Why You Need a Good Donor Database

14390202154_de5010e80c_mWhat type of donor database do you have, or do you even have one at all? If you’re using Excel instead of a database because it’s free, stop doing that. A spreadsheet is not a database.

Your Worst Fundraising Enemy

A good database won’t be free, but there are affordable options for small organizations.

Donation Management Software

You don’t want to limit yourself by having a database that can only hold a certain number of records or can only be used on one computer because you don’t want to pay for additional licenses.

I’m not an expert on databases, but I do know how important it is to invest in a good one.

A good database can help you raise more money

Although you’ll have to spend a little upfront, a good database will help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by the amount they give 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 segment your mailing lists by current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. Donors like it when you recognize them for who they are. A personalized appeal letter will make a huge difference.

An organization that I support recently sent an appeal for a special initiative. Instead of sending a generic appeal, they specifically thanked me for being a generous donor and for my most recent gift before asking me to consider an additional gift this year. They couldn’t have done that without using a database that can segment donors.

Segmenting your donors is so important. You can welcome new donors and thank donors for their previous support. You can also send targeted mailings to lapsed donors to try to woo them back. You may be able to raise a little more money by reaching out to your lapsed donors.

Don’t cut corners when it comes to your donor database. You can’t afford to do that.

Why Your Donor Database Is Your Nonprofit’s Greatest Asset

Take good care of your donor data

Having a good database is the first step. The best database in the world won’t do you much good if you don’t take good care of your donor data.

Many nonprofits don’t pay enough attention to their donor data and leave data entry as a last minute to-do item for volunteers.

Don’t wait until right before your next mailing to clean up your donor data. I know it’s tedious, but have someone who’s familiar with your donors (your development director?) go through your mailing lists to see if you need to make any additions, changes, and deletions.

You can have volunteers do your data entry, but they need to 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. It will also save you money if you’re not sending unnecessary mail.

It may not seem like a big deal, but you don’t want to annoy your donors. Paying more attention to your data entry shows your donors you care.

Take care of any address changes as soon as you get them. You can also 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 pristine data.

Your donor database is an important tool. You need a good one and it needs to be up-to-date and filled with accurate information about your donors. It’s well worth the investment.

 

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How Well Do You Know Your Donors?

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You already have a core group of donors and other supporters, but how well do you know them? One way to get to know them better is to send short surveys asking why they donate, what issues are important to them, and how they like to communicate (by mail, email, social media, or a combination of those).

Let’s look at some of these more closely.

Why do your donors give to your organization?

Donors are not just money machines. They’re people who have a reason to support you.

Do you know why your donors give to your organization? This is very important and if you can find out, it will help you with your donor communication.

Most likely they feel a connection to your cause. After the Parkland shooting, I felt compelled to start giving to a couple of organizations that advocate for gun control. I support the American Cancer Society because way too many people I know have been affected by cancer.

The best time to find out this information is right after someone donates, especially for first-time donors. This will be easier to collect online and you could include this question on your donation form.

Of course, not everyone donates online. You could also include a short survey and a reply envelope or a link to an online survey with your thank you letter or welcome packet for new donors. (You do send those, right?)

What issues are important to them?

You also want to know what issues are important to your donors. If you’re an organization that’s working to combat hunger, you may find your donors are most interested in free, healthy school lunch programs for low-income students. Then you can share stories and updates about that initiative.

What communication channels do your donors prefer?

It’s probably more than one, but listen carefully. Don’t spend a lot of time on channels your donors aren’t using much.

Most likely email will be your biggest communication tool. You won’t use direct mail as much because of the cost, but you do need to use it at least a few times a year, especially if you find out some donors don’t use electronic communication.

The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston recently included a link to an online survey about direct mail on one of their flyers. One question they asked was where you were more likely to go to get information – direct mail, email, website, or any combination of those.

They also asked about frequency of mailings – twice a month, once a month, or every other month. Since they’re a large organization, they can afford to mail quite often. You could also ask this question about email.

The advantage of email and direct mail is you have complete control of them, unlike social media. Speaking of social media, some of your donors may have deleted their Facebook accounts or are taking a break from it. I’m on hiatus with Facebook and I’m not sure I’m going to return since I don’t like it that much. But that’s just me. Other people love it.

What If Facebook Died Tomorrow?

This is a good opportunity to monitor your email and social media to see if people are responding to your messages. Look at the open rates, click-throughs, and likes. (I know likes don’t mean that much, but they do reflect some sort of engagement.) You may be seeing a drop on Facebook and who knows if another social media platform will have some kind of scandal. Monitor this frequently.

Other ideas to connect

You could ask your donors what’s their favorite article in an issue of your e-newsletter. You could also get feedback on your annual report. Going back to the MFA survey, they asked if you preferred flyers for a single exhibit or one that covered everything going on in one particular month. Here you could ask if people prefer your monthly e-newsletter or shorter updates.

Creating a survey

Instead of overwhelming your donors with a long survey, start with short surveys focusing on one topic at a time throughout the year. Here is more information about creating a survey.

3 Examples of Nonprofit Donor Surveys

GET TO KNOW YOUR DONORS: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO NONPROFIT SURVEYING

While surveys are a great way to connect, not everyone is going to respond to them. Another tactic to try is to create donor personas. You can use your database to figure out vital information and/or interview a few donors.

How to Identify your Nonprofit Donor Personas

How to Create and Use Donor Personas

Use your database

As you gather vital information about your donors, put that in your database. Your database also comes in handy because you want to segment your donors  – first-time donors, long-term donors, monthly donors, etc – so you can personalize their communication as much as possible.

Putting your work into action

Now that you’ve gotten to know your donors, think about why they give to your organization, what they would like to hear from you, and which channels are best for connecting with them. Do this before you send a fundraising letter, thank you letter, or newsletter.

If you take the time to get to know your donors, you’ll have a better chance of keeping them for a long time.

Why is it So Hard to be Donor-Centered?

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The term donor-centered is pretty self-explanatory. It means focusing on your donors’ needs and interests, acknowledging them in your letters and other communication, and taking into account that not all donors are the same.

If it’s so obvious, then why are many nonprofits so bad at it? You see countless examples of generic, organization-centered communication that barely acknowledges the donor.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Before you send your next appeal, thank you letter, or newsletter, run it through this donor-centered checklist.

Fundraising Appeals

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

Thank you letters

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

Newsletters

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

Always think of your donors first

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

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

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

3 Ways A Donor Centric Pledge Can Improve Your Retention

How to Create a Donor-Centered Fundraising Letter

3 Steps to a Donor-Centered Communication Strategy

 

How to Create an Engaging Newsletter Your Donors Will Want to Read

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I’ve written several posts recently about the importance of staying in touch with your donors throughout the year. Some of you may be saying, “We do that because we have a newsletter.”

A newsletter can be a great way to engage with your donors, but how often does that actually happen? Unfortunately, not very much 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.

Don’t worry. You can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s how.

Think about what your donors want

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. But ask your donors what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer one over the other, then doing both may not make sense.

You also want to include content that will interest your donors. Do you think they would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about the Davis family moving into a nice home of their own after struggling to find a decent place to live? The answer should be obvious.

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference.

Share stories

Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. Client stories are best, but you could also do profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Focus on what drew them to your mission.

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

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped the Davis family move into a home of their own or Because of donors like you, X number of families have been able to move out of shelters and into their own homes.

Ditch 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.  

Say thank you

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. 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 color, as well as tell a story in an instant.

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

Very important –  make sure your donors can read your e-newsletter on a mobile device.

Short and sweet

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 – two or three articles.

You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent email updates.

Send it to the right audience

Fundraising guru Tom Ahern recommends sending your print newsletter only to donors. This can help you keep it donor-centered, as well as cut down on mailing costs.

Send e-newsletters only to people who have signed up for it. They may or may not be donors, but an e-newsletter can also be a good cultivation tool. Quality is more important than quantity. Not everyone will want to sign up for your newsletter and that’s okay. Focus on the people who are interested in it.

Let’s put an end to boring newsletters. Create one your donors will want to read.

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

The stuff that makes your donor newsletter a failure

10 Email Newsletter Tips That Will Inspire People to Give

3 Pitfalls of Nonprofit Newsletters and How to Avoid Them

Follow The Domain Formula For Donor Newsletters

One-and-Done Fundraising is Just March Madness

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In college basketball, players are allowed to turn pro after playing one season. This is known as one-and-done. If you watch the NCAA tournament (aka March Madness), it’s likely many of the players won’t be around next year.

Like it or not, it looks like one-and-done will be the norm in college basketball for a while. Another place where one-and-done seems to be the norm is in nonprofit fundraising. According to The Fundraising Effectiveness Report, the retention rate for first-time donors is 23%. It’s been consistently bad for the last several years.

We need to stop hemorrhaging donors. Here are a few ways to avoid having your fundraising go the one-and-done route.

Pay attention to your donor retention

If you don’t know your retention rate, figure that out now. A Guide to Donor Retention Most likely you’re losing donors because you’re either not communicating enough or communicating poorly. Fortunately, this is something you can fix.

Donor loyalty is also important

What you want are high-quality donors who will support you for a long time. You can have the best donor relations program in the world, but that won’t guarantee you’ll keep every donor, although you should keep many more than you would if you do nothing.

Many organizations spend all this 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.

Send welcome packets to new donors, but show the love to your valuable long-time donors, too.  Send them a welcome back letter. I’ve donated to several organizations for a number of years, and it bothers me when they don’t acknowledge that.

Given the lousy retention rates, don’t take it for granted when donors support you for more than one year. Otherwise, you could be looking at two-and-through.

Pay attention to your donors. Who’s supported you for three, five, or even ten years? Go the extra mile for these loyal donors. This takes more work, but it will pay off in the long run.

Want to Keep Your Donors? Then Answer These Unspoken Questions

5 Ways to Build and Strengthen Donor Loyalty

There’s no off-season

Continuing on the sports theme, most athletes train during the off-season and some even play in leagues. You may be between fundraising campaigns, but that doesn’t mean you can take much of a break.

Keep connecting with your donors. You can’t ignore them. Here are some ways to show appreciation and stay in touch throughout the year.

All You Need is #DonorLove

Stay in Touch Throughout the Year by Using a Communications Calendar

One-and-done is not something you want in your fundraising. Make sure your donors stick with you for a long time.

Annual Reports Don’t Need To Be Boring

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Are you thinking about doing an annual report? Perhaps you’ve been putting it off because it takes so much time and most annual reports are long, boring booklets that put your donors to sleep, if they even bother to read it in the first place.

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

If you decide to do an annual report, I encourage you to move away from the traditional multi-page one. Aim for something no longer than four pages.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you create a better annual report that won’t bore your donors to tears.

Your annual report is for your donors

It’s not for your board and you don’t have to do it the same way you’ve always done it – no more massive, boring booklets. Keep your donors front and center and include information you know will interest them.

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

One way to shorten your annual report is to not include a donor list. The Annual Report Donor List is a Stupid Waste of Time If you think you must have one, put it in on your website.

Make it a gratitude report

Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit. Think of this as a gratitude report. You may want to call it that instead of an annual report.

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

Oregon Zoo Gratitude Report

What’s in my Mailbox | “Annual Report”…or “Gratitude Report?”

How are you making a difference?

The theme of many annual reports is look how great we are. Don’t Brag So Much

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

Focus on the why and not the what. Something like this – Thanks to you, 85% of the students in our tutoring program have improved their math skills and now have a better chance of graduating from high school on time.

BTW – Phrases like Thanks to you and because of you should be predominant in your annual report.

Tell a story

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

For example – Megan, a sophomore at Brookfield High School, always hated math. “It’s just so hard. I don’t get it,” she said. Geometry was worse than Algebra, which was awful. Then Megan started meeting weekly with Sarah, one of our volunteer tutors. It was a struggle at first, but thanks to Sarah’s patience and encouragement, Megan gets it and is doing much better. Now math class isn’t so bad.

Make it visual

Your donors are busy and don’t have a lot of time to read your report. Engage them with some great photos, which can tell a story in an instant. Choose photos of people participating in an activity, such as Sarah helping Megan with her math.

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

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

Write as if you’re having conversation with a friend

Keep out the jargon. Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you. Use everyday language such as – Because of you, we found affordable housing for over 100 homeless families. Now they no longer have to live in a shelter, a motel, or their cars and have a place to call home.

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

You can create an annual report that’s not boring. Read on for more information about creating a great annual report.

Nonprofit Annual Report Examples

7 Tips for Creating an Effective Nonprofit Annual Report

How to Write an Excellent Nonprofit Annual Report

 

All You Need is #DonorLove

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I’ve written a couple of times recently about the lack of #DonorLove out there. This is a problem. Your donors want to feel appreciated and know their gift is helping you make a difference, and your lame, automatic thank you email doesn’t cut it. You need to do better.

Valentine’s Day is coming up and this is a perfect opportunity to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support.

12 Ways to Send Your Donors Love With a Valentine

A simple email to send your donors on Valentine’s Day

Maybe you would prefer not to go for a Valentine’s Day theme, but you should still do something fun and creative to show appreciation this month (and every month for that matter). The holidays are over and Punxatawny Phil saw his shadow, so for those of us who live in Northern climates, you know what that means. We could all use a little mood booster right now.

This is also a good opportunity to stay in touch with the people who gave to your year-end appeal, especially first-time donors. If you haven’t shown any #DonorLove since your year-end appeal, then you must reach out now.

Here are a few ways you can show some #DonorLove.

Create a thank you photo

Make your donor’s day with a great photo, like one of these.

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Image result for Nonprofit thank you photos

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 becoming an increasingly popular way to connect. Here are some examples of thank you videos.

HRC Thank You Video

4 Smart Ways to Use Thank You Videos in Nonprofit Fundraising

Obviously, the purpose is to thank your donors. A simple video showing a bunch of people saying thank you will do the trick. You also want your video to be short, donor-centered, and show your organization’s work up close and personal.

Your thank you landing page is a perfect place to put a video (or a photo). This is your first opportunity to say thank you and most landing pages look like boring receipts. 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.

Another idea – Send a small number of thank you cards every month, ensuring that each donor gets at least one card a year. Spreading it out may be easier on your budget.

Share an update or success story

In addition to saying thank you, share a brief update or success story. Emphasize how you couldn’t have helped someone without your donor’s support. For example – Thanks to you, the Smith family now has a home of their own.

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

Thank you refresher course

Make this the year you do a better job of thanking your donors. Thank your donors right away and send a thank you note/letter or make a phone call. Electronic thank yous aren’t good enough.

Be personal and conversational when you thank your donors. Don’t use jargon or other language they won’t understand. Write from the heart, but be sincere. Give specific examples of how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Thanking your donors needs to be a priority

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.

Maybe you need a change of culture, and this comes from the top. Hello, Executive Directors. Getting your board, all staff, and volunteers involved in thanking your donors will make a huge difference.

Keep thinking of ways to surprise and delight your donors! Get creative.

15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors

20 Unique Donor Thank You Ideas

Nail the Nonprofit Non-Ask with these 9 ideas

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.

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.