It’s Time to Plan Your Year-End Fundraising Campaign

Wow, this summer is flying by. September will be here before you know it. I know that may be hard to believe since many of us have been suffering through record-breaking temperatures, especially in areas where it’s usually not that hot, such as parts of Europe and the Pacific Northwest.

Despite all this, now is a good time to start planning your year-end fundraising campaign. If you’re behind in your revenue goals, you may even want to launch it earlier. Our current state of uncertainty makes it more important to plan ahead.

I’ve put together a checklist to help you get started. You can also use this for fundraising campaigns at other times of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal for your year-end campaign in your 2022 fundraising plan (at least I hope you did) and maybe that has changed. 

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

Do you have a plan?

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

When do you want to launch your appeal? Plan on everything taking longer than you think it will, so earlier is better. Keep in mind you’ll be competing with many other organizations who are doing appeals. 

I strongly encourage you to mail an appeal letter. Direct mail appeals are more successful. You can also send an email appeal and follow up with email, as well (more on that in future posts). 

Maybe you want to send your appeal letters the first week in November. Maybe it’s better to send them out in October. Whenever it is, make your goal to have the letters done at least a week before that. 

Also, how are you mailing your appeal? Do you use a mail house or get staff and volunteers together to stuff envelopes? Either way, plan ahead, so you’re not scrambling at the last minute.

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

If you’ve been using the same boring, generic appeal letter template for the last few years, stop. You need a new one. Your appeal must address the current situations, which I know are always changing.

A good way to start is to create an engaging story for your appeal. How are the pandemic, systemic racism, and economic challenges impacting your clients/community right now? Focus on them, not your organization. This year is different than last year, which was different than 2020, but not the same as pre-pandemic times. This is why you need new stories.  

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

How can your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should focus on a need and let your donors know how they can help you make a difference. You might want to start by creating a brief and an outline.

You may be seeing more people at your food pantry because of rising food costs. Maybe your clients are struggling to find affordable housing.

You can also highlight some of the accomplishments you’ve made recently and state what you would like to do in the coming year, although these are usually more appropriate for a newsletter or annual report. One way to frame this is to describe a situation where students are falling behind in school. You can mention the success of your tutoring program and the need to keep that going and serve more students.

Remember to focus on your clients/community and don’t brag about your organization.

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

Make sure your mailing lists are up-to-date. Check for duplicate addresses and typos. Your donors don’t want to receive three letters at the same time or have their names misspelled. Take a little time to do some data hygiene. Give your email list some attention, too.

Also, now is a good time to segment your mailing lists – current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. This is so important. Your current donors are your best source of donations. You should have more success if you can personalize your appeal letters. You can also ask donors to upgrade their gifts (more on this to come).

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until September or October to check your supply of letterhead and envelopes. Make sure you have enough. Perhaps you want to produce a special outer envelope. You may also want to create some thank you cards. 

We’re still dealing with paper shortages and may be for a while, so plan ahead!

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

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

Is it easy to donate online?

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

One way to ensure a good experience is to have someone on your staff or, even better, someone outside of your organization make a donation on your website. If they want to tear their hair out, you have some work to do.

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

I’m a huge fan of monthly giving. It’s a win-win for your organization. You can raise more money, boost your retention rate, receive a steady stream of revenue, and allow your donors to spread out their gifts.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program or you have a small one, don’t wait any longer to start one or grow the one you have.

Do you want to find a major funder who will give a matching gift?

One way to raise additional revenue is to find a major funder to match a portion or all of what you raise in your year-end appeal. If you want to go down this route, now would be a good time to reach out to these potential funders.

How will you thank your donors?

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

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

How will you keep up with your donor communication?

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

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

Don’t let stories about donors giving less scare you. Some donors may not give as much or at all, but others will give more. They won’t give anything if you don’t ask.

There’s still plenty of time to go to the beach and get ice cream, but right now find an air-conditioned space and start planning your year-end campaign.

Best of luck!

Get Noticed in an Instant by Sharing Visual Stories

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of sharing stories with your donors. Written stories are great, but donors may not have the time or energy to read a story.

This is why you also need to use visual stories. Some people respond better to visual stimuli, anyway. Here are a few ways to tell visual stories.

Tell a story in an instant with an engaging photo

You’ve probably heard the phrase a picture is worth a 1000 words. Cliche, yes, but it’s true.

You can capture your donors’ attention in an instant with an engaging photo. That doesn’t mean one of your executive director receiving an award. Use photos of your programs in action or something else that’s engaging.

Print newsletters and annual reports tend to be dominated by long-winded text. Most of your donors won’t want to read the whole thing. But if you share some engaging photos, they can get a quick glance at the impact of their gift without having to plow through a bunch of tedious text.

Photos can enhance your print communication by breaking up the narrative. You can also complement your written stories with photos. If you’re worried about mailing costs, postcards and other short pieces with photos are the way to go. You could even do a Postcard Annual Report.

If you use social media, you need to communicate several times a week. As your donors scroll through an endless number of posts, an engaging photo can stand out and get their attention.

Use photos everywhere – fundraising appeals, thank you letters/cards, newsletters, annual reports, updates, your website, and social media. Create a photo bank to help you with this.

It’s fine to use the same photos in different channels. It can help with your brand identity. Be sure to use high-quality pictures. Also, make sure your photos match your messages. If you’re writing a fundraising appeal about children who aren’t getting enough to eat each day, don’t use a picture of happy kids.

If you use a caption with a photo, make sure it emphasizes the donor’s role in what’s happening in the picture.

Work with your program staff to get photos and videos (more on videos below). Confidentiality issues may come up and you’ll need to get permission to use pictures of kids.

Highlight your work with a video

Videos are becoming a more popular way to connect. They can be used to show your programs in action, share an interview, give a behind-the-scenes look at your organization, or my favorite – thanking your donors. 

You can share videos that are relevant to our current situations. You could talk about how the pandemic, inflation, or systemic racism is impacting the people/community you work with. 

I would definitely recommend creating a personalized thank you video. If that’s not possible, you can make a general one.

Make your videos short and high quality. Short is key. If your video is more than a couple of minutes, your donors may not bother to watch it. 

You can use videos on your website, in an email message, on social media, and at an event (virtual or in person, if it’s safe).

Spruce up your statistics by using infographics

A typical annual report is loaded with statistics. You want to share these, along with your accomplishments, but you don’t want to overwhelm your donors with a lot of text.

Why not use an infographic in your annual report instead of including the usual laundry list of statistics and accomplishments? 

Infographics are also great in other types of communication such as newsletters and updates.

Good visuals will enhance both your print and electronic communication. Keep your donors engaged with all types of stories.

How Are You Sharing Stories With Your Donors?

People have been sharing stories of various kinds for centuries. I’m a big reader and always appreciate a good story.

Your nonprofit organization also needs to share stories in order to connect with your donors.

Donors want to hear your stories

I imagine 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. 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 over the last two years. Your stories need to take the everchanging current situations into account. We may be done with COVID, but COVID isn’t done with us. We’re also seeing inflation and a possible recession. Let your donors know how all this is 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. 

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.

Language is important

Please 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.

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Keep in mind that your stories aren’t about your organization. Your organization may have had to make a lot of changes over the last two years 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.

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 return to the food pantry example. Here you can tell a story about Lisa, a working single mother with three kids who’s having trouble feeding her family because of rising food costs. 

In your thank you letter, you can let your donors know that because of their generous gift, Lisa can get healthy food for her family at the Westside Community Food Bank.

Then in your newsletter, annual report, or update, you can tell a success story that because of your generous donors, Lisa doesn’t have to worry so much about how she’ll be able to put food on the table.

Make connections with your donors by sharing stories. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories.

How to Build Relationships With Your Monthly Donors

Over the summer I’ve written about the importance of building relationships and having a strong monthly giving program. This post combines both of these topics.

Specifically, I want to focus on building relationships with your current monthly donors. 

Don’t take these donors for granted. Monthly donors stepped up during the height of the pandemic and you should be able to rely on them during any economic uncertainty.

This doesn’t magically happen. You need to devote time to connecting with these valuable donors. 

Make a plan

First, 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 a variety of 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.

How about sending a handwritten note to your monthly donors? Another option is to create a postcard thank you and/or update. Your donors will really appreciate this nice gesture.

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.

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 offer donors reassurance that the organization received their gift, they’re often uninspiring. Many of these acknowledgments are just receipts and a receipt is not a thank you.

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

Here’s a timely example from Planned Parenthood.

Ann,

Thank you for supporting Planned Parenthood! Your tax-deductible monthly gift of ___has been processed.

The recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. JWHO is horrifying and dangerous. But all of us at Planned Parenthood remain committed to working to ensure that every patient who needs high-quality, affordable health care can access it.

In this crisis for abortion access, independent providers, abortion funds, and Planned Parenthood health centers will do everything they can to connect anyone who wants an abortion with the care they need.

Your monthly gift to Planned Parenthood fuels our efforts to expand access to abortion and protect affordable sexual and reproductive health care.

With our gratitude for your support, we also want to uplift our partners — abortion funds and independent providers — who are also doing the necessary work to make sure people who need care can access it.

We know you’re invested in our movement because of your generous monthly gift, and, if you’re so inclined, we encourage you to take a few minutes in the next few days to find your local abortion fund or independent provider and connect with them to see how you can help.

On behalf of all of the individuals that your support has allowed us to help, thank you for standing with us.

If you need to change your credit card or billing information, please visit the Self-Service Portal, or contact our Donor Services team by submitting a question online or calling 1-800-430-4907.

Thank you again for your support.

With the exception of using the word processed, I think this is a good acknowledgment. They also include information on how to change your credit card by accessing a self-service portal. This can also give people the opportunity to easily upgrade their gifts.

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 a school and interacts with kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD, who have been placed in foster care, and who are dealing with other difficult situations.

Keep your donors engaged with good content

Congratulations, your donor opened your email message. You want to keep them engaged. Here’s the full message from Pet Partners, along with a picture of a thank you note from the kids and the therapy dog Dusty Rose.

Dear Ann,

Your monthly commitment to Pet Partners allows for stability within our organization that directly affects our volunteer experience and the visits they make. Without your support of the human-animal bond, the beautiful impact that our therapy animal teams make wouldn’t be felt. Thank you.

Many handlers partner with other local therapy animal teams to create local community-based groups, as is the case with Santa Clarita Pet Partners Therapy Dogs. Handler Sharon reflects on her time working with this group alongside her therapy dog Dusty Rose as they finish up their visits for the school year at the local elementary school:

“We visit at the school once a week during the school year with children who have been diagnosed with ADHD, who have been placed in foster care, and who are dealing with other difficult situations. They always look forward to our dogs. Typically we have three dogs visiting at a time, each assigned to a student by the school therapist. The students will sit on the floor with the therapy dogs to pet them, do tricks, talk, and relax together.

“Dogs create a nonjudgmental environment for these children. Many times during our visits they will share private information and feelings that they have never told anyone else. They might share that someone is being mean to them, or that when they were gone their parents gave away their dog. Life is difficult for many of these students, but they light up at the sight of their furry friends and the unconditional love the dogs offer.”

During one of the latest visits, the children showed their appreciation through a beautiful thank you note. Though this note is written directly to the therapy animal teams, it is because of your support that the children get to experience the heartwarming impact of therapy animal visits.

Make it personal

Be sure to address your donors by name, just like what you see in the examples above. 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. Remember to thank these donors every month

Don’t ignore your valuable monthly donors. Keep building those important relationships

We’re Halfway Through the Year – Are You Meeting Your Goals So Far?

It’s hard to believe we’re halfway through 2022, isn’t it? The mid-point of the year is always a good time to see if you’re meeting your fundraising and communications goals. In this continuous time of uncertainty, your fundraising may be down. Yes, we’re seeing inflation and a possible recession, but that doesn’t mean you should stop fundraising. Another important lesson from the pandemic – Never stop fundraising!  Donors will give if they can.

You may need to make some changes to your fundraising plan and other goals. And, if you never made a fundraising plan for this year, stop right there and put one together now and use it for the remainder of the year. Don’t fly blind.

Take a look at what’s working and what’s not. It will be different for every organization. If you’re doing okay, keep it up. If you’re falling short, figure out where you need to make changes.

If you’re relying too much on grants and events and those are not bringing in the revenue you need, focus more on individual giving. Many nonprofits raise the most money from individual giving. Here are a few other suggestions to help you stay on track this year.

Start or enhance your monthly giving program

Monthly giving is doable for all sizes of nonprofit organizations, even small ones. It’s a great way to raise more money, as well as your donor retention rate. Retention rates for monthly donors are 90%, much better than other retention rates. You’ll have a steady stream of income and it may be more feasible for your donors, especially if they’re feeling pinched financially.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program, get started now. To get more monthly donors, send a special targeted letter to current donors inviting them to become monthly donors. This is a good opportunity to upgrade smaller dollar donors, or any donors for that matter.

Also, do something special for your current monthly donors. Send them a thank you postcard or email. They’ve made a commitment to you, now make a commitment to them.

I’ve always been a fan of monthly giving, even more so over the last two years. Organizations with strong monthly giving programs did better at the height of the pandemic.

Look into higher levels of giving

Another advantage of monthly giving is that these donors are more likely to become mid-level and major donors. Starting a major gift program will take time, but it’s doable even for small organizations. Look into starting one soon. Organizations with strong major gift programs have also done better over the last two years.

Ramp up your donor engagement

My last post was all about how you can engage with your donors this summer. The summer is usually a slower time for fundraising, but it’s a good time to show some donor love and plan for fall.

Some donors will pull back on their giving, but that doesn’t mean ghosting them. Keep engaging with them to help ensure they’ll give again, if they can.

Make improvements to your donor communication

Look at metrics such as website visits and email open rates. I know these don’t always tell the whole story, but if you’re not seeing a lot of engagement, figure out why.

Often, it’s because your content isn’t great or it’s too long. Maybe it’s layout and design. You could also be targeting the wrong audience. Summer is a good time to make some changes.

It’s not too late, yet

If you’re falling short of your goals, you still have time to do better, but you have to make an effort.

Be sure to keep evaluating your progress for the rest of the year. Even if you’re doing okay now, circumstances can change. You may want to monitor your progress more frequently (once a month instead of once a quarter) so you can try to stay on track. You don’t want to get caught off guard. 

Keep monitoring your progress to help ensure a successful year.

Image via PlusLexia.com.

How Your Nonprofit Can Keep Things Simple

Over the years I’ve realized the importance of keeping things simple. For some of us, the pandemic forced us to keep things simple since we were limited in what we could do, especially outside the house. I found pleasure in simple things such as taking a walk, reading, and doing yoga, all of which I 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, the economy, politics, the war in Ukraine, 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. I feel like we are in a constant vortex of change. I know you’re continuing to navigate this uncertain climate.

That said, 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. Suppose you send a message that includes requests for a donation, volunteers, and for people to contact their legislators. It’s likely your donors won’t respond to all of your requests and may not respond to any of them. Send separate messages for each request.

In your fundraising appeals, don’t bury your ask. You can start with a story, followed by a clear, prominent 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.

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 when I 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. There are programs out there that can help you determine the reading level. Plus, you can raise more money if your messages are easy to read.

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

We’re seeing real people being affected by real problems. 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.

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, clutter-free, and 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.

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

Photo via One Way Stock

Are You Still Using Jargon?

Over the last two years, we’ve seen many examples of real problems affecting real people. We’ve also seen more authenticity. So why are some nonprofit organizations still using jargon in their donor communication?

They may be using the same, boring templates they’ve used for years or they’re so used to some of these terms they don’t realize they fall flat with their donors. I think people use jargon because it’s insider language that makes them feel like they’re “in the know” in their professional community. It’s easy to slip into jargon mode in your work environment (whether that’s in person, virtual, or hybrid). But the danger comes when jargon creeps outside of your insular world and into your donor communication.

People need to understand you to connect with you

Sometimes we get lazy and use jargon when we can’t think of anything fresh and original. Instead, you see appeal letters, thank you letters, newsletter articles, and annual reports laced with cringe-worthy terms such as food insecurity, at-risk youth, underserved communities, and impactful. While donors may know what some of these terms mean, they’re vague, impersonal, and can come across as demeaning.

Are You Speaking The Same Language As Your Donors?

How to do better

You may know you need to freshen up some of your messages, but aren’t sure how to start. You may also have a lot going on and feel pressed for time. 

Sometimes you need to give a little more information. Let’s look at these problem terms and what you can say instead. You may use some of these terms internally and they might be in your mission statement, but please try to limit them when you communicate with your donors.

  • Food insecurity The USDA defines it as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” That’s a mouthful! I’ve never liked the term food insecurity because it’s so impersonal. We’re hearing this term a lot right now because it continues to be a big problem. Let’s go a step further and put it in human terms by describing a situation where a single mother has to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.
  • At-risk means there’s a possibility something bad will happen. Instead of just saying at-risk students or youth, tell a story or give specific examples of something bad that could happen or has happened. Our tutoring program works with high school students who are more likely to fail their classes, be held back, and drop out of school. Remote learning didn’t work for many of the students in our community and they have fallen behind. 
  • Underserved means not receiving adequate help or services. Instead of saying we work with underserved communities, explain what types of services these residents don’t receive. Maybe it’s healthcare, affordable housing, decent preschool education, or all of the above. Tell a story or give a specific example. Mara has to take two buses to see a doctor for her diabetes because there isn’t a good healthcare facility in her community. This makes her feel anxious because not everyone on the bus wears a mask, so sometimes she skips her appointments.
  • Impact means having an effect on someone or something. How are you doing that and why is it important? Again, give a specific example. Thanks to donors like you, we’ve helped families find affordable housing so they don’t have to live in a shelter, with other family members, or in their car. Now they have a place to call home. And, let’s please all agree to stop using the word impactful.

Tell a story

This is why stories are so important. You can get beyond that vague, impersonal jargon and let your donors see firsthand how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

What would Aunt Shirley or Uncle Ted think?

I always like to use this analogy. Imagine you’re at a family gathering and you’re explaining what your organization does to your 75-year-old Aunt Shirley, or maybe it’s Uncle Ted. Does she look confused and uninterested when you use words like underserved and at-risk, or does he perk up and want you to tell him more when you mention you’ve been able to help homeless families move into their own homes?

Stop using jargon in your work environment

Another way to help you transition from jargon to understandable language is to stop using it in your work environment. That means at staff meetings and in interoffice written communication. Maybe you go so far as to re-write your mission statement to make it more conversational. And telling staff and board members to recite your mission statement as an elevator pitch is a bad idea unless you can make it conversational.

Let’s stop using jargon when we can use clear, conversational language instead. Keep reading for more examples of why you should stop using jargon.

Too Much Jargon, Too Little Time: 3 Easy Tips to Simplify Your Copy

Nonprofit Jargon: Do Your Supporters Understand Your Fundraising?

How Jargon Destroys Nonprofit Fundraising & Marketing

What to Include on Your Crowdfunding Page: 7 Best Practices

An online fundraising page is crucial for a crowdfunding campaign’s success. Follow these seven best practices to attract donors and deepen engagement. 

By Missy Singh

One of the crucial elements of building any crowdfunding campaign for a nonprofit is setting up a crowdfunding page online. A well-designed crowdfunding page allows your campaign to stand out and reach an audience far beyond your immediate supporters.

While your cause may be unique, every crowdfunding page should contain certain consistent elements. In this guide, we’ll look at the following features to include on your crowdfunding page:

  • High-Quality Images and Videos
  • Regular, Specific Text Updates
  • Clear Goals and Deadlines
  • Robust Social Sharing Features
  • Consistent Branding
  • Secure Donation Submission Form
  • Additional Ways to Get Involved

In addition to these features, your crowdfunding page should be mobile-friendly, have fast page load times, and meet web accessibility guidelines. Taking these steps will make your crowdfunding site accessible to as many visitors as possible, and users can make donations on the go. If supporters can’t access your page, there’s a 0% chance they’ll end up donating.

1. High-Quality Images and Videos

What’s the first thing visitors will notice when they arrive on your crowdfunding page? Most likely, the images and videos.  

Visual components can make your campaign feel more personal and human, and increase donations and social sharing among supporters. However, if your images are outdated, generic, or poor-quality, you set the wrong tone for your campaign.   

According to crowdfunding best practices, the images and videos you post on your page should be:

  • Visible, clear, and adjustable depending on screen size. 
  • Related to the cause, project, or event you’re raising money for.
  • Regularly updated throughout the campaign.
  • Uploaded chronologically to show the progress you’re making in your campaign.

If your fundraiser involves in-person events or activities, also include a place on your page where participants can share their own photos to supplement the ones you post. Supporters will appreciate the opportunity to play an active role in showcasing your work. 

2. Regular, Specific Text Updates

Donors want to stay apprised of your campaign. Posting on your crowdfunding page is an effective way to keep them informed. Moreover, regular updates directly correspond to fundraiser success. According to Fundly’s fundraising statistics, campaigns that update supporters every five days raise three times more than those that don’t. 

Your updates don’t need to be extensive. Focus on providing interesting or useful information while avoiding jargon and generic text. When you include text on your page, you should:

  • Include the most relevant, up-to-date information. 
  • Share specific, relatable stories about the community you serve and the problems they face. 
  • Make a call to action that details the impact a donation will have.
  • Break it up with images, lists, examples, and bullet points.

However, don’t go overboard or make your posts too self-promotional. Your supporters don’t want to be pressured into donating. Instead, develop a communication schedule that dictates what and when you’ll post updates to your crowdfunding page.

3. Deadline and Goals

Because you’ll likely tie your updates to the fundraising goals and deadlines you’ve set, these should be clearly communicated on your page. 

To use your goals and deadlines to encourage supporters, make sure they are realistic. For example, it’s pretty unlikely a small nonprofit could raise millions of dollars over the course of a single day. Unrealistic goals can ultimately discourage staff and supporters alike and lead to decreased donations. If there’s no chance of meeting the goal in time, why should they even donate?

On the other hand, a realistic goal and timeline can be a good challenge for your supporters to meet. Add a countdown clock and fundraising thermometer to your crowdfunding page, showing how much time is left in the campaign and how much you have left to raise. These features will help visitors visualize the campaign’s success so far and how much more support you need. 

4. Social Sharing Features

Crowdfunding campaigns rely on social sharing. So, if it’s not easy for supporters to share your page, you’re hurting your campaign. Include buttons that facilitate sharing via email as well as to major social media platforms, including:

  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • TikTok

Sometimes, crowdfunding campaigns will start with significant social media engagement from supporters, but sharing then quickly dies off. You can try to avoid this decline and encourage continued sharing throughout the campaign by regularly adding new, shareable content to your crowdfunding platform. 

You can also encourage social sharing by reposting these updates on your social media profiles. When posting on social media, remember to ask questions and respond to comments to promote engagement.

5. Consistent Branding

Customize your crowdfunding page to align with your nonprofit’s existing brand. It should match your website, social media pages, and physical outreach. These should all include the same: 

  • Logo
  • Colors
  • Fonts
  • Mission
  • Language
  • Tone

Creating a consistent brand builds trust in the site and ensures visitors don’t leave mid-donation thinking it’s a scam. For the most consistent features, we recommend that you follow a style guide that clearly defines your brand’s language and visual expectations.

6. Secure Donation Form

What’s the most important part of your crowdfunding page? Probably, the donation form itself. To build trust with your supporters your donation form should be secure. Choose a platform that uses a PCI-compliant payment processor to keep donor data secure. Additionally, your form should include:

  • Custom information fields. Include fields that ask for important information, such as donors’ names and contact information. You might also ask for their demographic information and history with your organization. However, because crowdfunding donors generally want to make their donations quickly, limit your request to only the most necessary information.
  • Suggested donation buttons. Donors aren’t always sure how much they should give. When you include suggested donation buttons, you take the guesswork out of donating. Assess your existing donor data and median donation amounts to determine appropriate amounts to suggest.

To make donating as easy as possible, decrease the number of clicks site visitors need to make and embed your donation form directly onto your crowdfunding page.

7. Additional Ways to Get Involved

Your donor involvement shouldn’t stop at their donation. Use your crowdfunding page as a jumping-off point for deepening relationships with your donors as well as supporters who aren’t in a position to support your campaign financially. Consider including information on the following opportunities:

  • Volunteer Opportunities. Do you need help reaching out to donors, hosting events, or supporting regular programming? If you don’t ask, site visitors won’t know that you need this kind of support.
  • Matching Gifts. According to Double the Donation’s matching gift statistics, one in three donors would give a larger gift if their employer matched their donation. Advertise the opportunity for matching gifts on your crowdfunding page. Then, use a matching gift integration tool to automatically inform donors of the specific steps they’ll need to take to request a matching gift from their employers.
  • Events. Are there in-person or virtual events associated with your campaign? Use your crowdfunding page as an opportunity to remind supporters to register and attend.

That said, don’t overwhelm site visitors with too much information. On your main page, the primary focus should be on getting donations. Highlight just one or two additional ways to get involved and place further details on a post-donation thank-you landing page.


Throughout your fundraiser, keep track of your data, including donor information, donation amounts, communication click-through, open, and conversion rates, and other trends. Then, leverage this information to assess areas for growth and implement new fundraising ideas and strategies. 

For example, if you find that an unusual number of users are abandoning the page before donating, you might try incorporating a more direct call to action at the top of the page. Not every iteration will be a great success. That’s OK! By going through this process of refining your page and making adjustments, you’re setting your campaign up for success.

Missy Singh is the Director of Operations, Client Services & Sales at Fundly. She has been working there since 2011 when she started as a Customer Experience and Implementation Manager. As an integrated platform for social impact, Fundly serves as an industry leader in crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraising. In 2015 Fundly combined with NonProfitEasy to offer enterprise-level technology that addresses nonprofit needs with features such as a CRM, volunteer management, membership management, and event registration.

Are You Missing Out by Not Making Good Investments?

Your nonprofit organization may have cut back on some expenses over the past two years. When times are tough, some organizations, especially small ones with limited resources, veer towards trimming and often say “we can’t afford this.” This is known as the scarcity mindset.

Be careful before you nix something you think you can’t afford. It may be something you should be investing in.

This doesn’t mean going wild with your budget. You need to make good investments. Here are a few areas you should be investing more money in. The good news is if you do it right, these investments can help you raise more money.

Invest in a good CRM/database

Plain and simple, a good CRM (customer relationship management)/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. Many organizations don’t ask their donors to upgrade their gifts and you’re leaving money on the table when you neglect to do this.

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. Make sure to invest in a good email service provider, too.

Personalized letters and messages mean you can address your donors by name and not Dear Friend. You can welcome new donors and thank current donors for their previous support. You can send targeted mailings to lapsed donors to try to woo them back. You can send special mailings to your monthly donors. You can record any personal information, such as conversations you had with a donor and their areas of interest.

In short, you can do a lot with a good CRM/database. Invest in the best one you can afford, and Excel is not a database.

Worried about spending $50 to $100 a month on a CRM/database? You may be able to make it back if you can ask for an upgrade and personalize your communication.

Nonprofit CRM Software

Invest in direct mail

You may not use direct mail that much, especially over the last two years. Some organizations were never or rarely using it before the pandemic.

If that’s the case for you, you’re missing out on an effective and more personal way to communicate with your donors. Think of the enormous 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.

Yes, direct mail is more expensive, but you don’t have to mail that often. Quality is more important than quantity but aim for three or four times a year.

Give a little thought to what you send. Some ideas, besides appeal letters, include thank you letters/cards; Thanksgiving, holiday, or Valentine’s Day cards; infographic postcards; two to four-page newsletters; and annual/progress reports. You could put a donation envelope in your newsletter to raise some additional revenue, but do not 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 sending something 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 you to communicate by mail, then that’s what you should do.

Direct Mail vs. Email Marketing for Nonprofits

Invest in monthly giving

If you don’t have a robust monthly giving program, you’re missing out on a great way to raise more money. Monthly giving is good for all nonprofit organizations, but it’s especially useful for small nonprofits.

All it takes is for someone to start giving $5.00 or $10.00 a month (hopefully more). These small gifts add up. The retention rate for monthly donors is an impressive 90%. Plus, they’re more likely to become major and legacy donors.

Why Monthly Giving is Important for Your Nonprofit Organization

Invest in donor communications

By donor communications I mean thank you letters/notes, newsletters, and other updates. Some organizations don’t prioritize these and want to spend their time “raising money.” They don’t seem to realize they can raise more money with better donor communications. Remember this cycle – ask, thank, report, repeat.

Don’t skimp on your communications budget. Creating thank you cards and infographic postcards is a good investment and a necessity, not a luxury. Thank you cards are a much better investment than mailing labels and other useless swag.

Maybe you need to reallocate your budget to cover some of these expenses. You could also look into additional sources of unrestricted funding. 

Remember, you can also use email and social media to communicate with donors. This reiterates the need for a good email service provider with professional looking templates for your e-newsletter and other updates.

Donor Communication for Nonprofits: Essentials & Best Practices

Invest in infrastrucure

We need to stop treating overhead or infrastructure as something bad. Some funders want us to spend our budget on programs, but how can we successfully run our programs if we don’t have enough staff and can barely afford to pay the people we do have? A rotating door of development staff makes it hard to maintain those important relationships. Even though some people may be working from home, we still have rent and other expenses.

Until these funders stop worrying so much about overhead, you may want to invest some time in finding unrestricted funding sources – often individual gifts, such as monthly donations and major gifts.

Why The Nonprofit Sector Can No Longer Dance Around Infrastructure Challenges

Don’t limit yourself by saying you can’t afford certain expenses. If you make the right investments, you should be able to raise more money.

Photo via www.hilltopfinance.co.uk/

How You Can Make Your Messages Stand Out

Do you feel as if information overload is getting worse every year? There’s so much going on right now. Getting your messages out is never easy, but like everything else, it’s gotten a whole lot harder over the past two years.

Your nonprofit organization needs to continue communicating regularly with your donors and you need to do it well. With everything that’s going on, it’s possible they’ll miss your messages. 

Here are a few ways you can make your messages stand out. 

What’s your intention?

What’s the purpose of your message? What do you want your reader to do? Are you asking for a donation? Maybe you’re thanking your donor or sharing an update.

Think from your reader’s perspective. What would she be interested in or what would make him take action?

Don’t muddle your messages with too much information. Keep it simple and stick to one call to action or type of message. 

Choose the right channels

Most likely you’ll use more than one channel to communicate. Pay attention to the channels your donors are using and focus your efforts there.

Email may be the primary way you’re communicating right now and there’s a reason for that. It’s fast, easy, relatively inexpensive, and almost everyone has an email address. You can quickly get a message out to a lot of people. Also, unlike social media, it’s something you can control. You don’t have to rely on a social media algorithm to hope your message ends up in your donor’s feed.

The downside is people get a huge amount of email from a variety of different sources. Plus, the average open rate is around 20%. I don’t know what’s going on in the conservative world, but some liberal political groups send way too much email, which I pretty much ignore. And, social media is often just a lot of of a lot.  

It’s easy for your electronic messages to get lost in the shuffle. Your donors may just tune things out, even if you have something engaging to share. 

While you’ll likely use electronic communication pretty regularly, don’t discount direct mail. Your donors are more likely to see these messages. We get far less postal mail than electronic communication. Also, someone can put a piece of mail aside and look at it later. Don’t count on that happening with any type of electronic communication. You can also communicate by phone. This is a great way to thank your donors.

Going multichannel is usually your best bet. This is very common for fundraising campaigns and inviting people to events, as well as including a link to your e-newsletter on your social media platforms. This way if people miss your initial message on one platform, they may see it on a different one. You’ll also want to send regular reminders for fundraising appeals and event invitations.

Get noticed right away

Remember, your donors have a lot going on and you need to capture their attention right away.

Your fundraising letters and anything else you send by mail needs to look appealing enough to open. You could put a tagline on the envelope. That doesn’t mean something like It’s Our Annual Appeal. Try something like – How you can help families put food on the table. Your envelope should look personal and not resemble a bill or junk mail.

“Dale’s” mail

Once your donor opens your fundraising appeal, lead with a story followed by a clear, prominent ask. When they open your thank you letter, they should be greeted with gratitude.

A good subject line is the key to getting someone to open your email message. Keep in mind that your donor’s inbox is bursting with messages. Don’t use something boring like April e-newsletter or Donation Received. Entice them with Find out how you helped families put food on the table or You just did something amazing today!  

Keep them engaged once they open your message.

Keep it short

In many cases, a shorter message is best. You want a good balance between saying too much and saying too little. All your words should count, so be careful about adding too much filler. That often includes bragging about your organization and explaining what you do.

Keep in mind the average human attention span is a mere eight seconds.

What’s in My Inbox | Shorter attention spans means you need to deliver with your enews

Your goal is to get your donors to read your messages. If it looks long and boring, they probably won’t bother.

Make it easy to read and scan

Besides sending a short message, use short paragraphs and lots of white space, too. Your messages need to be easy to read and scan in an instant. Most people aren’t going to read something word for word. Be sure they can quickly get the gist of what you want to say. Don’t use microscopic font either – use 12 point or higher.

Be personal and conversational

Write directly to your reader using clear, conversational language – no jargon. Don’t confuse your donors with generic messages.

Don’t cast a wide net

It’s important that you send your messages to the right audience and your audience isn’t everyone.

You’ll have more luck with a fundraising appeal when you send it to past donors or people who have a connection to your cause. The same is true for event invitations or recruiting volunteers.

You may want to reach out to as many people as possible, but that won’t guarantee you’ll get more donations or event attendees. Segmenting and engaging with the right audience will bring you better results.

Be a welcome visitor

If you communicate regularly and do it well, your donors should recognize you as a reputable source and are more likely to read your messages. If all you do is send them generic fundraising appeals, then it’s time for a change.

When you send email, make sure people know it’s coming from your organization. In the from field, put DoGood Nonprofit or Brenda Davis, DoGood Nonprofit. If you just put a person’s name or info@dogoodnonprofit.org, people may not know who it’s from and ignore your message.

Only send email to people who have opted into your list. Otherwise, you’re spamming them. Some people will choose not to receive email from you and that’s okay. The ones who do are interested in hearing from you. Give people the option to unsubscribe, too.

Even though people only get a few pieces of mail a day, most of it’s junk mail. You never want any of your letters, newsletters, or postcards to be perceived as junk mail (see above).

By putting in a little time and effort, you can help ensure that your messages stand out.

3 Strategies for Nonprofit Messages that Stand Out in Donors’ Mailboxes

How to Write Awesome Emails Your Donors Want to Read