It’s Time to Start Planning for Your Year-End Appeal

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August is here. People are already starting to talk about fall and back to school sales are underway, like it or not.

Even though you may still be in summer mode, September will be here in a flash. Fall is a busy time, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal.

Many nonprofits rely on their year-end appeal for a good portion of their revenue. Get a jump start on your appeal and start planning it now. Use this checklist to help you get started. Of course, you can use this for fundraising campaigns at any time of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal in your 2017 fundraising plan (at least I hope you did) and perhaps you need to revise that goal. If you haven’t set a goal, determine how much money you need to raise before you start your campaign.

Do you have a plan?

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

When do you want to send your appeal? At the beginning of November? Figure out what you need to get done and how long it will take. Keep in mind things usually take longer than you think. If you want to send your appeal at the beginning of November, make your goal the end of October.

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

An Annual Appeal Fundraising Timeline You Can Use

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

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

Connect With Your Donors by Telling Stories

Get Noticed in an Instant with a Visual Story

How did your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should highlight some of the year’s accomplishments and state what you plan to do next year. For example, let’s say you run a tutoring program. Let your donors know that thanks to them, 80% of the students in your program are now reading at or above their grade level. Next year you’d like to expand to four more schools.

Focus on the people you serve and show how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

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

Also, segment your lists – current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. A personalized appeal letter will make a huge difference.

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

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

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

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

Is it easy to donate online?

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

8 Best Practices for Building an Online Donation Page

The Top 10 Most Effective Donation Form Optimizations You Can Make

While you are at it, check your website for out-of-date information and broken links.

Is Your Nonprofit Website in Good Shape?

How does a donation help the people you serve?

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

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

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

Boost Your Fundraising Results With a Match From a Major Donor

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

Monthly or recurring giving is another way to get a larger gift. Some people might balk at donating $100 or more, but if you present it as $10 a month ($120 a year!), it sounds more feasible.

How will you thank your donors?

Don’t treat this as an afterthought. Spend as much time on your thank you letter/note as you do on your appeal letter and write them at the same time. You need to thank your donors, and thank them well, as soon as you receive their gifts, so have a thank you letter/note ready to go.

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

Are you showing the love?

Even though you’ll be busy with your appeal, you want to ramp up your donor communication this fall. Keep engaging your donors and other supporters (who may become donors) by sharing success stories and gratitude. Pour on the appreciation and create a thank you video or hold an informal open house.

How are you getting ready for your year-end appeal?

Get Noticed in an Instant with a Visual Story

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We’re bombarded with information by the bucket loads these days. It’s easy for your messages to get lost in the endless sea of stuff.

One great way to connect is by sharing visual stories. Some people respond better to visual stimuli, anyway. Here are a few ways to tell visual stories.

Tell a story in an instant with a photo

Your donors are busy and may not have time read a story, but you can capture their attention in an instant with a great photo. That doesn’t mean a photo of your executive director receiving an award. Use photos of your programs in action.

Print newsletters and annual reports tend to be too long and text-centric. Most of your donors won’t have time read the whole thing. But if you share some engaging photos, your donors can get a quick glance of the impact of their gift without having to slog through a bunch of tedious text.

You may want to try a Postcard Annual Report instead of the usual boring booklet.

If you use social media, you need to communicate several times a week. As your donors scroll through endless amounts of posts on Facebook and Twitter, an engaging photo can pop out and get their attention.

Use photos everywhere – appeal letters, thank you letters/cards, newsletters, annual reports, your website, and social media. Create a photo bank to help you with this. It’s fine to use the same photos in different channels. It can help with your brand identity. Be sure to use high-quality pictures. Hire a professional photographer or find one to work pro bono.

Work with your program staff to get photos. Confidentiality issues may come up and you’ll need to get permission to take pictures of kids. It’s okay to use stock photos. Just be sure to give proper credit.

5 Killer Photography Tips for Nonprofit Brands

5 Image Mistakes Your Nonprofit May Be Making…and How You Can Fix Them!

Highlight your work with a video

Create a video to show your programs in action, share an interview, give a behind the scenes look at your organization, or my favorite – thanking your donors. Make your videos short and high quality. If you’re interviewing someone, be sure that person is good on camera.

You can use videos on your website, in an email message, on social media, and at an event.

11 Nonprofit Videos That Inform and Inspire

How to Make a Fantastic Nonprofit Video

10 Mistakes Nonprofits Make with Video

Make your statistics sing with infographics

A typical annual report is chock full of statistics. You want to share these, as well as your accomplishments, but you know very few donors are going to read a lot of text.

Why not use an infographic instead of the usual laundry list of statistics and accomplishments?  Here are some examples. A Great Nonprofit Annual Report in a Fabulous Infographic

Brochures are becoming a relic of the past, but what if you want an informational print piece to give to potential donors or volunteers?  An oversized infographic postcard could be the way to go.

How to Create an Effective Nonprofit Infographic

5 Infographic Best Practices You Should Follow

10 free tools for creating infographics

Good visuals will enhance both your print and electronic communication. Keep your donors engaged with all types of stories.

Don’t Slow Down Too Much This Summer

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It’s summer, yea! Those of us who live in colder climates relish these few months of warmer weather, a slower pace, and a vacation to someplace fun.

While I hope you get a chance to slow down and take a vacation this summer, that doesn’t mean everything in your organization has to come to a screeching halt. In fact, summer is a great time to tackle a few projects and get ready for a busy fall.

Here are a few things you can take on this summer.

Clean up your mailing lists

If you haven’t touched your database since your year-end appeal, now is a good time to clean up your mailing lists (both mail and email).Take care of those address changes, returned mail, and bounced emails.

Be meticulous. Go through your mailing lists and check for typos and duplicate addresses. Then please, please segment the people in your database by current donors, lapsed donors, volunteers, event attendees, etc.

Don’t pass this off to a volunteer. Have someone who knows your donors take this on. Tedious, yes, but it will pay off if your donor gets a personalized letter with her name spelled right.

The-Ultimate-Guide-to-Nonprofit-Donor-Data-Management

Freshen up your appeal letters and thank you letters

If you’ve been using the same appeal letter and thank you letter templates for awhile, it’s time to stop. Freshen them up with some donor-centered content.  

Gather some engaging stories and photos

You know what else will make your appeal letters and thank you letters shine – engaging stories and photos. Take some time to gather stories and photos this summer. You can also use them in your newsletter, other updates, and on your website.

INFOGRAPHIC: A Nonprofit Storytelling How-To

10 TIPS FOR BETTER NONPROFIT PHOTOS

Create an attitude of gratitude

Make this the year you do a better job of thanking your donors. Handwritten thank you notes will make your donors’ day. One thing you can do is create a thank you photo and use it to make cards. If cost is an issue, see if a print shop will make them for you pro bono.

In addition, think about making a short thank you video. You can put this on your thank you landing page and share it by email and social media.

Update your website

Has it been awhile since you’ve updated your website? People still use the internet as a primary source of information and potential donors could go there to find out more about your organization.

It doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul, but make sure it’s up-to-date and easy to navigate on all devices.

12 Essential Nonprofit Web Design Best Practices

Don’t take a vacation from your communication

Stay in touch with your donors throughout the summer. In fact, send them something special. Maybe the thank you video you made or a postcard update.

Be sure to plan for communication staff vacations, too. Keep those email and social media updates coming.

You may be working at a slower pace this summer, but don’t let things come to a screeching halt. Use this time to make some improvements and get ready for the fall.

 

It’s Time for a Thank You Plan

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Do you think you’re doing a good job of thanking your donors? Think hard about this, because there’s a good chance you’re not. You may have every intention to, but thanking donors often takes a back seat to fundraising when you should spend equal time doing both.

This is why you need a thank you plan. You probably have a fundraising plan and maybe a donor relations plan, but a specific thank you plan is just as important. Donor retention rates continue to be poor and one reason is donors don’t feel appreciated. Creating a thank you plan will help you stay focused on gratitude all year round.  

Here’s what you need to include in your thank you plan.

Plan to make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it often looks more like a boring receipt than something that’s going to make me feel good about making a donation.

Open with Thank you, Lisa! or You’re amazing!  Include an engaging photo and a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help the people you serve. Put all the tax deductible information after your message or in the automatically generated thank you email.

If you use a third-party giving site, you might be able to customize the landing page. If not, follow up with a personal thank you email message within 48 hours.

How to Create Post Donation Thank You Pages That Delight Donors

Plan to write a warm and personal automatic thank you email

Set up an automatic thank you email to go out after someone donates online. This email thank you is more of a reassurance to let your donor know that you received her donation. You still need to thank her by mail or phone (see below).

Just because your thank you email is automatically generated, doesn’t mean it needs to sound like it was written by a robot. Write something warm and personal.

Thanking a Donor by Email: Best Practices and Examples

Plan to thank your donors by mail or phone

I’m a firm believer that every donor, no matter how much he’s given or whether he donated online, gets a thank you card or letter mailed to him or receives a phone call.

Try to thank your donors within 48 hours if you can. This shouldn’t be hard to do if you plan to carve out some time to thank your donors each day you get a donation. If you wait too long, you’re not making a good impression.

Instead of sending a generic, boring thank you letter, mail a handwritten card or call your donors. Calling your donors to thank them is something your board can do. It’s often a welcome surprise and can raise retention rates among first-time donors.

Find board members, staff, and volunteers to make phone calls or write thank you notes. Come up with sample scripts. You may also want to conduct a short training. Make sure to get your team together well before your next fundraising campaign so you’re ready to roll when the donations come in.

Here’s a sample phone script, which you can modify for a thank you note.

Hi, this is Mike Davis and I’m a board member at the Northside Community Food Bank. I’m calling to thank you for your generous donation of $50. Thanks to you, we can provide a family with a week’s worth of groceries. This is great. We’re seeing more people coming in right now because of cuts to food stamp programs. We really appreciate your support.

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal and heartfelt letter. Don’t start your letter with “On behalf of X organization we thank you for your donation of….” Open the letter with “You’re incredible” or “Because of you, Tara won’t go to bed hungry tonight.”

Add a personal handwritten note to the letter, preferably something that pertains to that particular donor. For example, if the donor has given before or attended one of your recent events, mention that. Make sure all letters are hand signed.

Let your donors know how much you appreciate them and highlight what your organization is doing with their donations.

In addition, write your thank you letter at the same time you write your appeal letter. Make sure they’re ready to go as soon as the donations come in.

How to Craft a Killer Thank You Letter

Steal This Thank You Letter! A Sample Donor Thank You Letter for Your Non-Profit

Plan to keep thanking your donors all year round

This is where having a thank you plan makes a difference because organizations usually send some kind of thank you letter after they receive a donation and then donor communication starts to wane after that.

Use your communications calendar to incorporate ways to thank your donors. Try to say thank you at least once a month. Here are some ways to do that.

  • Send cards or email messages at Thanksgiving, during the holidays, Valentine’s Day, or mix it up a little and send a note of gratitude in June or September when your donors won’t be expecting it. Try to send at least one or two gratitude messages a year by mail, since your donors will be more likely to see those.
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude. Be sure to keep thanking your donors in your newsletter and social media updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without your donors’ support.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your thank you landing page, by email, and on social media.
  • Hold an open house at your organization or offer tours so your donors can see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

Creating a thank you plan will make it easier to keep showing appreciation to your donors all year round. If you treat them well, maybe they’ll treat you well the next time you send a fundraising appeal.

Photo via One Way Stock

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.

 

Raising Awareness is Not a Goal

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When you’re putting together your marketing and communications plans, do you include raising awareness as one of your goals? If you do, that’s a problem because raising awareness is not a goal. Raising awareness isn’t necessarily bad. Instead of a goal, think of it as a first step.

Shouting in the wind

Nonprofit consultant Nell Eddington makes this important point “When you attempt to “raise awareness” without a specific and targeted strategy, you are just shouting in the wind.” What Nonprofits Don’t Get About Marketing

Why do you want to raise awareness?

Organizations will say they want people to find out about them or their cause, but why do you want that? Do you want people to donate, volunteer, or contact their legislators? Just knowing about your organization or your cause isn’t enough. You need a call to action.

Raising awareness is not an effective way to fundraise. In this Boston Globe Magazine article We’re all aware of autism; now let’s do something radical by Alysia Abbott, Abbott is trying to make a purchase at a store. While ringing up the sale, the cashier says, “April is Autism Awareness Month. Would you like to make a donation to Autism Speaks?” Not a compelling fundraising pitch. Besides, Abbott is well aware of autism, since her 8-year old son, who is with her at the store, is autistic. Her main concern is to make her purchase and get her “son out of here before he tears apart your store.”

Taking the next steps

Raising awareness doesn’t mean bombarding people with facts and statistics. I learned a lot from Abbott’s story. She offers suggestions of ways to help families who live with autism, ranging from giving encouragement to parents with autistic children to making a donation to an organization that provides service dogs for autistic children and volunteering to become autism buddy.

This what you need to do. Tell a story that will encourage people to take action.

The perils of an awareness month

In this Fundraising is Beautiful podcast The upsides and downsides of holiday-based fundraising, Jeff Brooks and Steven Screen also make the argument that awareness days/months don’t mean that much to donors. The same goes for most holidays, your organization’s anniversary, and that’s it’s your annual appeal.

Donors want you to show them how they can help you make a difference and you don’t need an awareness month to do that.

More doesn’t equal better

It’s tempting to say we want more people to find out about us, but not everyone will be interested in what you do. Your Audience Isn’t Everyone  Press coverage may not help you as much as you’d like. Reach out to people you know will be interested.

Awareness + Call to Action

Don’t get caught in the raising awareness trap. If there’s an awareness month related to your cause, yes, you can acknowledge that, but follow it up with a clear call to action.

 

I Know You’re Busy, But…..

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Having too much to do is the norm at most nonprofits, especially small ones. You may be busy, but what are you saying you don’t have time to do? Are you spending too much time on what’s urgent and not what’s important?

It’s possible to stay on top of things, even if you feel you’re so busy you want to set fire to the paperwork on your desk. One big key is planning.  

Here are a few areas that nonprofits need to make a priority and how you can do that.

Thanking your donors

Many organizations do a poor job of thanking their donors. When you’re working on a fundraising appeal or an event, spend just as much time figuring out how you’ll thank your donors. Sending a handwritten note or making a phone call will make a better impression on your donors than the usual boring, generic thank you letter.

Find board members, staff, and volunteers to help. Recruit them ahead of time so you’re ready to go after an appeal or event. It doesn’t take that much time to write a short note or make a phone call, but it makes a huge difference. Get your team together for a thank-a-thon.

Also, spend some time creating an engaging thank you landing page and thank you email message. But wait, you’re not off the hook. You need to keep thanking your donors throughout the year – at least once a month.  Say Thank You Like You Mean It

Staying in touch with your donors

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference, and you need to be in touch with them at least once or twice a month.

A newsletter can be a great way to stay in touch. Setting up a template and using an email service provider can save time and will provide consistency. Perhaps each issue will include a story/profile and some updates. You can plan these ahead of time. Create a story bank and fill it throughout the year.

Make a donor communications plan that could include your newsletter, updates (by mail, email, and social media), thank yous (see above), advocacy alerts, and surveys. A communications calendar will help you with this.

Managing your donor data

Don’t wait until a week before you send an appeal to update your database. Take care of address changes, bounced emails, etc. regularly.

I know it’s tedious, but this is important. Your donors won’t be happy if you misspell their names or send them three pieces of mail because you haven’t bothered to check for duplicate addresses. Managing Your Donor Data: 6 Actionable Tips

Measuring your progress

Make time at least once a quarter to see how you’re doing. Are you meeting your fundraising goals?  Is your spring event worth doing?  Are people reading your e-newsletter?

If something isn’t going well, figure out how you can make improvements or don’t spend your valuable time doing it anymore.

Here’s a sample dashboard you can use to help you measure your progress and figure out if what you’re doing is working. Library of Sample Dashboard Indicators

What’s keeping you busy?

What’s keeping you from taking on these important tasks? Do you really need another meeting?  If so, could you make it shorter?  

Doing a few things well is much better than trying to do too much. When Things Don’t Go As Planned Make time to do what’s important.