Three-San-Francisco-Hearts: Love-is-Contagious-San-Francisco-Glow-Transparent-Harmony. Benefit for S.F. General Hospital Foundation

Try These Nonprofit Donor Retention Tweaks with BIG, Happy Outcomes

Three-San-Francisco-Hearts: Love-is-Contagious-San-Francisco-Glow-Transparent-Harmony. Benefit for S.F. General Hospital FoundationHave you ever received confoundingly terrible customer service? Maybe at a restaurant, hotel, fast food restaurant or retail outlet?  It happens all the time and, likely, you’ve thought to yourself: “Why on earth are they treating me like this? It’s so stupid! Don’t they realize I’ll never come here again?

Sadly, this is exactly what many donors feel when:

  • You make it difficult for them to give.
  • They receive poor follow up from you.
  • You don’t seem to know them, or even try to get to know them.
  • You treat them as one of the masses, rather than making them feel special.
  • You ignore what they’ve told you or shown you.

“Customer service, like everything an effective organization does, changes people.”

Seth Godin

Part of the Problem is Culture

Think about it. When you experience poor service in the for-profit world, it’s likely because the person with whom you’re interacting has no stake in the business. They see their job as just a job, and really don’t care about the business as a whole. Whether or not a customer returns again means little to them.

This also happens at nonprofits without a donor-centered culture of philanthropy. While the customer, or donor, may not always be exactly “right,” it is imperative everyone in your organization recognizes and appreciates the value donors bring.

“Each person directly associated with your organization should value donors and implicitly or explicitly express that value with gratitude and appreciation. No exceptions.”

Brian Lauterbach, fundraiser, consultant, entrepreneur

“Without tackling internal issues head-on, we believe the prospects for major fundraising progress are limited. In most organizations, fundraising is limited more by organizational culture and structure than by lack of strategic or tactical know-how.”

— Alia McKee and Mark Rovner, Founders, Sea Change Strategies

NOTE: How to instill a culture of philanthropy is a topic for another article (like this one), but at base it has to do with how people treat each other in your organization.

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Three San Francisco Hearts: Love Sent. Received, Shared; Together Under the Stars; Justice

Are You Treating Your Donors Like Gumballs?

Three San Francisco Hearts: Love Sent. Received, Shared; Together Under the Stars; JusticeWant your donors to sustain you? Then you can’t consume them in five minutes.

Yet all too often nonprofits treat their donors exactly like a gumball dispensed from a machine. Chew it up. Spit it out. Done.

Oh, yeah… maybe you send a quick thanks to whoever gave you the change to buy the gum.  But that’s as far as your gratitude takes you. You’re over it. You never even think about that gumball again. You probably can’t even remember what color it was. You’re off hunting down your next snack.

Little snacks are nice.  But they won’t sustain you over time.

One-time donations are the same way.  And they’ll stay that way – one time – if you treat them the way you treat your gumballs.

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Three San Francisco Hearts: Rainbow, Love, Resilience. Benefit for S.F. General Foundation.

Top Strategies for Making Friends with Nonprofit Donors

Three San Francisco Hearts: Rainbow, Love, Resilience. Benefit for S.F. General Foundation.Today a friend, who serves on the board of a struggling local arts organization, asked me what they can do to increase their fundraising. I asked her a few questions; then answered simply: “Have more conversations with people; make more friends.”

You see, they have people who know about them but they’re just not giving.

They have donors, but they’re not giving enough.

Why? Because they haven’t been treated like friends and family. They don’t feel connected.

What’s the best advice to build stronger connections with likely supporters?

1. People Give to People

Remember this basic truth. Humans are a social species.

People also buy from people.

So if you consider fundraising “making a sale” (which I do, because it’s part of being human to be constantly trying to persuade others; read Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human), you must show up as authentically human.

And how do you do this?

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Head and Heart

Easiest 7 Strategies to Get Inside Your Donor’s Head and Heart

Head and HeartHere is some wisdom gleaned from many decades of personal nonprofit work.

It derives from both my stints as an in-the-trenches development professional (five different organizations, wearing many hats, over a 30-year career), and my past decade as a coach/consultant for nonprofits of all sizes and shapes.

I will also be sharing quotes from donors Penelope Burk surveyed (also here), as these authentic testimonials provide great insight into how donors think and feel.

Finally, we’ll conclude with seven relatively easy things you can do to connect more meaningfully with your supporters so they’ll stick with you through thick and thin!

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Transform Annual Reports into Gratitude Reports for the Best ROI

Grateful signAnnual reports don’t have to be dry as dust. In fact, the most effective ones are not financial reports; they’re a story with the donor at the center. And they inspire action.

When you consider all the blood, sweat, tears and money that go into them, you want to assure they:

  • Resonate with people emotionally.
  • Paint a picture people want to jump into.
  • Showcase the value of philanthropy and what it does to create change.
  • Shine a light on how much the donor is needed.
  • Include specific areas where donors can help.

Towards getting the biggest bang for your annual report buck, consider renaming them (or at least thinking about them) as Gratitude Reports. Make them all about your donors, how grateful you are to them for making your work possible, and how appreciative you are for all the accomplishments they enabled.

Rather than “2023 Annual Report,” consider a more donor-centered title like “Generosity Report,” “A Gratitude Report,” “The Year of the Donor,” “Impact Report.” or “You Make it Possible.” I’ve seen all of these; feel free to get creative and let your title guide your content!

Top 5 Gratitude Report Strategies

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Food bank donations truck unloads

5 Ways Effective Annual Reporting Drives Donations

Food bank donations truck unloadsFor many nonprofits, the yearly annual report is often just another task on a very long to-do list. Most charities are juggling a lot—development, program maintenance, fundraising, and more—and the annual report can feel like yet another mandatory routine project. One that often gets handled at the last minute without much intentional care and effort.

Even though annual reports are an industry standard, most nonprofits don’t realize how fruitful an effective annual report can be. An annual report that prioritizes storytelling, transparency, interactivity, and more can actually bolster donation solicitation efforts and become a lucrative fundraising tool.

Before we jump into the nitty gritty of strategic annual reporting, let’s cover the basics.

What is an annual report?

Think of an annual report as a “year in review”—like a yearbook of sorts, but for donors, supporters, and partners to look at the highlights of any given year at your organization. Of course, a lot can happen in a year (nonprofits know that best), but with an annual report, you can summarize all the year’s milestones including your impact, accomplishments, new developments, and more.

Annual reports can be created and presented in a variety of ways—both digitally and in print. Depending on the needs, audience, or even constraints of the individual nonprofit, you might choose to create a printed booklet or pamphlet (which could then be mailed to supporters and donors or handed out at events). Or, in line with more frequent developments in the space, you could turn to digital software tools to create an annual report that intrigues readers with more vibrant visual elements like photos, videos, and clickable links.

What does an annual report include?

Every nonprofit’s annual report is different, depending on its mission, values, impact, audience, and more. However, most organizations include a few standard elements:

  • Stated mission and values
  • Accurate financial data
  • Examples of impact
  • Major accomplishments
  • Program and initiative assessments
  • Event highlights and recaps
  • Donor and board member lists
  • Contact information

Though every nonprofit is required to submit a Form 990, most organizations take their reporting a step further and create a yearly review that includes more audience-centric material (like the topics listed above).

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dig into the best part of annual reporting—the ability to create the ultimate fundraising tool.

5 Ways Effective Annual Reporting Drives Donations

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Why Donor Wooing Requires WOWing

Woman checking out at cashier

The Unfair Exchange Bernadette Jiwa, The Story of Telling.

“That will be eight dollars,’ the woman, who is carefully weighing and wrapping two serves of freshly made fettuccine for us to take home, says.

As my husband is about to hand her the cash, she takes another handful of the pasta from behind the glass and adds it to our package.

She doesn’t announce that she’s giving us twenty per cent extra for free.
She doesn’t even invite us to notice the gesture at all.
It’s enough for her that she knows she has added value.

We think of value as a hard metric—the anticipated fair exchange of this for that.

But value can be a surprising, generous, unfair exchange.

Something that is given because we can, not because we must.

Ah… value.

Wow, wow, WOW!

This is what all fundraising, fundamentally, is about.

A value-for-value exchange.

Yet one side of the exchange is a hard metric: The donor’s cold, hard cash.

While the other side of the exchange is something decidedly less tangible: Freely given gratitude from you and your organization.

Or at least that’s how it should work.

The Difference between ‘We Must’ and ‘We Can’ 

What does your donor love and loyalty plan look like?

Do you even have such a plan?

If the only reason you acknowledge donations is because you feel you ‘must,’ it’s likely your donors aren’t walking away from the encounter feeling much more than matter-of-fact. The transactional receipts many organizations send out are registered by the donors as “Ho, hum. Guess I’ll go file this with my tax receipts.”

This kind of exchange is fair, sure.

But it’s not generous.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU HAVE TO GIVE?

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Thank you note writing

Don’t Blow Your Post-Holiday Opportunity to Thank Your Nonprofit Supporters

Thank you note writingFor good things once a year is not enough. Why do so many of us only eat turkey once a year?  Or pumpkin pie? I’ve no idea! It’s surely not rational. These are special foods we value and take great delight in. Yet we get into a bad habit of thinking on auto pilot. If it’s not Thanksgiving, the idea of roasting a turkey or making cranberry sauce doesn’t even enter most or our heads. Why are we missing out on an opportunity for greater joy and satisfaction?

Don’t do this with your valued supporters!

It’s not rational to thank your donors only annually.  They keep you going all year long. They deserve your gratitude all year long as well.

What better time to thank supporters than today, after a holiday filled with gratitude?

Seriously, I’m not kidding. Today! (Or early next week works swell).
Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) is over. There’s a natural let-down for many.  Wouldn’t it be lovely for your donors and volunteers to get a call from their favorite charity? A call that simply expresses gratitude? 
            Joe, how was your holiday? I just called because in thinking over the week-end about all for which I’m grateful, I realized I’m grateful for you and all you do to make our community a more caring place. I just wanted you to know how much your support is appreciated. Thanks(for)giving.
My hunch is there’s nothing better you could do with your time today. Or early next week if you’re taking some personal (or shopping the sales?) time today.

All the “strategies” in the world can’t substitute for a genuine, personal connection that comes from the heart.

Connect!  Express your thanks! Don’t let weeks and months go by. Don’t wait until you’ve got a perfectly crafted letter, email or insert piece. That’s called procrastination, or “letting perfect be the enemy of the good.” Sometimes, timing is everything.
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Thankful for Thanksgiving

Happy Days of Thanks(for)Giving

Thankful for ThanksgivingThis Thursday folks in the United States will celebrate what I consider to be the social benefit sector holiday of the year.

So it’s time for my annual Thanks(for)Giving post!

Just think about what ‘Thanksgiving’ means.

Literally, it’s a day for giving thanks for blessings.

Who, and what, do you count among yours?

I know when we go around the table at my family Thanksgivings, saying what we’re grateful for this year, most folks respond with a people-based answer. Sure, they’re happy about the feast in front of them. But they’re most grateful for caring friends… loving family…. and for being together sharing the warmth of good company. This year the company may be in real life for the first time in a while, so the gratitude for shared connection will be stronger than ever.

But not all connections are with family and friends.

A lot of connections for nonprofit workers are with donors, volunteers, clients and co-workers.

Who are you grateful to at your organization?

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Sign: Thank You! You Are Essential

13 Top Secrets of Donor Thank You Letters Revealed

"Thank You You Are Essential" signWhat do you spend more time on? Asking or thanking?

The lion’s share of nonprofits spend more time asking. It’s a BIG mistake. Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not here to shame or blame you. Of course you have to ask. The number one reason people don’t give is they aren’t asked. And …

The number one reason donors don’t give again is they aren’t properly thanked!

You may think you have a proper thank you letter template. But, if your thank you looks like this, it’s not helping you bond with your supporters.

TYPICAL THANK YOU LETTER TEMPLATE

Dear [donor name],

Thank you for your generous donation of $[donation amount] to [nonprofit name].

Your donation is making a difference. Because of your $[amount] donation, we are able to [impact of donation].

[this paragraph usually gives a general description of what the organization does]

Thank you again for your contribution! [nonprofit name] relies on the gifts of donors like you to make a difference.

Sincerely,
[name and title]

Look familiar?

Wah, wah, wah (sad trombone).

Most thank you letters are simply boring.

This could come from almost any nonprofit. They’re generic, not specific.They look like a form letters.

You can do a lot better, and it’s not hard.

To Retain Donors, Stand Out from the ‘Get Go’

Believe me, most donors aren’t sticking around. Your own retention rates may be better or worse than average (do you know them?), but generally only 19% of new donors give again. For ongoing donors, it’s just 45%.

The time to nip this in the bud is now.

Did you know a study from Charity Dynamics and NTEN found 21% of donors say they were never thanked at all? My hunch is some of these supporters did receive something from you, but it was so perfunctory they didn’t really take notice. Maybe you just send a receipt. Or took them to a thank you landing page; then called it a day. Or maybe they received a brief, formal email that confirmed the gift, but didn’t make them feel particularly special.

If you don’t have a killer thank you letter prepared to send to the folks you hope will be giving to you between today and the end of the year, now is the time to right this wrong.

If you thank well you’ll see retention rates increase significantly.

In fact, research from Penelope Burk, author of Donor-Centered Fundraising, found 70% of donors reported they would increase their giving if they received what they needed from you.

Brilliant, warm, authentic, personal communication stands out and leads to renewals. And this is a much less expensive strategy than new donor acquisition, which costs from $1 to $1.25 to raise a dollar. Whereas renewing a donor costs only 20 cents on the dollar.

By now you may be thinking: Sounds good, but how do we stand out? There must be some specific strategies that incline donors towards giving again, but what are they?

Today I share my top secrets with you. They’re simple and foolproof.

Ready?

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