Top 6 Fundraising Myths: Busted!

Guest post by Adam Weinger

If you’ve ever watched the hit show, Mythbusters, you know how misconceptions generally get shattered.

If you haven’t seen the show, here’s a rundown of how it typically goes:

  • The Mythbusters decide on a particular misconception or myth.
  • They spend part of the show concocting brilliant and crazy experiments to prove or disprove the myth.
  • They either bust the myth or find it to be true.

You’ve likely heard some fundraising tips thrown around that didn’t sound quite right. We’re going to take a look at some of the biggest fundraising myths and try to bust them! While we won’t be doing any of the crazy experiments that The Mythbusters conduct, we will leave you with some great ideas for fundraising for your nonprofit. And to learn more about fundraising through different channels, check out this article.

Get ready to bust six of the biggest fundraising myths out there!

Myth #1: Only young people use mobile giving.

Yes, millennials and teenagers always seem to be on their phones, but mobile giving isn’t a young person’s game by any means.

Donors of all ages are looking to solutions like mobile responsive donation pages and text giving.

Why?

Simply because mobile giving is easy.

It’s convenient.

It can even be fun.

Many of your donors are on their smartphones or tablets during the day anyway. If you can reach them where they are and encourage them to donate on their mobile devices, you’ve already disproved the myth that only young people are mobile givers!

Myth #2: You should give donors a lot of options on your online donation form.

Imagine you’re at an ice cream store. If the owner has laid out forty or more flavors, you could spend an hour tasting each one before finally deciding.

But if he only has chocolate or vanilla, the decision is easier to make.

The point I’m making is that it’s easy to commit to a single option if there are fewer choices.

Part of making an online donation experience beneficial for both the donor and nonprofit is limiting the options on your online donation page.

Online giving should be painless; the more options you give donors on your online donation form, the more likely they will be to get distracted or overwhelmed during the donation process.

Of course, there are components that you must include on your donation form:

  • Donor’s personal information (name, billing address, etc.)
  • Credit card number
  • Different giving levels
  • Security certification

Beyond these four essentials, your online donation form should be as simple as possible to increase the chances that donors make it all the way through the process.

Myth #3: Corporate philanthropy doesn’t matter.

This famous quote from the 1987 film Wall Street sums up how many people view corporations and businesses:

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”

While it’s true that the aim of corporations is to sell enough products and services to make a profit, it doesn’t mean that they can’t also exercise philanthropy.

In fact, many companies have corporate giving programs that reward employees who donate to and volunteer with nonprofits:

  • Matching gift programs
  • Volunteer grants
  • Automatic payroll deductions
  • Dollars for doers programs
  • And more!

Your nonprofit can and should pursue corporate philanthropy programs as a way to supplement your other fundraising initiatives.

In addition to the corporate giving programs mentioned above, companies also give to nonprofits through:

  • Monetary donations
  • Product-based donations
  • Service-based volunteer time
  • Challenge grants

Don’t ignore corporate philanthropy as a viable fundraising strategy.

Myth #4: Small nonprofits don’t need a major gifts strategy.

Major gifts are often the largest donations that a nonprofit will receive. Outside of a massive planned gift left to an organization in a will or bequest, major gifts are the key donations that can skyrocket a nonprofit’s fundraising efforts.

The problem is small nonprofits often don’t have the same comprehensive major gifts strategy that larger organizations have developed over the years.

They think they can’t go after major gifts.

They don’t have the resources that large nonprofits have.

Their existing donor pool is relatively small.

These small organizations can still pursue major gifts.

Admittedly, what classifies as a major gift for the American Red Cross is going to be different from a major gift at a nonprofit that has only been around for two years.

But, a small nonprofit can still develop a strategy for major giving:

  1. Appoint a major gifts officer or create a major gifts team.
  2. Conduct a prospect screening of your existing donors to discover potential major gift prospects.
  3. Develop a strong asking strategy that all of your fundraisers can easily implement.
  4. Create a major gift society to acknowledge and steward your major gift donors.

Don’t trick yourself into thinking that your small nonprofit can’t go after major gifts!

Myth #5: Advocates and volunteers can’t become donors.

Think about the people who are most committed to your organization.

They’re not random people.

Your advocates and volunteers are the ones who are dedicated to helping your nonprofit achieve its mission.

It’s a misconception that these committed supporters can’t become donors. Granted, some of your volunteers and advocates are going to be perfectly content supporting your nonprofit with their time and energy.

But that doesn’t mean that some of them wouldn’t enjoy donating monetarily.

Give your advocates and volunteers the option to give to your organization in other ways!

Myth #6: All Donors like to be communicated with in the same way.

Just because your great aunt enjoys receiving monthly letters from you doesn’t mean that your 10-year-old nephew is going to want the same correspondence.

As simple as it may seem, not all of your donors are going to like the same communication methods.

Some check their emails several times a day.

Some enjoy walking to their mailbox and receiving a letter or postcard.

Some are tweeting, posting, and liking social media content.

You shouldn’t spread yourself too thin, but it’s crucial to remember that no two donors are alike. Don’t communicate with them in the exact same ways. You’ll only end up isolating donors who don’t like how you’re reaching out to them.

How can you tell how donors like to be contacted?

  • Well, there is no exact science, but there are some general guidelines: Start with their donation method. Did someone send in a check? Did another donor give online? What about your phonathon participants? It’s not always a surefire indicator, but the ways in which people give generally indicate their preferred communication methods. Send letters to your check-mailers. Email your online donors. Call your phone donors.
  • Ask them! When collecting donations or speaking to donors directly, ask them for their preferred communication method. It may be more than one. This is an easy way to find out how your donors want to be contacted.

Remember to talk to your donors in different ways. You increase the chances that they’ll respond favorably when you meet them where they already are.

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We’ve successfully busted some of the top six fundraising myths! Go out there and start raising money for your organization!

Adam Weinger is the President of Double the Donation, the leading provider of tools to nonprofits to help them raise more money from corporate matching gift and volunteer grant programs. Connect with Adam via email or on LinkedIn.   

Adam Weinger - Square Reduced File Size

 

We Can’t Afford This

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How often do you say that? I understand. Many nonprofits are stretched thin, But what are you saying you can’t afford to do? It may be something you should be doing.

Here are a couple of areas that you may be neglecting that I believe you can’t afford not to invest in.

You need a good database

If you’re using Excel instead of a database because it’s free, stop doing that. A spreadsheet is not a database. Your Worst Fundraising Enemy

A good database won’t be free, but there are affordable options for small organizations. Compare Non-Profit Software  You don’t want to limit yourself by choosing a database that can only hold a certain amount of records or can only be used on one computer because you don’t want to pay for additional licences.

A good database can help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by amount and politely ask them to give a little more in your next appeal – $35 or $50 instead of $25.

A good database can help you with retention, which will save you money since it costs less to keep donors than to acquire new ones. You can personalize your letters and email messages. No more Dear Friend. You can welcome new donors and thank donors for their previous support. You can send targeted mailings to lapsed donors to try to woo them back. You can record any personal information, such as conversations you had with a donor and their areas of interest.

Don’t cut corners when it comes to your donor data. You can’t afford to do that.

You need to use direct mail more often

If you never or rarely use direct mail, you’re missing out on an effective and more personal way to communicate with your donors. Think of the mammoth amount of email and social media posts you receive as opposed to postal mail. Your donors will be more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail.

If money is tight, you don’t have to mail that often. Quality trumps quantity but aim for at least four times a year.

Put some thought into what you send. Some ideas, besides appeal letters, include thank you cards; Thanksgiving, holiday, or Valentine’s Day cards (I received a very nice Valentine’s Day card from an organization); infographic postcards; and two to four-page newsletters and annual/progress reports. You could put a donation envelope in your newsletter to raise some additional revenue, but don’t put one in a thank you or holiday card  Shorter is better. Lengthy communication will cost more and your donors are less likely to read it.

A few ways you can use direct mail without breaking your budget are to clean up your mailing lists to avoid costly duplicate mailings, spread thank you mailings throughout the year – perhaps to a small number of donors each month, and look into special nonprofit mailing rates. You may also be able to get print materials done pro bono or do them in-house, as long as they look professional.

Of course, you can use email and social media, but your primary reason for communicating that way shouldn’t be because it’s cheaper. It should be because that’s what your donors use. If your donors prefer to communicate by mail, then you should too.

Make a smart investment

You often need to spend money to raise money. Perhaps you need to reallocate your budget to cover some of these expenses. You could also look into additional sources of unrestricted funding.

Don’t limit yourself by saying you can’t afford to do something important. Making smart investments should pay off in the long run.

Photo via Pictures of Money

 

But Why?

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If you’ve ever spent time with little kids you know one of their favorite words is why. You’ll answer a question, and she’ll respond with “but why?” again and again…… It may start to get annoying, but it’s good for people of all ages to be inquisitive and ask questions.

This applies to nonprofits, too. A lot of our communication isn’t focused on why something is important. The typical fundraising letter and newsletter article ramble on about accomplishments with no explanation of why something matters.

As you work on your messages, pretend your donor is a four-year-old who keeps asking “but why?” over and over again.

Why is what you do important?

Here’s something you might see in a newsletter or annual report.

We expanded our tutoring program to four more high schools.

Okay, but why is that important?

To serve more students.

That’s good, but why is that important?

After six months of weekly tutoring sessions, 85% of the students in our program have improved their math skills.

There you go.Tell your donors about the impact you’re making.

Why should someone donate to your organization?

Do your appeals focus on why it’s important to donate to your organization?  Instead of saying something generic like please donate to our annual appeal, tell a story emphasizing why someone should donate to your organization.

David, a 9th grader at Baker High School, always hated math and was barely passing his algebra class. “Algebra is stupid. I don’t get it,” he complained.Then David started weekly tutoring sessions with Matt, a volunteer tutor. It was a struggle at first, but thanks to Matt’s patience and guidance, David got a B on his last test.

Again, focus on why.

Why is your donor’s gift valuable?

When you thank your donors, do you tell them why their gift is valuable?  Give a specific example.

Thank you so much.Your generous gift of $50 will help cover the expenses of five one-to-one weekly tutoring sessions. After six months of these tutoring sessions, 85% of the students in our program have improved their math skills.

It’s all about the why.

Why do you appreciate your donors?

Finally, do your donors know why you appreciate them?

Thank you so much for doing your part in helping high school students boost their math skills. We couldn’t do this without you.

Start channeling your inner four-year-old and keep asking why.

Photo by Colin Kinner

Keep it Simple

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Fundraiser Maeve Strathy recently wrote this great post – Explaining a Capital Campaign to a 3-year-old  Maeve is riding a streetcar in Toronto when they go past a hospital that’s undergoing massive renovations. A little boy nearby asks his mom what’s going on and she replies “They’re fixing the hospital. They’re making it better… and bigger.”  Wow, that’s a nice, simple explanation.

I like to use the example of pretending you’re at Thanksgiving dinner and Aunt Shirley asks what your organization does. Imagine her looking confused when you spew out terms like food insecurity or culture-focused projects. Imagine your donors doing the same thing.

While you’re unlikely to have any three-year-old donors, you have a lot of Aunt Shirleys, who don’t have a medical or social services background and aren’t going to use terms like at-risk populations.

Use language your donors will understand

When I read the term culture-focused projects in a nonprofit newsletter, I thought they meant art projects. But they were referring to students creating a flag from their “country of origin.” Why not tell a story about Lisa and Carla’s experience working on this project and include some quotes from the girls?

Instead of writing a lot of long-winded text about food insecurity, tell a story about how the Johnson family has to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

Rather than using one of my new least favorite terms – unbanked, say some people don’t have bank accounts.

Your goal is to be donor-centered, right?  Well, you’re not doing that when you use language your donors won’t understand.

Skip the fancy words, too. It makes you sound pretentious. You’re trying to impress your donors, not your English teacher. You don’t want them to have to find out what a word means. Most likely they won’t take the time to do that, and they’ll miss out on what you’re trying to say.

Write at a sixth to eighth-grade level

This is not dumbing down. Using clear, everyday language your donors will understand is a smart thing to do.

I wouldn’t rely too much on Word Grammar check, but the Flesch-Kincaid readability statistics can be helpful. Test your document’s readability You can also access it online if you don’t use Word.

Besides determining a grade level and reading ease, it flags passive sentences, which weaken your writing. Instead of saying 5,000 meals were served at our community dinners, say we served 5,000 meals at our community dinners.

Less is more

In Maeve’s post, she mentions the tendency to get verbose in our messages when we should be doing the opposite. You need to make your messages as clear and simple as possible. Sometimes that’s harder, but your goal is to get your donor to read and understand your message.

There’s no need to overthink it or use jargon.  Just keep it simple.

Photo by One Way Stock

 

So Much To Do – So Little Time

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Do you find yourself saying this? That’s the norm at most nonprofits, especially small ones.

But be careful. What are you saying you don’t have time to do? Are you spending too much time on what’s urgent and not what’s important?

It’s possible to stay on top of things, even if you feel you’re so busy you want to tear your hair out. One big key is planning.  

Here are a few areas that nonprofits need to spend more time on and how you can do this.

Thanking your donors

I write a lot about thanking donors because I believe many organizations don’t do a great job of it.

Sending a handwritten note or making a phone call will make a better impression on your donors than the usual boring, generic thank you letter.

Find board members, other staff, and volunteers to help. Recruit them ahead of time so you’re ready to go after an appeal or event. It doesn’t take that much time to write a short note or make a phone call, but it makes a huge difference. Get your team together for a thank-a-thon.

You need to keep thanking your donors throughout the year – at least once a month. This is where a thank you plan comes in handy.

Staying in touch with your donors

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference, and you need to be in touch with them at least once or twice a month.

A newsletter can be a great way to stay in touch. Setting up a template and using an email service provider can save time and will provide consistency. Perhaps each issue will include a story/profile and some updates. You can plan these ahead of time. Create a story bank and fill it throughout the year.

Make a donor communications plan that could include your newsletter, email and social media updates, thank yous (see above), advocacy alerts, and surveys. A communications calendar is must for this.

Tackling your donor data

Don’t wait until a week before you send an appeal to update your database. Take care of address changes, bounced emails etc. regularly – maybe once a month.

You’re not going to win any friends if you misspell a donor’s name or send someone three pieces of mail because you haven’t bothered to check for duplicate addresses. What sloppy data means to donors

Measuring your progress

Make time at least once a quarter to see how you’re doing.  Are you meeting your fundraising goals?  Is your spring event worth doing?  Are people reading your e-newsletter?

If something isn’t going well, figure out how you can make improvements or don’t spend your valuable time doing it anymore.

Here’s a sample dashboard you can use to help you measure your progress and figure out if what you’re doing is working. Library of Sample Dashboard Indicators

What’s taking up your time?

What’s keeping you from taking on these important tasks? Do you really need another meeting?  If so, could you make it shorter?

Make time to do what’s important.

Photo by Brittney Bush Bollay

Show Some #DonorLove

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When was the last time you thanked your donors?  If it’s been at least a month then you need to show some donor love.

Valentine’s Day is a perfect opportunity to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support. Maybe you’d rather not acknowledge Valentine’s Day, but you should still do something fun and creative to show appreciation in February. The holidays are over, and we could all use a little pick me up right now. This is also a good opportunity to stay in touch with the people who gave to your year-end appeal, especially first-time donors.

Here are some ideas.

Create a thank you photo

Make your donor’s day with a great photo, like one of these. 

Send thank you photos via email and social media, use one to create a card, and include one on your thank you landing page.

If you have the time and resources, you could also create a thank you video.

Share an update or success story

In addition to saying thank you, share a brief update or success story. Emphasize how you couldn’t have helped someone without your donor’s support. For example – Thanks to you, Bobby won’t go to bed hungry tonight.

Send a card

A handwritten note can also brighten your donor’s day. If you don’t have the budget to send cards to everyone, send them to your most valuable donors. These may not be the ones who give you the most money. Do you have donors who have supported your organization for more than three years? How about more than five years? These are your valuable donors.

Another idea – Send a small number of thank you cards every month, ensuring that each donor gets at least one card a year. Spreading it out may be easier on your budget.

Thank You Basics

Make this the year you do a better job of thanking your donors. Thank your donors right away and send a thank you note/letter or make a phone call. Electronic thank yous aren’t good enough.

Be personal and conversational when you thank your donors. Don’t use jargon or other language they won’t understand. Write from the heart, but be sincere. Give specific examples of how your donors are helping you make a difference.

If your budget doesn’t allow you to mail handwritten cards, is there a way you can change that? You may be able to get a print shop to donate cards. You can also look for additional sources of unrestricted funding to cover cards and postage.

Maybe you need a change of culture. Getting your board, all staff, and volunteers involved in thanking your donors will make a huge difference.

Keep thinking of ways to surprise and delight your donors! Get creative.

15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors

CREATIVE & EASY IDEAS TO HELP YOU THANK YOUR DONORS!

You can’t say thank you enough. Create a Thank You Plan to help you thank your donors at least once a month.

You don’t even need to wait for a holiday or special occasion. Thank your donors because they’re incredible and you wouldn’t be able to make a difference without them.

Photo by Liz West

Is Your Organization Donor-Centered? Find Out by Taking This Quiz

8081866941_f7a44403cc_zWhat does it mean to be donor-centered?  It means focusing on your donors’ needs and interests and taking into account that not all donors are the same.

A lot of donor communication is not donor-centered. How do you know if yours is? Take this short quiz to find out.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Are your fundraising appeals 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.
  • Are your appeals segmented to the appropriate audience? Thank past donors or reference your relationship to a potential donor.  Maybe they are event attendees, volunteers, or friends of board members.
  • Are your appeals addressed to a person and not Dear Friend?
  • Are your appeals 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.
  • Do your appeals make people feel good about donating to your organization?

Thank you letters

  • Do your thank you letters 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.
  • Do your thank you letters (or better yet, a handwritten note) shower your donors with love?  Start your letter with You’re amazing or Thanks to You!, and not On behalf of X organization.
  • Are you telling your donors the impact of their gift?  For example – Thanks to your generous donation of $50, we can provide groceries for a family of four at the Riverside Community Food Bank.
  • Do you recognize each donor?  Is this the first time someone has donated?  If someone donated before, did she increase her gift?  Acknowledge this in your letter/note.

Newsletters

  • Do your newsletters sound self-promotional and drone on about all the wonderful things your organization is doing instead of showing your donors how they’re helping you make a difference?
  • Is your newsletter written in the second person?  Write to the donor and use the word you more often than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?  BTW, all your donor communication should be written in the second person. It’s much more personal.
  • Does your newsletter include success stories, engaging photos, and other content your donors want you to share?
  • 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 these quiz questions on other donor communication such as annual reports, your website, and social media posts.

How did you do?

Be sure every message you send to your donors focuses on them and makes them feel special.  Staying donor-centered can help you build relationships and keep your retention rate up.

Read on for more information on how to be donor-centered and wallpaper your office with this donor-centered pledge. Take the Donor-Centered Pledge

How to Raise More Money with Nonprofit Donor-Centered Fundraising

A sample donor-centered communication

Photo by woodleywonderworks

 

Pay Attention to Your Donor Retention

Now that you’ve sent your year-end appeal, take a look at your retention rate to see how well you did. A Guide to Donor Retention Poor retention rates are a chronic problem for nonprofit organizations, but it’s something you can fix.

Reach out to your lapsed donors

How did you do? Did you have a number of donors who gave in the past, but didn’t this year?  Reach out to these lapsed donors by phone or letter.  Let them know you miss them and want them back. Some people may have been busy in December (who wasn’t) and didn’t have time to respond to your appeals.

Who are you missing?

I hope you have a good database to keep track of your donor records.  Check to see who didn’t donate. You should be most concerned about past donors who didn’t give this year. There are a variety of reasons people don’t donate, and many of them are ones you can control.  If you have a number of first-time donors who didn’t give again, chances are you spent a lot of time enticing them to donate, and then, well not much after that.

The case of the disappearing donors

Ideally, once you get a donor, you should be able to keep the person, but that’s not happening.  According to the 2015 Fundraising Effectiveness survey, first-time donor retention is an abysmal 19%.  It’s 63% for repeat donors, which is nothing to celebrate. We can do better.

One of your priorities this year is to get your first-time donors to become long-term donors.  

Create a welcome plan for new donors

If you haven’t already done this, send your new donors a welcome kit by mail or email. Roll Out the Red Carpet for Your New Donors 

But keep showing the love to all your donors

You want as many donors as possible to give again, preferably at a higher level. This won’t happen if you don’t stay in touch throughout the year. Does Your Donor Communication Tell Donors What’s Next?

Create a donor relations plan in which you find ways to engage with your donors at least once or twice a month.  You can include this in your communications calendar. 

Know which channels your donors use the most, but don’t neglect direct mail. One idea is to send a thank you for being an amazing donor card at least once a year. If cost is an issue, spread your mailings out over the year, so you send a smaller number of cards each month. Donors may be pleasantly surprised to receive a card in May or September.

Be donor-centered

It’s not enough just to send a donor newsletter or post a social media update.  Most donor communication is all about the organization.  Share stories and updates your donors will want to read.

Keep building relationships

You can’t control your donors’ financial situation, but you can control your communication with them, and it needs to be whole lot better.

Pay attention to your donor retention and work on keeping your donors for a long time.

Image by Bloomerang

What Do Your Donors Think?

 

Last month I read this article in the Boston Globe Magazine. You’ve been asking charities the wrong question It emphasized the importance of focusing on social impact rather than overhead costs. That’s an important discussion, but what struck me were the responses in the print version of the magazine.

Your intention may be very different from what your donors’ reaction will be.

Are you asking too often?

One person responded with”My husband and I are retired, but twice each year we send $10 or $20 to 10 or 20 charities. Within a week, they’re back again. It seems a waste of paper, time, and postage.” I can relate. The number of fundraising emails I received in December made my head spin.

Of course, you need to ask your donors for contributions. You have fundraising goals you need to meet, and the end of year fundraising surge is a proven way to raise revenue.  But your donors are seeing a lot of requests for money.

One way to alleviate this is not to send fundraising appeals to donors who have already contributed to your current campaign.  If that’s not possible, thank anyone who’s already donated.  Keep your appeals donor-centered and focus on building relationships.  Why Does Giving to Your Organization Feel Like a Transaction and Not a Relationship?

Perhaps instead of asking too often, you’re not thanking your donors and engaging with them enough.  Follow this golden rule of fundraising – ask, thank, report/engage, repeat.  You should be in touch with your donors anywhere between once a week and once a month in ways in which you’re not asking for money.  This could be via newsletter, email and social media updates, and thank you cards.

If the only times your donors hear from you is when you send a fundraising appeal, then yes it will seem as if you’re asking too often.  If you engage more with your donors, you might even raise more revenue.  Here’s How Often You Should Mail to Your Donors

The free stuff could cost you money

Another reader lamented the practice of organizations sending stuff such as labels or offering a premium if you make a donation.  “The waste of money on all these offers will not be my money.” Yikes. This is not what you want to hear from a donor.

Your donors want to help you make a difference.  They don’t want more stuff.  Your goal should be to find donors who will be committed to your cause and support you for a long time. If you think you can get more donors because you offer them a coffee mug, you’re reaching out to the wrong people.

Put yourself in your donors’ shoes

Every time you communicate with your donors ask what they will think.  How will she respond to this appeal?  Have we included an engaging story or is it just filled with boring statistics.  Will he want to read this newsletter article about our executive director receiving an award?  More likely a story about the Jones family moving out of a shelter and into their own home will generate more interest.

What you think and what your donors think are not the same. I encourage you to print this great Venn diagram created by Marky Phillips to help you remember what your donors think is important. The fundraising paradox

Image by Marky Phillips

 

 

 

How You Can Do Better in 2016

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Happy New Year! I hope you had a good holiday. I also hope 2015 was a good year for your organization.

The New Year is a good time to evaluate what worked and what didn’t last year.  Here are a few areas that I think need improvement.

Do a better job of thanking your donors

I know you spent a lot of time working on your year-end appeal, but many organizations fall short when it comes to thanking their donors.

Thank your donors right away, and not by sending a generic looking receipt.  Shower them with love whether it’s on your thank you landing page, an email, letter/note, or phone call.  BTW, I believe all donors, even those who give online, should get a thank you by mail or phone call.  It will make a better impression and that’s what you want.

Don’t Treat Thanking Your Donors as an Afterthought

And don’t just thank your donors after they make a donation. Keep thanking them throughout the year – at least once a month. A thank you plan will help you with that. Why You Need a Thank You Plan

Focus on your donors, not your organization

Okay, you’re planning to share accomplishments with your donors in an annual report, newsletters, and email and social media updates.  But that’s not enough.  Many annual reports and newsletters can be used as a cure for insomnia.

I just received a year-end update from an organization that opened with “X organization continues as a world leader in….,” and emphasized being number one and top ranked.  In the midst of this three-page organizational love fest, they only thanked their donors for their support a couple of times and included very few examples of how they’re helping the people they serve.

You need to reverse this.  Pour on the praise for your donors and go beyond just telling donors “your support of our mission has made it possible for us to reach these achievements…” Yawn.  Give specific examples of how you are helping people, and dial back on the bragging. How You Can Share Accomplishments Without Bragging

Use language your donors will understand

Your donors don’t use words like underserved or disenfranchised, and neither should you. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.  Be clear and specific.  Something like – Thanks to you, the Connors family can move into a home of their own.  

Take this advice from the Center for Plain Language – Make it Clear

Let’s Start a Nonprofit Plain Writing Movement

You only have a few seconds to get your donors’ attention. Don’t blow it by using language they won’t understand.

Stay in touch throughout the year by using a communications calendar

I’ve emphasized the importance of staying in touch with your donors throughout the year.  I know it can be hard, but it will be a whole lot easier if you use a communications (aka editorial) calendar.  Make it Easy to Stay in Touch with Your Donors by Using a Communications Calendar

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference. Don’t let them down.

I hope you’ll take the time to make improvements in these areas. Here’s wishing you a successful 2016.