How to Get Ready for Your Year-End Appeal

Image result for free images for get readyCan you believe we’re already halfway through August? Like it or not, September will be here before you know it.

Fall is a busy time for nonprofits, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal. You don’t need to mourn the end of summer yet, but you should start planning for your year-end appeal.

Many nonprofits rely on their year-end appeal for a good portion of their revenue so you want it to be successful. Use this checklist to help you get started. You can also use this for fundraising campaigns at other times of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal in your 2019 fundraising plan (at least I hope you did) and perhaps you need to revise that goal. If you haven’t set a goal, determine how much money you need to raise before you start your campaign.

Do you have a plan?

Put together a plan for your appeal that includes a timeline, task list, and the different channels you’ll use. Make it as detailed as possible.

When do you want to launch your appeal?  I think earlier is better. Remember, you’re also competing with countless other organizations who are doing appeals. If you can get yours out by the end of October, you may be ahead of the game. 

Figure out what you need to get done and how long it will take. Keep in mind things usually take longer than you think. If you want to launch your appeal by November 1, make your goal October 20.

Also, how are you mailing your appeal? You may need to recruit extra volunteers or get your materials to a mail house.

An Annual Appeal Fundraising Timeline You Can Use

13 End-of-Year Appeal Strategies

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

Find a good story for your year-end appeal. You’ll want some engaging photos for your letter and donation page, too. Quotes from clients will also enhance your appeal.

Tell the Stories Your Donors Want to Hear

Entice Your Donors With Visual Stories

How did/can your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should highlight some of the year’s accomplishments and state what you plan to do next year. For example, let’s say you run a tutoring program. Let your donors know that thanks to them, 85% of the students in your program are now reading at or above their grade level. Next year you’d like to expand to five more schools.

Focus on the people you serve and show how your donors are helping you make a difference or can help you make a difference. Don’t brag about your organization.

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

Make sure your postal and email mailing lists are up-to-date. Check for duplicate addresses and typos. Your donors don’t want to receive three letters at the same time or have their names misspelled.

Also, now is a good time to segment your mailing lists – current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. This is so important! You should have more success if you can personalize your appeal letters.

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until October to check your supply of letterhead and envelopes. Make sure you have enough. Perhaps you want to produce a special outer envelope. You may also want to create some thank you cards.

Even though many people donate online, you want to make it easy for donors who prefer to mail a check. Include a pledge envelope or a return envelope and a preprinted form with the donor’s contact information and the amount of their last gift.

Stamps are more personal so you might want to find some nice ones to use.

Is it easy to donate online?

Be sure your donation page is user-friendly and consistent with your other fundraising materials. Highlight your year-end appeal on your homepage and include a prominent Donate Now button.

Donation Page Best Practices For Nonprofits; Tips for Great Donation Pages

Examples Of Great Nonprofit Donation Pages

How does a donation help the people you serve?

Create a set of giving levels and let your donors know how their gift will help.

How To Create Donation Tiers That Drive Donations

Do you have an incentive to entice donors to give a larger gift?

Instead of offering premiums, see if you can find a major donor who will match any upgrades. I know of an organization that used this as an incentive to get new donors.

Boost Your Fundraising Results With a Match From a Major Donor

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

Monthly or recurring giving is another way to get a larger gift. I highly recommend a monthly giving program if you don’t already have one.

Some people might balk at donating $100 or more, but if you present it as $10 a month ($120 a year!), it sounds more feasible.

Incorporating Monthly Giving Into Your Fundraising

How will you thank your donors?

Spend as much time on your thank you letter/note as you do on your appeal letter and write them at the same time. You need to thank your donors, and thank them well, as soon as you receive their gifts so have a thank you letter/note ready to go.

Handwritten notes and phone calls are much better than a preprinted letter. Create or buy some thank you cards (see above) and start recruiting board members and volunteers to make thank you calls or write notes. Put together a thank you plan to help you with this.

How will you keep up with your donor communication?

Even though you’ll be busy with your appeal, you want to ramp up your donor communication this fall. Keep engaging your donors and other supporters (who may become donors) by sharing success stories and gratitude. Pour on the appreciation! You could create a thank you video or hold an informal open house. Just don’t disappear until appeal time.

What are you doing to get ready for your year-end appeal?

 

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Tell the Stories Your Donors Want to Hear

7803683540_76d8f5f45d_zHow often do you use stories when you communicate with your donors? Most likely, not enough. That’s a mistake because people respond better to stories. 

Imagine your donors opening an appeal letter or newsletter and glossing over a bunch of mind-numbing statistics as opposed to being captivated by a story about how the Mason family moved out of a shelter and into a home of their own.

Donors want to hear your stories

You may be reluctant to use stories because it’s more work for your organization, but that shouldn’t stop you. Keep in mind that donors want to hear your stories. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene. Here’s an example.

The past several months have been tough for Janet and her three young kids. After losing her job and being evicted from her apartment, she moved between her sister’s house, motels, and shelters. It was taking a toll on her family. Everyone was stressed out and her kids were falling behind in school.

That was about to change because thanks to donors like you, Janet and her family will be moving into a home of their own.

Can you tell a story like that? If you’re making a difference, you can. Stories should show your donors how they’re helping you make a difference for the people/community you serve.

Create a culture of storytelling

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

Work with your program staff to create stories that will help you connect with your donors. Everyone needs to understand how important this is. Share stories at staff meetings and/or set up regular meetings with program staff to gather stories.

When you put together a story, ask.

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

Client or program recipient stories are best. You can also share profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Many organizations profile new board members in their newsletters. Instead of emphasizing their professional background, concentrate on what drew them to your organization. Perhaps she has a brother with autism or he knows what it’s like to arrive in the United States as an immigrant.

Another way to find stories is to put a Share Your Story page on your website. 

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

Create a story bank to help you organize all your stories. Take advantage of slower times of the year to gather stories. You want to use stories often. Use them in your appeal letters, thank you letters, newsletters, annual reports, website, blog, and other types of social media. You can use the same stories in different channels.

Give your stories the personal touch

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

 Fundraising with Names Have Been Changed Disclaimers

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Let your donors know how with their help, Brenda doesn’t have to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill. Your organization stays in the background. And remember, Your Mission Statement is NOT Your Story

Tell your donors the stories they want to hear. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories.

Here are some great resources to help you tell your stories.

The Storytelling Nonprofit

INFOGRAPHIC: A Nonprofit Storytelling How-To

The Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit Storytelling (30+ Tips)

How To Create A Culture of Storytelling in Your Nonprofit

 

How to Stay on Track for the Rest of the Year

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACan you believe we’re already halfway through the year? I hope your fundraising and communications are going well so far. If not, you’re not alone. According to the 2019 Giving USA report, overall giving is down 1.7%.

5 Key Takeaways from the 2019 Giving USA Report

The mid-point of the year is always a good time to see if you’re meeting your fundraising and communications goals. If your fundraising is down, you’ll need to make some smart choices for the rest of the year. This often includes better donor communication.

If you never made a fundraising plan for 2019, stop right there and put one together now and use it for the remainder of the year.

Nonprofit Fundraising Plan: 6 Must-Do Steps For Success

No need to panic yet. There are ways you can stay on track and raise more money in the second half of the year. Here’s how.

Ask your donors for an upgrade

An obvious, but overlooked, way to raise more money is to ask your donors to upgrade their gifts. Even if you’re a smaller organization, it’s not too much to ask $25 donors to give $50, $50 donors to give $75, and so on.

Make a point to do this in your next fundraising campaign. If you don’t, you’re leaving money on the table.

How to Get Your Donors to Give More this Year than Last Year

Start or enhance your monthly giving program

I’m a big fan of monthly or recurring giving. It’s a great way to raise more money, as well as your donor retention rate. Retention rates for monthly donors are 90%, much much better than other retention rates.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program, plan to promote one in your next campaign. To get more monthly donors, send a special targeted letter to current donors inviting them to become monthly donors. This another good opportunity to upgrade smaller dollar donors, or any donors for that matter.

Also, do something special for your current monthly donors. Send them a thank you postcard or email. They’ve made a commitment to you, now make a commitment to them.

Get in touch with your lapsed donors

Reaching out to your lapsed donors could help you raise additional revenue. An organization I used to contribute to sent me a nice letter asking me to come back. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but I stopped donating to them mainly because my giving priorities changed. 

I was impressed that they made a special attempt to reach out, because most organizations don’t do that. Yes, you might get the usual generic letter.

In your next fundraising campaign, send targeted letters to your lapsed donors telling them you miss them and want them back. After your campaign is over, make an attempt to reach out to any additional lapsed donors.

Do a better job of thanking your donors

Last week’s post was all about doing a better job of thanking your donors by creating a thank you plan. 

Creating a Thank You Plan Will Help You Stay Focused on Gratitude All Year Round

Showing gratitude is just one part of the donor communication mix. Stay in touch throughout the year with donor-centered updates. Show your donors how they’re helping you make a difference.

You still have time to stay on track

If you’re falling short of your goals, you still have time to do better, but you have to make an effort.

Giving USA 2019 | How to fundraise smarter, not harder

Be sure to keep evaluating your progress for the rest of the year to help ensure a successful 2019.

3 Ways to Stay Ahead of Giving Trends

 

What Fundraising and Strength Training Have in Common

32004749403_9d5d6ffa41_mAbout a year and a half ago I started doing strength training with a personal trainer. My initial assessment was humbling, to say the least, and at the beginning, there were several times I wondered “Why am I doing this?”

But I’ve benefited so much. Not only am I stronger, but I’ve lost weight, I’m sleeping better, my mood is better, and I have a more robust immune system.

Strength training has a lot in common with fundraising and when I say fundraising, I’m including the stewardship and relationship building components, too.

It’s supposed to be hard, but doable

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

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

Fundraising is hard. It doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it, but you also need to be realistic. I’m not lifting 100-pound weights. That would be too much for me. Certain fundraising endeavors, such as events, may be too much for your organization to take on right now.

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

Starting small is often the way to go

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

This same formula can work for your organization when you concentrate on individual gifts. Many of these will be under $100 each, but you’ll be able to get a larger number of them.

Be patient and you’ll see results

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

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

But if you persevere, you should see results.

Take it to the next level

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

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

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

You need to stick with it

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

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

Build Relationships With Your Donors Every Step of the Way

You need a plan

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

You shouldn’t be raising revenue without a plan in place. You also need a donor communication and stewardship plan.

Nonprofit  Fundraising Plan: 6 Must-Do Steps For Success

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

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

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

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

Photo via https://thoroughlyreviewed.com/

A Few Common Donor Communication Problems and How You Can Fix Them

8775923664_553640db9e_mSome nonprofits do a good job of communicating with their donors, but many do not and that’s a problem.

Mediocre or poor donor communication will hinder your success. If you wonder why your retention rates are floundering that may be the reason. Here are a few common donor communication problems and how you can fix them.

Sending your donors the same appeal letter

Your donors are not the same, so why are you sending everyone the same generic appeal letter? When you do this, you’re showing your donors you don’t know who they are.

I recently received a letter that was a good appeal, but didn’t recognize me as a monthly donor or acknowledge any previous donations. Monthly donors shouldn’t get a generic appeal like this. What should have happened is the organization should have thanked me for my monthly gifts and either asked for an upgrade or an additional one-time gift.

The same applies if someone is a theatre subscriber, museum member, or college alumni. I spend a significant amount of money on a theatre subscription. It’s perfectly fine for this theatre to ask for an additional donation, but I also want them to thank me for being a long-time subscriber.

This happens way too often. You should always recognize a donor’s past support.

Here’s an organization that did that. Their appeal letter opened with For the past 4 years, your generosity has made a world of difference. Wow, this organization knows me! The appeal included several instances where they mentioned how my support has made a difference.

What kind of message are you sending to your donors? That you recognize them for who they are or that they’re just a source of revenue for you?

6 easy ways to segment your fundraising appeal letter

Thank you letters that don’t focus on gratitude

The purpose of a thank you letter is to thank your donor. It’s not to brag about your organization or explain what your organization does. It’s also not a receipt. You can include a donation summary, but don’t lead with that or make it the main focus of your letter. If you do that, you’re implying that the donation is a transaction instead of the beginning or continuation of a relationship.

I use the term thank you letter, because that’s what most organizations send. Although, sometimes it’s just an email. You can do a better job of thanking your donors if you send a handwritten note or make a phone call.

I get so many thank you letters and emails that are uninspiring. They lead with the usual On Behalf of X organization before veering into receipt territory. Occasionally, I’ll get a card in the mail that pours on the gratitude with phrases like We cannot thank YOU enough and You make it possible.

Also, the thank you that you send after you receive a donation is just beginning, not the end, of a donor engagement journey that lasts throughout the year.

Take Thanking Your Donors to the Next Level

Newsletters that ignore donors

Newsletters are a big problem area. They’re usually too long, boring, and organization-focused. I recently received an eight-page newsletter written in the third person that primarily mentioned a bunch of accomplishments. It had no stories and read like a promotional piece, which is not the purpose of a donor newsletter.

Your newsletter should show your donors how they’re helping you make a difference.

The magic word you was nowhere to be found in any of the articles. That’s why your newsletter needs to be written in the second person dominated with phrases such as Thanks to you or Because of you.

The only time the organization mentioned donors and used the word you was in a section asking people to give to a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). It was basically a solicitation and required a minimum contribution of $100,000, which most people aren’t going to be able to do. As someone who gives $5.00 a month, I’m certainly not in that demographic.

They didn’t even thank their current donors before asking them to make such a big financial commitment. They would have been better off targeting people who would be likely to donate to their DAF.

You’re ignoring your donors (or at least most of them) when you include a message that’s only relevant to a small number of people.

Of course, you can share your success in your newsletter, but you need to let your donors know how they helped with that. Another organization did a better job with their newsletter. It included a cover letter thanking donors, as well as a success story and a section titled You Make a Difference.

A good rule of thumb for your newsletter is more donor appreciation – less bragging.

Why your fancy newsletter is failing you

You don’t want to upset your donors with poor communication. Send different appeals to different types of donors, write a thank you letter that focuses on gratitude, and continue that appreciation in your newsletter instead of bragging so much about your accomplishments.

 

Three Wise Investments That Can Help You Raise More Money

32943656503_65029c172f_mIf you have a July 1 fiscal year start date, you’re most likely working on your budget for next year (at least you should be). Those of you who use the calendar year as your fiscal year will be working on yours later in the year.

Whatever the case may be, putting together a budget can be a pain, especially if you’re a small nonprofit with limited resources. It may be tempting to create a bare-bones budget with the mindset “we can’t afford this.”

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

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

Invest in a good database

Plain and simple, 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. Make sure to invest in a good email service provider, too.

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

Invest in the best donor database you can afford, and Excel is not a database.

Nonprofit Software

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 enormous amount of email and social media posts you receive as opposed to postal mail. Your donors will be more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail.

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

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

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

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

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

Turbocharge Your Direct Mail and Digital

Invest in donor communications

I like this quote from Tom Ahern – If you do better donor communications, you’ll have more money. Makes a lot of sense doesn’t it? Yet many nonprofits don’t practice this. Better donor communications means thanking your donors and keeping in touch with them throughout the year.

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

Hiring at least one communications staff member is another wise investment. Maybe you need to reallocate your budget to cover some of these expenses. You could also look into additional sources of unrestricted funding.

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

Build Relationships With Your Donors Every Step of the Way

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

Image via  www.gotcredit.com 

Build Relationships With Your Donors Every Step of the Way

2592683540_77e7a1ac7f_mMany nonprofits think fundraising is all about raising money. But raising money is only part of the fundraising equation.

Fundraising’s Not About Money (What???)

One of the most important things you need to do is to build relationships with your donors. Building relationships should be front and center in everything you do.

Here are some ways you can incorporate building relationships every step of the way.

Make relationship building part of your fundraising campaign

You need to build relationships before, during, and after each of your fundraising campaigns.

Before your next appeal, send your donors an update to let them know how they’re helping you make a difference. This is especially important if you do more than one fundraising campaign a year. You don’t want your donors to think the only time they hear from you is when you’re asking for money.

Don’t send the same appeal to everyone on your mailing list. It’s crucial that you segment your donors and personalize your appeal letters.

What is your relationship with these individuals? Maybe they’ve given once or many times. Perhaps they’re event attendees, volunteers, e-newsletter subscribers, or friends of board members. Mention your relationship in your appeal letter. For example, thank a long-time donor for supporting you these past five years.

Monthly donors get their own appeal letter. This doesn’t happen enough and it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Build relationships with these committed donors. Recognize they’re monthly donors and either invite them to upgrade their gift or give an additional donation.

Pour on the appreciation

Your focus on building relationships continues when you thank your donors. Many organizations do a poor job with this. Send a handwritten note or make a phone call if you can.

Send welcome packets to your new donors. Let them know how much you appreciate this new relationship. If you don’t, it’s likely to be a short relationship.

Be sure to also shower your current donors with love to keep your relationship going. Give a shout out to donors who have supported you for several years.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships

I’m amazed that after I attend an event or give a memorial gift, most organizations don’t do a good job of building a relationship. I could be a potential long-time donor.

When you hold an event, give your attendees an opportunity to sign up for your mailing list. Next, call or send thank you notes afterward.

Besides thanking people for attending your event, let them know how much money you raised and share specific ways their support is helping you make a difference. Then invite these supporters to connect in other ways such as signing up to receive your newsletter or volunteering.

The same thing applies if you hold a charity run or walkathon. These events often generate new donors. Someone might donate to your 10K because her friend is running in it. Thank everyone who donated and invite them to be a part of your community.

Memorial gifts are another missed opportunity. Also, if a person has given a donation in memory of someone, they deserve a heartfelt response and the opportunity to connect with you in other ways.

Personally, I would never give a memorial gift or support someone in a charity walk if I didn’t believe in that organization’s cause. Don’t miss out on a potential opportunity to build longer-term relationships.

Turn a giving day into a relationship building day

My main objection to giving days, such as GivingTuesday, is they focus so much on asking. What if we put all the time and energy we focus on giving days into a relationship building day?

I’m not saying you can’t participate in giving days, but instead of the relentless begging, follow the formula above and build relationships before, during, and after your appeal.

Of course, you could choose not to participate in a giving day and have an all-out relationship building day instead.

Build relationships all year round

It’s easier to stay focused on donors when you’re sending an appeal or thank you, but this is just the beginning. Many organizations go on communication hiatus at certain times of the year and that’s a big mistake.

Ideally, you should keep in touch with your donors every one to two weeks. You can do this with newsletters, updates, thank you messages, advocacy alerts, and surveys. A communications calendar will help you with this.

Build relationships with your donors every step of the way. This will help you with that always-important donor retention because you want committed donors who will support you for a long time.

Build Loyal Donor Relationships in 3 Easy Steps.

Donor Relations: 8 Best practices for your Nonprofit

How To Build Meaningful Relationships With Your Donors