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.


  • 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


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


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.


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

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on Direct Mail


You may think direct mail is a relic of the past or you don’t use it much because it’s too expensive.  But beware. Direct mail is still a viable way to communicate with your donors.

Listen to your donors

Some donors prefer to hear from you by mail. How do you know?  You ask them.

The more you know about your donors, the more effective your communication will be. It’s good to know the age range of your donors.  Most donors are over 45 and won’t think direct mail is a relic from the past. They might respond better to it. Most people do, even millennials. Direct mail: dead, or immortal?

The best way to communicate is to use a variety of channels, but make sure your donors are using them, too.  Aim to communicate by mail at least four times a year.

You should continue to mail the following:

Fundraising letters

Fundraising letters are still effective and your fundraising campaign will work better if you use a multi-channel approach.  Many people are prompted by the direct mail letter and then donate online.  That’s what I usually do.

Direct Mail or E-Mail: What’s Best for Fundraising?

Direct Mail Is Still the King of Fundraising Communication, But…

Thank you card or letter 

Even if someone donates online, they should get a thank you note in the mail (and within a few days, as well).

Think of how little postal mail we get these days, compared to email, and how much of it’s junk.  Make your donor’s day with a heartfelt, personal thank you note.

You can also send a note of gratitude at Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, or any time of the year.


I know print newsletters are expensive, but not sending one could be a mistake. Your donors are more likely to read a print newsletter.

Ideally, you should send four quarterly print newsletters a year and a monthly e-newsletter. If four is too costly, send one or two.

Think about putting a donation envelope in your print newsletter.  It’s a proven way to earn extra revenue.  If you do this, be sure to communicate in other ways in which you’re not asking for money.

If you’re really strapped, send a year-end appeal letter and a newsletter with a donation envelope in the spring.

Making Money With Donor Newsletters

Event invitations

If you hold fundraising or appreciation events, be sure to send a printed invitation.  Your higher dollar, older donors might respond better to a nice print invitation with a reply card.

Annual reports and updates

I’m not talking about one of those behemoth 20 page annual reports.  You’re better off with something shorter – a four-page report or even better, an oversized postcard.

You also don’t need to mail an annual report to all your donors, but you should share accomplishments with them.

Create different types of annual reports for different donors – four page reports for grant and corporate funders and postcards for individual donors.  You can also create an electronic version of your annual report.

Direct mail works

Even if your donors are active on email and social media, they’re flooded with messages and may not see yours.  Throw a few direct mail messages into the mix.

Don’t give up on direct mail. #fundchat recently hosted a lively discussion about direct mail. Here’s the transcript. #fundchat – Direct Mail Is Dead! Long Live Direct Mail!

In my next post, I’ll write about how you can print and mail without breaking your budget.

Photo by Abbey Hendrickson

What Makes a Great Donor Newsletter?


Most nonprofit organizations produce a newsletter, and many are one big snoozefest. They’re too long and filled with articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

Newsletters 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.

I recommend a short e-newsletter once or twice a month and one to four print newsletters a year.  If you’re getting stressed out about coming up with content for your newsletters, then a communications calendar is your new best friend. Stay Connected Throughout the Year by Using a Communications Calendar

It’s possible to create a great donor newsletter. Here’s how.

Give your donors what THEY want

You may opt not to do a print newsletter because it’s too 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. 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.  In my last post, I wrote about channeling your inner four-year-old and asking why. Why are you including an article about your CEO receiving an award?  Do your donors care about that?  Probably not. They care about 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 help you make a difference.

Create a story bank that includes at least three client success stories.

Write to the donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we.  Be personal and conversational.  Say You helped give the Saunders family a new home or Because of donors like you, we were able to find housing for X number of families.

Don’t use jargon or 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 executive director, because those tend to be organization-centered instead of donor-centered.  

Show gratitude

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.

Keep it short

Your print newsletter should be no more than four pages.  Limit your monthly e-newsetter 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.

It’s possible to create a great newsletter, if you put in the time and effort.

Read on for more information about donor newsletters.

The Domain Formula for donor newsletters

Should you include a reply envelope in your fundraising newsletter?

10 Surprisingly Easy and Startlingly Effective Ways to Improve Your Nonprofit E-Newsletter

Photo by Sarah Reid