Your Appeal is the First Step

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I imagine many of you are beyond busy working on your year-end appeal, but if you think you can take a deep breath and relax once the letters have gone out, you can’t. Your appeal is only the first step.

In fact, what comes next is even more important, especially if you want to to keep your donors for a long time.

Do a good job of thanking your donors

In my last post, I asked Are You Thankful for Your Donors?  Take a few minutes to think about this, because most of the thank you letters I see don’t reflect that.

Make your donors feel good about their donations. A handwritten note or phone call is better than a letter, but if you only have the the means to do a letter, make it sparkle. Don’t send the same old boring, generic thank you letter. Take time to write something awesome.

Create a welcome plan for your new donors

Did you know over 75% of first-time donors don’t make a second gift (according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Report)? This is horrible and we must do a better job of keeping our donors.

One way to help ensure people will give again is to create a welcome plan, which will provide you with ways to let your new donors know how much you appreciate them.

Make your current donors feel special, too

You may think your most valuable donors are the ones who give the most money, but what about the people who have supported your organization for three, five, or even ten years? These are your valuable donors.

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

This is why segmenting your donors and personalizing their correspondence is crucial, so is a good database to help you with this. 11 Ways To Segment Your Donors To Improve Your Fundraising

Repeat donor retention rates are 60%, which is better, but still not great. The highest retention rate comes from monthly donors, which is an impressive 90%.

I highly recommend inviting your current donors to become monthly donors, especially the ones who’ve supported you for at least two years. Making the Most of Monthly Giving

Don’t skimp on your donor communication

I know you’re swamped with your year-end appeal right now, but this is not the time to scale back on your donor communication. Continue to send your newsletter and other updates. Keep them donor-centered.

Send your donors Thanksgiving and holiday greetings, either by mail or email. Intersperse your fundraising appeals with messages in which you’re not asking for donations.

Keep it up

Your first New Year’s resolution should be to communicate with your donors more. Keep reaching out to them – at least once or twice a month. Show appreciation and update them on how they’re helping you make a difference.

Think of other ways to do something special for your donors, such as offering tours of your facility or holding an open house.

You want to keep your donors for a long time and making them feel good about supporting your organization will help with this.

 

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Are You Thankful for Your Donors?

Thanksgiving is coming up and it’s a time of year in the U.S. when we show gratitude to the special people in our lives. Do you extend this same gratitude to your donors? Sometimes it doesn’t seem that way.

Nonprofit organizations tend to treat thanking their donors as an afterthought.But you need to spend just as much time thanking your donors as you do on fundraising.

Here are some ways you can show that you are thankful for your donors.

Wish your donors a Happy Thanksgiving

Send your donors a special Thanksgiving message. If you can send a card or postcard, that’s great, but an email message is also fine.

Let your donors know how grateful you are to have them as part of your family. Share a success story and photo or video. Your donors will appreciate a heartfelt message, especially when they’re being deluged with year-end appeals.

Of course, you can also send cards or email messages during the holidays, Valentine’s Day, or any time of the year. DO NOT include a donation envelope or any other type of ask with your thank you message. This will deflate your donor’s good feelings in an instant.

Be ready to thank your donors right away

If you’re doing a year-end appeal (or any other fundraising campaign), you need to thank your donors right away, within 48 hours if you can.

Every single donor, no matter how much they’ve given or whether they donated online, gets a thank you card/letter mailed to them or receives a phone call.

Make this a priority. You need to start planning how you will thank your donors at the same time you plan your fundraising appeal. Don’t do this alone. Get your board, other staff, and volunteers together to make phone calls, write thank you notes, or include a handwritten note on a thank you letter.

Give your donors an unforgettable thank you experience

When was the last time you received a thank you letter that knocked your socks off? Maybe a couple of times. Maybe never.

Nonprofits often relegate thanking donors to a last-minute process. If you donate online, you get taken to a boring, generic thank you landing page and receive an equally boring thank you email. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a letter, but it’s usually impersonal and filled with mind-numbing jargon that doesn’t make you feel good about your donation.

Start off by sounding like a human and not a robot. Don’t open with On behalf of X organization we thank you for your donation of…. Open with You’re amazing! or Thanks to you, David won’t go to bed hungry tonight.

The second example above gets to the heart of a good thank you.Your donors need to feel valued and know how they’re helping you make difference. This isn’t the time to explain what your organization does or brag about how great you are. The donor is the one who’s great.

Make your thank yous personal. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend and leave out any jargon or other information your donors won’t understand.

Create an experience for your donors –  an experience that will last as long as your donors support your organization.

5 Thank You Letters Donors Will Love Gratitude and Results Keep Donors Coming Back

How to Craft a Killer Thank You Letter

Don’t make this one and done

The thank you letter you send after your appeal is just the beginning. You must thank your donors all year round. You can make this easier by creating a thank you plan, which you can incorporate into your communications calendar.

Find ways to say thank you at least once a month. Here are some ideas.

  • Create a thank you video and share it on your website, by email, and on social media.
  • Send welcome packets to new donors.
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude.
  • Always thank your donors in your newsletter and social media updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without their support.
  • Hold an open house at your organization or offer tours so your donors can see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Thank your donors just because they’re great.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

This Thanksgiving and throughout the year, be thankful for your donors. Treat them well so you can ensure a long-term relationship.

 

Give Your New Donors a Warm Welcome

 

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After you send your year-end appeal, you’ll most likely gain some brand new donors, which is good news. The bad news is over 70% of these first-time donors won’t make a second gift.

Don’t let that happen to you. Nonprofit organizations don’t spend enough time trying to keep their current donors. You want to pay attention to your retention because it’s easier and less expensive to keep your current donors rather than finding new ones.

As you work on your year-end appeal, put together a welcome plan and be ready to shower your new donors with love as soon as their gifts come in.

Give your new donors an extra special thank you

Research by fundraising expert Penelope Burk states that first-time donors who receive a thank you call are more likely to donate again and give at a higher level the next year. Get a group of board members, staff (especially your executive director), and volunteers to call your new donors, or send them a handwritten thank you card.

If you can’t make phone calls or send a handwritten note, send a thank you letter that specifically recognizes that someone is a new donor.

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

Send a welcome package

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

Welcome your new donors. Thank them again and show them other ways they can connect with you. Invite them to subscribe to your newsletter and join you on social media. Your welcome package can include a warm introductory message and a brochure or fact sheet.

Send seperate welcome packets to one-time donors and new monthly donors. You could invite new one-time donors to become monthly donors. For monthly donors, send different messages to brand new donors and existing donors who’ve become monthly donors.

How to Welcome New Donors and Keep Them Engaged

What does a new donor welcome pack look like?

Bring-’Em-Close Welcome Packs

Get to know your new donors

Get to know your new donors better. Include a short survey with your welcome packet to find out how they heard about you, what issues are important to them, and if they prefer print or electronic communication. You could also direct people to your website for more information about your organization.

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

Give your donors the gift of appreciation

I don’t recommend sending unsolicited swag. You could offer your new donors a gift and they can let you know if they want to receive it, but it’s not necessary. You want donors who care about your work, not getting a free coffee mug.

Instead of spending your resources securing premiums, invest in creating thank you cards or making a welcome video.

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

Stay in touch

Don’t let the welcome packet be the last time your donors hear from you until your next appeal. Use a communications calendar to help you plan to stay in touch throughout the year.

Donors stop giving for a variety of reasons, some of which you can’t control. One that you can control is poor or nonexistant communication. Making your new donors feel welcome and staying in touch throughout the year will help you keep your donors.

Here is more information on the importance of treating new donors well.

3 Ways to Make a Lasting Impression with First-Time Donors

10 ways you may be chasing away new donors

Thank You 101

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Many of you may be working on your year-end appeal, which is great, but have you given any thought to how you’ll thank your donors? Thanking your donors after an appeal (and throughout the year) is equally important, yet many organizations leave this as a last minute to-do item and it shows.

You can stand out by taking the time to give your donors a great thank you experience. In my last post, I wrote about Appeal Letter Writing 101. Now let’s continue to get back to basics with Thank You 101.

Start planning now

There are many ways to thank your donors after an appeal – by mail, phone, email, on your website, or a combination of those. Figure out what you’ll be able to do. I highly recommend a handwritten note or phone call. Can you do that for all your donors? If not, maybe you’ll break it down by new donors, long-time donors, or donors who have given a certain amount.

At the very least, your donors should get a letter, even if they’ve donated online. Whatever you decide, get started on the content now.

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

I’m a big fan of handwritten thank you notes. They will stand out in your donor’s mailbox. How often do you get a handwritten card?  

Handwritten notes are great in many ways, but one advantage is you don’t have to write that much and it shouldn’t take too long. How to Write 3 Minute Thank You Notes

You could make thank you cards with an engaging photo or buy some nice thank you cards. Get together a team of board members, staff, and volunteers right after your appeal goes out and have a thank you party. Your donors will love it. Here’s a sample note.

Dear Lisa,

Thank you so much for upgrading your gift to $50. This will help us serve more students in our afterschool program. We’re so happy you’ve been a donor these past three years.

Phone calls make a difference, too

Another more personal way to thank your donors is with a phone call. Calling first-time donors is known to improve retention rates. But you could also call long-term donors to make them feel special.

Again, you want to get a team together for a thankathon. This is a great thing for your board to do. You may need to do a short training first. 6 Keys to Rock Thank You Calls and Retain More Donors Here’s a sample phone script.

Hi Steve, this Jennifer Collins and I’m a board member at Helping Hand. Thank you so much for your donation of $50 and welcome to our donor family. Your gift will help us purchase winter coats for homeless children.

Write an awesome letter

If it’s impossible to send handwritten notes or make phone calls, you can still impress your donors with an awesome thank you letter. Many thank you letters are mediocre at best, so you’ll have an advantage if you take some time to create a great, donor-centered letter.

This sounds obvious, but thank you letters are about thanking the donor. Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization. If you’re sending it on your letterhead, it should be apparent it’s coming from your organization. Instead, start your letter with Thank you or You just did something amazing.

You also don’t need to explain what your organization does. This is usually done in a braggy way by saying something like As you know, X organization has been doing great work in the community for 20 years. Someone who’s donated to your organization should already be familiar with what you do.

And my biggest pet peeve – Don’t ask for another gift in your thank you letter. You did that in your appeal letter. Nothing diminishes that feel good moment by being asked to give more money again so soon. Remember, you’re supposed to be thanking your donors.

You’ll notice the examples I gave above were personalized – welcoming new donors and recognizing previous gifts and upgrades. You need to do that, too. Send different letters to new donors, renewing donors, donors who’ve upgraded their gifts, and monthly donors. And you must address your donors by name – not Dear Friend.

Let your donors know how their gift is helping you make a difference. Include a brief story or example.

As with all writing, make your letter personal and conversational. Write to the donor using you much more than we, and leave out jargon and any other language your donors won’t understand.

A few other ways to make your letter stand out is to use a colored envelope or include a teaser that says Thank You!  If you can hand address the envelopes and include a handwritten note inside, that will help make it more personal.  You could also include an engaging photo in the letter.

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

How to Craft a Killer Thank You Letter

5 Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

Make a good impression with your thank you landing page

Many people donate online. Make this a good experience for your donors.

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it’s usually about as exciting as a Home Depot receipt.

Open with Thank you, Kevin! or You’re amazing!  Include an engaging photo or video and a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help the people you serve.

If you use a third-party giving site, you might be able to customize the landing page. If not, follow up with a personal thank you email message within 48 hours.

5 Thank You Page Best Practices for Any Nonprofit

The thank you email needs to impress your donors, too

Start off by putting Thank You! or You Just Did Something Incredible! in the subject line. This will make your message stand out in your donor’s ever-growing inbox.

Follow the examples above and make it all about gratitude. Just because your thank you email is automatically generated, doesn’t mean it needs to sound like it was written by a robot. Write something warm and personal.

Thanking a Donor by Email: Best Practices and Examples

Thank your donors as soon as possible

Show your donors how much you appreciate their gift by thanking them as soon as possible, within 48 hours if you can. You can do this if you have your thank letters/scripts and team ready to go before your appeal goes out. Then each day you get a donation, send out notes/letters or make phone calls. The highest volume will be right after your appeal goes out. Be ready!

I highly recommend putting together a thank you plan, which covers some of the things mentioned in this post as well as the equally important thanking your donors all year round.

Build Relationships With Your Donors by Having an Open House

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Building relationships with your donors is a year-round effort. There are many ways to build relationships. One that’s more personal is having an open house at your organization. If you can’t hold one on site, have it at a restaurant or other venue. You may be able to find someone to donate space.

Invite other supporters, too

You could just have an event for donors, but why not invite other supporters such as event attendees, email subscribers, and social media followers, as well? This could be a great way to convert these supporters into donors. Encourage your donors to bring a friend.

Coordinate it with your year-end appeal

Depending on your resources, you may only be able to hold one open house a year. If you can hold more, that’s great.

A good time to have your open house is before you launch your year-end appeal so you could hold one sometime between mid-September and early November.

Another option is spring if you have an appeal then, or you could make it a thank you event.  

Winter is tricky unless you’re fortunate to live someplace where it doesn’t snow. And summer’s not good since most people go away on vacation.

Whenever you decide to hold your open house, don’t ask for money at this event.

Keep it informal

No three-course dinners and speeches that are a cure for insomnia. Hold a gathering where your supporters can drop in after work, and serve something to eat and drink. You may be able to get food and beverages donated or find a sponsor.

Have a brief program. You could show a video and/or let a client share his/her story. Your executive director or board chair should thank your guests and share some accomplishments and plans for the future. Again, keep it brief. You don’t want anyone looking for a way to escape.

Create some photo displays and have literature available. You could also show a video on a laptop. Offer tours, if that makes sense.

Speaking of tours, you could offer them at other times, too. After I became a monthly donor, one organization invited me to arrange a tour.

How to Engage Donors with a Tour

7 Tips to Create an Amazing Donor Cultivation Tour

Get your board involved

You must have a good turnout from your board. Encourage board members to invite friends and other potential prospects.

Make everyone feel welcome

Don’t hide in the corner or spend all your time talking to your co-workers. Your staff and board need to mingle with your guests and make them feel welcome.

You may want to go over your organization’s talking points and brush up on your elevator pitches so everyone is prepared to talk about what you do and answer questions. And that doesn’t mean reciting your mission statement.

Create a Stellar Elevator Pitch for Your Nonprofit Organization

How to Get Everyone in your Organization on the Same Page

Don’t forget about the follow-up

Anyone who has taken time out of her/his busy schedule to attend your open house needs to be showered with love. Nonprofits tend to do a poor job of following up after an event and miss out on a great opportunity to build relationships.

Collect names and addresses of people who attended and send a thank you note right away. This is a good project for your board. Don’t ask for money (that comes later).

When you do send your next appeal, include a sentence that says, “It was great to see you at our open house.”

Not all your donors will attend your open house but will appreciate the invitation. Donors and other supporters who do come are showing you they’re interested in your organization. Keep them interested and keep building relationships with them! This will help ensure they’ll continue to support you.

It’s Time for a Thank You Plan

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Do you think you’re doing a good job of thanking your donors? Think hard about this, because there’s a good chance you’re not. You may have every intention to, but thanking donors often takes a back seat to fundraising when you should spend equal time doing both.

This is why you need a thank you plan. You probably have a fundraising plan and maybe a donor relations plan, but a specific thank you plan is just as important. Donor retention rates continue to be poor and one reason is donors don’t feel appreciated. Creating a thank you plan will help you stay focused on gratitude all year round.  

Here’s what you need to include in your thank you plan.

Plan to make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it often looks more like a boring receipt than something that’s going to make me feel good about making a donation.

Open with Thank you, Lisa! or You’re amazing!  Include an engaging photo and a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help the people you serve. Put all the tax deductible information after your message or in the automatically generated thank you email.

If you use a third-party giving site, you might be able to customize the landing page. If not, follow up with a personal thank you email message within 48 hours.

How to Create Post Donation Thank You Pages That Delight Donors

Plan to write a warm and personal automatic thank you email

Set up an automatic thank you email to go out after someone donates online. This email thank you is more of a reassurance to let your donor know that you received her donation. You still need to thank her by mail or phone (see below).

Just because your thank you email is automatically generated, doesn’t mean it needs to sound like it was written by a robot. Write something warm and personal.

Thanking a Donor by Email: Best Practices and Examples

Plan to thank your donors by mail or phone

I’m a firm believer that every donor, no matter how much he’s given or whether he donated online, gets a thank you card or letter mailed to him or receives a phone call.

Try to thank your donors within 48 hours if you can. This shouldn’t be hard to do if you plan to carve out some time to thank your donors each day you get a donation. If you wait too long, you’re not making a good impression.

Instead of sending a generic, boring thank you letter, mail a handwritten card or call your donors. Calling your donors to thank them is something your board can do. It’s often a welcome surprise and can raise retention rates among first-time donors.

Find board members, staff, and volunteers to make phone calls or write thank you notes. Come up with sample scripts. You may also want to conduct a short training. Make sure to get your team together well before your next fundraising campaign so you’re ready to roll when the donations come in.

Here’s a sample phone script, which you can modify for a thank you note.

Hi, this is Mike Davis and I’m a board member at the Northside Community Food Bank. I’m calling to thank you for your generous donation of $50. Thanks to you, we can provide a family with a week’s worth of groceries. This is great. We’re seeing more people coming in right now because of cuts to food stamp programs. We really appreciate your support.

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal and heartfelt letter. Don’t start your letter with “On behalf of X organization we thank you for your donation of….” Open the letter with “You’re incredible” or “Because of you, Tara won’t go to bed hungry tonight.”

Add a personal handwritten note to the letter, preferably something that pertains to that particular donor. For example, if the donor has given before or attended one of your recent events, mention that. Make sure all letters are hand signed.

Let your donors know how much you appreciate them and highlight what your organization is doing with their donations.

In addition, write your thank you letter at the same time you write your appeal letter. Make sure they’re ready to go as soon as the donations come in.

How to Craft a Killer Thank You Letter

Steal This Thank You Letter! A Sample Donor Thank You Letter for Your Non-Profit

Plan to keep thanking your donors all year round

This is where having a thank you plan makes a difference because organizations usually send some kind of thank you letter after they receive a donation and then donor communication starts to wane after that.

Use your communications calendar to incorporate ways to thank your donors. Try to say thank you at least once a month. Here are some ways to do that.

  • Send cards or email messages at Thanksgiving, during the holidays, Valentine’s Day, or mix it up a little and send a note of gratitude in June or September when your donors won’t be expecting it. Try to send at least one or two gratitude messages a year by mail, since your donors will be more likely to see those.
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude. Be sure to keep thanking your donors in your newsletter and social media updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without your donors’ support.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your thank you landing page, by email, and on social media.
  • Hold an open house at your organization or offer tours so your donors can see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

Creating a thank you plan will make it easier to keep showing appreciation to your donors all year round. If you treat them well, maybe they’ll treat you well the next time you send a fundraising appeal.

Photo via One Way Stock

Don’t Be a Stranger

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I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard much lately from the nonprofits I support. There’s been a scattering of updates, e-newsletters, action alerts, and appeals. But mostly – silence.

I know it’s quieter time, but that doesn’t mean you need to go AWOL. You should be communicating with your donors at least once a month. In fact, the period between campaigns is an excellent time to reach out. You don’t want to be a stranger. And, since many nonprofits seem to have decided to take a break from donor communication (not a wise decision), your message will be one of the few they’ll receive.

Here are some ways to show your donors that you’re not a stranger.

Share an update

Let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference. Send something by mail if you can. Maybe a two-page update or infographic postcard. Here’s one of my favorites. Knock it Out of the Park  If it’s impossible to send something by mail right now, you can use email.

Say thank you

Thank your donors just because. Send them a nice thank you card or you can combine a thank you and an update. Have some fun and get creative here. 15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors

Create a better newsletter

You may already keep in touch with your newsletter. Newsletters can be a great way to engage, but before you get too complacent, I have to ask you, Is Your Newsletter Boring? Many of them are, but yours doesn’t have to be.

A good summer project for you is to create a better newsletter. Find some engaging stories to share. Think about what your donors want – Hint – It’s not a lot of bragging. 3 Ways Your Nonprofit Newsletter is Killing You

The general rule for newsletters is a monthly e-newsletter and four quarterly print newsletters. I like to recommend a short (maybe two articles) e-newsletter every two weeks. Our inboxes are overflowing right now. This way you can stay in touch regularly and not bombard people with too much information at once.

Tie in current events

There’s a lot going in the world right now. Will your organization be affected by any of the Trump administration’s policies or proposed budget cuts? Share ways your donors can help – perhaps by contacting their legislators, volunteering, or making a donation.

Focus on relationship building in your appeal

If you’re doing a fundraising appeal this spring, make the main focus relationship building. Thank donors for their past support, share some updates, and show them how their gift will help you make a difference.

Invite long-term donors to join your family of monthly donors. Send a special letter to your lapsed donors letting them know you miss them and want them back.

If you also did a year-end appeal, some of your donors may be reluctant to give again so soon. You certainly can ask for more than one gift a year, but why now?  Don’t just ask for a donation. Make a compelling case and stay focused on relationship building.

Don’t lose momentum

After I made a bunch of monthly gifts last year, several organizations sent me monthly thank you letters either by mail or email. This went on for a couple of months and then it pretty much stopped. Last month I only received two thank you letters. What happened here?

It’s easy to ride on all that year-end energy, but you have to keep it up. Whether it’s thank you letters to monthly donors or e-newsletters, once you start, you can’t stop. What kind of message does that send?  Use a communications calendar to help you communicate regularly.

Your donors want to hear from you throughout the year. Don’t be a stranger.