Why You Need a Thank You Plan

Thanking your donors is just as important, if not more important than fundraising. Yet many organizations spend a lot of time putting together a fundraising campaign and treat thanking their donors as an afterthought.

We’re still in a time of uncertainty. Charitable giving has gone down over the last 20 years. The Vanishing American Donor While people were generous last year during the height of the pandemic, it’s hard to know how long that will last.

Prioritizing gratitude and donor relations will help. If you don’t do a good job of thanking your donors, as well as building relationships throughout the year, you’ll have a hard time getting people to people to donate again, which is one of the keys to your success.

This is why having a thank you plan is crucial. Many organizations just thank their donors after they receive a gift and then disappear until the next fundraising appeal. Your donors deserve better than that. 

Thanking your donors is something you need to do throughout the year – at least once a month, if you can. 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 shouldn’t resemble Amazon check out. It should make a person feel good about giving a donation.

Open with Thank you, Scott! or You’re incredible! Include an engaging photo or video and a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help your clients/community right now. 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

How To Optimize Your Donation Thank You Page + Examples Of Nonprofits Who Do It Right

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 you received her donation. You still need to thank her by mail or phone.

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.

Give some thought to the email subject line, too. At the very least make sure it says Thank You or You did something great today and not anything boring like Your Donation Receipt or Donation Received. And please stop using words like transaction and processed. A donation is not a transaction. It’s the start or continuation of a relationship.

How to Write a Great Donation Thank-you Email (with Examples)

Email Thank You Letter Examples for Donors

6 Email Examples to Thank Year-End Donors

Plan to thank your donors by mail or phone

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

Try to thank your donors within 48 hours or within a week at the latest. I know it might be hard to do that right now, but it will be easier if you plan to carve out some time to thank your donors each day you get a donation. Remember, thanking your donors should be a priority. If you wait too long, you’re not making a good impression.

Instead of sending the usual generic thank you letter, mail a handwritten card or call your donors. Making thank you calls or writing thank you notes is something your board can do. 

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

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

Hi Beth, this is Debra Carter and I’m a board member at the Westside Community Food Bank. I’m calling to thank you for your generous donation of $50. Thanks to you, we can continue to provide neighborhood families with healthy food. This is great. We’re still seeing a lot of people come in, so we really appreciate your support.

You’ll stand out if you can send a handwritten thank you card. I get a few of these a year and they tend to come from the same organizations, which shows you what they prioritize! 

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal and heartfelt letter. If you’ve been using the same letter template for a while, it’s time to freshen it up. Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization, we thank you for your donation of…. 

Open your letter with You’re amazing or Because of you, the Turner family can finally move into their own home. Create separate letters for new donors, renewing donors, and monthly donors.

Add a personal handwritten note to the letter, preferably something that pertains to that particular donor. For example, if the donor has given before, mention that. Hand sign the letters, if you can.

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. Don’t wait three weeks.

How to Write The Best Thank-You Letter for Donations + Three Templates and Samples

A Guide to Crafting the Perfect Donation Thank-You Letter

Thank You Letters for Donations: How To Get Them Right

Plan to keep thanking your donors all year round

This is where having a thank you plan makes a difference because as I mentioned before – thanking your donors is something you must do all year round.

You can use your communications calendar to incorporate ways to thank your donors, but why not go one step further and create a specific thank you calendar.

Remember to 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 may not 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. And you don’t need a holiday or special occasion to thank your donors. Thank them just because….
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories, as well as how the current situations are impacting your work. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude. Be sure to keep thanking your donors in your newsletter and other 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.
  • Send a warm-up letter or email about a month before your next campaign (no ask). This is a great way to show appreciation BEFORE you send your appeals.
  • I wouldn’t recommend an open house or tours right now, but you could do something virtual to let your donors see your nonprofit up close and personal. Even when it is safe to gather in person again, a virtual gathering or tour may be easier to pull off. 
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

The tactics that work best are going to differ for each organization. I would definitely send something by mail a few times a year. Email and social media may not be as successful, especially if your donors don’t use electronic communication very much. You could survey them to find out their communication preferences, as well as their interests. This will help with your engagement.

Creating a thank you plan will make it easier to keep showing appreciation to your donors all year round. You need your donors right now, so don’t hold back on that always-important gratitude.

Keep Connecting With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of connecting with your donors by sharing stories. Written stories are great, but donors may not have the time or energy to read a story.

This is why you also need to use visual stories. Some people respond better to visual stimuli, anyway. Here are a few ways to tell visual stories.

Tell a story in an instant with a great photo

You’ve probably heard the phrase a picture is worth a 1000 words. Cliche, yes, but it’s true.

You can capture your donors’attention in an instant with a great photo. That doesn’t mean one of your executive director receiving an award. Use photos of your programs in action or something else that’s engaging.

Print newsletters and annual reports tend to be dominated by long-winded text. Most of your donors won’t want to read the whole thing. But if you share some engaging photos, your donors can get a quick glance at the impact of their gift without having to slog through a bunch of tedious text.

Photos can enhance your print communication by breaking up the narrative. You can also complement your written stories with photos. Here’s a great example from an update I recently received.

You’ll notice that it’s a short, but engaging update. There’s no need for long print pieces. If you’re worried about mailing costs, postcards and other short pieces with photos are the way to go. You could even do a Postcard Annual Report 

If you use social media, you need to communicate several times a week. As your donors scroll through an endless number of Facebook and Twitter posts, an engaging photo can stand out and get their attention.

Use photos everywhere – fundraising appeals, thank you letters/cards, newsletters, annual reports, updates, your website, and social media. Create a photo bank to help you with this.

It’s fine to use the same photos in different channels. It can help with your brand identity. Be sure to use high-quality pictures. Also, make sure your photos match your messages. If you’re writing a fundraising appeal about children who aren’t getting enough to eat each day, don’t use a picture of happy kids.

Work with your program staff to get photos and videos (more on videos below). Confidentiality issues may come up and you’ll need to get permission to use pictures of kids.

10 Ways Nonprofits Can Leverage Visual Storytelling

6 Ways to Tell Your Nonprofit Story With Images

6 Steps to Establishing a Photo Policy that Boosts Giving & Shows Respect

Highlight your work with a video

Videos are becoming a more popular way to connect. They can be used to show your programs in action, share an interview, give a behind-the-scenes look at your organization, or my favorite – thanking your donors. 

You can share videos that are relevant to our current situations. If you’re a museum that’s re-opened, you can show people how they can visit it safely. You could give a virtual tour of some of your collections for people who aren’t comfortable visiting. You could also talk about how the pandemic or systemic racism has impacted the people/community you work with. 

I would definitely recommend creating a personalized thank you video. If that’s not possible, you can make a general one.

How to (Easily) Thank Donors with Video

Make your videos short and high quality. Short is key. People are still spending a lot more time online. If your video is more than a couple of minutes, they may not bother to watch it.

You can use videos on your website, in an email message, on social media, and at an event (virtual or in person, when it’s safe).

6 Ways to Fundraise With Video

5 Examples of Nonprofit Storytelling that Compel People to Give

5 Inspirational Nonprofit Impact Story Videos

Spruce up your statistics by using infographics

A typical annual report is loaded with statistics. You want to share these, along with your accomplishments, but you don’t want to overwhelm your donors with a lot of text.

Why not use an infographic instead of the usual laundry list of statistics and accomplishments? Here are some examples. 

A Great Nonprofit Annual Report in a Fabulous Infographic

Infographics are also great in other types of communication such as newsletters and updates.

6 Types of Nonprofit Infographics to Boost Your Campaigns

3 Infographic Tips for Nonprofits

10 Tools for Creating Nonprofit Infographics

Good visuals will enhance both your print and electronic communication. Keep your donors engaged with all types of stories.

A Beginner’s Guide to Visual Storytelling in Your Nonprofit Communications

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

After the year we’ve just been through, most people have realized the importance of connection. Your nonprofit organization also needs to make connections with your donors. One of the best ways to do that is to share stories.

Donors want to hear your stories

I would guess you’re not using stories as much as you should. That’s a mistake because people respond better to stories than a bunch of facts and statistics. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene.

You may be reluctant to use stories because it’s more work for your organization, but that shouldn’t stop you. The summer is a good time to come up with some new stories.

Your stories need to be relevant

I don’t need to tell you the world has changed since March 2020. Your stories need to take the current climate into account. That’s why you new need ones. This year is different than last year, but not the same as 2019. Let your donors know how the pandemic (which is still with us, by the way), the economy, and systemic racism are impacting your clients/community right now.

Create a culture of storytelling

If you create a storytelling culture in your organization, you can make storytelling the norm instead of the exception.

Work with your program staff to create stories that will help you connect with your donors. Everyone needs to understand how important this is. Share stories at staff meetings and/or set up regular meetings with program staff to gather stories. Do this virtually if you’re not in the office.

How To Create A Culture of Storytelling in Your Nonprofit

When you put together a story, ask.

  • Why is this important?
  • Who is affected?
  • Why would your donors be interested in this story?
  • Are you using clear, everyday language (no jargon) to make sure your donors understand your story?
  • How are your donors helping you make a difference or How can your donors help you make a difference?

Client or program recipient stories are best. Remember, donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.

Another way to find stories is to put a Share Your Story page on your website. This could be a good way to get some current, relevant stories.

4 INSPIRATIONAL “SHARE YOUR STORY” PAGES THAT WILL KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF

Language is important

It’s time to stop using jargon such as at-risk and underserved. These terms undermine your clients/community. These aren’t terms your donors use, anyway. Use language they’ll understand. 

You also don’t want to give the impression that your organization is coming in to save someone. This is especially important if the majority of your staff and donors are white, but your clients are people of color. This is known as white savior complex. Most likely that’s not intentional on your part, but watching how you tell your stories will help you avoid that. Be respectful of your clients/community.

4 Resources to Help Shift the Narrative for Equity in Nonprofit Communications

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Remember, your stories aren’t about your organization. Your organization may have had to make a lot of changes to do some of the work you do, but that’s not your story. Your story is why this is important for the people/community you work with. 

Maybe you had to change the way you run your food pantry, but what’s most important is that people in your community continue to have access to healthy food. 

Make your stories personal 

Tell a story of one (person or family). Use people’s names to make your stories more personal. I realize you might run into confidentiality issues, but you can change names to protect someone’s privacy. You could also do a composite story, but don’t make up anything.

Fundraising with Names Have Been Changed Disclaimers

Use different stories for different types of communication

Create a story bank to help you organize all your stories. You want to use stories as much as possible. Use them in your appeals, thank you letters, newsletters, updates, annual reports, website, blog, and other types of social media. 

While you can come up with some core stories, they’ll be slightly different depending on the type of communication. 

In a fundraising appeal, you want to highlight a problem or need. Let’s say you run a tutoring program. Here you can tell a story about James, a high school student who didn’t fare well with remote learning and is behind in his grade level. Because of this, he could benefit from a tutor. 

In your thank you letter, you can let your donors know that because of their generous gift, James will be able to start tutoring sessions with Mark, a local college student. 

Then in your newsletter, annual report, or update, you can tell a success story about how James is doing much better in school after starting weekly tutoring sessions with Mark. 

Make connections with your donors by sharing stories. Read on below for more information about creating stories. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories. 

Making a Great Story into a Powerful Fundraising Story

How to Write an Impact Story that Moves Hearts & Minds

A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Nonprofit Impact Stories

INFOGRAPHIC: A Nonprofit Storytelling How-To

The 5 C’s of Good Nonprofit Communication

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

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

Is it Clear?

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

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

What should you never put in a direct mail envelope

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

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

Is it Concise?

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

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

Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

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

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

Make all your words count.

Is it Conversational?

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

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

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

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

Is it Compelling?

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

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

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

9 Powerful Examples of Nonprofit Storytelling

Are you establishing a connection?

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

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

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

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

Making Connections With Your Monthly Donors

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

10 Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

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

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

Make a plan

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

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

Send something by mail

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

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

Create a video

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

5 Thank You Video Examples to Inspire Your Nonprofit

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

Spruce up those automatic thank you emails

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

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

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

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

Here’s a  better one. 

Thank you for donating to Malala Fund!

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

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

With gratitude, 

Malala Fund

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

Get noticed with an enticing subject line

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

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

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

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

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

Keep your donors engaged with good content

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

Get personal

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

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

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

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

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

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

Why It’s Important to Keep Things Simple

Over the years I’ve realized the importance of keeping things simple. This past year we needed to keep things simple since we were limited in what we could do, especially outside the house. Instead of running back and forth from place to place, we stayed put, although we spent more time online.

Things are starting to open up, but there’s still a lot of stress and uncertainty. Even though I’m fully vaccinated, I’m not that excited about being anywhere that’s crowded. The pandemic allowed me to find pleasure in simple things such as taking a walk, reading a novel, and doing yoga, which I’m going to continue to make time for, if I can. 

Keeping it simple doesn’t have to mean a bare-bones existence. There’s a Swedish term called lagom meaning everything in moderation or not too much, not too little. Or think of Goldilocks and choose what’s “just right.” This can apply to how much information we take in about the pandemic, politics, etc. – enough to know what’s going on, but not too much so it’s overwhelming. 

Keeping things simple is also important for your nonprofit organization. You’ve gone through a lot this past year. You had to make changes in the way you do your work. Maybe you’re starting to provide in-person services again and some people are back in the office. All this change has made your work more complicated. 

You need to continue to raise money and communicate fairly regularly with your donors, while not taking on too much. Donors are also navigating the changing situations, but they want to help if they can and they want to hear from you. What they don’t want is a lot of complex content.

Here are a few ways to simplify your donor communication without making it too difficult for you.

Keep it simple by planning ahead

If communicating regularly with your donors sounds overwhelming, plan ahead by using a communications calendar. You should be in touch every one to two weeks, if possible. Otherwise, aim for once a month. Fill your calendar with different ways to do that and update it as needed. A good rule of thumb is – ask, thank, update/engage, repeat. And as I mention below, you can keep it simple with shorter communication.

Keep it simple by sticking to one call to action

Your communication needs to be clear. Before you send an email message or letter, ask what is your intention? Is it to ask for a donation, say thank you, or send an update?

Stick to one call to action. If you pack too much information into your message, it’s likely your donors won’t respond to any of your requests.

In your fundraising appeals, don’t bury your ask. You can start with a story, followed by a clear, polite ask. Recognize your reader. Thank previous donors and invite potential donors to be a part of your family of donors.

Your thank you letter or email should thank the donor. Simple, right? Make them feel good about giving to your organization. Welcome new donors and welcome back returning donors. You don’t need a lot of wordy text explaining what your organization does.

Keep your messages simple, yet sincere, and include a clear call to action.

6 Tips for Effective CTAs That Get Clicks

Keep it simple with shorter, easy to read messages

Plain and simple, if your communication is too long, most people won’t read it. 

Limit print communication, such as newsletters and annual reports, to four pages or less. Your email messages should be just a few paragraphs. On the other hand, you don’t want to be terse or say too little.

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Mark Twain

Be sure your communication is easy to read and scan. Use short paragraphs, especially for electronic communication, and include lots of white space. Don’t clutter up the page.

Keep it simple by using conversational language

I find it annoying to read an appeal letter or newsletter article that sounds like a Ph.D. thesis. Write at a sixth to eighth-grade level. That’s what most major newspapers do. This is not dumbing down. You’re being smart by ensuring your donors will understand you.

Keep out the jargon and other confusing language. Instead of saying something like We’re helping underserved communities who are experiencing food insecurity, say  – Thanks to donors like you, we can serve more families at the Westside Community Food Bank. 

We’re seeing real people being affected by real problems. Don’t diminish this with jargon and other vague language.

Use the active voice and there’s no need to get fancy by using a lot of SAT vocabulary words. Again, you want your donors to understand you.

Let’s Try to Stop Using Jargon So Much

Keep it simple by creating a clutter-free website

Your website is still a place where people will go to get information. Make sure it’s clear and clutter-free, as well as easy to read and navigate. Don’t forget about short paragraphs and lots of white space.

One of the most important parts of your website is your donation page. It needs to be easy to use and collect enough information without overwhelming your donors. If it’s too cumbersome, they may give up and leave.

If it’s a branded page (e.g. not a third-party site like PayPal), make sure it’s consistent with your messaging and look. Don’t go too minimalistic, though. Include a short description of how a donor’s gift will help you make a difference, as well as an engaging photo.

15 Nonprofit Website Best Practices You Need to Know in 2021

Make it easier for your nonprofit and your donors by keeping things simple.

Easier is Better

Your Donor Communications Should Be Simple & Direct

Photo by Marco Verch

How Fundraising is Like Strength Training

I’ve been doing strength training with a personal trainer for about three and a half years. My initial assessment was humbling, to say the least, and at the beginning, there were several times I wondered “Why am I doing this?”

But I’ve benefited so much. Not only am I stronger, I’ve lost weight, I’m sleeping better, my mood is better, and I have a more robust immune system. I’ve also been able to keep up with it during the pandemic, although now I’m doing it virtually.

Believe it or not, strength training has a lot in common with fundraising and when I say fundraising, I’m including the all-important stewardship and relationship-building components. Here’s what they have in common.

It’s supposed to be hard, but doable

If I ever say one of my training exercises is hard, my trainer will respond, “It’s supposed to be hard.” That said, it also needs to be doable.

What a wonderful world we’d live in if people just donated money to nonprofit organizations without us have to do anything.

Fundraising is hard. It doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it, but you also need to be realistic. I’m not lifting 100-pound weights. That would be too much for me. If you’re a small organization, trying to pull off a huge event would probably be too much for you.

How to raise money: 3 steps to creating sustainable funding for your new, young, or small nonprofit

Starting small is often the way to go

I work out twice a week and do what’s known as a circuit –  seven or eight exercises on each of the days, usually three sets of 10-12 reps each. People who are more advanced in their training might do four or five sets of two different exercises with heavier weights.

This same formula can work for your organization when you concentrate on individual gifts. Many of these will be under $100 each, but you’ll be able to get a larger number of them. You can also raise a good bit of revenue from monthly gifts, even if they’re only $5 or $10 a month.

Be patient and you’ll see results

It took about two or three months for me to see the results I mentioned above. Some of your fundraising will take even longer.

You can get smaller gifts fairly quickly. Securing major gifts and grants will take longer.  It can take up to a year to cultivate major gifts and it takes a lot of relationship building to get there. If you get approved for a grant, it can take several months to get the money and these often come with restrictions.

But if you persevere, you should see results.

Take it to the next level

If I kept doing the same exercises I started with, I wouldn’t make much progress. The same is true with fundraising.

Most appeal letters are generic,one-size fits all. You’re missing an opportunity to grow when you don’t ask donors to upgrade their single gifts or invite them to become monthly donors.

There are so many opportunities to take your fundraising to the next level. Smaller dollar donors can upgrade to mid-level donors, mid-level donors can become major donors, and major donors are potential legacy donors.

You need to stick with it

If I miss a week or two of training, it suffers. The same is true with your fundraising. If all you do is send appeals a few times a year, you won’t have much success.

You need to engage with your donors regularly – at least once or twice a month. That includes showing appreciation and sharing updates.

Moving Away from Transactional Fundraising

You need a plan

When I started strength training, my trainer designed a plan for me that we can build on and modify as needed. You need to do the same thing with your fundraising.

You shouldn’t be raising revenue without a plan in place. You also need a donor communications and thank you plan. 

You may need to make adjustments to your plans. Most likely that happened for you last year when the pandemic started. I had to make adjustments early on in my training when I tweaked my knee doing a quad exercise and had to strengthen my hamstrings, as well as do a modified version of it for a while.

How to Prepare a Nonprofit Fundraising Plan

The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan

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

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

My workout consists of exercises for the upper body, lower body, and core. Your fundraising will also consist of different tactics, such as individual giving, major gifts, grants, events, etc.

And as I mentioned before, and I’ll mention again since many organizations ignore this, your fundraising also needs a gratitude and relationship-building component.

Fundraising, like strength training, takes a lot of hard work, but you should see results if you keep building and stick with it.

Photo via www.ptpioneer.com

Some Important Investments That Can Help You Raise More Money

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

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

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

Invest in a good CRM/database

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

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

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

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

Nonprofit Software

Invest in direct mail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turbocharge Your Direct Mail and Digital

Invest in donor communications

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of unrestricted funding 

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

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

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

Photo by  CreditScoreGeek.com

Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Many nonprofit organizations send all their donors and other supporters exactly the same communication, such as appeal letters, thank you letters, and annual reports. One size doesn’t fit all and in the case of a 55 page (yes, that’s right) annual report I received a few weeks ago, the size was XXL.

I’m not a fan of these massive annual reports for any donor. My husband and I would be considered smaller dollar donors and I believe these reports are wasted on them.

You don’t have to do an annual report and if you do, it should be about one fifth the size at the most. I wrote about annual reports a couple of months ago, so I won’t rant too specifically on this.

Here’s another post that asks the question – Is This the Year to Trash that Annual Report?

To the organization’s credit, their annual report is visually beautiful. Maybe it’s a little too nice and I’ll get to that later. It includes several stories and many photographs. They did address how COVID-19 presented a number of challenges for their clients and community. They also mentioned their commitment to racial equity, since 80% of the people they work with are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). It would have been clueless of them not to address these.

It’s clear the organization is very proud of their annual report, as evidenced by the opening line of the cover letter from the CEO – “On behalf of the entire X organization community, it is with great pride – and great appreciation for all our friends and supporters – that I provide you with this copy of X Organization’s Annual Report for 2020.” This is one of the few examples where they thanked donors.

It’s also clear they sent this annual report to all their donors and possibly potential donors instead of creating different types of reports for different types of donors. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

What do your donors want?

When we received this annual report, my husband’s first reaction was “I don’t want them spending our money on some fancy report.” Donors don’t always react well to something that looks too nice or expensive.

“Dale’s” mail (pt 4): everything else…

Since I’m not a typical donor and probably spent more time looking at this annual report than most smaller dollar donors, I know you do need to invest in a budget for donor communications. This organization has a large operating budget and reports that a majority of its expenses were program specific.

Think about how your donors would react if you sent them a huge annual report. Some are going to toss it right in the recycling bin or trash. Others may set it aside to look at later, realize they don’t have time to read it, and then pitch it. Others may flip through it, possibly annoyed that it’s so long. 

Most of your donors should receive a shorter annual report.

Create different types of annual reports for different donors

Why are you producing an annual report? If it’s for your donors, you need to acknowledge their role in helping you make a difference. This annual report rarely does that. It’s very focused on the organization.

I always recommend a short annual report of no more than four pages or an infographic postcard for most of your donors. Smaller dollar donors deserve to feel appreciated, not inundated with a lot of information. You can create slightly longer reports for major donors and grant funders.

This organization has several different programs you can support or you can give to where it’s needed most. They could have sent separate short impact reports for their different programs. Maybe one to people who supported early education and another one for homelessness prevention rather than lumping it all into one big report.

Creating different types of annual reports may be more work, but it probably took a lot of work to produce that massive one. Since the organization has all the information anyway, they could have broken it down into smaller reports. They could also share some of the stories in their newsletters instead. Besides, is a little more work such a bad thing? Personalized donor communication usually pays off.

Write your donor communication in the second person

All your donor communication should be written in the second person using you much more than we. This annual report was written in the third person. You know what’s written in the third person – press releases and other promotional material. This annual report seems very promotional. 

When you write in the second person you can write directly to your donor. Again, is this report supposed to be for donors? It doesn’t seem like it.

Nonprofit organizations often include an annual report when they submit a grant proposal. They may also bring one along when they meet with a major donor. Because they barely referenced their donors, this annual report seems more appropriate for potential funders.

Would it be so hard to include statements such as Thanks to you or Because of our generous donors along with a description of accomplishments (although not 40+ pages of them)? What’s the harm in giving an annual report like that to potential donors? Surely not as high as mostly ignoring current donors.

This happens too much

I see way too many examples of one size fits all communication. Organizations often send everyone the same appeal letter regardless of whether they are current donors, potential donors, or monthly donors. The same is true with thank you letters. 

Donors also have different interests and reasons for giving.  If you recognize this and send different types of communication to different types of donors, you’re letting them know they matter. 

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

When It Comes to Reaching Donors, One Size Doesn’t Fit All

How You Can Create a More Engaging Nonprofit Newsletter

In theory, a newsletter can be a great way to engage with your donors. In reality, that often doesn’t 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.

You can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s how.

Think about what your donors want

You need to include content that will interest your donors. You also need to reference the current situations. Do you think your donors would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about Alicia, a single mother who is having trouble making ends meet, but is grateful she can get food for her family at the Riverside Community food bank? 

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.

Don’t shy away from a print newsletter 

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 electronic newsletters. I recommend a short e-newsletter once or twice a month and one to four print newsletters a year.

Many organizations put a donation envelope in their print newsletter. This is a proven way to raise additional money 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 once or twice a year. You can print them in-house, as long as it looks professional.

In my last post, I mentioned the importance of having a clean mailing list. If you can get rid of duplicate and undeliverable addresses, that’s another way to save a little money.

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.

Share your stories

Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. I’m sure you have a lot of stories from the past year that you can share.

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 Better World Foundation will allow us to buy much-needed laptops for our tutoring program.

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 Sarah Davis, Vice President of First National Bank, to our board. Sarah 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 Alicia put food on the table or Because of donors like you, X number of families have been able to get healthy food every week. 

Leave out the 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.  

Show some gratitude

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. Many donors stepped up this past year and they deserve to be thanked as often as possible. 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 e-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.

Also, make sure your donors can read your e-newsletter on a mobile device.

Keep it short

Your print newsletter should be no more than four pages. Limit your monthly e-newsletter to four articles. Some organizations send an e-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.

Do the best you can

For some of you, putting together a newsletter may be too much to take on, especially now. 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.

Create an engaging newsletter that your donors will want to read.

Read on for more information on how to create a great donor newsletter.

Nonprofit Donor Newsletters | Print or Enews?

7 Nonprofit E-Newsletter Best Practices

24 Content Ideas for Your Next Nonprofit Newsletter

Photo by Petr Sejba www.moneytoplist.com.