Don’t Be a Stranger

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I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard much lately from the nonprofits I support. There’s been a scattering of updates, e-newsletters, action alerts, and appeals. But mostly – silence.

I know it’s quieter time, but that doesn’t mean you need to go AWOL. You should be communicating with your donors at least once a month. In fact, the period between campaigns is an excellent time to reach out. You don’t want to be a stranger. And, since many nonprofits seem to have decided to take a break from donor communication (not a wise decision), your message will be one of the few they’ll receive.

Here are some ways to show your donors that you’re not a stranger.

Share an update

Let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference. Send something by mail if you can. Maybe a two-page update or infographic postcard. Here’s one of my favorites. Knock it Out of the Park  If it’s impossible to send something by mail right now, you can use email.

Say thank you

Thank your donors just because. Send them a nice thank you card or you can combine a thank you and an update. Have some fun and get creative here. 15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors

Create a better newsletter

You may already keep in touch with your newsletter. Newsletters can be a great way to engage, but before you get too complacent, I have to ask you, Is Your Newsletter Boring? Many of them are, but yours doesn’t have to be.

A good summer project for you is to create a better newsletter. Find some engaging stories to share. Think about what your donors want – Hint – It’s not a lot of bragging. 3 Ways Your Nonprofit Newsletter is Killing You

The general rule for newsletters is a monthly e-newsletter and four quarterly print newsletters. I like to recommend a short (maybe two articles) e-newsletter every two weeks. Our inboxes are overflowing right now. This way you can stay in touch regularly and not bombard people with too much information at once.

Tie in current events

There’s a lot going in the world right now. Will your organization be affected by any of the Trump administration’s policies or proposed budget cuts? Share ways your donors can help – perhaps by contacting their legislators, volunteering, or making a donation.

Focus on relationship building in your appeal

If you’re doing a fundraising appeal this spring, make the main focus relationship building. Thank donors for their past support, share some updates, and show them how their gift will help you make a difference.

Invite long-term donors to join your family of monthly donors. Send a special letter to your lapsed donors letting them know you miss them and want them back.

If you also did a year-end appeal, some of your donors may be reluctant to give again so soon. You certainly can ask for more than one gift a year, but why now?  Don’t just ask for a donation. Make a compelling case and stay focused on relationship building.

Don’t lose momentum

After I made a bunch of monthly gifts last year, several organizations sent me monthly thank you letters either by mail or email. This went on for a couple of months and then it pretty much stopped. Last month I only received two thank you letters. What happened here?

It’s easy to ride on all that year-end energy, but you have to keep it up. Whether it’s thank you letters to monthly donors or e-newsletters, once you start, you can’t stop. What kind of message does that send?  Use a communications calendar to help you communicate regularly.

Your donors want to hear from you throughout the year. Don’t be a stranger.

 

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Is Your Newsletter Boring?

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There’s a good chance the answer to this question is yes. Many nonprofit organizations use a newsletter as a way to engage their donors, but the opposite is happening. That’s because most donor newsletters can be used as a cure for insomnia. They’re too long and filled with articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

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

Think about what your donors want

You may opt not to do a print newsletter because it’s expensive and takes too much time, but you’re making a mistake if many of your donors prefer print.

I think you’ll have more success if you can do both print and electronic newsletters. I recommend a short e-newsletter once or twice a month and one to four print newsletters a year. But ask your donors what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer one over the other, then doing both may not make sense.

You also want to include content that will interest your donors. Do you think they would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about Jacob acing his math test after his weekly tutoring sessions? The answer should be obvious.

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

Share stories

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

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

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped Jacob improve his math skills or Because of donors like you, X number of students are now reading at their grade level or above.

Ditch the jargon and other language your donors won’t understand. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.

I’m not a fan of the letter from the CEO because those tend to be organization-centered instead of donor-centered.  

Say thank you

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. Every one of your newsletters needs to show gratitude and emphasize how much you appreciate your donors.

Make it easy to read (and scan)

Most of your donors aren’t going to read your newsletter word for word, especially your e-newsletter. Include enticing headlines and email subject lines, at least a 12-point font, and lots of white space so your donors can easily scan your newsletter.

Stick to black type on a white background as much as possible. Colors are pretty, but not if it’s hindering your donor’s ability to read your newsletter. Photos can be a great way to add color, as well as tell a story in an instant.

Use the inverted pyramid and put the most important story first, keeping in mind your donors may not get to all the articles.

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

Short and sweet

Your print newsletter should be no more than four pages. Limit your monthly e-newsletter to four articles. Some organizations send an e-newsletter twice a month. Those should be even shorter – two or three articles.

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

Send it to the right audience

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

Send e-newsletters only to people who have signed up for it. They may or may not be donors, but an e-newsletter can also be a good cultivation tool.

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

Read on for more information about donor newsletters.

Shhh! Secret Formula for Donor Newsletters That Delight

3 Pitfalls of Nonprofit Newsletters and How to Avoid Them

HOW TO CREATE A BETTER NON-PROFIT NEWSLETTER

How to Format Your Nonprofit Newsletter

Photo by Dwight Sipler

 

A Gift For Your Donors

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A few weeks ago Kivi Leroux Miller gave a webinar for Bloomerang  – 5 Steps To A Great Nonprofit Email Newsletter  I encourage you to watch the video. It’s filled with pearls of wisdom and well worth an hour of your time.

One piece of advice that stood out for me was to think of your newsletter as a gift for your donors. They should look forward to receiving it.

That’s not usually the case, is it? Email and even direct mail can be an intrusion in our busy lives. Most nonprofit newsletters and other communication are boring, generic, and don’t seem like a gift at all.

You can change that. Here’s how you can make your newsletter and other donor communication a gift for your donors.

What makes a good gift giver?

In the webinar, Kivi asks the participants to chime in about the good and bad gift givers in their lives. I invite you to do this exercise with your marketing and fundraising staff or by yourself. Think of who gives you great gifts and why you like them so much and who misses the mark and why?

A good gift giver knows what the recipient likes and gives her something personal that shows she cares.

A bad gift giver might give something generic and doesn’t put a lot of thought into it. She thinks more about what she would like.

You want to be a good gift giver when it comes to donor communication.

Give yourself enough time

Think about when you’re in a rush and need to get a birthday or holiday gift right away. You’re going to buy whatever you can find, as opposed to taking the time to think about what the person would want.

Plan ahead and think through what you want to send to your donors. A communications calendar will help you with that.

What do I do with this?

Have you ever received a gift and you don’t know what to do with it? This is how your donors feel when they receive your boring 20-page annual report. It’s way too long and filled with mind-numbing facts and statistics. Chances are it’s going straight in the recycling bin.

Instead, impress your donors with a four-page gratitude report that’s filled with thanks to the donor for helping you make a difference.

What do your donors want?

My family gives each other wish lists at Christmas time. Put a short poll in your e-newsletter asking readers which article they liked best. Ask them what issues are important to them. Find out which channels your donors prefer. It may be more than one  

Listen to your donors and give them what they want.

Create pretty a package that your donors will want to open

The look of your communication is just as important as what’s inside. Your messages should be easy to read and scan. Use short paragraphs and lots of white space. Capture your donor’s attention right away with a great photo.

Your email subject line needs to sing. Find out how you helped Jane learn to read is going to be much more inviting than April 2016 Newsletter. I often scan through my email and only open things that look enticing.

Even though people don’t get as much direct mail, make yours stand out. Put your quarterly newsletter in an envelope and hand address your thank you notes if you can.

Attraction not interruption

Do you think you can create communication your donors will look forward to receiving? The key is to attract them by giving them what they want.

Photo by Liz West

 

Is Your Newsletter Putting Your Donors to Sleep?

7851198430_6a302f4e5f_mNewsletters can and should be a great way to stay in touch with your donors and keep them updated on how they are helping you make a difference. Unfortunately, most donor newsletters can be used as a cure for insomnia. They’re too long and filled with articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

If you’re going to put the time and effort into creating a newsletter, make sure it’s something your donors will want to read.

Here’s what you need to do.

Think about what your donors want

You may opt not to do a print newsletter because it’s expensive and takes too much time, but you’re making a mistake if many of your donors prefer print.

I think you’ll have more success if you can do both print and electronic newsletters. I recommend a short e-newsletter once or twice a month and one to four print newsletters a year. But ask your donors what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer one over the other, then doing both may not make sense.

You also want to share content that will interest your donors. Do you think your donors would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about Sammy acing his math test after his weekly tutoring sessions? The answer should be obvious.

Remember, your donors want to hear how they are helping you make a difference.

Share stories

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

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

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped Sammy improve his math skills or Because of donors like you, X number of students are now reading at their grade level or above.

Ditch the jargon and other language your donors won’t understand. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.

I’m not a fan of the letter from the CEO because those tend to be organization-centered instead of donor-centered.  

Say thank you

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. Every one of your newsletters needs to show gratitude and emphasize how much you appreciate your donors.

Make it easy to read (and scan)

Most of your donors aren’t going to read your newsletter word for word, especially your e-newsletter. Include enticing headlines, at least a 12-point font, and lots of white space so your donors can easily scan your newsletter.

Use the inverted pyramid and put the most important story first, keeping in mind your donors may not get to all the articles.

Also, make sure your donors can read your e-newsletter on a mobile device.

Short and sweet

Your print newsletter should be no more than four pages. Limit your monthly e-newsletter to four articles. Some organizations send an e-newsletter twice a month. Those should be even shorter – two or three articles.

You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent e-mail updates.

Send it to the right audience

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

Send e-newsletters ONLY to people who have signed up for it. They may or may not be donors, but an e-newsletter can also be a good cultivation tool.

Don’t create a newsletter that will put your donors to sleep. Create one they’ll want to read.

If you’re getting stressed out about coming up with content for your newsletters, help is on the way if you use a communications calendar.

Read on for more information about donor newsletters.

The Domain Formula for donor newsletters

5 Steps to Newsletters that Keep Donors Close

The Best Tips for Amazing Non-Profit Newsletters (Non-Profit Blog Carnival)

5 NON-PROFIT NEWSLETTERS TO LEARN FROM

 

 

 

Is Your Organization Donor-Centered? Find Out by Taking This Quiz

8081866941_f7a44403cc_zWhat does it mean to be donor-centered?  It means focusing on your donors’ needs and interests and taking into account that not all donors are the same.

A lot of donor communication is not donor-centered. How do you know if yours is? Take this short quiz to find out.

Fundraising Appeals

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

Thank you letters

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

Newsletters

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

Always think of your donors first.

Use these quiz questions on other donor communication such as annual reports, your website, and social media posts.

How did you do?

Be sure every message you send to your donors focuses on them and makes them feel special.  Staying donor-centered can help you build relationships and keep your retention rate up.

Read on for more information on how to be donor-centered and wallpaper your office with this donor-centered pledge. Take the Donor-Centered Pledge

How to Raise More Money with Nonprofit Donor-Centered Fundraising

A sample donor-centered communication

Photo by woodleywonderworks

 

Connection Not Interruption

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I’m a big fan of marketing guru Seth Godin. His blog is filled with pearls of wisdom. I highly recommend subscribing to it for his daily gems. One that caught my attention recently is “connection not interruption.”

When you’re communicating with donors here’s how to ensure you’re connecting and not interrupting.

Be donor-centered

Some people may think of fundraising appeals as an interruption, but you can connect with your donors in an appeal if you focus on them. Thank your donors for their past support, show them how their gift will make a difference for the people you serve, and let them know you couldn’t do what you do without them.

Connect because you want to, not because you have to

Just because you have a monthly e-newsletter, doesn’t mean you’re connecting with donors, especially if it’s filled with boring articles about how wonderful your organization is. Don’t get caught in a situation where the beginning of the month is coming up and you quickly cobble something together just to get your newsletter out. Because if you do, it will show.

Having a communication calendar to help you plan is great, but you also need content that connects. Stay Connected Throughout the Year by Using a Communications Calendar 

Be a welcome visitor

People receive so much useless information, especially by email and social media.  Even our direct mail is mostly junk mail. Share information your donors will be interested in, such as stories that show them how they’re helping you make a difference.

Donors don’t have much time to slog through a bunch of long-winded text. Share short, easy to read messages. Even better, connect in an instant with a great photo or image.

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend and don’t confuse donors with terms like food system problems.

Use inviting subject lines such as Learn how you helped Janet find her own home. Make your direct mail piece look inviting by hand addressing the envelope or putting a teaser on the envelope like the one above.

How much is too much

Most likely you aren’t communicating enough. I recommend direct mail (not just fundraising appeals) at least four times a year, monthly e-newsletters, weekly short email updates, and social media at least once a day. But that may not work for your organization.

Another one of my favorite Seth Godin quotes – “Is more always better? Sometimes, only better is better.”

If it’s impossible to send email every week, send it every other week, but make it shine.

Get donors involved

Include a short survey or poll in your e-newsletter asking donors to vote on their favorite article or choose their favorite picture for a campaign or your website. I know of an organization that asks supporters to vote on their favorite holiday card designs.

Make it easy and fun – nothing time consuming. There are lots of different ways to connect besides updates.  If you asked donors to contact their legislators, thank them for getting involved and let them know the results. Invite people to be part of a conversation on social media.

5 Super Solid Ways To Engage Your Supporters Online (PLUS 28 Affordable Tools to Help You Do It)

Are you really connecting

Don’t just send stuff – make sure you’re really connecting.  Check your email click through rates and social media stats.  If you’re not getting much of a response, find out why. Maybe the surveys aren’t such a great idea.  Maybe your donors don’t spend a lot of time on Twitter.

Figure out how you can connect with your donors, and not just interrupt.

Photo by Wes Peck

How You Can Print and Mail Without Breaking Your Budget

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In my last post I wrote about Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on Direct Mail Some nonprofit organizations try to save money by cutting back on printing and mailing, but that could be a mistake if your donors prefer to hear from you by mail.

Printing and mailing also takes more time, which is challenging, especially if you have a small staff.

What can you do?  Here are some suggestions.

Be smart

First, figure out what you should print and mail.  I recommend mailing at least four pieces a year.  Otherwise you’ll miss reaching donors who don’t or rarely use electronic channels.

In addition, be smart about what you send and who you send it to. If your fundraising letter isn’t generating the revenue you want, you might need to improve the content. You may also be sending it to a weak audience.

Clean up your lists before your next mailing,  Check for duplicate and returned addresses.  Segment your lists, too.  For example, only send your print newsletter to donors or take out lapsed donors and send them a targeted appeal.

Here’s an extreme example of a direct mail fail. Comcast Direct Mail Fail

Increase your printing and mailing budget

Can you budget more for printing and mailing?  This is often not as much of a priority as it should be.

If you can’t increase your current budget, find additional sources of unrestricted funding to cover these costs.

DIY

With a good color printer and the right software, you can produce materials in house. Be sure they look professional.

Find a sponsor

You could get a print shop to do your invitations or annual report pro bono.  It’s good publicity for them.

You often get sponsors for an event. Have a sponsor cover the cost of the invitations, as well.

Put a donation envelope in your print newsletter

You might recoup the cost of the mailing, as well as raise additional revenue.  Here’s what fundraising expert Tom Ahern recommends for your print newsletter. The Domain Formula for donor newsletters

Less is more

Your donors are busy and won’t have time to read long pieces. Shorter is better, both to capture your donor’s attention and to save on printing and mailing costs.  Stick to four pages max.

Use discounted mailing options

You may be eligible for special nonprofit rates. Special Prices for Nonprofit Mailers You could use standard or bulk mail for items that aren’t as time sensitive, such as newsletters or annual reports. Factor in how long it will take to mail, so your summer newsletter doesn’t arrive in October.  Only use first class mail for appeal letters and thank you letters.

Recruit volunteers and other staff to help with mailings

Just make sure they do quality work and don’t slap on crooked mailing labels or write illegible thank you notes.

It’s possible to print and mail without breaking your budget.  It does take some planning and prioritizing, but it should pay off if it allows you to connect with more donors.

Photo by Chris Potter at www.stockmonkeys.com