Time for a Little Nonprofit Spring Cleaning 

It’s spring here in the Northern Hemisphere, although depending on where you live, it may or may not feel like it. 

A lot of people use this time of the year to do some spring cleaning. I know, groan. I envy the people who have taken on a bunch of cleaning and decluttering projects since the pandemic started. I’m not one of them. 

I know I should do more. As much as I dislike cleaning and organizing, I’m happy once it gets done. Often getting started is the hardest part.

Your nonprofit organization may have put off some version of your own spring cleaning and decluttering. It’s been a tumultuous two years and counting.

Take some time to tackle these so-called cumbersome tasks. Just think how happy you’ll be when you’re done. You’ll also make some much-needed improvements to your infrastructure and donor communication.

Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.

Clean up your mailing lists and database/CRM

Has it been a while since you’ve updated your mailing lists? Did you have an influx of address changes, returned mail, and bounced emails after you sent your year-end appeal? This is a good time to clean up and update both your direct mail and email mailing lists.

Don’t wait until right before your next mailing to clean up your donor data. If it’s been a while since you’ve done this, then you really need to do what is known as data hygiene.

Even though it’s tedious, have someone who’s familiar with your donors (your development director?) go through your mailing lists and database/CRM (customer relationship management) to see if you need to make any additions, changes, and deletions.

Be meticulous. No donor wants to see her name misspelled, be addressed as Mrs. when she prefers Ms., or receive three mailings because you have duplicate records.

Your donor database is an important tool and it needs to be up-to-date and filled with accurate information about your donors.

CLEAN UP YOUR ACT: DONOR DATA MANAGEMENT FOR NONPROFITS

Donor Database Best Practices To Care For Your Data Like You Care For Your Donors

Run your donor list through the National Change of Address database. It may cost some money to do this, but it’s worth it if you come out with squeaky clean data. Do this at least once a year.

Also, if you haven’t already done this, segment your donors into different groups – new donors, returning donors, monthly donors, etc. You may need to make some changes. For example, if a single gift donor starts giving monthly.

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

You might also want to move some lapsed donors who haven’t donated for several years into an inactive file. Don’t do this until you’ve sent targeted, personalized appeals asking them to donate again. And if you’ve never gotten in touch with any lapsed donors from 2021, you could reach out to them now.

Do the same thing with your email list. It doesn’t make sense to send email to people who don’t respond to it. Give these people a chance to re-engage, and if they’re not even opening your emails, move them to an inactive file. Don’t worry if people unsubscribe. You’re better off with an email list of engaged subscribers.

What’s in My Inbox | The Benefits of Cleaning Your Email List

Maybe you need a better CRM/database. If you’re using a spreadsheet to store your donor records, then you need an actual database. Get the best one you can afford.

Choosing a Donor Database: The Ultimate Guide for Nonprofits

Spring is about bringing in the new and a better database would be a wise investment. It can help you raise more money. You can also save money by having clean mailing lists.

Freshen up your messages

Now that you’ve cleaned up your mailing lists and segmented your donors, it’s time to freshen up your messages, if you haven’t done that for a while. I’ve written about this in a couple of recent posts, emphasizing that your donor communication needs to reference the current situations and steer clear of generic language and jargon. If you’re still using templates from before March 2020, you need a refresh.

Your thank you letters need to actually thank your donors, not brag about your organization. Make sure your automatically generated thank you emails and landing pages don’t look like boring receipts. Create separate templates for new donors, current donors, and monthly donors.

Why You Need a Thank You Plan

Let go of what you don’t need

The pandemic forced many organizations to rethink the way they did certain things. You may have held an in-person event for years, but in the spring of 2020 had to switch to virtual or run an emergency campaign. Maybe this worked better for you.

In-person events take a lot of staff time and don’t always bring in that much money. It’s also not clear they’re safe to put on right now. Just like those old clothes taking up room in your closet or a file cabinet stuffed with years of paperwork, it may be time to let go of this event (or anything else that doesn’t serve you) and find a different way to raise money.

Think better rather than new

In uncertain times, it’s better to focus on what’s going to work for your nonprofit instead jumping onto the latest craze. Focus on what you can do better. Instead of going on TikTok, think about growing your monthly giving program and building relationships with your donors. These are proven ways to help you raise more money.

Don’t wait too long

I know you have a lot going on, but you need to take on these initiatives sooner rather than later. Just like the clutter and dust in your home won’t disappear on their own, the longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. 

Get started on these spring cleaning projects as soon as you can. You’ll be happy once they’re done. Your donors will also be happy if they don’t get duplicate mailings and a fundraising letter laced with jargon, but do receive a personalized appeal and a stellar thank you letter.

Image by Marco Verch

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!

Fundraising in Inflation and Under Threat of Nuclear War. 7 Survival Tips for 2022

Don’t Be Tone Deaf on Ukraine

Spring Forward to Better Donor Retention

Donor retention is a perennial problem for nonprofit organizations. Many organizations spend all this time and energy on acquiring donors, concentrating more on volume and don’t seem to be concerned that they’re churning through different donors year after year.

You should be keeping track of your retention rate. If you’re losing donors, it could be because you’re either not communicating enough or communicating poorly. Fortunately, this is something you can fix, but donors don’t magically donate, or more important, keep donating to your organization.

You need good donor relations

One of the most important components of fundraising is building relationships with your donors.

Donor relations should be easier than raising money, and it can be fun, too. Make it a priority, as well as something you do throughout the year.

But it will take more than leprechauns granting wishes. If you want to keep reaching for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, you’ll need to work at it. If you ignore your donors or communicate poorly, they’re unlikely to donate again.

New beginnings

Spring is just around the corner (hopefully) and it’s a time for new beginnings. Maybe you can share a new initiative that you were able to launch with your donors’ help.

Speaking of new beginnings, think about sending something special to your first-time donors. Let them know how much you appreciate this new relationship. If you don’t, it’s likely to be a short-term relationship. 

5 Ways to Improve New Donor Retention

One-and-done fundraising is just March Madness

In college basketball, players are allowed to turn pro after playing one season. This is known as one-and-done. If you watch the NCAA tournament (aka March Madness), it’s likely many of the players won’t be around next year.

Another place you’ll find one-and-done is in nonprofit fundraising. The donor retention rate for first-time donors is around 25%. Obviously, we can do better.

If you can get your first-time donors to give again, it’s much more likely they’ll keep giving. That second donation is known as the golden donation. This is why it’s important to engage with your new donors. But don’t stop there, you also want to acknowledge your longer-term donors and make them feel special.

A consistent stream of donor communication is key

Here in the Boston area where I live, we have the most inconsistent weather. This winter has been no exception. One day it was 65 and two days later we got a foot of snow.

Inconsistent levels of donor communication should have no place in the nonprofit world. You don’t want to barrage donors with appeals and then go silent for a while.

Ideally, you want to reach out somewhere between once a week and once a month. And not just with appeals. You need to thank donors and share updates. This is crucial for good donor retention.

A communications calendar will help. So will sending shorter, more frequent updates.

How will you reach out?

March may be a slower time for you. Maybe you have a fundraising campaign or event planned this spring. If so, you definitely want to engage with your donors first. If you don’t, the in-between times are just important. 

As you’ll notice, I’ve made references to a bunch of March themes – St. Patrick’s Day, daylight saving time, March Madness, spring. But you don’t need a holiday, special occasion, or a theme as a reason to reach out to your donors. Do it just because they’re great and you can’t do your work without them.

Keep reading for more ways you can spring forward to better donor retention.

Donor Retention Strategies: Get Donors to Give Again

7 Donor Retention Tips for Growing Organizations

Two Key Strategies For Donor Retention And Engagement As We Emerge From The Pandemic

How You Can Create a Better Annual Report

What do you think of when you hear the word annual report? If you’re a donor you might think “Oh, it’s that long, boring thing I don’t have time to read.” If you’re a nonprofit professional, you might think “It’s such a pain to put together.”

What do you do? Organizations need to share accomplishments and show gratitude to their donors, but is the annual report the way to do that? It can be if you do it well. 

Unfortunately, many nonprofits fall short with this. Most annual reports are too long, boring, and basically a demonstration of the organization patting itself on the back. There’s often very little appreciation for donors. And yes, it’s time-consuming to put together.

It’s possible to make this a better experience for both donors and nonprofit organizations. Here’s how.

You don’t have to do an annual report

One way to make this a better experience is to not do an annual report at all. This doesn’t let you off the hook for sharing accomplishments with your donors. You could send short progress reports a couple of times a year or monthly e-updates instead. This makes a lot of sense if taking on a big report sounds too overwhelming.

If you decide to do an annual report, I encourage you to move away from the traditional multi-page one. Aim for something no longer than four pages. Bigger isn’t always better.

Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Your annual report is for your donors

Keep your donors in mind when you create your annual report and include information you know will interest them. Also, donors have a lot going on, so that’s another reason not to create a huge report that they may or may not read.

You might want to consider different types of annual reports for different donor groups. You could send an oversized postcard with photos and infographics or a one-to-two-page report to most of your donors. Your grant and corporate funders might want more detail, but not 20 pages. See if you can impress them with no more than four pages.

Make it a gratitude report

Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit. Think of this as a gratitude report. You may want to call it that instead of an annual report. Many donors have stepped up to help during the past two years and deserve to be thanked for that.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. 

What’s in My Mailbox | This Nonprofit Gratitude Report Shines

Why You Should Stop Saying “Annual Report” (And What to Call it Instead)

Address the current situations

We’re still in a pandemic, which I’m sure is affecting your work. We’re also dealing with a precarious economy and the heightened awareness of systemic racism. Your donors will want you to address these situations and focus on how they’re affecting your clients/community. I go into more detail about this below.

How are you making a difference?

The theme of many annual reports is look how great we are. They’re organization-centered instead of being donor-centered and community-centered.

They also include a bunch of statistics, such as the number of clients served. You need to share specific accomplishments that show how you’re making a difference.

Focus on the why and not the what. I know your organization has had to make a lot of changes due to the pandemic, but what’s most important is why you needed to do that.

You can say something like this – Over the past two years, we have seen triple the number of people at the Riverside Community Food Bank. As COVID rates fluctuate, we need to ensure that we can continue to serve people safely. Thanks to donors like you, we are able to meet our demands and provide local residents with boxes of healthy food.

Phrases like Thanks to you and Because of you should dominate your annual report or any type of impact report.

Tell a story

Donors want to hear about the people they’re helping. You can tell a story with words, a photo, or a video. 

For example – Diana, a single mother with three kids, has been trying to make ends meet with periodic work. Ever since the pandemic started it’s been a struggle for her family. She could barely afford groceries, rent, and utilities. Diana had never gone to a food bank before and felt ashamed to have to do that. But when she reached out to the Riverside Community Food Bank, she was treated with respect and dignity. Now she’s able to bring home healthy food for her family.

Make it visual

Your donors have a lot going on and won’t have much time to read your report. Engage them with some great photos, which can tell a story in an instant. Choose photos of people participating in an activity, such as volunteers working at a food bank or a one-to-one tutoring session. Be sure to get permission if you want to use pictures of clients.

Use colorful charts or infographics to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand. Include some quotes and short testimonials to help break up the text.

Be sure your report is easy to read (and scan). Use at least a 12-point font and black type on a white background. A colored background may be pretty, but it makes it hard to read. You can, however, add a splash of color with headings, charts, and infographics.

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend

Beware of using jargon. Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you. Use everyday language such as – Because of you, we found affordable housing for over 100 homeless families. This is even more important as COVID-19 continues to be a part of our lives and living in a shelter or with other families isn’t always safe. Now, these families have a place to call home.

Write in the second person and use a warm, friendly tone. Use you much more than we.

Skip the donor list

Think twice about including a donor list in your annual report. It takes up a lot of space and there are better ways to show appreciation. If you feel you must have a donor list, you could put one on your website or just include major funders. 

Planning is key

I know putting together an annual report can be time-consuming. One way to make it easier is to set aside a time each month to make a list of accomplishments. This way you’re not going crazy at the end of the year trying to come up with a list. You can just turn to the list you’ve been working on throughout the year.

This will help ensure that your 2021 annual report doesn’t go out in the middle of 2022. Ideally, you should send out an annual report by the first quarter of the following year. When nonprofits sent out their 2019 reports after the pandemic started, it seemed irrelevant.

You also want to create a story and photo bank and you can draw from those when you put together your annual report.

Creating a shorter report or an infographic postcard will also help make this easier for you. Remember, you also have the option of not doing an annual report and sending periodic short updates instead.

Whatever you decide, put together an annual report that’s a better experience for everyone. Here is more information about creating a great annual or impact report.

Useful Tips & Resources for Your Nonprofit’s Annual Report

Your Nonprofit Annual Report: 10 Things to Include This Year

Nonprofit Annual Reports: 8 Essential Tips [& Template]

How to Craft a 1-Page Nonprofit Annual Report

How Your Nonprofit Can Ensure Success in the New Year

The New Year is here. Do you wonder what’s ahead for us? The last two years have brought about so much change and uncertainty. Sometimes it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next. 

I’m sure your nonprofit continues to face challenges, but since the pandemic started many organizations were able to confront these challenges and make changes to the way they ran their programs and implemented their fundraising and communications. Some were successful and some weren’t.

If 2021 was not a successful year for your organization, you can work to make 2022 better. 

Here are some ways to ensure a more successful year.

Have a plan in place

You must have fundraising and communications plans. If you haven’t put together these plans yet, do that now! 

You know from recent past experience that you may need to make changes to your plans. In 2020, organizations that were able to make changes to a plan already in place were most successful.

Take a look back at 2021 to see what worked and what didn’t in your fundraising and communications. Incorporate what you’ve learned into your 2022 plans. 

Be sure your fundraising plan includes a diverse stream of revenue. Individual giving has been fairly successful throughout the pandemic. A lot of small donations can add up!

Planning an in-person event right now is tricky. If you rely on event revenue, it might be best to stick with virtual or have a plan to shift to virtual, depending on what’s happening with the virus.

Revisit your fundraising and communications plans regularly and make changes as needed. You may need to do this more often now.

Remember that donor engagement and donor retention should be part of your fundraising plan. Those are key to your success.

[Free Download!] Nonprofit Development Plan | 3 Helpful Tips

How to Prepare a Nonprofit Fundraising Plan

6 Simple Fundraising Plan Tips [With Free Templates!]

Nonprofit Marketing Plan in 8 Steps (+ Free Templates!)

Communications Planning 101: What Every Nonprofit Needs to Know

Pay attention to your donor retention

Many donors have stepped up over the past two years to support nonprofit organizations. You don’t want to lose these valuable donors.

Donor retention should be a priority. You’ll have more success if you work to keep the donors you already have instead of focusing on getting new ones.

First, if you don’t already know it, figure out your retention rate. Do this after every fundraising campaign.

A Guide to Donor Retention

If it’s low, it’s something you can fix, usually with better communication. Donor retention is a huge problem for nonprofits. Your goal should be to have donors who support you for a long time.

It’s easier and less expensive to keep your current donors than to find new ones, so, once again, make donor retention a priority.

That said, you may have some new donors who saw a need and felt a connection to your cause. Don’t let these donors slip away either.

Donor Retention Strategies: Get Donors to Give Again

Ultimate Guide to Donor Retention

Make Time to Welcome Your New Donors

Step up your monthly giving program

Speaking of retention, the retention rate for monthly donors is 90%. These donors are dedicated to your nonprofit. 

Monthly giving makes sense at any time, but it’s been especially crucial over the last two years. Organizations that had monthly giving programs saw a steady stream of revenue throughout the year. Donors who opt for monthly giving find it’s easier on their finances. Dedicated monthly donors have also stepped up and have given additional donations.

Work on starting or growing your monthly giving program so you can have a bunch of highly committed donors. A good way to start is to invite your current donors to become monthly donors.

Monthly donors are also potential major and legacy donors.

Why Monthly Giving Makes Sense

10 Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

Do a better job of communicating with your donors 

Lets’s say goodbye to boring, generic communication. Over the past two years, donors have seen real people with real problems in real time. They turned on the news and saw long lines at food banks. They’ve witnessed a much-needed awareness of systemic racism in our society. 

It makes a difference if you can put things in human terms. Organizations that do this did a better job of connecting with their donors.

Stop using jargon, such as at-risk and underserved. These terms are demeaning to your clients, especially if they’re people of color. Tell more stories and go easy on the statistics. If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell.

Better communication also means more frequent communication. Donors want to hear from you and they want to feel appreciated, too. Better, more frequent communication will help you raise more money. A communications calendar will help you with this. 

Keep relationships front and center

You may think the most important component of fundraising is raising money. While that’s important, so is building relationships with your donors. 

It’s hard to raise money year after year if you don’t build a good relationship with your donors. Every single interaction with your donors needs to focus on building relationships. That includes fundraising appeals. It’s possible to raise money and build relationships at the same time.

Good relationships with your donors will help you with retention.

How to Build Authentic Relationships With Nonprofit Donors

Don’t forget about gratitude

A big part of building relationships is showing gratitude to your donors. Many nonprofits do a poor job with this. 

You need to start by sending a heartfelt thank you immediately after you receive a donation and then find ways to thank your donors throughout the year. Put together a thank you plan to help you with this.

A Donor Resolution for 2022 You Will Want to Keep

Start the New Year off by making fundraising and communications plans, if you haven’t already done so. Prioritize donor retention, donor engagement, and monthly giving. This will help bring you more success in 2022.

Here are a few more ideas on how to plan for the New Year.

6 New Years Resolution Ideas for Nonprofits

Preparing for 2022: What Your Nonprofit Should Know

Photo by Marco Verch

Why Your Nonprofit Needs a Communications Calendar

I always like to emphasize the importance of keeping in touch with your donors throughout the year. I hope you’re making that a priority, too.

Your donors want to hear from you and don’t just want to be blasted with fundraising appeals. The good news is that better donor communication (thank yous and updates) can help you raise more money.

Ideally, you should communicate with your donors at least once or twice a month throughout the year. That might sound impossible, but it will be a whole lot easier if you put together a communications calendar (also known as an editorial calendar).

I like the term communications calendar because it emphasizes the importance of communicating with your donors and other supporters all year round.

Some of you may already have a communications calendar, which is great. Now is a good time to update yours for 2022. For the rest of you, here are some suggestions to help you get started. Even though it will take a little time to put together, it will be worth it in the end because you’ll be able to do a better job of communicating with your donors.

This is not just a job for your marketing department. All departments need to work together. Figure out what information you need to share and when to share it. You want a consistent stream of information – not three emails in one day and nothing for three weeks.

As you put together your communications calendar, think about how you will use different channels and which audience(s) should receive your messages. You may only send direct mail a few times a year (and I hope you do use direct mail), but send an e-newsletter once a month and communicate by social media several times a week. You’ll often use several different channels when you send a fundraising appeal or promote an event.

Start big by looking at the entire year and then break it down by months and weeks. You’ll keep adding to your communications calendar throughout the year.

Your communications calendar is a fluid document and these past 21 months are a good example of how our world is constantly changing. We’re still in a period of uncertainty, so be prepared to keep things current.

Here are some categories you can use in your communications calendar. Some items will be time-sensitive and others won’t be.

Current events/News stories

At the beginning of 2020, most of us couldn’t predict the year we were about to have. There’s still so much going on – the pandemic, economic uncertainty, supply chain issues, systemic racism, climate change. 

Many donors will expect more communication about these circumstances. Keep them apprised of how all this is affecting your clients/community.

Updates

You need to keep your donors updated on how they’re helping you make a difference. Your print and e-newsletter should be included in your communications calendar. If you don’t do a newsletter, make a plan to share updates another way – maybe by postcard, email, and/or social media. Sometimes short updates are more effective.

Share your success and challenges, especially as we continue to navigate through the current climate.

Legislation

Advocacy alerts are a wonderful way to engage with your supporters. Be on the lookout for any federal or state legislation that’s relevant to your organization. Encourage people to contact their legislators about an issue or a bill. Then report back to them with any updates and thank them for getting involved.

Time of year

Is there something going on during a particular month that’s pertinent to your organization? Perhaps it’s homelessness or foster care awareness month.

Thanksgiving, the holidays, and winter can be a difficult time for some people. How can you weave that into an engaging story to share with your supporters? This will be another hard winter for many people.

Keep in mind your organization’s anniversary doesn’t mean much to your donors unless you can tie that in with how they’re helping you make a difference.

Fundraising and recruitment

Be sure to add your fundraising campaigns to your communications calendar. Obviously, these campaigns are important, but you also want to show gratitude and send updates during this time without inundating your donors with too many messages. Planning ahead will help you strike this balance.

If your organization has specific times it needs to recruit volunteers, add that to your calendar, as well. 

Thank your donors

Make this a priority! Find different ways to let your donors know how much you appreciate them. You can combine a thank you with an update. Do this at least once a month.

Events

Your organization may not be holding any in-person events right now, but perhaps you’ll continue to do virtual events. Besides your events, are there other events (virtual or in-person) in your community that would be of interest to your supporters? If so, you could share it on social media.

Ongoing content

If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell. Share a story at least once a month. Client stories (either in the first or third person) are best. Your stories need to be relevant to the ever-evolving current situations, so you may need to create some new ones.

You could also profile a board member, volunteer, donor, or staff member. Be sure to highlight what drew them to your organization.

Put together a story bank to help you with this.

Don’t stop communicating with your donors

As you hear about other relevant information, add it to your calendar, so you can stay connected with your donors/supporters throughout the year.

Here’s more information to help you create a communications/editorial calendar. A couple of these links also include templates.

How to Effectively Plan a Nonprofit Communications Calendar (Template Included!)

How to create and use a nonprofit editorial calendar

Get Organized With a Nonprofit Editorial Calendar

Creating the Perfect Editorial Calendar – A Cinderella Story

The Importance of Having a Multichannel Fundraising Campaign

Year-end fundraising season is starting to gear up. I just returned from a short vacation and came home to a mailbox that included a bunch of appeal letters, and this is just the beginning.

Speaking of appeal letters, you should plan to send one by mail. I know email is easier and less expensive, but people respond better to mail and it’s well worth the investment. 

However, if you just send one fundraising letter and wait for the donations to come in, prepare to be disappointed. Your donors have a lot going on and may put your letter aside to handle later, and then never get to it.

Of course, you can also send email appeals, but you’ll need to plan to send more than one appeal due to the enormous volume of email people receive. Some donors will respond to the first appeal, but most are going to need a few reminders.

Your fundraising campaign will be more effective if you use a combination of mail, email, social media, and phone calls. Some donors may respond to your direct mail piece but will donate online. Others will see your email message but prefer to send a check.

You’ll have a lot of competition since you’re not the only organization seeking year-end donations. Most nonprofits rely on year-end for the bulk of their fundraising. Plus, donors may be overwhelmed with everything that’s going on in the world, but they still want to help.

This is why you need a multichannel fundraising campaign with a series of asks.

BEFORE YOU START

Clean up your mailing lists/database

If you haven’t already done this, clean up and organize your mailing lists/database. Do you have both postal and email addresses for all your donors? Be sure to segment your donors into different groups (current, monthly, etc), as well.

5 Data Hygiene Methods for Your Nonprofit

Make it easy to donate online

You must have a donation page that’s engaging and easy to use on all platforms, including mobile. Test all links in email messages and social media posts. The last thing you want is a donor contacting you about a broken link or have to hunt around on your website for a link to your donation page.

When you’re ready to launch your campaign, include a blurb on your homepage that says your appeal is underway. Make sure your donate button is in a prominent place.

Which channels do your donors use?

Don’t spend a lot of time on channels your donors aren’t using. Figure out in advance where you want to focus your efforts.

SAMPLE SCHEDULE AND STRATEGY

Come up with a schedule of when the appeals will go out. I’ve created a sample schedule below. Of course, you can adjust the time frame as needed and use this for campaigns at other times of the year. 

That said, I do recommend starting your year-end campaign sooner than later. Remember, you’re not the only game in town. If you’ve already mailed your appeal, you can start planning your reminders.

Also, if you haven’t already done this, you could send your donors a warm-up letter or email before you launch your campaign.

October 27

Give your supporters a heads up by email and social media. Let them know your year-end appeal is underway and they should receive a letter from you soon, provided you have their mailing address. Encourage them to donate online right now. This means your donation page needs to be in great shape.

Keep in mind that the fact your year-end appeal is going on will matter to some donors and not to others. Use an enticing subject line such as How you can help local families put food on the table.  

Make sure it’s obvious your message is coming from your organization so you have a better chance of getting it opened. 

Week of November 1

Mail your appeal letters.

Week of November 8

Start sending follow-up reminders via email and social media. Weekly reminders are a proven way to help you raise more money. If possible, don’t send reminders to people who have already donated. Otherwise, be sure to thank your recent donors. You can even phrase your reminders as more of a thank you or an update.

Thank you so much to all of you who donated to our year-end appeal. We’re well on our way to our goal of moving into a larger facility. This is crucial. We’re still seeing more people coming into the food bank and can barely function in our current location.

If you haven’t donated yet, please help us out today by visiting our website (include a link to your donation page) or sending us a check (provide address).

Week of November 15

Send another round of reminders.

Week of November 22

Send a reminder, along with a Happy Thanksgiving message. Or skip the reminder and make this week all about gratitude.

Week of November 29 

November 30 is #GivingTuesday so you could tie that into a reminder message. You may already have a campaign planned.

Your donors’ inboxes will be bursting at the seams on #GivingTuesday and your messages can easily get lost in the chaos. Make your messages stand out and remember to show some gratitude, too. 

How to Make Your Nonprofit Messages Stand Out

Also, not all of your donors will care that it’s #GivingTuesday. Focus on how they can help you make a difference.

Make sure your reminders don’t look like spam. And, keep it positive. Don’t make your donors feel bad because they haven’t donated yet.

Week of December 6

Start making reminder calls, along with sending electronic messages. If time is an issue, you could just call people who have donated before. That’s probably most effective. Leaving a voice mail message is fine. 

It’s a busy time of the year and your donors may need a gentle prompt.

The rest of December and beyond

Keep sending reminders throughout December. It’s tricky because you want to get your messages across without being annoying. This is another reason why you should only send reminders to people who haven’t donated yet.

Be sure to keep up with your donor communication (newsletter and other updates). You don’t want the only messages your donors receive to be fundraising appeals. December is also a great time to show some #donorlove and send holiday greetings.

The end of December is the busiest time of this already busy fundraising season. Send a reminder email on December 29th, 30th, and 31st. This is also proven to be an effective strategy. And, it’s especially relevant if your fiscal year ends on December 31 or your donor wants to give before the end of the calendar year.

Even though you’re trying to raise money, don’t forget about building relationships, too. That’s just as important.

Look to see who hasn’t contributed yet. Concentrate on people who are most likely to donate, such as past donors. You may need to send another letter or a reminder postcard to donors who don’t use electronic communication. The more you can personalize, the better.

You can continue following up in the New Year when donors aren’t as busy.

Once is not enough. Your fundraising campaign will be more successful with multiple asks and by using multiple channels. Good luck!

Direct Mail in a Multi-Channel Fundraising Strategy

A Roadmap to Multichannel Marketing For Nonprofits

12 Year-End Fundraising Email Examples to Add to Your Campaign

Don’t Treat Thanking Your Donors as an Afterthought 

You may have started working on your year-end appeal, which is great. Although, just as important, if not more important, is planning how you’ll thank your donors. 

I highly recommend creating a thank you plan, which will help you show gratitude before, during, and after a campaign. 

Many organizations treat thanking their donors as an afterthought and it shows. You can’t do that. It will hurt your chances to get future donations. If someone gives to your organization, they deserve to be showered with appreciation. 

There are many ways to thank your donors after an appeal – by mail, phone, email, on your website, or a combination of those. The more you can do, the better.

Thanking your donors is something you need to do well. Don’t shortchange your donors with a lame, generic thank you.

Make thanking your donors a priority. Here are a few ways to do a better job of thanking your donors. 

Start planning now

Don’t wait until the day after your appeal goes out. Give yourself plenty of time to plan. Write your thank you letter at the same time you write your appeal. Don’t forget that things often take longer than you think, especially now.

Figure out what you’ll be able to do. I highly recommend a handwritten note or phone call. Can you do that for all your donors? If not, maybe you’ll break it down by new donors, long-time donors, or donors who have given a certain amount.

I understand that handwritten notes and phone calls may be hard to do right now. At the very least, your donors should get a letter, even if they’ve donated online. Whatever you decide, remember to get started on the content now. 

In the past, the standard was to send out thank you letters within 48 hours. That may be harder to do now, but don’t wait too long. Make sure you’re ready to go when the donations come in. 

Make your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you note

I love it when a nonprofit sends a handwritten thank you note. This is a rare occurrence, so if you do it, your thank you note will stand out in your donor’s mailbox.

Handwritten notes are great in many ways, but one advantage is you don’t have to write that much and it shouldn’t take too long. 

How to Write 3 Minute Thank You Notes

You could make thank you cards with an engaging photo or buy some nice thank you cards. Get together a team of board members, staff, and volunteers right after your appeal goes out to help with this.

Think about how much your donors will appreciate this nice gesture. Here’s a sample note.

Dear Paul,

Thank you so much for upgrading your gift to $75. We’re still seeing more people coming into the Riverside Community Food Bank. Times are tough and your generous gift will help a lot. We’re so happy you’ve been a donor these past six years.

Phone calls are another personal way to show gratitude

Calling first-time donors is known to improve retention rates. But you could also call long-term donors to make them feel special.

Again, you want to get together a team to help. This is a great thing for your board to do. You may need to do a short virtual training first. Here’s a sample phone script.

Hi Gail, this is Stacy Kramer and I’m a board member at the Riverside Community Food Bank. Thank you so much for your generous donation of $50 and welcome to our donor family. Your gift will help feed more local families during this difficult time. 

How to Call Donors Just to Say Thank You for Donating

Write an amazing thank you letter

If it’s impossible to send handwritten notes or make phone calls, you can still impress your donors with an amazing thank you letter. Many thank you letters aren’t amazing at all and are mediocre at best. You’ll have an advantage if you take some time to create a great, donor-centered letter.

The purpose of a thank you letter is to thank your donors. Keep that in mind at all times.  

Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization…. If you’re sending it on your letterhead, it should be obvious it’s coming from your organization. Instead, start your letter with – Thank you, You’re incredible!, or You did something great today!

You also don’t need to explain what your organization does. This often comes across as bragging by saying something like – As you know, X organization has been doing great work in the community for 20 years…. Someone who’s donated to your organization should already be familiar with what you do.

And, don’t ask for another gift in your thank you letter. You did that in your appeal letter. You can ask again another time. Keep gratitude front and center.

Write separate thank you letters for different types of donors. Welcome new donors and welcome back your current donors. Monthly donors should also get special recognition.

Your thank you letter needs to make your donors feel good about giving to your organization. Let them know how their gift is helping you make a difference. Include a brief story or example. Make it relevant to our current situations.

As with all writing, make your letter personal and conversational. Write to the donor using you much more than we, and leave out jargon and any other language your donors won’t understand. Also, you must address your donors by name – not Dear Friend.

A few other ways to make your letter stand out are to use a colored envelope or include a teaser that says Thank You!, and use a nice stamp (you can buy thank you stamps). Hand address the envelopes and include a handwritten note inside that will help make it more personal. You could also include an engaging photo in the letter.

Yes, you do need to include the tax-deductible information, but do that at the end, after you impress your donors with your letter, or include it on a separate page. It’s easiest to include this with the thank you letter or email. Then you don’t have to send it again unless your donor requests it.

Create a more personal online thank you

The thank you plan I reference above gives you advice on how to create better thank you landing pages and email acknowledgments. These often come across as transactional. You need to think of the donations you receive as the start or continuation of a relationship, not a transaction.

Remember, even though your online donors will get an electronic acknowledgment, they should still get thanked by mail or phone.

With all the uncertainty that’s going on, it’s crucial to do a good job of thanking your donors, both now and throughout the year. 

Here’s more information on how you can do a better job of thanking your donors.

How to Write the Perfect Donor Thank You Letter

Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

How To Write A Thank-You Letter For Donations | A Nonprofit Guide

Donor Appreciation Letter: Everything You Need To Know To Craft The Perfect One

A Donor Thank-You Letter Template (Plus Extra Tips!)

Keep Calm and Stay Strong

As summer wanes and we move toward fall, many nonprofit organizations are entering the busiest time of the year as they launch their year-end fundraising campaigns. In the best of times, this is stressful, and we are not in the best of times.

We’re still living in a time of uncertainty. I feel there’s more uncertainty now than last year. In the spring it looked like we were on track to something better and then along comes the Delta variant, not to mention low vaccination rates in some states.

I’m sure your nonprofit organization is still dealing with many challenges. People may have returned to the office and now you’re wondering if that’s safe. You may be falling short of your revenue goals. You may be stressed out figuring out how you’ll pull off your year-end campaign and that’s understandable, but it’s important to keep calm and stay strong.

The need your clients/community face is still there. You can’t raise money if you don’t ask. Donors still want to help if they can.

It’s possible to get through the next few months. Do the best that you can, but make smart choices that will help you succeed.

Plan ahead

My last few posts had a plan-ahead theme. You want to start gearing up for your year-end appeal as soon as possible. This includes figuring out how you’ll thank your donors and getting your website in shape. Now would be a good time to get started.

If this sounds overwhelming, take a deep breath, and start working on a few things each day. Putting together a quality campaign will help you raise more money.

Segment your donors

One aspect of a good fundraising appeal is personalization. You must segment your donors as much as you can. At the very least, segment them by current donors, monthly donors, and people who haven’t donated before.

You’ll have the best luck with people who’ve donated before, and they’re going to want to see a letter that thanks them for their past support.

You can ask past donors to upgrade their gifts. This is an easy way to raise more money, yet many organizations don’t do this because they don’t segment their donors.

Monthly donors are the backbone of many nonprofit organizations and have a retention rate of 90%. Any time you communicate with them you must recognize them as monthly donors. You can ask your monthly donors to upgrade or give an additional donation.

Donors who have supported you before deserve a great appeal letter, and thank you letter too!

Focus on retention 

Donor retention should always be one of your top priorities – before, during, and after your appeal. Remember, your best bet for donations are your current donors. Think about sending a warm-up letter or email to these donors before your next appeal. Don’t ignore them.

Focusing on retention will help during tough economic times. Some donors may not be able to give this year, but maybe they’ll be able to in the future. Keep engaging with them.

A Guide to Donor Retention

Make time for what’s important 

I’m not trying to give you more work. I’m trying to give you better work. You may be saying you don’t have time to do some of these things, but this is important. 

What’s taking so much of your time? Is it meetings you don’t need to have? Are you chasing fundraising sources that don’t make sense? Maybe that online auction or event isn’t worth the time since you don’t raise much money.

Recess time

I just heard a story on the news about how important recess is for kids, especially during these difficult times. Adults need recess, too. Maybe you won’t go out on the playground, but why not?  

There are plenty of things you can do to take care of yourself. Don’t eat lunch in your workspace (at the office or at home). Take breaks! Step away from your screens. Go for a walk, exercise, do yoga, or maybe even take a short nap. I love this phrase – Rest is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. It will make you more productive.

I know there’s a lot going on both at your organization and in the world. Make time for what’s important, take care of yourself, and do the best that you can.

Photo by Marco Verch

Is Your Website in Good Shape?

With everything that’s been going on over the last year and a half, you may not have had time to keep up with certain things. That includes making sure your website is in good shape.

You don’t want to neglect your website. The internet is still most people’s go-to place to get information. Unlike social media, you control your website. You want it to be up-to-date, easy to read/scan and navigate, welcoming, and audience-centered.

I created this checklist a few years ago and I think now is a good time to revisit it. 

Home page

Your home page is often the first place a newcomer will visit. Make it an entryway to the rest of your website.

  • Is it free of clutter and easy to navigate and read/scan? You can include links to other pages on your home page, so you’re not bombarding it with too much information.
  • Does it include an engaging photo and a small amount of text, such as a tagline or position statement?
  • Are you highlighting something current and important? Maybe it’s your response to the ever-changing pandemic. Maybe it’s a fundraising campaign or an event. Be sure it’s up-to-date and the most newsworthy item you can feature.
  • Does it include a Donate Now button that’s prominent without being tacky?
  • Does it include a newsletter sign-up box and social media icons?
  • Does it include your organization’s contact information or a link to a Contact Us page?
  • Is the navigation bar easy to use?
  • Does it include a search feature?

Donation page

Many people donate online. This needs to be a good experience for your donors. You don’t want to stress them out with a cumbersome and confusing donation page.

  • Is it easy to use?
  • Does it include a strong call to action with the same messages as all your other fundraising appeals? You want to include enough information to entice a potential new donor, but not too much to overwhelm any of your donors (new and long-time).
  • Does it show how the donation will be used and what different amounts will fund?
  • Does it include an option for monthly/recurring gifts?
  • Does it have an engaging photo?
  • After someone donates, does it take the person to an engaging thank you landing page and generate a personal thank you email?

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Make Your Donation Page More Effective

The rest of your pages

Be sure to take a look at the rest of your web pages, too.

  • Are they easy to read/scan and navigate?
  • Do all your pages have a consistent look?
  • Is the content well written in a conversational style (no jargon!) and free of grammatical errors and typos?
  • Are your pages audience-centered? Remember, some visitors know you well and others don’t. A person visiting your volunteer page may not know much about your organization, so you’ll need to include a compelling description of what you do.
  • Do your pages contain a clear call to action? For example, your volunteer page should entice someone to volunteer.
  • Does each page have one or two photos related to its subject matter? Going back to your volunteer page, you could include a photo of volunteers working in the community.
  • Is all the content up-to-date?
  • Do all your links work?
  • Do all your pages include a Donate Now button, navigation bar, social media icons, a newsletter sign-up box, contact information, and a search feature, so your visitors don’t have to go back to the home page?
  • Are you using analytics to see how often people visit your pages? If you have pages that aren’t generating a lot of interest, find out why that’s happening. You may need to make the page more engaging or take it down.
  • Do you periodically survey your supporters to get feedback about your website?
  • Is your website mobile-friendly? This is crucial. Fortunately, most of them are these days, but just in case yours isn’t –  How to make website mobile friendly for your nonprofit
  • Is there other content you should include (or take out)?

After you’ve made all your changes, have someone who isn’t as familiar with your organization (maybe a friend or family member) look at your website to see if the content is clear and that it’s easy to read/scan and navigate.

Your goal is to have a website that’s welcoming and audience-centered for everyone from first-time visitors to long-time donors.

Read on for more information to help you get your website in good shape.

Your Nonprofit Website: The Importance of User Experience

Website Formatting: The Anatomy of a Well-Designed Nonprofit Web Page

15 Nonprofit Website Best Practices You Need to Know in 2021

Best Practices for a Nonprofit Website

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