If you raise money, you can care for your donors. No excuses.
Because if you want to keep raising money, you must take good care of your donors.
If your organization is small, you should know you’re not alone. Most nonprofits have annual budgets under $500,000. And unless you get most of that budget through fee-f0r-service agreements, you need to raise money.
You can spend a great deal of effort seeking grants to stay afloat. But remember that your foundation funders are also donors and require care and attention.
Perhaps, like many (too many) organizations, you depend on a big annual event to fund your programs. These can be a great way to introduce yourself to new donors – especially if there’s a peer-to-peer aspect to your event fundraising.
But if you want to attract and keep individual support, your annual giving program is how donors interact with you. That can include everyone from new donors to major gift donors. (And remember, those major givers come from somewhere… usually giving smaller gifts first.)
If your donors don’t feel like they matter to you, they’ll find another organization. One that will make them feel like they’re important.
Wouldn’t that be a shame?
Cycle of care – three simple steps you must take
I think of individual giving as a cycle. You receive a gift. Then you must be sure your donor is thanked. And then answer the question your donor asks: how did my gift make a difference? Then you can ask for a gift again.
There’s not a set calendar to this cycle. Think of annual giving as the support you need to operate day to day – not a once a year opportunity to give. You can ask for another gift within a year unless the donor has requested otherwise. But you must thank donors and report to them in some way about the impact of their giving before you ask again.
There is a great deal of good information about creating a compelling appeal out there – and here!
But here is what you need to keep in mind:
You need a strong offer. By that, I mean the answer to the questions: why should I give? Why now? What will change if I do? What happens if I don’t?
Jeff Brooks, in his book, The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand, offers the seven elements of an effective fundraising offer:
- A problem
- A solution
- Donor context
- Donor benefits
Be clear about the problem you’re asking donors to help solve. Don’t sugar-coat it and don’t get too involved or technical in describing it. Keep it simple.
The solution can be tricky, as Jeff points out. Resist the possible internal pressure to talk about “how” you solve the problem. You think your “how” is cool. That’s what you’re all about, right? But donors are looking for a solution. And they want to know where they come in.
When you talk about cost, you’re telling donors what the value of their investment is. They’ll be moved more by something that feels like a bargain. Think of a food bank that can promise your $10 will feed a family for a week.
They don’t need to hear that’s possible because you work with food suppliers and get food at bargain prices. They just want to know that their $10 can do something tangible. And it’s a great deal!
Without urgency, your appeal is a waste of your time and not likely to raise much money. Do you need money? Then find a way to communicate why you need the money NOW.
Every bit you let up on the NOW pedal is an opportunity for a potential donor to put you aside and forget about your appeal. You can find deadlines or make them. But “Please give, whenever you get around to it” is not going to work.
Context means keeping your messaging on a donor’s level. It shouldn’t be complex. It doesn’t need to have great amounts of detail. Jeff says you should be able to state your offer in one sentence.
Benefits are not about tote bags. Donors benefit in many ways by giving. Be sure to remind them. Making their community a better place is a benefit. Helping to solve a problem is a benefit. Saving something they value is a benefit. Preventing something terrible is, too.
Jeff saves emotion for last and it’s critical. Remember that we make decisions based on feelings, not logic. Almost always.
Speaking with emotion isn’t manipulative and it’s not degrading donors. Emotion is the language of successful fundraising. Don’t skimp here.
Saying thank you well
Many smaller organizations, feeling pressed, skimp on the thanks. Or save thanks for donors of a certain level. But sending a tax receipt slip is not saying thank you.
And honestly, sending a warm, grateful letter is not really more difficult than mailing a receipt. You can do it.
To make it easier, write a great thank you letter when things are quiet. Build in merge fields: name, publication name if it will be used (a good way to check that you have it right), gift amount and purpose. Your letter doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, the more personal it is, the better.
Then generating a good thank you is as easy as generating a receipt. Put the tax-deductibility stuff in small print at the bottom of the letter and no additional receipt is needed.
But you don’t have to stop there. Thank you can – should – be said more than once. At one small organization, I decided I would hand-write a personal note to each donor. A few called, concerned that they weren’t important enough to receive that kind of attention. (That made me so sad!)
But I’ll bet they all remembered that note – so the time I spent was a good investment.
Here is more information about writing a great thank you letter. Or refer to the Nonprofit Blog Carnival collection of advice here. And you can also turn to Lisa Sargent’s thank you letter clinic at SOFII.
But here’s my short-hand suggestion: write what you’d say to the donor if you were speaking face to face. Keep it simple and emotional. And please focus on the donor, not your organization! (I’ve found smaller organizations are better at focusing on the donor in many instances than large ones. Maybe the big organizations get too caught up in themselves?)
You can also pick up the phone to say thank you. Or invite the staff and your board to a “Thankathon”. Donors are usually pleasantly surprised when they realize you’re not calling for money, but just to say thanks.
This is the step that most often gets lost. And that’s a shame because it’s a wonderful opportunity to build stronger relationships with donors.
What if I told you that one of the best ways to report to donors is also a great way to say thanks again and ask again? No kidding!
Consider adding a print newsletter to your mailing schedule.
Now, you may feel this is a huge commitment of time and money. And I understand that it can be. But you should also consider the upside.
I added a newsletter when I worked with a smaller organization. I had to lobby a bit for the expense. But we were quickly glad that I had. Our newsletters soon began bringing in more gifts than appeals did. Obviously, it was something the donors responded to!
And if you want a dramatic example, read about Michelle Brinson and Nashville Rescue Mission’s newsletter. Now, they do have a large list – she mails to 60 -80,000. But her newsletter brings in 20% of everything they raise.
Don’t be overly concerned about making this newsletter pretty and perfect. Your donors know you’re small. Homemade is OK. But remember that this is not a public relations piece. It’s not about your organization. It IS about your donor.
Tom Ahern suggests you focus first on headlines and sub-heads, captions and images. He’s written the book on donor newsletters, so he ought to know!
Hand over the credit to the donors throughout. Make them the actors in your successes.
And don’t be afraid to ask them to help again in the piece! Include a return envelope and gift card. You may find donors feeling great about what they’ve done and eager to do it again!
You can do it
I know it feels overwhelming. But building a program is an important investment in your organization and your mission.
And remember that your small size can be used to your advantage. You can offer the kind of personal connection a national organization can’t. And most likely, you’re solving problems in the donors’ own backyards.
Encourage your core of supporters to help you spread the word. Invite them in. Hold a small gathering and ask them to bring someone who might also be interested in your mission. Or ask them to pass along an appeal.
Look for help where you can get it – perhaps you can find volunteers to help you with mailings, or maybe a corporate supporter would underwrite printing costs.
At one tiny organization, I suggested they write an appeal, then have the board come to a meeting to sign them personally. And each board member could bring a book of stamps so the postage was covered.
It’s especially important, when resources are slim, that you look at fundraising as an investment, not an expense. Personal connection is powerful. With fewer donors, you can get to know them as individuals. That builds the strongest bonds.
If you take good care of your current donors, you’ll have more to take care of.