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Donor LoveNewsletters

20 Donor-Centric Things You Can Do to Raise More Money — Now and for Years to Come

I know everyone says you should be “donor centric.”

It’s obvious, right?

But what exactly does it mean to be donor-centric?

Well, it’s not just a touchy-feely attitude. It’s a lot of actions — most of them seemingly quite small — that help the donor feel that giving to your organization is exactly what she wants to do … because it’s all about how her giving puts her values into action, and helps change the world in ways that thrill her.

Donors increasingly demand this of the organizations they support. So what used to be “nice to do” has become necessary for long-term survival!

Here are 20 straightforward things you can do. Some are very easy. Others require hard work and maybe even changing some attitudes. But these things can help you raise more money from donors who love supporting you. They’ll give joyfully and stay with you for the long term … often including what they leave behind in their Wills!

1. Receipt promptly

If your donors are waiting weeks or (heaven forbid) months to be acknowledged for their giving, your message to them is loud and clear: Your gift doesn’t matter. Aim for 24-hour turnaround, 48 hours at worst.

2. Receipt relevantly

We work so hard to motivate people to give. We should work just as hard to connect with them when we thank. The thank-you language of the receipt should “close the loop,” letting them know that we got the gift, appreciate it, and are putting it to the use we said we would. Make sure you thank donors for the same thing you asked them to do. Use the same terminology, be just as specific, and use all the emotional intensity you used when you asked.

3. Get the data right

Obsess over this. Don’t spell names wrong. Search and destroy duplicate records. Above all, don’t get the amounts or timing of gifts wrong. Errors in data, even minor ones, loudly tell donors that either you don’t care about their support, or you are not on top of things — possibly both! Good data is the key to raising more funds (knowing whom to ask and how much), not wasting money (knowing whom not to ask) and, most important, treating donors like they matter.

4. Let donors say where their money goes

Most nonprofits reserve the privilege of designating gifts for their top-most donors. Let every donor do that. Response usually jumps when you do. Whether it’s making specific asks or offering choices, it’s just common courtesy to give donors control over their generosity. Here’s the secret: When you make “where most needed” an option, donors choose it.

5. Give donors choices on how you use their data

For some donors, the fact that charities “sell” or exchange their names is a sore point. If you do this, give your donors the chance to opt out. They’ll appreciate it, even though only a small percentage will actually opt out. If you don’t share names, let donors know you don’t — it’s a benefit for many of them!

6. Say ‘you’ a lot

Make it a habit. When you ask, thank, or report back, use the word “you” constantly. Whatever story you’re telling, your donors are the active ingredient. Don’t forget that. Don’t let donors forget either.

7. Send a newsletter

If you aren’t sending a newsletter, your fundraising is like a dysfunctional relationship: You ask, they give, you ask. They never get what they’re looking for from you: proof that giving to you makes a difference. That’s what a newsletter is for. But it only works if you do the right kind of newsletter …

8. Make your newsletter about donors

A good newsletter shows donors their giving matters — that what they wanted to happen when they gave really did happen. If you’re sending a newsletter that’s basically all about your organization, you are not doing that! Make nearly every story in your newsletter about what the donor made possible … not an explainer of your programs or a brag sheet about your staff and methodologies. Not about you. Your success is their success.

9. Respect your donors’ taste

Donors are typically older than you and almost certainly less attuned to the latest trends in design. If you create a look that resonates with you and other young members of staff, you’ve most likely missed your donors. And that will cost you.

10. Don’t project yourself onto your donors

How many times have you said, “I wouldn’t respond to that”? That’s only relevant if you’re fundraising from yourself. When you’re fundraising from other people, your sense of what is right really tells you nothing useful. Pay attention to what your donors do and don’t respond to. Using yourself as the standard is egocentric. And it always fails.

11. Be easy to read

Avoid these things:

  • Sans-serif fonts for body copy (in print)
  • Reverse type
  • Type over color or images
  • Body copy that’s any color but black
  • Small type

Those things may make your stuff look great. But it’s hard to read, and that matters. You get better response the more readable your material is.

Besides, making it hard to read is just rude.

12. Make everything about your donors

A lot of fundraising follows a formula like this: We are awesome. Get on our bandwagon! That’s not fundraising, it’s bragging. Donors don’t give because you’re great. They give because they’re great. Your job is to show them how to deploy their greatness, with you as their tool.

13. Be specific about what donors can do

Donors are much more interested in taking specific action than they are in helping you continue to exist. Tell them about specific problems or opportunities, and show them how they can be part of specific solutions that they’ll love to make possible.

14. Be incredibly transparent

Give donors access to all the financial and governance information possible. Post your financial statements, 990s, even minutes from board meetings. Answer their questions honestly and in detail. The watchdogs require a certain level of transparency. Do more than they require. Few donors want or need that much detail. Your willingness to be open is what matters.

15. Let all your donors make a difference

When you ask, find ways to make your cause bite-sized for donors at every giving level. If you ask a million-dollar donor to completely fund your mission, it might be in her scope to do so. If you ask the same of a $100 donor, you demonstrate that he’s a tiny fish in a gigantic pond. Ask Mr. Hundred to do something meaningful that costs around $100. Every donor wants to do something big. But big is defined by his or her capacity, not your mission.

16. Make giving easy online

Most fundraisers have mastered the mechanisms of direct-mail giving. However, complex, confusing, crazy, and even non-functional donation forms are common online. Giving online should be easier than giving through the mail, not harder. This matters more every day as donors migrate to digital channels.

17. Make it easy for donors to find a human

If a donor has a question, can she quickly and easily get an answer? Through phone, email, and mail? Make it easy to find those channels, and don’t send them to busy signals or unmonitored inboxes.

18. Encourage donors to connect with you

Good fundraising is a relationship, and that means communication. Ask donors to comment or question. Give them specific prompts. Make room on your reply forms for them to write.

19. Listen to complaints, but don’t let them dictate strategy

Every donor complaint is an opportunity to strengthen the relationship. But don’t take complaints as marching orders. Remember: A handful of people complain. Hundreds or thousands make donations. If you’re getting the revenue, then you are more or less doing it right, though possibly not quite right for the complainers. Talk is cheap. Donations aren’t.

20. Do great work

Donors deserve and expect the best. Be an organization that does its mission effectively and efficiently. Multiply their impact. Magnify their compassion. Do your fundraising that way too.

Want to discover more ways to make your nonprofit communications connect with your donors? Take my course Irresistible Communications for Great Nonprofits course! It’s available for members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Check it out.

CFRE Points:
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Donor LoveNewsletters

7 Common-Sense Ways to Love Your Donors

Thanking donors is the best and easiest way to improve your overall fundraising results. Here are some ways you can show your donors the love by thanking them:

  1. Thank donors promptly. Don’t let weeks (or hours if it’s online) go by without thanking a donor.
  2. Thank donors for the same things you asked them for. If you asked them to feed a hungry child, don’t thank them for fighting world poverty.
  3. Call your donors to thank them. Especially first-time donors. You will stand out in their lives if you do this, and they will be much more likely to stick with you.
  4. Have a newsletter. Make sure it’s all about the great things your donors make possible — not a brag-fest about your organization and staff.
  5. Have a donor-focused, action-oriented brand. Build your brand around the concrete ways your donors can change the world by giving to your organization.
  6. Reach out to donors regularly, just to thank them. Most of us only encounter cranky, disgruntled donors when they complain. We don’t see the delightful side of most typical donors.
  7. Share the stories of heroic donors. Not only those who give large gifts but those who give in notable and sacrificial ways. Make these stories famous within your organization and among your donors!

These are proven ways to keep donors longer, encourage them to upgrade, and generally get more engagement and connection.

Learn more about how to connect with donors in a meaningful way by taking our most popular online course, Irresistible Communications for Great Nonprofits. It’s available for members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Check it out.

CFRE Points:
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Donor LoveNewsletters

A Great Way to REALLY Thank Your Donors

I want to show you one of the best examples of donor care that I’ve ever seen.

I got it more than 10 years ago, from the Children’s Cancer Institute in Australia. To read the whole thing, click here.

We typically think of a donor newsletter as the best kind of donor care. This letter shows a different — and very effective — way to show donors they matter.

In a personalised, four-page letter, here’s what it does:

  • Specifically thanks the donor for his giving. 
  • Reminds the donor about Anna, a cancer survivor whose story was told in a letter previously sent to the donor.
  • Shares an inspiring quote from a fellow donor.
  • Reminds the donor how important the work he supports is.
  • Describes some interesting recent research projects and thanks the donor for making them possible.
  • Talks about some recent appeals that the donor gave to and thanks him for it, and updates the stories that were in the appeals.
  • Tells the donor about an upcoming change in leadership.

This same content could have been expressed in a very good donor newsletter. It would be a strong newsletter indeed. But there are some advantages to putting all that good material into a letter.

  • It’s much easier and less expensive to produce than a typical newsletter. If you have limited resources (who doesn’t?), this might be a much more realistic project!
  • It’s more flexible than a newsletter. It can be longer or shorter as needed.
  • In a way, it feels more personal than a newsletter. After all, a newsletter is a “publication.” A donor reading it is aware that many others also got the same thing. But a letter is for one person — even if the same number of people get it!
  • When a letter like this is tested against a more traditional newsletter, it performs just as well, and sometimes better.

Telling donors you appreciate them and showing them that their giving matters is a key to successful fundraising. Try this way of doing that!

To discover how you can form a meaningful connection with your donors and transform your fundraising check out our workshop, Donor Love Made Practical. It’s available for members of The Fundraisingology LabThe Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic will supply you with high-quality training, expert advice, and an amazing community to take your fundraising to a whole new level.

Ready to get started? Click here to learn more.

CFRE Points:
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How a Now-Defunct Fundraising Agency Discovered the Power of Donor Newsletters

Back in the early 1990s, a fundraising agency based in Seattle called the Domain Group accidentally made an important discovery: You can raise funds with a nonprofit newsletter.

At the time, most people in the fundraising industry considered newsletters to be money-losing projects. Necessary, but not typically profitable. Newsletters were almost always created in-house by nonprofits because it was not considered a worthwhile use of an agency’s time. Domain did them only rarely, and always as a sort of “favor” for clients who didn’t have the capacity to produce newsletters themselves.

The other thing you should know about newsletters back then is that they were filled with facts, figures, and news about what the organization was accomplishing. They were meant to inform and educate donors and make them feel that they’d made a good choice for their charitable giving.

The Domain Group people couldn’t leave well enough alone. They started tweaking and testing the content and presentation of newsletters. Results started to improve. Before long, their newsletters became revenue-positive. And they kept improving until they rivalled and sometimes surpassed direct mail. (This all happened before email was a viable fundraising medium.)

Each test they ran on their newsletters revealed new (and sometimes surprising) best practices for newsletters.

But the big discovery was the true purpose of a newsletter: It was not to report on the successes and excellence of the organization. It was to show the donor that her giving made a difference.

Thus the new name for newsletters: Donor newsletters.

That’s what made newsletters into powerful fundraising vehicles. They also helped drive significant improvement in donor retention. Domain typically saw a client’s overall retention rate leap by 10 percentage points or more when donor newsletters were added to their communication line-up.

Along the way, they built an established “formula” for donor newsletters. Here’s what the Domain Formula included:

  • Mail the newsletter in an envelope. This is far more effective than mailing the newsletter as a self-mailer. It is worth the small extra cost.
  • There’s a reply device and return envelope. Omitting one or both of them will seriously depress response.
  • The envelope says some variation of Newsletter enclosed.
  • Most of the stories are about the great things the donor made possible through her giving.
  • Most of the stories directly address donor to make that completely clear.
  • Most of the stories are human stories, not statistics or descriptions of programs.
  • Headlines are dramatic and specific and built on strong verbs. Written the way the tabloids do it.
  • Every image tells a story. Photos should be expressive faces making eye contact, understandable action, or interesting context.
  • Designed for scanability. Lots of entry points into every story: Subheads, pull-quotes, short paragraphs, photo captions, plenty of white space.

The Domain Formula began to spread around the industry. When I learned about it and began applying it to my clients, I routinely saw their newsletter revenue triple, quadruple, or increase ten-fold or more.

I tell everyone who will listen about the Domain Formula. And the beautiful thing is that organizations all over the world are now using it — and continuing to refine and revise it. It’s getting better and better!

It can work for you too!

Do you want to learn more about putting the Domain Formula to work for your newsletter? Take my new Moceanic online course, Making Money with Your Donor Newsletter. It’s all-new, all-practical, and will help you raise more money and keep more donors.

When you join The Fundraisingology Lab, You’ll get all my best thinking on making your donor newsletter effective. And you’ll have direct access to me and other Moceanic gurus in the online community for our students!

CFRE Points:
Jeff Portrait
NewslettersBlithering Nonprofit Executives

VIDEO: Blithering Nonprofit Executives Brainstorm a Donor Newsletter

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Two Blithering Nonprofit Executives … old farts … excuse me, make that nonprofit leaders — the kind of people who make a lot of decisions in fundraising these days (though not a whole lot of the actual work), brainstorm the content of their donor newsletter.

We at Moceanic managed to record the video of their web conference, and share it with you as a warning:  Don’t let this happen to you and your newsletter!

A well-built donor newsletter can raise a lot of funds — and really improve donor retention.  Because it meets the needs of donors. It makes them glad they gave … and more likely to keep on giving.

But none of this is likely when your newsletter is based on the opinions and likings of people who don’t know the sometimes counterintuitive truths about what makes a donor newsletter work.

You can resist the uninformed direction of Blithering Nonprofit Executives (who can be found in all ages, backgrounds, genders, and IQ levels) by knowing the facts.

This is why you should join The Fundraisingology Lab and get access to Tom Ahern’s powerful Moceanic course, Making Money with Your Donor Newsletter.

It could be one of the most important and impactful decisions you make this year.

And when they see the results, even the Blithering Nonprofit Executives will thank you for doing the right things in your donor newsletter!

CFRE Points:
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3 Things You Could Do to Totally Ruin Your Donor Newsletter

I’m pretty obsessed with donor newsletters.  I’ve planned, written, and directed a lot of them.  (A few years back I tried to count how many … it was around a thousand issues at the time. It’s much more today.)

There are a lot of things you can do to make a donor newsletter great — as in money-raising and donor-retention building.

Here are three things that can make a donor newsletter less great. I bring them up because they’re surprisingly common, which tells me these three things tempt many people. So take these as a word to the wise.

Newsletter Killer #1: A column called “From the Executive Director..”

Don’t get me wrong — having a column from your executive in your newsletter is perfectly fine. But merely labeling as being from that person is just boring.  I promise you, nobody (other than your ED’s mother) is sitting there thinking “I wonder what the ED has to say?”

And being boring is the least of your worries.  When you give a leader a soapbox, your leader will most likely use it as a soapbox — that is, a platform to talk about whatever she finds interesting.  Not what donors care about.

Having a Director’s column isn’t a terrible thing.  It can help connect her or him to the donors.  But to do that, it must be about topics of interest to the donor.  And it really needs a headline that entices people to read it.  (And really, the ED should probably not write it — have a professional do it and get sign-off!)

Newsletter Killer #2: Too many pages

I’ve tested this over and over: Newsletters that are longer than four pages don’t do as well than four-pagers. I’ve never yet seen the longer version outperform the 4-page version.

Which came as a surprise at first: It flies in the face of another fundraising truth: that longer messages work better than short ones.  It doesn’t apply to longer newsletters.

I don’t know why this is so, but I have a theory:  The shorter newsletter forces you to focus on what is really needed and truly donor focused. You end up omitting the Staff Profiles, the Calendar of Obscure Events, the photos of glassy-eyed major donors holding champagne glasses.

And guess what:  Even shorter newsletters do well also.  In extensive testing, I’ve found that two-page newsletters — that is, one single sheet, front and back — do as well as and sometimes better than four-pagers. If they do just as well, the smaller version is more successful, because it does so at less cost.  Give it a try!

Newsletter Killer #3: This photo

Don't add photos like this to your newsletter

It’s tempting, I know.  Some excellent group or maybe a company has donated a large amount to your organization.  You had a ceremony where they handed over the symbolic giant check for the amount of their wonderful donation.  The ceremony was fun and uplifting.  They’re really great people.  They deserve recognition … and as a smart fundraiser, you know that recognizing them is a smart thing to do.

But here’s the problem with putting this photo in your donor newsletter: What it says to and about every single other donor who gets this newsletter.  It tells them that their gifts are small! Less important.  Less interesting.

If you want to honor these excellent donors, find another way to do it:  Buy an ad in a local publication they read that says how appreciated they are.  Or send them a framed photo.

Just don’t muddy what you want to say to all your other donors with the giant-check photo.

Want to know more about creating super-effective donor newsletters? Check out Tom Ahern’s course Making Money With Your Donor Newsletter. You can access it when you join The Fundraisingology Lab.  Uncover the secrets and strategies from the leading evangelist of great donor newsletters – and discover how you too can create successful donor newsletters that will raise tons of new giving from your EXISTING donors.

CFRE Points:
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6 Ways to Make a Better Donor Newsletter

Newsletter Master Tom Ahern reveals six concrete, simple things you can do to improve the results of your donor newsletter.

Drawing from tested, proven approaches learned by fundraisers through the years, he’ll show you how these things will help bring in more donations, and improve overall donor retention:

  1. Put it in an envelope.
  2. Put on that envelope the phrase “NEWSLETTER ENCLOSED” (or something similar).
  3. Give your readers the Gift of Joy — make them happy they gave to you and happy they’re reading this newsletter.
  4. Write powerful headlines.
  5. Use strong photographs.
  6. Stay away from statistics. Tell stories!

Do these things!  Watch the results.

You’ll be glad you did.

Want to know more about creating super-effective donor newsletters? Check out Tom Ahern’s course Making Money With Your Donor Newsletter. It is available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Uncover the secrets and strategies from the leading evangelist of great donor newsletters – and discover how you too can create successful donor newsletters that will raise tons of new giving from your EXISTING donors.

CFRE Points:
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6 Weak Excuses for Not Sending a Charity Newsletter

Let’s tear down some common barriers. The ones that stand between your organization and creation of a newsletter that improves retention, thereby boosting the lifetime value of your donor list. Because, when you get right down to it, newsletters are all about the money.

Here’s a rogue’s gallery of common (and weak) excuses that keep organizations from committing to a donor newsletter:

  1. We did a newsletter before. It didn’t work for us. This conclusion implies that some organizations are just not “good newsletter material,” when in fact most newsletters are built to fail, not to succeed. Learn to do your donor newsletter the right way, and it will work.
  2. I’m a fundraiser, not a journalist. You don’t have to be a great writer to create a great charity newsletter. Paradoxically, your newsletter isn’t really about getting people to read your articles. Your newsletter is actually about delivering joy to your donors repeatedly. You can swiftly accomplish that profitable feat in a handful of headlines. So mothball your “writer’s block” anxieties. You don’t need to write exquisite articles. You will need to learn how to write a competent headline. But that’s about it. And it’s an easily acquired skill.
  3. I have other priorities. I hear you: my to-do list always outpaces my workday, too. So the question becomes (especially in a small or one-person fundraising shop): Is a newsletter worth making time for? Should it be a top priority or an also-ran? Well, that depends. If your organization believes (as I do, because I’ve seen the proof repeatedly) that donor-centricity is the surest route to increased income and retention, then you need a tool to help you nurture relationships with all your donors – not just those lucky few whom you can reach one on one. The proper tool for mass cultivation is the donor newsletter.
  4. I don’t have any stories. “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them,” the narrator intoned at the close of each episode. Naked City was one of the first TV crime dramas, set in New York City. They knew they’d never run out of stories. Nor will you. At Health Care for the Homeless (Baltimore), director of development Keiren Havens makes a practice of regularly trolling the front-line staff for true-life stories. She’s also educated the social workers there about the financial good it does the agency to have great stories to tell. As a result, social workers have become eager “story gatherers.” You’re not asking them to write up polished 500-word summaries, either. You’re asking them to send you 50 rough words in an email.
  5. I’m not a designer. You don’t have to be. Even the most graphically challenged can send out to donors a simple (yet soul-satisfying) “newsy-letter” created in Word. Trust me: if you can write any kind of letter (to your son at camp?), then you can create a successful newsy-letter. Fancy-pants design is NOT what makes a donor newsletter work.
  6. I can’t justify it to my boss. Look: the financial hurdle for newsletters is really low. If you break even – if you bring in enough gifts to cover your postage and printing – then you’re already beating the odds. Donor newsletters aren’t about current income, after all (though they can produce miracles in that department). Donor newsletters are about retaining donors for the long haul. Which is just smart business.

(This post was originally published on the Bloomerang Blog.)

Want to know more about creating super-effective donor newsletters? Check out Tom Ahern’s course Making Money With Your Donor Newsletter. It’s available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Uncover the secrets and strategies from the leading evangelist of great donor newsletters – and discover how you too can create successful donor newsletters that will raise tons of new giving from your EXISTING donors.

CFRE Points: