4 Storytelling Tips for Your Online Donation Page

Every nonprofit has a story, but not every nonprofit knows how to tell their story on their fundraising page to drive online donations. Check out these tips!

By Murad Bushnaq

Humans have been telling stories for at least 30,000 years. Why? Good stories create connection and understanding between people, helping us cultivate empathy and positive change within our communities. 

What does this mean for you as a nonprofit professional? Storytelling is a critical skill for you to master. If you can tell stories that help people connect with your cause, you’ll generate more support that will help you keep your organization moving toward accomplishing your mission. 

While your nonprofit won’t be recording stories on cave walls like humans did thousands of years ago, you do have an excellent tool for sharing stories related to your cause — your organization’s website, and more specifically, your donation page. Your donation page is the last chance you have to capture a potential donor’s support. By using stories, you can inspire your donors to give to your cause. 

You might be unsure of how to begin your storytelling journey, but don’t worry. We’ve rounded up four tips for leveraging your nonprofit content management system (CMS) to help you share stories on your donation page: 

  1. Incorporate striking visuals. 
  2. Share real people’s stories. 
  3. Use words to create emotional connections.
  4. Use strategically-placed CTAs. 

As you work to enhance your donation page (and other parts of your website) with strong storytelling, think through what stories will resonate with your specific audience. After all, stories aren’t one-size-fits-all. Let’s get started! 

1.Incorporate striking visuals. 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in some ways, that’s true. Though strong writing will be vital to sharing your organization’s story on your donation page (more on this to come), pictures can often communicate things that words simply can’t. 

Plus, visuals can tug at our heartstrings, getting us to feel something while our brain digests the information we’re reading. This is why having an eye for great images and knowing how to best use them on your donation page will benefit you as a storyteller. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you choose visuals and use your CMS to incorporate them into your donation page: 

  • Remember that photos of real people go a long way. Visuals help drum up emotion in your audience, so why not tap into their empathetic side by choosing a picture of a real person (or an animal or a place, depending on your cause.) to illustrate the issue at hand? Being able to see a real person who is affected by the issue your organization is trying to resolve will encourage your donors to put themselves in your beneficiaries’ shoes and inspire them to give. 
  • Make sure the style of the image matches with your branding. If all of the images on your website are black and white, make sure you aren’t throwing a brightly colored image onto your donation page or vice versa. Keeping the visual brand on your donation page consistent with the rest of your website will make you appear professional and organized.
  • Use your CMS to optimize your images. The right nonprofit CMS can help ensure your images are up-to-par for a professional and conversion-driving donation page. Use your CMS to convert your images to web-friendly versions and resize them appropriately. Also, don’t forget to zoom and crop your images to get your desired focus. 
  • Consider adding in other multimedia elements. If you think your donation page would benefit from a short video overlaid with music or even an audio clip, consider adding these to your page. However, use these multimedia elements sparingly. You don’t want your donor to get bogged down in your donation page and never make it to your donation form. 

As you choose and edit visuals for your donation page, don’t forget to take inspiration from other websites. Check out Morweb’s list of the best nonprofit websites to see some great examples of sites that clearly display what the organization is all about and create an excellent user experience!

2. Share real people’s stories. 

Just as your supporters will benefit from seeing pictures or videos of real people on your donation page, you should aim to share real people’s written stories. Having a face or a name associated with an issue they care about will help your cause stand out to your donors and convey the importance of contributing to your mission. 

Here are a few ways you can share real people’s stories on your donation page: 

  • Include one longer story about a specific individual at the top of your donation page. When a potential donor navigates to your donation page, your goal is to have them fill out or click through to a donation form. Catch their eye at the top of your donation page with the story of one specific beneficiary. Keep the story to a few paragraphs at most and share the beneficiary’s background and how your organization helped them. 
  • Use your CMS to create a section of “testimonials” supporters can scroll through. Gather quotes from your beneficiaries that you can use as short testimonials. This option will let you tell multiple stories at once without slowing your donor down in their giving journey. 
  • Add a gallery of beneficiary pictures donors can click through to read specific stories. Some donors may want to read multiple stories about your beneficiaries. Offer this option by using your CMS to create a gallery of pictures that act as buttons for your donors to access specific stories. A striking visual and a call to action (CTA) like “Read Joseph’s recovery story here” or “Learn more about Whisker’s adoption journey” can draw your donor in and get them reading these stories. 

No matter how you decide to share your beneficiaries’ stories, remember to show that they are real people. Use plain language and try to capture people’s real voices, perspectives, and journeys. This will make your stories feel more authentic to your donors, which in turn will make your cause seem more legitimate and worth supporting. If confidentiality is an issue, you can change someone’s name.

3. Use words to create emotional connections. 

Every word in a story counts, and the right words can help your reader feel something. That means you need to choose your words carefully when writing a story to share on your donation page. 

Here are a few different ways to use your words to tap into your readers’ emotions: 

  • Be descriptive. Remember when your high school English teacher taught you the “show, don’t tell” rule? Well, it applies here, too. If you’re an animal shelter, don’t just tell us you recently rescued a dog. Describe the conditions the dog was living in. Then, share how the dog looks and behaves now that you’ve rescued him. Describe how much he loves his new home. Descriptions and details make stories much more interesting and emotionally captivating!
  • Include the donor in the story. To feel truly involved with and emotionally invested in your cause, your donors need to be part of the narrative. Use pronouns like “you,” “your,” “we,” and “ours” to make your donor feel included. For example, you might write a sentence like, “Because of donors like you, last summer’s peer-to-peer fundraiser was a great success, allowing us to provide 500 meals to families in need.” Language like this will show donors they have an important part to play in making a difference for your beneficiaries. 
  • Illustrate how your organization can provide solutions to problems. A story isn’t a story without both conflict and resolution: A princess is captured by a dragon (conflict) and then rescued by a prince (resolution). An alien crash lands on Earth (conflict) and meets humans that help him find his way home (resolution). Once your donors are presented with the problem your organization is focused on solving, you need to show them how, with their help, you’re going to solve it. This helps convince donors that your organization is the one they should entrust with their support because it helps you look like you’re the one who’s going to get the job done. Plus, conflict creates tension in a story, so when you can resolve that by providing a solution, your story will bring much more emotional satisfaction to your reader. 

You don’t have to be a trained writer to construct an emotionally engaging story to include on your donation page. Simply focus on providing a lot of details and showcasing solutions to a problem, and your readers will start to feel that emotional connection to your cause. 

4. Use strategically-placed CTAs. 

A call to action (CTA) is simply a statement that encourages someone to complete an action. In the context of storytelling on your donation page, you may craft calls to action asking your donors to do something after learning about a particular issue or learning about a specific beneficiary’s experience with your organization. Those CTAs could lead your donor to: 

  • Donate to your cause using your donation form 
  • Opt into your monthly giving program 
  • Explore information about matching gifts 
  • Share your donation page on social media 
  • Register for an upcoming event 
  • Sign up for a volunteering opportunity 

Though your CTA to donate to your cause will be most important on your donation page, other CTAs can help you engage your donors further, so don’t be afraid to include them in your storytelling. 

When writing a CTA, remember to keep it clear and simple, but tailor it specifically to your cause. Something like “Give now” won’t be as effective as “Give now to help stomp out cancer.” 

In addition to writing out your CTAs, you can also use your CMS to make your CTAs into buttons that link to different resources, like your donation form or your volunteer page. Including these in the body of a story can help break up the text and ensure that when your donor feels inspired to act, they can do so right away. 


According to Morweb’s guide to donation page design, 54% of donors prefer to give online, which means you should pay special attention to your donation page and the stories you’re sharing on it. Remember to tap into the human element of your organization’s story and use your CMS to enhance your story with visuals, multimedia elements, and CTAs. 

The greatest stories can motivate us to act, and once you’ve honed your storytelling skills with these tips, you’ll be able to inspire your donors to give and engage with your cause for the long haul. Good luck! 

Murad Bushnaq is the Founder and CEO of Morweb. Since its inception in 2014, Murad has acted as Creative Director and Chief Technologist to help nonprofits spread their vision online through engaging design, intuitive software, and strategic communication.

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

Do you send all your donors the same appeal and thank you letter? Do you also feel your appeals aren’t bringing you the donations you need?

There may be a correlation here. If you’re not segmenting your donors into different groups, you’re missing a chance to raise more money and let your donors know you recognize them for who they are.

Your donors are not the same. Some donors have given for at least five years (these donors should get a lot of attention). Some are monthly donors. Yet, nonprofit organizations fail to recognize that and send everyone a one-size-fits-all letter. 

Sometimes smaller organizations do a better job of personalization. Not that long ago, I received a generic, one-size-fits-all appeal from a large, national organization. I’m a monthly donor and they didn’t acknowledge that. In fact, the letter included a blurb encouraging people to become monthly donors. Um….

That organization missed an opportunity to do a better job of connecting with their donors. Unfortunately, they are one of many.

When you’re too big to succeed

If you’re not segmenting your donors, make this the year you start. And if you’re already segmenting your donors, kudos to you!

You may be worried about how much time this will take. Plus, you don’t think your current database can handle it and it will cost too much to get a better one. 

In reality, it may cost you more not to segment.  A good database/CRM is worth the investment. Segmenting your donors will help you with retention, which costs more than trying to find new donors. Donor stewardship/engagement is usually easier and it’s more fun.

You also don’t need to create 100 different types of letters. Four or five should be sufficient. Your appeals and thank you letters will stand out if you can personalize them and not send everyone the same generic letter.

Here are a few different types of donor groups. You may want to include others. The more you can segment, the better. Remember, investing in a good CRM/database will help you with this.

Current single gift donors

One of the biggest hurdles nonprofits face is ensuring first-time donors give a second time. If they keep giving after that, they’re showing their commitment to your organization. Don’t blow it by ignoring this.

An appeal letter to current single gift donors (Monthly donors get their own appeal. More on that below.) must acknowledge their past support. This is also a good opportunity to ask for an upgrade. Many organizations don’t do this, but it’s a good way to increase your revenue.

Your donors will be more receptive to upgrading their gifts if you’ve been doing a good job of thanking them and staying in touch throughout the year.

If these donors give again, they should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter letting them know how much you appreciate their continued support. If they’ve upgraded their gift, be sure to acknowledge that, too. 

Potential/new single gift donors

If you’re sending an appeal to someone who’s never donated to your nonprofit before, what is your connection to them? Are they volunteers, event attendees, or people on a list you purchased?

The more you can establish a connection, the better chance you have of getting a donation.

The retention rate for first-time donors is horrible. One of the reasons is poor communication. You can help boost your retention rate by making your new donors feel special.

New donors should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter welcoming them as donors. Invite them to connect with you in other ways such as signing up for your newsletter, following you on social media, or volunteering.

Then a week or so later, send them a welcome package by mail or email. Personalization is crucial with new donors.

Are We Sure An Automated Email Welcome Series For New Donors Is A Good Idea?

New monthly donors

Brand new donors who opt for monthly or other recurring donations get the same special thank you treatment mentioned above. Welcome them to your family of monthly donors. 

Current monthly donors

Your current monthly donors must get their own appeal that recognizes them as monthly donors. In this appeal, you can either ask them to upgrade their gift or give an additional gift. 

When your donors renew or upgrade their monthly gifts, they, of course, get an amazing thank you.

Current donors who become monthly donors

Your current donors who decide to become monthly donors are also showing their commitment to you. They get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter thanking them for their continued support and for joining your family of monthly donors. From now on they should get specialized appeals and other communications targeted to monthly donors. 

Segmenting your donors makes a difference

In these uncertain times, some donors may cut back on their giving. Don’t let them choose between organizations that communicate throughout the year with engaging personalized appeals, thank yous, and updates and organizations who just send generic, one-size-fits-all communications. People are also looking for a personal connection right now. 

Spending some extra time segmenting your donors and personalizing your communications will be worth it if you can raise additional revenue and boost your retention rate.

Here’s more information about segmenting your donors.

How to Segment Your Donors

Donor Segmentation: The Ultimate Guide for Nonprofits

4 Smart Donor Segmentation Strategies for Nonprofits

KEY DONOR SEGMENTS FOR A BETTER YEAR-END APPEAL

Keep Calm and Stay Strong

As summer wanes and we move toward fall, many nonprofit organizations are entering the busiest time of the year as they launch their year-end fundraising campaigns. In the best of times, this is stressful, and we are not in the best of times.

We’re still living in a time of uncertainty. I feel there’s more uncertainty now than last year. In the spring it looked like we were on track to something better and then along comes the Delta variant, not to mention low vaccination rates in some states.

I’m sure your nonprofit organization is still dealing with many challenges. People may have returned to the office and now you’re wondering if that’s safe. You may be falling short of your revenue goals. You may be stressed out figuring out how you’ll pull off your year-end campaign and that’s understandable, but it’s important to keep calm and stay strong.

The need your clients/community face is still there. You can’t raise money if you don’t ask. Donors still want to help if they can.

It’s possible to get through the next few months. Do the best that you can, but make smart choices that will help you succeed.

Plan ahead

My last few posts had a plan-ahead theme. You want to start gearing up for your year-end appeal as soon as possible. This includes figuring out how you’ll thank your donors and getting your website in shape. Now would be a good time to get started.

If this sounds overwhelming, take a deep breath, and start working on a few things each day. Putting together a quality campaign will help you raise more money.

Segment your donors

One aspect of a good fundraising appeal is personalization. You must segment your donors as much as you can. At the very least, segment them by current donors, monthly donors, and people who haven’t donated before.

You’ll have the best luck with people who’ve donated before, and they’re going to want to see a letter that thanks them for their past support.

You can ask past donors to upgrade their gifts. This is an easy way to raise more money, yet many organizations don’t do this because they don’t segment their donors.

Monthly donors are the backbone of many nonprofit organizations and have a retention rate of 90%. Any time you communicate with them you must recognize them as monthly donors. You can ask your monthly donors to upgrade or give an additional donation.

Donors who have supported you before deserve a great appeal letter, and thank you letter too!

Focus on retention 

Donor retention should always be one of your top priorities – before, during, and after your appeal. Remember, your best bet for donations are your current donors. Think about sending a warm-up letter or email to these donors before your next appeal. Don’t ignore them.

Focusing on retention will help during tough economic times. Some donors may not be able to give this year, but maybe they’ll be able to in the future. Keep engaging with them.

A Guide to Donor Retention

Make time for what’s important 

I’m not trying to give you more work. I’m trying to give you better work. You may be saying you don’t have time to do some of these things, but this is important. 

What’s taking so much of your time? Is it meetings you don’t need to have? Are you chasing fundraising sources that don’t make sense? Maybe that online auction or event isn’t worth the time since you don’t raise much money.

Recess time

I just heard a story on the news about how important recess is for kids, especially during these difficult times. Adults need recess, too. Maybe you won’t go out on the playground, but why not?  

There are plenty of things you can do to take care of yourself. Don’t eat lunch in your workspace (at the office or at home). Take breaks! Step away from your screens. Go for a walk, exercise, do yoga, or maybe even take a short nap. I love this phrase – Rest is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. It will make you more productive.

I know there’s a lot going on both at your organization and in the world. Make time for what’s important, take care of yourself, and do the best that you can.

Photo by Marco Verch

Is Your Website in Good Shape?

With everything that’s been going on over the last year and a half, you may not have had time to keep up with certain things. That includes making sure your website is in good shape.

You don’t want to neglect your website. The internet is still most people’s go-to place to get information. Unlike social media, you control your website. You want it to be up-to-date, easy to read/scan and navigate, welcoming, and audience-centered.

I created this checklist a few years ago and I think now is a good time to revisit it. 

Home page

Your home page is often the first place a newcomer will visit. Make it an entryway to the rest of your website.

  • Is it free of clutter and easy to navigate and read/scan? You can include links to other pages on your home page, so you’re not bombarding it with too much information.
  • Does it include an engaging photo and a small amount of text, such as a tagline or position statement?
  • Are you highlighting something current and important? Maybe it’s your response to the ever-changing pandemic. Maybe it’s a fundraising campaign or an event. Be sure it’s up-to-date and the most newsworthy item you can feature.
  • Does it include a Donate Now button that’s prominent without being tacky?
  • Does it include a newsletter sign-up box and social media icons?
  • Does it include your organization’s contact information or a link to a Contact Us page?
  • Is the navigation bar easy to use?
  • Does it include a search feature?

Donation page

Many people donate online. This needs to be a good experience for your donors. You don’t want to stress them out with a cumbersome and confusing donation page.

  • Is it easy to use?
  • Does it include a strong call to action with the same messages as all your other fundraising appeals? You want to include enough information to entice a potential new donor, but not too much to overwhelm any of your donors (new and long-time).
  • Does it show how the donation will be used and what different amounts will fund?
  • Does it include an option for monthly/recurring gifts?
  • Does it have an engaging photo?
  • After someone donates, does it take the person to an engaging thank you landing page and generate a personal thank you email?

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Make Your Donation Page More Effective

The rest of your pages

Be sure to take a look at the rest of your web pages, too.

  • Are they easy to read/scan and navigate?
  • Do all your pages have a consistent look?
  • Is the content well written in a conversational style (no jargon!) and free of grammatical errors and typos?
  • Are your pages audience-centered? Remember, some visitors know you well and others don’t. A person visiting your volunteer page may not know much about your organization, so you’ll need to include a compelling description of what you do.
  • Do your pages contain a clear call to action? For example, your volunteer page should entice someone to volunteer.
  • Does each page have one or two photos related to its subject matter? Going back to your volunteer page, you could include a photo of volunteers working in the community.
  • Is all the content up-to-date?
  • Do all your links work?
  • Do all your pages include a Donate Now button, navigation bar, social media icons, a newsletter sign-up box, contact information, and a search feature, so your visitors don’t have to go back to the home page?
  • Are you using analytics to see how often people visit your pages? If you have pages that aren’t generating a lot of interest, find out why that’s happening. You may need to make the page more engaging or take it down.
  • Do you periodically survey your supporters to get feedback about your website?
  • Is your website mobile-friendly? This is crucial. Fortunately, most of them are these days, but just in case yours isn’t –  How to make website mobile friendly for your nonprofit
  • Is there other content you should include (or take out)?

After you’ve made all your changes, have someone who isn’t as familiar with your organization (maybe a friend or family member) look at your website to see if the content is clear and that it’s easy to read/scan and navigate.

Your goal is to have a website that’s welcoming and audience-centered for everyone from first-time visitors to long-time donors.

Read on for more information to help you get your website in good shape.

Your Nonprofit Website: The Importance of User Experience

Website Formatting: The Anatomy of a Well-Designed Nonprofit Web Page

15 Nonprofit Website Best Practices You Need to Know in 2021

Best Practices for a Nonprofit Website

Image via www.morecustomersmoresales.com.au

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

After the year we’ve just been through, most people have realized the importance of connection. Your nonprofit organization also needs to make connections with your donors. One of the best ways to do that is to share stories.

Donors want to hear your stories

I would guess you’re not using stories as much as you should. That’s a mistake because people respond better to stories than a bunch of facts and statistics. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene.

You may be reluctant to use stories because it’s more work for your organization, but that shouldn’t stop you. The summer is a good time to come up with some new stories.

Your stories need to be relevant

I don’t need to tell you the world has changed since March 2020. Your stories need to take the current climate into account. That’s why you new need ones. This year is different than last year, but not the same as 2019. Let your donors know how the pandemic (which is still with us, by the way), the economy, and systemic racism are impacting your clients/community right now.

Create a culture of storytelling

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

Work with your program staff to create stories that will help you connect with your donors. Everyone needs to understand how important this is. Share stories at staff meetings and/or set up regular meetings with program staff to gather stories. Do this virtually if you’re not in the office.

How To Create A Culture of Storytelling in Your Nonprofit

When you put together a story, ask.

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

Client or program recipient stories are best. Remember, donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.

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

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

Language is important

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

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

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

Your stories aren’t about your organization

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

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

Make your stories personal 

Tell a story of one (person or family). Use people’s names to make your stories more personal. I realize you might run into confidentiality issues, but you can change names to protect someone’s privacy. You could also do a composite story, but don’t make up anything.

Fundraising with Names Have Been Changed Disclaimers

Use different stories for different types of communication

Create a story bank to help you organize all your stories. You want to use stories as much as possible. Use them in your appeals, thank you letters, newsletters, updates, annual reports, website, blog, and other types of social media. 

While you can come up with some core stories, they’ll be slightly different depending on the type of communication. 

In a fundraising appeal, you want to highlight a problem or need. Let’s say you run a tutoring program. Here you can tell a story about James, a high school student who didn’t fare well with remote learning and is behind in his grade level. Because of this, he could benefit from a tutor. 

In your thank you letter, you can let your donors know that because of their generous gift, James will be able to start tutoring sessions with Mark, a local college student. 

Then in your newsletter, annual report, or update, you can tell a success story about how James is doing much better in school after starting weekly tutoring sessions with Mark. 

Make connections with your donors by sharing stories. Read on below for more information about creating stories. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories. 

Making a Great Story into a Powerful Fundraising Story

How to Write an Impact Story that Moves Hearts & Minds

A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Nonprofit Impact Stories

INFOGRAPHIC: A Nonprofit Storytelling How-To

5 Data Hygiene Methods for Your Nonprofit

Is your nonprofit database starting to look like a library without a librarian? Use these 5 tips to clean it up and establish better hygiene practices. 

By Gabrielle Perham

Your nonprofit’s donor database is like a library. When a librarian is present, the library stays clean and orderly, with everything in the right place so visitors can quickly find what they’re looking for. Without a librarian, the system falls apart — you’ve got books everywhere, it takes visitors hours to find what they’re looking for, and no one’s getting the information they need!

The same thing can happen to your nonprofit’s donor database. If your nonprofit has operated for many years, you may have gone through different iterations of your data input procedures. Now, your database looks like a library with several different coding systems. If this sounds familiar, you’ll want to set aside time to do some cleaning and establish better data hygiene practices. 

As AccuData Integrated Marketing’s data hygiene guide explains, data hygiene is important for businesses because “dirty” data leads to inefficiencies in tracking leads, marketing missteps, and the inability to personalize outreach materials. The same concerns apply to nonprofits seeking to connect with supporters to increase engagement and boost donations. 

To clean up your nonprofit database, here are five data hygiene steps to take: 

  1. Conduct an audit of your nonprofit database. 
  2. Remove unnecessary or harmful information.
  3. Take a closer look at the data you have left. 
  4. Standardize processes for ongoing maintenance.
  5. Bring an expert on board to help. 

Conducting a little data cleaning now will put you on the road to better donor engagement. You’ll have greater confidence that you’re communicating with real people who are excited to hear your message. Let’s take a closer look at each step!

1. Conduct an audit of your nonprofit database.

To start the process of cleaning up your database, first assess the current state of your data. With an audit, you can conduct an official review of your database to understand which areas contain the highest number of inaccuracies, what information is missing, and where there are gaps in your data. Recharity’s guide to data hygiene best practices explains that an audit provides a “high-level overview of your database’s health.” 

To conduct a database audit:

  1. Identify problems you’re facing regarding data collection. What are the main issues your organization is facing that impede proper data collection? What are you looking to get out of the audit process? Identify these problems and goals up front so you can keep them in mind as you move through the rest of the audit process. 
  2. Pinpoint unhelpful information. Some of your data points (pieces of information) are probably inaccurate, outdated, or completely incorrect. Make note of these points because this information is more harmful than helpful. 
  3. Identify inconsistencies. Over the years, your team has probably gone through several different data input procedures, leading to different ways of uploading names, addresses, dates, and other types of information. Even if your process has stayed the same, there’s always the human error factor that can lead to variability. Use your audit to note any inconsistencies that have occurred. 
  4. Share the findings with your team. After the audit is complete, ensure all stakeholders (such as your board members and development director) are aware of the findings and on board with moving to the next steps of the data hygiene process. 

After reviewing your database from a bird’s-eye view, you’ll have a better idea of where you stand. This allows you to create a more accurate timeline and action plan for correcting irregularities and establishing better data procedures moving forward. Your nonprofit may even consider using an external source to audit your database, such as AlumniFinder’s free Data Quality Report, which provides a free analysis of the contact names, phone numbers, postal and email addresses, and dates of birth in your database.

2. Remove unnecessary or harmful information.

The audit process will reveal any information in your database that is irrelevant or extraneous. You don’t want to waste time and money sending marketing materials and messages to those who don’t want or aren’t able to engage with the information. Plus, you shouldn’t overload your database with useless information. 

Examples of these unusable data points include:

  • People on do not call lists: People who wish to opt out of telemarketing calls register with the National Do Not Call Registry. Businesses cannot call those who are listed on the registry. Nonprofits are generally exempt from these regulations, but if you partner with a commercial telemarketing company, you will have to comply with these guidelines. If this is the case for you, be sure to frequently scrub your call lists according to the registry. 
  • People on do not mail lists: Similarly, consumers who wish to not receive mail and emails from businesses can register with the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) website, DMAchoice. If you work with a direct mail provider, keep an eye out for those who have registered for this service and respect their wishes. 
  • Minors: Remove names of minors (those under 18) from your database. If you conduct direct marketing to children, you can be fined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 
  • Incarcerated individuals: Those who are currently within the prison system cannot respond to marketing materials. Remove the names of those currently held within federal and state prisons, county correctional facilities, and jails. 
  • Deceased persons: Remove any information about people who are now deceased. This helps prevent sending unwanted marketing materials to their family members. 

When you eliminate this extraneous information, you’re left with a database that contains only information about those who are interested in hearing from you and able to respond to your messages. If you don’t know exactly where to start on a process like this, data hygiene providers, such as AccuData Integrated Marketing, can assist you with removing these types of records from your database or suppressing them from your direct marketing efforts.

In future data-gathering efforts, remember that more data isn’t necessarily better. It’s more important to focus on gathering high-quality information that will help you get in touch with interested audience members. 

3. Take a closer look at the data you have left. 

After you’ve eliminated unwanted information, assess your remaining data with a magnifying glass. Getting the small details right could be the difference between conducting a successful marketing campaign or wasting your marketing dollars on sending materials with inaccurate names, physical addresses, phone numbers, or email addresses. 

In particular, it’s important to assess and correct the database errors you identified during the audit stage. Ensure your records are clean by:

  • Eliminating duplicate entries: Perhaps you accidentally recorded information on the same donor twice, inputting a slightly different spelling of their name. Or, maybe a certain donor changed their name, and now you have two separate entries for the same individual. Verify the correct entry and eliminate any copies that might have popped up over the years. 
  • Standardizing mailing addresses: For instance, are some addresses written out with the full spelling of “Street” while others just have the abbreviation “St.?” Do some addresses use the standard five-digit postal code, while others use the ZIP+4 code? Take this opportunity to standardize all mailing addresses.
  • Verifying email addresses: Scrub your email addresses to ensure all remaining addresses are real and active. This helps increase your email engagement rate and allows you to save time and resources by only sending newsletters and other messages to correct, active email addresses. 
  • Ensuring numbers and abbreviations are standardized: Besides just mailing addresses, you’ll want to make sure any numbers or abbreviations your team uses are standardized. This includes titles, ages, and any code words your team uses to categorize donors or prospects. 

Taking a fine-tooth comb to your data helps correct small inconsistencies that can add up to large issues. Your team will have more confidence in your marketing strategy moving forward. Remember, data hygiene companies can assist with these processes too.

Plus, this adjustment process will also give you an idea of areas where you can enhance your database. Using a process like data append, you can add missing information to donor records for a more complete picture of your donor base. This information may include adding accurate phone numbers, email addresses, employment status, net worth, or details about philanthropic involvement. 

For example, let’s say you’re looking to identify prospective major donors. You can use a data append to add information about a certain donor’s history of charitable giving to determine their affinity to give your cause and their ability to contribute a larger gift. This will give you a better idea of potential donors who are most likely to become major donors. 

As you can see, cleaning your data can open a new world of possibilities to enhance your marketing efforts and target a more specific audience. 

4. Standardize processes for ongoing maintenance.

To save yourself time and hassle in the future, it’s better to adopt continuous data hygiene practices than conduct occasional major cleanses. Set your team up for future success by creating an ongoing process for standardized data entry and maintenance. This includes: 

  • Standardizing data input practices. Outline the rules for team members to follow when they input new information into your nonprofit database. This includes procedures for inputting names, phone numbers, physical and email addresses, employment information, and all other relevant data points. 
  • Creating a data training process for staff members. Create a shared document that includes all the details team members need to use the database effectively. Review the process in a meeting or training seminar so everyone’s on the same page. 
  • Defining rules for handling errors. Mistakes are inevitable, but how will you correct them when they occur? Define this process and include it within your data input process documentation. 
  • Streamlining your donor-facing forms (like your newsletter sign-up page or online donation form) to only ask for essential information. This helps prevent the buildup of unnecessary or harmful data that clogs your database. By asking for only essential information, you can reduce the amount of extraneous information in your database. 

These regulations don’t have to be set in stone. Check in with your team and review your database frequently to ensure all new measures are effective and make adjustments as necessary. By creating a centralized, uniform process up front, you’ll have a strong framework from which to make changes or updates as needed. 

5. Bring an expert on board to help. 

Establishing good data hygiene practices can be challenging, especially if your database isn’t in good shape to start with. Whether you’re an in-house marketing specialist for a nonprofit or an external marketer who’s been hired by a nonprofit, you may not have all the expertise needed to take a deep dive into the data review process. 

If this is the case for you, it’s helpful to bring an expert on board to help you out. 

Professionals that specialize in data hygiene can help set your team up with a concrete plan for future data management practices. 

According to this blog post, database marketing specialists can assist with all of the processes above, plus provide services such as: 

  • Merge and purge: Identifying and combining or eliminating duplicate records in your database. 
  • File conversion: Converting files into useful formats according to your organization’s needs. 
  • A/B splits: Segmenting your data into groups to determine which marketing strategies are most effective. 
  • Parsing: Splitting up the elements of one record into separate fields in your database. 

These are all advanced services that take a deep dive into your database and configure it based on your needs. Beyond just data hygiene services, data marketing firms also conduct data enhancement, audience building, targeted digital marketing, and other long-term marketing efforts, leaving you with a stronger framework for future campaigns. 


By thoroughly cleaning your database and establishing standardized maintenance procedures, you can focus less on dealing with the effects of dirty data and more on making your marketing message stand out. Remember, a database marketing service provider might offer the push you need to carry out the data cleaning process more successfully. Good luck!

Gabrielle Perham is the Director of Marketing for AccuData Integrated Marketing. She joined the organization in 2017 and possesses more than 15 years of experience in strategic marketing, branding, communications, and digital marketing. She earned a B.S. in Marketing and an M.B.A in Marketing Management from the University of Tampa.

The 5 C’s of Good Nonprofit Communication

I want to revisit a topic I’ve written about in the past and that’s the 5 C’s of good nonprofit communication.

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

Is it Clear?

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

Whatever it is, make sure your message is clear. If you have a call to action, that needs to be clear as well. You also want to stick to one call to action. If you ask your donors to make a donation, volunteer, and contact their legislators in the same message, you run the risk of them not doing any of those.

What should you never put in a direct mail envelope

You want your message to produce results. Plain and simple, your fundraising appeal should entice someone to donate. Your thank you letter should thank your donors (no bragging or explaining what your organization does) and make them feel good about donating.

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

Is it Concise?

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

Nonprofit organizations like to pack a lot of information into their monthly/quarterly newsletters and annual reports, but many donors won’t read something if it looks like it will be too long. 

Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Shorter, more frequent communication is better. This applies to the example I gave above about not putting more than one call to action in a message. You’ll have better results if you send separate messages for each call to action.

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

Make all your words count.

Is it Conversational?

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

Avoid using jargon, cliches, multi-syllable words, and the passive voice. Is that the way you talk to your friends? I hope not.

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

Want to really engage your readers? Make your writing more conversational

Is it Compelling?

Is whatever you’re writing going to capture someone’s attention right away and keep them interested? The average human attention span is eight seconds, so the odds are stacked against you.

Start with a good opening sentence. Leading with a question is often good. Stories are also great. 

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

9 Powerful Examples of Nonprofit Storytelling

Are you establishing a connection?

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

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

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

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

Making Connections With Your Monthly Donors

Monthly giving on the rise. If you haven’t capitalized on this, what are you waiting for? This post won’t focus too much on starting or growing a monthly/recurring giving program, although if you’re interested in that, here’s more information.

10 Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

I want to focus on making connections with the monthly donors you already have.

We’re edging into summer, and while this is a slower fundraising season, it’s a good time to connect with your donors, whether they’re brand new or longtime supporters.

Make a plan

Create a plan for your monthly donor communication. Although I’m emphasizing summer, you need to communicate with your monthly donors (and all donors) throughout the year. I like to say because these donors support you every month, you should reciprocate by communicating with them at least once a month.

You can incorporate this into your communications calendar. Fill it with ways to show gratitude and share updates. You can use different channels. Here are some ideas to get started.

Send something by mail

How often do you get something personal in the mail? Not often, right? And when you do, it stands out.

Take some time this summer to create a postcard thank you and/or update or send a handwritten note. Your donors will really appreciate it.

Create a video

Videos are a great way to connect and they’re not that hard to create. If you can personalize it, all the better. Otherwise, you can create a general one that thanks your monthly donors.

5 Thank You Video Examples to Inspire Your Nonprofit

You can also create a video that gives a behind-the-scenes look at your organization or a virtual tour. 

Spruce up those automatic thank you emails

Those automatic thank you emails you may have set up don’t count as part of your monthly donor connection plan. It’s fine to create these, but you don’t have to. While these monthly acknowledgments are helpful, they’re usually uninspiring.

Spruce them up a little and change the content every few months. Use this as an opportunity to share some updates.

Here’s one that could use some work – Thank You for Your Recurring Donation. You have helped us continue our mission in a meaningful way. 

Talk about vague. A specific example of how a donor helped would improve this. Many of these acknowledgments are just receipts and a receipt is not a thank you.

Here’s a  better one. 

Thank you for donating to Malala Fund!

More than 130 million girls around the world are out of school today. Malala Fund believes that girls are the best investment in the future peace and prosperity of our world. Your gift supports our work to see every girl learn and lead without fear. 

Follow Malala Fund on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and blog for updates on our fight for girls’ education.

With gratitude, 

Malala Fund

Besides thanking their donors, they also offer other ways to engage.

Get noticed with an enticing subject line

Most likely you’ll communicate by email, which has its pros and cons. It’s easier and less expensive than a postal mailing, but since people get an enormous amount of email, they might miss your message.

One way to get noticed is to use an enticing subject line. Here’s one I like from Pet Partners – Your monthly gift in action 

It goes on to tell a story about a therapy dog who visits with soldiers before and after their deployments.

Here’s another good one, although it wasn’t specifically for monthly donors –  I found a baby bird! What should I do?

This definitely captures your attention and makes you want to read more. 

Keep your donors engaged with good content

Congratulations, your donor opened your email message. You want to keep them engaged. The email I mentioned above gave you information about what to do if you find a baby bird, along with a link to a “handy chart.”

Get personal

Be sure to address your donors by name. I would also recommend separate communication for new donors and longer-term donors. 

Welcome new monthly donors. You can go a step further with different messages for brand new donors and single gift donors who have upgraded to monthly. Be sure to give special attention to longer-term donors. The average donor retention rate for monthly donors is 90% and you don’t want that to go down.

You can give shout outs in your newsletter and social media, but those won’t be as personal. Some organizations include a cover letter or note for their monthly donors in their newsletters. You could also create separate newsletters for monthly donors.

The key is to stay in touch and keep making connections.  The post below will give you more ideas. Maybe you can think of others. And you don’t have to come with 12 different ones. It’s okay to repeat them every few months.

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

Don’t ignore your valuable, monthly donors. Keep making those important connections.

Why It’s Important to Keep Things Simple

Over the years I’ve realized the importance of keeping things simple. This past year we needed to keep things simple since we were limited in what we could do, especially outside the house. Instead of running back and forth from place to place, we stayed put, although we spent more time online.

Things are starting to open up, but there’s still a lot of stress and uncertainty. Even though I’m fully vaccinated, I’m not that excited about being anywhere that’s crowded. The pandemic allowed me to find pleasure in simple things such as taking a walk, reading a novel, and doing yoga, which I’m going to continue to make time for, if I can. 

Keeping it simple doesn’t have to mean a bare-bones existence. There’s a Swedish term called lagom meaning everything in moderation or not too much, not too little. Or think of Goldilocks and choose what’s “just right.” This can apply to how much information we take in about the pandemic, politics, etc. – enough to know what’s going on, but not too much so it’s overwhelming. 

Keeping things simple is also important for your nonprofit organization. You’ve gone through a lot this past year. You had to make changes in the way you do your work. Maybe you’re starting to provide in-person services again and some people are back in the office. All this change has made your work more complicated. 

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

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

Keep it simple by planning ahead

If communicating regularly with your donors sounds overwhelming, plan ahead by using a communications calendar. You should be in touch every one to two weeks, if possible. Otherwise, aim for once a month. Fill your calendar with different ways to do that and update it as needed. A good rule of thumb is – ask, thank, update/engage, repeat. And as I mention below, you can keep it simple with shorter 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, or send an update?

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

In your fundraising appeals, don’t bury your ask. You can start with a story, followed by a clear, polite ask. Recognize your reader. Thank previous donors and invite potential donors to be a part of your family of donors.

Your thank you letter or email 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.

6 Tips for Effective CTAs That Get Clicks

Keep it simple with shorter, easy to read messages

Plain and simple, 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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Try to Stop Using Jargon So Much

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.

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.

15 Nonprofit Website Best Practices You Need to Know in 2021

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

Easier is Better

Your Donor Communications Should Be Simple & Direct

Photo by Marco Verch

How Fundraising is Like Strength Training

I’ve been doing strength training with a personal trainer for about three and a half years. My initial assessment was humbling, to say the least, and at the beginning, there were several times I wondered “Why am I doing this?”

But I’ve benefited so much. Not only am I stronger, I’ve lost weight, I’m sleeping better, my mood is better, and I have a more robust immune system. I’ve also been able to keep up with it during the pandemic, although now I’m doing it virtually.

Believe it or not, strength training has a lot in common with fundraising and when I say fundraising, I’m including the all-important stewardship and relationship-building components. Here’s what they have in common.

It’s supposed to be hard, but doable

If I ever say one of my training exercises is hard, my trainer will respond, “It’s supposed to be hard.” That said, it also needs to be doable.

What a wonderful world we’d live in if people just donated money to nonprofit organizations without us have to do anything.

Fundraising is hard. It doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it, but you also need to be realistic. I’m not lifting 100-pound weights. That would be too much for me. If you’re a small organization, trying to pull off a huge event would probably be too much for you.

How to raise money: 3 steps to creating sustainable funding for your new, young, or small nonprofit

Starting small is often the way to go

I work out twice a week and do what’s known as a circuit –  seven or eight exercises on each of the days, usually three sets of 10-12 reps each. People who are more advanced in their training might do four or five sets of two different exercises with heavier weights.

This same formula can work for your organization when you concentrate on individual gifts. Many of these will be under $100 each, but you’ll be able to get a larger number of them. You can also raise a good bit of revenue from monthly gifts, even if they’re only $5 or $10 a month.

Be patient and you’ll see results

It took about two or three months for me to see the results I mentioned above. Some of your fundraising will take even longer.

You can get smaller gifts fairly quickly. Securing major gifts and grants will take longer.  It can take up to a year to cultivate major gifts and it takes a lot of relationship building to get there. If you get approved for a grant, it can take several months to get the money and these often come with restrictions.

But if you persevere, you should see results.

Take it to the next level

If I kept doing the same exercises I started with, I wouldn’t make much progress. The same is true with fundraising.

Most appeal letters are generic,one-size fits all. You’re missing an opportunity to grow when you don’t ask donors to upgrade their single gifts or invite them to become monthly donors.

There are so many opportunities to take your fundraising to the next level. Smaller dollar donors can upgrade to mid-level donors, mid-level donors can become major donors, and major donors are potential legacy donors.

You need to stick with it

If I miss a week or two of training, it suffers. The same is true with your fundraising. If all you do is send appeals a few times a year, you won’t have much success.

You need to engage with your donors regularly – at least once or twice a month. That includes showing appreciation and sharing updates.

Moving Away from Transactional Fundraising

You need a plan

When I started strength training, my trainer designed a plan for me that we can build on and modify as needed. You need to do the same thing with your fundraising.

You shouldn’t be raising revenue without a plan in place. You also need a donor communications and thank you plan. 

You may need to make adjustments to your plans. Most likely that happened for you last year when the pandemic started. I had to make adjustments early on in my training when I tweaked my knee doing a quad exercise and had to strengthen my hamstrings, as well as do a modified version of it for a while.

How to Prepare a Nonprofit Fundraising Plan

The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan

5 ELEMENTS OF A STELLAR DONOR COMMUNICATIONS PLAN THAT BUILDS DONOR LOYALTY

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

My workout consists of exercises for the upper body, lower body, and core. Your fundraising will also consist of different tactics, such as individual giving, major gifts, grants, events, etc.

And as I mentioned before, and I’ll mention again since many organizations ignore this, your fundraising also needs a gratitude and relationship-building component.

Fundraising, like strength training, takes a lot of hard work, but you should see results if you keep building and stick with it.

Photo via www.ptpioneer.com