Does Your Audience Understand You?

One of the most important aspects of communication (written and verbal) is to make sure your audience understands you. There are many reasons this doesn’t happen. In nonprofit communication, people will overcomplicate things or use jargon and other language donors don’t understand. Some people like to show off their big vocabulary.

The problem is if your audience doesn’t understand you, you can’t connect with them. You may have trouble convincing them to take action, such as making a donation.

Remember, you are not your audience and you need to keep them in mind when you communicate with them. Here’s what you need to do to make sure your audience understands you.

Write at a sixth to eighth-grade level

This is not dumbing down. You’re smartening up, so you can ensure your donors will understand you.

I find it annoying if I come across a word I don’t understand and have to look it up. I have a pretty good vocabulary, but wonder why the writer didn’t use a more understandable word. Some people might not bother to look something up and then won’t know what you’re trying to convey.

Maybe we’re going back to our school days when we were encouraged to use all those big vocabulary words we studied or write lengthy, complex essays.

A readability tool, such as Flesch Kincaid, can help you with this.

Stop using jargon

One of the biggest culprits here is using jargon. Over the last three years, we’ve seen many examples of real problems affecting real people. We’ve also seen more authenticity. Yet, some nonprofit organizations are 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 that they don’t realize these terms 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. But the danger comes when jargon creeps outside of your insular world and into your donor communication.

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 impact reports laced with cringe-worthy terms such as food insecurity, at-risk youth, and underserved communities. While donors may know what some of these terms mean, they’re vague, impersonal, and can come across as demeaning.

How to break free from your jargon

You may know you need to freshen up some of your messages, but aren’t sure how to start. 

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.” Yikes, that’s a mouthful! I’ve never liked the term food insecurity because it’s so impersonal. We hear 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. Diana has to take two buses to see a doctor for her diabetes, because there isn’t a good healthcare facility in her community. She often feels wiped out after these trips, so sometimes she skips her appointments.

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.

Tell a story

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

Visualize your reader 

Donor or audience personas can be useful on many levels. How much do you know about your donors? The average age of a donor is 64. That’s something to take into account. So is what drew them to your organization.

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 terms 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 out of shelters and into their own homes?

Imagine who’s reading your fundraising letter or other type of communication. Most likely, your donors don’t have a medical or social services background. They also don’t have a lot of time to look up something they don’t understand. 

What they do want is a personal connection and to be able to understand you.

A Postcard Can Pack a Punch

I’m a big fan of communicating by mail. It’s more personal and your donors are more likely to see something they receive in the mail, as opposed to any type of electronic message you send. Plus, people never get nearly as much mail as they do email and social media messages.

Electronic communication is good, but communicating by mail is better.

Now you might say – “But mail is too expensive. So is printing something. We have a small staff and we barely have time to get anything done.” I understand all that. I know direct mail can be expensive and putting together a mailing takes more time, but it’s an investment that can help you raise more money.

One way to mail that shouldn’t cost too much is to use postcards. First, you can probably do them in house. Also, if you do it well, it’s a quick, easy way to capture your donor’s attention right away. Creating a postcard will be less expensive than something like a four-page newsletter. Donors have a lot going on and don’t want to be barraged with information.

Direct mail is a proven way to communicate and engage. I encourage you to give postcards a try.  Landscaping companies, realtors, and political candidates all use postcards, and so should you. Here are a couple of ways you can engage with your donors by using postcards.

Thank your donors

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors and a quick and easy way to show gratitude is with a postcard.

Create a postcard with a thank you photo, image, or word cloud. The best option is to create a card with enough space so you can include a handwritten note. If that’s not possible, then create one with a pre-printed message.

Let your donors know how their gifts are helping you make a difference for your clients/community and that you couldn’t do your work without them. 

Send a thank you postcard sometime between one of your fundraising campaigns, so your donors know you’re thinking about them. Another idea is to send one as a warm up before a campaign.

Ideally, you should be thanking your donors at least once a month. Many organizations don’t mail any type of thank you card, so you’ll stand out if you do.

Share an update

A postcard can be a good way to share an update with your donors. You could make an infographic to give them a quick glance at some of your progress. Some organizations use oversize postcards for their impact/annual report. 

Some infographics just show a bunch of numbers, and numbers don’t mean that much without knowing why something is important. For example, instead of just listing the number of people visiting your food pantry, let your donors know you’re seeing higher numbers because families are having trouble making ends meet due to rising food prices.

Other ways to use postcards

You could send a postcard wishing your donors a Happy Thanksgiving or Happy Holidays. Another option is a donor’s anniversary or their birthday, if you keep track of that.

You can also use a postcard for fundraising. While not as effective as a direct mail package (letter, reply envelope, etc.), it can be used as a heads-up for a campaign or a reminder. My husband recently received a postcard from his high school promoting a Giving Day. It included a QR code and a website link. Including a QR code on a postcard, or any mail piece, can direct your donors to your website so they can make a gift or get more information.

Postcards are good for a Save the Date for an event. You could also use one for an informal event.

What to keep in mind

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

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

How to Make Your Messages Stand Out in a World of Information Overload

Our world is chock full of information, too much at times. When I was growing up, we just had a few TV channels to choose from. Now there are countless streaming options. We also have email, the internet, and social media, just to name a few. It’s a lot

How does your nonprofit organization compete with all this? You need to communicate regularly with your donors and you need to do it well. But in the land of information overload, it’s possible they’ll miss your messages. 

Here are a few ways you can make your messages stand out. 

What’s your intention?

What’s the purpose of your message? What do you want your reader to do? Are you asking for a donation? Maybe you’re thanking your donor or sharing an update.

Think from your reader’s perspective. What would she be interested in or what would make him take action?

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

Choose the right channels

Most likely you’ll use more than one channel to communicate. Pay attention to the channels your donors are using and focus your efforts there.

Email may be your primary mode of communication and there’s a reason for that. It’s fast, easy, relatively inexpensive, and almost everyone has an email address. You can quickly get a message out to a lot of people. Also, unlike social media, it’s something you can control. You don’t have to rely on a social media algorithm to hope your message ends up in your donor’s feed.

The downside is people get a huge amount of email from a variety of different sources. Plus, the average open rate is around 20%. I don’t know what’s going on in the conservative world, but some liberal political organizations send an enormous amount of email, which I pretty much ignore. And, social media is often just a lot of a lot.  

It’s easy for your electronic messages to get lost in the shuffle. Your donors may just tune things out, even if you have something engaging to share. 

While you’ll likely use electronic communication pretty regularly, don’t discount direct mail. Your donors are more likely to see these messages. We get far less postal mail than electronic communication. Also, someone can put a piece of mail aside and look at it later. Don’t count on that happening with any type of electronic communication. You can also communicate by phone. This is a great way to thank your donors.

Going multichannel is usually your best bet. This is very common for fundraising campaigns and inviting people to events, as well as including a link to your email newsletter on your social media platforms. This way if people miss your initial message on one platform, they may see it on a different one. You’ll also want to send regular reminders for fundraising appeals and event invitations.

Get noticed right away

Your donors have a lot going on and you need to capture their attention right away.

Your fundraising letters and anything else you send by mail needs to look appealing enough to open. You could put a tagline on the envelope. That doesn’t mean something like It’s Our Annual Appeal. Try something like – How you can help families put food on the table. I just received a mailing with an outer envelope that said THANK YOU! Your Monthly Pledge Statement Enclosed And the latest story showing your gift’s impact. The part about the monthly pledge statement isn’t so interesting, but the rest of it is spot on.

Your envelope should look personal and not resemble a bill or junk mail. A few ways to make your mail stand out are to use something other than the usual white business envelope, hand address your envelope, and use stamps.

Once your donor opens your fundraising appeal, lead with a story followed by a clear, prominent ask. When they open your thank you letter, they should be greeted with gratitude.

A good subject line is the key to getting someone to open your email message. Keep in mind that your donor’s inbox is bursting with messages. Don’t use something boring like April e-newsletter or Donation Received. Entice them with Find out how you helped families put food on the table or You just did something amazing today!  

Keep them engaged once they open your message.

Keep it short

In many cases, a shorter message is best. You want a good balance between saying too much and saying too little. All your words should count, so be careful about adding too much filler. That often includes bragging about your organization and explaining what you do.

Keep in mind the average human attention span is a mere eight seconds.

Your goal is to get your donors to read your messages. If it looks long and boring, they probably won’t bother.

Make it easy to read and scan

Besides sending a short message, use short paragraphs and lots of white space, too. Your messages need to be easy to read and scan in an instant. Most people aren’t going to read something word for word. Be sure they can quickly get the gist of what you want to say. Don’t use microscopic font either – use 12 point or higher.

Be personal and conversational

Write directly to your reader using clear, conversational language – no jargon. Don’t confuse your donors with generic messages.

Don’t cast a wide net

It’s important that you send your messages to the right audience and your audience isn’t everyone.

You’ll have more luck with a fundraising appeal when you send it to past donors or people who have a connection to your cause. The same is true for event invitations or recruiting volunteers.

You may want to reach out to as many people as possible, but that won’t guarantee you’ll get more donations or event attendees. Segmenting and engaging with the right audience will bring you better results.

Be a welcome visitor

If you communicate regularly and do it well, your donors should recognize you as a reputable source and are more likely to read your messages. If all you do is send them generic fundraising appeals, then it’s time for a change.

When you send email, make sure people know it’s coming from your organization. In the from field, put DoGood Nonprofit or Sheila (Kramer), DoGood Nonprofit. If you just put a person’s name, people may not know who it’s from and ignore your message, unless that person is well known to your readers.

Only send email to people who have opted into your list. Otherwise, you’re spamming them. Some people will choose not to receive email from you and that’s okay. The ones who do are interested in hearing from you. Give people the option to unsubscribe, too. Measuring your email metrics will help you communicate more effectively. 

When you send email, it’s important to strike a balance between being known and being annoying. Unlike the political organizations I mentioned above, many nonprofits don’t communicate enough. Be sure to reach out anywhere between once a week and once a month.

Even though people only get a few pieces of mail a day, most of it’s junk mail. You never want any of your letters, newsletters, or postcards to be perceived as junk mail (see above).

By putting in a little time and effort, you can help ensure that your messages stand out, even in a world of information overload.

Engage Your Donors With a Great Newsletter

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

The good news is you can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s what you need to do.

Think about what your donors want

You need to include content that will interest your donors. Do you think your donors would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about Tina, a single mother who is having trouble making ends meet, but is grateful because thanks to your generous donors, she can get food for her family at the Westside Community food pantry? 

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

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

A print newsletter is a must

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

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

Donors are more likely to see any communication that comes in the mail, as opposed to the excessive volume of email most of us get.

Follow the Domain Formula, which was developed by the Domain fundraising group. A couple of things they recommend is to send your print newsletter only to donors and to put it in an envelope, not send it as a self-mailer.

They also recommend putting a donation envelope in your print newsletter. This is a proven way to raise additional revenue and you may be able to recoup your expenses.

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

Be sure you have a clean mailing list. If you can get rid of duplicate and undeliverable addresses, that’s another way to save a little money.

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

Give some thought to your email newsletter

Your print and email newsletter are separate entities. Therefore, you shouldn’t email people a PDF of your print newsletter. Use an email service provider and a newsletter template to create the best experience for your readers.

Send your email newsletter to anyone who signed up for it and only to people who signed up to receive it. This can be both donors and non-donors. It could be a good cultivation tool for future donors. Give people ample opportunities to sign up for your email newsletter, but understand not everyone will want to receive it.

Use an engaging headline (not April newsletter) so you can stand out in your donor’s inbox and be sure people can read it on a mobile device.

Share your stories

Stories are the most important part of a nonprofit newsletter (print and email). Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell.

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

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

Don’t stray from your mission

A common article I see in many nonprofit newsletters is one about a foundation or major donor giving a large gift. This may be accompanied by a picture of someone holding a giant check. Of course, you should recognize these donors (and all donors), but why is this gift important? How will it help your clients/community?

For example – This generous $50,000 grant from the Westside Community Foundation will help us serve more students in our tutoring program. Many students have fallen behind since the pandemic started and are struggling to catch up.

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

Write to your donors

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

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

I’m not a fan of the letter from the CEO because those tend to be organization-centered instead of donor-centered. If you feel you must include one of these, be sure to thank your donors.

Pour on the gratitude 

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. You couldn’t do your work without them. Every one of your newsletters needs to show gratitude and emphasize how much you appreciate your donors.

Make it easy to read (and scan)

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

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

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

Keep it short

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

Shorter, more frequent updates, are often better.

Do the best you can, but do something

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

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

Take time to create a great newsletter that will engage your donors.

Make Time for Some Spring Cleaning

It’s spring here in the Northern Hemisphere, although in the Boston area spring doesn’t fully kick in until May. 

A lot of people use this time of the year to do some spring cleaning. I know, groan. I envy the people who do that because usually I’m not one of them. 

I know I should do more. As much as I dislike cleaning and organizing, I’m happy once it gets done. Often getting started is the hardest part.

Your nonprofit organization may be putting off some version of your own spring cleaning and decluttering. Make some time to tackle these so-called cumbersome tasks. Just think how happy you’ll be when you’re done. You’ll also make some much-needed improvements to your infrastructure and donor communication.

Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.

Clean up your mailing lists and CRM/database

Has it been a while since you updated your mailing lists? Did you have an influx of address changes, returned mail, and bounced emails after you sent your year-end appeal? This is a good time to clean up and update both your direct mail and email mailing lists.

Don’t wait until right before your next mailing to clean up your donor data. If it’s been a while since you’ve done this, then you really need to do what is known as data hygiene.

Even though it’s tedious, have someone who’s familiar with your donors (your development director?) go through your mailing lists and CRM/database to see if you need to make any additions, changes, and deletions.

Be meticulous. No donor wants to see her name misspelled, be addressed as Mrs. when she prefers Ms., or receive three mailings because you have duplicate records.

Your donor database is an essential tool and it needs to be up-to-date and filled with accurate information about your donors.

Run your donor list through the National Change of Address database. It may cost some money to do this, but it’s worth it if you come out with squeaky-clean data. Do this at least once a year.

Also, if you haven’t already done this, segment your donors into different groups – new donors, returning donors, monthly donors, etc. You may need to make some changes. For example, if a single gift donor starts giving monthly.

You might also want to move some lapsed donors who haven’t donated for several years into an inactive file. Don’t do this until you’ve sent targeted, personalized appeals asking them to donate again. And if you’ve never gotten in touch with any lapsed donors from 2022, you could reach out to them now.

Do the same thing with your email list. It doesn’t make sense to send email to people who don’t respond to it. Give these people a chance to re-engage, and if they’re not even opening your emails, move them to an inactive file. Don’t worry if people unsubscribe. You’re better off with an email list of engaged subscribers.

Freshen up your messages

Now that you’ve cleaned up your mailing lists and segmented your donors, it’s time to freshen up your messages, if you haven’t done that for a while. Ideally, you should do this at least once a year. I mentioned this in a recent post, emphasizing that your donor communication needs to be clear, conversational, and specific. Stay away from generic language and jargon. 

There’s a good chance your thank you letters need a refresh. Your thank you letters need to actually thank your donors, not brag about your organization. Also, make sure your automatically generated thank you emails and landing pages don’t look like boring receipts. Create separate templates for new donors, current donors, and monthly donors.

 Weed and grow 

People who have gardens spend a lot of time getting rid of weeds to ensure a beautiful garden. I’m no gardener. I live in a townhouse and don’t have a yard, but even I know I need to cut off the dead leaves on my houseplants to help them grow.

What are your weeds? Perhaps it’s events or grants. These can take a lot of time and don’t always bring in that much money.

If that’s the case for you, a better option is to grow your individual giving program. Start with monthly giving. You can think of this as a houseplant approach, relatively easy to take on and maintain. Then move on to major and legacy giving. These will take more time, just like a seedling that with care and attention will grow into a tree.

As you work on your weeding, this article on simplicity might be helpful. It suggests you do an audit of various aspects of your life and ask –  Is it necessary and is it creating energy? If you answer “Yes” to both, keep it. If you answer “No” to both, remove it. If you answer “Yes” to one, think about it. 

For your nonprofit, the energy question can be turned around and you can ask if something is depleting your energy. You could also ask, is it producing results?

It can be hard to let go. Maybe you’ve held a particular event for years. But like weeds in a garden, it might be prohibiting your growth. Let go of this event (or whatever doesn’t serve you) and find ways to raise money that will help you grow.

Don’t wait too long

I know you have a lot going on, but you need to take on these initiatives sooner rather than later. Just like the clutter and dust in your home, along with the weeds in your garden, they won’t disappear on their own. The longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. 

Get started on these spring cleaning projects as soon as you can. You’ll be happy once they’re done. Your donors will be happy if they don’t get duplicate mailings and a fundraising letter laced with jargon, but do receive a personalized appeal and a stellar thank you letter. Your organization will also benefit by taking on initiatives that help you grow.

Pay Attention to Your Donor Retention

Donor retention continues to be a problem for nonprofit organizations. Many organizations spend a lot of time and energy on acquiring donors, concentrating more on volume, and don’t seem to be concerned that they’re churning through different donors year after year.

Acquiring new donors is more expensive than keeping the ones you already have, so it’s important for you to keep track of your retention rate

There are many reasons donors don’t give again. Some you can’t control, but many you can. Maybe you’re losing donors because you’re either not communicating enough or communicating poorly. Fortunately, this is something you can fix, but you need to give it your full attention.

Pay attention to your donor relationships

One of the most important components of fundraising is building relationships with your donors. 

Donor relations should be easier than raising money, and it can be fun, too. Make it a priority, as well as something you do throughout the year.

Follow the ask, thank, report formula and give more attention to thanking and reporting. Donors are not ATM’s. They were drawn to your organization because they felt a connection to your work. They want to feel appreciated and hear how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.

If you don’t pay attention to building relationships, your donors are less likely to give again.

Pay attention to your first-time donors

The retention rate for first-time donors is around 20%. Obviously, we can do better.

If you can get your first-time donors to give again, it’s much more likely they’ll keep giving. That second donation is known as the golden donation. This is why it’s important to engage with your new donors. 

Create a welcome plan that includes a series of messages for new donors. Recruit board members to make thank you phone calls. This is a proven strategy that results in donors giving again.

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

But don’t stop there, you also want to acknowledge your longer-term donors and make them feel special.

Pay attention to your lapsed donors

A lapsed donor is someone who hasn’t donated for at least a year. Make a plan to reach out to some of these donors and invite them to give again. Also, ask why they haven’t given. Maybe they forgot. Maybe they can’t afford to give right now. Maybe they were never thanked.

If a donor can’t afford to give right now, stay engaged with them. Maybe they’ll give again in the future. Also, some donors may choose to cut back on their giving. Don’t let them choose between an organization that does a great job of thanking them and sending engaging updates and the one that just sends a bunch of generic appeals.

Donor engagement is so important. A study by Donor Voice shows that donors are more likely to give again when they feel appreciated and the organization lets them know the impact of their gifts.

Pay attention to growing your monthly giving program

I’m a big proponent of monthly giving. Monthly donors have a much higher retention rate. Getting more monthly donors is one way to raise your overall retention rate.

Reach out to your single gift donors who have given at least twice and ask them to join your family of monthly donors. You can also invite donors to give monthly in your welcome package.

Pay attention to your donor communication 

Do you barrage donors with appeals and then go silent for a while? 

Ideally, you want to reach out somewhere between once a week and once a month. And not just with appeals. You need to thank donors and share updates. Remember the ask, thank, report formula. This is crucial for good donor retention. 

Try to reach out by mail at least a few times a year. It’s more personal and your donors are more likely to see your messages. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. A handwritten thank you card or a postcard infographic can be a quick, but effective, way to engage. 

Putting together a communications calendar will help you with this. 

You also want to focus on quality. Just because you send thank you letters and newsletters, doesn’t mean you’re actually engaging with your donors. Write a heartfelt, personal thank you and create a newsletter and other updates with content they’ll be interested in.

Pay attention to your donor data

Something else that will help you with donor retention is to invest in a good CRM/database. This will let you segment donors and personalize their communication. Then you can send targeted communication to new donors, long-time donors, lapsed donors, potential donors, etc. Invest in the best database you can afford. It should pay off.

You may think that paying attention to your donor retention sounds like a lot of work. Well, so is finding new donors.

Bloomerang has a lot of great information on donor retention and keep reading for more ways to pay attention to your donor retention.

Focus on Donor Retention This Year

Donor Retention Strategies: Get Donors to Give Again

Engage, request, repeat: The proven formula for retaining donors

Image via One Way Stock

Make Thanking Your Donors a Priority

Everyone likes to feel appreciated and that includes your donors. In fact, thanking your donors should be a priority for your nonprofit organization. Is that the case? Often the answer is no.

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, that’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 if you live in the Northern hemisphere. Your donors could use a little pick-me-up.

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.

Your donors have the option to give to countless nonprofit organizations, but they chose yours. Keep this quote from Mark Phillips in mind – “They are not your donors; you are one of their charities.” Shouldn’t they get some appreciation from you?

Here are a few ways you thank your donors throughout the year.

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.

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.

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. 

Many 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, Kevin won’t go to bed hungry tonight. It’s been tough for his family to make ends meet right now.

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

How you can do better

Make this the year you do a better job of thanking your donors. Remember, it should be a priority.

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.

I’m a big fan 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 information about how you can make thanking your donors a priority.

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

Beyond the Basics: 5 Creative Ways to Thank Donors and STAND OUT

How to Write the Perfect Thank You Message for Donors

Donor Appreciation: 3 Meaningful Ways to Show Your Gratitude

Why Your Nonprofit Needs to Invest in Monthly Giving

Monthly giving is continuing to gain momentum and that’s always good, especially in this time of financial uncertainty. Let’s keep this up! 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 so 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 at 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 donations. 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. 

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. Each year I’m happier to see that more organizations are jumping on the monthly giving bandwagon.

Organizations that don’t offer a monthly giving option are making 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 your expenses, is that happening if your minimum deters someone from giving at all? You often have to invest a little to raise more money. And you should raise more money with a monthly giving program.

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.

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 spiff 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.

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. You could also provide other video content, such as a virtual tour, for your 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. Always make a point to stay in touch with your donors.

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. 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. 

My monthly giving credit card expired last fall. Only a couple of organizations contacted me before the expiration date and one was quite adamant and even contacted me before I received my new card. Of course, a few slipped through the cracks and I didn’t hear from these organizations until after the donations didn’t go through. Remember to take the lead on this.

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.

You can ask your monthly donors for an additional gift during one of your fundraising campaigns, but you MUST recognize they’re monthly donors. For example – We really appreciate your gift of $10 a month. Could you help us out a little more right now with an additional gift? People in our community are having a hard time paying their heating bills because of rising fuel costs.

You can also ask your monthly donors to upgrade their gifts after a year or so. Be as specific as possible – We’re so happy you’re part of our family of monthly donors and are grateful for your gift of $5.00 a month. Many families are having trouble making ends meet and we’re serving triple the number of people at the Eastside Community Food Pantry right now. Could you help us out a little more with a gift of $7.00 or even $10.00 a month?

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 over the last three years. That’s what you want. And, if they do give an additional donation, be sure to thank them for that. Here’s the opening from a great thank you card I received – “How generous of you to make a gift that goes above and beyond your monthly donations.“

Be sure to invest in this proven way to raise more money, boost donor retention rates, and provide an easier giving option for your donors. 

Building Relationships is Just as Important as Raising Money

Why does making a donation often feel like a transaction? Organizations get so caught up in the raising money part that they forget about building relationships with their donors.

Giving Tuesday is the worst example of this, with Year End close behind. Generally, it happens way too often.

Remember this – Building relationships is just as important as raising money. 

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

Follow this formula – ask, thank, update, repeat. Thanking and updating should naturally evolve into building relationships, although that doesn’t always happen.

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

Stop using transactional language

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

Even more prevalent is the word receipt, which is often used in lieu of thank you. After a donor makes a gift, they should feel appreciated. 

An email subject line is one of your first chances to connect with your donor. How would you feel if this is what you saw? 

“Your Recurring Donation Receipt” 

“Donation tax receipt”

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

It’s not easy to find good thank you email subject lines. Here are some that are better.

“Thank you for your generous monthly gift”

“You are wonderful!”

“Thank you for investing in Peace!”

“Your monthly gift in action” 

That last subject line leads into an email that emphasizes how the donor is helping that organization make a difference, which is a good example of building relationships.

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

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

Make relationship building part of your fundraising campaigns

You need to build relationships before, during, and after each of your fundraising campaigns. Keep this in mind – Your Fundraising IS Your Relationship.

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

Segment your donors

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

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

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

Create an attitude of gratitude

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

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

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

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

Thanking donors is something you can do at any time of the year. I think one of the best ways to connect is by sending a handwritten note. I just received a handwritten thank you note acknowledging my two-year anniversary as a donor. It always warms my heart when an organization connects in this way.

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

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

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships

There are many ways you can build relationships with your donors throughout the year. 

You can give donors other opportunities to connect, such as volunteering, participating in advocacy alerts, signing up for your email mailing list, and following you on social media. You could also offer virtual or in-person (if it’s safe) tours.

Newsletters and annual reports that focus too much on the organization are the equivalent of being at a party where someone just talks about himself and you may as well not even be there. Done well, a newsletter, annual report, or another form of an update can be a good relationship-building tool.

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

You’ll have a better chance of building relationships if you can tap into your donors’ passions and interests.

Hold a relationship-building day

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

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

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

Build relationships all year round

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

Always stay focused on relationships. Good relationships with your donors will help you raise more money and keep your donors for a long time. 

Stay Connected With Your Donors by Creating a Communications Calendar

I like to emphasize the importance of keeping in touch with your donors throughout the year. I hope that’s a priority for you, 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. I know 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 2023 (it will be here before you know it). 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 you need to share it. You want a consistent stream of information – not three email messages 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 couple of years 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. COVID is still a part of our lives, but now the bigger concern seems to be inflation and other economic issues. In 2022, we saw the beginning of the war in Ukraine. Who knows what next year will bring.

Many donors will expect you to address current situations. 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 mental health 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

Some organizations have started holding in-person events again. Some events are hybrid or just virtual. 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 that 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.

Nonprofit Editorial Calendars

Free Editorial Calendar & Campaign Planning Documents

Get Organized With a Nonprofit Editorial Calendar

How to create and use a nonprofit editorial calendar