How to Make Your Email Messages Stand Out

27350190733_eda43b9c77_mEmail is often the primary way nonprofits communicate with their donors and there’s a reason for that. It’s fast, easy, relatively inexpensive, and almost everyone has an email address. You can quickly get a message out to a lot of people.

Email, unlike social media, is something you can control. You don’t have to rely on a social media algorithm to hope your message ends up in your donor’s feed.

But email is not a miracle mode of communication because you’re not the only one using it. People get hundreds of emails a day plus messages from other sources such as social media. It’s information overload to the max and it’s easy for your messages to get lost in the melee.

Here’s what you need to do to make your email messages stand out.

What’s your intention?

What’s the purpose of your message? What do you want your reader to do? Maybe it’s to donate, volunteer, attend an event, or contact her legislators. Maybe you’re sharing an update.

Think from your reader’s perspective. What would she be interested in or what would make him take action?

Keep it simple and stick to one call to action.

A good subject line is crucial

A good subject line is the key to getting someone to open your email message. If he doesn’t bother to open it, all your work has gone to waste.

Give some thought to it. Instead of Donate to our Spring Appeal or May 2018 Newsletter, try Find out how you can help Jason learn to read or Thanks to you, the Tyler family has a home of their own.

Better Open Rates: How to Write Killer Email Subject Lines

Short and sweet

Your next step is to get your donor to read your message. Keep her interested. Remember your email is one of hundreds your donor will receive that day, along with whatever else is going on in her life.

Make your messages short, but engaging, and get to the point right away.

Keep this in mind when you send your e-newsletter or updates. You might want to consider a two-article newsletter twice a month instead of one with four articles (and it’s unlikely your donors will read all four articles) once a month.

Make it easy to read and scan

Besides sending a short message, use short paragraphs, too. It needs to be easy to read (and scan) in an instant. Don’t use teeny tiny font either.

Be personal and conversational

Write directly to your reader using clear, conversational language – no jargon. Address your message to a person – Dear Linda and not Dear Friend.

Use an email service provider that lets you segment your lists so you can personalize your messages. For example, you’ll create different messages for current donors, potential donors, and monthly donors.

Send your message to the right audience

You may want to reach out to as many people as possible about an upcoming event, but you’ll have better luck concentrating on people who will be interested, such as past attendees. Just because email lets you communicate with a large audience, doesn’t mean you should.

Your audience isn’t everyone.

Be a welcome visitor

If you communicate regularly and do it well, your donors should recognize you as a reputable source and are more likely to read your message.

Make sure people know your message is coming from your organization. In the from field, put DoGood Nonprofit or Jennifer Smith, DoGood Nonprofit. If you just put a person’s name or info@dogoodnonprofit.org, people may not know who it’s from and ignore your message.

No spam,spam,spam

Only send email to people who have opted into your list. Otherwise, you’re spamming them. Some people will choose not to receive email from you, and that’s okay. The ones who do are interested in hearing from you. Give people the option to unsubscribe, too.

Repeat performance

If you’re using email to send a fundraising appeal or event invitation, you’ll probably have to send more than one message. Try not to send messages to people who have already responded.

Be mobile friendly

Many people read their email on a mobile device. If your message isn’t mobile friendly, you’re missing out.

Your email messages can stand out in your donor’s inbox if you give some thought to them and do it well. Here’s more information about communicating by email.

5 Ways Nonprofits can Drive More Value from the Email Channel

Email Marketing: Tips and Tactics for Nonprofits

The 5 W’s of Effective Nonprofit Email Marketing

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Appeal Letter Do’s and Don’ts

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It’s spring appeal time and all of a sudden my mailbox is filled with requests for donations. Some good and some that could use improvement.

Whether you’re planning a spring appeal or one later in the year, here are a few lessons, courtesy of this week’s mail. We’ll start with some examples of what not to do and end with a couple of letters that got it right.

DON’TS

Your annual fund drive means nothing to me

One organization included a header saying it was their statewide annual fund drive. This means nothing to me and is not a compelling addition to your appeal.

Annual fund drive is an internal term, as is annual appeal and year-end appeal. People give to your organization because they want to help you make a difference for the people you serve. This is what you want to emphasize.

You can use the term annual fund drive around the office, but keep it out of your appeal letter. Open with a story or something such as Imagine what it would be like to go to bed hungry.

You only have few seconds to grab a reader’s attention, so don’t waste it by saying your annual appeal is underway.

The Best Fundraising Appeal Opening Lines

4 Unique Openings to Get Your Fundraising Appeals Read

You don’t know me

I receive many appeal letters from organizations I don’t support. It’s clear they don’t know me. There’s no attempt at making a connection. Most likely they got my name from a list they bought or exchanged. If I already give to homelessness prevention organizations, you could say you know ending homelessness is important to me.

One letter addressed me as Mrs.Green, which irked me because I don’t like being referred to as Mrs. I don’t know why this organization addressed me as Mrs. because I always check the Ms. box if there’s an option. Perhaps it was a typo or they don’t realize it’s 2018 and not 1958.

Be careful of how you address your donors or potential donors. These so-called little things make a difference.

I’m a donor, but you still don’t know me

An appeal from an organization I do support gave no clear indication of my previous gift. They sent a vague, one-size fits all letter that included a lot of bragging.

At the end, they thanked me for my “partnership and shared commitment to our mission,” but it wasn’t clear if they were thanking me for a previous gift or in anticipation of a gift. If it was the first, that thank you should have been at the beginning of the letter. Always thank donors for their past gifts.

The biggest fail came at the end in the P.S. when they asked me to consider a monthly gift. Someone’s not paying attention because I’m already a monthly donor.  

This is a large national organization that could easily segment their donors. That’s what you need to do, too.

Enough with the swag

So far three organizations have sent me mailing labels. Sometimes these come in handy, but right now I have enough to wallpaper a room.

Another organization enclosed a Certificate of Appreciation “In recognition of your generous support”even though I’ve never supported them. And if I did support an organization, I wouldn’t want a certificate of appreciation. What would I do with it? Hang it on the wall?

I’d like organizations to stop sending useless swag and instead invest their print budget in creating engaging thank you cards.

DO’S

Share engaging, personal stories

The letter from the organization that called me Mrs. actually sent a good appeal letter. It opened with a story about a homeless woman named Nettie. It also included a sidebar titled Meet Nettie, which included a profile and picture of Nettie. On the back, there were more short profiles of clients, along with their photos, which were titled Someone’s sister: Gina, Someone’s grandmother, Diane, and Someone’s father: Valentino.

I liked the personal nature of this appeal. We got to meet some of the people the donors are helping. This is so much better than a bunch of boring facts and statistics. Using names in stories is always a plus. You can change them for confidentiality reasons if you need to.

Make a connection and request an upgrade

When nonprofit organizations don’t take the time to segment donors, they miss an opportunity to ask for an upgrade.

Heifer International sent a letter asking me to become a monthly donor. It was from another donor, although I doubt she wrote the letter. It opened with “My name is Madge Brown. Like you, I support Heifer International……” Here, she’s making a connection.

Then she invited me to join their monthly giving program – Friend of Heifer. The envelope even included a teaser that said “Let’s be friends.”

One way to grow your monthly giving program is to ask current one-time donors to become monthly donors.

Write a better appeal

Keep all of this mind the next time you write an appeal. Start with an engaging opening and make a connection with your donors or potential donors. Share stories. Don’t send all your donors the same letter and remember the appeal is the first step. Use your print resources for a great thank you note instead of those annoying mailing labels.

Why is it So Hard to be Donor-Centered?

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The term donor-centered is pretty self-explanatory. It means focusing on your donors’ needs and interests, acknowledging them in your letters and other communication, and taking into account that not all donors are the same.

If it’s so obvious, then why are many nonprofits so bad at it? You see countless examples of generic, organization-centered communication that barely acknowledges the donor.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Before you send your next appeal, thank you letter, or newsletter, run it through this donor-centered checklist.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Is your fundraising appeal focused too much on your organization – rambling on about how great you are? Your organization may be great, but let your donors figure that out. Your donors are the ones who are great, and they want to hear how they can help you make a difference for the people/community you serve.
  • Is your appeal segmented to the appropriate audience? Thank past donors or reference your relationship to a potential donor. Maybe they’re event attendees, volunteers, or friends of board members.
  • Is your appeal addressed to a person and not Dear Friend?
  • Is your appeal vague, impersonal, and filled with jargon your donors won’t understand? Don’t say we’re helping underserved members of the community. A donor-centered appeal would say something like – With your support, we can help low-income families find affordable housing.
  • Does your appeal make people feel good about donating to your organization?

Thank you letters

  • Does your thank you letter come across as transactional and resemble a receipt? Yes, you need to acknowledge the donation is tax deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Does your thank you letter (or better yet, a handwritten note) shower your donors with love?  Start your letter with You’re amazing or Thanks to You!, and not On behalf of X organization.
  • Are you telling your donors the impact of their gift?  For example – Thanks to your generous donation of $50, a local family can get a box of groceries at the Eastside Community Food Bank.
  • Do you recognize each donor?  Is this the first time someone has donated?  If someone donated before, did she increase her gift?  Acknowledge this in your letter/note.

Newsletters

  • Does your newsletter sound self-promotional and focus on all the wonderful things your organization is doing instead of showing your donors how they’re helping you make a difference?
  • Is your newsletter written in the second person? Write to the donor and use the word you more often than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?  BTW, all your donor communication should be written in the second person. It’s much more personal.
  • Does your newsletter include success stories, engaging photos, and other content your donors like to see?
  • Are you using the right channels?  Perhaps you only send an e-newsletter, but some of your donors prefer print.
  • Are you showing gratitude to your donors in your newsletter?

Always think of your donors first

Use this checklist for other donor communication such as annual reports (these are rarely donor-centered), your website, and social media posts.

Make sure the messages you send to your donors focus on them and make them feel special. Staying donor-centered can help you build relationships. This is especially important as retention rates continue to plummet.

Read on for more information on the importance of being donor-centered.

3 Ways A Donor Centric Pledge Can Improve Your Retention

How to Create a Donor-Centered Fundraising Letter

3 Steps to a Donor-Centered Communication Strategy

 

How to Bring Simplicity and Balance to Your Nonprofit Communications

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Lagom is a Swedish concept meaning everything in moderation or not too much, not too little. Keeping things simple. This is not to be confused with the Danish concept of Hygge, which means getting cozy. Not surprisingly there isn’t an English translation of these terms, even though they are much needed in our overstressed world.

The term lagom can be used in almost any context – the home, relationships, work, etc.

You can bring this concept of simplicity and balance into your nonprofit communications, too. Here’s how.

How much communication is too much

Most likely you’re not communicating enough. Communication is a year-round effort that includes asking, thanking, sharing updates, and engaging your donors.

Of course, asking is part of the picture and you can send appeals throughout the year, but only after you’ve thanked and engaged your donors.

You’ll notice at the end of the year you’re barraged with fundraising appeals. Then at other times of the year you might receive a scant newsletter or update. Donors often complain that nonprofits ask too much, but how often do you hear complaints about being overthanked?

You need to be thanking your donors and sharing updates every one to two weeks – once a month at the very least.

Donors shouldn’t think you’re communicating too much if you aren’t just asking for money and you keep your messages donor-centered.

How to tell if you’re mailing your donors too often

Stick to one call to action

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

Stick to one call to action. If you ask for a donation, recruit volunteers, and ask someone to contact their elected officials all in the same message, it’s likely your donor won’t respond to any of your requests.

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

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

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

How to improve your call to action in 6 easy steps

Choose the right length

If your communication is too long, people won’t read it. Limit written communication, such as newsletters and annual reports, to four pages or less. Your email messages should be just a few paragraphs. On the other hand, you don’t want to be terse or say too little.

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

Be sure to make your communication easy to read and scan by including lots of white space. Don’t clutter up the page.

Make it understandable

Write at a sixth to eighth-grade level. That’s what most major newspapers do. This is not dumbing down. You’re being smart by ensuring your donors will understand you.

Last week I wrote one of my periodic rants against jargon, which you should definitely avoid.  Deconstructing Your Jargon Use the active voice and don’t get fancy by using a lot of SAT vocabulary words. Again, you want your donors to understand you.

Keep it simple by using conversational language.

Create a clutter-free website

Your website is still a place where people will go to get information. Make sure it’s clear and clutter-free, as well as easy to read and navigate.

Two components of your website that need simplicity and balance are your donation page and your thank you landing page.

Your donation page needs to be easy to use and collect enough information without overwhelming your donors. If it’s a branded page (e.g. not a third-party site like PayPal), make sure it’s consistent with your messaging and look. Don’t go too minimalistic, though. Include a short description of how a donor’s gift will help you make a difference, as well as an engaging photo.

15 Donation Page Examples to Inspire Your Online Fundraising

Speaking of minimalistic, most thank you landing pages go bare bones and look more like store receipts. Here you have to step it up with a prominent Thank You or You’re Amazing! Include a photo or better yet, a thank you video.

21 Ideas For Your Nonprofit’s Donation Confirmation Page

It’s not always easy to keep things simple and balanced, but your donors will appreciate it if you do. The Complexity of Simplicity

 

 

 

Deconstructing Your Jargon

 

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I’m not a fan of jargon, but nonprofit organizations seem to love it. If I see one more appeal letter, thank you letter, and newsletter article laced with terms like at-risk youth, underserved communities, leverage, and impactful, I’m going to scream.

I think people use jargon because it’s an insider language and it makes them feel like they’re “in the know” in their professional community. It’s easy to slip into jargon-mode around the office. But the danger comes when jargon creeps outside of your insular world and into your donor communication.

People need to understand you to connect with you

We can get lazy and use jargon when we can’t think of anything fresh and original. And that’s the problem because jargon is boring and your donors may not understand what you’re trying to say. Your donors don’t use these terms and neither should you.

Jargon fixes

Sometimes you need to give a little more information. For example, instead of just using the term food insecurity, describe a situation where a single mother has to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

Let’s look at a few more of these problem terms and what you can say instead. You may use some of these terms internally and they might be in your mission statement, but try to limit them when you communicate with donors.

  • At-risk means there’s a possibility something bad will happen. Instead of just saying at-risk students or youth, tell a story or give specific examples of something bad that could happen. Our tutoring program works with high school students who are more likely to fail, be held back, and drop out of school.   
  • Underserved means not receiving adequate help or services. Instead of saying we work with underserved communities, explain what types of services these residents don’t receive. Maybe it’s healthcare, affordable housing, or decent preschool education.Tell a story or give a specific example. Susan can’t send her son Kyle to a good preschool because there isn’t an affordable one in her community.
  • Impact means having an effect on someone or something. How are you doing that, and why is it important? Again, give a specific example. Thanks to donors like you, we’ve helped families find affordable housing so they don’t have to live in a shelter, a motel, or their car. Now they have a place to call home. And, let’s please all agree to stop using the word impactful.

Tell a story

This is why stories are so important. You can get beyond that vague, impersonal jargon and let your donors see firsthand how they’re helping you make a difference for the people/community you serve.

What would Aunt Shirley think?

Imagine you’re at a family gathering and you’re explaining what your organization does to your 75-year old Aunt Shirley. Does she look confused and uninterested when you spew out words like underserved and at-risk, or does she want you to tell her more when you mention kids in your tutoring program are doing much better in school?

Stop using jargon around your office

Another way to help you transition from jargon to understandable language is to stop using it around your office. That means at your staff meetings and in interoffice written communication. Maybe you go so far as to re-write your mission statement to make it more conversational. And telling staff and board members to recite your mission statement as an elevator pitch is a bad idea unless you can make it conversational.

Let’s stop using jargon when we can use clear, conversational language instead. Here are more examples of scream-inducing jargon. I’d love to hear some of your least favorites, as well.

14 irritating jargon phrases, and awesome new cliches you should use instead

I Have No Idea What You’re Talking About [Nonprofit Jargon]

Nonprofit Jargon: 22 Phrases We Love to Hate

 

 

 

How to Create an Engaging Newsletter Your Donors Will Want to Read

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I’ve written several posts recently about the importance of staying in touch with your donors throughout the year. Some of you may be saying, “We do that because we have a newsletter.”

A newsletter can be a great way to engage with your donors, but how often does that actually happen? Unfortunately, not very much because most donor newsletters can be used as a cure for insomnia. They’re too long and filled with boring articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

Don’t worry. You can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s how.

Think about what your donors want

You may opt not to do a print newsletter because it’s expensive and takes too much time, but you’re making a mistake if many of your donors prefer print.

I think you’ll have more success if you can do both print and electronic newsletters. I recommend a short e-newsletter once or twice a month and one to four print newsletters a year. But ask your donors what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer one over the other, then doing both may not make sense.

You also want to include content that will interest your donors. Do you think they would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about the Davis family moving into a nice home of their own after struggling to find a decent place to live? The answer should be obvious.

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference.

Share stories

Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. Client stories are best, but you could also do profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Focus on what drew them to your mission.

Create a story bank that includes at least three client success stories to use every year.

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped the Davis family move into a home of their own or Because of donors like you, X number of families have been able to move out of shelters and into their own homes.

Ditch the jargon and other language your donors won’t understand. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.

I’m not a fan of the letter from the CEO because those tend to be organization-centered instead of donor-centered.  

Say thank you

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. Every one of your newsletters needs to show gratitude and emphasize how much you appreciate your donors.

Make it easy to read (and scan)

Most of your donors aren’t going to read your newsletter word for word, especially your e-newsletter. Include enticing headlines and email subject lines (if you don’t, your donors may not read it at all), at least a 12-point font, and lots of white space so your donors can easily scan your newsletter.

Stick to black type on a white background as much as possible. Colors are pretty, but not if it’s hindering your donor’s ability to read your newsletter. Photos can be a great way to add color, as well as tell a story in an instant.

Use the inverted pyramid and put the most important story first (client success story or profile), keeping in mind your donors may not get to all the articles.

Very important –  make sure your donors can read your e-newsletter on a mobile device.

Short and sweet

Your print newsletter should be no more than four pages. Limit your monthly e-newsletter to four articles. Some organizations send an e-newsletter twice a month. Those should be even shorter – two or three articles.

You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent email updates.

Send it to the right audience

Fundraising guru Tom Ahern recommends sending your print newsletter only to donors. This can help you keep it donor-centered, as well as cut down on mailing costs.

Send e-newsletters only to people who have signed up for it. They may or may not be donors, but an e-newsletter can also be a good cultivation tool. Quality is more important than quantity. Not everyone will want to sign up for your newsletter and that’s okay. Focus on the people who are interested in it.

Let’s put an end to boring newsletters. Create one your donors will want to read.

Read on for more information on how to create a great donor newsletter.

The stuff that makes your donor newsletter a failure

10 Email Newsletter Tips That Will Inspire People to Give

3 Pitfalls of Nonprofit Newsletters and How to Avoid Them

Follow The Domain Formula For Donor Newsletters

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.