How to do a Better Job of Donor Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relevance rules

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

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

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 Doing this now emphasizes how quickly an annual report becomes out of date.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

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

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

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

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

Being donor-centered is key

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

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

Focus on your mission

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

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

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

Find ways to stay in touch

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

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

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

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

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

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

HEARTBEATS AND REMARKABLES OF NONPROFIT COMMUNICATIONS

Use the right channels

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

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

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

Pay attention to your donor retention 

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

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

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

Donor Preservation in the Pandemic

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

Give Your Donors the Best Thank You Possible

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

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

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

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

Quality counts

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

Create an engaging thank you landing page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking your thank yous to the next level

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a couple of sample scripts/notes.

Hi Jeff,

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

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

Dear Laura,

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

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

Sincerely,

Amy Stevens
Executive Director

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

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

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

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

No donation is too small

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

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

Thanking donors in the future

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

Create a gratitude practice

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

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

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

Be well.

Navigating These Uncertain Times

3461601180_b29d215979_wIt’s an understatement to say the world is going through a difficult time. I hope everyone is doing okay and staying healthy. Even though we’re practicing social distance, among other things, it’s perfectly normal to feel anxious during these uncertain times.

I had planned a post on donor newsletters, which seems trite given what’s going on. You and your nonprofit organization have a lot to worry about. Maybe you’re scrambling to figure out how everyone can effectively work from home. Maybe it’s hard to provide vital services to your clients. Maybe you’re going have to postpone or cancel upcoming events.

While we’re trying to take measures to stay healthy, the COVID-19 outbreak will most likely devastate the economy. Here in the Boston area and through the state, restaurants and businesses are closing and gatherings of more than 25 people are prohibited. Theatres and museums are closed, and I know of several organizations that have to cut back on services. One organization had to cancel a huge walkathon that raises over $2 million.

During economic downturns, the need to provide vital nonprofit services increases. We don’t know how much the economy will suffer but expect that it will.

You may not be thinking that much about your donor communication at this time, but you should be. Here are a few suggestions to help you navigate these uncertain times.

Reach out to your donors

Please don’t cut back on your donor communication right now.  Maybe you can’t send a print newsletter if everyone is working from home, but you can still communicate with your donors.

Check in with your donors. See how they’re doing and thank them for their support. Don’t ignore what’s going on. Let them know you understand this is a difficult time.

I hope you have a good CRM/database that everyone can access remotely so you can easily send messages. You should also think about calling donors who you know don’t use electronic communication.

Be honest

I tend not to like the term transparency, but if there’s ever a time to be transparent, it’s now. Be upfront with your donors about how this will affect your work. Are you cutting back on services? How will that affect the people/community you serve?

The need for donations

You may need to ask for additional donations, and that’s perfectly understandable. You’re probably familiar with the concept – ask, thank, update, repeat. In this case, I recommend thanking and updating first and then asking.

Again, be upfront and honest about what you need. This is not a situation where someone mismanaged funds or didn’t plan accordingly. A few months ago, most of us were unaware something like this could happen.

Make an appeal that’s specific and easy to understand. As with most fundraising appeals, you’ll need to send it out more than once. Email is probably your best bet right now, but you can also use social media. This video gives some great suggestions. 

How to write an Emergency E-Appeal if your organization is being affected by the Coronavirus

Your donors are going through a lot and giving to your organization may be the last thing they’re thinking about. Some donors will be perfectly willing to give an additional donation and others won’t. These donors may be cautious with their finances for a while.

You could encourage donors to give monthly. This would be easier on their finances and provide you with a consistent stream of revenue.

Encourage Monthly Giving During Uncertain Times

Donors stop giving for a variety of reasons. You can’t control their financial situation, but you can control your donor communication. Do the best you can right now, and be sure to pour on the gratitude to anyone who gives an extra donation or upgrades to monthly giving.

Going forward

This is an unprecedented situation that emphasizes the importance of planning ahead. I know it’s hard for small nonprofits with limited resources, but here a few ways to be prepared in the future.

Invest in good infrastructure, most importantly a good data management system.

Have a reserve fund. No matter how small your budget is, you want to have some money set aside in times like these. 

Provide a caring, compassionate work environment that allows people to take care of themselves as needed.

I’ll keep sharing information that’s relevant as we work through this. Here a few links that may be helpful. Take care!

Essential Advice and Resources for Nonprofits – COVID-19 / Coronavirus | Recession | Remote Work

Tips for Communicating with Donors During Uncertain Times

 

7 Tips to Improve Nonprofit Donor Communication

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

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By Gerard Tonti

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready to get started? Let’s jump in.

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1. Personalize your messages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2. Encourage interaction.

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

Ask questions, such as:

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

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

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

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3. Segment your audience.

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

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

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

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

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

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4. Focus on the donor.

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

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

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

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5. Schedule communications.

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

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

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

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

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

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6. Manage donor data.

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

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

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

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7. Track and report metrics.

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

Useful metrics to track include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let Your Donors Know How Lucky You Are to Have Them

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

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

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

You need more than luck 

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

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

New beginnings

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

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

Reach out to your loyal donors

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

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

Build relationships throughout the year

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

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

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

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

Get inspired by some of these ideas.

15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors

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

10 Donor Recognition Ideas for Nonprofits

 

You Have Options When Creating Your Annual Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your annual report is for your donors

Keep your donors in mind when you create your annual report and include information you know will interest them.

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

Make it a gratitude report

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

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

Oregon Zoo Gratitude Report

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

How are you making a difference?

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

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

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

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

Tell a story

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

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

Make it visual

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

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

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

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend

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

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

Planning is key

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

Yes, putting together an annual report can be time-consuming. One way to make it easier is to set aside a time each month to make a list of accomplishments. This way you’re not going crazy at the end of the year trying to come up with a list. You can just turn to the list you’ve been working on throughout the year.

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

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

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

How to Craft a 1-Page Nonprofit Annual Report

Donor-Centered Nonprofit Annual Reports

Best Nonprofit Annual Reports 2019

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

Photo by CreditDebitPro

Is Your Communication Donor-Centered?

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

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

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

Fundraising Appeals

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

Thank you letters

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

Newsletters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Degrees of Donor-Centricity

#1 Tip to Create a Donor-Centered Appeal Letter

 

Make a Good Impression by Showing Some #DonorLove

4810189_15c7e30d55_zNot long ago while I was scrolling through my email, one message stood out. It was a thank you video from a nonprofit organization. A week or so before that I received a thank you card from another nonprofit.

Unfortunately, those are the only examples of #DonorLove from the last few weeks that I can share with you. I’d also like to tell you I received a bunch of wonderful thank yous after I made my year-end gifts, but I can’t. Most of them were automatically generated thank you emails or the usual boring form letter.

We can do better!

I don’t know where your organization stands, but if you’re like many, you’re sleepwalking through your #DonorLove practice. Thanking your donors is not a we do this after we receive a donation and then we don’t have to do anything situation. 

#DonorLove is something you need to show all year-round and with Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s a perfect opportunity to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support.

8 Strategies to Celebrate Nonprofit Donors on Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day: Donor Love Infographic

Maybe you would rather not go the Valentine’s Day route, but you should still do something to show appreciation this month (and every month). The holidays are over and February can be a dreary month. Your donors would appreciate a little mood booster.

This is also a good opportunity to keep in touch with the people who gave to your year-end appeal, especially first-time donors. If you haven’t shown any #DonorLove since your year-end appeal, don’t wait much longer.

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 this.

Image result for pictures of people holding thank you signs

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’s a link to the thank you video I recently received. 

Thanks to our compassionate community!

It’s simple, yet effective, so don’t worry if you weren’t a film major. It’s not too hard to create a video.

How to Create a Donor Thank You Video

One idea for your video is to show a bunch of people saying thank you. You’ll want your video to be short, donor-centered, and show your organization’s work up close and personal.

Your thank you landing page is a perfect place to put a video. This is your first opportunity to say thank you and most landing pages are just boring receipts. You can also put your thank you video on your website and share it by email and social media.

Nonprofit Thank You Video Script

A Thank You Video to Promote Donor Retention

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. Don’t take them for granted.

That said, I do think you should make every effort to send a card to ALL your donors at least once a year. You can spread it out so you mail a certain number of cards each month, ensuring all your donors get one sometime in the year. I also think it’s nice to send something during times of the year when donors might least expect it, such as May or September.

Most organizations don’t send thank you cards, so you’ll stand out if you do.

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, Jeremy won’t go to bed hungry tonight.

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

Back to basics

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.

Make thanking your donors a priority

I’m a big proponent of communicating by mail, even if it’s only a few times a year. It’s much more personal. Yet, many nonprofits are skittish about spending too much on mailing costs.

If your budget doesn’t allow you to mail handwritten cards, is there a way you can change that? You may be able to get a print shop to donate cards. You could also look for additional sources of unrestricted funding to cover cards and postage. Think of these as essential expenses.

Maybe you need a change of culture – a culture of gratitude. This comes from the top, but you also need to get your board, all staff, and volunteers invested and involved in thanking your donors. 

You can’t say thank you enough. Make a commitment to thank your donors at least once a month. Create a thank you plan to help you with this. Planning ahead and creating systems makes a difference.

Create a system for expressing gratitude

Keep thinking of ways to show some #DonorLove. Stand out and impress your donors. 

Nonprofit Donor Thank You’s: What are You Doing to Stand Out?

20 Engaging Ideas for Donation Thank You Letters

Thanking a Donor by Email: Best Practices and Examples

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.

Donor Relationships: 5 Challenges and How to Overcome Them

by Steven Shattuck

Donor relationship development is vital for your nonprofit’s retention rate and revenue consistency. Overcome the challenges of relationship building.

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Building donor relationships is one of the most important things your nonprofit can do in order to maintain a consistent revenue stream and fund your mission. This is because effective donor relationships lead to higher retention rates. 

However, there are some challenges that many nonprofits run into when it comes to building these relationships, and many organizations can’t seem to overcome the common roadblocks!

That’s why we’ve created this guide. We want to make sure nonprofits have no excuse to let donor relationships go to the wayside. Each of the challenges we’ve stated here is directly related to statistics compiled by Ann Green originating from Bloomerang Chief Scientist Adrian Sargeant and Fundraising Effectiveness Project research. These challenges and related statistics are as follows: 

  • Donor Dissatisfaction – 36% of lapsed donors leave because they thought other organizations were more deserving of their contribution. 
  • Limited Time for Personal Interactions – 9% of lapsed donors left because the organization didn’t leave a lasting impression on them.
  • Donors are Treated like ATMs – 54% of lapsed donors did so because they could no longer afford to contribute. 
  • Lack of Prioritization of Retention – The average donor retention rate after the first gift is 19%, while it’s 63% after the second donation. 
  • Limited Technology – 18% of lapsed donors did so due to poor communication strategies. 

Ready to dive a little deeper into the implication of these statistics and how your nonprofit can overcome these common challenges? Let’s get started. 

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1. Donor Dissatisfaction

36% of lapsed donors leave because they thought other organizations were more deserving of their contribution. 

These donors leave because they’re dissatisfied with your organization. This doesn’t mean that other organizations are truly more deserving, but that they give the impression of being so with their communication strategy. Therefore, to overcome this challenge, your nonprofit needs to show all of your supporters that your organization makes the biggest splash using their donation. 

This concept can be boiled down to a single word: impact. 

In order to show your donors the impact that they make toward your mission, consider the following strategies: 

  • Tell impact stories at every opportunity. You don’t have to wait for the annual report or gala to tell stories about who has benefited from your programs and services. Weave them into acknowledgments, appeals, and stewardship pieces. There’s no limit to the amount of good news you can send. 
  • Communicate project progress updates to your supporters. Supporters want to know that your organization is moving forward with your mission. Expressing progress on larger projects is a great way to show campaign donors (and those who may have contributed to another campaign) that your nonprofit is always moving forward. 
  • Acknowledge achievements made through past gifts. Don’t make long-term donors feel like they haven’t made a dent in the issue your nonprofit is trying to alleviate. While your mission may never be truly completed, this is about being more than just donor-centric. Donors should be recognized for the impact they’ve made even when they’re being asked to fund new initiatives.

As your nonprofit creates its communication strategy, be sure you’re taking intentional steps to tell your supporters about the impact they’ve made on your nonprofit. This will help ensure they’re satisfied with the choice they make to give. 

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2. Limited Time for Personal Interactions

9% of lapsed donors leave because they have no memory of supporting the nonprofit.

If a donor doesn’t remember giving to your nonprofit, this is much deeper than simply a memory problem. The issue is really that your nonprofit didn’t make an impression on that individual. 

Personalizing your communications with supporters shows that your organization wants to develop a relationship with them. 

Relationships are not one-sided. If your nonprofit is sending the same message to all of your supporters, you’re not making the effort to get to know them. Essentially, this implies the expectation that your supporters should do all of the work to get to know your nonprofit, but you won’t do the same for them. The challenge is that there’s not enough time to individually communicate with each and every donor. 

There are several ways you can overcome this challenge. Consider the following strategies: 

  • Segment your supporters. Segmentation is the tried and true strategy that allows your organization to address the individual interests of your supporters without sending individual emails to each one. Create donor segments based on commonalities in their donor profiles. Then, when it comes time to communicate, you can craft messages that specifically target recipients with those traits and commonalities. 
  • Include personal details in messages. With the best software, your nonprofit should be able to autofill personal details like your supporters’ preferred name, past donation amount, past campaigns supported, and more. Bloomerang’s guide to nonprofit CRM software explains how personalization leads to donor cultivation and larger donations over time. 
  • Conduct research before interacting with major donors. Before your staff members go to meet with major donors or major prospects, make sure they have access to plenty of information from that person’s donor profile to help guide the conversation. You should always conduct research about individual donors before meeting with them in person to remind you about their interests, their past involvement, and future opportunities. 

Making the most of the limited time your nonprofit has is what matters most for personalizing conversations. Automate as much of this personalization as you can and don’t be afraid to take the time to research individuals when the opportunity presents itself. It will be worth it!

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3. Treating Donors like an ATM

54% of lapsed donors left because they could no longer afford to give.

Your donors are not ATMs. Too many nonprofits reach out to their supporters only when they need donations to help with projects and campaigns. Donors who receive too many asks for donations too frequently start feeling used. This is especially true if your supporter wants to contribute, but can’t afford to (as happens with such a large percentage of lapsed donors). 

In order to make sure your donors don’t feel like you’re simply using them for their cash, you should approach them with a variety of opportunities for engagement. 

Providing new and unique opportunities helps donors stay engaged with your nonprofit even as the economy or their personal finances fluctuate. Create a communications calendar so you can be sure to space out fundraising asks and ensure a variety of opportunities throughout the year. You may choose to include opportunities such as: 

  • Recurring donation opportunities. Instead of giving all at once, recurring donations allow supporters to give a smaller amount every month. It impacts their finances less while still resulting in the same final donation at the end of the year.
  • Encouraging volunteers. Ask your supporters to donate time rather than money. This helps your nonprofit get more done around the office or at an event and ensures the supporter still feels connected to your cause. 
  • Asking for in-kind donations. If you know your supporters have access to materials or a resource that your nonprofit could make use of, you may consider asking for an in-kind donation rather than a monetary one. 
  • Take unique fundraising approaches. Instead of just asking for straight donations, you may offer programs that make donating more approachable. For instance, Funds2Orgs’ fundraising ideas guide includes unique options like shoe drive fundraisers, raffles, penny wars, used book sales, and restaurant giving nights.

Building a relationship with your donors means making sure they know that you appreciate their support, not just their cash. Give them plenty of opportunities to show you how they can help in addition to your traditional giving pages. 

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4. Lack of Prioritization of Retention

First-time donor retention is 19%, while it is 63% for repeat donors

As we said in the beginning, building donor relationships is especially important to improve your nonprofit’s donor retention rate. One common challenge that nonprofits run into is that they simply don’t see the importance of retention. 

Organizations tend to think that they have to continuously expand and acquire new supporters in order to grow. However, if you’re not retaining these donors that you acquire over a long period of time, how can you expect to continue growing? 

The key to nonprofit growth is striking a balance between your donor retention and donor acquisition strategies. And to do this, your nonprofit should focus on the “golden donation.” This is the second donation an individual makes to your organization. After the golden donation, your supporters are 63% more likely to continue giving to your nonprofit. 

In order to prioritize donor retention, your nonprofit should be sure to: 

  • Make sure new donors feel welcome. Thank them immediately for giving to your organization and stress how grateful you are for their support. 
  • Create a complete stewardship plan. Be sure you know what strategies you’re going to use to steward donors throughout the calendar year. 
  • Be better than average. With first-time donor retention so low across the board, don’t settle for being average. Keep working to help your nonprofit advance and grow quickly. 

Make sure donor retention is one of the metrics your nonprofit keeps at the forefront of your CRM dashboard so your staff members are always thinking about it.

Your nonprofit’s priorities show through as you design your growth strategy. Make sure you’re emphasizing building relationships and improving retention as one of your top priorities. 

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5. Limited Technology

18% of lapsed donors leave due to poor service or communication

Did you notice a commonality between the above strategies? They all allow you to leverage technology in order to build your relationships. You can use technology to help communicate impact, save time, create a communications plan, and track your retention rate. 

This requires your nonprofit to have access to effective technology. Investing in a cheap solution runs the risk of it not being high enough quality to help the nonprofit grow. By cheap, we don’t mean that all inexpensive solutions are bad. Cheap quality is what your nonprofit should avoid. 

Before investing in a software solution where the price seems too good to be true, make sure you conduct your research to make sure you’ll have access to everything you need. 

If 18% of lapsed donors leave due to ineffective communication or service, the last thing you want is for your tech to limit you in these areas. Make sure your nonprofit has the capability to offer the best communication and service to your supporters. If you’re unsure of how to start looking for the best tech, check out this guide to purchasing top-notch software. 

Building donor relationships is the key to establishing effective donor retention. While there are challenges to building relationships, overcoming them will help your nonprofit continue growing and get closer to achieving your mission.

Author: Steven Shattuck

Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang

Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang and Executive Director of Launch Cause. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to “Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition” and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member.

Looking at the New Year with 20/20 Vision

49309556946_7d4841c90f_wHappy New Year, everyone! Wow, it’s 2020, and I couldn’t resist the 20/20 pun. Not only are we entering a new year, we’re also entering a new decade.

Many people use the New Year to make changes and improvements in their lives. You can do the same for your nonprofit organization. 

As with personal resolutions, you want to set realistic goals that you can stick with over time. Going back to the 20/20 theme, you want to set these goals and make these plans with clear vision.

Here are a few ways to help you ensure success in 2020.

You must have fundraising and communications plans

One key to success is good planning. 

If you haven’t made fundraising and communications plans yet, do that now! Don’t go too far into the New Year without plans in place.

Take a look back at 2019 to see what worked and what didn’t in your fundraising and communications. Incorporate what you’ve learned into your 2020 plans.

Be sure to include donor engagement and donor retention in your fundraising plan.

If you didn’t have a concrete plan last year and you weren’t as successful as you would have liked, that may be why.

Write your annual fundraising plan with these 6 steps

Here’s a Sample Fundraising Plan for Your Non-Profit

Do’s and Don’ts for Your Annual Fundraising Plan

12 (Amazingly Easy) Step by Step Fundraising Plan Templates

Build a Better Nonprofit Marketing Plan: Here’s How

How to Integrate Your Nonprofit Fundraising Plan With Your Marketing Plan

Measure your progress

Make sure you evaluate your progress at least once a quarter. It will be easier to stay successful if you can continually measure your progress and make any necessary changes before it’s too late.

20 KPIs For Your Nonprofit To Track

Pay attention to your donor retention

Make this a priority. You’ll have more success if you work to keep the donors you already have instead of focusing on getting new ones.

First, if you don’t already know it, figure out your retention rate. Do this after every fundraising campaign.

A Guide to Donor Retention

If it’s low, it’s something you can fix, usually with better communication. Donor retention is a huge problem for nonprofits. Your goal should be to have donors who support you for a long time.

It’s easier and less expensive to keep your current donors than to find new ones, so, once again, make donor retention a priority.

One Thing Most Nonprofits Stink at (Donor Retention) and How You Can Change It

3 Concrete Strategies to Address The Donor Retention Crisis

Also, the New Year is a good time to get in touch with any lapsed donors, especially ones who gave a year ago. They may just need a gentle reminder. 

Emphasize monthly giving 

Staying on the retention theme, the retention rate for monthly donors is 90%. Work on starting or growing your monthly giving program so you can have a bunch of highly committed donors. A good way to start is to invite your current donors to become monthly donors.

Incorporating Monthly Giving Into Your Fundraising

How to start a monthly giving program for your small nonprofit

20 Monthly Giving Intentions for 2020

Make building relationships a priority 

You may think the most important component of fundraising is raising money. While that’s important, so is building relationships with your donors. 

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

Good relationships with your donors will help you with retention.

Build Relationships With Your Donors Every Step of the Way

Build Loyal Donor Relationships in 3 Easy Steps

Show some gratitude, too

A big part of building relationships is showing gratitude to your donors. Many nonprofits do a poor job with this. 

You need to start by sending a heartfelt thank you immediately after you receive a donation and then find ways to thank your donors throughout the year. Put together a thank you plan to help with this.

Nonprofit Donor Thank You’s: What are You Doing to Stand Out?

Start the New Year off by making fundraising and communications plans. Then monitor your progress, pay attention to your retention rates, and work on building relationships with your donors. 

Best of luck for a successful 2020.