Crafting the Perfect Donation Form: 6 Key Features

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By John Killoran

In the wake of COVID-19, nonprofits everywhere are rapidly adopting virtual fundraising strategies if they hadn’t already shifted to an online platform. In addition to mastering the most effective online fundraising practices, organizations should turn their focus to optimizing their donation forms to break through the clutter.

Here at Snowball Fundraising, we know the best campaigns start with a solid foundation of fundraising software. And of that software foundation, your donation form is the cornerstone

That’s why it’s the perfect time to make sure your donation form has everything you need for effective virtual fundraising! You want your donation forms to be engaging and relevant, whether it’s for a brand-new donor interacting with your organization for the first time or for a long-time, dedicated supporter.

If your nonprofit is looking to create or update a high-quality donation form to boost your fundraising efforts, be sure to include these 6 key features:

  1. Organization background
  2. Donor contact information
  3. Fundraising thermometer
  4. Suggested gift amount
  5. Payment information
  6. Recurring gift option

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As we walk through each characteristic of a perfect donation form, we’ll explain the significance of each and its purpose in the donation process. Ready to jump in? Let’s get started!

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1. Organization background

Be sure to include basic information about your organization on every donation form. Not only does this remind your donors where their money is going, but it can help boost your donor engagement levels as well. After all, engagement is all about communicating with donors and demonstrating your relevance!

Here are three background elements that should be featured in every donation page:

  • The name of the campaign: First and foremost, it’s important to include the name of your organization as well as a specific campaign title so donors know what their donation is funding. This should be big, clear, and easy to see.
  • Your nonprofit branding: Elements like your logo, color scheme, type font, and slogan can really help to bring your donation page together and make it feel like an integrated part of your website (rather than a third-party vendor).
  • A brief summary of your mission: Remind your donors what you stand for and how your organization is making a difference. By making a contribution to your cause, they’re becoming an integral partner in your mission, so it’s important to be clear about the purpose behind your nonprofit.

When donors can easily see the impact they’re making and the type of work your organization is doing, your donation page can continue to boost engagement while preventing donation form abandonment.

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2. Donor information

One of the first sections of your donation form should ask your donor for basic information about themselves. After a supporter gives, this information should be stored and organized in a nonprofit CRM (constituent relationship management) system to look back on and build donor relationships. 

Be sure to include these four basic fields, plus whichever details are most relevant to your organization:

  • Name: You’ll likely need your donor’s full name for legal purposes, but it’s also important to include an optional field so donors can specify a preferred name by which they’d like to be addressed. That way you can personalize your relationship going forward.
  • Birthdate: This is great information to have as you continue building donor relationships. Be sure to send out a “happy birthday” message whenever it’s a donor’s special day! This shouldn’t be a required field in case donors would prefer not to provide that information.
  • Address: By obtaining a donor’s physical address, you now have the ability to keep in touch via direct mail. Consider sending a handwritten thank-you note, personalized event invitations, and even some branded swag.
  • Contact: Try to collect multiple methods to contact each donor, such as a cell phone number and an email address. For best practice, ask donors to specify with which method they’d prefer to be contacted and then honor it.

It’s important to find the perfect balance between gathering significant information and overwhelming your donor. On the one hand, the more information you collect, the better you can segment your audience for marketing and communications purposes. On the other hand, too many required fields often leads to donation form abandonment and a missed opportunity for funding.

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3. Fundraising thermometer

Fundraising thermometers are a tried-and-true fundraising tool that are used to encourage donors and boost revenue. Traditional fundraising thermometers may have been hand-crafted and displayed in a prominent physical location. However, digital fundraising tools can be quickly and easily embedded in your donation form for better results.

Snowball’s guide to fundraising thermometers explains that this fundraising tool can boost any campaign by providing:

  • Instant gratification: While donating to a good cause does have a positive effect on the world, sometimes it can take some time to get results. When a donor submits their gift and sees the thermometer’s “temperature” rise, the individual gets the benefit of instant gratification, even if just a little!
  • Social proof: One big motivating factor in any charitable giving is social proof. When a donor sees that others have already given to your fundraiser, they’re more likely to contribute themselves. And thanks to your fundraising thermometer, prospective donors can easily visualize the number of donors who have already taken part.
  • Goal and progress tracking: Setting an aspirational, yet achievable, goal is an important prerequisite for fundraising. Then, throughout the campaign, a fundraising thermometer is a concrete illustration of your progress. When an individual sees that you’re so close to your goal, they might be more inclined to help out.

Not only do fundraising thermometers motivate your donors, but they can have similar effects on your fundraising team too. Whether that’s nonprofit staff, volunteers, or a combination of both, the dedicated leaders behind your fundraising efforts should feel motivated by the progress shown on a thermometer. Seeing how close you are to your goal and how far you’ve come as a team is a great encouragement for all involved.

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4. Suggested gift amount

Including suggested donation amounts allows donors to simply select a preset donation value and move forward in the donation process. It takes a lot of the stress off your donor by giving them one less item to worry about.

Consider these best practices when it comes to setting suggested gifts:

  • Adjust based on your target audience. This is where knowing your audience really comes in handy. If you tend to reach an affluent donor base, you can consider increasing your suggested asks, while more typical suggestions may be between $15 and $500.
  • Include several choices. Only offering one or two options can seem limiting, which is not what you want. Including a range of 4-6 suggested amounts can give your donor a nice baseline for an average donation, but still provide the freedom to choose.
  • Allow for “other” amounts too. And for those donors who don’t want to make a preselected donation, it’s important to leave an option for a write-in too. This way, donors can go smaller or larger than your suggestions, or choose a number in between.

Studies show that preset donation buttons can actually lead to an increase in the average gift size. If it’s easier on your donor and leads to boosted revenue, it’s a must-have for your donation page!

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5. Payment information

One of the biggest perks of online donations is the flexibility with which donors can pay. No longer do they have to make a cash withdrawal or sign and mail a check! Instead, you can accept online payments in a variety of ways.

Listed below are the two most common types of online payments. It’s a good idea to ask first for a preferred method of payment, and then follow up with the required fields based on the user’s response.

Here are the details you’ll need for each type of payment:

  • Credit/debit cards: For payments made by a debit or credit card, your donor will need to input their credit card number, CVV or security code, and expiration date.
  • ACH payments: For ACH payments, or Automated Clearing House, you’ll need your donor to input the type of bank account the money will be withdrawn from as well as the routing and account numbers.

The best donation tools work with a dedicated payment processor that then uses the information submitted to transfer funds from your donor’s bank account to your organization’s bank account. Learn more about nonprofit payment processing here.

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6. Recurring gift option

Recurring gifts are a nonprofit’s best friend. That’s what happens when a donor chooses to give to your organization on a regular, automatic schedule. 

Fundraising professionals know that it’s much more cost-effective to retain a donor than to be constantly securing new ones. Even better is when the donation is automatically transferred to your bank account every so often without any extra effort on your part or theirs.

Recurring gifts are a win-win because:

  • They’re convenient for your donor. Although you’re working to create an easy-to-use, streamlined donation form that donors will love, the act of filling out a form takes time. If a donor wants to continue supporting your nonprofit without having to enter their financial information again (until their credit cards expire), recurring gifts are the way to go.
  • They bring consistent funding to your organization. Charities often see a rise in giving around the holidays, with lower overall revenue at other times. But with recurring gifts, your organization can count on a steady stream of revenue throughout the year.

Be sure to offer various payment schedules, including a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis. If you make the option readily available and super simple, you might be surprised how many donors choose to enable a recurring gift schedule.

Because your donation page is the foundation of all your online fundraising efforts, it’s important to invest the time and effort into making it perfect. By incorporating each of these six features into your online donation form, you’ll be off to a great start.

For more inspiration, check out Morweb’s list of top donation pages to see some of these best practices in action. Learn from other successful organizations and campaigns to find out how you can improve your own! 

John Killoran

John Killoran is an inventor, entrepreneur, and the Chairman of Clover Leaf Solutions, a national lab services company. He currently leads Clover Leaf’s investment in Snowball Fundraising, an online fundraising platform for nonprofit organizations. 

Snowball was one of John’s first public innovations; it’s a fundraising platform that offers text-to-give, online giving, events, and peer-to-peer fundraising tools for nonprofits. By making giving simple, Snowball increases the donations that these organizations can raise online. The Snowball effect is real! John founded Snowball in 2011. Now, it serves over 7,000 nonprofits and is the #1 nonprofit fundraising platform.

Make #GivingTuesdayNow a True Day of Giving

givtuesnow_logo_stacked Blue FINALwebYou may have heard that May 5th is #GivingTuesdayNow. It’s being billed as a day of giving and unity. 

I hope that’s the case because the year-end #GivingTuesday is more about asking and sometimes even begging. Just like everything else now, we need to change the ways we do things. This needs to be a true day of giving. Don’t make it the usual money grab. 

You may or may not be planning to participate. Don’t feel as if you need to, although you should be raising money now. If you’re not, you’ll be in trouble. Please don’t stop fundraising.

Many donors are being very generous right now. That may take a dip soon.

3 Phases of the Coronavirus Crisis and How Your Fundraising will Improve and be Stronger as You Move into the Third Phase

The post below spells out five reasons you should be fundraising now. The first one being – You won’t raise any money if you don’t ask.

5 Great Examples of Electronic Donation Solicitations During Covid-19

Perhaps you’ve participated in giving days in the past and they’ve been successful, or maybe they weren’t. Perhaps you’re planning to participate in one for the first time. Maybe you’re wondering if it’s best to just skip it, which doesn’t mean skipping out on fundraising altogether.

Should My Nonprofit Start a #GivingTuesdayNow Campaign on May 5?

#GivingTuesdayNow: The Pros and Cons of Participating

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

Given the current situation, it’s vital that you concentrate on the gratitude and relationship building components. Don’t just blast a bunch of generic appeals.

I have a few suggestions to help make #GivingTuesdayNow more successful if you decide to participate in it and other alternatives if you don’t.

Address what’s happening now

Your fundraising appeals must address how the COVID-19 situation is affecting your organization and specifically detail how your donors can help the people/community you serve. 

Again, don’t send vague, generic appeals. The fact that it’s #GivingTuesdayNow probably won’t mean much to your donors. They need a compelling reason to donate to your organization.

Segment your donors

Segmentation is more important than ever. If donors have given in the last month or so, don’t ask them again right now. You can ask your year-end donors, but be sure to thank them for that gift.

The Importance of Segmenting Your Donors

Also, if you’re sending an appeal to your monthly donors who haven’t given an additional gift recently, recognize them as monthly donors. They can either upgrade or give an additional gift. They get their own thank you, too. 

Should You Thank Monthly Donors Who Make an Extra Gift?

Serve extra helpings of #donorlove

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

Make sure you have an engaging thank you landing page and thank you email for your online donors. You could even create ones especially for #GivingTuesdayNow, but don’t feel like you have to. Just make it special. Then you need to follow that with a more personalized thank you.

Give Your Donors the Best Thank You Possible

Here’s where segmentation comes into play again. Send a welcome email to new donors. Acknowledge your current donors and let them know how important their support is, especially if they’re giving additional donations.

In the past, giving days have had a transactional feel to them. That can’t happen right now. Go the extra mile and do a good job of thanking these donors – both right after they’ve made their donation and throughout the year. 

Remember to stay in touch and build relationships.

Other alternatives

If you don’t want to launch a full #GivingTuesdayNow campaign (understandable), you can use it to follow up with people who haven’t donated to your emergency or spring appeal. 

Maybe you’ll decide to bypass it altogether. Keep in mind other organizations will be participating. I don’t know how many, but your messages could be competing with a lot of appeals. 

You have an opportunity to stand out here by keeping your fundraising campaign focused on gratitude and relationship building. You want to ramp up your donor communication so people don’t think you’re only asking them for money.

I think you’ll find your #GivingTuesdayNow campaign, or any fundraising campaign, will be more successful if you focus on making it a true day of giving, which means giving back to your donors.

Giving comes in many shapes and sizes. Give back to your community, if you can. You can also give to yourself. What you need now? Maybe it’s a Zoom gathering with friends or some solitude. Keep staying safe and be well.

How to do a Better Job of Donor Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relevance rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being donor-centered is key

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

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

Focus on your mission

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

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

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

Find ways to stay in touch

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

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

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

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

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

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

HEARTBEATS AND REMARKABLES OF NONPROFIT COMMUNICATIONS

Use the right channels

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

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

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

Pay attention to your donor retention 

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

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

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

Donor Preservation in the Pandemic

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

Give Your Donors the Best Thank You Possible

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

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

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

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

Quality counts

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

Create an engaging thank you landing page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking your thank yous to the next level

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a couple of sample scripts/notes.

Hi Jeff,

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

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

Dear Laura,

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

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

Sincerely,

Amy Stevens
Executive Director

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

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

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

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

No donation is too small

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

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

Thanking donors in the future

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

Create a gratitude practice

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

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

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

Be well.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Stop Fundraising

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

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

Don’t stop fundraising

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

Look at your fundraising plan

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

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

Goodbye generic appeals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Segmenting Your Donors

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

How Monthly Giving is a Win-Win for Your Nonprofit

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

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

Reach out to your major donors

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

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

Questions and Answers in a Time of Crisis

Hold a virtual event

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

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

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

Coronavirus Impacting Your Nonprofit? Here’s What to Do

Seek other sources of support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fundraising in the future

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

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

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

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

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

Fundraising Action Plan for Crisis Response

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

7 Tips to Improve Nonprofit Donor Communication

As a nonprofit, communicating with your supporters is crucial to establishing lifelong donor relationships. Find out how you can make every message count.

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By Gerard Tonti

Donors are the backbone of any nonprofit. Their generosity funds both the daily tasks and the overall mission of the organization. And yet, many donors feel under-appreciated and are uninformed about the great things these nonprofits are doing with their donations!

If you are a nonprofit professional, it is crucial that you place a much-needed emphasis on the donors who are backing your mission. So, how can you do that? 

For one thing, take a look at your current donor communication practices. Do you adequately thank your donors for their generous gifts? Do you keep in touch with your supporters on a regular basis, rather than only to request a new donation?

If you answered no to either question, consider upping your donor communication strategy. Even if you answered yes, there is always room for improvement.

Here are 7 ways to improve your nonprofit’s communication:

  1. Personalize your messages.
  2. Encourage interaction.
  3. Segment your audience.
  4. Focus on the donor.
  5. Schedule communications.
  6. Manage donor data.
  7. Report and track metrics.

Ready to get started? Let’s jump in.

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1. Personalize your messages.

Adding a personal flair to your communication is a great way to get your donor’s attention and strengthen the connection they feel to your nonprofit, which boosts donor retention.

A few key details that really bring a personal touch to your messages include:

  • Donor’s name
  • Donation amount
  • Date of donation

This is the difference between “Thanks for the donation!” and “Thank you, [Sabrina], for your generous gift of [$100] on [January 1st, 2020].” This lets the donor know that you really appreciate this particular gift.

Consider implementing these details into customized thank-you’s for each donor. Most likely, you already send some sort of thank you message— but chances are, it might be a little bland. Thinking outside the box with your messaging leads to higher levels of engagement and a more personal response.

Consider creating a video, writing a note, mailing a personalized thank you card, or giving a shout out on social media to further show your donor appreciation. Look for opportunities to use more detailed information about your donor, such as the name of their pet or their birthday.

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2. Encourage interaction.

Donor communication does not have to (and should not) be one-sided. Ask questions or send out surveys to encourage your supporters to communicate with you. This way, you better understand your donor network and they feel more included in the organization. 

Ask questions, such as:

  • What led you to donate in the first place?
  • What attracted you to our organization?
  • What interests you most about our mission?
  • What impact do you most hope to see?
  • Could you see yourself becoming more involved?

Engaging with your donors in the digital era is especially easy. Through email and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, supporters are able to contact you in mere seconds. Let them know that you want to hear from them by inviting replies to emails and responses to social media posts. 

Most importantly, listen to their answers. Try to implement any feedback you receive and thank your donors for their great suggestions. Be sure to respond to their online posts and questions in order to establish personal connections.

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3. Segment your audience.

Unfortunately, donor communication is not one size fits all—at least it shouldn’t be. First-time donors should not be getting the same messages as monthly recurring donors.

To establish good communication practices, it is crucial that you first segment your donors. This allows you to send targeted messages customized to a smaller group of donors who share similar qualities. 

For example, you might divide your donors into these categories:

  • New donors: First-time donor messaging requires special consideration. A whopping 81% of first-time donors never give again, but you want to fight against this statistic by engaging donors right off the bat. Make sure to appreciate your new donors and their support for your cause. You want to get that second donation, also known as a golden donation.
  • Recurring donors: Recurring donations are transferred automatically on the agreed upon schedule. For instance, monthly donors have committed to an ongoing donation each month for an undefined period of time. These donors are some of your nonprofit’s most important supporters. Consistent gifts provide stability, especially outside of peak donation season, and smaller donations add up quickly.
  • Repeat donors: As opposed to recurring donations, a repeat donor is someone who has given to your organization before but has not committed to an ongoing donation agreement. Your messages to this group can encourage donors to opt for a monthly giving program.
  • Lapsed donors: These are donors who used to give to your organization but have since stopped their donations (typically defined by a lack of gifts over a 12-month period). Create a strategy to reconnect with these supporters who have already established a connection to your organization.
  • Members: If your organization is comprised of members, they tend to seek a more personal relationship, and desire frequent, ongoing communication. Click here to find out how to best manage your members. Consider sending a birthday message or telling them you miss them if their engagement starts to falter.

Depending on the specifics of your organization, you may choose to segment your donors in different ways and with different strategies. A segmented audience allows you to craft more direct and relevant messages to each individual and improves overall donor communication.

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4. Focus on the donor.

There is an important difference between corporate communication and donor communication. The distinctions may be subtle, but they are powerful. Corporate communication places a focus on your organization and what you are doing, while donor communication shifts to an emphasis on the importance of each donor

While it can be tempting to take the opportunity to brag about your nonprofit and your abundance of success stories, (and don’t worry: there’s still a time for that!) it is an excellent practice to focus on the importance of the donor. 

Experts suggest using adjectives such as kind, caring, compassionate, helpful, and generous — the key characteristics of a moral person— to describe the donor and their gift. It’s human nature; donors like to be told that they are needed and important to your cause. Focusing on the donor is a great practice for improving your donor stewardship, too!

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5. Schedule communications.

Because it is so vital to keep up your donor communications year-round, it is a good idea to implement a schedule to manage your ongoing communication. Some experts suggest at least one to two messages each month, which can get daunting and/or repetitive.

One way to do this effectively is to plan with a communications calendar (or editorial calendar) that allows you to draft out messages throughout the year. This is a great tool to keep up with your donor communication and ensure that it doesn’t fall through the cracks as a lesser priority.

A calendar is excellent for drafting time-sensitive messages, especially ones that you have access to ahead of time. A few examples include:

  • Holidays: Getting involved in holidays like Valentine’s day (“we love our donors”) and Thanksgiving (“we are so thankful for our donors”) is a great way to make use of the calendar and annual celebrations. You may also choose to recognize days or months specific to your cause, such as World Hunger Day or Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
  • National events: For example, the Presidential Election! The election effect is real when it comes to donors giving to their favorite social and political charities. Leverage this with strategic messaging to take advantage of current events (especially when they relate to your nonprofit’s cause).
  • Fundraising season: Get started with your year-end fundraising by planning messages ahead of time. You already know that Giving Tuesday and the holiday season are especially generous times for donors; get that head start in the early months of the year to maximize your impact!

Overall, using a calendar to plan out your communications is crucial for ensuring the best donor communication practices. Just make sure to switch things up sometimes to keep your communication fresh. 

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6. Manage donor data.

To best target your communication to specific donors, take a look at your donor data collected by your donation pages and stored in your constituent relationship management (CRM) system, also known as your donor database. When you can use that data and make actionable insights, your CRM becomes an excellent resource to understand your audience and how they want to communicate.

For example, when your donation page asks for contact information, allow your donors to select their preferred method of communication (text message, phone call, email, physical mail, etc.) or the best time to contact them (day, evening, weekends) and then honor it. Donors appreciate when you actually take their preferences into consideration— and may become frustrated when you don’t. 

Check out Salsa’s tips for keeping your data in top shape so that it becomes the most useful tool you have. Keeping your CRM data clean, organized, and updated is a great strategy for ensuring useful data for your communication practices.

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7. Track and report metrics.

One of the best ways to improve your donor communication skills is to start with a better understanding of your current donor relations practices and how well they are working. Then, as you start to integrate these new ideas into your strategy, track certain metrics to read your successes and failures.

Useful metrics to track include:

  • Open rates: The percentage of recipients who opened your message.
  • Impressions: The number of times your message was viewed.
  • Conversion rates: The percentage of recipients who completed a desired action.
  • Bounce rates: The percentage of emails that never made it to an individual’s inbox.

Many CRM and communication software can provide this information, which you definitely want to take advantage of.

By collecting and analyzing this data, you can compare and contrast various communication channels with each other to determine which tactics are working well, and which could use a revamp. 

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When you implement these 7 tips and tricks into your donor communication strategy, you will begin to notice a significant improvement in your donor relationships. And with improved donor relationships, comes increased rates of donor retention!

Gerard Tonti is the Senior Creative Developer at Salsa Labs, the premier fundraising software company for growth-focused nonprofits. 

Gerard’s marketing focus on content creation, conversion optimization, and modern marketing technology helps him coach nonprofit development teams on digital fundraising best practices.

 

Let Your Donors Know How Lucky You Are to Have Them

422810636_b02ba5dfed_mIn a recent Grow Report, fundraising expert  Pamela Grow wrote about a time she had just started a new development job and the donors hadn’t been thanked for over eight months (yikes!). When she expressed concern about this to an outside consultant, the consultant replied, “In my experience, donors are lucky to get a postcard.”

Really? What nonprofit organizations should be saying is, “We’re lucky to have our donors.” And this includes all donors, even ones who give smaller gifts. Smaller gift donors often have the potential to give more. Also, don’t discount a loyal donor who’s given $25 a year for 10 years. Maybe she’s passionate about your cause, but that’s all she can afford. You don’t want to lose her.

Do your donors know how lucky you feel to have them support your organization? They should. Take time this month to let them know that and keep letting them know that throughout the year. St. Patrick’s Day is coming up so you could use that as a theme.

You need more than luck 

Luck isn’t everything, though. You have to work at it. Donors don’t magically donate, or more important, keep donating to your organization. In fact, if you ignore them or communicate poorly, they’re unlikely to donate again.

It takes more than leprechauns granting wishes. You need good donor relations and consistent, engaging communication. Donor relations should be easier than raising money, and it can be fun, too. But not only do you have to work at it, you need to make it a priority!

New beginnings

If you don’t want to use St.Patrick’s Day as a theme, spring is just around the corner (yea!). Spring is a time for new beginnings. Maybe you can share a new initiative that you were able to launch with your donors’ help.

Speaking of new beginnings, think about sending something special to your first-time donors. Let them know how much you appreciate this new relationship. If you don’t, it’s likely to be a short-term relationship. Donor retention continues to be poor for first-time donors. Don’t let these donors slip away.

Reach out to your loyal donors

While engaging with first-time donors is important, you don’t want to ignore your longer-term donors. Organizations rarely acknowledge past giving. I gave an example above about a loyal donor who’s given for 10 years.

If you have donors who’ve given for more than three years, do something special for them. Let them know you’re lucky to have them in your family of donors.

Build relationships throughout the year

Building relationships is one of the most important components of fundraising. It’s something you need to do throughout the year.

Don’t just communicate with donors when you have a fundraising campaign or an event. The in-between times are just important. Let your donors know how lucky you are to have them and keep doing that again and again.

Show some donor appreciation at least once a month. A communications calendar will help you with this.

Your donors need to know how lucky you are to have them. It’s not hard to do that, but you can’t rely on just luck. 

Get inspired by some of these ideas.

15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors

12 Ways to Inspire and Delight Your Donors…With Examples!

10 Donor Recognition Ideas for Nonprofits

 

How to Move Away From Your Generic Communication

40508943681_0fa174264e_wAre you guilty of sending all your donors the same appeal and thank you letters? In these letters, you never thank a donor for their past support or acknowledge they’re a monthly donor.

If that’s not bad enough, many of these letters use vague and impersonal language and even worse, jargon.

You can do better, and frankly, you have to do better. Generic communication isn’t going to help you keep your donors.

Move away from anything generic and create something more personal. Here’s how.

Segment your donors

Your donors aren’t the same, so they shouldn’t all get the same letter. Segment your donors into different groups as much as you can. At the very least, create different letters for new donors, repeat donors, and monthly donors. You can also personalize letters to lapsed donors, event attendees, volunteers, etc.

I emphasize segmenting your donors a lot in my posts because it’s so important. Donors like it if you recognize their past giving or anything that emphasizes this is more than a generic, one-size-fits-all message.

The Importance of Segmenting Your Donors

Beginner’s Guide to Nonprofit Donor Segmentation

And while we’re on the subject of personalization, let’s stop sending Dear Friend letters, as well. You’re not being a good friend if you don’t even use your donors’ names.

I know this will take more time, but it’s worth the investment. So is a good database to help you with this. Your donors will feel appreciated and are more likely to give again, possibly at a higher amount.

Use language your donors understand

If you use vague, generic language and jargon, you’re going to instantly bore and/or confuse your donors. Most of your donors don’t have a medical or social services background. They don’t use terms like food insecurity, at-risk populations, and underserved communities, and neither should you.

Connect with your donors by using language they’ll understand. Instead of talking about food insecurity, give an example of a family choosing between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

What you mean by at-risk or underserved? Are high school students less likely to graduate on time? Do residents of a certain community not have good health care nearby? Is housing too expensive? Get specific, but at the same time, keep it simple.

You May Love Your Jargon, But Your Donors Don’t

How Jargon Destroys Nonprofit Fundraising & Marketing

4 Reasons to Stop Using Nonprofit Jargon

A great way to move away from generic language and jargon is to tell stories. Most people respond better to a human-interest story than a bunch of boring statistics.

Tell the Stories Your Donors Want to Hear

On the road to improvement

You may be between fundraising campaigns right now and have a little more time. If so, start segmenting the donors in your database, if you haven’t already done that. Segmenting your donors isn’t a one-time deal. Make changes if you need to. For example, some of your single-gift donors may have upgraded to monthly. If you can do this after every campaign, you should have pretty up-to-date information on your donors.

In addition, dust off those templates and freshen up your appeal letters and thank you letters. Create letter templates for different donor groups and replace your vague, generic language with something clear, conversational, and specific.

Have someone outside your organization, a friend or family member, look at your messages. Something that’s clear to you may mean nothing to others.

Move away from your generic communication with something that shows your donors how much you appreciate them by recognizing who they are and giving them engaging content they’ll relate to.

You Have Options When Creating Your Annual Report

37807079994_1c564aee84_wAre you dreading putting together your annual report?  You think it’s time-consuming, but it’s something you always do. Plus your board wants you to do it, although you’re not sure your donors actually read it.

And why would donors want to read an annual report when many of them are long, boring, and basically a demonstration of the organization patting itself on the back?

Annual reports don’t have to be a negative experience for you or your donors. You have options when creating your annual report. 

First, you don’t have to do one, but you do have to share accomplishments with your donors. You might want to ditch the annual report and send short progress reports a couple of times a year or monthly e-updates instead.

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. Shorter is better.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you create an annual report that won’t put your donors to sleep and make it a little easier for you to put together.

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.

You may 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.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. Get inspired by these examples.

Oregon Zoo Gratitude Report

Power of Storytelling | The most moving gratitude report I’ve ever seen

How are you making a difference?

The theme of many annual reports is look how great we are. They are organization centered and not donor-centered.  

They also include a bunch of boring lists, 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. Something like this – Thanks to you, 85% of the students in our tutoring program have improved their math skills and now have a better chance of graduating from high school on time.

Phrases like Thanks to you and Because of you should dominate your annual report.

Tell a story

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

For example –  Kevin, a junior at Douglas High School, couldn’t stand math. “I don’t understand it and when am I going to actually use Geometry?” he asked. Geometry was worse than Algebra, which was” horrible.” Then Kevin started meeting weekly with Josh, one of our volunteer tutors. It was a struggle at first, but thanks to Josh’s patience and encouragement, Kevin is starting to understand math and is doing much better. Now he doesn’t dread Geometry class.

Make it visual

Your donors are busy and don’t have a lot of 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 Josh helping Kevin with his math.

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. 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. Now they no longer have to live in a shelter, a motel, or their cars and have a place to call home.

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

Planning is key

One problem with annual reports is organizations send them out months after the year is over and at that point the information is outdated.

Yes, 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.

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

Of course, a shorter report or an infographic postcard will help ensure your 2019 report doesn’t arrive in your donor’s mailbox the following spring or later. Remember, you also have the option of not doing one and sending periodic short updates.

Whatever you decide, put together an annual report that’s a better experience for everyone. Read on for more information about creating a great annual, or even better –  a gratitude report.

How to Craft a 1-Page Nonprofit Annual Report

Donor-Centered Nonprofit Annual Reports

Best Nonprofit Annual Reports 2019

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

Photo by CreditDebitPro

Is Your Communication Donor-Centered?

3346775346_a98133c942_wIs your communication donor-centered?  Really, is it? Because often it’s not. You see countless examples of generic, organization-centered communication that barely acknowledges the donor.

Plain and simple, donor-centered means focusing on your donors’ needs and interests, acknowledging them in your letters and other communication, and taking into account that not all donors are the same.

Can you do that? Just to make sure, before you send your next appeal, thank you letter, or newsletter, run it through this donor-centered checklist.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Is your fundraising appeal focused too much on your organization – rambling on about how great you are? Your organization may be great, but let your donors figure that out. Your donors are the ones who are great, and they want to hear how they can help you make a difference for the people/community you serve.
  • Is your appeal segmented to the appropriate audience? Thank past donors or reference your relationship to a potential donor. Maybe they’re event attendees, volunteers, or friends of board members.
  • Is your appeal addressed to a person and not Dear Friend?
  • Is your appeal vague, impersonal, and filled with jargon your donors won’t understand? Don’t say we’re helping at-risk youth. A donor-centered appeal would say something like – With your support, we can help more students graduate from high school on time.
  • Does your appeal make people feel good about donating to your organization?

Thank you letters

  • Does your thank you letter come across as transactional and resemble a receipt? Yes, you need to acknowledge the donation is tax-deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Does your thank you letter (or better yet, a handwritten note) shower your donors with love?  Start your letter with You’re amazing or Thanks to You!, and not On behalf of X organization.
  • Is your thank you letter addressed to a person and not Dear Friend?
  • Are you telling your donors the impact of their gift?  For example – Thanks to your generous donation of $50, a family can get a box of groceries at the Southside Community Food Bank.
  • Do you recognize each donor?  Is this the first time someone has donated?  If someone donated before, did she increase her gift?  Acknowledge this in your letter/note.

Newsletters

  • Does your newsletter sound self-promotional and focus on all the wonderful things your organization is doing instead of showing your donors how they’re helping you make a difference?
  • Is your newsletter written in the second person? Write to the donor and use the word you more often than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?  Keep in mind, all your donor communication should be written in the second person. It’s much more personal.
  • Does your newsletter include success stories, engaging photos, and other content your donors like to see?
  • Are you using the right channels?  Perhaps you only send an e-newsletter, but some of your donors prefer print.
  • Are you showing gratitude to your donors in your newsletter?

Remember to always think of your donors first. This applies to everyone in your organization.

No Really, What is a ‘Donor-Centric Culture’?

Use this checklist for other donor communication such as annual reports (these are rarely donor-centered), your website, email messages, and social media posts.

Make sure the messages you send to your donors focus on them and make them feel special. Staying donor-centered can help you build relationships. This is especially important as retention rates continue to decline.

Read on for more information about the importance of being donor-centered.

A donor-centered organization, your donors, & relationship building

Degrees of Donor-Centricity

#1 Tip to Create a Donor-Centered Appeal Letter