Why Your Nonprofit Needs a Communications Calendar

I always like to emphasize the importance of keeping in touch with your donors throughout the year. I hope you’re making that a priority, too.

Your donors want to hear from you and don’t just want to be blasted with fundraising appeals. The good news is that better donor communication (thank yous and updates) can help you raise more money.

Ideally, you should communicate with your donors at least once or twice a month throughout the year. That might sound impossible, but it will be a whole lot easier if you put together a communications calendar (also known as an editorial calendar).

I like the term communications calendar because it emphasizes the importance of communicating with your donors and other supporters all year round.

Some of you may already have a communications calendar, which is great. Now is a good time to update yours for 2022. For the rest of you, here are some suggestions to help you get started. Even though it will take a little time to put together, it will be worth it in the end because you’ll be able to do a better job of communicating with your donors.

This is not just a job for your marketing department. All departments need to work together. Figure out what information you need to share and when to share it. You want a consistent stream of information – not three emails in one day and nothing for three weeks.

As you put together your communications calendar, think about how you will use different channels and which audience(s) should receive your messages. You may only send direct mail a few times a year (and I hope you do use direct mail), but send an e-newsletter once a month and communicate by social media several times a week. You’ll often use several different channels when you send a fundraising appeal or promote an event.

Start big by looking at the entire year and then break it down by months and weeks. You’ll keep adding to your communications calendar throughout the year.

Your communications calendar is a fluid document and these past 21 months are a good example of how our world is constantly changing. We’re still in a period of uncertainty, so be prepared to keep things current.

Here are some categories you can use in your communications calendar. Some items will be time-sensitive and others won’t be.

Current events/News stories

At the beginning of 2020, most of us couldn’t predict the year we were about to have. There’s still so much going on – the pandemic, economic uncertainty, supply chain issues, systemic racism, climate change. 

Many donors will expect more communication about these circumstances. Keep them apprised of how all this is affecting your clients/community.

Updates

You need to keep your donors updated on how they’re helping you make a difference. Your print and e-newsletter should be included in your communications calendar. If you don’t do a newsletter, make a plan to share updates another way – maybe by postcard, email, and/or social media. Sometimes short updates are more effective.

Share your success and challenges, especially as we continue to navigate through the current climate.

Legislation

Advocacy alerts are a wonderful way to engage with your supporters. Be on the lookout for any federal or state legislation that’s relevant to your organization. Encourage people to contact their legislators about an issue or a bill. Then report back to them with any updates and thank them for getting involved.

Time of year

Is there something going on during a particular month that’s pertinent to your organization? Perhaps it’s homelessness or foster care awareness month.

Thanksgiving, the holidays, and winter can be a difficult time for some people. How can you weave that into an engaging story to share with your supporters? This will be another hard winter for many people.

Keep in mind your organization’s anniversary doesn’t mean much to your donors unless you can tie that in with how they’re helping you make a difference.

Fundraising and recruitment

Be sure to add your fundraising campaigns to your communications calendar. Obviously, these campaigns are important, but you also want to show gratitude and send updates during this time without inundating your donors with too many messages. Planning ahead will help you strike this balance.

If your organization has specific times it needs to recruit volunteers, add that to your calendar, as well. 

Thank your donors

Make this a priority! Find different ways to let your donors know how much you appreciate them. You can combine a thank you with an update. Do this at least once a month.

Events

Your organization may not be holding any in-person events right now, but perhaps you’ll continue to do virtual events. Besides your events, are there other events (virtual or in-person) in your community that would be of interest to your supporters? If so, you could share it on social media.

Ongoing content

If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell. Share a story at least once a month. Client stories (either in the first or third person) are best. Your stories need to be relevant to the ever-evolving current situations, so you may need to create some new ones.

You could also profile a board member, volunteer, donor, or staff member. Be sure to highlight what drew them to your organization.

Put together a story bank to help you with this.

Don’t stop communicating with your donors

As you hear about other relevant information, add it to your calendar, so you can stay connected with your donors/supporters throughout the year.

Here’s more information to help you create a communications/editorial calendar. A couple of these links also include templates.

How to Effectively Plan a Nonprofit Communications Calendar (Template Included!)

How to create and use a nonprofit editorial calendar

Get Organized With a Nonprofit Editorial Calendar

Creating the Perfect Editorial Calendar – A Cinderella Story

Make Time to Welcome Your New Donors

I hope your year-end fundraising campaign is going well. Perhaps you also participated in #GivingTuesday. The latter often brings in new donors and that’s never something you want to take for granted. 

Even in this time of continued uncertainty, these donors saw a need and found a connection to your cause. Or maybe they were drawn into whatever #GivingTuesday promotion you initiated, but I like to think they wanted to help you make a difference. 

Unfortunately, the likelihood these donors will stick with you is also uncertain. Retention rates for first-time donors average around 20%.

That’s why it’s so important to get a second donation, also known as a golden donation. Once you get that golden donation, you’re more likely to have long-time donors who will stick with you. One way to ensure that, is to make your new donors feel welcome.

Start with a special thank you

According to fundraising expert, Dr. Adrian Sargeant, “The thank you is the single most important piece of communication that your donors get. They have a higher recall of it than the appeal that generated the gift.”

This is something to keep in mind, especially for 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. If that’s not possible, create a thank you letter specifically for your new donors.

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

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.

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. Personally, I don’t like it, but some donors might. 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. What donors really want from you is to know how they’re helping you make a difference.

How To Build Relationships With A Storytelling Welcome Email Series

7 Things to Include in Your New Donor Welcome Kit

How to Write a Nonprofit Welcome Email (With Examples!)

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 aren’t anything to celebrate. Remember the golden donation, but don’t stop there. You want a third (would that be platinum?) 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-time donors could leave at any time, so ignore them at your own peril. Make sure they also get a special thank you from you.

Keep it up throughout the year

It’s so important to communicate with your donors regularly. 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.

The Importance of Having a Multichannel Fundraising Campaign

Year-end fundraising season is starting to gear up. I just returned from a short vacation and came home to a mailbox that included a bunch of appeal letters, and this is just the beginning.

Speaking of appeal letters, you should plan to send one by mail. I know email is easier and less expensive, but people respond better to mail and it’s well worth the investment. 

However, if you just send one fundraising letter and wait for the donations to come in, prepare to be disappointed. Your donors have a lot going on and may put your letter aside to handle later, and then never get to it.

Of course, you can also send email appeals, but you’ll need to plan to send more than one appeal due to the enormous volume of email people receive. Some donors will respond to the first appeal, but most are going to need a few reminders.

Your fundraising campaign will be more effective if you use a combination of mail, email, social media, and phone calls. Some donors may respond to your direct mail piece but will donate online. Others will see your email message but prefer to send a check.

You’ll have a lot of competition since you’re not the only organization seeking year-end donations. Most nonprofits rely on year-end for the bulk of their fundraising. Plus, donors may be overwhelmed with everything that’s going on in the world, but they still want to help.

This is why you need a multichannel fundraising campaign with a series of asks.

BEFORE YOU START

Clean up your mailing lists/database

If you haven’t already done this, clean up and organize your mailing lists/database. Do you have both postal and email addresses for all your donors? Be sure to segment your donors into different groups (current, monthly, etc), as well.

5 Data Hygiene Methods for Your Nonprofit

Make it easy to donate online

You must have a donation page that’s engaging and easy to use on all platforms, including mobile. Test all links in email messages and social media posts. The last thing you want is a donor contacting you about a broken link or have to hunt around on your website for a link to your donation page.

When you’re ready to launch your campaign, include a blurb on your homepage that says your appeal is underway. Make sure your donate button is in a prominent place.

Which channels do your donors use?

Don’t spend a lot of time on channels your donors aren’t using. Figure out in advance where you want to focus your efforts.

SAMPLE SCHEDULE AND STRATEGY

Come up with a schedule of when the appeals will go out. I’ve created a sample schedule below. Of course, you can adjust the time frame as needed and use this for campaigns at other times of the year. 

That said, I do recommend starting your year-end campaign sooner than later. Remember, you’re not the only game in town. If you’ve already mailed your appeal, you can start planning your reminders.

Also, if you haven’t already done this, you could send your donors a warm-up letter or email before you launch your campaign.

October 27

Give your supporters a heads up by email and social media. Let them know your year-end appeal is underway and they should receive a letter from you soon, provided you have their mailing address. Encourage them to donate online right now. This means your donation page needs to be in great shape.

Keep in mind that the fact your year-end appeal is going on will matter to some donors and not to others. Use an enticing subject line such as How you can help local families put food on the table.  

Make sure it’s obvious your message is coming from your organization so you have a better chance of getting it opened. 

Week of November 1

Mail your appeal letters.

Week of November 8

Start sending follow-up reminders via email and social media. Weekly reminders are a proven way to help you raise more money. If possible, don’t send reminders to people who have already donated. Otherwise, be sure to thank your recent donors. You can even phrase your reminders as more of a thank you or an update.

Thank you so much to all of you who donated to our year-end appeal. We’re well on our way to our goal of moving into a larger facility. This is crucial. We’re still seeing more people coming into the food bank and can barely function in our current location.

If you haven’t donated yet, please help us out today by visiting our website (include a link to your donation page) or sending us a check (provide address).

Week of November 15

Send another round of reminders.

Week of November 22

Send a reminder, along with a Happy Thanksgiving message. Or skip the reminder and make this week all about gratitude.

Week of November 29 

November 30 is #GivingTuesday so you could tie that into a reminder message. You may already have a campaign planned.

Your donors’ inboxes will be bursting at the seams on #GivingTuesday and your messages can easily get lost in the chaos. Make your messages stand out and remember to show some gratitude, too. 

How to Make Your Nonprofit Messages Stand Out

Also, not all of your donors will care that it’s #GivingTuesday. Focus on how they can help you make a difference.

Make sure your reminders don’t look like spam. And, keep it positive. Don’t make your donors feel bad because they haven’t donated yet.

Week of December 6

Start making reminder calls, along with sending electronic messages. If time is an issue, you could just call people who have donated before. That’s probably most effective. Leaving a voice mail message is fine. 

It’s a busy time of the year and your donors may need a gentle prompt.

The rest of December and beyond

Keep sending reminders throughout December. It’s tricky because you want to get your messages across without being annoying. This is another reason why you should only send reminders to people who haven’t donated yet.

Be sure to keep up with your donor communication (newsletter and other updates). You don’t want the only messages your donors receive to be fundraising appeals. December is also a great time to show some #donorlove and send holiday greetings.

The end of December is the busiest time of this already busy fundraising season. Send a reminder email on December 29th, 30th, and 31st. This is also proven to be an effective strategy. And, it’s especially relevant if your fiscal year ends on December 31 or your donor wants to give before the end of the calendar year.

Even though you’re trying to raise money, don’t forget about building relationships, too. That’s just as important.

Look to see who hasn’t contributed yet. Concentrate on people who are most likely to donate, such as past donors. You may need to send another letter or a reminder postcard to donors who don’t use electronic communication. The more you can personalize, the better.

You can continue following up in the New Year when donors aren’t as busy.

Once is not enough. Your fundraising campaign will be more successful with multiple asks and by using multiple channels. Good luck!

Direct Mail in a Multi-Channel Fundraising Strategy

A Roadmap to Multichannel Marketing For Nonprofits

12 Year-End Fundraising Email Examples to Add to Your Campaign

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

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

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

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

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

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

When you’re too big to succeed

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

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

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

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

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

Current single gift donors

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

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

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

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

Potential/new single gift donors

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

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

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

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

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

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

New monthly donors

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

Current monthly donors

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

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

Current donors who become monthly donors

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

Segmenting your donors makes a difference

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

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

Here’s more information about segmenting your donors.

How to Segment Your Donors

Donor Segmentation: The Ultimate Guide for Nonprofits

4 Smart Donor Segmentation Strategies for Nonprofits

KEY DONOR SEGMENTS FOR A BETTER YEAR-END APPEAL

Don’t Treat Thanking Your Donors as an Afterthought 

You may have started working on your year-end appeal, which is great. Although, just as important, if not more important, is planning how you’ll thank your donors. 

I highly recommend creating a thank you plan, which will help you show gratitude before, during, and after a campaign. 

Many organizations treat thanking their donors as an afterthought and it shows. You can’t do that. It will hurt your chances to get future donations. If someone gives to your organization, they deserve to be showered with appreciation. 

There are many ways to thank your donors after an appeal – by mail, phone, email, on your website, or a combination of those. The more you can do, the better.

Thanking your donors is something you need to do well. Don’t shortchange your donors with a lame, generic thank you.

Make thanking your donors a priority. Here are a few ways to do a better job of thanking your donors. 

Start planning now

Don’t wait until the day after your appeal goes out. Give yourself plenty of time to plan. Write your thank you letter at the same time you write your appeal. Don’t forget that things often take longer than you think, especially now.

Figure out what you’ll be able to do. I highly recommend a handwritten note or phone call. Can you do that for all your donors? If not, maybe you’ll break it down by new donors, long-time donors, or donors who have given a certain amount.

I understand that handwritten notes and phone calls may be hard to do right now. At the very least, your donors should get a letter, even if they’ve donated online. Whatever you decide, remember to get started on the content now. 

In the past, the standard was to send out thank you letters within 48 hours. That may be harder to do now, but don’t wait too long. Make sure you’re ready to go when the donations come in. 

Make your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you note

I love it when a nonprofit sends a handwritten thank you note. This is a rare occurrence, so if you do it, your thank you note will stand out in your donor’s mailbox.

Handwritten notes are great in many ways, but one advantage is you don’t have to write that much and it shouldn’t take too long. 

How to Write 3 Minute Thank You Notes

You could make thank you cards with an engaging photo or buy some nice thank you cards. Get together a team of board members, staff, and volunteers right after your appeal goes out to help with this.

Think about how much your donors will appreciate this nice gesture. Here’s a sample note.

Dear Paul,

Thank you so much for upgrading your gift to $75. We’re still seeing more people coming into the Riverside Community Food Bank. Times are tough and your generous gift will help a lot. We’re so happy you’ve been a donor these past six years.

Phone calls are another personal way to show gratitude

Calling first-time donors is known to improve retention rates. But you could also call long-term donors to make them feel special.

Again, you want to get together a team to help. This is a great thing for your board to do. You may need to do a short virtual training first. Here’s a sample phone script.

Hi Gail, this is Stacy Kramer and I’m a board member at the Riverside Community Food Bank. Thank you so much for your generous donation of $50 and welcome to our donor family. Your gift will help feed more local families during this difficult time. 

How to Call Donors Just to Say Thank You for Donating

Write an amazing thank you letter

If it’s impossible to send handwritten notes or make phone calls, you can still impress your donors with an amazing thank you letter. Many thank you letters aren’t amazing at all and are mediocre at best. You’ll have an advantage if you take some time to create a great, donor-centered letter.

The purpose of a thank you letter is to thank your donors. Keep that in mind at all times.  

Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization…. If you’re sending it on your letterhead, it should be obvious it’s coming from your organization. Instead, start your letter with – Thank you, You’re incredible!, or You did something great today!

You also don’t need to explain what your organization does. This often comes across as bragging by saying something like – As you know, X organization has been doing great work in the community for 20 years…. Someone who’s donated to your organization should already be familiar with what you do.

And, don’t ask for another gift in your thank you letter. You did that in your appeal letter. You can ask again another time. Keep gratitude front and center.

Write separate thank you letters for different types of donors. Welcome new donors and welcome back your current donors. Monthly donors should also get special recognition.

Your thank you letter needs to make your donors feel good about giving to your organization. Let them know how their gift is helping you make a difference. Include a brief story or example. Make it relevant to our current situations.

As with all writing, make your letter personal and conversational. Write to the donor using you much more than we, and leave out jargon and any other language your donors won’t understand. Also, you must address your donors by name – not Dear Friend.

A few other ways to make your letter stand out are to use a colored envelope or include a teaser that says Thank You!, and use a nice stamp (you can buy thank you stamps). Hand address the envelopes and include a handwritten note inside that will help make it more personal. You could also include an engaging photo in the letter.

Yes, you do need to include the tax-deductible information, but do that at the end, after you impress your donors with your letter, or include it on a separate page. It’s easiest to include this with the thank you letter or email. Then you don’t have to send it again unless your donor requests it.

Create a more personal online thank you

The thank you plan I reference above gives you advice on how to create better thank you landing pages and email acknowledgments. These often come across as transactional. You need to think of the donations you receive as the start or continuation of a relationship, not a transaction.

Remember, even though your online donors will get an electronic acknowledgment, they should still get thanked by mail or phone.

With all the uncertainty that’s going on, it’s crucial to do a good job of thanking your donors, both now and throughout the year. 

Here’s more information on how you can do a better job of thanking your donors.

How to Write the Perfect Donor Thank You Letter

Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

How To Write A Thank-You Letter For Donations | A Nonprofit Guide

Donor Appreciation Letter: Everything You Need To Know To Craft The Perfect One

A Donor Thank-You Letter Template (Plus Extra Tips!)

How to Create a Better Fundraising Appeal That Will Stand Out

Can you believe September is already here? It happens to be my favorite month. As someone who doesn’t like heat and humidity, I welcome the refreshing air it brings.

It also brings us to the start of the busiest time of the year for nonprofit organizations, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal. 

Even if you’re not planning on launching your campaign until later in the fall, you should get started on your appeal now. Everything takes longer than you think, especially in these uncertain times.

You need to create an appeal that will stand out and resonate with your donors. That doesn’t mean using the same boring, generic template you’ve used for years.

You need a letter that takes into account what’s going on in 2021. You must address how the current state of the pandemic is affecting your clients/community.

Your appeal also needs to be personal – both for your donors and when you write about your clients/community. Be sure to check in with your donors and wish them well.

Here are some ways to create a better appeal that will stand out.

Make a good first impression 

First, you need to get your donors to open your letter. If you can’t get them to do that, then all your hard work has gone to waste.

Perhaps you’d like to include a teaser on the outer envelope. That doesn’t mean one that says 2021 Annual Appeal. That’s not inspiring, especially now. Instead, say something like – Find out how you can help local families put food on the table.

An oversized or colored envelope can also capture your donor’s attention.

You want to be both personal and professional. If hand addressing the envelopes isn’t feasible, make sure your mailing labels look clean, are error-free, and aren’t crooked. Use stamps if you can.

Create an inviting piece of mail.

Share a compelling story

A good appeal letter should open with a compelling story. Focus on a person or family and not your organization. Your donors want to hear about the people they’ll be helping and it needs to be relevant to the current climate. 

Here’s an example – Martha, a single mother with three kids, has had a tough year. It’s been hard to find steady work and there’s barely enough money to pay the bills and buy groceries for her family. 

But thanks to generous donors like you (or because of our generous donors if you’re writing to people who haven’t given before), she’s been able to get boxes of healthy food at the Riverside Community Food Bank. At first, Martha was embarrassed that she had to rely on a food bank to feed her family, but she’s always treated with respect and dignity when she visits. 

We want to continue providing Martha and other members of our community with healthy food when they need it.

You could also share a first-person story from a client/program recipient.

Include a photo

Include an engaging color photo in your letter or on your pledge form. Photos can tell a story in an instant.

Here’s more information on creating stories and photos.

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

Keep Connecting With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

Next comes the ask

Ask for a donation at the beginning of the next paragraph (after the story). Make sure it’s prominent and clear. Also, ask your current donors if they can give a little more right now. Don’t be afraid to ask your donors to upgrade their gifts. People want to help if they can.

Phrase your ask like this – We’re so grateful for your previous gift of $50. We’re continuing to see more people coming into the food bank right now. Would you be able to help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75?

Asking for an upgrade can help you raise more money. Also, if you’ve been doing a good job of engaging your donors throughout the year (and I hope you have been), they shouldn’t mind if you ask for a larger gift. Including the amount of your donor’s previous gift is helpful since people don’t often remember what they gave before.

Be donor-centered, as well as community-centered

There’s been some dichotomy this past year between being donor-centered and being community-centered, but I think you can be both. What you don’t want is to be organization-centered.

Show your donors how they can help you make a difference for your clients/community and how much you appreciate their role in that. Make your donors feel good about supporting your nonprofit.

At the same time, respect your clients/community by not undermining them by using terms like at-risk youth or underserved communities. They are people, after all.

Share your success and challenges

I’m sure your organization continues to face challenges. Maybe you’ve started to provide in-person services or put on performances, but you’re not sure how much longer you’ll be able to do that thanks to the Delta variant. 

How you do your work is less important than why you do your work. You need to continue to provide healthy food to families while doing it safely.

Highlight some of your accomplishments, but you can share challenges, too. 

Show how you plan to continue your work with your donor’s help. Remember to stay donor-centered! You need your donors right now.

Personalization is crucial

Don’t send everyone the same appeal. Try to send different letters to current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, people on your mailing list who haven’t donated yet, event attendees, volunteers, and friends of board members. 

The more you can segment, the better, but at the very least, you must do these two things.

Send a personalized appeal to current donors. They’re your best bet for getting donations now. Let them know how much you appreciate their support. If a donor stepped up with additional contributions over the last 18 months, be sure to thank them for that. These donors are committed to helping you through this difficult time.

Also, send a specific appeal tailored to monthly donors, giving them the recognition they deserve. You can ask them to upgrade or give an additional year-end gift.

This is not the time to send a generic, one-size-fits-all appeal letter. Go the extra mile for your donors, so they’ll continue to support you.

Your appeal letter should also have a personal salutation and not be addressed to Dear Friend or Dear Valued Donor. How much do you value this relationship if you can’t even use a person’s name?

This may sound like a lot of work, but if you give yourself enough time, it should be doable. Personalizing your letters can also help you raise more money.

Make it easy for your donors to give

Include a return envelope with amounts to check off or an envelope and a pledge form. Show what each amount will fund. Do this on your donation page, too.

How To Create Donation Tiers That Drive Donations

Some donors will prefer to donate online. Direct them to a user-friendly donation page on your website.

Donation Page Best Practices For Nonprofits; Tips for Great Donation Pages

Offer a monthly or recurring giving option

Monthly gifts can generate more revenue, give you a steady source of income throughout the year, and improve donor retention. Encourage your donors to give $5, $10, or even $20 a month. This may be a more viable option for some of them. 

Why Monthly Giving Makes Sense

Be careful and don’t send an appeal to your current monthly donors that invites them to become monthly donors. That’s one reason why they need their own appeal.

Your letter must be easy to read (or scan)

Use short paragraphs and bulleted lists, along with bold or color for keywords, but keep it tasteful. Make it easy to read and scan. Most people won’t read your letter word for word. Use a simple font and 14-point type.

It’s fine to go over a page, especially if you’re breaking up the text with a photo and short paragraphs. I know longer letters can perform better, but donors have a lot going on, so if you’re going to write a longer letter, make every word count. You can also add a quote or short testimonial. These can be powerful and it helps break up the narrative.

Think of your letter as a conversation with a friend

You can create a better appeal if you think of your letter as a conversation with a friend. That means not using jargon like at-risk youth and underserved communities. Be specific and use everyday language. Your goal should be for your reader to understand you.

Refer to your reader as you and use you a lot more than we.

How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?

Too many editors spoil the appeal

Your entire staff doesn’t need to be involved in writing your appeal. Generally, the more people you involve in writing your letter, the worse it becomes. Fundraising Consultant Tom Ahern refers to this as letter writing by committee.

Your best writer should craft it and then turn it over to your best editor. Whoever signs the letter (your Executive Director?) can take a quick look at it, but don’t send it to a committee.

If you don’t have someone on your staff who can write a good fundraising appeal, then hire a freelancer or consultant to do it.

Besides weakening the content, involving more people takes extra time.

How to Ruin Good Copy

Make a good lasting impression, too

Repeat your ask at the end of your appeal. Don’t forget to say please and thank you.

Be sure to add a PS. People often gravitate to the PS as they scan the letter, so include something that will capture their attention. Here you could emphasize monthly giving, ask if their company provides matching gifts, or thank them for being a donor.

Get your pens out

Include a short handwritten note, if you can. Make it relevant to each donor, such as thanking someone for a previous donation or hoping a potential donor will support you. Hand sign the letters in blue ink.

We could be looking at another tough fundraising season. That’s why you need to spend some time writing a better appeal letter that will stand out and help bring you the donations you need. Good luck!

Read on for more advice on writing a better fundraising appeal.

10 Ways to Make Your Year-End Appeal Letter Better

How To Write A Fundraising Appeal In 5 Steps

Direct Mail Appeals for Nonprofits: 5 Best Practices

So you want to write to donors

Plan Ahead for Your Year-End Appeal

Some people need the stress of waiting until the last minute to get them motivated. Not me. I like to plan ahead, both professionally and in my personal life.

Speaking of planning ahead, now is a good time to start planning your year-end fundraising campaign. I know it’s still summer and there’s plenty of time to go to the beach and get ice cream, but fall will be here before you know it (like it or not).

Also, our current state of uncertainty makes it more important to plan ahead. I’ve put together a checklist to help you get started. You can also use this for fundraising campaigns at other times of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal for your year-end campaign in your 2021 fundraising plan (at least I hope you did) and maybe that has changed. 

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

Do you have a plan?

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

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

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

Maybe you want to send your appeal letters the first week in November. If so, make your goal to have the letters done at least a week before that. Maybe more if people are working remotely.

Also, how are you mailing your appeal? Do you use a mail house or do you get staff and volunteers together to stuff envelopes?  If it’s the latter, it might be harder to get a group together, so you’ll need more time. 

13 Steps to the Perfect Year-End Giving Campaign

An Annual Appeal Fundraising Timeline You Can Use

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

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

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

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

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

Keep Connecting With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

How did/can your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should highlight some of the accomplishments you’ve made recently and state what you plan to do in the coming months. 

Here’s an example from a nearby food pantry. They’re seeing a huge increase in the need for their services since the pandemic started –  from 175 households per week to 750 at three different locations. But thanks to their generous donors, they were able to move into a larger space. They want to continue serving as many families as they can as the pandemic continues.

Remember to focus on your clients and show how your donors are helping you make a difference or can help you make a difference. Don’t brag about your organization.

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

Make sure your postal and email mailing lists are up-to-date. Check for duplicate addresses and typos. Your donors don’t want to receive three letters at the same time or have their names misspelled.

Also, now is a good time to segment your mailing lists – current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. This is more important than ever. Your current donors are your best source of donations. You should have more success if you can personalize your appeal letters.

5 Data Hygiene Methods for Your Nonprofit

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

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

According to the post below, we could be facing a paper shortage, so plan ahead!

Getting Forward to Normal: What Ketchup Packets, Yeast and Nonprofit Mail Pieces Have in Common

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

Stamps are more personal, so you might want to find some nice ones to use. Also, stamp prices are supposed to go up on August 29.  Now is a good time to stock up on Forever stamps.

Is it easy to donate online?

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

20 Easy Ways to Optimize Donation Forms for Nonprofits

Nonprofit Donation Form: Make it Easy to Make More Money

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

A monthly giving program is a win-win for your organization. You can raise more money, boost your retention rate, receive a steady stream of revenue, and allow your donors to spread out their gifts.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program or you have a small one, now is an excellent time to start one or grow the one you have.

Why Monthly Giving Makes Sense

How will you thank your donors?

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

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

How will you keep up with your donor communication?

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

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

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

Best of luck!

Photo via creditscoregeek.com/

The 5 C’s of Good Nonprofit Communication

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

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

Is it Clear?

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

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

What should you never put in a direct mail envelope

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

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

Is it Concise?

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

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

Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

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

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

Make all your words count.

Is it Conversational?

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

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

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

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

Is it Compelling?

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

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

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

9 Powerful Examples of Nonprofit Storytelling

Are you establishing a connection?

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

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

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

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

Making Connections With Your Monthly Donors

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

10 Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

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

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

Make a plan

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

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

Send something by mail

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

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

Create a video

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

5 Thank You Video Examples to Inspire Your Nonprofit

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

Spruce up those automatic thank you emails

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

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

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

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

Here’s a  better one. 

Thank you for donating to Malala Fund!

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

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

With gratitude, 

Malala Fund

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

Get noticed with an enticing subject line

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

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

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

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

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

Keep your donors engaged with good content

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

Get personal

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

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

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

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

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

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

Some Important Investments That Can Help You Raise More Money

Your nonprofit organization may have cut some expenses over the past year. When times are tough, some organizations, especially small ones with limited resources, veer towards trimming, with the mindset “we can’t afford this.”

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

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

Invest in a good CRM/database

Plain and simple, a good CRM (customer relationship management)/database can help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by amount and politely ask them to give a little more in your next appeal – $35 or $50 instead of $25.

A good database can help you with retention, which will save you money since it costs less to keep donors than to acquire new ones. You can personalize your letters and email messages. Make sure to invest in a good email service provider, too.

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

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

Nonprofit Software

Invest in direct mail

You may not have used direct mail that much over the last year when many workplaces were closed and the mail was unreliable. But some organizations were never or rarely using it before the pandemic.

If that’s the case for you, you’re missing out on an effective and more personal way to communicate with your donors. Think of the enormous amount of email and social media posts you receive as opposed to postal mail. Your donors will be more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail.

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

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

Shorter is better. Lengthy communication will cost more and your donors are less likely to read it. Case in point, the 55-page annual report I received last month.

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

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

Why Direct Mail is Your Best Option to Raise Funds Right Now (With Examples)

Turbocharge Your Direct Mail and Digital

Invest in donor communications

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of unrestricted funding 

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

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

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

Photo by  CreditScoreGeek.com