlight on community needs, inspires philanthropy, and awards strategic grants to build a more vibrant, engaged, and equitable (community).

Our goals are ambitious ones and the charitable contributions we receive from supporters like you make our mission achievable.

X organization serves individuals who are are often the most disenfranchised. Your kindness will directly benefit people who are less fortunate.

Contrast those examples to these ones that contain a human touch.

Thanks to you, their children won’t have to wonder why Santa didn’t come.

We thank you for being part of our mission to spread the healing that Animal-Assisted Therapy can provide.

We are excited to continue to have your support and appreciate your help in protecting wildlife, wild places and communities around the world.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a lot of warm, personal communication. Here are some ways you can sound more like a human and less like a robot.

Different strokes for different folks

Don’t send the same appeal or thank you letter to all your donors. Who is this donor? Is she a new donor, a long-time supporter, event attendee, volunteer?

Welcome your new donors and acknowledge your loyal donors. Let your donors see that you know who they are.

Put yourself in your donor’s shoes

What does your donor want to hear from you? In the rental car example, that person wanted an apology and assurance he would get a refund.

When your donor reads your appeal letter, he wants to be thanked for his previous support if he’s donated before and know how his gift will make a difference. For your thank you letter, your donor wants to be welcomed or welcomed back and hear how his gift will make a difference.

Don’t recite your mission statement

Your donors should be somewhat familiar with your organization, so there’s no need to recite your mission statement, especially if it’s laced with jargon. Unless you’re writing to people who aren’t familiar with your work, you shouldn’t need to explain what you do.

Be specific

The robotic examples use vague, generic language. I know you may have different programs, but choose a specific example of your impact. I really like the example of the children not having to wonder why Santa didn’t come. It’s clear, specific, and something we can all relate to.

Show don’t tell

Stories can really boost your letters, newsletter articles, and website copy. Just think how much more compelling it would be if we read a story about “the disenfranchised” and “less fortunate.”

Who is your organization helping? Share a story about the people who visit your food pantry or the students in your afterschool program.

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend

Notice how all the human examples speak directly to the donor. Let your donors know you’re excited to have them be a part of your community.

No one wants to read your jargon. These are not words your donors use.

Give it the human touch

Avoid the temptation to go on autopilot with generic communication that makes you sound like a robot. Remember, you’re a human writing to other humans.