How You Can Create a More Engaging Nonprofit Newsletter

In theory, a newsletter can be a great way to engage with your donors. In reality, that often doesn’t happen because most donor newsletters can be used as a cure for insomnia. They’re too long and filled with boring articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

You can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s how.

Think about what your donors want

You need to include content that will interest your donors. You also need to reference the current situations. Do you think your donors would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about Alicia, a single mother who is having trouble making ends meet, but is grateful she can get food for her family at the Riverside Community food bank? 

The answer should be obvious. Your donors want to hear about how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.

If you’re a larger organization, you could create different newsletters for different programs or one specifically for monthly donors.

Don’t shy away from a print newsletter 

You may opt not to do a print newsletter because it’s expensive and takes too much time, but you’re making a mistake if many of your donors prefer print.

I think you’ll have more success if you can do both print and electronic newsletters. I recommend a short e-newsletter once or twice a month and one to four print newsletters a year.

Many organizations put a donation envelope in their print newsletter. This is a proven way to raise additional money and you may be able to recoup your expenses.

You can also save money by creating a shorter print newsletter (maybe two pages instead of four) or only mailing once or twice a year. You can print them in-house, as long as it looks professional.

In my last post, I mentioned the importance of having a clean mailing list. If you can get rid of duplicate and undeliverable addresses, that’s another way to save a little money.

Donors are more likely to read a print newsletter. But ask them what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer print, then you need to find a way to accommodate them.

Share your stories

Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. I’m sure you have a lot of stories from the past year that you can share.

Client stories are best, but you could also do profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Focus on what drew them to your mission (more on that below).

Create a story bank that includes at least four client stories to use every year.

Don’t stray from your mission

A common article I see in many nonprofit newsletters is one about a foundation or major donor giving a large gift. This may be accompanied by a picture of someone holding a giant check. Of course, you should recognize these donors (and all donors), but why is this gift important? How will it help your clients/community? For example – This generous $50,000 grant from the Better World Foundation will allow us to buy much-needed laptops for our tutoring program.

Something else I see a lot is a profile of a new board member. Instead of focusing so much on their professional background, let your donors know what drew them to your organization. We welcome Sarah Davis, Vice President of First National Bank, to our board. Sarah has a brother with autism and is very passionate about finding ways for people with autism to live independent lives. 

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped Alicia put food on the table or Because of donors like you, X number of families have been able to get healthy food every week. 

Leave out the jargon and other language your donors won’t understand. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.

I’m not a fan of the letter from the CEO because those tend to be organization-centered instead of donor-centered.  

Show some gratitude

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. Many donors stepped up this past year and they deserve to be thanked as often as possible. Every one of your newsletters needs to show gratitude and emphasize how much you appreciate your donors.

Make it easy to read (and scan)

Most of your donors aren’t going to read your newsletter word for word, especially your e-newsletter. Include enticing headlines and email subject lines (if you don’t, your donors may not read it at all), at least a 12-point font, and lots of white space so your donors can easily scan your newsletter.

Stick to black type on a white background as much as possible. Colors are pretty, but not if it’s hindering your donor’s ability to read your newsletter. Photos can be a great way to add some color, as well as tell a story in an instant.

Use the inverted pyramid and put the most important story first (client story or profile), keeping in mind your donors may not get to all the articles.

Also, make sure your donors can read your e-newsletter on a mobile device.

Keep it short

Your print newsletter should be no more than four pages. Limit your monthly e-newsletter to four articles. Some organizations send an e-newsletter twice a month. Those should be even shorter – maybe just two articles. People have a lot going on and don’t want to be bombarded with too much information.

Do the best you can

For some of you, putting together a newsletter may be too much to take on, especially now. You don’t have to do an actual newsletter, but you do need to keep your donors updated.

Do what you can, but be sure to update your donors at least once a month. You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent email updates and postcards with an infographic a few times a year.

Create an engaging newsletter that your donors will want to read.

Read on for more information on how to create a great donor newsletter.

Nonprofit Donor Newsletters | Print or Enews?

7 Nonprofit E-Newsletter Best Practices

24 Content Ideas for Your Next Nonprofit Newsletter

Photo by Petr Sejba www.moneytoplist.com.

5 Tips to Use Your Nonprofit Site as A Donor Engagement Tool

By Anne Stefanyk

Your nonprofit website is a valuable tool for modern fundraising. Not only is it the first place prospects look to learn more about your organization, it’s also where current supporters go for updates on your mission and to explore upcoming opportunities. 

As the focal point of almost all of your donor engagements, without your nonprofit website, you’d have trouble both recruiting new supporters and retaining current ones.

There are a number of elements that play a critical role in how your website performs, the way visitors engage with it, and your online conversion rates. To position your site as a successful donor engagement tool, you’ll need an optimized nonprofit website. 

The best nonprofit sites are well-designed, scalable, easy to use, and effectively meet your target users’needs. If you want to leverage your own site as a donor engagement tool, make sure to follow these five tips:

  1. Review general website development best practices
  2. Integrate your site with other nonprofit solutions
  3. Advertise your upcoming campaigns and events
  4. Add consistent content to your blog roll
  5. Consider starting an online webinar series

Let’s dive in by reviewing the basics. 

1. Review general website development best practices

Taking some insight from Kanopi’s team of website user experience (UX) experts: “As the centerpiece of your digital engagements, your nonprofit website UX is extremely important if you want to not only acquire new supporters, but continue to retain current ones.”

Nonprofit website UX encompasses how users interact with your site. From how long it takes to load to how easy it is to navigate through different pages, there are a number of factors that can either encourage site visitors to continue engaging with your site or push them away. 

If you want to improve your own site UX, reviewing general nonprofit website maintenance practices is the best place to start. 

Here are the basic essentials to know:

  • Stick to simple user-based design. Your website already hosts a variety of different engagements. To minimize confusion and benefit your site UX, make sure each page and section stays simple and serves one clear purpose. Cramming too much information or site elements into one place can be overwhelming. 
  • Test your site load time. If your website doesn’t load fast enough, the chances of users giving up on it drastically increases. Regularly test your site and flag any obvious loading pain points, like large image or video files.  
  • Make sure it is mobile-optimized. With 51% of online site traffic coming from mobile phones, it’s critical that your site works on any size screen. If not, you’re missing out on over half of your supporters. 
  • Feature Call to actions (CTAs) to popular engagements. It’s likely people are visiting your site because they want to learn more, donate, sign up for an event (virtual for now), or become a volunteer. Include clear buttons and links, as well as a navigation menu that takes site visitors to these pages.

These are just some general tips for making sure your website is in good shape. With these basics down, you can start focusing on specific tools and content you’ll need to take your donor engagement to the next level. Above all, UX is a top priority. Explore these examples of top nonprofit websites to see these best practices in action.  

2. Integrate your site with other nonprofit solutions

As the center of your online engagements, your nonprofit website is doing a very important job: collecting data. This includes metrics of how prospective and current donors find your site and the specific links and pages that they frequent. Information like this can help you create targeted marketing strategies and give you a sense of the different types of supporters you have.

To make good use of this data and expand your donor engagement capabilities, we recommend integrating your other nonprofit solutions as well. Tech integrations connect separate software platforms to centralize their data. 

For nonprofits, having integrations between your online donation tools, constituent relationship management (CRM) database, email communications tool, and website is critical. This ensures that you have real-time access to accurate engagement data. 

What does this mean for your nonprofit website? Use your nonprofit and donor data to help strategize the best ways to create a meaningful and valuable experience for site visitors. This can not only help you capitalize on engagement efforts, but also deepen your donor relationships. It also leverages the best of other tools so your site and staff don’t have to do all the heavy lifting.

3. Advertise your upcoming campaigns and events

This might seem like a no-brainer, but your website should showcase all of your upcoming fundraising campaigns and events. If prospects or current supporters want to participate, they’ll go to your website to find out more. 

For one thing, we recommend dedicating entire pages to each event or campaign. This way, you have ample space to discuss details, how supporters can participate, and even embed a customized and branded online donation form. Then, using website design and layout, make sure to effectively advertise those exciting opportunities.

Here are some ways you can do this:

  • Put your event or campaign marketing content front and center on your homepage. Remember to switch out this content once the event is over or else your website risks looking outdated.
  • Link to your events calendar within your navigation menu.
  • Incorporate key calls-to-action to event sign-ups and donation pages across different web pages wherever it seems valuable. 
  • Include links back to the event or campaign page in other marketing content like email newsletters and social media posts.

Whether you want to get a head start on your year-end giving campaign or you’re announcing a brand new event, connect prospects to your nonprofit website so they have actionable and concrete next steps. 

4. Add consistent content to your blog roll

What if you don’t have any events or campaigns coming up? How can you still send users to your online site? Consider creating consistent and active blog content! You can do this right on your nonprofit website with a dedicated blog roll.

Many organizations, software companies, and services in the philanthropic space create blog posts for their websites. Not only does this paint them as an authoritative figure, but it’s a valuable digital strategy that increases website SEO (search engine optimization). The more high-quality content your website has, the better Google and other search engines will rank it.

But what kind of blog posts should you create and what kind of content is your audience interested in? Use this list to start brainstorming with your marketing team:

  • News stories relevant to your mission
  • Advice and tips for those in the community that your nonprofit serves
  • Updates on nonprofit events, campaigns, and other major accomplishments
  • Announcements for new nonprofit developments
  • Testimonials from community members you’ve helped

For instance, The American Heart Association has blog content specific to healthy living and other health-related topics. Even though these blog posts aren’t directly discussing the campaigns and accomplishments they’ve achieved, they still provide value and offer an additional engagement point for their supporters. 

5. Consider starting an online webinar series

Similar to creating blog content, starting an online webinar series is a key way to position your organization as a thought leader. Webinars are usually meetings or presentations that are hosted online, either live or pre-recorded, and led by professionals of the topic at hand.

Many nonprofit organizations and related businesses host webinars to talk about topics ranging from top fundraising strategies to new advancements in their particular field. But these aren’t just beneficial to teach your nonprofit supporters and peers best practices. They also offer an additional layer of interactivity!

Depending on the webinar and video conferencing platform you use, audience members should be able to comment, ask questions, and even talk to each other. This doesn’t just engage your supporters, but also encourages them to interact with each other and build an online community

Consider asking top staff members or other experts serving similar missions to lead these conversations. You might even crowdsource some good ideas from viewers that you can implement into future fundraising efforts. DonorSearch has a helpful list of nonprofit webinar series that you can explore for inspiration. 

Start small. Don’t commit to too many webinars. If you can only handle one per quarter, that’s just fine. And once the webinar is over? You can repurpose that content into a blog post, which helps address item #4 on our list.

Conclusion

Don’t let your nonprofit website fall to the wayside. As one of your most important donor engagement tools, a well-designed and valuable site can take your fundraising and important relationships to the next level. 

Make sure to review basic site best practices for a solid foundation and then brainstorm creative content to keep visitors engaged. Soon, your website will become the go-to for supporters and donors who want to learn more—not just about what your nonprofit is doing, but about the major updates regarding your mission in general. Good luck!

As Founder and CEO of Kanopi Studios, Anne Stefanyk helps create clarity around project needs and turns client conversations into actionable outcomes. She enjoys helping clients identify their problems, and then empowering the Kanopi team to execute great solutions.

Anne is an advocate for open source and co-organizes the Bay Area Drupal Camp. When she’s not contributing to the community or running her thoughtful web agency, she enjoys yoga, meditation, treehouses, dharma, cycling, paddle boarding, kayaking, and hanging with her nephew.

Twitter – @Anne_Kanopi

https://www.drupal.org/u/annabella

https://www.linkedin.com/in/annestefanyk/

Some Lessons for Nonprofits After Doing my Taxes

I just finished tallying our 2020 donations for our taxes. Always a fun task. Going through all the donation letters and emails triggered a few insights I’d like to share.

Sending a yearly donation summary is very helpful

Most of the gifts I make are monthly donations, and organizations that sent a summary of all those gifts made it so much easier for me. I made some additional contributions when the pandemic started and those were also included.

You may not need to send a summary if someone just made one gift. Your thank you letter can include the important tax information, but there’s no guarantee your donor will keep that.

My suggestion is to send all donors a yearly summary of their gifts the following January. Send it by mail, if you can. This is also an opportunity to reach out. Make it more than just a receipt. Thank your donors and let them know how their gift helped your clients/community during the past year. Some organizations send two pages – one is a thank you letter and the other is a list of all the donations.

Did you forget about me?

I make a spreadsheet of all our donations. I’ll copy the one from the previous year and make changes as needed.

While I was doing this, I discovered I never gave to an organization that I had the previous two years. I forgot about them, but they also forgot about me.

My speculation is they never sent me an appeal. If they sent one by mail, I would have noticed it and made a point to donate again. If it came by email, who knows since I get so much of it.

I also don’t remember this organization communicating in other ways, such as showing gratitude and sharing updates.

I’ve now set up a monthly donation for this organization, so I won’t have to do anything until the credit card expires.

If you don’t even bother to send an appeal letter (and you should send at least one by mail for each campaign), you can’t expect your donors to always remember to give. Running a multichannel campaign with scheduled reminders will help. But you do need to ask, as well as communicate in other ways. 

Don’t let your donors forget about you.

No monthly donor hiccups last year

In past years, I noticed my monthly donations sometimes stopped getting charged to my credit card. Most likely it was because the organization changed their donation platform.

I’m happy to report that this year none of them mysteriously stopped charging. A few organizations did change their donation platforms, but contacted me ahead of time so I could switch to the new system.

If you’re planning to change your donation platform, be sure to give your donors a heads up so you don’t lose any donations. And, be sure to flag expiring credit cards, as well.

Pay attention to what’s going on with your monthly donors. These are some of your most valuable donors.

Donor communication is a mixed bag

It’s not surprising that some organizations do a better job of communicating with their donors than others. A few knock it out of the park, but most range from okay to nonexistent.

If you use PayPal for your monthly donations, they send a receipt each month. In some cases, that’s the only time I hear about that gift. Are you letting PayPal do your work for you?

Other organizations do send their own automated monthly gift receipts and that’s about it. I’ve mentioned before that these can be helpful, but don’t count as a legitimate thank you or any type of donor communication.

Besides monthly donations, I gave some additional donations last year to emergency campaigns when the pandemic started. Some organizations noticed, some didn’t – typical. One organization thanked me by sending a personalized video. Others sent handwritten thank you cards, as well as some pre-printed ones, but they were cards I received in the mail! 

It’s often the same few organizations that go the extra mile, so the rest of you need to step up.

Always remember that better donor communication will help you raise more money. 

Photo via www.audio-luci-store.it

On the Road to Better Donor Communication

With all that’s gone on this year, if you’re still sending generic, organization-centered communication, you’re doing a huge disservice.

I know there has been some conflict about donor-centered vs community-centered, and I think we can have both. What you don’t want is to be organization-centered. You can’t communicate with your donors without focusing on them. This is true for any type of audience. Also, donor-centricity leads to community.

Think Twice Before You Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater | Donor-Centered vs Community-Centered

We’re also seeing real people with real problems. Your vague, generic communication that uses demeaning terms such as at-risk and underserved needs to end.

It’s harder to fundraise now, but you need to still do it. You’ll be more successful if you make some of these improvements to your donor communications.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Your fundraising appeal shouldn’t be focused too much on your organization – rambling on about how great you are. Your organization may be great, but let your donors figure that out. Your donors are the ones who are great, and they want to hear how they can help you make a difference for your clients/community.
  • Segment your appeal to the appropriate audience. Thank past donors or reference your relationship to a potential donor. Maybe they’re event attendees, volunteers, or friends of board members.
  • Address your appeal to a person and not Dear Friend.
  • Don’t use vague, impersonal language and jargon your donors won’t understand. Instead of saying we’re helping at-risk youth, say something like – With your support, our tutoring program can help more students graduate from high school on time. It’s been challenging this past year as many schools switched to remote learning.
  • Your appeal should make people feel good about donating to your organization.

Thank you letters

  • Your thank you letter shouldn’t come across as transactional and resemble a receipt. This is one of my huge pet peeves right now. Yes, you need to acknowledge the donation is tax-deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Your thank you letter (or better yet, a handwritten note) needs to pour on the appreciation. Start your letter with You’re amazing or Thanks to You!, and not On behalf of X organization.
  • Address your thank you letter to a person and not Dear Friend.
  • Tell your donors the impact of their gift. For example – Thanks to your generous donation of $50, a family can get a box of groceries at the Eastside Community Food Bank. This is crucial now since we’ve seen triple the number of people in the past year.
  • Recognize each donor. Is this the first time someone has donated? If someone donated before, did she increase her gift? Acknowledge this in your letter/note.

Newsletters

  • Your newsletter shouldn’t sound self-promotional and focus on all the wonderful things your organization is doing. Since the pandemic, I’ve seen organizations patting themselves on the back because of all the changes they needed to make to their programs. What’s most important is how this is affecting your clients/community. Yes, you may have changed the protocols at your homeless shelter, but that’s because you needed to continue to offer a safe place to those who need it.  
  • Write your newsletter in the second person. Write to the donor and use the word you more often than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass? Keep in mind, all your donor communication should be written in the second person. It’s much more personal.
  • Include stories about clients, engaging photos, and other content your donors like to see. Remember, donors want to see the impact of their gift.
  • Use the right channels. Perhaps you only send an e-newsletter, but some of your donors prefer print.
  • Show gratitude to your donors/supporters in your newsletter.

These suggestions for improvement can be used for other types of donor communication such as annual reports, your website, email messages, and social media posts.

Better donor communication can help you build relationships. This is especially important now when your goals should be donor retention and sustaining long-term donors.

9 Best Practices for Communications That Stand Out

Nonprofit Communication Best Practices To Make Communications More Impactful 

Let Your Donors Know How Much You Appreciate Them

Many donors have gone above and beyond to help nonprofit organizations this past year, despite everything that’s been going on. Often in times of crisis, people find ways to help.

This means you need to go above and beyond when you thank them. Are you doing that? Most likely, you’re not. I know running your organization is harder now, but you need to ramp up your gratitude practice.

Thanking your donors is not a we do this after we receive a donation and then we don’t have to do anything for awhile situation. 

Gratitude is something you need to show all year-round and with Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s a perfect opportunity to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support.

Maybe you would rather not go the Valentine’s Day route, which is understandable. But you should still do something to show appreciation this month (and every month). The holidays are over and February can be a dreary month, even in the best of times. Your donors could use a little kindness right now.

This is also a good opportunity to keep in touch with the people who gave to your year-end appeal, especially first-time donors. If you haven’t shown any appreciation since your year-end appeal, don’t wait much longer.

Here are a few ways you can let your donors know how much you appreciate them.

Create a thank you photo

Make your donor’s day with a great photo like this one.

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

Make a video

Videos are a great way to connect with your donors. They’re simple, yet effective, so don’t worry if you weren’t a film major. It’s not too hard to create a video.

How to Create a Donor Thank You Video

One idea for your video is to show a bunch of people saying thank you. You’ll want your video to be short, donor-centered, and show your organization’s work up close and personal. You can also create personalized videos, which would be a nice gesture right now.

Your thank you landing page is a perfect place to put a video. This is your first opportunity to say thank you and most landing pages are just boring receipts (and receipts don’t cut it as a way to show gratitude). You can also put your thank you video on your website and share it by email and social media.

Nonprofit Thank You Video Script

How to Create Thank-You Video that Promotes Donor Retention

Send a card

A handwritten note will also brighten your donor’s day. If you don’t have the budget to send cards to everyone, send them to your most valuable donors. These may not be the ones who give you the most money. Do you have donors who have supported your organization for more than three years? How about more than five years? These are your valuable donors. Other valuable donors are the ones who have been generous since the pandemic started. Don’t take any of these donors for granted.

That said, I do think you should make every effort to send a card to ALL your donors at least once a year. You can spread it out so you mail a certain number of cards each month, ensuring all your donors get one sometime in the year. 

Most organizations don’t send thank you cards, so you’ll stand out if you do.

Share an update 

In addition to saying thank you, share a brief update on your success and challenges. Emphasize how you couldn’t have helped someone without your donor’s support. For example –Thanks to you, Jenna won’t go to bed hungry tonight. It’s been tough for her family since her mother lost her job last year.

Phrases like Thanks to you or Because of you should dominate your newsletters and updates.

Aim to do better

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

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

Also, make sure your thank you note/letter puts gratitude front and center. You don’t need to explain what your organization does, brag, or ask for another donation. You have plenty of opportunities to ask for donations. Your thank you letter should be all about thanking your donors.

Thanking your donors needs to be a priority

I’m a big proponent of communicating by mail, even if it’s only a few times a year. It’s much more personal. Yet, many nonprofits are skittish about spending too much on mailing costs.

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

Maybe you need a change of culture – a culture of gratitude. This comes from the top, but you also need to get your board, all staff, and volunteers invested and involved in thanking your donors. 

You can’t say thank you enough. Make a commitment to thank your donors at least once a month. Create a thank you plan to help you with this. Planning ahead and creating systems makes a difference.

Keep thinking of ways to let your donors know how much you appreciate them. You don’t even need to wait for a holiday or special occasion. Just thank your donors because they’re amazing and you wouldn’t be able to make a difference without them.

Rock These Outstanding Nonprofit Donor Thank You Templates

Sample Phrases You Can Use to Thank Your Donors

How to Write The Best Thank-You Letter for Donations + Three Templates and Samples

Moving Away from Transactional Fundraising

Unfortunately, we’re looking at another tough year for fundraising. I’ve heard some people predict donations will decrease, while others say they’ll increase.

In this era of uncertainty, who knows? That doesn’t mean you should stop fundraising. Not at all. You just need to do it better. 

You may think the most important component of fundraising is raising money. While that’s important, so is building relationships with your donors. 

It’s hard to keep raising money if you don’t build a good relationship with your donors. Every single interaction with your donors needs to focus on building relationships. That includes fundraising appeals. It’s possible to raise money and build relationships at the same time.

You’ll have more success if you move away from transactional fundraising and focus on building relationships. Here are some suggestions.

Stop using transactional language

First, the word transaction should not appear anywhere in your fundraising. Sometimes I see the words “Transaction complete”after I make an online donation. That’s not giving me a nice warm and fuzzy feeling at all. I made a gift not a transaction.

Even more prevalent is the word receipt, which is often used in lieu of thank you. After a donor makes a gift, they should be feeling a lot of appreciation from you. 

Here are some actual thank you email subject lines I received recently.

“Your Recurring Donation Receipt” 

“Payment Receipt” 

This again is emphasizing the transaction. Payment information should not be the lead of any type of thank you. 

Contrast those with these ones that really emphasize their appreciation.

“Thank you for your generous gift”

“You are wonderful!”

This post by Richard Perry Avoiding Transactional Terms in Fundraising mentions other terms such as prospect and annual fund. These are often internal terms, but they reduce donors to a monetary unit. 

When organizations lead their fundraising appeals by saying “It’s our annual appeal” or “It’s GivingTuesday,” they’re not connecting with their donors by concentrating on why donors give. 

Many donors don’t care that it’s your year-end appeal. They care about your work and want to help. Instead, say something like, How you can help families put food on the table. 

Make relationship building part of your fundraising campaigns

You need to build relationships before, during, and after each of your fundraising campaigns.

Before your next appeal, send your donors an update to let them know how they’re helping you make a difference. This is especially important if you do more than one fundraising campaign a year. You don’t want your donors to think the only time they hear from you is when you’re asking for money.

Segment your donors

One way to help ensure you’re focusing on relationships is to segment your donors and personalize your appeal letters and other types of donor communication. 

Don’t send the same appeal to everyone on your mailing list. What is your relationship with these individuals? Maybe they’ve given once or many times. Perhaps they’re event attendees, volunteers, e-newsletter subscribers, or friends of board members. Mention your relationship in your appeal letter. For example, thank a long-time donor for supporting you these past five years.

Monthly donors get their own appeal letter. This doesn’t happen enough and it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Build relationships with these committed donors. Recognize they’re monthly donors and either invite them to upgrade their gift or give an additional donation.

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

Create an attitude of gratitude

Your focus on building relationships continues when you thank your donors. Many organizations do a poor job with this. Send a handwritten note or make a phone call, if you can.

Welcome your new donors. Let them know how much you appreciate this new relationship. If you don’t, it’s likely to be a short relationship.

Be sure to also shower your current donors with love to keep your relationship going. Do something special for donors who have supported you for several years.

Make sure your donors get a heartfelt thank you, not something that resembles a receipt.

Thanking donors is something you can do at any time of the year. I think one of the best ways to connect is by sending a handwritten note.  I recently received a holiday card and a mug full of Lindt chocolate from a small, local nonprofit. It definitely warmed my heart, although you can always win me over with chocolate.

Holiday cards are a nice way to reach out, but don’t put a donation envelope in one. You have other opportunities to make appeals. Make it 100% about showing appreciation.

You can also send thank you cards at other times of the year. If money is tight, spread out your mailings over the year so each donor gets at least one card.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships

There are many ways you can build relationships with your donors throughout the year. This is so important right now.

You can give donors other opportunities to connect, such as volunteering, participating in advocacy alerts, and signing up for your newsletter. Done well, a newsletter or other form of an update is a good relationship-building tool. You could also offer virtual tours or Zoom discussions.

I’m amazed that after I attend an event, support someone in a walkathon, or give a memorial gift, most organizations don’t do a good job of building a relationship. I could be a potential long-time donor. Personally, I would never give a memorial gift or support someone in a charity walk if I didn’t believe in that organization’s cause. Don’t miss out on a potential opportunity to build longer-term relationships.

Have a relationship-building day

My main objection to giving days, such as GivingTuesday, is they focus so much on asking. What if we put all the time and energy we focus on giving days into a relationship-building day?

I’m not saying you can’t participate in giving days, but instead of the relentless begging, follow the formula above and build relationships before, during, and after your appeal.

Of course, you could choose not to participate in a giving day and have an all-out relationship-building day instead.

Giving Tuesday: What if it was called Living Schmoozeday?

Build relationships all year round

It’s easier to stay focused on donors when you’re sending an appeal or thank you, but this is just the beginning. Many organizations go on communication hiatus at certain times of the year and that’s a big mistake, especially now. Ideally, you should keep in touch with your donors every one to two weeks.

Stay focused on relationships. Good relationships with your donors will help you with retention, especially as we enter another tough fundraising year. 

The Importance of Making Your New Donors Feel Welcome

As your year-end donations come in, you may have some new donors. If you get new donors this year, don’t take that for granted. 

In this tumultuous year, these donors saw a need and found a connection to your cause. Maybe you’re a food bank that’s seeing a record number of people. Perhaps you’re a beloved performing arts organization that’s temporarily closed.

Unfortunately, the likelihood these donors will stick with you is questionable. Even in the best of times, the retention rate for new donors is a little over 20%.

One of the many lessons from this pandemic is the importance of having long-term donors who will stick with you when you need them most. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to hang on to your new donors.

Start with a special thank you

Go the extra mile when you thank your new donors.

If someone donates online, it’s hard to tailor the thank you email specifically to new donors. But you can do that with a phone call, handwritten note, or thank you letter.

Try to call your new donors or send a handwritten note. This will make a great impression on them. Get together a group of board members, other volunteers, and staff to help you.

*Make sure these are actually new donors. A good database will help you avoid any snafus.*

Create a welcome plan

A week or two after the initial thank you, send a welcome package. You can do this by mail, email, or a combination of both.

Welcome your new donors. Thank them again and show them other ways they can connect with you. Invite them to subscribe to your newsletter, join you on social media, and volunteer (most likely virtually for now).

Your welcome package should include a warm introductory message and a few facts about your organization, but don’t brag too much. Keep it donor-centered. You could also direct people to your website for more information about your organization.

Be careful about how much information you send. Donors want to feel welcome not overwhelmed.

I don’t recommend sending unsolicited swag. You could offer your new donors a gift and they can let you know if they want to receive it, but it’s not necessary. I don’t like it when organizations send me things I don’t need, such as a wall calendar.

What donors really want from you is to know how they’re helping you make a difference.

What are you doing now to welcome new donors?

How to Create an Effective New Donor Welcome Series

Anatomy of a Stellar First-Time Donor Welcome Packet

Who are your new donors?

They could be event attendees, volunteers, or newsletter subscribers. If you know, refer to that in your thank you note, letter, or phone call. If not, send a short survey with your welcome package and ask, “How did you hear about us?” or “What drew you to our organization?” 

Another question to ask is whether your donors prefer print or electronic communication. Short surveys are also a good way to connect throughout the year. The more you know about your donors the easier it will be to communicate with them.

Make your current donors feel special, too

While I’ve been focusing on new donors in this post, retention rates for current donors have also been declining. The biggest hurdle is getting from the first to the second gift. That second gift is known as the golden donation. But don’t stop there. You want a third and a fourth, etc. donation.  

If you’re not acknowledging a donor’s past support, you’re making a huge mistake. Imagine how you would feel if you gave to an organization for over five years and they never thank you for your long-time support.  

These valuable, long-term donors could leave at any time, so ignore them at your own peril. Remember the importance of long-term donors. Make sure they get a special thank you from you.

Keep it up throughout the year

You should know you need to communicate with your donors regularly, especially now. Plan on special mailings or emails specifically targeted to new donors. Try to send something by mail if you can. It’s more personal and your donors are more likely to see it. 

Think of other ways to do something special for your new donors too, such as offering virtual tours or an invitation to a Zoom discussion.

Of course, don’t ignore your other donors. Keep reaching out – at least once or twice a month. 

Show appreciation and share updates. A huge factor in donor retention is a good donor relations plan that you’ll carry out regularly as long as your donors support you, which hopefully will be for many years.

This Shouldn’t be the Usual #GivingTuesday

I imagine most of you are familiar with #GivingTuesday, the annual giving day that takes place the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. This year it will be on December 1.

I don’t need to remind you the world is in a very different place than it was last year at this time. You can’t run the same type of #GivingTuesday campaign you’ve run in the past. What I mean is just blasting a bunch of generic appeals that resemble Black Friday ads or those relentless requests for political donations. 

Giving Tuesday and Why We’re Killing It

Perhaps you’re one of the few organizations that sent more personalized appeals. If so, kudos to you because that’s what everyone needs to do this year. I think this can happen because I did see more personalized, nuanced appeals during #GivingTuesdayNow in the spring. 

I’m not going to tell you whether or not you should participate in #GivingTuesday. Perhaps you’ve participated in the past and it’s been successful, or maybe it wasn’t. Perhaps you’re planning to participate for the first time. Maybe it’s just too hard to do right now. 

Whether you participate or not, #GivingTuesday is now part of the nonprofit landscape and if you’re doing a year-end appeal, you’ll need to factor it into your campaign.

Here a few things to keep in mind for #GivingTuesday 2020.

People want to give if they can

Your donors want to give if they can. That means you should be fundraising. Many people give at year-end so it’s a good idea to run some type of campaign, even if you don’t participate in #GivingTuesday.

As I’ve mentioned many times, you can’t raise money if you don’t ask.

Just because it’s #Giving Tuesday isn’t compelling enough

I’ve seen so many emails that say donate because it’s #GivingTuesday. Many donors don’t care if it’s #GivingTuesday or it’s your “annual appeal.” That’s often not why they donate. They give because they care about your cause and want to help make a difference. 

It’s not just about the money either

A successful #GivingTuesday campaign is about more than just raising a lot of money. You also want to build relationships and make your donors feel good about supporting your organization. This is where it often falls short.

I haven’t been a huge fan of #GivingTuesday or any giving days, for that matter, because they focus too much on getting donations. Many of these donors are first-time donors who don’t give again. The end result is you’ve just spent a lot of time and effort on getting one-time gifts. That’s not what you want right now. You need donors who will support you for many years.

You must address the current situations

Your appeals need to address how the pandemic and economic downturn are affecting your clients/community. Don’t send generic appeals that are basically begging for donations.

Segmentation is crucial

Speaking of generic, many organizations send the same appeals to everyone. Don’t do that.

If someone donated last year on #GivingTuesday, this is the perfect opportunity to thank them for that gift and ask them to donate again this year. If they donated two weeks ago, maybe they shouldn’t get an appeal right now.

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

Also, if you’re sending an appeal to your monthly donors, recognize them as monthly donors. They can either upgrade or give an additional gift. They get their own thank you, too. 

Should You Thank Monthly Donors Who Make an Extra Gift?

Focus on relationship building

Now that you’ve segmented your donors, you can do a better job of building those important relationships. Keep your appeal donor-centered. Thank current donors and find a way to make a connection with potential donors.

Use #GivingTuesday as a way to follow up with your donors

If you don’t want to launch a full #Giving Tuesday campaign (understandable), it can be a great opportunity to follow up with people who haven’t donated to your year-end appeal. You should be sending regular reminders, anyway.

Send email and social media messages before and on #Giving Tuesday encouraging people to donate. You can use the #GivingTuesday logos, etc. if you’d like. Obviously, you’ll want to keep following up with anyone who didn’t donate on #GivingTuesday.

Keep in mind your donors will be barraged with email and social media messages on #GivingTuesday. Make yours stand out and be prepared to keep following up.

Next comes the gratitude

Your donors should be feeling the love right after they make their donation.

Make sure you have an engaging thank you landing page and thank you email for your online donors. You could even create ones especially for #GivingTuesday. Then you need to follow that with a phone call, handwritten note, or thank you letter.

Send welcome packets to new donors or welcome back messages to current donors. That’s also very important now.

#GivingTuesday has had a transactional feel to it, although it doesn’t need to. Go the extra mile and do a good job of thanking these donors – both right after they’ve made their donation and throughout the year.

3 Ways to Follow Up with Your Donors After Giving Tuesday

We want to skip #GivingTuesday 

Maybe you’ll decide to bypass #GivingTuesday all together. Keep in mind other organizations will be participating and your messages will be competing with the onslaught of #GivingTuesday appeals. 

You have an opportunity to stand out here by keeping your fundraising campaign focused on gratitude and relationship building. Year-end is a good time to ramp up your donor communication (examples include thank you messages, holiday greetings, and updates) so people don’t think you’re only asking them for money.

A New Approach to Giving Tuesday: Be different and stand out from the crowd

Give back to your donors

I think you’ll find your #GivingTuesday campaign, or any fundraising campaign, will be more successful if you focus on more than just the giving part. And a big part of a successful campaign is getting repeat donations. This means giving back to your donors, as well.

More on #GivingTuesday.

How to make #GivingTuesday more than a gimme

How to Keep Your Giving Tuesday Donors

3 Things Your Nonprofit Needs to Say After #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday 2020 Ideas & Best Practices

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

A few weeks ago I mentioned one of the themes for your fundraising and communications this year should be this is more important than ever. I don’t need to remind you we’re not living in normal times.

I know you have a lot going on and it may be tempting to send all your donors the same appeal and thank you letter. Don’t do that. 

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

This is why you need to segment your donors. If you don’t segment your donors and send different letters to different types of donors, you’re telling them you don’t recognize them for who they are.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to create 100 different types of letters. Four or five should be sufficient. Your appeal and thank you letter will stand out if it’s not the same old, same old.

Here are a few different types of donor groups. Feel free to add more if that’s relevant. The more you can segment, the better. Investing in a good database will help you with this.

Current single gift donors

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

An appeal letter to current single gift donors (Monthly donors get their own appeal. More on that below.) must acknowledge their past support. This is also a good opportunity to ask for an upgrade. Many organizations don’t do this, but it’s a good way to increase your revenue. Even in a pandemic and economic downturn, it’s okay to ask donors to give a little more. They will if they can.

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

Potential/new single gift donors

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

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

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

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

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

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

New monthly donors

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

Current monthly donors

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

When your donors renew or upgrade their monthly gifts, they, of course, get a super fabulous thank you.

Current donors who become monthly donors

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

Segmenting your donors can pay off

In this down economy, some donors may cut back on their giving. Don’t let them choose between organizations that communicate throughout the year with engaging, personalized appeals, thank yous, and updates and organizations who just send generic, one-size-fits-all communications.

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

4 Smart Donor Segmentation Strategies for Nonprofits

11 Ways To Segment Your Donors To Improve Your Fundraising

How to Effectively Segment Your Donors and Audiences 

Your Nonprofit Website: The Importance of User Experience

User experience is one of the core components of a long-lasting and valuable nonprofit website. Learn more about its importance to help your organization.

By Anne Stefanyk

Life is naturally full of both good and bad experiences. And, if something was especially bad, people don’t hesitate to hop on Yelp and write a scathing review. That’s why restaurants and other attractions take the time to set up an ambiance and cultivate an engaging experience. Why shouldn’t your nonprofit website take the same approach?

If your website doesn’t take into account its user experience (UX), you’re taking a risk that visitors will never come back again. No matter how deeply they connect to your cause, a website that takes too long to load, is difficult to navigate, or seems unsafe will drive away supporters and give your organization a bad online rep.

Prioritizing website user experience is one of the best ways to set up your site for long-term health and keep it in good shape. Specifically, a dedicated and comprehensive nonprofit website user experience strategy can:

  1. Help increase fundraising for your organization
  2. Expand your nonprofit audience
  3. Improve relationships with donors

This guide will dive deep into the above reasons to help you not only get to know your supporters better, but also provide some key tips to optimize your online presence. 

Get into the mind of your supporters and start incorporating website design elements based on user experience. Ready to learn more? Let’s begin.

1. Help increase fundraising for your organization

Imagine your website as an extension of your nonprofit’s office — donors should be able to ask questions, find out about current campaigns, and most importantly make a donation. But instead of having to deal with the hassle of driving (no one likes traffic!) and taking a large chunk out of their day, supporters can simply check out your website! And during the pandemic, it may not be easy to visit your nonprofit.

Just like your nonprofit’s office, your website should be inviting and informational. This can be done with the right design elements and user experience strategy. 

For instance, consider the natural flow of how a visitor might find your website and make an online gift. This could include checking out your Mission Statement page, reviewing past accomplishments, and exploring current and upcoming events. Who knows, maybe one of these pages will spark inspiration to give! A clear navigation menu pointing to these popular landing pages is a great way to meet your user’s needs in an accessible and convenient way.

To take it a step further, carefully place calls-to-action (CTA) throughout those pages that take users to your donation form. Let’s say a supporter is inspired to give after reading about a successful past campaign. A CTA leverages this moment of inspiration and offers convenient access to making that gift. Eye-catching, bright buttons and high-quality graphics linked to your donation page are great ways to funnel supporters to contributing in an engaging and seamless way!

Your donation page is where your online fundraising happens. There are a couple of on-page site elements that can further streamline user experience and increase fundraising, so let’s review some key donation page best practices:

  • Customized donation forms. Don’t make the mistake of depending on lengthy donation form templates. Customized forms ensure you only ask the necessary questions and don’t take too much of your donor’s time.
  • Quick page loading speed. Some say a website’s user attention span lasts around 8 seconds! Don’t lose visitors before they even get a chance to explore.
  • Branded, embedded donation forms. Make sure your form is branded to your organization, embedded within your donation page, and doesn’t send donors to a third-party site. This keeps the user experience streamlined, while also building the relationship between the donor and your brand.
  • Recurring donation options within the donation form. This enables users to easily turn their gift into a more consistent and long-term form of support.
  • Suggested giving amounts. This can make it a little easier for the supporters who don’t know exactly how much to give, and can even entice them to give a little more if their original gift is slightly under a suggested amount. Consider also providing the impact along with each suggested amount!
  • Embed a matching gift database. According to Double the Donation, an estimated $4-$7 billion in matching gift funds goes unclaimed each year. This is largely due to donors simply not knowing they’re eligible! With a searchable matching gift database right within your donation page, donors can easily look up their employer and find out the steps to increase their original gift — all without interrupting the user experience.
  • Include a social sharing option. After a supporter completes their donation, it’s a great idea to provide a CTA encouraging them to share their recent gift on social media. This is an easy way to also reach new prospective donors and even increase fundraising!

From leading users to your online donation page to optimizing the page itself, your nonprofit website’s user experience is key to planning out design elements that can help you increase your fundraising. 

2. Expand your audience

Your website’s user experience can not only help you engage current supporters, but can even expand your organization’s audience. This is because a key component of website user experience involves web accessibility. 

According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), “The Web is fundamentally designed to work for all people, whatever their hardware, software, language, location, or ability. When the Web meets this goal, it is accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability.” If you want to prioritize user experience, you have to consider it for all users

To ensure that you’re meeting accessibility standards and reaching as wide of an audience as possible, it’s important to review the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG’s core principles of accessible design. This includes:

  • Perceivable information and intuitive user interface (UI)
  • Operable UI and navigation
  • Understandable information and UI
  • Robust content and reliable interpretation

Using these principles, here are a couple of steps you can take right now to ensure your website is accessible and that you prioritize user experience:

  • Make sure all non-text content (image, video, audio) also has a text alternative for those with visual impairments.
  • Stay away from too many sensory characteristics such as sound and appearance to convey important information. 
  • Avoid flashy elements and bright lights to protect those who might experience seizures.
  • Provide clear page titles and make sure entry fields always include labels or instructions.
  • Make sure your website and all of its pages are accessible on mobile devices.
  • Offer translation tools so users from all over the world can visit your website.

Web accessibility is all about making sure your website is usable by all. With a dedicated user experience strategy for your website, you not only improve accessibility standards but also can expand your audience. After all, one of the best parts of the internet is the ability to meet different types of people that you might not meet if you were confined to in-person interactions. For all you know, some of your biggest supporters could be across the globe!

3. Improve relationships with supporters  

In the end, your nonprofit website user experience is all about your supporters. The better your website engages supporters and provides them with the resources they seek, the stronger and more reliable your relationship with them will be. 

If you want to improve relationships with supporters, you have to dive deeper into the types of visitors who engage with your website. Using the insights from Kanopi’s article, consider how outlining user stories can help you identify your supporters’ goals and align them with your own nonprofit website strategy.

User stories are all about creating clarity and prioritizing user needs. Put simply, it’s a way for your marketing team to improve user experience and ensure your website is meeting your supporters’ demands. Your own user stories should look something like this: “As a [end user], I want [some goal] so that [some reason].”

  • End user. Who is the person visiting your site? Are they a past donor or a new supporter? 
  • Their goal. What does the user need to be able to do? Are they looking to make a donation? Are they browsing local events to get involved in or seeking purely online ways to support your organization?
  • The reason. Why does the user need to be able to perform this action? How can marketing leaders use this context to better design their website? 

Once you have your user stories, it’s now time for the fun part! How can you brainstorm actionable ways for your website to complete your user stories? 

For instance, let’s say one of your user stories states “As a recurring volunteer, I want a simple way to learn about events so I can sign up quickly.” To complete this story, you might incorporate an event calendar right within your homepage. On top of that, embed a form where users can opt-in to event alerts through email or text! This way, your website meets your users’ needs and sets the stage for future engagement.

Long-lasting relationships are the best foundation for growing nonprofit organizations, and your website can be a key instrument in this strategy! Your website’s user experience can either build a positive relationship, encouraging the donor to continue visiting the site, or it can be the very obstacle leading to decreasing donor retention rates. With some thought and effort, you can keep supporters on the right path.


Your nonprofit website’s user experience should take both your supporters’ needs and your organization’s goals into account. Consider how key design elements can lead site visitors to your online donation page as well as increase overall web accessibility. 

Hopefully, this guide has given you insight into not only why user experience is important, but how you can improve your own website. By improving user experience, you can increase fundraising, expand your audience, and improve supporter relationships!

As Founder and CEO of Kanopi Studios, Anne Stefanyk helps create clarity around project needs, and turns client conversations into actionable outcomes. She enjoys helping clients identify their problems, and then empowering the Kanopi team to execute great solutions.

Anne is an advocate for open source and co-organizes the Bay Area Drupal Camp. When she’s not contributing to the community or running her thoughtful web agency, she enjoys yoga, meditation, treehouses, dharma, cycling, paddle boarding, kayaking, and hanging with her nephew.

Twitter – @Anne_Kanopi

https://www.drupal.org/u/annabella

https://www.linkedin.com/in/annestefanyk/