Get a Head Start on Your Year-End Fundraising Campaign

5524669257_ab67585fd0_wWe’re already halfway through August. Pandemic or not, we still have seasons and fall is traditionally fundraising season for nonprofit organizations.

If you had a campaign planned for this fall, but are thinking against it, don’t do that. You should still do your campaign. You can’t raise money if you don’t ask.

Yes, it will be harder, which is why you should start planning it now. And summer’s not over yet, so there’s still time to get ice cream and go to the beach (please stay safe and practice social distancing when you do).

Here’s 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 2020 fundraising plan and most likely that has changed. Perhaps you were able to raise money earlier in the year with an emergency campaign and/or a virtual event.

There’s a good chance you need to raise more money if you’ve had to shift the way you run your programs and there’s a greater need for your services.

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

Do you have a plan?

Put together a plan for your appeal 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, so I think earlier is better. You’ll be competing with other organizations who are doing appeals. It’s also an election year in the United States, but that doesn’t always affect nonprofit fundraising.

Maybe you want to send your appeal letters the first week in November. If so, make your goal to have the letters done at least a week before that. Maybe more if people are working remotely.

Also, how are you mailing your appeal? Do you use a mail house or do you get staff and volunteers together to stuff envelopes?  If it’s the latter, it will be harder to get a group together, so you’ll need more time. 

An Annual Appeal Fundraising Timeline You Can Use

13 End-of-Year Appeal Strategies

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

This is going to be the year you’ll retire your boring, generic appeal letter (more on that in future posts). Your appeal must address the current situations.

A good way to start is to create an engaging story for your appeal. How are the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, and the economic downturn affecting your clients/community? What challenges are they facing? Focus on them, not your organization.

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

3 Strategies Every Nonprofit Should Use for Year-End Fundraising in 2020

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

How to Engage With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

How did/can your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should highlight some of the accomplishments you’ve made recently and state what you plan to do in the coming months. For example, let’s say you run a tutoring program. You were able to get Chromebooks for half of the students who didn’t have access to a computer so they could do their sessions remotely. You still need to buy more, and with the pandemic looming, remote sessions will be the norm for a while. This is important because thanks to your donors, regular tutoring sessions help students read at or above their grade level and that needs to continue. 

Remember to focus on your clients and show how your donors are helping you make a difference or can help you make a difference. Don’t brag about your organization.

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

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

Also, now is a good time to segment your mailing lists – current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. This is more important than ever. Your current donors are your best source of donations. You should have more success if you can personalize your appeal letters.

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until 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. It could take longer to get some of these things.

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.

Crafting the Perfect Donation Form: 6 Key Features

Donation Page Best Practices For Nonprofits; Tips for Great Donation Pages

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

A monthly giving program is 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, now is an excellent time to start one or grow the one you have.

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. Put together a thank you plan to help you with this.

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.

I know it will be hard this year, but you still need to run a campaign. 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.

Best of luck!

Your Donors Want to Hear from You

214409794_5c34b1f1f4_wI hope everyone is doing okay and staying safe. Please wear a mask and practice social distancing.

Summer is often a quieter time for nonprofits, although I don’t need to tell you we’re not having a normal summer. You don’t want to be too quiet and ignore your donors. In fact, this is a good time to do some relationship building.

You may be holding back because of the pandemic and economic downturn, but you actually want to communicate more with your donors right now. First, we’re looking at a tough fundraising season, but better donor engagement could help. Also, while some people may be on vacation, many are staying home this year, so it’s a good time to reach them. 

You should be communicating with your donors at least once a month, if not more. Don’t make the mistake of taking a vacation from your donor communication – never a smart decision.

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

Check in and send an update

Check in with your donors and see how they’re doing. Wish them well. This is especially important if you haven’t communicated with them since the COVID-19 outbreak started earlier this year (I hope that’s not the case). Even if you have been in touch more recently, send a message of kindness. Many states are seeing a rising number of COVID cases and we’re all dealing with a lot.

Send an update to let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community right now. Share what’s going on whether it’s success stories, challenges, or some of each. Be authentic and specific. Don’t get trapped in jargon land.

One of my favorite ways to connect is with a 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 your donors.

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

Show some #donorlove

You don’t need a reason to thank your donors. Just do it and do it often. Most organizations don’t do a good job of thanking their donors, so you’ll stand out if you do. My last post was all about thanking your donors. Create a thank you plan to help you with this.

This is another situation where a postcard will work wonders. You can do a combo thank you and update. Go one step further and make your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you card. You could also create a thank you photo for a card or you can share your photo by email and social media. Another great way to connect is to make a thank you video.

There are so many ways to thank your donors. Spend a little time thinking of ways to show some #donorlove. 

20 Unique Donor Thank You Ideas

Create a better newsletter

You may already keep in touch with your newsletter, whether it’s electronic, print, or both. In theory, newsletters can be a great way to engage, but in reality, most of them are long, boring bragfests.

For the time being, I would suggest a shorter newsletter to capture your donors’ attention. You could also opt not to do an official newsletter and just stay in touch with short, engaging updates instead.

Focus more on relationship building in your fundraising appeals

A fundraising appeal can be a way to connect with your donors if you make relationship building the main focus. This rarely happens because most appeals are transactional and generic.

You shouldn’t stop fundraising. You won’t raise the money you need if you don’t ask. Plus, donors want to give if they can.

Remember to keep relationship building front and center at all times. Thank donors for their past support, share some updates, and show them how their gift will help you make a difference for your clients/community.

Cultivating Donor Relationships in 2020: 5 Best Practices

Keep it up 

Your donors want to hear from you this summer and throughout the year. A communications calendar will be a huge help with this so your donors won’t wonder why you haven’t been in touch lately. 

The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan

1528715736_98556a9c65_w (1)I feel like the theme of most of my posts over the last several months is this is more important than ever. This could be a tough fundraising season, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a campaign this fall.

Something that should help is having a thank you plan. Thanking donors often takes a back seat to fundraising when you should spend equal time doing both. Many organizations just thank their donors after they receive a gift and then disappear until the next fundraising appeal.

With everything going on this year, your donors deserve heaps of gratitude. 

Thanking your donors is something you need to do throughout the year – at least once a month, if you can. Creating a thank you plan will help you stay focused on gratitude all year round.  

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

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

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it shouldn’t resemble Amazon check out. It should make a person feel good about making a donation.

Open with Thank you, Jen 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 (reference COVID-19). Put all the tax-deductible information after your message or in the automatically generated thank you email.

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

How to Create Post Donation Thank You Pages That Delight Donors

Plan to write a warm and personal automatic thank you email

Set up an automatic thank you email to go out after someone donates online. This email thank you is more of a reassurance to let your donor know 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.

How to Write a Great Donation Thank-you Email (with Examples)

Email Thank You Letter Examples for Donors

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. I know it’s harder to do 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 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 also want to conduct a short training (most likely via Zoom). 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, this is Rachel Clark 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. Our numbers have almost tripled over the last few months and we know that will continue, so we really appreciate your support.

You’ll stand out if you can send a thank you card. I received a couple of cards this summer, both from the same organization, which shows you what they prioritize! One was a postcard with a handwritten note. The other was a lovely card with a pre-printed personal message (addressing me by name and including a gift amount). While not as personal as a handwritten note, it may be more doable.

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, it’s time to freshen it up. 

Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization, we thank you for your donation of…. Open the letter with You’re incredible or Because of you, the Davis 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. Make sure all letters are hand signed.

Let your donors know how much you appreciate them and highlight what your organization is doing with their donations. Remember to keep it current.

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.

How to Write The Best Thank-You Letter for Donations + Three Templates and Samples

How to write a donation thank you letter

How to Craft a Killer Thank You Letter

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, 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 affecting 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.
  • 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.
  • While open houses and tours are off the table for now, you could do something virtual to let your donors see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

The post below references a donor acknowledgment plan for monthly donors with some personal ways to connect and you don’t have to come up with 12 different ideas. It’s okay to repeat some. While these are for monthly donors, and monthly donors should get their own thank yous, you can use them for other donors, too. 

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

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 ever-important gratitude.

Making Smart Investments is More Important than Ever

10688617385_ce1214d44d_w (1)Nonprofit organizations will be facing some tough times ahead. During an economic downturn, the need for nonprofit services grows while some donors won’t be able to give as much, if at all.

Your first inclination may be to make cuts or continue working with a bare-bones budget with the mindset “we can’t afford this.” 

I understand you want to be cautious. But you also want to use caution before you eliminate something you think you can’t afford. It may be something you should be investing in.

This is why you need to make smart investments. It may seem counterintuitive to spend money when you have so little, but if you make the right decisions, these investments can help you raise more money.

Invest in a good CRM/database

A good CRM (Customer Relationship Management)/database is a must for a number of reasons. First, it can help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by gift amount and politely ask them to give a little more in your next appeal – $35 or $50 instead of $25.

A good database can also help you with retention, which will save you money since it costs less to keep donors than to acquire new ones. You can personalize your letters and email messages. Some CRM’s also have an email component. Otherwise, make sure to invest in a good email service provider, too.

Personalized letters and messages mean you can address your donors by name and not Dear Friend. You can welcome new donors and thank current donors for their previous support. You can send targeted mailings to lapsed donors to try to woo them back. You can send special mailings to your monthly donors. You can record any personal information, such as conversations you had with a donor and their areas of interest.

You also want a CRM that everyone on your staff can access remotely. When the pandemic hit earlier this year and most everyone was forced to work from home, organizations that could access their CRM and still communicate with their donors had a clear advantage.

Invest in the best CRM/donor database you can afford, and Excel is not a database.

Nonprofit Software

Nonprofit CRM | Complete Guide to Choosing the Best Solution

Invest in monthly giving

Monthly donations are more important than ever now. If you already have monthly donors, or any type of recurring donor, you’ve been receiving a steady stream of revenue throughout the pandemic and economic downtown.

If you don’t have a monthly giving program or you want to grow the one you have, it’s not hard to do. Plus it’s a win-win for your organization since you can raise more money and raise your retention rate as well. The retention rate for monthly donors 90%. That’s significantly higher than other retention rates. 

It’s also easier for your donors if they’re worried about their financial situation, but still want to help. They can make small donations of $5.00 or $10.00 a month instead of giving the entire amount at once. 

Monthly giving is an investment you must make.

Invest in donor communications and that includes direct mail

Years ago, I was working at a nonprofit and our executive director said we shouldn’t do an e-newsletter anymore because we needed to concentrate on raising money.

I wish I knew then what I know now. Fundraising isn’t just about sending appeals. And to quote Tom Ahern – If you do better donor communications, you’ll have more money. 

Yet many nonprofits have a similar view. They don’t want to spend much time thanking their donors and sending newsletters and other updates, even though those types of donor communications can help you raise more money, provided you do it well. 

You don’t want to skimp on your communications budget and that includes direct mail. If you never or rarely use direct mail, you’re missing out on an effective and more personal way to communicate with your donors. Think of the enormous amount of email and social media posts you receive as opposed to postal mail. Your donors will be more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail.

Yes, direct mail is more expensive, but you don’t have to mail that often. Quality is more important than quantity but aim for three or four times a year, if you can.

Creating thank you cards and infographic postcards are a smart investment and a necessity, not a luxury. Thank you cards are a much better investment than mailing labels and other useless swag.

A few ways you can use direct mail without breaking your budget are to clean up your mailing lists to avoid costly duplicate mailings, spread thank you mailings throughout the year – perhaps sending something to a small number of donors each month, and look into special nonprofit mailing rates. You may also be able to get print materials done pro bono or do them in-house, as long as they look professional.

Shorter is better. Lengthy communication (goodbye long annual reports) will cost more and your donors are less likely to read it.

Of course, you can use email and social media, but your primary reason for communicating those ways shouldn’t be because it’s cheaper. It should be because that’s what your donors use. If your donors prefer you to communicate by mail, then you should honor their request.

You want to communicate with your donors at least once or twice a month. Use a communications calendar to help you with this.

5 Rules for a Successful Donor Communications Program

9 Best Practices for Communications That Stand Out

Nonprofit Fundraising: The Case for Direct Mail

Don’t limit yourself by saying you can’t afford certain expenses. If you invest in a good CRM/database, monthly giving, and donor communications, you should be able to raise more money.

Image by Thomas Lapperre  www.bloeise.nl.

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

18761109699_50d9b19a78_oWe’re halfway through 2020 and it looks like this will be a year that will stand out in history. We’re having a global pandemic, along with a severe economic downturn. The horrific killing of George Floyd by a police officer spawned protests against racism and police brutality.

Systemic racism is something that’s been part of the United States (and other countries) for centuries. Are we just now realizing that Aunt Jemima is a racist symbol?

It’s not surprising that the COVID-19 outbreak and economic devastation are affecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities at a much higher level. It’s very likely that all of these situations are affecting the people/community you work with.

I want to briefly address racism right now. If your nonprofit organization works with the BIPOC community, then they are affected by racism. If you’re working on issues such as affordable housing, homelessness, education, health care, etc, these have ties to racism.

Your organization shouldn’t be afraid to talk about racism when you tell your stories or communicate in other ways. Vu Lee addressed this last month.

Have nonprofit and philanthropy become the “white moderate” that Dr. King warned us about?

You may have made a statement against racism, which is a good first step. Don’t stop with that.

Donors want to hear your stories

Stories are one of the best ways to communicate with your donors. Unfortunately, you’re probably not using them enough. That’s a mistake because people respond better to stories than a bunch of facts and statistics. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene.

You may be reluctant to use stories because it’s more work for your organization, but that shouldn’t stop you. I know it’s even harder now since the COVID-19 outbreak has upended the way you work. Maybe everyone is still working at home or only some of you are back at the office. You can still do this. The summer is a good time to come up with some new stories.

Your stories need to be relevant

Just as it’s been for the last few months, your stories need to take the current climate into account. That’s why you new need ones. You’re seeing real people with real problems in real time. These posts address this more.

4 Resources to Help Shift the Narrative for Equity in Nonprofit Communications

HOW TO TELL YOUR NONPROFIT’S STORY, EVEN IN THE MIDST OF CRISIS

How to Communicate with Supporters During COVID-19: Nonprofit & Brand Examples

Create a culture of storytelling

If you create a storytelling culture in your organization, you can make storytelling the norm instead of the exception.

Work with your program staff to create stories that will help you connect with your donors. Everyone needs to understand how important this is. Share stories at staff meetings and/or set up regular meetings with program staff to gather stories. Do this virtually if you’re not in the office.

When you put together a story, ask.

  • Why is this important?
  • Who is affected?
  • Why would your donors be interested in this story?
  • Are you using clear, everyday language (no jargon) to make sure your donors understand your story?
  • How are your donors helping you make a difference or How can your donors help you make a difference?

Client or program recipient stories are best, especially now.

Another way to find stories is to put a Share Your Story page on your website. This could be a good way to get some current, relevant stories.

4 INSPIRATIONAL “SHARE YOUR STORY” PAGES THAT WILL KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF

Create a story bank to help you organize all your stories. Take advantage of slower times of the year to gather your stories. You want to use stories as much as possible. Use them in your appeals, thank you letters, newsletters, updates, annual reports, website, blog, and other types of social media. You can use the same stories in different channels.

Language is important

It’s time to stop using jargon such as at-risk and underserved. These terms undermine your clients/community. These aren’t terms your donors use, anyway. Use language they’ll understand. 

You also don’t want to give the impression that your organization is coming in to save someone. This is especially important if the majority of your staff and donors are white, but your clients are people of color. This is known as white savior complex. Most likely that’s not intentional on your part, but watching how you tell your stories will help you avoid that. Be an ally and be respectful of your clients/community.

I have to admit I don’t know the best way to approach some of this and would welcome suggestions.

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Remember, your stories aren’t about your organization. Your organization may have had to make a lot of changes to do some of the work you do, but that’s not your story. Your story is why this is important for the people/community you work with. 

Maybe you had to change the way you run your food pantry, but what’s most important is that people in the community continue to have access to healthy food. 

Make your stories personal 

Use people’s names to make your stories more personal. I realize you might run into confidentiality issues, but you can change names to protect someone’s privacy. You could also do a composite story, but don’t make up anything.

Fundraising with Names Have Been Changed Disclaimers

There continues to be a lot going on and your organization can’t ignore the current climate. Tell stories that address these situations and be respectful of the people/community you work with.

Finally, COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. Please be smart – wear a mask, practice social distancing, and avoid crowds. Stay safe and be well!

 

How Nonprofits Can Benefit from Remote Work

49833571136_54d28261f7_wThe nonprofit sector is experiencing an urgent need to conduct business from a remote location. The perks of this arrangement include preventing workers and volunteers from contracting illnesses, spending less money on overhead, having people across the world become involved in your organization, and more. However, it does take work to make your organization function in a digital world.

Communication is key

Just about everyone knows that communication is crucial to running a successful organization. However, a remote work environment can make this more challenging. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to be proactive and communicate with your team.

No matter the size of your organization, reaching out to all staff on a regular basis to check in is important. Setting up meetings with tools such as Zoom or Google Hangouts allows you to visually check in with staff and make sure they have what they need to complete their tasks, as well as holding them accountable for their work. This is also a great time to address triumphs and challenges in their day-to-day lives.

Encouraging employees to have casual conversations is also important in building an organizational culture. Instant messaging apps such as Slack or Discord provide a great outlet for employees to talk to one another in a more casual setting. These applications are also great for quick questions and a way for teams to talk throughout the day.

Follow Cybersecurity Best Practices

As a nonprofit, donors and those you serve depend on you to keep their personal information secure. Cybersecurity starts with your employees. It’s important to train everyone affiliated with your organization on cybersecurity best practices. This includes things such as how to identify a phishing email, the importance of using strong passwords, and what to do if they suspect a cyberattack.

It’s also very important to use the proper software. Provide organizational laptops, if you are able to, and require that employees only work on these devices. If this isn’t feasible, stress the importance of staff installing an antivirus program on whichever device they use. In addition, stress the importance of using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if employees are working from a public Wi-Fi network, such as those at libraries and coffee shops if those are open.

If you are the victim of a cyberattack, it’s important to be upfront and honest with donors and the public. Having data backed up in another location will help you put everything back together quicker. However, when it comes to cybersecurity, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Work smarter, not harder

Creating an efficient workflow is important for every organization, but even more so for nonprofits. Technology like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can streamline many day-to-day tasks for your organization. A few examples would be emailing potential donors, donation processing, website chatbots, and tracking for tax and payroll purposes. These automated “bots” can be programmed from any location to perform any task for your organization, and can even make basic decisions on their own.

Automating tasks can help save you money on payroll and overhead, as well as making your organization active 24/7/365. This also frees up your workforce for tasks that require a human touch, such as connecting with donors and the public, creating strategy, and creating content for your nonprofit. In today’s world, this is technology that can be used by organizations of any size.

Be visible

In 2020, having a digital presence is more important than ever. This means having an easy-to-use and up-to-date website; being active on social media platforms; and reaching out to donors, other organizations, and the general public.

One great way to take advantage of online communication is communicating via video chat. Studies have shown that communicating visually is far more effective than audio-only communication. Reaching out to potential donors and volunteers via video is a great way to boost fundraising efforts. Thanking donors with a personalized video call is an excellent substitute for letting someone know you appreciate them if you can’t communicate in person.

Finally, in a sluggish economy, it’s especially important to communicate with the general public about what you’re doing and that you’re still active in the community. You can do this with frequent posting by email and on social media platforms, as well as encouraging staff to share updates on their own personal accounts.

In today’s unprecedented times, nonprofit organizations are some of the first to struggle. However, this does not mean that work needs to come to a standstill. Remote work and e-commerce are critically important today, and this trend will only continue in the future. Working to create a strong remote workplace will benefit your organization now, and in years to come. 

You Have Options When Creating Your Annual Report

37807079994_1c564aee84_wAre you dreading putting together your annual report?  You think it’s time-consuming, but it’s something you always do. Plus your board wants you to do it, although you’re not sure your donors actually read it.

And why would donors want to read an annual report when many of them are long, boring, and basically a demonstration of the organization patting itself on the back?

Annual reports don’t have to be a negative experience for you or your donors. You have options when creating your annual report. 

First, you don’t have to do one, but you do have to share accomplishments with your donors. You might want to ditch the annual report and send short progress reports a couple of times a year or monthly e-updates instead.

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. Shorter is better.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you create an annual report that won’t put your donors to sleep and make it a little easier for you to put together.

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.

You may 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.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. Get inspired by these examples.

Oregon Zoo Gratitude Report

Power of Storytelling | The most moving gratitude report I’ve ever seen

How are you making a difference?

The theme of many annual reports is look how great we are. They are organization centered and not donor-centered.  

They also include a bunch of boring lists, 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. Something like this – Thanks to you, 85% of the students in our tutoring program have improved their math skills and now have a better chance of graduating from high school on time.

Phrases like Thanks to you and Because of you should dominate your annual report.

Tell a story

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

For example –  Kevin, a junior at Douglas High School, couldn’t stand math. “I don’t understand it and when am I going to actually use Geometry?” he asked. Geometry was worse than Algebra, which was” horrible.” Then Kevin started meeting weekly with Josh, one of our volunteer tutors. It was a struggle at first, but thanks to Josh’s patience and encouragement, Kevin is starting to understand math and is doing much better. Now he doesn’t dread Geometry class.

Make it visual

Your donors are busy and don’t have a lot of 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 Josh helping Kevin with his math.

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. 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. Now they no longer have to live in a shelter, a motel, or their cars and have a place to call home.

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

Planning is key

One problem with annual reports is organizations send them out months after the year is over and at that point the information is outdated.

Yes, 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.

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

Of course, a shorter report or an infographic postcard will help ensure your 2019 report doesn’t arrive in your donor’s mailbox the following spring or later. Remember, you also have the option of not doing one and sending periodic short updates.

Whatever you decide, put together an annual report that’s a better experience for everyone. Read on for more information about creating a great annual, or even better –  a gratitude report.

How to Craft a 1-Page Nonprofit Annual Report

Donor-Centered Nonprofit Annual Reports

Best Nonprofit Annual Reports 2019

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

Photo by CreditDebitPro

Make a Good Impression by Showing Some #DonorLove

4810189_15c7e30d55_zNot long ago while I was scrolling through my email, one message stood out. It was a thank you video from a nonprofit organization. A week or so before that I received a thank you card from another nonprofit.

Unfortunately, those are the only examples of #DonorLove from the last few weeks that I can share with you. I’d also like to tell you I received a bunch of wonderful thank yous after I made my year-end gifts, but I can’t. Most of them were automatically generated thank you emails or the usual boring form letter.

We can do better!

I don’t know where your organization stands, but if you’re like many, you’re sleepwalking through your #DonorLove practice. Thanking your donors is not a we do this after we receive a donation and then we don’t have to do anything situation. 

#DonorLove is something you need to show all year-round and with Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s a perfect opportunity to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support.

8 Strategies to Celebrate Nonprofit Donors on Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day: Donor Love Infographic

Maybe you would rather not go the Valentine’s Day route, but you should still do something to show appreciation this month (and every month). The holidays are over and February can be a dreary month. Your donors would appreciate a little mood booster.

This is also a good opportunity to keep in touch with the people who gave to your year-end appeal, especially first-time donors. If you haven’t shown any #DonorLove since your year-end appeal, don’t wait much longer.

Here are a few ways you can show some #DonorLove.

Create a thank you photo

Make your donor’s day with a great photo, like this.

Image result for pictures of people holding thank you signs

You can send thank you photos via email and social media, use one to create a card, and include one on your thank you landing page.

Make a video

Videos are becoming an increasingly popular way to connect. Here’s a link to the thank you video I recently received. 

Thanks to our compassionate community!

It’s simple, yet effective, so don’t worry if you weren’t a film major. It’s not too hard to create a video.

How to Create a Donor Thank You Video

One idea for your video is to show a bunch of people saying thank you. You’ll want your video to be short, donor-centered, and show your organization’s work up close and personal.

Your thank you landing page is a perfect place to put a video. This is your first opportunity to say thank you and most landing pages are just boring receipts. You can also put your thank you video on your website and share it by email and social media.

Nonprofit Thank You Video Script

A Thank You Video to Promote Donor Retention

Send a card

A handwritten note will also brighten your donor’s day. If you don’t have the budget to send cards to everyone, send them to your most valuable donors. These may not be the ones who give you the most money. Do you have donors who have supported your organization for more than three years? How about more than five years? These are your valuable donors. Don’t take them for granted.

That said, I do think you should make every effort to send a card to ALL your donors at least once a year. You can spread it out so you mail a certain number of cards each month, ensuring all your donors get one sometime in the year. I also think it’s nice to send something during times of the year when donors might least expect it, such as May or September.

Most organizations don’t send thank you cards, so you’ll stand out if you do.

Share an update or success story

In addition to saying thank you, share a brief update or success story. Emphasize how you couldn’t have helped someone without your donor’s support. For example –Thanks to you, Jeremy won’t go to bed hungry tonight.

Phrases like Thanks to you or Because of you should dominate your newsletters and updates.

Back to basics

Make this the year you do a better job of thanking your donors. Thank your donors right away and send a thank you note/letter or make a phone call. Electronic thank yous aren’t good enough.

Be personal and conversational when you thank your donors. Don’t use jargon or other language they won’t understand. Write from the heart, but be sincere. Give specific examples of how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Make thanking your donors a priority

I’m a big proponent of communicating by mail, even if it’s only a few times a year. It’s much more personal. Yet, many nonprofits are skittish about spending too much on mailing costs.

If your budget doesn’t allow you to mail handwritten cards, is there a way you can change that? You may be able to get a print shop to donate cards. You could also look for additional sources of unrestricted funding to cover cards and postage. Think of these as essential expenses.

Maybe you need a change of culture – a culture of gratitude. This comes from the top, but you also need to get your board, all staff, and volunteers invested and involved in thanking your donors. 

You can’t say thank you enough. Make a commitment to thank your donors at least once a month. Create a thank you plan to help you with this. Planning ahead and creating systems makes a difference.

Create a system for expressing gratitude

Keep thinking of ways to show some #DonorLove. Stand out and impress your donors. 

Nonprofit Donor Thank You’s: What are You Doing to Stand Out?

20 Engaging Ideas for Donation Thank You Letters

Thanking a Donor by Email: Best Practices and Examples

You don’t even need to wait for a holiday or special occasion. Just thank your donors because they’re amazing and you wouldn’t be able to make a difference without them.

How Monthly Giving is a Win-Win for Your Nonprofit

48257299076_b34347f77e_wA few weeks ago I wrote about ways to help you become more successful in 2020. One of those was to emphasize monthly giving. I’d like to elaborate on that some more in this post.

Monthly giving is a win-win for your nonprofit. You can raise more money and boost your retention rate. Also, once donors opt into monthly giving, it’s an easier way for them to support your organization.

You can raise more money

Monthly or recurring donations can help donors spread out their gifts. They may be apprehensive about giving a one-time gift of $50 or $100. But if you offer them the option of giving $5 or $10 a month, that may sound more reasonable.

It’s easier on their bank accounts. It can also give you a consistent stream of revenue throughout the year instead of certain times, such as when you do individual appeals and events and when grants come in.

Monthly gifts are smaller, but you can raise a lot of money with lots of small gifts. Political candidates do it all the time. Also, monthly gifts aren’t as small as you think. The average monthly gift is $24 a month.

Check out this retention rate

The retention rate for monthly donors is an impressive 90%. That’s significantly higher than other retention rates. 

One reason is that monthly gifts are ongoing. But your donors have agreed to that, so this shows they’re committed to your organization. 

Getting started

If you don’t already have a monthly giving program, make this the year you start one. It’s not as hard as you think.

A good way to start is to invite your current donors to become monthly donors. Your best bet for monthly donors are people who’ve given at least twice. These are donors who have shown a commitment to you. 

That doesn’t mean you can’t ask first-time donors. This could be a good way to connect with donors from your most recent campaign. And if you haven’t officially welcomed your new year-end donors, do that now. 

Are you missing this key fundraising “system?”

Make monthly giving the go-to option

Make monthly giving front and center in all your campaigns. It should be an easy option on your donation page. Include it on your pledge form and make it a prominent part of your appeal, maybe as a PS.

I can speak from personal experience that once I started giving monthly, that’s the way I wanted to give to all organizations. Your donors would probably agree.

A handful of organizations don’t offer a monthly giving option, which is a mistake. Some have a minimum donation, which I would also not recommend, if possible. If you do have a minimum, make it $5 a month instead of $10. 

If your reason to have a minimum donation amount is to save money, is that happening if your minimum deters someone from giving at all? You often have to invest a little to raise more money.

Show some #donorlove

You need to do a good job of thanking your monthly donors. Go the extra mile and segment your monthly donors into new monthly donors, current monthly donors, and current donors who become monthly donors, which I explain more in the post below. 

The Importance of Segmenting Your Donors

This way you can personalize their thank you letters to make them feel special. Be sure to mail a thank you letter, or even better, send a handwritten note. An email acknowledgment is not enough.

Many organizations send a monthly acknowledgment email or letter, and most are just okay. Some are basically only receipts. And while it’s helpful to know the organization received your donation, you’re not practicing good stewardship if that’s all you do.

You could spruce up these monthly acknowledgments, both by not making them sound like they were written by a robot and by providing some donor-centered updates.

One thing you should do is send your donors an annual summary of their monthly gifts. This is extremely helpful for people who itemize deductions. Make this letter more than just a receipt. Thank your donors and let them know how their monthly donations are helping you make a difference.

Reach out at least once a month

Besides showing #donorlove, here are some other ways to reach out to your monthly donors.

You could create a special newsletter for monthly donors or include a cover letter referencing monthly donors. If that’s too much, you could give a shout out to your monthly donors and include information on how to become a monthly donor in your newsletter.

Hold an open house for monthly donors. Even if they don’t attend, they’ll appreciate the invitation. You could also offer tours, either at a specific time or on request.

Include a list of your monthly donors in a newsletter, annual report, or on your website. Donor lists are just one of many ways to show appreciation and not the only one, so do much more than just that. Of course, honor any donor’s wish to remain anonymous.

Thank yous, newsletters, and updates are not a one-time time deal. Keep it up throughout the year. Many nonprofits start out communicating regularly with their monthly donors and then disappear after a couple of months.  

The Holy Grail of Fundraising

These donors made a commitment to you by giving every month. Make the same commitment to them by reaching out at least once a month. Create a special section in your communications calendar specifically for monthly donors to help with this.

Be accommodating

I highly recommend a contact person for your monthly donors in case they need to update their credit card information or make a change to their gift, hopefully, an upgrade. Include this information in their welcome letter.

Another way to help out your monthly donors is to let them know when their credit cards are about to expire. Don’t rely on your donors to remember this, because most likely they won’t.

Set up a system where you can flag credit cards that will expire in the next month or two. Then send these donors a friendly reminder email or letter. This will help you, as well, so you can keep receiving a steady stream of donations.

You could encourage donors to give via an electronic funds transfer from their bank account instead. Then neither you nor your donors need to worry about credit cards expiring.

Once a monthly donor, always a monthly donor

Once someone becomes a monthly donor, you must always recognize them as such. You most certainly should send fundraising appeals to monthly donors, but not the same ones you send to other donors.

I think the best way to raise additional money from monthly donors is to ask them to upgrade their monthly gift. Be as specific as possible. For example – We’re so happy you’re part of our family of monthly donors and are grateful for your gift of $5.00 a month. Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $7.00 or even $10.00 a month?

You can also ask monthly donors for an additional gift during one of your fundraising campaigns, but you MUST recognize they’re monthly donors – We really appreciate your gift of $10 a month. Could you help us out a little more right now with an additional gift? We want to expand our tutoring program to three more high schools.

If you send the usual generic appeal, imagine your donor saying –  “I already give you $10 a month and you don’t seem to know that.”

But if you let those committed, monthly donors know you think they’re special, they’ll be more likely to upgrade or give an additional gift.

Don’t miss out on this proven way to raise more money, boost donor retention rates, and provide an easier giving option for your donors. Read on for more about monthly giving.

Planning Your Monthly Giving Strategy For The Year: A Step-By-Step Guide

Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

How to start a monthly giving program for your small nonprofit

Vector Art by Epic Top 10

Looking at the New Year with 20/20 Vision

49309556946_7d4841c90f_wHappy New Year, everyone! Wow, it’s 2020, and I couldn’t resist the 20/20 pun. Not only are we entering a new year, we’re also entering a new decade.

Many people use the New Year to make changes and improvements in their lives. You can do the same for your nonprofit organization. 

As with personal resolutions, you want to set realistic goals that you can stick with over time. Going back to the 20/20 theme, you want to set these goals and make these plans with clear vision.

Here are a few ways to help you ensure success in 2020.

You must have fundraising and communications plans

One key to success is good planning. 

If you haven’t made fundraising and communications plans yet, do that now! Don’t go too far into the New Year without plans in place.

Take a look back at 2019 to see what worked and what didn’t in your fundraising and communications. Incorporate what you’ve learned into your 2020 plans.

Be sure to include donor engagement and donor retention in your fundraising plan.

If you didn’t have a concrete plan last year and you weren’t as successful as you would have liked, that may be why.

Write your annual fundraising plan with these 6 steps

Here’s a Sample Fundraising Plan for Your Non-Profit

Do’s and Don’ts for Your Annual Fundraising Plan

12 (Amazingly Easy) Step by Step Fundraising Plan Templates

Build a Better Nonprofit Marketing Plan: Here’s How

How to Integrate Your Nonprofit Fundraising Plan With Your Marketing Plan

Measure your progress

Make sure you evaluate your progress at least once a quarter. It will be easier to stay successful if you can continually measure your progress and make any necessary changes before it’s too late.

20 KPIs For Your Nonprofit To Track

Pay attention to your donor retention

Make this 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.

One Thing Most Nonprofits Stink at (Donor Retention) and How You Can Change It

3 Concrete Strategies to Address The Donor Retention Crisis

Also, the New Year is a good time to get in touch with any lapsed donors, especially ones who gave a year ago. They may just need a gentle reminder. 

Emphasize monthly giving 

Staying on the retention theme, the retention rate for monthly donors is 90%. 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.

Incorporating Monthly Giving Into Your Fundraising

How to start a monthly giving program for your small nonprofit

20 Monthly Giving Intentions for 2020

Make building relationships a priority 

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.

Build Relationships With Your Donors Every Step of the Way

Build Loyal Donor Relationships in 3 Easy Steps

Show some gratitude, too

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 with this.

Nonprofit Donor Thank You’s: What are You Doing to Stand Out?

Start the New Year off by making fundraising and communications plans. Then monitor your progress, pay attention to your retention rates, and work on building relationships with your donors. 

Best of luck for a successful 2020.