How Are You Sharing Stories With Your Donors?

People have been sharing stories of various kinds for centuries. I’m a big reader and always appreciate a good story.

Your nonprofit organization also needs to share stories in order to connect with your donors.

Donors want to hear your stories

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

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

Your stories need to be relevant

I don’t need to tell you the world has changed over the last two years. Your stories need to take the everchanging current situations into account. We may be done with COVID, but COVID isn’t done with us. We’re also seeing inflation and a possible recession. Let your donors know how all this is impacting your clients/community right now.

Create a culture of storytelling

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

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

When you put together a story, ask.

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

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

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

Language is important

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

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

Your stories aren’t about your organization

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

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

Make your stories personal 

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

Use different stories for different types of communication

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

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

In a fundraising appeal, you want to highlight a problem or need. Let’s return to the food pantry example. Here you can tell a story about Lisa, a working single mother with three kids who’s having trouble feeding her family because of rising food costs. 

In your thank you letter, you can let your donors know that because of their generous gift, Lisa can get healthy food for her family at the Westside Community Food Bank.

Then in your newsletter, annual report, or update, you can tell a success story that because of your generous donors, Lisa doesn’t have to worry so much about how she’ll be able to put food on the table.

Make connections with your donors by sharing stories. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories.

The 5 C’s of Good Nonprofit Communication

I’d like to revisit a topic I’ve written about in the past and that’s the 5 C’s of good nonprofit communication. You can think of this as a summer rerun. Some of you will remember the time networks (and even longer ago there were just a few of them) didn’t release new TV shows in the summer and we just watched reruns. But I digress….  

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

Is it Clear?

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

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

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

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

Is it Concise?

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

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

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

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

Make all your words count.

Is it Conversational?

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

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

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

Is it Compelling?

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

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

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

Are you establishing a connection?

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

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

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

We’re Halfway Through the Year – Are You Meeting Your Goals So Far?

It’s hard to believe we’re halfway through 2022, isn’t it? The mid-point of the year is always a good time to see if you’re meeting your fundraising and communications goals. In this continuous time of uncertainty, your fundraising may be down. Yes, we’re seeing inflation and a possible recession, but that doesn’t mean you should stop fundraising. Another important lesson from the pandemic – Never stop fundraising!  Donors will give if they can.

You may need to make some changes to your fundraising plan and other goals. And, if you never made a fundraising plan for this year, stop right there and put one together now and use it for the remainder of the year. Don’t fly blind.

Take a look at what’s working and what’s not. It will be different for every organization. If you’re doing okay, keep it up. If you’re falling short, figure out where you need to make changes.

If you’re relying too much on grants and events and those are not bringing in the revenue you need, focus more on individual giving. Many nonprofits raise the most money from individual giving. Here are a few other suggestions to help you stay on track this year.

Start or enhance your monthly giving program

Monthly giving is doable for all sizes of nonprofit organizations, even small ones. It’s a great way to raise more money, as well as your donor retention rate. Retention rates for monthly donors are 90%, much better than other retention rates. You’ll have a steady stream of income and it may be more feasible for your donors, especially if they’re feeling pinched financially.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program, get started now. To get more monthly donors, send a special targeted letter to current donors inviting them to become monthly donors. This is a 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.

I’ve always been a fan of monthly giving, even more so over the last two years. Organizations with strong monthly giving programs did better at the height of the pandemic.

Look into higher levels of giving

Another advantage of monthly giving is that these donors are more likely to become mid-level and major donors. Starting a major gift program will take time, but it’s doable even for small organizations. Look into starting one soon. Organizations with strong major gift programs have also done better over the last two years.

Ramp up your donor engagement

My last post was all about how you can engage with your donors this summer. The summer is usually a slower time for fundraising, but it’s a good time to show some donor love and plan for fall.

Some donors will pull back on their giving, but that doesn’t mean ghosting them. Keep engaging with them to help ensure they’ll give again, if they can.

Make improvements to your donor communication

Look at metrics such as website visits and email open rates. I know these don’t always tell the whole story, but if you’re not seeing a lot of engagement, figure out why.

Often, it’s because your content isn’t great or it’s too long. Maybe it’s layout and design. You could also be targeting the wrong audience. Summer is a good time to make some changes.

It’s not too late, yet

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

Be sure to keep evaluating your progress for the rest of the year. Even if you’re doing okay now, circumstances can change. You may want to monitor your progress more frequently (once a month instead of once a quarter) so you can try to stay on track. You don’t want to get caught off guard. 

Keep monitoring your progress to help ensure a successful year.

Image via PlusLexia.com.

Are You Still Using Jargon?

Over the last two years, we’ve seen many examples of real problems affecting real people. We’ve also seen more authenticity. So why are some nonprofit organizations still using jargon in their donor communication?

They may be using the same, boring templates they’ve used for years or they’re so used to some of these terms they don’t realize they fall flat with their donors. I think people use jargon because it’s insider language that makes them feel like they’re “in the know” in their professional community. It’s easy to slip into jargon mode in your work environment (whether that’s in person, virtual, or hybrid). But the danger comes when jargon creeps outside of your insular world and into your donor communication.

People need to understand you to connect with you

Sometimes we get lazy and use jargon when we can’t think of anything fresh and original. Instead, you see appeal letters, thank you letters, newsletter articles, and annual reports laced with cringe-worthy terms such as food insecurity, at-risk youth, underserved communities, and impactful. While donors may know what some of these terms mean, they’re vague, impersonal, and can come across as demeaning.

Are You Speaking The Same Language As Your Donors?

How to do better

You may know you need to freshen up some of your messages, but aren’t sure how to start. You may also have a lot going on and feel pressed for time. 

Sometimes you need to give a little more information. Let’s look at these problem terms and what you can say instead. You may use some of these terms internally and they might be in your mission statement, but please try to limit them when you communicate with your donors.

  • Food insecurity The USDA defines it as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” That’s a mouthful! I’ve never liked the term food insecurity because it’s so impersonal. We’re hearing this term a lot right now because it continues to be a big problem. Let’s go a step further and put it in human terms by describing a situation where a single mother has to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.
  • At-risk means there’s a possibility something bad will happen. Instead of just saying at-risk students or youth, tell a story or give specific examples of something bad that could happen or has happened. Our tutoring program works with high school students who are more likely to fail their classes, be held back, and drop out of school. Remote learning didn’t work for many of the students in our community and they have fallen behind. 
  • Underserved means not receiving adequate help or services. Instead of saying we work with underserved communities, explain what types of services these residents don’t receive. Maybe it’s healthcare, affordable housing, decent preschool education, or all of the above. Tell a story or give a specific example. Mara has to take two buses to see a doctor for her diabetes because there isn’t a good healthcare facility in her community. This makes her feel anxious because not everyone on the bus wears a mask, so sometimes she skips her appointments.
  • Impact means having an effect on someone or something. How are you doing that and why is it important? Again, give a specific example. Thanks to donors like you, we’ve helped families find affordable housing so they don’t have to live in a shelter, with other family members, or in their car. Now they have a place to call home. And, let’s please all agree to stop using the word impactful.

Tell a story

This is why stories are so important. You can get beyond that vague, impersonal jargon and let your donors see firsthand how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

What would Aunt Shirley or Uncle Ted think?

I always like to use this analogy. Imagine you’re at a family gathering and you’re explaining what your organization does to your 75-year-old Aunt Shirley, or maybe it’s Uncle Ted. Does she look confused and uninterested when you use words like underserved and at-risk, or does he perk up and want you to tell him more when you mention you’ve been able to help homeless families move into their own homes?

Stop using jargon in your work environment

Another way to help you transition from jargon to understandable language is to stop using it in your work environment. That means at staff meetings and in interoffice written communication. Maybe you go so far as to re-write your mission statement to make it more conversational. And telling staff and board members to recite your mission statement as an elevator pitch is a bad idea unless you can make it conversational.

Let’s stop using jargon when we can use clear, conversational language instead. Keep reading for more examples of why you should stop using jargon.

Too Much Jargon, Too Little Time: 3 Easy Tips to Simplify Your Copy

Nonprofit Jargon: Do Your Supporters Understand Your Fundraising?

How Jargon Destroys Nonprofit Fundraising & Marketing

What to Include on Your Crowdfunding Page: 7 Best Practices

An online fundraising page is crucial for a crowdfunding campaign’s success. Follow these seven best practices to attract donors and deepen engagement. 

By Missy Singh

One of the crucial elements of building any crowdfunding campaign for a nonprofit is setting up a crowdfunding page online. A well-designed crowdfunding page allows your campaign to stand out and reach an audience far beyond your immediate supporters.

While your cause may be unique, every crowdfunding page should contain certain consistent elements. In this guide, we’ll look at the following features to include on your crowdfunding page:

  • High-Quality Images and Videos
  • Regular, Specific Text Updates
  • Clear Goals and Deadlines
  • Robust Social Sharing Features
  • Consistent Branding
  • Secure Donation Submission Form
  • Additional Ways to Get Involved

In addition to these features, your crowdfunding page should be mobile-friendly, have fast page load times, and meet web accessibility guidelines. Taking these steps will make your crowdfunding site accessible to as many visitors as possible, and users can make donations on the go. If supporters can’t access your page, there’s a 0% chance they’ll end up donating.

1. High-Quality Images and Videos

What’s the first thing visitors will notice when they arrive on your crowdfunding page? Most likely, the images and videos.  

Visual components can make your campaign feel more personal and human, and increase donations and social sharing among supporters. However, if your images are outdated, generic, or poor-quality, you set the wrong tone for your campaign.   

According to crowdfunding best practices, the images and videos you post on your page should be:

  • Visible, clear, and adjustable depending on screen size. 
  • Related to the cause, project, or event you’re raising money for.
  • Regularly updated throughout the campaign.
  • Uploaded chronologically to show the progress you’re making in your campaign.

If your fundraiser involves in-person events or activities, also include a place on your page where participants can share their own photos to supplement the ones you post. Supporters will appreciate the opportunity to play an active role in showcasing your work. 

2. Regular, Specific Text Updates

Donors want to stay apprised of your campaign. Posting on your crowdfunding page is an effective way to keep them informed. Moreover, regular updates directly correspond to fundraiser success. According to Fundly’s fundraising statistics, campaigns that update supporters every five days raise three times more than those that don’t. 

Your updates don’t need to be extensive. Focus on providing interesting or useful information while avoiding jargon and generic text. When you include text on your page, you should:

  • Include the most relevant, up-to-date information. 
  • Share specific, relatable stories about the community you serve and the problems they face. 
  • Make a call to action that details the impact a donation will have.
  • Break it up with images, lists, examples, and bullet points.

However, don’t go overboard or make your posts too self-promotional. Your supporters don’t want to be pressured into donating. Instead, develop a communication schedule that dictates what and when you’ll post updates to your crowdfunding page.

3. Deadline and Goals

Because you’ll likely tie your updates to the fundraising goals and deadlines you’ve set, these should be clearly communicated on your page. 

To use your goals and deadlines to encourage supporters, make sure they are realistic. For example, it’s pretty unlikely a small nonprofit could raise millions of dollars over the course of a single day. Unrealistic goals can ultimately discourage staff and supporters alike and lead to decreased donations. If there’s no chance of meeting the goal in time, why should they even donate?

On the other hand, a realistic goal and timeline can be a good challenge for your supporters to meet. Add a countdown clock and fundraising thermometer to your crowdfunding page, showing how much time is left in the campaign and how much you have left to raise. These features will help visitors visualize the campaign’s success so far and how much more support you need. 

4. Social Sharing Features

Crowdfunding campaigns rely on social sharing. So, if it’s not easy for supporters to share your page, you’re hurting your campaign. Include buttons that facilitate sharing via email as well as to major social media platforms, including:

  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • TikTok

Sometimes, crowdfunding campaigns will start with significant social media engagement from supporters, but sharing then quickly dies off. You can try to avoid this decline and encourage continued sharing throughout the campaign by regularly adding new, shareable content to your crowdfunding platform. 

You can also encourage social sharing by reposting these updates on your social media profiles. When posting on social media, remember to ask questions and respond to comments to promote engagement.

5. Consistent Branding

Customize your crowdfunding page to align with your nonprofit’s existing brand. It should match your website, social media pages, and physical outreach. These should all include the same: 

  • Logo
  • Colors
  • Fonts
  • Mission
  • Language
  • Tone

Creating a consistent brand builds trust in the site and ensures visitors don’t leave mid-donation thinking it’s a scam. For the most consistent features, we recommend that you follow a style guide that clearly defines your brand’s language and visual expectations.

6. Secure Donation Form

What’s the most important part of your crowdfunding page? Probably, the donation form itself. To build trust with your supporters your donation form should be secure. Choose a platform that uses a PCI-compliant payment processor to keep donor data secure. Additionally, your form should include:

  • Custom information fields. Include fields that ask for important information, such as donors’ names and contact information. You might also ask for their demographic information and history with your organization. However, because crowdfunding donors generally want to make their donations quickly, limit your request to only the most necessary information.
  • Suggested donation buttons. Donors aren’t always sure how much they should give. When you include suggested donation buttons, you take the guesswork out of donating. Assess your existing donor data and median donation amounts to determine appropriate amounts to suggest.

To make donating as easy as possible, decrease the number of clicks site visitors need to make and embed your donation form directly onto your crowdfunding page.

7. Additional Ways to Get Involved

Your donor involvement shouldn’t stop at their donation. Use your crowdfunding page as a jumping-off point for deepening relationships with your donors as well as supporters who aren’t in a position to support your campaign financially. Consider including information on the following opportunities:

  • Volunteer Opportunities. Do you need help reaching out to donors, hosting events, or supporting regular programming? If you don’t ask, site visitors won’t know that you need this kind of support.
  • Matching Gifts. According to Double the Donation’s matching gift statistics, one in three donors would give a larger gift if their employer matched their donation. Advertise the opportunity for matching gifts on your crowdfunding page. Then, use a matching gift integration tool to automatically inform donors of the specific steps they’ll need to take to request a matching gift from their employers.
  • Events. Are there in-person or virtual events associated with your campaign? Use your crowdfunding page as an opportunity to remind supporters to register and attend.

That said, don’t overwhelm site visitors with too much information. On your main page, the primary focus should be on getting donations. Highlight just one or two additional ways to get involved and place further details on a post-donation thank-you landing page.


Throughout your fundraiser, keep track of your data, including donor information, donation amounts, communication click-through, open, and conversion rates, and other trends. Then, leverage this information to assess areas for growth and implement new fundraising ideas and strategies. 

For example, if you find that an unusual number of users are abandoning the page before donating, you might try incorporating a more direct call to action at the top of the page. Not every iteration will be a great success. That’s OK! By going through this process of refining your page and making adjustments, you’re setting your campaign up for success.

Missy Singh is the Director of Operations, Client Services & Sales at Fundly. She has been working there since 2011 when she started as a Customer Experience and Implementation Manager. As an integrated platform for social impact, Fundly serves as an industry leader in crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraising. In 2015 Fundly combined with NonProfitEasy to offer enterprise-level technology that addresses nonprofit needs with features such as a CRM, volunteer management, membership management, and event registration.

How You Can Make Your Messages Stand Out

Do you feel as if information overload is getting worse every year? There’s so much going on right now. Getting your messages out is never easy, but like everything else, it’s gotten a whole lot harder over the past two years.

Your nonprofit organization needs to continue communicating regularly with your donors and you need to do it well. With everything that’s going on, it’s possible they’ll miss your messages. 

Here are a few ways you can make your messages stand out. 

What’s your intention?

What’s the purpose of your message? What do you want your reader to do? Are you asking for a donation? Maybe you’re thanking your donor or sharing an update.

Think from your reader’s perspective. What would she be interested in or what would make him take action?

Don’t muddle your messages with too much information. Keep it simple and stick to one call to action or type of message. 

Choose the right channels

Most likely you’ll use more than one channel to communicate. Pay attention to the channels your donors are using and focus your efforts there.

Email may be the primary way you’re communicating right now and there’s a reason for that. It’s fast, easy, relatively inexpensive, and almost everyone has an email address. You can quickly get a message out to a lot of people. Also, unlike social media, it’s something you can control. You don’t have to rely on a social media algorithm to hope your message ends up in your donor’s feed.

The downside is people get a huge amount of email from a variety of different sources. Plus, the average open rate is around 20%. I don’t know what’s going on in the conservative world, but some liberal political groups send way too much email, which I pretty much ignore. And, social media is often just a lot of of a lot.  

It’s easy for your electronic messages to get lost in the shuffle. Your donors may just tune things out, even if you have something engaging to share. 

While you’ll likely use electronic communication pretty regularly, don’t discount direct mail. Your donors are more likely to see these messages. We get far less postal mail than electronic communication. Also, someone can put a piece of mail aside and look at it later. Don’t count on that happening with any type of electronic communication. You can also communicate by phone. This is a great way to thank your donors.

Going multichannel is usually your best bet. This is very common for fundraising campaigns and inviting people to events, as well as including a link to your e-newsletter on your social media platforms. This way if people miss your initial message on one platform, they may see it on a different one. You’ll also want to send regular reminders for fundraising appeals and event invitations.

Get noticed right away

Remember, your donors have a lot going on and you need to capture their attention right away.

Your fundraising letters and anything else you send by mail needs to look appealing enough to open. You could put a tagline on the envelope. That doesn’t mean something like It’s Our Annual Appeal. Try something like – How you can help families put food on the table. Your envelope should look personal and not resemble a bill or junk mail.

“Dale’s” mail

Once your donor opens your fundraising appeal, lead with a story followed by a clear, prominent ask. When they open your thank you letter, they should be greeted with gratitude.

A good subject line is the key to getting someone to open your email message. Keep in mind that your donor’s inbox is bursting with messages. Don’t use something boring like April e-newsletter or Donation Received. Entice them with Find out how you helped families put food on the table or You just did something amazing today!  

Keep them engaged once they open your message.

Keep it short

In many cases, a shorter message is best. You want a good balance between saying too much and saying too little. All your words should count, so be careful about adding too much filler. That often includes bragging about your organization and explaining what you do.

Keep in mind the average human attention span is a mere eight seconds.

What’s in My Inbox | Shorter attention spans means you need to deliver with your enews

Your goal is to get your donors to read your messages. If it looks long and boring, they probably won’t bother.

Make it easy to read and scan

Besides sending a short message, use short paragraphs and lots of white space, too. Your messages need to be easy to read and scan in an instant. Most people aren’t going to read something word for word. Be sure they can quickly get the gist of what you want to say. Don’t use microscopic font either – use 12 point or higher.

Be personal and conversational

Write directly to your reader using clear, conversational language – no jargon. Don’t confuse your donors with generic messages.

Don’t cast a wide net

It’s important that you send your messages to the right audience and your audience isn’t everyone.

You’ll have more luck with a fundraising appeal when you send it to past donors or people who have a connection to your cause. The same is true for event invitations or recruiting volunteers.

You may want to reach out to as many people as possible, but that won’t guarantee you’ll get more donations or event attendees. Segmenting and engaging with the right audience will bring you better results.

Be a welcome visitor

If you communicate regularly and do it well, your donors should recognize you as a reputable source and are more likely to read your messages. If all you do is send them generic fundraising appeals, then it’s time for a change.

When you send email, make sure people know it’s coming from your organization. In the from field, put DoGood Nonprofit or Brenda Davis, DoGood Nonprofit. If you just put a person’s name or info@dogoodnonprofit.org, people may not know who it’s from and ignore your message.

Only send email to people who have opted into your list. Otherwise, you’re spamming them. Some people will choose not to receive email from you and that’s okay. The ones who do are interested in hearing from you. Give people the option to unsubscribe, too.

Even though people only get a few pieces of mail a day, most of it’s junk mail. You never want any of your letters, newsletters, or postcards to be perceived as junk mail (see above).

By putting in a little time and effort, you can help ensure that your messages stand out.

3 Strategies for Nonprofit Messages that Stand Out in Donors’ Mailboxes

How to Write Awesome Emails Your Donors Want to Read

Fundraising in an Ever-Changing World

We’ve been through so much over the last two years – the pandemic, an economic downturn, supply chain issues, inflation, a racial reckoning, political turmoil, and climate disasters. Now we can add the war in Ukraine. 

Your nonprofit organization has gone through a lot and is continuing to navigate this ever-changing world. It’s important to not give up and keep persevering.

Don’t stop fundraising

Whatever is going on in the world, please don’t stop fundraising! I know the crisis in Ukraine is on all of our minds right now. Your donors may be supporting organizations that are helping Ukrainians, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stop giving to your organization. Let them decide.

Fundraising in Times of Crisis: What Helps Ukraine Most Right Now?

Fundraising in a time of war: what should you do?

You don’t need to be in crisis!

Donors will give if they can. If you’re short on revenue, here are a few ways to raise more money.

Maybe you have a fundraising campaign planned for the spring. If not, you could run an emergency campaign. These were successful at the height of the pandemic. I’m sure you have pressing needs and a lot of people are still struggling now.

Organizations with a strong monthly giving program have done well. Monthly giving makes sense on so many levels. Nonprofits receive a steady stream of revenue throughout the year, monthly giving makes it easier for donors to spread out their gifts, and the monthly donor retention rate is 90%. Monthly donors are also more likely to become major donors and legacy donors. Having a strong monthly giving program will help during times of uncertainty.

Why Monthly Giving is Important for Your Nonprofit Organization

Another option is to reach out to your lapsed donors. Donors stop giving for a variety of reasons. Maybe things have been tough for them financially or they were just too overwhelmed to donate. 

Circumstances change. Reach out to donors who have given in the past, but who haven’t donated in the last year or two. Send them personalized appeals. If you find out a donor can’t afford to give right now, respect that, but keep sending messages of gratitude and updates, unless they opt out. I’ll go into that more below.

The right way to win back lapsed donors

Nonprofit organizations are essential

Never forget that nonprofit organizations are essential. Kudos to you for continuing to provide essential services as best you could.

It doesn’t matter what type of work you do, whether you work with refugees, in human services, protect the environment, or are an arts/culture organization, just to name a few. Your work is important!  

Don’t go silent

One reason donors stop giving is because they rarely hear from you or when they do, your messages are uninspiring. This is something you can control.

Imagine this scenario – Jane Donor has been supporting ten nonprofit organizations. She’s feeling pinched financially right now and has decided to only support seven this year. Which ones will she choose? The ones that regularly send personal messages of gratitude and engaging updates or the ones that rarely or never communicate unless they’re asking for donations?

It’s important to keep up with your donor engagement. An underlying theme of many of my posts is better communication will help you raise more money. 

Even if it’s hard, you can’t ignore your donors. You don’t need to take on too much. Aim for short, high-quality messages once or twice a month. Just don’t go silent.

You can’t ignore current situations

When I see communication that doesn’t reference the pandemic or other current situations, it makes me wonder if the organization is using a template that needs to be revised. It’s a good idea to refresh your messages at least once a year, but in this ever-changing world, you’ll need to do it more often. I elaborated on this in my last post. 

Steer Clear of Generic Communication

The good news is that over the last two years, most donor communication is more personal and less generic. Some specifically reference situations such as the pandemic, economic uncertainty, and systemic racism, while others mention a challenging two years. You also have specific needs and an urgency. Organizations that made this clear raised more money.

Your organization has faced challenges, everyone has, and you need to acknowledge that.

What the future holds

It would be nice to think the worst of COVID is behind us, but we don’t know that. Another crisis may also be looming out there. All this uncertainty makes it harder to plan. Plus, it’s stressful.

Many of the practices we implemented at the start of the pandemic may need to stay. We may be looking at a hybrid of in-person and virtual gatherings for a while. That includes events, donor meetings, and the workplace. If you’ve found some of these have worked better for your nonprofit, you could keep them for the time being.

Donors are going to expect honest communication about your need and want to hear about your success and challenges. No going back to generic messages. If you’ve communicated more with your donors over the last two years, keep that up. If you’ve been holding back, you need to do more. Don’t be afraid to ask for donations. Keep up the better communication. 

Keep up your essential work!

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Steer Clear of Generic Communication

Are you still sending all your donors the same appeal and thank you letters? In these letters, you never thank a donor for their past support or acknowledge they’re a monthly donor.

If that’s not bad enough, many of these letters use vague and impersonal language and even worse, jargon.

Since the pandemic started, some nonprofits have done better and have created more nuanced, personal communication. Let’s keep this up and all do better. Your donors deserve that.

Steer clear of anything generic and create something more personal. Here’s what you can do.

Segment your donors

Your donors aren’t the same, so they shouldn’t all get the same letter. Segment your donors into different groups as much as you can. At the very least, create different letters for new donors, repeat donors, and monthly donors. You can also personalize letters to lapsed donors, event attendees, volunteers, etc.

I emphasize segmenting your donors a lot in my posts because it’s so important. Donors like it if you recognize their past giving or anything that shows them this is more than a generic, one-size-fits-all message.

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

Donor Segmentation | Comprehensive Guide + Tips For Success

And while we’re on the subject of personalization, please stop sending Dear Friend letters, as well. You’re not being a good friend if you don’t even use your donors’ names.

I know this will take more time, but it’s worth the investment. So is a good database to help you with this. Your donors will feel appreciated and are more likely to give again, possibly at a higher level.

Use language your donors understand

If you use vague, generic language and jargon, you’re going to instantly bore and/or confuse your donors. Most of your donors don’t have a medical or social services background. They don’t use terms like food insecurity, at-risk populations, and underserved communities, and neither should you.

Connect with your donors by using language they’ll understand. Instead of talking about food insecurity, give an example of a family choosing between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

What do you mean by at-risk or underserved? Are high school students less likely to graduate on time? Do residents of a certain community not have good health care nearby? Is housing too expensive? Get specific, but at the same time, keep it simple. Also, terms like at-risk and underserved undermine your clients/community. Remember, these are human beings you’re talking about.

Let’s Try to Stop Using Jargon So Much

How Jargon Destroys Nonprofit Fundraising & Marketing

A great way to steer clear of generic language and jargon is to tell stories. Most people respond better to a human-interest story than a bunch of boring statistics.

Make Connections With Your Donors by Sharing Stories

Why your good story leads to a better world

Make time for improvement

You may be between fundraising campaigns right now and have a little more time (maybe). If so, work on segmenting the donors in your database, if you haven’t already done that. Segmenting your donors isn’t a one-time deal. Make changes as needed. For example, some of your single-gift donors may have upgraded to monthly. If you can do this after every campaign, you should have fairly up-to-date information on your donors.

In addition, dust off those templates and freshen up your appeal letters and thank you letters. We’re living in an ever-changing world and you need to acknowledge current situations in your communication. Create letter templates for different donor groups and replace your vague, generic language with something clear, conversational, and specific.

You can also use this time to add new stories to your story bank or start putting one together, if you don’t already have one

Have someone outside your organization, a friend or family member, look at your messages. Something that’s clear to you may mean nothing to others.

Steer clear of your generic communication with something that shows your donors how much you appreciate them by recognizing who they are and giving them engaging content they can relate to.

3 Strategies to Find New Nonprofit Supporters Online

Are you ready to build your nonprofit’s online audience in the new year? Consider these three innovative strategies to connect with new supporters in 2022.

By Cassie Losquadro, Solutions Executive at GoodUnited

There are many strategies for discovering new donors for your nonprofit. Perhaps you rely on word of mouth and encourage existing supporters to share their stories and bring their peers into the fold. Or, perhaps you use direct mail to send information about upcoming events in your local area.

These strategies aren’t bad, by any means. However, there is power in embracing entrepreneurship and taking a risk on innovative strategies to find new supporters online.

For example, your nonprofit likely has an entire audience of potential supporters online that you haven’t encountered or attempted to engage with before. By embracing the third wave of giving, social fundraising, you can not only find those online supporters but also retain them for the long term.

This guide will focus on three social fundraising-driven strategies for finding new supporters online, including:

  • Virtual-First Fundraising
  • Thank-You Notes
  • Conversational Messaging

The GoodUnited team specializes in helping nonprofits elevate their social giving practices, so we’ve seen firsthand the power that these strategies can have when discovering new supporters online. With that in mind, all three of the following strategies are related to social giving— whether it’s virtual-first fundraising experiences, thanking existing supporters, or stewarding social supporters for long-term relationships.

Let’s dive in.

Virtual-First Fundraising

Virtual-first or virtual-native fundraising experiences describe fundraisers that are created to take place entirely online through social networking sites. Rather than planning a traditional, in-person fundraiser and formulating ways to incorporate online engagement into it, virtual-native fundraisers are conceptualized with the internet in mind from step one.

This is part of what we call the third shift in fundraising, a new frontier for nonprofit efforts. First, nonprofits were fundraising through direct mail and using mailing addresses to send and receive gifts. Later, the second shift occurred as nonprofits embraced online fundraising through email and websites. Now, the third shift— fully in-channel fundraising and engagement through virtual-first fundraising— is here.

Virtual-native fundraising is so powerful because research has shown that it’s an additive fundraising method.

With more traditional fundraising efforts, your nonprofit likely carefully builds a fundraising calendar in which campaigns don’t overlap (or if they do, they target different audiences). This is because you don’t want to target the same donors over and over again in a short time period. Soliciting donations soon after a supporter has given to your organization can lead to donor burnout.

However, the additive nature of virtual-native fundraisers alleviates this concern. “Additive” essentially means that the fundraisers build on top of your existing campaigns, rather than drawing support away from them in the form of donors giving to the virtual campaign over another one. This is possible because virtual-first fundraisers connect with an entirely new audience — an online audience that is likely to be interested in your nonprofit but hasn’t engaged with it before.

This is noticeable in the Challenges on Facebook hosted by Susan G. Komen in 2021. The nonprofit connected with 13,000 new supporters, 90% of whom were new to Komen. 

To make the most of virtual-native fundraising in 2022, consider following Komen’s lead and incorporating Challenges on Facebook into your strategy. A Challenge is a time-bound peer-to-peer fundraising effort. During the Challenge, participants complete a task (such as running, walking, or calisthenics) while raising funds for your nonprofit using a Facebook fundraiser. Participants are added to a Facebook group to connect with one another and experience a digital community.

Here are the basic steps of hosting a Challenge on Facebook:

  1. Choose a Challenge task.
  2. Create the corresponding Challenge group on Facebook.
  3. Use Facebook ads to spread the word about the fundraiser.
  4. Once participants sign up and the Challenge begins, engage with the group by sharing discussion topics, fundraising tips, and more.

To maximize the audience-discovery potential of these fundraisers, target your ad campaigns to groups that are outside of your normal audience— such as lookalike audiences that haven’t engaged with your nonprofit before. Additionally, hold multiple events throughout the year. By layering Challenges on Facebook into your fundraising strategy, you’ll have a diverse, multichannel fundraising calendar that maximizes revenue.

Thank-You Notes

Online fundraising has evolved— now, with social fundraising tools, your supporters can start fundraisers on behalf of your nonprofit and drive those fundraisers across the finish line before you’re even aware of them. This is a major benefit of online fundraising, as donations can come in without any additional work from your nonprofit. However, it’s also a challenge as you may have existing online supporters that you’re simply unaware of!

The best way to capture one-time social supporters— for example, individuals who conduct a birthday fundraiser for your nonprofit on Facebook but haven’t engaged with you otherwise— as long-term champions is by thanking them for their efforts.

One example of expressing appreciation virtually is posting thank-you comments on all fundraisers started for your nonprofit on Facebook.

While Facebook won’t notify you when users create a fundraiser on your behalf, you can discover newly-created fundraisers using the Sort & Filter tool. Essentially, you’ll navigate to the “Fundraisers” section of your nonprofit’s profile and use the tool to:

  • Sort to show recently-created fundraisers first.
  • Filter out any fundraisers on which you’ve already posted a thank-you note.

This tool is crucial as the default “Fundraisers” view will first show campaigns that are closest to their goals or that are almost at their end date. This means you could be overlooking newer campaigns, especially if those campaigns take longer to raise a significant amount.

Once you’ve sorted and filtered your campaigns, go through and post thank-you notes on each individual campaign. Admittedly, this can be a time-intensive process, especially for nonprofits that have a significant amount of social support. Consider working with a social fundraising services provider, which can automate much of this process for you.

Discovering new supporters online isn’t always finding entirely new people to connect with— sometimes, it’s making the most of the support you already have, but that you’re unaware of.

Bonus! This section focuses on how to thank individuals who start fundraisers on your behalf. But what about the supporters who donate to those fundraisers? GoodUnited has a full guide to thanking donors on Facebook to help you get started.

Conversational Messaging

Discovering individuals online who are interested in your nonprofit and willing to fundraise on your behalf is only part of the challenge. The second part is engaging with those individuals, building a relationship between them and your nonprofit, and retaining them for years to come.

One of the best ways to do this online is through conversational messaging, or one-on-one conversations between a representative from your nonprofit and an online supporter held via a social media chat functionality. For example, in the thank-you notes from the previous section, you can invite supporters to start a chat with your nonprofit using Messenger. In Messenger, you can share:

  • Gratitude: Thank the supporter for their work on behalf of your nonprofit and discuss the impact that the funds they raised will have. The more specific you can get, the better!
  • Educational Information: From the donation payout process to whether Facebook fundraising has fees— it doesn’t— your supporters will likely have many questions about how social fundraising works.
  • Opportunities: You can share upcoming fundraisers and volunteer campaigns that the individual can participate in. Or, you can share information about matching gift programs so the supporter can speak with their employer about beginning the gift match process!
  • Questions and Surveys: This could be as straightforward as asking the supporter about what types of opportunities and communications they’d like to receive in the future, or more complex such as sharing a link to an external survey where they can provide additional information.
  • Additional Contact Data: One of the biggest controversies with social fundraising is that Facebook retains most donor and participant data, which can make it challenging for nonprofits to connect with supporters off of the platform down the line. In your messaging sequence, ask them to share additional contact information such as their mailing and email addresses. This way, you can connect with that supporter in your multichannel efforts as well!

Conversational messaging is so powerful because it can be customized to each of your individual supporters’ interests and needs. Rather than sending out information en masse, which is how social media has been used previously, you can tailor your communications to build a relationship with each individual.

And, if you’re worried about holding conversations with hundreds or even thousands of social supporters, there are social fundraising services providers that can assist with that task as well. They can create custom automated messaging sequences that are tailored to both your nonprofit and your supporters, creating a realistic and valuable experience for each individual who opts in to chat with your organization via Messenger.

Wrapping Up: Next Steps After Discovering New Supporters Online

When you discover a new audience online, you’ll suddenly have access to a wealth of information— contact details, preferences, demographics, and more. Prioritize your nonprofit’s data hygiene as you expand your online engagement efforts to ensure your organization’s constituent relationship management (CRM) system isn’t overwhelmed by all of your new supporters.

From there, it’s up to you to continue engaging with these supporters and building relationships over time! Aim to treat your newfound online supporters as you would those discovered through more traditional means. By embracing the third wave of giving, social fundraising, you’ll be set up for success in the coming years. Good luck!

Cassie Losquadro is a sales leader at GoodUnited, the social giving solution. Cassie has spent the last 5 years in the fundraising technology space. Cassie is energized by working with nonprofit leaders and changemakers who are to a person, saving the world through their initiatives. Hailing from Rhode Island, Cassie lives in Charleston, SC with her husband, two children, and a rescue pup, Bella. Connect with Cassie on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cassiefaella/

Why Monthly Giving is Important for Your Nonprofit Organization

Monthly giving is gaining momentum and that’s a good thing. We want that to continue. If your organization doesn’t have a monthly/recurring giving program or it’s fairly small, now is a great time to start or grow your monthly giving.

In this post, I’ll tell you why monthly giving is important for your nonprofit, how to start or grow your program, and how to nurture it going forward. 

Monthly giving helps you raise more money

Monthly or recurring donations can help donors spread out their gifts and it’s easier on their bank accounts. They might be apprehensive about giving a one-time gift of $50 or $100. But if you offer them the option of giving $5 or $10 a month, that may sound more reasonable. 

It can also give you a consistent stream of revenue throughout the year instead of certain times, such as when you do individual appeals and (virtual) events and when grants come in.

Monthly gifts are smaller, but you can raise a lot of money with lots of small gifts. Political candidates do it all the time. Also, monthly gifts aren’t as small as you think. The average is over $20 a month.

It can also be a more feasible way to get larger gifts. A gift of $100 a month may be more appealing to a donor than giving a large sum all at once. Even if they start with a smaller donation, monthly donors are more likely to become major donors and legacy donors.

It raises your retention rate, too

The retention rate for monthly donors is an impressive 90%. That’s significantly higher than other retention rates. 

One reason is that monthly gifts are ongoing. But your donors have agreed to that, so this shows they’re committed to your organization. 

These are long-term donors and long-term donors should always be one of your priorities.

How to get started

If you don’t already have a monthly giving program, make this the year you start one. Remember, it will help you raise more money, which is even more important during these uncertain times.

A good way to start is to invite your current donors to become monthly donors. Your best bet for monthly donors are people who’ve given at least twice. These are donors who have shown a commitment to you.

That doesn’t mean you can’t ask first-time donors. This could be a good way to connect with donors from your most recent campaign. And if you haven’t officially welcomed your new year-end donors, do that now. 

10 Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

How To Start A Monthly Giving Program (In 6 Simple Steps)

Make monthly giving the go-to option

Put monthly giving front and center in all your campaigns. It should be an easy option on your donation page. Include it on your pledge form and make it a prominent part of your appeal letter, maybe as a PS.

I can speak from personal experience that once I started giving monthly, that’s the way I wanted to give to all organizations. Your donors would probably agree.

A handful of organizations don’t offer a monthly giving option, which is a mistake. Some have a minimum donation, which I would also not recommend, if possible. If you do have a minimum, make it $5 a month instead of $10. 

If your reason to have a minimum donation amount is to save money on expenses, is that happening if your minimum deters someone from giving at all? You often have to invest a little to raise more money.

Make your monthly donors feel special

You need to do a good job of thanking your monthly donors. Go the extra mile and segment your monthly donors into new monthly donors, current monthly donors, and current donors who become monthly donors.

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

This way you can personalize their thank you letters to make them feel special. Be sure to mail a thank you letter, or even better, send a handwritten note. An email acknowledgment is not enough.

Many organizations send a monthly acknowledgment email or letter, and most are just okay. Some are basically only receipts, and as I mentioned in a recent post, your thank yous need to be more than a receipt. Yes, it’s helpful to know the organization received your donation, but you’re not practicing good donor stewardship if that’s all you do.

You could spruce up these monthly acknowledgments, both by making them sound like they were written by a human and not a robot, and by providing some engaging updates.

One thing you should do is send your donors an annual summary of their monthly gifts. This is extremely helpful for people who itemize deductions. Make this letter more than just a receipt and use this opportunity to connect with your donors. Pour on the gratitude and let them know how their monthly donations are helping you make a difference.

Best Practices For Recognizing, Thanking And Retaining Monthly Donors

Thanking and Retaining Your Monthly Donors

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

Reach out at least once a month

Your monthly donors made a commitment to you by giving every month. Make the same commitment to them by reaching out at least once a month.

You could create a special newsletter for monthly donors or include a cover letter referencing monthly donors. If that’s too much, you could give a shout out to your monthly donors and include information on how to become a monthly donor in your newsletter.

A thank you video is always welcome. Consider personalizing it, if you can. Think about offering a video tour or Zoom discussions for monthly donors.

You could include a list of your monthly donors in a newsletter, annual report, or on your website. Donor lists are just one of many ways to show appreciation and not the only one, so do much more than just that. Of course, honor any donor’s wish to remain anonymous.

Thank yous, newsletters, and updates are not a one-time time deal. Keep it up throughout the year. Many nonprofits start out communicating regularly with their monthly donors and then disappear after a couple of months. You need to stay in touch with your donors right now.

Create a special section in your communications calendar specifically for monthly donors to help you with this.

Go all out for your monthly donors

I highly recommend a contact person for your monthly donors in case they need to update their credit card information or make a change to their gift, hopefully an upgrade. Include this information in their welcome letter or email. If you send a monthly acknowledgment email, be sure to include a link where your donor can make changes.

Another way to help out your monthly donors is to let them know when their credit cards are about to expire. Don’t rely on your donors to remember this, because most likely they won’t, especially now. You also don’t want to miss out on any revenue. Remember, small donations add up.

Set up a system where you can flag credit cards that will expire in the next month or two. Then send these donors a friendly reminder email/letter or give them a call. 

You could encourage donors to give via an electronic funds transfer from their bank account instead. Then neither you nor your donors need to worry about expiring credit cards.

Once a monthly donor, always a monthly donor

Once someone becomes a monthly donor, you must always recognize them as such. You most certainly should send fundraising appeals to monthly donors, but not the same ones you send to other donors.

I think the best way to raise additional money from monthly donors is to ask them to upgrade their monthly gift. Be as specific as possible. For example – We’re so happy you’re part of our family of monthly donors and are grateful for your gift of $5.00 a month. We’re serving triple the number of people at the community food bank right now. At the same time, we’re not getting as many people to come in and volunteer. Could you help us out a little more with a gift of $7.00 or even $10.00 a month?

You can also ask monthly donors for an additional gift during one of your fundraising campaigns, but you MUST recognize they’re monthly donors – We really appreciate your gift of $10 a month. Could you help us out a little more right now with an additional gift? We need to keep running our tutoring program virtually for the time being and we want to continue serving as many students as we can.

If you send the usual generic appeal, imagine your donor saying – “I already give you $10 a month and you don’t seem to know that.”

But if you let those committed monthly donors know you think they’re special, they’ll be more likely to upgrade or give an additional gift. Many monthly donors have stepped up and given additional donations during the pandemic. That’s what you want. And, if they do give an additional donation, be sure to send thank them for that. Here’s the opening from a great thank you card I just received – “How generous of you to make a gift that goes above and beyond your monthly donations.

Don’t miss out on this proven way to raise more money, boost donor retention rates, and provide an easier giving option for your donors. 

More on monthly giving.

Nonprofit Monthly Giving Programs Don’t Market Themselves

The Ultimate Guide to Monthly Giving Programs (+ Examples)

5 Benefits of Recurring Giving Programs for Nonprofits