Make a Smart Investment

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Many nonprofits, especially small ones, are working with limited resources (money, staff, time). I know how hard that is and your default mode may be to say we can’t afford to do this.  

Be careful. What are you saying you can’t afford to do? It may be something you should be doing.

Here are a couple of areas you may be neglecting that I believe you can’t afford not to invest in. You’ll need to spend some money up front, but it will pay off in the long run.

Invest in a good database

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. Compare Non-Profit Software  You don’t want to limit yourself by choosing 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.

A good database can help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by amount and politely ask them to give a little more in your next appeal – $35 or $50 instead of $25.

A good database can help you with retention, which will save you money since it costs less to keep donors than to acquire new ones. You can personalize your letters and email messages. No more Dear Friend. You can welcome new donors and thank donors for their previous support. You can send targeted mailings to lapsed donors to try to woo them back. You can record any personal information, such as conversations you had with a donor and their areas of interest.

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

Invest in direct mail

If you never or rarely use direct mail, you’re missing out on an effective and more personal way to communicate with your donors. Think of the immense amount of email and social media posts you receive as opposed to postal mail. Your donors will be more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail.

If money is tight, you don’t have to mail that often. Quality is more important than quantity but aim for at least four times a year.

Put some thought into what you send. Some ideas, besides appeal letters, include thank you cards; Thanksgiving, holiday, or Valentine’s Day cards; infographic postcards; and two to four-page newsletters and annual/progress reports. Make everything donor-centered like the examples in this post. Your Donors Are Your Partners  You could put a donation envelope in your newsletter to raise some additional revenue, but don’t put one in a thank you or holiday card.

Shorter is better. Lengthy communication will cost more and your donors are less likely to read it.

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

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

Invest in donor communications

Here’s some great wisdom from Tom Ahern If you do better donor-communications, you’ll have more money  This means thanking your donors and keeping in touch with them throughout the year.

Communication budgets often get the short shrift but creating thank you cards and infographic postcards are a smart investment. Perhaps you need to reallocate your budget to cover some of these expenses. You could also look into additional sources of unrestricted funding.

If you think you don’t have enough time or staff to send thank you cards, then call up your thank you army, which can include board members, volunteers, and all staff.

Don’t limit yourself by saying you can’t afford to do something important. If you invest in a good database, direct mail, and donor communications, you should be able to raise more money.

 

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Can Your Organization Pass the Donor-Centered Test?

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I recently received a newsletter from an organization that focused mainly on themselves, then their clients, and then barely mentioned their donors. There’s no question this organization does good work, but their newsletter failed the donor-centered test. Unfortunately, they’re not the only guilty culprits.

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.

Can your organization pass the donor-centered test? Take a few minutes to find out.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Are your fundraising appeals 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.
  • Are your appeals 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.
  • Are your appeals addressed to a person and not Dear Friend?
  • Are your appeals 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.
  • Do your appeals make people feel good about donating to your organization?

Thank you letters

  • Do your thank you letters 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.
  • Do your thank you letters (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 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

  • Do your newsletters 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 want you to share?
  • 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 these test questions on other donor communication such as annual reports (these are rarely donor-centered), your website, and social media posts.

How did you do?

Be sure the messages you send to your donors focuses on them and makes them feel special. Staying donor-centered can help you build relationships and keep your retention rate from plummeting.

Read on for more information on how to be donor-centered.

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

How to Create a Donor-Centered Fundraising Letter

 

Where Did All Our Donors Go?

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The ACLU saw a record number of donations come in right after the Trump administration enacted its travel ban. This spawned a discussion on the Nonprofit Happy Hour Facebook page in which someone wondered if these would be one-time donations. That’s a good question since donor retention rates are declining again. New Study Shows Donor Retention Rates Are In Decline

Yikes! This should not be happening. I hope your organization isn’t hemorrhaging donors. If you’re not sure, then you need to figure out your retention rate to see how you’re doing. A Guide to Donor Retention

Donors stop giving to organizations for a variety of reasons. Some you can’t control, such as their financial situation, but many you can, such as how you communicate with them.

If you’re wondering where did all our donors go, here are some ways to get them back or prevent them from leaving in the first place.

Reach out to your lapsed donors

Did you have a number of donors who gave in the past, but didn’t this year?  Reach out to people who haven’t donated in the last two years by phone or personalized letter.  Let them know how much you appreciate their support, that you miss them, and you want them back. Some people may have been busy in December and didn’t have time to respond to your appeals.

Personalization is the key. Don’t send some generic appeal. That’s why I recommend mail or phone, although you could follow up by email.  

Reaching out to lapsed donors could be a good way to make up for lost revenue, Disappointing year-end campaign results? Here’s how to recover.

Show your donors how you’re making a difference

As a new monthly donor to the ACLU, my response to their court petitions was, my money is going to good use. This is what you want to show your donors. The ACLU was lucky that they were able to show results on such a grand scale, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show your donors how you’re making a difference, too. A recent newsletter from a local organization whose mission is to end homelessness shows how they’re helping people “find their road home.”

Welcome new donors and keep showing the love

According to the latest Fundraising Effectiveness Project results, new donor retention is an abysmal 23%. We spend so much time trying to get people to donate and then think our work is done, when in fact in has only just begun. Your Appeal is Just The Beginning

If you haven’t already done this, send your new donors a welcome package by mail or email. But keep showing the love to all your donors

You want as many donors as possible to give again, preferably at a higher level. This won’t happen if you don’t stay in touch throughout the year.

Break through the noise.

There’s a lot going on right now. We all get so many email messages and social media posts it’s enough to make you want to turn off your computer or put your phone away.

Don’t be part of the noise. When you communicate with your donors, make it good. It’s not enough just to send a donor newsletter or post a social media update. Show gratitude and share engaging updates.

To get noticed, aim for shorter more frequent content. Send email once a week and social media posts a few times a day. Don’t forget to reach out by mail, too. But most important, share stories and updates your donors will want to read.

Shifting priorities

Social justice organizations are seeing a huge increase in donations right now. I donated to many more nonprofits at the end of the year, but still supported the ones I had in past years. Some people might not be able to do that.

Your organization may be seeing a decline in donations because of this. That means you need to work harder to keep your donors. If you follow the advice above, you’ll have a better chance of keeping your donors for a long time.

Read on for more on declining retention rates. What are the Obstacles to Improving Donor-Retention Rates?

Start the New Year on the Right Track

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Happy New Year! I hope you had a good holiday. I just returned from my family’s annual trip to Florida. It’s quite a contrast from dreary Boston, but at least there’s no snow (yet).

I also hope 2016 was a good year for your organization, and 2017 will be successful, too. You can help ensure that by starting the New Year on the right track. Here’s how.

Evaluate and plan

Take a look back at 2016 to see what worked and what didn’t in your fundraising and communications. Incorporate what you’ve learned into your 2017 plans.

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. Also, make sure you evaluate your progress at least once a quarter.

Nonprofit Fundraising Plan: 6 Must-Do Steps For Success

COMMUNICATION PLAN TEMPLATE

Rev Up Your Data with Dashboards

Figure out your retention rate

As you’re doing your year-end evaluation, figure out your donor retention rate. A Guide to Donor Retention

If it’s low, it’s something you can fix, usually with better communication. Most of the reasons your donors leave are your own fault

Get in touch with your lapsed donors

Get in touch with donors who have given in the last two years, but not this year. Call them or send a personalized note. Let them know you miss them and want them back.

They may not have given to your year-end campaign for a variety of reasons including being too busy or not wanting to spend too much in December. The New Year could be a perfect time to reach out.

Thank your donors

I hope you thanked your donors after your year-end appeal and I hope you didn’t send one of those lame, generic letters. If you never sent a thank you, do that now!

Either way, the New Year is a great time to thank your donors. You want to show gratitude at least once a month. Wish your donors a Happy New Year, thank them again, and share a success story. You can do this by email or social media.

And, make a resolution to do a better job of thanking your donors this year. Say Thank You Like You Mean It

Don’t brag so much

Your donors wouldn’t have given to your organization if they didn’t think highly of you. You may be planning to create an annual report and continue to share accomplishments in your newsletter and other updates. When you do this, remember to focus on how your donors are helping you make a difference for the people/community you serve.

I just received a year-end update from an organization that included some extreme bragging. Only at the very end did they thank their donors. They should have done that in the first sentence.  

Give specific examples of how you are helping people, and dial back on the bragging. Are You Bragging Too Much?

More stories – less jargon

On the other hand, I received a short report from a different organization which opened with a compelling story about a man named Michael who is worried about where he and his young son, Eli, will find their next meal.

Okay, they did throw in the dreaded words food insecurity, but that jargon is countered with real stories about real people.

Spend time this year collecting stories and use language your donors will understand. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend. Don’t get bogged down with a lot of explanation.

Be sure to tell visual stories, too. You can capture your donors’ attention in an instant with an engaging photo or short video.

3 AMAZING EXAMPLES OF NON-PROFIT STORYTELLING

Stay in touch throughout the year

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference. Don’t let them down.

It will be a whole lot easier to stay in touch with your donors if you use a communications (aka editorial) calendar.  Why You Need a Communications Calendar

Here’s wishing you a successful 2017!

Why Having an Open House Makes Sense

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If you’re stuck trying to figure out a special way to show appreciation to your donors, how about having an open house at your organization?  If you can’t hold one on site, have it at a restaurant or other venue. You may be able to find someone to donate space.

Invite other supporters, too

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

Coordinate it with your year-end appeal

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

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

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

Winter is tricky unless you’re fortunate to live someplace where it doesn’t snow. And summer’s not good since most people are off in vacationland.

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

Keep it informal

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

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

Create some photo displays and have literature available. You could also show a video on a laptop. Offer tours, if that makes sense. 7 Tips to Create an Amazing Donor Cultivation Tour

Let your donors and other supporters see the heart and soul of your organization.

Get your board involved

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

Make everyone feel welcome

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

You may want to go over your organization’s talking points and brush up on your elevator pitches, so everyone is prepared to talk about what you do and answer questions.

How to Get Everyone in your Organization on the Same Page

The Big Mistake That’s Hurting Your Nonprofit (and How to Fix It)

Don’t forget about the follow-up

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

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

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

Not all your donors will attend your open house, but will appreciate the invitation. Donors and other supporters who do come are showing you they’re interested in your organization. Keep them interested! This will help ensure they’ll continue to support you. That’s why having an open house makes sense.

Beware of Bright Shiny Objects

3214060741_db8c069c72_mIt can be tempting to jump on the latest craze and try something new. But that bright shiny object may not be the answer you’re looking for.

In fact, you can be more successful in your fundraising and communications if you use methods that have been around for awhile. Here’s how.

Give your donors the personal touch

We have lots of different ways to communicate with donors, many of them electronic. Electronic communication is great because you can get a message out to many people in an instant.

But technology isn’t always our friend. Often these electronic messages don’t sound like they’re coming from a human.

Hardly anyone writes personal letters anymore but imagine your donors’ surprise when they receive a personal, handwritten thank you note from you. Delight Donors and Volunteers With Hand-Written Thank You Notes

Another more personal way to communicate is to give your donors a call to say thank you. Thank You Calls as a Donor Retention Tool: 6 Steps to Success

In this age of automation, we need to be more personal.  

Make retention and relationship building part of your fundraising plan

Most nonprofit organizations rely on fundraising for the bulk of their revenue. It’s not easy to raise money, especially if you spend more time focusing on finding new donors than keeping the ones you already have.

You might think you can take a break after a big fundraising campaign, but your work has just begun. Thank your donors right away and continue to stay in touch throughout the year with donor-centered newsletters and other updates.

If you keep churning through donors and have a high attrition rate, you need to do a better job of building relationships. It’s not hard, but you have to work at it. This link includes a quick way for you to figure out your donor retention rate A Guide to Donor Retention, and here are a few ways to build relationships with your donors throughout the year. How Are You Building Relationships?

Your new donors are closer than you think

Of course, you’ll need new donors. You’ll have more success if you reach out to people who already know you. Potential donors are your newsletter subscribers, social media followers, event attendees, friends of board members, and volunteers.

You can cultivate these supporters by communicating regularly and showing how you are making a difference for the people you serve. If you do it well, you should have a good chance of getting them to donate.

Unfortunately, not everyone is interested in your organization. That’s why buying lists is not the best way to fundraise. Find people who will be drawn to your cause.

It’s also not enough to find people with money(forget about trying to woo Bill Gates). If you want more major donors, work with your board and other donors. Connections always help.

Again, it comes down to good old-fashioned relationship building, something most organizations need to improve.

So, beware of bright shiny objects and focus on more personal communication and building relationships.

Pay Attention to Your Donor Retention

Now that you’ve sent your year-end appeal, take a look at your retention rate to see how well you did. A Guide to Donor Retention Poor retention rates are a chronic problem for nonprofit organizations, but it’s something you can fix.

Reach out to your lapsed donors

How did you do? Did you have a number of donors who gave in the past, but didn’t this year?  Reach out to these lapsed donors by phone or letter.  Let them know you miss them and want them back. Some people may have been busy in December (who wasn’t) and didn’t have time to respond to your appeals.

Who are you missing?

I hope you have a good database to keep track of your donor records.  Check to see who didn’t donate. You should be most concerned about past donors who didn’t give this year. There are a variety of reasons people don’t donate, and many of them are ones you can control.  If you have a number of first-time donors who didn’t give again, chances are you spent a lot of time enticing them to donate, and then, well not much after that.

The case of the disappearing donors

Ideally, once you get a donor, you should be able to keep the person, but that’s not happening.  According to the 2015 Fundraising Effectiveness survey, first-time donor retention is an abysmal 19%.  It’s 63% for repeat donors, which is nothing to celebrate. We can do better.

One of your priorities this year is to get your first-time donors to become long-term donors.  

Create a welcome plan for new donors

If you haven’t already done this, send your new donors a welcome kit by mail or email. Roll Out the Red Carpet for Your New Donors 

But keep showing the love to all your donors

You want as many donors as possible to give again, preferably at a higher level. This won’t happen if you don’t stay in touch throughout the year. Does Your Donor Communication Tell Donors What’s Next?

Create a donor relations plan in which you find ways to engage with your donors at least once or twice a month.  You can include this in your communications calendar. 

Know which channels your donors use the most, but don’t neglect direct mail. One idea is to send a thank you for being an amazing donor card at least once a year. If cost is an issue, spread your mailings out over the year, so you send a smaller number of cards each month. Donors may be pleasantly surprised to receive a card in May or September.

Be donor-centered

It’s not enough just to send a donor newsletter or post a social media update.  Most donor communication is all about the organization.  Share stories and updates your donors will want to read.

Keep building relationships

You can’t control your donors’ financial situation, but you can control your communication with them, and it needs to be whole lot better.

Pay attention to your donor retention and work on keeping your donors for a long time.

Image by Bloomerang