Something’s Missing


As the year-end giving season approaches, you may notice more activity from nonprofits in your mailbox and email inbox.

Take notice. You can learn a lot about what do to and what not to do when you communicate with donors.  Unfortunately, I see too many instances where organizations can do better.  It seems like something’s missing.

After I recently opened a one-page communication from an organization, my reactions were:

Why are you sending me this?

I wasn’t sure of the purpose of the piece. The organization may have been trying to connect before they sent out their year-end appeal, which is great. That’s something you need to do.  They share some accomplishments, so maybe it was sort of a mini annual report.  It wasn’t obvious.

It wasn’t very personal either, and I think a short, warm introduction would have helped.  They could have used the back side if they needed more space.

I’m a donor. Make me feel special.

The only example of donor-centered language was “Your Support of X Organization Makes Our Work Possible!”

They mention the number of donors who supported their work, but there’s no explicit thank you. That’s a must.

Why is what you do important?

Many nonprofits fall short in this area.  The piece included lots of numbers, but not much detail of why what they’re sharing is important. They talk about making a difference, yet there aren’t any specific examples of how they’re doing that.

They state that “more than 50 households have signed up at a new food pantry site.” Why is that important?  What would happen if these families didn’t have access to this food pantry?  Would they go to bed hungry, or have to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill?

What does that mean? 

They describe what they do as “X organization addresses critical needs and emerging trends to create an equitable [community}.”  Huh?

Then I received a fundraising email from a different organization, which gave me an empty feeling because:

They never connected during the year.

The only time I supported this organization was when I attended one of their events last March.  They never sent any type of follow up.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine.  If you hold an event, thank your donors, let them know how their support makes a difference and stay in touch throughout the year.

It wasn’t personal.

There was no salutation, and they didn’t thank me for my past support. The appeal lists what a donation will fund, but doesn’t indicate why that’s important.

There’s too much emphasis on the end of the fiscal year.

The email opened with “It’s the end of our fiscal year, please consider donating by midnight September 30 ….” It felt more like Land’s End telling me this is my last chance to get 30% off.

I know your fiscal year is important to you, but it may not mean much to your donors.  What your donors care about is how they can help you make a difference.

As you work on your year-end appeals and other communication, ask:

  • What is the purpose of this letter/email?  Is it to ask for a donation?  Is it to share an update?  Is that clear?
  • Is this donor-centered?
  • Are you showing gratitude, and thanking donors for their past gifts?
  • Is this warm and personal/conversational?
  • Are we letting our donors know why what we do is important?

Don’t let your donors come away thinking something’s missing.

Photo by Nicholas Noyes

Give Your Donors the Royal Treatment

11715533163_0316b42569_zIn my last post, I wrote about the importance of welcoming your new donors and keeping them happy so they won’t leave after one year, as many do. But it’s equally important to show the love to your current donors.

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, considering repeat donor retention rates are about 65%.

Pay attention to your retention

Donor retention often takes a backseat to finding new donors. That doesn’t make much sense since an “easier” way to raise revenue is to get your current donors to give again and give at a higher level.

This won’t happen if you ignore your donors or only communicate when you ask for money. Yes, you’ll need to find new donors, but spend more time keeping the ones you already have.

Before your next big appeal figure out your retention rate A Guide to Donor Retention, and how long each donor has supported you.

This is your first step to help you keep your current donors. Here’s what else you need to do.

Stay on your donors’ good side

I know you’re swamped trying to get your year-end appeal out, 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 a special note of gratitude this fall, maybe a month or so before you send your year-end appeal.

Get personal

Personalize your appeal letters and thank you letters. Your donors have names, so don’t address them as Dear Friend.

I’m a big fan of the Whiny Donor (@thewhiny donor).  In the following post she describes how she’s been supporting her alma mater for 24 years and in turn received a thank you letter with the salutation Dear [College] Supporter.  That prompted her to stop giving. You’re bound to blow it with a donor or two…This may not happen to you, but why risk it.

Don’t send the same generic letter to everyone. You must recognize past gifts. Thank donors for their past gift in your appeal letter and a repeat gift in your thank you letter.

While on the personal theme, make sure your letters sound like they’re written by a human, not a robot.

Pour on the gratitude

Thank you phone calls and handwritten notes always trump a pre-printed letter.  I realize you may not have the resources to call or send cards to all your donors. Figure out what you can do, but if you have donors that have supported you for more than two years, that s a big deal, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Find board members, other staff, and volunteers to help.  Perhaps you can only call donors who have given for at least three years.

If you do need to send a pre-printed thank you letter, again make it warm and personal.

You’ve only just begun

Stay in touch throughout the year.  Continue to show gratitude and let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference.

Give your donors the royal treatment, so they’ll stay with you for many years.

Photo by Dennis Jarvis

Your Year-End Appeal Checklist


This summer is flying by and September will be here before you know it. Fall is a busy time, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal.

Many nonprofits rely on their year-end appeal for a good portion of their revenue.  Even though your mind may be focused on going to the beach and eating ice cream, you want to start planning your year-end appeal now.  Here’s a checklist to help you get started. Of course you can use this any time you run a fundraising campaign.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal in your 2015 fundraising plan (at least I hope you did) and perhaps you need to revise that goal.  If you haven’t set a goal, determine how much money you need to raise before you start your campaign.

Do you have a plan?

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

When do you want to send your appeal? In the beginning of November?  Figure out what you need to get done and how long it will take. You may need to recruit extra volunteers or get your materials to a mail house.

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

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

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

Find a good story for your year-end appeal. You’ll want some engaging photos for your letter and donation page, too.  Quotes from clients will also enhance your appeal.

Why You Need to Tell Your Stories

Get Noticed in an Instant With a Visual Story

How did your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should highlight some of the year’s accomplishments and state what you plan to do next year. For example, let’s say you run an afterschool program for high school students. Share your success of reaching your goal of serving X number of students. Next year you’d like to expand and serve middle school students, as well.

Focus on the people you serve and show how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until the end of October to check your supply of letterhead and envelopes.  Make sure you have enough. Perhaps you want to create a special outer envelope.

Even though many people donate online, you want to make it easy for donors who prefer to mail a check. Include a pledge envelope or a return envelope and a preprinted form with the donor’s contact information and the amount of last year’s gift.

Stamps are more personal, so you might want get some nice ones to use.

Is it easy to donate online?

Be sure your donation page is user-friendly and consistent with your other fundraising materials.  Highlight your year-end appeal on your home page and include a prominent Donate Now button.

You could set up a special page for your year-end appeal.

The Top 10 Most Effective Donation Form Optimizations You Can Make

Set Up a Customized Donation Page

While you are at it, check your website for out-of-date information and broken links.

Does Your Website Need a Tune Up?

How does a donation help the people you serve?

Create a set of giving levels and let your donors know how their gift will help. Here’s an example.

Do you have an incentive to entice donors to give a larger gift?

Instead of premiums, see if you can find a major donor who will match any upgrades.  I know of an organization that also uses this as an incentive to get new donors.

Boost Your Fundraising Results With a Match From a Major Donor

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

Monthly or recurring giving is another way to get a larger gift. Some people might balk at donating $100 or more, but if you present it as $10 a month ($120 a year!), it sounds more feasible.

How will you thank your donors?

This is so important. Spend as much time on your thank you letter/note as you do on your appeal. You need to thank your donors as soon as you receive their gifts.

Handwritten notes and phone calls are much better than a pre-printed letter. Now is a good time to create or buy some thank you cards, as well as find board members and volunteers to make thank you calls or write notes.

Don’t Treat Thanking Your Donors as an Afterthought

How are you showing the love?

I know this is a busy time, but don’t skimp on your donor communication.  Keep engaging your donors and other supporters (who may become donors) by sharing success stories and gratitude. Go the extra mile and create a thank you video or hold an informal open house.

How are you preparing for your year-end appeal?

Image by Backdoor Survival

Go Multi-Channel for Better Year-End Success


Most of you are about ready to launch your year-end appeal.  We have many ways to reach out to our donors – by mail, email, social media, phone calls. But your fundraising campaign will be more effective if you use a combination of these.

Some donors may respond to your direct mail piece, but donate online. Others will see your email message, but prefer to send a check. Some donors will respond to the first appeal, while others need a few reminders. This is why you need to go multi-channel.


Clean up your mailing lists

If you haven’t already done so, clean up and organize your mailing lists.

Make it easy to donate online

It’s crucial to have a donation page that’s engaging and easy to use. Test all links in email messages and social media posts. The last thing you want is a donor contacting you about a broken link or having to hunt around on your website for the donation page.

Right before your appeal goes out, include a blurb on your homepage that your appeal is underway. Make sure your donate button is in a prominent place.

Consistency is key

Your messages need to be consistent across channels. Use the same story and call to action in direct mail, email, and on your website.

Everything you send out needs to look like it’s coming from the same organization.

Which channels do your donors use?

Don’t spend a lot of time on channels your donors aren’t using. Figure out in advance where you want to focus your efforts.


Come up with a schedule of when the appeals will go out. I’ve created a sample schedule below. Of course, you can adjust the timeframe as needed.

October 22

Give your supporters a heads up by email and social media. Let them know that your year-end appeal is underway and they should receive a letter from you soon. Encourage them to donate online right now. This means your donation page needs to be in ship shape.

Week of October 27

Mail your appeal letter.

Week of November 3

Start sending out follow up reminders via email and social media. If possible, don’t send reminders to people who have already donated. Otherwise, be sure to thank your recent donors. You can even phrase your reminders as more of a thank you or an update.

Thanks so much to all of you who have donated to our year-end appeal. We’re almost halfway to our goal. If you haven’t donated yet, please help us out today by visiting our website (include a link to your donation page) or sending us a check (provide address). 

Week of November 11

Send out another reminder.  Your donors are busy and may need a gentle prompt.  Keep it positive. Don’t make your donors feel bad about not donating.

Week of November 17

Start making reminder calls. If time is an issue, you could just call people who have donated before. That’s probably most effective.

Week of November 24

Send a Happy Thanksgiving message along with a friendly reminder. Share a success story in your appeal.

Week of December 1

December 2 is #GivingTuesday so you could tie that into your reminder.

The rest of December and beyond

Keep sending reminders throughout December. It’s tricky because you want to get your message across without being annoying.  Continue to send your newsletter and other updates. You don’t want the only messages your donors receive to be fundraising appeals.

Network for Good recommends sending a fundraising email on December 27, 29, and 31. This is especially relevant if your fiscal year ends on December 31 or your donor wants to give before the end of the calendar year.

Look to see who hasn’t contributed yet. Concentrate on people who are most likely to donate, such as past donors.   Also, keep track of how many donors come through each channel.

We live in a multi-channel world. Take time to plan your strategy to ensure a successful year-end campaign.

Here’s a great resource to help you with your multi-channel fundraising.

Download Your Multi-Channel Fundraising Campaign Worksheet

Image by Daniel Iverson