Don’t Take a Vacation From Your Donor Communication

Summer is here, although once again, we’re not having a normal summer. More people are traveling despite rising gas prices, airport delays, a tough economy, and the ongoing pandemic. Nevertheless, we all deserve some kind of a vacation. I hope you’ll get a chance to take one. I know you’ve been through a lot. 

This may be a quieter time for your nonprofit, but you don’t want to be too quiet and ignore your donors. Something the pandemic taught us is we should communicate more during tough times. This would be a great time to do some relationship building.

You should be communicating with your donors at least once a month and that includes the summer months. Don’t make the mistake of taking a vacation from your donor communication. Continuing to stay in touch with your donors will help you when you launch your fall fundraising campaign. 

Here are a few ways you can connect with your donors this summer, as well as throughout the year, and build those important relationships. 

Say thank you

Nonprofit organizations don’t thank their donors enough. You don’t need a reason to thank your donors. Just do it and do it often. You’ll stand out if you do.

This is a good time to do something personal, such as sending a handwritten thank you card. I have a subscription to a local theatre. Every year during the last show of the season, they put a thank you card, along with a piece of chocolate (!), on our seats. Usually, it’s a pre-printed card, but this year they gave out handwritten cards. I was touched. This theatre, like many others, didn’t put on live performances for a year and a half. They weathered some tough times, but got through them thanks to their donors. 

You can do something similar. Pour on the gratitude and let your donors know how you much you’ve appreciated their support over the last few years. Again, try to make it personal. If handwritten cards sound like too much, you could send a postcard, make a video, or connect through email.

You don’t need anything fancy and make it easy for yourself by keeping it simple. There are so many ways to thank your donors. It’s okay to have a little fun and get creative.

Send an update

If you haven’t communicated with your donors much since your last appeal, send them an update sharing your success and challenges. You could combine an update with a thank you, if you’d like.

Try to send something by mail if you can. Your donors are more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail. You could consider an infographic postcard.

I know mail is expensive, but a postcard shouldn’t cost too much. It’s also a quick way to share an update with busy donors. Also, consider that this investment could pay off if your postcard (or handwritten card) entices a donor to give again and possibly upgrade.

If it’s impossible to send something by mail right now, you can use email.

Tie in current situations

I don’t need to tell you there’s a lot going in the world right now. Will certain policies or budget cuts affect your organization? Many states are working on their budget for the next fiscal year.

Share ways your donors can help – perhaps by contacting their legislators, volunteering, or making a donation.

Advocacy alerts can be a great way for people to engage with your organization. Be sure to thank participants and keep them updated on any outcomes.

When all levels of government make funding cuts or policy changes, the need in the community grows, which puts more burden on nonprofit organizations.

Make room for improvement and plan ahead

The summer can be a good time to make improvements in your existing communication. Spend time finding some engaging stories and photos for your newsletters and other updates.

Start working on your appeal and thank you letters for your next campaign. Make sure they focus on building relationships and are donor-centered. Segment your donors by different types – new, renewing, monthly, etc.  

If you’re feeling pinched financially, you may want to start your fall campaign earlier – September/October instead of November/December. I’ll write more about this in future posts, but a few ways to raise additional revenue are to invite current donors to join your family of monthly donors and reach out to your lapsed donors.

For now, keep relationship building front and center. Keep communicating with your donors. They want to hear from you. Don’t take a vacation from your donor communication.

Are You Still Using Jargon?

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

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

People need to understand you to connect with you

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

Are You Speaking The Same Language As Your Donors?

How to do better

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

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

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

Tell a story

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

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

What would Aunt Shirley or Uncle Ted think?

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

Stop using jargon in your work environment

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

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

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

Nonprofit Jargon: Do Your Supporters Understand Your Fundraising?

How Jargon Destroys Nonprofit Fundraising & Marketing

What Casablanca Can Teach Us About Nonprofit Organizations

Casablanca is one of my favorite movies. I’ve seen it many, many times and I always discover something new in that wonderful script. This year it turns 80 and with a few exceptions, it’s still very relevant now.

Over the past several years, the story of refugees fleeing Europe mirrored what was going on in other parts of the world. Now we have a new set of refugees and the storyline of the Germans invading France parallels what’s going on in Ukraine.

If you haven’t seen the movie, and I highly recommend it, here’s a synopsis. Warning – does contain spoilers. Even if you haven’t seen it, you’re probably familiar with many of the quotes.

Here are a few Casablanca quotes that can apply to nonprofit organizations.

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

One of the most important words in nonprofit communication is you. When you write to donors and other supporters, you need to write directly to them. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen as often as it should.

I just received an annual report from an organization that was quite liberal with its use of the word you. Hats off to them because most annual reports go heavy on organization-centered language. 

Here are a few examples.

You’re feeding kids today.

You gave more students access to school nutrition.

On the front line, you helped the helpers.

As fundraising expert Tom Ahern says, “You is glue.” Writing directly to your readers, using you much more than we, helps establish important connections. No one wants to hear you brag about yourself.

Do Your Donor Communications Pass the “You” Test?

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

There are a plethora of nonprofit organizations out there that your donors can choose from, but they chose yours. Once they have, your goal should be to keep them for a long time. 

Unfortunately, many organizations spend a good deal of time on getting donors, but not on keeping them.

“Louis, this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

One key to keeping your donors is establishing a relationship with them. Building relationships is just as important as raising money.

Work on keeping your new donors and getting that ever-important second gift, also known as the golden donation. Once you get that second gift, your donors are more likely to keep giving.

Keep that beautiful friendship going!

Fundraising Should be About Building Relationships, Not Making a Transaction

Besides quotes, here are a few scenes and themes from Casablanca that are relevant to nonprofits.

The passion of La Marseilles

My favorite part of Casablanca is the La Marseilles scene. The Germans are singing “Die Wacht am Rhein,” a patriotic German song, when Victor orders the band to start playing “La Marseilles,” the French equivalent. The bar is filled with refugees trying to escape to freedom. They all start singing with such a passion, which moves me every time I see it. 

Nonprofits also have a passion for their work. It would be hard to succeed if you didn’t. Plus, many of your donors are passionate about your cause.

Bring some of this passion into your fundraising letters and other donor communication instead of the usual same old, same old.

On the front lines

Before Rick came to Casablanca, he ran guns to Ethiopia in 1935 and fought in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Even though these countries had their own armies, Rick saw a need and headed to the front lines to help make a difference.

Nonprofit organizations are also out on the front lines. We’re seeing countless nonprofits working with refugees who are fleeing from Ukraine. We’ve seen nonprofits stepping up during the pandemic and also working to combat racism, economic crises, and climate disasters. They’re often going above and beyond what the government and other institutions provide. 

A story of resilience

Throughout the movie, there is an underlying story of resilience. After the two years we’ve been through, resiliency is a common theme. Not that it’s easy, but going through difficult times can make us more resilient.

How to Build Nonprofit Resilience: Three Strategies to Strengthen Organizations

Casablanca has its serious parts, but there’s also romance, intrigue, and a surprising amount of humor. It deserved its Oscar for best screenplay, as well as best picture. You might find it a nice escape from everything that’s going on in the world.

How You Can Create a Better Annual Report

What do you think of when you hear the word annual report? If you’re a donor you might think “Oh, it’s that long, boring thing I don’t have time to read.” If you’re a nonprofit professional, you might think “It’s such a pain to put together.”

What do you do? Organizations need to share accomplishments and show gratitude to their donors, but is the annual report the way to do that? It can be if you do it well. 

Unfortunately, many nonprofits fall short with this. Most annual reports are too long, boring, and basically a demonstration of the organization patting itself on the back. There’s often very little appreciation for donors. And yes, it’s time-consuming to put together.

It’s possible to make this a better experience for both donors and nonprofit organizations. Here’s how.

You don’t have to do an annual report

One way to make this a better experience is to not do an annual report at all. This doesn’t let you off the hook for sharing accomplishments with your donors. You could send short progress reports a couple of times a year or monthly e-updates instead. This makes a lot of sense if taking on a big report sounds too overwhelming.

If you decide to do an annual report, I encourage you to move away from the traditional multi-page one. Aim for something no longer than four pages. Bigger isn’t always better.

Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Your annual report is for your donors

Keep your donors in mind when you create your annual report and include information you know will interest them. Also, donors have a lot going on, so that’s another reason not to create a huge report that they may or may not read.

You might want to consider different types of annual reports for different donor groups. You could send an oversized postcard with photos and infographics or a one-to-two-page report to most of your donors. Your grant and corporate funders might want more detail, but not 20 pages. See if you can impress them with no more than four pages.

Make it a gratitude report

Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit. Think of this as a gratitude report. You may want to call it that instead of an annual report. Many donors have stepped up to help during the past two years and deserve to be thanked for that.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. 

What’s in My Mailbox | This Nonprofit Gratitude Report Shines

Why You Should Stop Saying “Annual Report” (And What to Call it Instead)

Address the current situations

We’re still in a pandemic, which I’m sure is affecting your work. We’re also dealing with a precarious economy and the heightened awareness of systemic racism. Your donors will want you to address these situations and focus on how they’re affecting your clients/community. I go into more detail about this below.

How are you making a difference?

The theme of many annual reports is look how great we are. They’re organization-centered instead of being donor-centered and community-centered.

They also include a bunch of statistics, such as the number of clients served. You need to share specific accomplishments that show how you’re making a difference.

Focus on the why and not the what. I know your organization has had to make a lot of changes due to the pandemic, but what’s most important is why you needed to do that.

You can say something like this – Over the past two years, we have seen triple the number of people at the Riverside Community Food Bank. As COVID rates fluctuate, we need to ensure that we can continue to serve people safely. Thanks to donors like you, we are able to meet our demands and provide local residents with boxes of healthy food.

Phrases like Thanks to you and Because of you should dominate your annual report or any type of impact report.

Tell a story

Donors want to hear about the people they’re helping. You can tell a story with words, a photo, or a video. 

For example – Diana, a single mother with three kids, has been trying to make ends meet with periodic work. Ever since the pandemic started it’s been a struggle for her family. She could barely afford groceries, rent, and utilities. Diana had never gone to a food bank before and felt ashamed to have to do that. But when she reached out to the Riverside Community Food Bank, she was treated with respect and dignity. Now she’s able to bring home healthy food for her family.

Make it visual

Your donors have a lot going on and won’t have much time to read your report. Engage them with some great photos, which can tell a story in an instant. Choose photos of people participating in an activity, such as volunteers working at a food bank or a one-to-one tutoring session. Be sure to get permission if you want to use pictures of clients.

Use colorful charts or infographics to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand. Include some quotes and short testimonials to help break up the text.

Be sure your report is easy to read (and scan). Use at least a 12-point font and black type on a white background. A colored background may be pretty, but it makes it hard to read. You can, however, add a splash of color with headings, charts, and infographics.

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend

Beware of using jargon. Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you. Use everyday language such as – Because of you, we found affordable housing for over 100 homeless families. This is even more important as COVID-19 continues to be a part of our lives and living in a shelter or with other families isn’t always safe. Now, these families have a place to call home.

Write in the second person and use a warm, friendly tone. Use you much more than we.

Skip the donor list

Think twice about including a donor list in your annual report. It takes up a lot of space and there are better ways to show appreciation. If you feel you must have a donor list, you could put one on your website or just include major funders. 

Planning is key

I know putting together an annual report can be time-consuming. One way to make it easier is to set aside a time each month to make a list of accomplishments. This way you’re not going crazy at the end of the year trying to come up with a list. You can just turn to the list you’ve been working on throughout the year.

This will help ensure that your 2021 annual report doesn’t go out in the middle of 2022. Ideally, you should send out an annual report by the first quarter of the following year. When nonprofits sent out their 2019 reports after the pandemic started, it seemed irrelevant.

You also want to create a story and photo bank and you can draw from those when you put together your annual report.

Creating a shorter report or an infographic postcard will also help make this easier for you. Remember, you also have the option of not doing an annual report and sending periodic short updates instead.

Whatever you decide, put together an annual report that’s a better experience for everyone. Here is more information about creating a great annual or impact report.

Useful Tips & Resources for Your Nonprofit’s Annual Report

Your Nonprofit Annual Report: 10 Things to Include This Year

Nonprofit Annual Reports: 8 Essential Tips [& Template]

How to Craft a 1-Page Nonprofit Annual Report

Go Above and Beyond When You Thank Your Donors

Many donors have gone above and beyond to help nonprofit organizations over the last two years.

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 hard right now, but you need to prioritize donor appreciation.

Thanking your donors is not just something you do after you receive a donation and then do nothing for a while. 

Gratitude is something you need to show all year-round and with Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s a great opportunity to thank your donors and show them 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, you don’t want to wait much longer.

Here are a few ways you can go above and beyond when you thank your donors.

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 are always a nice gesture.

Your thank you landing page is the 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 fall short when it comes to showing gratitude). You can also put your thank you video on your website and share it by email and social media.

10 Tips For Thanking Your Donors With Video

Nonprofit Thank You Video Script

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 during 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, David won’t go to bed hungry tonight. It’s been tough for his family to make ends meet this year.

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

Plan 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. Plain and simple, the purpose of a thank you letter is to thank your donors.

Make thanking your donors 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.

Keep reading for more ways you can go above and beyond when you thank your donors.

Donor Appreciation: Creating a Strategy (And 22+ Ideas!) 

15 Sincere Ways to Say Thank You to Your Donors

Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

Why Monthly Giving is Important for Your Nonprofit Organization

Monthly giving is gaining momentum and that’s a good thing. We want that to continue. If your organization doesn’t have a monthly/recurring giving program or it’s fairly small, now is a great time to start or grow your monthly giving.

In this post, I’ll tell you why monthly giving is important for your nonprofit, how to start or grow your program, and how to nurture it going forward. 

Monthly giving helps you raise more money

Monthly or recurring donations can help donors spread out their gifts and it’s easier on their bank accounts. They might be apprehensive about giving a one-time gift of $50 or $100. But if you offer them the option of giving $5 or $10 a month, that may sound more reasonable. 

It can also give you a consistent stream of revenue throughout the year instead of certain times, such as when you do individual appeals and (virtual) events and when grants come in.

Monthly gifts are smaller, but you can raise a lot of money with lots of small gifts. Political candidates do it all the time. Also, monthly gifts aren’t as small as you think. The average is over $20 a month.

It can also be a more feasible way to get larger gifts. A gift of $100 a month may be more appealing to a donor than giving a large sum all at once. Even if they start with a smaller donation, monthly donors are more likely to become major donors and legacy donors.

It raises your retention rate, too

The retention rate for monthly donors is an impressive 90%. That’s significantly higher than other retention rates. 

One reason is that monthly gifts are ongoing. But your donors have agreed to that, so this shows they’re committed to your organization. 

These are long-term donors and long-term donors should always be one of your priorities.

How to get started

If you don’t already have a monthly giving program, make this the year you start one. Remember, it will help you raise more money, which is even more important during these uncertain times.

A good way to start is to invite your current donors to become monthly donors. Your best bet for monthly donors are people who’ve given at least twice. These are donors who have shown a commitment to you.

That doesn’t mean you can’t ask first-time donors. This could be a good way to connect with donors from your most recent campaign. And if you haven’t officially welcomed your new year-end donors, do that now. 

10 Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

How To Start A Monthly Giving Program (In 6 Simple Steps)

Make monthly giving the go-to option

Put monthly giving front and center in all your campaigns. It should be an easy option on your donation page. Include it on your pledge form and make it a prominent part of your appeal letter, maybe as a PS.

I can speak from personal experience that once I started giving monthly, that’s the way I wanted to give to all organizations. Your donors would probably agree.

A handful of organizations don’t offer a monthly giving option, which is a mistake. Some have a minimum donation, which I would also not recommend, if possible. If you do have a minimum, make it $5 a month instead of $10. 

If your reason to have a minimum donation amount is to save money on expenses, is that happening if your minimum deters someone from giving at all? You often have to invest a little to raise more money.

Make your monthly donors feel special

You need to do a good job of thanking your monthly donors. Go the extra mile and segment your monthly donors into new monthly donors, current monthly donors, and current donors who become monthly donors.

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

This way you can personalize their thank you letters to make them feel special. Be sure to mail a thank you letter, or even better, send a handwritten note. An email acknowledgment is not enough.

Many organizations send a monthly acknowledgment email or letter, and most are just okay. Some are basically only receipts, and as I mentioned in a recent post, your thank yous need to be more than a receipt. Yes, it’s helpful to know the organization received your donation, but you’re not practicing good donor stewardship if that’s all you do.

You could spruce up these monthly acknowledgments, both by making them sound like they were written by a human and not a robot, and by providing some engaging updates.

One thing you should do is send your donors an annual summary of their monthly gifts. This is extremely helpful for people who itemize deductions. Make this letter more than just a receipt and use this opportunity to connect with your donors. Pour on the gratitude and let them know how their monthly donations are helping you make a difference.

Best Practices For Recognizing, Thanking And Retaining Monthly Donors

Thanking and Retaining Your Monthly Donors

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

Reach out at least once a month

Your monthly donors made a commitment to you by giving every month. Make the same commitment to them by reaching out at least once a month.

You could create a special newsletter for monthly donors or include a cover letter referencing monthly donors. If that’s too much, you could give a shout out to your monthly donors and include information on how to become a monthly donor in your newsletter.

A thank you video is always welcome. Consider personalizing it, if you can. Think about offering a video tour or Zoom discussions for monthly donors.

You could include a list of your monthly donors in a newsletter, annual report, or on your website. Donor lists are just one of many ways to show appreciation and not the only one, so do much more than just that. Of course, honor any donor’s wish to remain anonymous.

Thank yous, newsletters, and updates are not a one-time time deal. Keep it up throughout the year. Many nonprofits start out communicating regularly with their monthly donors and then disappear after a couple of months. You need to stay in touch with your donors right now.

Create a special section in your communications calendar specifically for monthly donors to help you with this.

Go all out for your monthly donors

I highly recommend a contact person for your monthly donors in case they need to update their credit card information or make a change to their gift, hopefully an upgrade. Include this information in their welcome letter or email. If you send a monthly acknowledgment email, be sure to include a link where your donor can make changes.

Another way to help out your monthly donors is to let them know when their credit cards are about to expire. Don’t rely on your donors to remember this, because most likely they won’t, especially now. You also don’t want to miss out on any revenue. Remember, small donations add up.

Set up a system where you can flag credit cards that will expire in the next month or two. Then send these donors a friendly reminder email/letter or give them a call. 

You could encourage donors to give via an electronic funds transfer from their bank account instead. Then neither you nor your donors need to worry about expiring credit cards.

Once a monthly donor, always a monthly donor

Once someone becomes a monthly donor, you must always recognize them as such. You most certainly should send fundraising appeals to monthly donors, but not the same ones you send to other donors.

I think the best way to raise additional money from monthly donors is to ask them to upgrade their monthly gift. Be as specific as possible. For example – We’re so happy you’re part of our family of monthly donors and are grateful for your gift of $5.00 a month. We’re serving triple the number of people at the community food bank right now. At the same time, we’re not getting as many people to come in and volunteer. Could you help us out a little more with a gift of $7.00 or even $10.00 a month?

You can also ask monthly donors for an additional gift during one of your fundraising campaigns, but you MUST recognize they’re monthly donors – We really appreciate your gift of $10 a month. Could you help us out a little more right now with an additional gift? We need to keep running our tutoring program virtually for the time being and we want to continue serving as many students as we can.

If you send the usual generic appeal, imagine your donor saying – “I already give you $10 a month and you don’t seem to know that.”

But if you let those committed monthly donors know you think they’re special, they’ll be more likely to upgrade or give an additional gift. Many monthly donors have stepped up and given additional donations during the pandemic. That’s what you want. And, if they do give an additional donation, be sure to send thank them for that. Here’s the opening from a great thank you card I just received – “How generous of you to make a gift that goes above and beyond your monthly donations.

Don’t miss out on this proven way to raise more money, boost donor retention rates, and provide an easier giving option for your donors. 

More on monthly giving.

Nonprofit Monthly Giving Programs Don’t Market Themselves

The Ultimate Guide to Monthly Giving Programs (+ Examples)

5 Benefits of Recurring Giving Programs for Nonprofits

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