Navigating These Uncertain Times

3461601180_b29d215979_wIt’s an understatement to say the world is going through a difficult time. I hope everyone is doing okay and staying healthy. Even though we’re practicing social distance, among other things, it’s perfectly normal to feel anxious during these uncertain times.

I had planned a post on donor newsletters, which seems trite given what’s going on. You and your nonprofit organization have a lot to worry about. Maybe you’re scrambling to figure out how everyone can effectively work from home. Maybe it’s hard to provide vital services to your clients. Maybe you’re going have to postpone or cancel upcoming events.

While we’re trying to take measures to stay healthy, the COVID-19 outbreak will most likely devastate the economy. Here in the Boston area and through the state, restaurants and businesses are closing and gatherings of more than 25 people are prohibited. Theatres and museums are closed, and I know of several organizations that have to cut back on services. One organization had to cancel a huge walkathon that raises over $2 million.

During economic downturns, the need to provide vital nonprofit services increases. We don’t know how much the economy will suffer but expect that it will.

You may not be thinking that much about your donor communication at this time, but you should be. Here are a few suggestions to help you navigate these uncertain times.

Reach out to your donors

Please don’t cut back on your donor communication right now.  Maybe you can’t send a print newsletter if everyone is working from home, but you can still communicate with your donors.

Check in with your donors. See how they’re doing and thank them for their support. Don’t ignore what’s going on. Let them know you understand this is a difficult time.

I hope you have a good CRM/database that everyone can access remotely so you can easily send messages. You should also think about calling donors who you know don’t use electronic communication.

Be honest

I tend not to like the term transparency, but if there’s ever a time to be transparent, it’s now. Be upfront with your donors about how this will affect your work. Are you cutting back on services? How will that affect the people/community you serve?

The need for donations

You may need to ask for additional donations, and that’s perfectly understandable. You’re probably familiar with the concept – ask, thank, update, repeat. In this case, I recommend thanking and updating first and then asking.

Again, be upfront and honest about what you need. This is not a situation where someone mismanaged funds or didn’t plan accordingly. A few months ago, most of us were unaware something like this could happen.

Make an appeal that’s specific and easy to understand. As with most fundraising appeals, you’ll need to send it out more than once. Email is probably your best bet right now, but you can also use social media. This video gives some great suggestions. 

How to write an Emergency E-Appeal if your organization is being affected by the Coronavirus

Your donors are going through a lot and giving to your organization may be the last thing they’re thinking about. Some donors will be perfectly willing to give an additional donation and others won’t. These donors may be cautious with their finances for a while.

You could encourage donors to give monthly. This would be easier on their finances and provide you with a consistent stream of revenue.

Encourage Monthly Giving During Uncertain Times

Donors stop giving for a variety of reasons. You can’t control their financial situation, but you can control your donor communication. Do the best you can right now, and be sure to pour on the gratitude to anyone who gives an extra donation or upgrades to monthly giving.

Going forward

This is an unprecedented situation that emphasizes the importance of planning ahead. I know it’s hard for small nonprofits with limited resources, but here a few ways to be prepared in the future.

Invest in good infrastructure, most importantly a good data management system.

Have a reserve fund. No matter how small your budget is, you want to have some money set aside in times like these. 

Provide a caring, compassionate work environment that allows people to take care of themselves as needed.

I’ll keep sharing information that’s relevant as we work through this. Here a few links that may be helpful. Take care!

Essential Advice and Resources for Nonprofits – COVID-19 / Coronavirus | Recession | Remote Work

Tips for Communicating with Donors During Uncertain Times

 

Let Your Donors Know How Lucky You Are to Have Them

422810636_b02ba5dfed_mIn a recent Grow Report, fundraising expert  Pamela Grow wrote about a time she had just started a new development job and the donors hadn’t been thanked for over eight months (yikes!). When she expressed concern about this to an outside consultant, the consultant replied, “In my experience, donors are lucky to get a postcard.”

Really? What nonprofit organizations should be saying is, “We’re lucky to have our donors.” And this includes all donors, even ones who give smaller gifts. Smaller gift donors often have the potential to give more. Also, don’t discount a loyal donor who’s given $25 a year for 10 years. Maybe she’s passionate about your cause, but that’s all she can afford. You don’t want to lose her.

Do your donors know how lucky you feel to have them support your organization? They should. Take time this month to let them know that and keep letting them know that throughout the year. St. Patrick’s Day is coming up so you could use that as a theme.

You need more than luck 

Luck isn’t everything, though. You have to work at it. Donors don’t magically donate, or more important, keep donating to your organization. In fact, if you ignore them or communicate poorly, they’re unlikely to donate again.

It takes more than leprechauns granting wishes. You need good donor relations and consistent, engaging communication. Donor relations should be easier than raising money, and it can be fun, too. But not only do you have to work at it, you need to make it a priority!

New beginnings

If you don’t want to use St.Patrick’s Day as a theme, spring is just around the corner (yea!). Spring is 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. Donor retention continues to be poor for first-time donors. Don’t let these donors slip away.

Reach out to your loyal donors

While engaging with first-time donors is important, you don’t want to ignore your longer-term donors. Organizations rarely acknowledge past giving. I gave an example above about a loyal donor who’s given for 10 years.

If you have donors who’ve given for more than three years, do something special for them. Let them know you’re lucky to have them in your family of donors.

Build relationships throughout the year

Building relationships is one of the most important components of fundraising. It’s something you need to do throughout the year.

Don’t just communicate with donors when you have a fundraising campaign or an event. The in-between times are just important. Let your donors know how lucky you are to have them and keep doing that again and again.

Show some donor appreciation at least once a month. A communications calendar will help you with this.

Your donors need to know how lucky you are to have them. It’s not hard to do that, but you can’t rely on just luck. 

Get inspired by some of these ideas.

15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors

12 Ways to Inspire and Delight Your Donors…With Examples!

10 Donor Recognition Ideas for Nonprofits

 

How to Move Away From Your Generic Communication

40508943681_0fa174264e_wAre you guilty of sending all your donors the same appeal and thank you letters? In these letters, you never thank a donor for their past support or acknowledge they’re a monthly donor.

If that’s not bad enough, many of these letters use vague and impersonal language and even worse, jargon.

You can do better, and frankly, you have to do better. Generic communication isn’t going to help you keep your donors.

Move away from anything generic and create something more personal. Here’s how.

Segment your donors

Your donors aren’t the same, so they shouldn’t all get the same letter. Segment your donors into different groups as much as you can. At the very least, create different letters for new donors, repeat donors, and monthly donors. You can also personalize letters to lapsed donors, event attendees, volunteers, etc.

I emphasize segmenting your donors a lot in my posts because it’s so important. Donors like it if you recognize their past giving or anything that emphasizes this is more than a generic, one-size-fits-all message.

The Importance of Segmenting Your Donors

Beginner’s Guide to Nonprofit Donor Segmentation

And while we’re on the subject of personalization, let’s stop sending Dear Friend letters, as well. You’re not being a good friend if you don’t even use your donors’ names.

I know this 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 are more likely to give again, possibly at a higher amount.

Use language your donors understand

If you use vague, generic language and jargon, you’re going to instantly bore and/or confuse your donors. Most of your donors don’t have a medical or social services background. They don’t use terms like food insecurity, at-risk populations, and underserved communities, and neither should you.

Connect with your donors by using language they’ll understand. Instead of talking about food insecurity, give an example of a family choosing between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

What you mean by at-risk or underserved? Are high school students less likely to graduate on time? Do residents of a certain community not have good health care nearby? Is housing too expensive? Get specific, but at the same time, keep it simple.

You May Love Your Jargon, But Your Donors Don’t

How Jargon Destroys Nonprofit Fundraising & Marketing

4 Reasons to Stop Using Nonprofit Jargon

A great way to move away from generic language and jargon is to tell stories. Most people respond better to a human-interest story than a bunch of boring statistics.

Tell the Stories Your Donors Want to Hear

On the road to improvement

You may be between fundraising campaigns right now and have a little more time. If so, start segmenting the donors in your database, if you haven’t already done that. Segmenting your donors isn’t a one-time deal. Make changes if you need to. For example, some of your single-gift donors may have upgraded to monthly. If you can do this after every campaign, you should have pretty up-to-date information on your donors.

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.

Move away from your generic communication with something that shows your donors how much you appreciate them by recognizing who they are and giving them engaging content they’ll relate to.

Navigating the #GivingTuesday Waters

Image result for #GivingTuesday 2019 logosI imagine most of you are familiar with #GivingTuesday, the annual giving day that takes place the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. This year it will be on December 3.

Perhaps you’ve participated in the past and it’s been successful, or maybe it wasn’t. Perhaps you’re planning to participate for the first time. Maybe you’re wondering if it’s best to just skip it.

Giving Tuesday: You Have a Decision to Make — Yay or Nay?

A successful #GivingTuesday campaign is about more than just raising a lot of money. You also want to build relationships and make your donors feel good about supporting your organization. This is where it often falls short.

I’m not a huge fan of #GivingTuesday or any giving days, for that matter, because they focus too much on getting donations. Many of these donors are first-time donors who don’t give again. The end result is you’ve just spent a lot of time and effort on getting one-time gifts.

Whether you participate or not, #GivingTuesday is now part of the nonprofit landscape and if you’re doing a year-end appeal, you’ll need to factor it into your campaign.

I have a few suggestions to help make #GivingTuesday more successful and how to navigate around it if you’re not participating in it.

Is #GivingTuesday working for you?

If you’ve run a campaign in the past, check to see if people who gave the year before gave again. Go back as far as you can to check retention rates.

Also, who is donating on #GivingTuesday? Are they brand new donors or current donors who chose to donate on that day?

Segment your donors

Many organizations just blast a bunch of generic appeals without taking into account who they’re sending them to. If someone donated last year on #GivingTuesday, this is the perfect opportunity to thank them for that gift and ask them to donate again this year. If they donated two weeks ago, maybe they shouldn’t get an appeal right now.

The Importance of Segmenting Your Donors

Also, if you’re sending an appeal to your monthly donors, recognize them as monthly donors. They can either upgrade or give an additional gift. They get their own thank you, too. 

Should You Thank Monthly Donors Who Make an Extra Gift?

Focus on relationship building

Now that you’ve segmented your donors, you can to do a better job of building those important relationships. Keep your appeal donor-centered. Thank current donors and find a way to make a connection with potential donors.

Again, the problem with most #GivingTuesday appeals is they’re focused too much on getting donations. Also, the fact that it’s #GivingTuesday may not mean much to your donors. Give them a compelling reason to donate to your organization.

Use #GivingTuesday as a way to follow up with your donors

If you don’t want to launch a full #Giving Tuesday campaign (understandable), it can be a great opportunity to follow up with people who haven’t donated to your year-end appeal. You should be sending regular reminders, anyway.

Send email and social media messages before and on #Giving Tuesday encouraging people to donate. You can use the #Giving Tuesday logos, etc. if you’d like. Obviously, you’ll want to keep following up with anyone who didn’t donate on #GivingTuesday.

Keep in mind your donors will be barraged with email and social media messages on #GivingTuesday. Make yours stand out and be prepared to keep following up.

Pour on the gratitude

Your donors should be feeling the love right after they make their donation.

Make sure you have an engaging thank you landing page and thank you email for your online donors. You could even create ones especially for #GivingTuesday. Then you need to follow that with a phone call, handwritten note, or thank you letter.

Send welcome packets to new donors or welcome back messages to current donors.

#GivingTuesday has a transactional feel to it, although it doesn’t need to. Go the extra mile and do a good job of thanking these donors – both right after they’ve made their donation and throughout the year.

3 Ways to Follow Up with Your Donors After Giving Tuesday

The Ideal “Thank You” Timeline for Maximum Donor Retention

#GivingTuesday is not for us

Maybe you’ll decide to bypass #GivingTuesday all together. Keep in mind other organizations will be participating and your messages will be competing with the onslaught of #GivingTuesday appeals. 

You have an opportunity to stand out here by keeping your fundraising campaign focused on gratitude and relationship building. I believe year-end is a good time to ramp up your donor communication (examples include thank you messages, holiday greetings, and updates) so people don’t think you’re only asking them for money.

A New Approach to Giving Tuesday: Be different and stand out from the crowd

How did you do?  

When this year’s #GivingTuesday is over, make a plan to measure your results. Was it worth the time and effort?

I think you’ll find your #GivingTuesday campaign, or any fundraising campaign, will be more successful if you focus on more than just the giving part. And a big part of a successful campaign is getting repeat donations.

Your Post-Giving Tuesday Donor Retention System

How to Keep Your Giving Tuesday Donors

 

Be Thankful for Your Donors

6643935221_7fb0c5195e_wThanksgiving is coming up and it’s a time of the year in the U.S. when we show gratitude to the special people in our lives. Your donors are special people and they deserve to be showered with gratitude.

This doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. But you need to spend just as much time thanking your donors as you do on fundraising.

Here are a few ways to thank your donors and let them know they’re special.

Wish your donors a Happy Thanksgiving

Send your donors a special Thanksgiving message. If you can send a card or postcard, that’s great, but an email message is also fine.

Let your donors know how grateful you are to have them as part of your family. Share a success story and a photo or video. Your donors will appreciate a heartfelt message, especially when they’re being barraged with year-end appeals.

But don’t stop with Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving isn’t the only time to show some #donorlove. The holidays, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day come to mind, but mix it up a little and find other times of the year to say thank you. In fact, you don’t even need a reason. Just thank your donors.

Whatever you decide, DO NOT include a donation envelope or any other type of ask with your thank you message. This is known as a thask and it’s guaranteed to deflate your donor’s good feelings in an instant.

Incorporate thanking your donors into your year-end fundraising campaign

Many of you are working on your year-end fundraising campaign. I know you’re trying to raise money, but you should also be showing gratitude. Does your appeal thank donors for their past or potential gifts?

Besides wishing your donors a Happy Thanksgiving, find other ways to show gratitude while you’re also sending appeals. This is especially important around #GivingTuesday and I’ll write more about that in my next post.

Be ready to thank your donors as soon as you receive a donation

Most of you know you need to thank your donors right away, within 48 hours if you can. This usually doesn’t happen or it’s done poorly. Every single donor, no matter how much they’ve given or whether they donated online, gets a thank you card/letter mailed to them or receives a phone call.

I’m sure you’ve spent a lot of time and effort getting your fundraising appeal out. Perhaps you’ve recruited other staff or volunteers to help you.

You need to do the same thing when you thank your donors. Get your board, other staff, and volunteers together to make phone calls, write thank you notes, or include a handwritten note on a thank you letter.

Do a better job of thanking your donors

Your donors deserve more than just the same, lame generic thank you letter.

I write a lot about thanking donors. Here are a couple of recent posts that cover ways to do a better job of thanking your donors.

The Purpose of a Thank You Letter is to Thank Your Donors

How to Make Your Online Thanks Yous More Personal

The initial thank you right after you receive a donation is important. So is the next one and the one after that and the one after that….

Thanking your donors is not a one-time deal. You want to thank your donors at least once a month. Here are some ideas to show gratitude throughout the year.

  • Send a handwritten note.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your website, by email, and on social media.
  • Send welcome packets to your new donors.
  • 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.
  • Thank your donors in your newsletters and other updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without their support.
  • Hold an open house at your organization or offer tours so your donors can see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Thank your donors just because they’re great.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

This Thanksgiving and throughout the year, show some gratitude to your donors and make them feel special. Don’t they deserve it?

The Importance of Segmenting Your Donors

5786426902_1b9405e1a5_wYear-end fundraising time is here. I’ve already started receiving appeal letters and I know this is just the beginning. 

I get appeals from nonprofit organizations I don’t already support and many of these are generic and impersonal. This is annoying. But what’s even more annoying is receiving generic appeals from organizations I do support.

Maybe I’ve donated for at least five years. In many cases, I’m a monthly donor. Do these organizations recognize that? No, they don’t. I just receive a one-size-fits-all letter. 

This is a mistake. If you don’t segment your donors and send different letters to different types of donors, you’re telling them you don’t recognize them for who they are.

Do not send everyone the same letter. You don’t need to create 100 different types of letters. Four or five should be sufficient. Besides segmenting your appeal letters, you also need to segment your thank you letters. You need to segment your donor communication (newsletters, etc), too, but I’m only going to cover appeal and thank you letters in this post.

Your donors are getting tons of appeals right now, as we enter one of the busiest times of the year. Your appeal will stand out if it’s not the same old same old.

Here are a few different types of donor groups. Feel free to add more if that’s relevant. The more you can segment, the better. Investing in a good database will help you with this.

Current single gift donors

One of the biggest hurdles nonprofits face is ensuring first-time donors give a second time. If they keep giving after that, they’re showing their commitment to your organization. Don’t blow it by ignoring this.

An appeal letter to current single gift donors (Monthly donors get their own appeal. More on that below.) must acknowledge their past support. This is also good opportunity to ask for an upgrade. Many organizations don’t do this, but it’s a good way to increase your revenue. 

If these donors give again, they should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter letting them know how much you appreciate their continued support. If they’ve upgraded their gift, acknowledge that, too.

Potential/new single gift donors

If you’re sending an appeal to someone who’s never donated to your nonprofit before, what is your connection to them? Are they volunteers, event attendees, or people on a list you just purchased?

The more you can establish a connection, the better chance you have of getting a donation.

The retention rate for first-time donors is abysmal. One of the reasons is poor communication. You can help boost your retention rate by making your new donors feel special.

New donors should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter welcoming them as donors. Invite them to connect with you in other ways such as signing up for your newsletter, following you on social media, or volunteering.

Then a week or so later, send them a welcome packet by mail or email. Personalization is crucial with new donors.

Are We Sure An Automated Email Welcome Series For New Donors Is A Good Idea?

New monthly donors

Brand new donors who opt for monthly or other recurring donations get the same special thank you treatment mentioned above. Welcome them to your family of monthly donors. 

Current monthly donors

Your current monthly donors must get their own appeal that recognizes them as monthly donors. In this appeal, you can either ask them to upgrade their gift or give an additional year-end gift. Here’s an example from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

What’s In My Mailbox | How are you upgrading your monthly donors?

When your donors renew or upgrade their monthly gifts, they, of course, get a super fabulous thank you.

Current donors who become monthly donors

Your current donors who decide to become monthly donors are also showing their commitment to you. They get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter thanking them for their continued support and for joining your family of monthly donors. From now on they should get specialized appeals and other communication targeted to monthly donors. 

Segmenting your donors can pay off

You might be panicking because this type of segmentation sounds like extra work. But it will be worth it if you can raise additional revenue and boost your retention rate.

11 Ways To Segment Your Donors To Improve Your Fundraising

How to Effectively Segment Your Donors and Audiences 

How to Make Your Online Thanks Yous More Personal

4102985881_0c855d40d7_nMany people donate online now. There’s a good reason for this. It’s usually fast and easy, or at least it should be.

One problem with online donations is the poor thank yous that come after your donor has given you a gift. Even though your thank you landing page and thank you email are automatically generated, it doesn’t mean they need to sound like they were written by a robot.

There’s a human being on the other end and they just did something nice by donating to your organization. Don’t they deserve to be lavished with gratitude?

It’s not hard to make your online thank yous more personal. Here’s what you need to do.

Use words that convey gratitude

First, make a list of words you associate with gratitude. Did you come up with words such as transaction and processed? Because those are words I often see after I make an online gift. I want to tear my hair out every time I see transaction complete or your gift was successfully processed.

Words matter and some words of gratitude include appreciate, grateful, and of course, thank you. 

Think of the donations you receive as the start or continuation of a relationship and not a transaction. 

Make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it’s usually about as engaging as an Amazon receipt. In fact, I’ve received online shopping receipts that are more personal than some nonprofit “thank you” landing pages.

Remember to use words that convey gratitude. You could open with Thank you, David! 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.

Invite donors to connect with you in other ways such as signing up to receive your newsletter, following you on social media, and volunteering.

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

Don’t let your donors think they only made a transaction.

How to Create Post Donation Thank You Pages That Delight Donors

Six Tips for a Stronger Post-Donation Thank You Landing Page

Write a thank you email that will impress your donors

Start off by thinking of a good subject line. At the very least say Thank You! and not Donation Received. Stay away from the dreaded words processed and transaction. You want your thank you email to stand out in your donor’s overflowing inbox.

Open your message with Thank You or You just did something incredible, and not the usual On Behalf of X organization. Then let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference for the people/community you serve.

Basically, you want to follow the rules of writing a good thank you letter, the key word here being good. I covered this in my last post The Purpose of a Thank You Letter is to Thank Your Donors. It amazes me how many thank you letters/emails don’t do a good job of saying thank you.

You won’t be able to segment much, but you should be able to distinguish between single gifts and monthly donations.

Speaking of monthly donations, many organizations send their monthly donors an email acknowledgment each month. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what’s wrong is many of these are dreadfully boring and usually include the same message each month.

Your monthly donors have made a long-term commitment to you, you can show the same commitment to them by writing a better thank you email and mixing up the content by sharing updates.

You can include a donation summary or receipt with your thank you email, but that should be at the end – AFTER – you pour on the gratitude. I prefer the term donation summary because it doesn’t sound as transactional.

Again, don’t make your message sound like it was written by a robot. Write something warm and personal.

Thanking a Donor by Email: Best Practices and Examples

7 Best Practices for Donor Thank You Emails

Give your donors a good thank you experience 

Since your thank you landing page and email are automatically generated, you can’t make them as personal as a handwritten note, phone call, or letter. That’s why you need to do at least one of those for your online donors. An online thank you is not enough.

You want to give your donors a thank you experience. Your thank you landing page and email acknowledgment are just the beginning. Make them engaging and personal and keep up that theme as you continue to show gratitude to your donors throughout the year.