If You’re Making a Difference,You Have Stories to Tell

11276455354_8e888bdc19_mWhen your donors open your appeal letter or newsletter, do you bore them with a bunch of mind-numbing statistics, or do you share a story about how the Clark family moved out of a shelter and into a home of their own?

Donors want to hear your stories

You may be reluctant to use stories because it’s more work for your organization, but don’t use that as an excuse. Donors love stories and they want to hear yours. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene. Here’s an example.

Mara woke up feeling good for the first time in a while. After losing her job and being evicted from her apartment, she moved between her cousin’s house, motels, and shelters. It was taking a toll on her family. Everyone was stressed out and her kids were falling behind in school.

That was about to change because thanks to donors like you, Mara and her family will be moving into a home of their own.

Can you tell a story like that? If you’re making a difference, you can. Stories should show your donors how they’re helping you make a difference for the people you serve.

Create a culture of storytelling

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

Break down your silos and 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.

When you put together a story, ask.

  • Why would your donors be interested in this story?
  • Why is this important?
  • Who are you helping?
  • 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. You can also share profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Many organizations profile new board members in their newsletters. That’s okay, but instead of emphasizing their professional background, concentrate on what drew them to your organization. Perhaps she has a brother who’s struggled with mental health issues or he benefited from having a mentor.

Another way to find stories is to put a Share Your Story page on your website. Share-Your-Story Page | an addition to the fundraiser’s arsenal of tools

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

Give your stories the personal touch

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

Your stories aren’t about your organization

Let your donors know how with their help, Kate doesn’t have to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill. Your organization stays in the background. And remember, Your Mission Statement is NOT Your Story

Tell your donors the stories they want to hear. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories.

Resources to help you tell your stories

The Storytelling Nonprofit

INFOGRAPHIC: A Nonprofit Storytelling How-To

Best Practices in Nonprofit Storytelling – How to Structure Your Stories

Top 10 Nonprofit Storytelling Best Practices

Photo by Howard Lake

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The Importance of Having a Thank You Plan

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I’ve written about the importance of having a thank you plan before, but I think we need to revisit this because many nonprofits are not doing a good job of thanking their donors. You may have every intention to, but that’s not happening. Thanking donors often takes a back seat to fundraising when you should spend equal time doing both.

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

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

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

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it often is just a boring receipt rather than something lets me feel good about making a donation.

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

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

How To Optimize Your Donation Thank You Page + Examples Of Nonprofits Who Do It Right

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 (see below).

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

Give some thought to the email subject line, too. At the very least make sure it says Thank You and not something boring like Your Donation Receipt.

Thanking a Donor by Email: Best Practices and Examples

Plan to thank your donors by mail or phone

I’m a firm believer that every donor, no matter how much 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 if you can. This shouldn’t be hard to do if you plan to carve out some time to thank your donors each day you get a donation. If you wait too long, you’re not making a good impression.

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

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

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

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

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal and heartfelt letter. Don’t start your letter with “On behalf of X organization we thank you for your donation of….” Open the letter with “You’re incredible” or “Because of you, Jacob won’t go to bed hungry tonight.”  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 or attended one of your recent events, mention that. Make sure all letters are hand signed.

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

In addition, write your thank you letter at the same time you write your appeal letter. Make sure they’re ready to go as soon as the donations come in. Don’t wait three weeks.

INFOGRAPHIC: The ULTIMATE Thank You for Nonprofits

5 Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

Plan to keep thanking your donors all year round

This is where having a thank you plan makes a difference because organizations usually send some kind of thank you letter after they receive a donation and then donor communication starts to wane after that. Thanking donors is something you must do all year round.

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

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

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

Show Your Donors How Much You Care About Them

10867591394_a63f5c30d4_mHow much do you care about your donors? I’m sure your intentions are good and you think you care about your donors, but your donor communication doesn’t always reflect that.

Your donors showed they care about your cause by giving to your organization. You need to show your donors you care about them, too.

Here are a few ways to show your donors how much you care about them.

Do a stellar job of thanking your donors

One of your first steps is to do a good job of thanking your donors and most nonprofits fall short of anything that even resembles a stellar thank you.

If someone donates online, they should be directed to a thank you landing page that includes a prominent THANK YOU and a thank you photo or video. This is your first chance to make a good impression, so don’t blow it. After that, your donors should get an equally stellar thank you email.

Everyone who donates, even if they donate online, should get a thank you letter, handwritten note, or phone call as soon as possible, preferably within 48 hours. If you wait too long to thank your donors, it looks like you don’t care about them.

You’re also not showing a lot of #donorlove when you send one of those lame thank you letters that start with On behalf of X organization… Write something warm and personal.

Finally, thanking donors isn’t something you only do right after you receive a donation. It’s a year-round effort. Create a thank you plan to help you with this.

Don’t go AWOL

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference. That’s why you have to stay in touch throughout the year.

You can do this with a regular newsletter (both email and print) and short updates by mail, email, and social media.

Planning ahead is a must here. If you haven’t already done so, putting together a communications calendar will be a huge help.

Donors come first

It’s crucial that all your communication is donor-centered. Sending a newsletter or update that just brags about your organization doesn’t show your donors you care about them.

Share content you know they’ll be interested in such as success stories and client profiles. Use language like Because of you or Thanks to you.

Your donors want to be recognized for who they are. Welcome new donors and acknowledge previous gifts. Also, your donors have names so please don’t address your letters to Dear Friend.

Little things count

It may not seem like a big deal to you to address your donors as Dear Friend instead of their names, but it matters to them.

In my last post, I stressed the importance of having a good database and to monitor your database to make sure you have accurate records. Misspelling a donor’s name and sending duplicate mailings may also not seem like a big deal, but if you can give your database the attention it needs, you’re showing your donors you care about them.

Surprise and delight your donors

How many times have you received something from a nonprofit that wowed you? Probably not that often, right? Most donor communication is rote, run of the mill stuff.

Do something that will surprise and delight your donors. Send them a handwritten note or a postcard with an engaging photo. Try to send something by mail because it’s more personal and your donors will be more likely to see it.

It doesn’t take long to write a short, heartfelt handwritten note, but it will mean the world to your donors. Get board members and volunteers to help with this.

You can also surprise and delight your donors with a thank you phone call, a thank you video, or an appreciation event.

One of the biggest components of showing your donors you care about them is gratitude. Here are some more ways to show your donors how much you care about them.

26 ways to show your donors they matter

15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors

21 IDEAS TO REFRESH YOUR DONOR STEWARDSHIP

The Perils of Generic Communication

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How would you feel if a nonprofit organization sent you an appeal or thank you letter and never mentions you’ve been a generous donor for over five years? All you get is a boring, generic letter that doesn’t acknowledge who you are. Chances are most of the other donors of that organization are getting the exact same letter.

This is a problem. Your donors aren’t the same, so they shouldn’t all get the same letter. You need to segment your donors into different groups. I know segment is kind of a jargony word, and I’m no fan of jargon as you’ll see, but this is something that makes a lot of sense.

Segmenting your donors can help you raise more money

Segment your donors as much as possible. At the very least, create different letters for new donors and repeat donors. You can also personalize letters to lapsed donors, event attendees, volunteers, etc. 11 Ways To Segment Your Donors To Improve Your Fundraising

Thank your donors for their previous gifts and/or upgrades. Speaking of upgrades, many organizations don’t ask donors to increase their gifts because they’re sending everyone the same, generic letter. If you don’t ask, you most likely won’t receive.

Although, even if you ask for an upgrade, it won’t happen if you ignore your donors or only blast them with appeals. You need to practice stewardship, too. How to Get Last Year’s Donors to Give More this Year

You can craft an appeal like this – Thank you so much for your donation of $50 last year. Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75 or even $100? This way we can serve even more people at the community food bank.

Also, giving donors the amount of their last gift helps them out. Donors are busy and give to other organizations besides yours. They may not remember what they’ve given before.

And let’s stop sending Dear Friend letters, too. You’re not being a good friend if you don’t even recognize your donors’ names.

You may be saying it’s going to take too much time to do this. Yes, it will take more time, but it’s worth the investment. So is a good database to help you with this. Your donors will feel appreciated and may give you more money, but you do have to ask.

Generic language is uninspiring and confusing

Another problem I see in nonprofit communication is vague, generic language or even worse, jargon. Here’s an example from a thank you letter.  X organization shines a spotlight on community needs, inspires philanthropy and awards strategic grants to build a more vibrant, engaged and equitable (name of community).

This organization has a variety of programs and initiatives, and does good work, by the way. But the example above is uninspiring. It doesn’t say anything. Even if your organization has a variety of programs, focus on something specific.

My donation to that organization goes to a specific initiative. If that’s the case for you, too, tailor your communication to that. Let your donors know their donation is helping families who were left homeless due to a fire or provided heating assistance during a recent cold spell.

Most of your donors don’t have a medical or social services background. They’re not going to use terms like at-risk populations and underserved communities, and neither should you.

Jargon just confuses your donors. Imagine them looking glazed when you write about capacity building and disenfranchised communities. Use language they’ll understand. Enough With the Jargon

One way to burst past generic language and jargon is to tell stories. Most people respond better to a human-interest story than a bunch of boring statistics. Connect With Your Donors by Telling Stories

How to do better

You may be between fundraising campaigns right now and have a little more time (or maybe not). If so, now is a good time to start segmenting your donors in your database, if you haven’t already done that.

In addition, dust off those templates and freshen up your appeal letters and thank you letters. Create letter templates for different donor groups and replace your vague, generic language with something clear, conversational, and specific.

Have someone outside your organization, a friend or family member, look at your messages. Something that’s clear to you may mean nothing to others.

Show your donors how much you appreciate them by recognizing who they are and giving them content they can relate to.

All You Need is #DonorLove

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I’ve written a couple of times recently about the lack of #DonorLove out there. This is a problem. Your donors want to feel appreciated and know their gift is helping you make a difference, and your lame, automatic thank you email doesn’t cut it. You need to do better.

Valentine’s Day is coming up and this is a perfect opportunity to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support.

12 Ways to Send Your Donors Love With a Valentine

A simple email to send your donors on Valentine’s Day

Maybe you would prefer not to go for a Valentine’s Day theme, but you should still do something fun and creative to show appreciation this month (and every month for that matter). The holidays are over and Punxatawny Phil saw his shadow, so for those of us who live in Northern climates, you know what that means. We could all use a little mood booster right now.

This is also a good opportunity to stay 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, then you must reach out now.

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 one of these.

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Image result for Nonprofit thank you photos

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 are some examples of thank you videos.

HRC Thank You Video

4 Smart Ways to Use Thank You Videos in Nonprofit Fundraising

Obviously, the purpose is to thank your donors. A simple video showing a bunch of people saying thank you will do the trick. You also 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 (or a photo). This is your first opportunity to say thank you and most landing pages look like boring receipts. You can also put your thank you video on your website and share it by email and social media.

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.

Another idea – Send a small number of thank you cards every month, ensuring that each donor gets at least one card a year. Spreading it out may be easier on your budget.

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, the Smith family now has a home of their own.

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

Thank you refresher course

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.

Thanking your donors needs to be a priority

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.

Maybe you need a change of culture, and this comes from the top. Hello, Executive Directors. Getting your board, all staff, and volunteers involved in thanking your donors will make a huge difference.

Keep thinking of ways to surprise and delight your donors! Get creative.

15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors

20 Unique Donor Thank You Ideas

Nail the Nonprofit Non-Ask with these 9 ideas

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.

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.

I Expected More

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I didn’t feel a lot of donor love after I made my year-end gifts at the end of November. I thought maybe it’s coming later. Okay, now it’s later – the middle of January. Let’s see how things are going.

How long do I have to wait for a thank you letter?

The Whiny Donor (@thewhinydonor) always shares spot on fundraising tweets, and one of her best is “Seriously. How long are you going to make me wait for that thank you letter?” I’ve been thinking the same thing over the last several weeks.

It’s recommended that organizations thank their donors within 48 hours. I made all my donations online, so technically most of these organizations did that, even though their automatically generated thank you emails weren’t laced with donor love. This is an easy fix. There’s no reason why you can’t create a warm and personal thank you email.

But you’re not off the hook. Even if someone donates online, she should get a thank you by mail or phone.

Only three organizations sent me thank you letters, and two of them came in mid-January. One was from a new organization, that due to recent events, I felt compelled to give to last year. I had been disappointed that the only thing I received from them were PayPal receipts for my monthly donation. Therefore, I was quite pleased that they welcomed me as a monthly donor and let me know that “none of our work would be possible without caring donors like you.”

The phrase better late than never applies here, but don’t wait too long. If you haven’t sent a thank you by mail do that now!  And in the future, be ready to send thank you letters/handwritten notes or make phone calls right after you receive a donation.

Naughty and nice

Thank you letters are just the beginning. You need to stay in touch throughout the year. Some organizations sent me holiday and New Year’s greetings by email. One of the holiday emails included the subject line “Celebrating Ann this season.” Several included year-end updates, one with the subject line“Here’s how we put your gift to work.” These organizations are on the nice list.

I also received a couple of holiday cards in the mail. Unfortunately, these organizations are going straight to the naughty list since they included donation envelopes with their cards. A couple of holiday emails included a donate button at the bottom of the message, but that wasn’t as obvious.

I get that you’re trying to raise money, but there are times when you should just show gratitude. Also, I had recently donated to one of the organizations that sent me a “thask”

But I just donated

Speaking of raising money, most of the communication I received from nonprofits in December were fundraising requests. I was barraged with generic fundraising appeals, even though I already gave in November or give a recurring monthly donation.

Sometimes it seems these organizations don’t know me as a donor. Do you expect me to give another gift in December even though I just gave a month earlier? If so, acknowledge my previous donation and let me know why I should give again. If I give monthly, why am I getting a request for a one-time gift? If there’s a specific need, let me know.

Again, I get that you’re trying to capitalize on year-end giving. But try not to send appeals to people who have just donated. If you can’t do that, then include a thanks to people who’ve already donated. One organization ended their appeal with “P.S. — If you’ve already made your gift, THANK YOU. We’ve had an outpouring of support and are busy processing donations.”

Monthly donors should get separate appeals recognizing that they’re monthly donors. Only a couple of organizations acknowledged me as a monthly donor.

Fundraising is more than just raising money. It’s also about building relationships. This means framing your appeal to sound less like you’re begging for money and more like you recognize your donors for who they are.

Focus on what’s important to your donors

I mentioned before the importance of staying in touch with your donors throughout the year. I do hear from some organizations through their newsletters, updates, and advocacy alerts. All the organizations I support should be staying in touch and that’s not happening. I tend to hear from the same handful of organizations.

Just sending a newsletter or an update is not enough. You need to focus on how your donors are helping you make a difference and not on your organization. I like PetPartners and what they do, and they generally create a good newsletter. But in a recent e-newsletter, they fell into the look at how great we are trap by including this organization-centered subject line – “Pet Partners Chosen As 2017 Best Animal Therapy Nonprofit!”

Looking at other articles in the newsletter, I would have used “Meet Swoosh, a cancer therapy dog” as the email subject line to help draw me in. To their credit, three out of the four articles were about therapy dogs. I’m much more interested in hearing stories about how therapy animals are helping people. That’s what drew me to the organization in the first place.

When choosing articles for your newsletter or sharing an update, think about why someone donates to your organization. It’s usually because they care about your cause and not because you’re number one in something.

Don’t leave your donors with the feeling they should be expecting more. Let your donors know how much you appreciate them and share information that shows them how they’re helping you make a difference.

 

 

Your Appeal is the First Step

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I imagine many of you are beyond busy working on your year-end appeal, but if you think you can take a deep breath and relax once the letters have gone out, you can’t. Your appeal is only the first step.

In fact, what comes next is even more important, especially if you want to to keep your donors for a long time.

Do a good job of thanking your donors

In my last post, I asked Are You Thankful for Your Donors?  Take a few minutes to think about this, because most of the thank you letters I see don’t reflect that.

Make your donors feel good about their donations. A handwritten note or phone call is better than a letter, but if you only have the the means to do a letter, make it sparkle. Don’t send the same old boring, generic thank you letter. Take time to write something awesome.

Create a welcome plan for your new donors

Did you know over 75% of first-time donors don’t make a second gift (according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Report)? This is horrible and we must do a better job of keeping our donors.

One way to help ensure people will give again is to create a welcome plan, which will provide you with ways to let your new donors know how much you appreciate them.

Make your current donors feel special, too

You may think your most valuable donors are the ones who give the most money, but what about the people who have supported your organization for three, five, or even ten years? These are your valuable donors.

If you’re not acknowledging a donor’s past support, you’re making a huge mistake. Imagine how you would feel if you gave to an organization for over five years and they never thank you for your long-time support.

This is why segmenting your donors and personalizing their correspondence is crucial, so is a good database to help you with this. 11 Ways To Segment Your Donors To Improve Your Fundraising

Repeat donor retention rates are 60%, which is better, but still not great. The highest retention rate comes from monthly donors, which is an impressive 90%.

I highly recommend inviting your current donors to become monthly donors, especially the ones who’ve supported you for at least two years. Making the Most of Monthly Giving

Don’t skimp on your donor communication

I know you’re swamped with your year-end appeal right now, but this is not the time to scale back on your donor communication. Continue to send your newsletter and other updates. Keep them donor-centered.

Send your donors Thanksgiving and holiday greetings, either by mail or email. Intersperse your fundraising appeals with messages in which you’re not asking for donations.

Keep it up

Your first New Year’s resolution should be to communicate with your donors more. Keep reaching out to them – at least once or twice a month. Show appreciation and update them on how they’re helping you make a difference.

Think of other ways to do something special for your donors, such as offering tours of your facility or holding an open house.

You want to keep your donors for a long time and making them feel good about supporting your organization will help with this.