Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

18761109699_50d9b19a78_oWe’re halfway through 2020 and it looks like this will be a year that will stand out in history. We’re having a global pandemic, along with a severe economic downturn. The horrific killing of George Floyd by a police officer spawned protests against racism and police brutality.

Systemic racism is something that’s been part of the United States (and other countries) for centuries. Are we just now realizing that Aunt Jemima is a racist symbol?

It’s not surprising that the COVID-19 outbreak and economic devastation are affecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities at a much higher level. It’s very likely that all of these situations are affecting the people/community you work with.

I want to briefly address racism right now. If your nonprofit organization works with the BIPOC community, then they are affected by racism. If you’re working on issues such as affordable housing, homelessness, education, health care, etc, these have ties to racism.

Your organization shouldn’t be afraid to talk about racism when you tell your stories or communicate in other ways. Vu Lee addressed this last month.

Have nonprofit and philanthropy become the “white moderate” that Dr. King warned us about?

You may have made a statement against racism, which is a good first step. Don’t stop with that.

Donors want to hear your stories

Stories are one of the best ways to communicate with your donors. Unfortunately, you’re probably not using them enough. 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. I know it’s even harder now since the COVID-19 outbreak has upended the way you work. Maybe everyone is still working at home or only some of you are back at the office. You can still do this. The summer is a good time to come up with some new stories.

Your stories need to be relevant

Just as it’s been for the last few months, your stories need to take the current climate into account. That’s why you new need ones. You’re seeing real people with real problems in real time. These posts address this more.

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

HOW TO TELL YOUR NONPROFIT’S STORY, EVEN IN THE MIDST OF CRISIS

How to Communicate with Supporters During COVID-19: Nonprofit & Brand Examples

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.

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, especially now.

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

Create a story bank to help you organize all your stories. Take advantage of slower times of the year to gather 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. You can use the same stories in different channels.

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 an ally and be respectful of your clients/community.

I have to admit I don’t know the best way to approach some of this and would welcome suggestions.

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 the community continue to have access to healthy food. 

Make your stories personal 

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

There continues to be a lot going on and your organization can’t ignore the current climate. Tell stories that address these situations and be respectful of the people/community you work with.

Finally, COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. Please be smart – wear a mask, practice social distancing, and avoid crowds. Stay safe and be well!

 

The 5 C”s of Good Communication

112660480_e48d18a191_wOne of the first posts I wrote when I started this blog was the 4 C’s of Good Content (clear, concise, conversational, and compelling). I decided to revisit that post and add a 5th C (connection). I gave it a new title, too.

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 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. Get to the 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. 

Keep in mind that many donors won’t read something if it looks like it will be too long. That’s especially true now when we’re dealing with more information than we can take in.

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 dreaded passive voice. Is that the way you talk to your friends?

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. 

HOW TO MAKE YOUR NONPROFIT WRITING MORE CONVERSATIONAL

Is it Compelling?

Is whatever you’re writing going to capture someone’s attention right away and keep them interested? 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. 

The Importance of Segmenting Your Donors

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 the people/community you serve. They also want to feel appreciated.

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

In Praise of Postcards

15190799333_66b26279cc_wIf you’ve been fundraising and communicating with your donors the last couple of months, you’ve probably been doing most of it electronically. 

Electronic communication is good, but communicating by mail is better. Start thinking about communicating by mail again. If not now, sometime soon. Especially if donors contributed since the COVID-19 outbreak. They deserve to receive something nice in the mail.

Now you might say – “But mail is too expensive. So is printing something. We have a small staff. We’re just now going back to the office.” I understand all that. I know direct mail can be expensive and putting together a mailing takes more time, but it’s an investment that can help you raise more money.

One way to mail that shouldn’t cost too much is using postcards. First, you can probably do them in house. Also, if you do it well, it’s a quick, easy way to capture your donor’s attention right away. Creating a postcard will be less expensive than creating a four-page newsletter. In the best of times, donors don’t want to be overwhelmed with a lot of information.

People never get nearly as much mail as they do email. Direct mail is a proven way to communicate and engage. I’m starting to see more mail now, even from nonprofits.

Donors are more likely to see something that comes in the mail. Mail is more personal and people need connection right now.

If landscaping and roofing companies can send postcards, so can you. Here are a couple of ways you can use postcards.

Thank your donors

A few months ago when I was encouraging you to keep fundraising, which you should be doing, I gave you a pass on thanking your donors by mail. 

If and when it’s feasible for you to mail, you can send your donors a thank you postcard. Find an engaging photo and pour on the gratitude. If you ran an emergency campaign, thank your donors for contributing to that. Show how your donors’ gifts are helping you make a difference for the people/community you serve right now. 

You could also send your donors a thank you postcard because they’re great and you couldn’t do your work without them.

Add a handwritten personal note, too. Of course, you can also send handwritten thank you cards, but a postcard may be a little easier right now. I would opt for a thank you postcard over the usual boring form letter.

The world doesn’t feel like a very nice place right now. Use this as an opportunity to show kindness, and keep doing that as much as possible.

Share an update

A postcard can be a good way to share an update with your donors. You could make an infographic to give them a quick glance at some of your progress. Some organizations use oversize postcards for their annual report. I’m not suggesting you do your 2019 annual report this way if you haven’t done one yet. Right now, I would send something that’s relevant to what you’ve been doing over the last couple of months.

6 Types of Nonprofit Infographics to Boost Your Campaigns

10 Nonprofit Infographics That Inspire and Inform

Other ways to use postcards

You can also use a postcard for fundraising. While not as effective as a direct mail package (letter, reply envelope,etc.), it can be used as a heads up for a campaign or a reminder. If you’re worried about mailing costs, I would use a direct mail package for fundraising. And if you haven’t sent a fundraising appeal by mail in the last few months, you could be missing out.

Christmas In Your Mailbox

You can use a postcard for a Save the Date for an event. It’s likely you won’t be holding in-person events for a while, but a Save the Date postcard could draw more people to your virtual event.

What to keep in mind

Your postcard needs to capture your donor’s attention right away. It needs to be visual and not include a lot of text. The text you do include needs to be engaging, conversational, and donor-centered. Examples could include Thank You, Because of you, or Look what you helped us do.

Yes, communicating by mail costs more, but it can pay off if you create something more personal that your donors will see. Whether you’re saying thank you, sharing an update, or a combination of both, connect with your donors by sending them a postcard.

What to Use When: Letters, Postcards, Catalogs, Folded Newsletters

Fundraising Postcard Ideas

The Value of Keeping Things Simple

8942956212_3c06d69a16_mOver the years I’ve come to find the value of keeping things simple. In a way, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced us to keep things simple since we’re limited in what we can do, especially outside the house. Instead of running back and forth from place to place, we’re staying put, although we’re spending more time online.

I realize the pandemic has also complicated our lives and brought with it a lot of stress and uncertainty. But during this time, we can find pleasure in simple things such as taking a walk, reading a novel, or baking bread (which is not keeping it simple for me since I don’t bake anything that involves yeast or rolling dough). 

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. Right now, this can apply to how much we read about COVID-19 – 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’re going through a lot. You’ve had to make changes in the way you do your work. That may be providing limited contact or remote services or not be being open at all. Some of you may still be working from home, which can make your work more complicated. 

You need to raise money and communicate with your donors fairly regularly, while not taking on too much. Donors are also going through a lot, 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 communication without making it too difficult for you.

Keep it simple by planning ahead

If communicating regularly with your donors sounds too overwhelming, plan ahead by using a communications calendar. You should be in touch every one to two weeks right now. Fill your calendar with different ways to do that. Think ask, thank, update/engage, repeat. And as I mention below, shorter communication is the way to go.

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. Make it relevant to the current situation. 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 email or letter should thank the donor. Simple, right? Make them feel good about giving to your organization. Welcome new donors and welcome back returning donors. You don’t need a lot of wordy text explaining what your organization does.

Keep your messages simple, yet sincere, and include a clear call to action.

5 Nonprofit Email Call-to-Actions That Inspire Action

Keep it simple with shorter, easy to read messages

If your communication is too long, most people won’t read it. This is crucial now. People are getting so much information it’s hard to take it all in.

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.

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 Eastside Community Food Bank. 

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

How Jargon Destroys Nonprofit Fundraising & Marketing

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

Photo by One Way Stock

 

How Nonprofits Can Benefit from Remote Work

49833571136_54d28261f7_wThe nonprofit sector is experiencing an urgent need to conduct business from a remote location. The perks of this arrangement include preventing workers and volunteers from contracting illnesses, spending less money on overhead, having people across the world become involved in your organization, and more. However, it does take work to make your organization function in a digital world.

Communication is key

Just about everyone knows that communication is crucial to running a successful organization. However, a remote work environment can make this more challenging. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to be proactive and communicate with your team.

No matter the size of your organization, reaching out to all staff on a regular basis to check in is important. Setting up meetings with tools such as Zoom or Google Hangouts allows you to visually check in with staff and make sure they have what they need to complete their tasks, as well as holding them accountable for their work. This is also a great time to address triumphs and challenges in their day-to-day lives.

Encouraging employees to have casual conversations is also important in building an organizational culture. Instant messaging apps such as Slack or Discord provide a great outlet for employees to talk to one another in a more casual setting. These applications are also great for quick questions and a way for teams to talk throughout the day.

Follow Cybersecurity Best Practices

As a nonprofit, donors and those you serve depend on you to keep their personal information secure. Cybersecurity starts with your employees. It’s important to train everyone affiliated with your organization on cybersecurity best practices. This includes things such as how to identify a phishing email, the importance of using strong passwords, and what to do if they suspect a cyberattack.

It’s also very important to use the proper software. Provide organizational laptops, if you are able to, and require that employees only work on these devices. If this isn’t feasible, stress the importance of staff installing an antivirus program on whichever device they use. In addition, stress the importance of using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if employees are working from a public Wi-Fi network, such as those at libraries and coffee shops if those are open.

If you are the victim of a cyberattack, it’s important to be upfront and honest with donors and the public. Having data backed up in another location will help you put everything back together quicker. However, when it comes to cybersecurity, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Work smarter, not harder

Creating an efficient workflow is important for every organization, but even more so for nonprofits. Technology like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can streamline many day-to-day tasks for your organization. A few examples would be emailing potential donors, donation processing, website chatbots, and tracking for tax and payroll purposes. These automated “bots” can be programmed from any location to perform any task for your organization, and can even make basic decisions on their own.

Automating tasks can help save you money on payroll and overhead, as well as making your organization active 24/7/365. This also frees up your workforce for tasks that require a human touch, such as connecting with donors and the public, creating strategy, and creating content for your nonprofit. In today’s world, this is technology that can be used by organizations of any size.

Be visible

In 2020, having a digital presence is more important than ever. This means having an easy-to-use and up-to-date website; being active on social media platforms; and reaching out to donors, other organizations, and the general public.

One great way to take advantage of online communication is communicating via video chat. Studies have shown that communicating visually is far more effective than audio-only communication. Reaching out to potential donors and volunteers via video is a great way to boost fundraising efforts. Thanking donors with a personalized video call is an excellent substitute for letting someone know you appreciate them if you can’t communicate in person.

Finally, in a sluggish economy, it’s especially important to communicate with the general public about what you’re doing and that you’re still active in the community. You can do this with frequent posting by email and on social media platforms, as well as encouraging staff to share updates on their own personal accounts.

In today’s unprecedented times, nonprofit organizations are some of the first to struggle. However, this does not mean that work needs to come to a standstill. Remote work and e-commerce are critically important today, and this trend will only continue in the future. Working to create a strong remote workplace will benefit your organization now, and in years to come. 

How to do a Better Job of Donor Engagement

1411805770_c4776a4e8a_wDonor engagement is always important, and it’s especially important right now. Your inclination may be to do less when you actually should be doing more.

Donor Communications: Now is the time for MORE communications, not less

I’d put your more formal newsletter on hold right now and send short updates instead. This will help you stay in touch more often. Aim for once a week, if you can, or every other week. I’ve been advocating for shorter, more frequent updates for a while and now is a good time to start doing this.

In the best of times, nonprofit organizations don’t do a very good job with their donor engagement. Both by not communicating enough and/or sending something that’s uninspiring.

The fact that you have a donor newsletter doesn’t mean you’re engaging with people. Most newsletters are boring and organization-centered. Often they contain articles that don’t interest your donors. That needs to change.

Here are a few ways to do a better job with your donor engagement – both now and in the future.

Relevance rules

Your updates must be relevant to the current COVID-19 situation. Otherwise, it’s beyond clueless. Try to send updates in which you aren’t asking for donations. You can still do fundraising in separate messages. In fact, you should still be fundraising. Share success stories if you can.

HOW TO BE RELEVANT NOW (AND WHAT NOT TO SAY)

Some organizations are sharing their 2019 annual reports. Doing this now emphasizes how quickly an annual report becomes out of date. If you had sent it in January or February, it would have been more relevant. 

Perhaps your annual report was already in the works, so if you feel you must share it now, you have to reference the current situation.

Should we send our scheduled appeal/newsletter/annual report in the midst of COVID-19?

Remember that an annual report is for your donors, and do you think your donors are that interested in what you did last year?

Your donors are interested in what you’re doing NOW. 

Being donor-centered is key

After all, it’s donor engagement, not organizational engagement. Think about what your donors want to hear. Most likely it’s how you’re making difference for the people/community you serve during this time of crisis. Let your donors know how they’re helping you with this.

I realize nonprofits have gone to great lengths to change the way they do things. That’s great, but don’t brag about your organization. Maybe you run a community dinner every Thursday and now you have to serve boxed to-go meals. Instead of patting yourself on the back explaining how you were able to pull this off, say something like – Thanks to donors like you, we are able to continue providing much-needed healthy dinners to people in the community.

Focus on your mission

Why you’re doing something is more important than how or what. If your homeless shelter has to take on extra measures to keep it clean, emphasize the importance of the health and safety of your clients, many of whom are at greater risk of getting COVID-19. You want to continue to provide them with a safe place where they will be treated with dignity and respect.

If you decide to do your usual monthly e-newsletter, don’t give it the subject line April Newsletter. A better subject line would be – Find out how you’re helping families continue to put food on the table.

All stories/articles should pertain to the current situation. You can thank your major funders, in fact, you should thank all your donors, but bring your focus back to your mission. 

Find ways to stay in touch

It shouldn’t be that hard to find something to share. Remember, shorter is better. Maybe just one subject consisting of a few paragraphs. Your donors don’t want something that’s going to require too much attention. You could also go the visual route by including a photo or video.

An organization that works with immigrants and refugees had a group of people make masks for health care workers and posted a picture of the colorful masks they made.

Museums are offering virtual tours. Some theatres are showing videos of performances. If you’re an environmental organization, you could share nature photos or videos. If you work with animals, pictures of our furry friends are always welcome.

You could send an advocacy alert. These are a great way to engage without asking for a donation. One organization is asking people to contact their federal legislators to make it easier for people to get food stamps, which would reduce the burden on food banks.

Maybe you could use some volunteer help. In my last post, I mentioned getting volunteers to help with thank you calls or personalized emails. Perhaps you have other projects for virtual volunteers. Give a shout-out to any volunteers who are helping you right now.

This is a good time to revise your communications calendar to help you plan ways to stay in touch during this time.

HEARTBEATS AND REMARKABLES OF NONPROFIT COMMUNICATIONS

Use the right channels

Most likely you’ll communicate by email and social media. Monitor what channels your donors are using. If only a handful of people are on Instagram, don’t use it much. Pay attention to their engagement and track open rates, click-throughs, likes, comments, etc. Of course, people may miss your electronic messages, which is one of the reasons you should communicate regularly.

Send something by mail if you can. You could also use the phone if you’ve established a connection with people that way. Maybe they gave a donation to help you get laptops for your tutoring programs. You can let them know that the kids and their tutors are meeting via Zoom so they can continue their weekly reading time.

Be sure to keep your website up to date, too. It needs to address the current situation on your home page, donation page, and other sections that include updates.

Pay attention to your donor retention 

Good donor engagement often leads to good donor retention. As the economy worsens, it will be harder for some people to give this year, but hopefully, they’ll give again when they can.

They may give less or cut back on organizations they donate to. Don’t let yours be one of them. They might decide between the organization that sends handwritten notes or the one that just blasts generic fundraising appeals.

The need for nonprofits will grow for a while. You’ll need your donors and keeping them engaged will help you get through the tough times ahead.

Donor Preservation in the Pandemic

Stay safe, wear a mask when you’re out in public, be well, and practice random or not so random acts of kindness as much as possible.

Give Your Donors the Best Thank You Possible

44eb5-5386099858_4fe6c8bf1bI hope both you and your nonprofit organization are doing okay right now.

You may have seen an increase in giving over the last few weeks. In times of crisis, people want to do something. They want to help if they can.

I’ve seen an upswing of kindness lately. Now you need to extend that same kindness back to your donors. Give them the best thank you possible. Donors are going through a lot, but some of them took the time to give you a donation.

Thanking donors is often treated as a last-minute to-do item instead of an equally important component of fundraising. Just as you shouldn’t stop fundraising, you shouldn’t stop thanking your donors. I know it’s harder now, but you can do it.

Quality counts

Don’t worry so much about the 48-hour rule right now. Concentrate on quality. That goes for every aspect of the thank you experience – the landing page, the automatic thank you email, the additional note/letter or phone call. Don’t give your donors the same old, boring stuff.

Create an engaging thank you landing page

Just like your fundraising material, your thank you communication needs to address the current COVID-19 outbreak.

Create a landing page that addresses the current situation. Perhaps you’re conducting an emergency campaign. Even if you’re not, a huge dose of gratitude needs to pop up on your landing page. Open it with Thank you, Diane! or You’re amazing!

Your landing page is a great place for a short thank you video from your Executive Director or Board Chair. She should specifically explain how your gift is helping the people/community you serve. For example – Thank you so much for your generous gift to the Eastside Community Food Bank. We’re seeing a huge number of people coming in right now. Your gift will help us continue to provide healthy meals for neighborhood residents.

If it’s too hard to create a video, you could include similar text with a photo of volunteers handing out food.

Here’s an example of a message I saw on a nonprofit’s landing page.

We greatly appreciate your gift to our COVID-19 Emergency Services Fund and are glad to count on the ongoing support of friends like you to help us provide vital services to men and women on their journey out of homelessness.

Make that automatically generated email sound like it’s coming from a human

The advantage of the automatically generated thank you email is you can get a message out right away. The disadvantage is it often sounds like it was written by a robot.

There’s absolutely no reason this email can’t sound warm and personal. Again, get specific such as the examples above. It’s hard to personalize these too much, but this is the initial thank you. You’ll send a more personal one later. 

You may be able to distinguish between single and monthly gifts. Speaking of monthly gifts, I often get acknowledgments every month for my monthly gifts. It’s time to stop sending the usual generic thank you email and specifically address how the current situation is affecting your organization, because I know it is.

Taking your thank yous to the next level

I like to recommend a thank you by mail, preferably a handwritten note. Communicating by mail may not be feasible if your staff is working from home. Also, I know some people are skittish about dealing with mail during the outbreak.

If you can mail handwritten notes, that’s great. If you don’t have organizational thank you cards, you could get some generic ones.

Other alternatives are thanking by phone, personalized email, and/or personalized video. This is contingent on what type of contact information you have for your donors.

Now you want to rally a team of board members, staff, and other volunteers to help with this. Most people are home right now, so they should be able to devote a few hours a week to thanking donors.

Send them phone numbers and email addresses, along with a sample script. You want to try to personalize it as much as possible. This will be more work, but it pays off in the end.

Here are a couple of sample scripts/notes.

Hi Jeff,

This is Bonnie Peterson and I’m a board member at the Eastside Community Food Bank. Thank you so much for your generous gift of $50 to our emergency fund. We’re seeing a huge number of people coming in right now. Your gift will help us continue to provide healthy meals for neighborhood residents. We really appreciate your support at this time.

If you get someone on the line, be prepared to have a conversation if they ask any questions. It’s also fine to leave a voice mail message.

Dear Laura,

Thank you so much for your generous gift of $50 in addition to your already generous monthly gifts. We really appreciate donors like you who are helping keep our food pantry stocked and operating during this difficult time for our clients.

Thank you again. We are so grateful for your support.

Sincerely,

Amy Stevens
Executive Director

Keep in mind that your donors may not notice your email message because they’re getting so many right now. It will help if you include an enticing subject line such as Thanks from Meg at Reach Out And Read!

The subject line above is from an email message I received that included a personalized video.

This is something you could do. I was pleasantly surprised to receive such a nice thank you message.

If your donors don’t notice or open your email, you’ll have another opportunity to say thank you by mail as soon as it’s possible for you to do that. 

No donation is too small

Every donor, whether she gives $5.00 or $500,000, gets an amazing thank you. People want to give, but some people can’t afford to give much right now, if at all.

Keep sending thank you messages to all your donors, whether or not they’ve given recently. You can’t say thank you enough. 

Thanking donors in the future

In the future, let’s plan to go beyond transactional receipts. Remove those words from your landing pages and thank you letters. Create thank you templates that ooze with gratitude.

Create a gratitude practice

Cultivating a gratitude practice, both at your organization and in your personal life, will help you create an attitude of gratitude.

I used to work at an organization where we began each staff meeting saying what we were thankful for, trying to ensure everyone got thanked. This is something you could do now if you’re having virtual staff meetings.

In your personal life, find a time each day to think of a few things you’re thankful for. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. Maybe you notice the azaleas blooming as you take a walk, practicing social distancing of course. Maybe it’s your family and friends. Maybe it’s chocolate.

Be well.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Stop Fundraising

3344881392_250068bc15_wNo doubt the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting your nonprofit organization, possibly severely. You need revenue to cover both planned and unplanned expenses.

You may have already heard this over the last few weeks, but I’m going to repeat it. 

Don’t stop fundraising

Keep up with what you’ve already planned and make adjustments as needed. Here are some suggestions to help you during this time.

Look at your fundraising plan

I really hope you have a fundraising plan for 2020. If you don’t, you should put one together, even though you’re probably overwhelmed with current needs now. At the very least, put together a plan to take you through the next few months.

For those of you who already have a plan, take a look at yours. Maybe you have a spring appeal, and you should still carry that out. Maybe you have an event planned. Is this something you can postpone or do you need that expected revenue now? You may need to conduct an emergency campaign to cover additional expenses that have incurred right now. I’ll cover these in more detail below.

Goodbye generic appeals

This is not business as usual. You must specifically mention how the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting your organization. Don’t send a generic appeal like the one Jeff Brooks mentions in this post.

Fear makes bad fundraising — when it most needs to be good

If you’re already planning a spring appeal, go ahead with it. Hopefully, you haven’t pre-printed letters with no mention of the current situation. If so, you’ll need to add something to the mailing, maybe on a half sheet of paper. If your letters have already gone out, then you’ll need to reference COVID-19 in your follow-up communication.

Many organizations are launching emergency appeals. Run it like any other campaign, making it multi-channel with multiples asks. The post below lays out the components of a multichannel campaign. A couple of things I want to highlight are creating a specific donation page and trying not to send follow up appeals to people who’ve already donated to your emergency campaign.

Once is Not Enough – Why You Need a Multichannel Fundraising Campaign

Get specific. How can your donors help the people/community you serve? Maybe you run a tutoring program that now needs to go virtual, but some kids don’t have access to computers, so you need to raise funds to get them laptops or Chromebooks. Perhaps your food pantry is seeing a higher volume right now.

Segment your appeals as much as possible. This will help give your appeals a more personal touch.

The Importance of Segmenting Your Donors

Emphasize monthly gifts. A monthly donation may be more feasible for your donors at this time. You can also ask your monthly donors to upgrade or give an additional gift. 

How Monthly Giving is a Win-Win for Your Nonprofit

Don’t be afraid to be honest with your donors. If you’re anticipating a shortfall, let them know that. Keep them apprised of your goals – you need to raise $25,000 or buy 25 laptops.

Don’t treat this like the usual year-end money grab. Send nuanced appeals that specifically tell your donors how they can help.

Reach out to your major donors

Your first contact with your major donors needs to be a check-in. See how they’re doing. Then make a plan on how to proceed. These posts offer some guidelines.

4 Ways to Engage Major Donors During the Covid-19 Crisis

Questions and Answers in a Time of Crisis

Hold a virtual event

If you have an event scheduled this spring, you’ll need to figure out your best course of action. Most likely you’re counting on that projected revenue. You could postpone it, but we still might not be able to hold an in-person event three to six months from now.

Some organizations are holding virtual events or asking people to donate to what would have been your event or walkathon. If you have a walkathon or 10K planned, you could ask participants to raise money for you. This is risky because people have a lot going on in their lives and may not want to do that right now.

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR FUNDRAISING EVENT IS CANCELLED DUE TO CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus Impacting Your Nonprofit? Here’s What to Do

Seek other sources of support

The CARES act, recently passed by Congress, may offer some relief. 

Breaking down the CARES Act:  How the New Stimulus Bill Could Provide Relief for Social Good Organizations

U.S. Nonprofits and Suppliers: What You Need to Get an Emergency Forgivable Covid-19 Loan

Your state and local government may also offer relief packages. I know in Boston, the city has put together the Boston Resiliency Fund, which is supported by individuals, foundations, and corporations.

Your current grant funders, as well as your local community foundation, may be able to help. Vu Lee of NonprofitAF (a must-read blog) is asking foundations to step up by increasing their payout rate and simplifying the application process. Both are long overdue.

10 archaic and harmful funding practices we can no longer put up with

Corporations could also help by providing a donation or matching funds. Large corporations that are doing a thriving business right now should do their part. I’m looking at you, Amazon, and our household is contributing to your increasing revenue. Personally, I think Amazon should give generously to communities and nonprofits, and that includes increasing the amount they give through Amazon Smile. 

Fundraising in the future

Like everything else right now, we’re changing the way we do things. Whether it’s Congress coming together (sort of) to pass bipartisan legislation to me realizing doing yoga almost every day is helping me get through this time.

From now on let’s strive for better fundraising appeals. Ones that are more personal and specific. Some of us have realized the importance of planning ahead and having a plan in the first place.

My hope is people should help as much as they can – whether it’s an additional $25 or something in the millions.

Finally, give a round of applause to health care workers and anyone else out on the front lines – grocery store workers, Amazon employees, delivery people, postal workers, etc. Kudos to all of you!

Read on for more information about fundraising during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Fundraising Action Plan for Crisis Response

To Ask or Not to Ask – Today’s Nonprofit Coronavirus Question

Making Your Messages Stand Out is More Important than Ever

27350190733_eda43b9c77_mGetting your messages out is never easy. But in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, just like everything else, it’s gotten a whole lot harder.

Your nonprofit organization needs to continue communicating regularly with your donors. Information overload is an understatement right now. Besides, your donors are going through a lot. They may miss your initial message, if they’re even looking at their email and social media platforms at all.

Here are a few ways to make your messages stand out that are specific to our current situation.

Don’t ignore COVID-19 right now

Your messages need to acknowledge how the COVID-19 situation is affecting your organization and I would find it hard to believe that it’s not. This means no generic messages such as support our programs.

I’m surprised when I get irrelevant emails that haven’t taken into account what’s going on. I received a message from a B & B we’ve stayed at that had the subject line Happy First Day of Spring. They said they would be opening for the season on April 6 (I doubt that) and they were offering special deals on rooms. This went out on March 19, after our state started placing restrictions on restaurants and gatherings. I seriously hope this was something they auto-scheduled at least a week beforehand. This is a good reminder that if you have auto-scheduled messages that aren’t relevant, to cancel them or make necessary changes.

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.

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

Here are some examples of how to make a fundraising request, thank your donors, and share an update, in separate messages of course.

Your fundraising request needs to be specific and straightforward. This is an example of a need and how donors can help. Project Bread, a Massachusetts organization committed to preventing and ending hunger, had to cancel their huge walkathon that raíses over $2 million. At the same time, all schools in the state are closed, and some students rely on receiving free breakfast and lunch provided by their school. Project Bread is requesting donations to make sure these kids continue to receive meals, usually by picking them up at a certain location.

Your needs don’t just apply to the people you serve. Not everyone is able to work from home and you still need to pay rent and utilities. A local nonprofit movie theatre that’s closed sent out a note of gratitude emphasizing they’re continuing to pay their staff including hourly employees who sell and take tickets and work the concession stand.

Stay in touch with frequent updates. An organization that provides support for homeless families had to close their centers. They’re working to continue to provide food for families, as well as getting them gift cards to buy food. They’re also continuing to pay their staff.

7 Emails Your Nonprofit Can Send During the COVID-19 Outbreak

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.

But guess what, people are getting a huge amount of email right now from a variety of different sources. The same is true with social media. It’s easy for your messages to get lost.

While I’m a huge fan of direct mail, that may not be feasible at this time. You could also communicate by phone.

This post will primarily cover email communication, but you can apply these suggestions to other types of communication, too.

Get noticed right away

Now more than ever, a good subject line is the key to getting someone to open your email message. If your donor doesn’t bother to open it, all your work has gone to waste.

Choose something specific like Help us provide more meals to kids. You can specifically address COVID-19 like these [COVID-19] 3 ways to help from your couch and Crisis Support for Homeless Families During COVID-19. You could also choose something nice and simple like Thank You to Our Community.

Keep it short

Your next step is to get your donors to read your message. Keep them interested. With email, yours may be one of hundreds they’ll receive that day, along with whatever else is going on in their lives, which right now is a lot. 

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 (I’m doing a lot of scanning right now) in an instant. Don’t use microscopic font either.

Be personal and conversational

Write directly to your reader using clear, conversational language – no jargon. Address your message to a person – Dear Cathy and not Dear Friend. 

This is no time for vague, generic messages.

Segment your lists 

Personalize your messages by segmenting your mailing lists. You could invite your committed monthly donors to give an additional donation or encourage current single gift donors to upgrade to monthly giving. 

Go the extra mile when you thank your donors

Create a thank you landing page and automatically generated email that specifically references your current situation if you can. Get rid of anything that looks like a receipt. Give your donors a real heartfelt thank you.

Sending a handwritten note may not be possible right now. My suggestion is when you can send one, do that for any donors who helped you during this crisis.

Think about creating a thank you video to put on your website and share by email and social media. This could be something where your executive director gives a short thank you or update.

You could also call donors to thank them. Have your board help with that. Email them a list of donors and a script. Leaving a voicemail is fine, but people may pick up the phone since they’re home. It would be a nice gesture to reach out to some of your older donors if you can.

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 blast them with generic fundraising appeals, now is a good time to change that.

Make sure people know your email is coming from your organization. In the from field, put DoGood Nonprofit or Marcy Kramer, 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.

Choose kindness

People want to help if they can. I’m amazed at how many nonprofit organizations are trying to adapt to our current situation. We are a resilient sector. Share success stories with your donors and thank them for their role in that. 

Don’t be the person who hoards toilet paper at the grocery store. Be the person who writes encouraging messages in chalk on the sidewalk or gives a generous tip to the person delivering your groceries.

Support your local nonprofits, as well as your favorite local businesses by buying gift cards if you can. Be well, stay safe, and follow your local stay at home advisories.

Coping in a Pandemic: Essential Nonprofit Philanthropic Strategies

Navigating These Uncertain Times

3461601180_b29d215979_wIt’s an understatement to say the world is going through a difficult time. I hope everyone is doing okay and staying healthy. Even though we’re practicing social distance, among other things, it’s perfectly normal to feel anxious during these uncertain times.

I had planned a post on donor newsletters, which seems trite given what’s going on. You and your nonprofit organization have a lot to worry about. Maybe you’re scrambling to figure out how everyone can effectively work from home. Maybe it’s hard to provide vital services to your clients. Maybe you’re going have to postpone or cancel upcoming events.

While we’re trying to take measures to stay healthy, the COVID-19 outbreak will most likely devastate the economy. Here in the Boston area and through the state, restaurants and businesses are closing and gatherings of more than 25 people are prohibited. Theatres and museums are closed, and I know of several organizations that have to cut back on services. One organization had to cancel a huge walkathon that raises over $2 million.

During economic downturns, the need to provide vital nonprofit services increases. We don’t know how much the economy will suffer but expect that it will.

You may not be thinking that much about your donor communication at this time, but you should be. Here are a few suggestions to help you navigate these uncertain times.

Reach out to your donors

Please don’t cut back on your donor communication right now.  Maybe you can’t send a print newsletter if everyone is working from home, but you can still communicate with your donors.

Check in with your donors. See how they’re doing and thank them for their support. Don’t ignore what’s going on. Let them know you understand this is a difficult time.

I hope you have a good CRM/database that everyone can access remotely so you can easily send messages. You should also think about calling donors who you know don’t use electronic communication.

Be honest

I tend not to like the term transparency, but if there’s ever a time to be transparent, it’s now. Be upfront with your donors about how this will affect your work. Are you cutting back on services? How will that affect the people/community you serve?

The need for donations

You may need to ask for additional donations, and that’s perfectly understandable. You’re probably familiar with the concept – ask, thank, update, repeat. In this case, I recommend thanking and updating first and then asking.

Again, be upfront and honest about what you need. This is not a situation where someone mismanaged funds or didn’t plan accordingly. A few months ago, most of us were unaware something like this could happen.

Make an appeal that’s specific and easy to understand. As with most fundraising appeals, you’ll need to send it out more than once. Email is probably your best bet right now, but you can also use social media. This video gives some great suggestions. 

How to write an Emergency E-Appeal if your organization is being affected by the Coronavirus

Your donors are going through a lot and giving to your organization may be the last thing they’re thinking about. Some donors will be perfectly willing to give an additional donation and others won’t. These donors may be cautious with their finances for a while.

You could encourage donors to give monthly. This would be easier on their finances and provide you with a consistent stream of revenue.

Encourage Monthly Giving During Uncertain Times

Donors stop giving for a variety of reasons. You can’t control their financial situation, but you can control your donor communication. Do the best you can right now, and be sure to pour on the gratitude to anyone who gives an extra donation or upgrades to monthly giving.

Going forward

This is an unprecedented situation that emphasizes the importance of planning ahead. I know it’s hard for small nonprofits with limited resources, but here a few ways to be prepared in the future.

Invest in good infrastructure, most importantly a good data management system.

Have a reserve fund. No matter how small your budget is, you want to have some money set aside in times like these. 

Provide a caring, compassionate work environment that allows people to take care of themselves as needed.

I’ll keep sharing information that’s relevant as we work through this. Here a few links that may be helpful. Take care!

Essential Advice and Resources for Nonprofits – COVID-19 / Coronavirus | Recession | Remote Work

Tips for Communicating with Donors During Uncertain Times