Let Your Donors Know How Much You Appreciate Them

Year-end fundraising season is underway. You may have started working on your appeal, which is great. But don’t stop there. It’s just as important, if not more important, to plan 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. Remember, things often take longer than you think.

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 thank you letters within 48 hours. If that’s too hard to do now, don’t wait much longer than a week. 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. In fact, you can do one in just a few minutes.

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 you with this.

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

Dear Jill,

Thank you so much for upgrading your gift to $75. We’re still seeing more people coming into the Northside Community Food Pantry. Rising food prices are making it difficult for many families to afford groceries. Your generous gift will help a lot. We’re so happy you’ve been a donor these past five 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-time donors to make them feel special.

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

Hi Steve, this is Lisa Walsh and I’m a board member at the Northside Community Food Pantry. Thank you so much for your generous donation of $50 and welcome to our donor family. Your gift will help feed more local families right now. Many of them are struggling due to rising food prices.

Write an incredible thank you letter

If it’s impossible to send handwritten notes or make phone calls, you can still impress your donors with an incredible thank you letter. Many thank you letters aren’t incredible 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 amazing, 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. Always 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. 

Keep reading for more advice on letting your donors know how much you appreciate them.

Guide to thanking donors

How to Thank and Retain Year-End Donors

Sample Phrases You Can Use to Thank Your Donors

How You Can Create a Thank You Plan

Thanking your donors is just as important, if not more important than fundraising. Yet many organizations spend a lot of time putting together a fundraising campaign and treat thanking their donors as an afterthought.

We’re still in a time of uncertainty. While some people have been generous over the last two years, we don’t know how long that will continue.

Prioritizing gratitude and donor relations will help. If you don’t do a good job of thanking your donors, as well as building relationships throughout the year, you’ll have a hard time getting people to people to donate again, which is one of the keys to your success.

This is why having a thank you plan is crucial. It’s not only important when you’re running a fundraising campaign, but also during the “between times.”

Many organizations just thank their donors after they receive a gift and then disappear until the next fundraising appeal. Your donors deserve better than that. 

Thanking your donors is something you need to do throughout the year – at least once a month, if you can. 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 shouldn’t resemble Amazon checkout. It should make a person feel good about giving a donation.

Open with Thank you, Susan! or You’re amazing! Include an engaging photo or video and a short, easy-to-understand description of how the donation will help your clients/community right now. 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.

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 you received her donation. You still need to thank her by mail or phone.

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.

Give some thought to the email subject line, too. At the very least make sure it says Thank You or You did something great today and not anything boring like Your Donation Receipt or Donation Received. And please stop using words like transaction and processed. A donation is not a transaction. It’s the start or continuation of a relationship.

Plan to thank your donors by mail or phone

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

Try to thank your donors within 48 hours or within a week at the latest. It might be hard to do that right now, but it will be easier if you plan to carve out some time to thank your donors each day you get a donation. Remember, thanking your donors should be a priority. If you wait too long, you’re not making a good impression.

Instead of sending the usual generic thank you letter, mail a handwritten card or call your donors. Making thank you calls or writing thank you notes is something your board can do. 

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

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

Hi Ben, this is Laura Kramer and I’m a board member at the Riverside Community Food Bank. I’m calling to thank you for your generous donation of $50. Thanks to you, we can continue to provide neighborhood families with healthy food. This is great. We’re seeing more people come in right now because of rising food costs, so we really appreciate your support.

You’ll stand out if you can send a handwritten thank you card. I get a few of these a year and they tend to come from the same organizations, which shows you what they prioritize! 

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal and heartfelt letter. If you’ve been using the same letter template for a while, take time to freshen it up. Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization, we thank you for your donation of…. 

Open your letter with You’re incredible or Because of you, the Sanders family can finally move into their own home. Create separate letters for new donors, renewing donors, and monthly donors.

Add a personal handwritten note to the letter, preferably something that pertains to that particular donor. For example, if the donor has given before, mention that. Hand sign the letters, if you can.

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. Don’t wait three weeks.

Plan to keep thanking your donors all year round

This is where having a thank you plan makes a difference because as I mentioned before – thanking your donors is something you must do all year round.

You can use your communications calendar to incorporate ways to thank your donors, but why not go one step further and create a specific thank you calendar?

Remember to 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, on Valentine’s Day, or mix it up a little and send a note of gratitude in June or September when your donors may not 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. And you don’t need a holiday or special occasion to thank your donors. Thank them just because….
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories, as well as how the current situations are impacting your work. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude. Be sure to keep thanking your donors in your newsletter and other 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. Go one step further and personalize it. 
  • Send a warm-up letter or email about a month before your next campaign (no ask). This is a great way to show appreciation BEFORE you send your appeals.
  • COVID makes it tricky to plan an open house or tours right now, but you could do something virtual to let your donors see your nonprofit up close and personal. Also, a virtual gathering or tour may be easier to pull off. 
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors. You can repeat some of the ones listed above over the year.

The tactics that work best are going to differ for each organization. I would definitely send something by mail a few times a year. Email and social media may not be as successful, especially if your donors don’t use electronic communication very much. You could survey them to find out their communication preferences, as well as their interests. This will help with your engagement.

Creating a thank you plan will make it easier to keep showing appreciation to your donors all year round. You need your donors right now, so don’t hold back on that always-important gratitude.

It’s Time to Plan Your Year-End Fundraising Campaign

Wow, this summer is flying by. September will be here before you know it. I know that may be hard to believe since many of us have been suffering through record-breaking temperatures, especially in areas where it’s usually not that hot, such as parts of Europe and the Pacific Northwest.

Despite all this, now is a good time to start planning your year-end fundraising campaign. If you’re behind in your revenue goals, you may even want to launch it earlier. Our current state of uncertainty makes it more important to plan ahead.

I’ve put together a checklist to help you get started. You can also use this for fundraising campaigns at other times of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal for your year-end campaign in your 2022 fundraising plan (at least I hope you did) and maybe that has changed. 

You must determine how much money you need to raise before you start your campaign, and raising as much as we can is not a goal.

Do you have a plan?

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

When do you want to launch your appeal? Plan on everything taking longer than you think it will, so earlier is better. Keep in mind you’ll be competing with many other organizations who are doing appeals. 

I strongly encourage you to mail an appeal letter. Direct mail appeals are more successful. You can also send an email appeal and follow up with email, as well (more on that in future posts). 

Maybe you want to send your appeal letters the first week in November. Maybe it’s better to send them out in October. Whenever it is, make your goal to have the letters done at least a week before that. 

Also, how are you mailing your appeal? Do you use a mail house or get staff and volunteers together to stuff envelopes? Either way, plan ahead, so you’re not scrambling at the last minute.

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

If you’ve been using the same boring, generic appeal letter template for the last few years, stop. You need a new one. Your appeal must address the current situations, which I know are always changing.

A good way to start is to create an engaging story for your appeal. How are the pandemic, systemic racism, and economic challenges impacting your clients/community right now? Focus on them, not your organization. This year is different than last year, which was different than 2020, but not the same as pre-pandemic times. This is why you need new stories.  

You’ll want some good photos for your letter and donation page, too. Quotes from clients will also enhance your appeal.

How can your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should focus on a need and let your donors know how they can help you make a difference. You might want to start by creating a brief and an outline.

You may be seeing more people at your food pantry because of rising food costs. Maybe your clients are struggling to find affordable housing.

You can also highlight some of the accomplishments you’ve made recently and state what you would like to do in the coming year, although these are usually more appropriate for a newsletter or annual report. One way to frame this is to describe a situation where students are falling behind in school. You can mention the success of your tutoring program and the need to keep that going and serve more students.

Remember to focus on your clients/community and don’t brag about your organization.

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

Make sure your 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. Take a little time to do some data hygiene. Give your email list some attention, too.

Also, now is a good time to segment your mailing lists – current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. This is so important. Your current donors are your best source of donations. You should have more success if you can personalize your appeal letters. You can also ask donors to upgrade their gifts (more on this to come).

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until September or 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. 

We’re still dealing with paper shortages and may be for a while, so plan ahead!

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 their last 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.

One way to ensure a good experience is to have someone on your staff or, even better, someone outside of your organization make a donation on your website. If they want to tear their hair out, you have some work to do.

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

I’m a huge fan of monthly giving. It’s a win-win for your organization. You can raise more money, boost your retention rate, receive a steady stream of revenue, and allow your donors to spread out their gifts.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program or you have a small one, don’t wait any longer to start one or grow the one you have.

Do you want to find a major funder who will give a matching gift?

One way to raise additional revenue is to find a major funder to match a portion or all of what you raise in your year-end appeal. If you want to go down this route, now would be a good time to reach out to these potential funders.

How will you thank your donors?

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. 

How will you keep up with your donor communication?

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 updates and gratitude. Pour on the appreciation! 

Send at least one warm-up letter or email. You could create a thank you video or a video that gives a behind-the-scenes look at your organization right now. Just don’t disappear until appeal time.

Don’t let stories about donors giving less scare you. Some donors may not give as much or at all, but others will give more. They won’t give anything if you don’t ask.

There’s still plenty of time to go to the beach and get ice cream, but right now find an air-conditioned space and start planning your year-end campaign.

Best of luck!

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

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

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

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

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

Start or enhance your monthly giving program

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

If you don’t have a monthly giving program, get started now. To get more monthly donors, send a special targeted letter to current donors inviting them to become monthly donors. This is a good opportunity to upgrade smaller dollar donors, or any donors for that matter.

Also, do something special for your current monthly donors. Send them a thank you postcard or email. They’ve made a commitment to you, now make a commitment to them.

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

Look into higher levels of giving

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

Ramp up your donor engagement

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

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

Make improvements to your donor communication

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

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

It’s not too late, yet

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

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

Keep monitoring your progress to help ensure a successful year.

Image via PlusLexia.com.

Don’t Take a Vacation From Your Donor Communication

Summer is here, although once again, we’re not having a normal summer. More people are traveling despite rising gas prices, airport delays, a tough economy, and the ongoing pandemic. Nevertheless, we all deserve some kind of a vacation. I hope you’ll get a chance to take one. I know you’ve been through a lot. 

This may be a quieter time for your nonprofit, but you don’t want to be too quiet and ignore your donors. Something the pandemic taught us is we should communicate more during tough times. This would be a great time to do some relationship building.

You should be communicating with your donors at least once a month and that includes the summer months. Don’t make the mistake of taking a vacation from your donor communication. Continuing to stay in touch with your donors will help you when you launch your fall fundraising campaign. 

Here are a few ways you can connect with your donors this summer, as well as throughout the year, and build those important relationships. 

Say thank you

Nonprofit organizations don’t thank their donors enough. You don’t need a reason to thank your donors. Just do it and do it often. You’ll stand out if you do.

This is a good time to do something personal, such as sending a handwritten thank you card. I have a subscription to a local theatre. Every year during the last show of the season, they put a thank you card, along with a piece of chocolate (!), on our seats. Usually, it’s a pre-printed card, but this year they gave out handwritten cards. I was touched. This theatre, like many others, didn’t put on live performances for a year and a half. They weathered some tough times, but got through them thanks to their donors. 

You can do something similar. Pour on the gratitude and let your donors know how you much you’ve appreciated their support over the last few years. Again, try to make it personal. If handwritten cards sound like too much, you could send a postcard, make a video, or connect through email.

You don’t need anything fancy and make it easy for yourself by keeping it simple. There are so many ways to thank your donors. It’s okay to have a little fun and get creative.

Send an update

If you haven’t communicated with your donors much since your last appeal, send them an update sharing your success and challenges. You could combine an update with a thank you, if you’d like.

Try to send something by mail if you can. Your donors are more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail. You could consider an infographic postcard.

I know mail is expensive, but a postcard shouldn’t cost too much. It’s also a quick way to share an update with busy donors. Also, consider that this investment could pay off if your postcard (or handwritten card) entices a donor to give again and possibly upgrade.

If it’s impossible to send something by mail right now, you can use email.

Tie in current situations

I don’t need to tell you there’s a lot going in the world right now. Will certain policies or budget cuts affect your organization? Many states are working on their budget for the next fiscal year.

Share ways your donors can help – perhaps by contacting their legislators, volunteering, or making a donation.

Advocacy alerts can be a great way for people to engage with your organization. Be sure to thank participants and keep them updated on any outcomes.

When all levels of government make funding cuts or policy changes, the need in the community grows, which puts more burden on nonprofit organizations.

Make room for improvement and plan ahead

The summer can be a good time to make improvements in your existing communication. Spend time finding some engaging stories and photos for your newsletters and other updates.

Start working on your appeal and thank you letters for your next campaign. Make sure they focus on building relationships and are donor-centered. Segment your donors by different types – new, renewing, monthly, etc.  

If you’re feeling pinched financially, you may want to start your fall campaign earlier – September/October instead of November/December. I’ll write more about this in future posts, but a few ways to raise additional revenue are to invite current donors to join your family of monthly donors and reach out to your lapsed donors.

For now, keep relationship building front and center. Keep communicating with your donors. They want to hear from you. Don’t take a vacation from your donor communication.

How Your Nonprofit Can Keep Things Simple

Over the years I’ve realized the importance of keeping things simple. For some of us, the pandemic forced us to keep things simple since we were limited in what we could do, especially outside the house. I found pleasure in simple things such as taking a walk, reading, and doing yoga, all of which I continue to make time for, if I can. 

Keeping it simple doesn’t have to mean a bare-bones existence. There’s a Swedish term called lagom meaning everything in moderation or not too much, not too little. Or think of Goldilocks and choose what’s “just right.” This can apply to how much information we take in about the pandemic, the economy, politics, the war in Ukraine, etc. – enough to know what’s going on, but not too much so it’s overwhelming. 

Keeping things simple is also important for your nonprofit organization. I feel like we are in a constant vortex of change. I know you’re continuing to navigate this uncertain climate.

That said, you need to continue to raise money and communicate fairly regularly with your donors, while not taking on too much. Donors are also navigating the changing situations, but they want to help if they can and they want to hear from you. What they don’t want is a lot of complex content.

Here are a few ways to simplify your donor communication without making it too difficult for you.

Keep it simple by planning ahead

If communicating regularly with your donors sounds overwhelming, plan ahead by using a communications calendar. You should be in touch every one to two weeks, if possible. Otherwise, aim for once a month. Fill your calendar with different ways to do that and update it as needed. A good rule of thumb is – ask, thank, update/engage, repeat. And as I mention below, you can keep it simple with shorter communication.

Keep it simple by sticking to one call to action

Your communication needs to be clear. Before you send an email message or letter, ask what is your intention? Is it to ask for a donation, say thank you, or send an update?

Stick to one call to action. Suppose you send a message that includes requests for a donation, volunteers, and for people to contact their legislators. It’s likely your donors won’t respond to all of your requests and may not respond to any of them. Send separate messages for each request.

In your fundraising appeals, don’t bury your ask. You can start with a story, followed by a clear, prominent ask. Recognize your reader. Thank previous donors and invite potential donors to be a part of your family of donors.

Your thank you letter or email should thank the donor. Simple, right? Make them feel good about giving to your organization. Welcome new donors and welcome back returning donors. You don’t need a lot of wordy text explaining what your organization does.

Keep your messages simple, yet sincere, and include a clear call to action.

Keep it simple with shorter, easy-to-read messages

Plain and simple, if your communication is too long, most people won’t read it. 

Limit print communication, such as newsletters and annual reports, to four pages or less. Your email messages should be just a few paragraphs. On the other hand, you don’t want to be terse or say too little.

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Mark Twain

Be sure your communication is easy to read and scan. Use short paragraphs, especially for electronic communication, and include lots of white space. Don’t clutter up the page.

Keep it simple by using conversational language

I find it annoying when I read an appeal letter or newsletter article that sounds like a Ph.D. thesis. Write at a sixth to eighth-grade level. That’s what most major newspapers do. This is not dumbing down. You’re being smart by ensuring your donors will understand you. There are programs out there that can help you determine the reading level. Plus, you can raise more money if your messages are easy to read.

Keep out jargon and other confusing language. Instead of saying something like – We’re helping underserved communities who are experiencing food insecurity, say  – Thanks to donors like you, we can serve more families at the Eastside Community Food Bank. 

We’re seeing real people being affected by real problems. Don’t diminish this with jargon and other vague language.

Use the active voice and there’s no need to get fancy by using a lot of SAT vocabulary words. Again, you want your donors to understand you.

Keep it simple by creating a clutter-free website

Your website is still a place where people will go to get information. Make sure it’s clear, clutter-free, and easy to read and navigate. Don’t forget about short paragraphs and lots of white space.

One of the most important parts of your website is your donation page. It needs to be easy to use and collect enough information without overwhelming your donors. If it’s too cumbersome, they may give up and leave.

If it’s a branded page (e.g. not a third-party site like PayPal), make sure it’s consistent with your messaging and look. Don’t go too minimalistic, though. Include a short description of how a donor’s gift will help you make a difference, as well as an engaging photo.

Make it easier for your nonprofit and your donors by keeping things simple.

Photo via One Way Stock

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