How To Write This Fall – Tips For Fundraising Success

An old typewriter sits on a wooden desk

Fundraising Season is beginning . . . and you’re going to write to your donors a LOT in the next few months. And I have an important tip for you.

Don’t assume your donors will read what you write.

Donors are moving fast (especially in their inbox). They are busy. They support multiple charities. And they don’t have to read your organization’s communications.

Right? Nothing bad happens to your donors if they don’t read your stuff. Their life just goes on. And as a matter of fact they’ve saved themselves some time.

So what is a nonprofit writer to do?

In almost all cases you have to earn their attention by being relevant and getting to the point quickly.

So pay special attention to your first sentence. Think of it this way: your first sentence has to earn your reader’s attention enough so that they want to read your second sentence.

I use two main strategies to get more people to read our clients’ fundraising materials:

#1 Very quickly state the point of your letter/email/brochure. Why are you writing the donor today? If you want the donor to do something, say it clearly right away.

We’ve improved the fundraising results for hundreds of organizations just by helping their fundraising materials get to the point faster. Because most nonprofits seem to assume that their donors will read the whole thing. So, they take a long time to get to the point, and then they only mention the point once.

My operating principle is that maybe 10% of donors will read it, but 50% of people will skim it IF you give them something interesting/urgent/valuable enough to skim.

Note those percentages don’t add up to 100%. That’s because no matter what you do, a significant percentage of donors are either going to miss or not read each message you send out. And that, my friend, is why nonprofits need to communicate more often than they think they do. Because most nonprofits assume every donor receives and reads every message. That’s a long way from what actually happens.

OK. The second way I get people to read is to use drama and tension.

#2 Write such a drama-filled first sentence that the reader really wants to know what the second sentence says.

Pick right up in the middle of the beneficiary story you’re telling. Or summarize the most drama-filled moment. But use emotion to get a reader curious about what happens next.

Here’s a great example, “When the police rang the doorbell, Gloria didn’t know what she was going to do.” This works for even the most boring subjects! “Our fiscal year end is approaching and I don’t think we’re going to make budget” is the opening line of one of the most successful letters I ever wrote.

So when you’re writing this fall, remember that your donors are busy and moving fast. Pay special attention to the very first sentences of anything you put out there. And I guarantee you that if you earn your donor’s attention, you’ll earn more of their donations!

Why Your Donors Deserve Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat

You’re no doubt familiar with Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat, the fundraising rhythm we teach here at Better Fundraising.

There are two equally strong reasons you should follow this approach to fundraising.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that we arrived at it because it raised our clients the most money and retained their donors the longest. Both Jim and I come from competitive fundraising environments where we were pressured to raise money in the short term AND to set organizations up for long term success. And when we looked at what worked and what didn’t in fundraising — really getting deep in the data — it was clear that Asking, Thanking, and Reporting were the key elements for fundraising success.

And that Repeating the rhythm (and some of the messages) helped organizations grow over time.

So we developed Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat simply as a way to help organizations raise more money.

But there’s another line of thinking that leads you to the same place. We call it ‘treating your donor the way she deserves to be treated’ . . .

  • You honor your donor by sharing the problem your organization is working on, and asking your donor to help solve the problem.
  • You honor your donor by thanking her like crazy when she gives a gift to help.
  • And it’s really honoring her by showing her what happened because she gave a gift. To Report.

You could argue that it’s a moral imperative to Report. She gave you a gift in faith and received nothing in return but a hit of dopamine. How can you in good conscience ask her to give another gift without showing and telling her that her gift made a difference?

This is one of the reasons, by the way, that fundraisers don’t like their jobs. They have to ask and ask and ask. They know in their hearts that donors get tired of being asked! But the fundraisers who work in environments where their donors are honored with regular reports? Those fundraisers enjoy their jobs much more. And their donors enjoy the fundraising much more.

This is the heart of donor centricity. It’s acknowledging that the donor is central to the process of philanthropy, charity and your organization. It’s acknowledging that her role is not just “supporter” or “partner” but as central as your organization’s.

So ask yourself, “Have we Reported to our donors lately? Do we deserve to ask them for another gift?”

When you’re great at reporting you’ll notice three things: you’ll raise more money; you’ll keep your donors for longer; and you LOVE knowing that you’re treating your donors the way they deserve to be treated!

Get Storytelling for Action eBook Now!

If you’ve read our blog over the last few years, you’ve heard us talk a lot about storytelling. We’ve written about it, we’ve spoken at conferences, and we share tips about storytelling with our clients.

This summer, we decided it was time to pull everything we’ve learned over the years into one place, so fundraisers like you can benefit.

That’s what we did with our new eBook: Storytelling for ACTION

Three Big Ideas That Nobody Told You

It’s easy to say that storytelling is important. It’s more difficult to use stories to raise more money. That’s why we’ve shared three big ideas in this new eBook:

  1. Your donor should have a role — and see herself — in every single story you tell.
  2. How you tell a story is less important than what story you tell and when you tell it.
  3. You have a Big Story you need to constantly tell your donor.

Sound interesting? We promise it’s more than that. It’s also actionable and proven. Download your copy of the free eBook now.

Practical Advice You Can Use

One of the things that we focused on in Storytelling for ACTION is actionable advice. We didn’t want to just share concepts — we want you to equip you with the tools to start telling better stories for your organization right away. That’s why we’ve included the following tools in Storytelling for ACTION:

  • A matrix to help you to decide what story to tell at what time
  • Easy-to-use checklists
  • Real-life samples
  • Our 3 Big Ideas Cheat Sheet

Market-Tested And Proven

The ideas in this eBook are market-tested and proven to increase how much money you raise. They will help you get more new donors and keep your current donors around for longer. And they will even— if you let them—help you love your job qand fundraising more than you thought possible.

These ideas are not fancy. They are not just for the “big” organizations and “seasoned” fundraisers. They are for you.

Download your free eBook now.

​MUST-LISTEN interview with the founder of Charity:Water

Logo for Charity:Water

We always wanted to have Scott Harrison, the founder of Charity:Water, on the podcast. And then he called us and asked to be on the podcast!

You should absolutely listen to this interview. Scott is one of the most intuitive, accomplished fundraisers working today. The way he thinks about fundraising is so effective – you’ll be a better fundraiser just by listening.

Here’s just a taste of what you’ll learn:

  • How Charity:Water takes its donors on a journey every time they give
  • How they manage and market their promise that 100% of a donor’s gift goes to the field
  • The power of “productizing” (Scott’s term) what you do — and how you can do it too

I learned a lot from Scott and you will too. Take a listen!

10 Fundraising Tactics You Should Use This Fall

Want to amp up your fall fundraising? We recommend these ten tactics to all our clients because they’ve been proven to work again and again and again:

  1. Report to your donors this fall — show them what their previous gift accomplished! Your donors are less likely to give you to at year-end if they haven’t heard lately what their gifts accomplish. We often produce an October Newsletter for our clients and work hard to highlight amazing stories made possible by the donor’s gift.
  2. Reporting is especially important for Major Donors. Make absolutely certain each major donor reads or hears a story of impact each fall.
  3. Focus on your donors more than on your organization. In all your communications, emphasize the donor’s role (“You helped make this happen!”) more than your organization’s role (“We helped 347 people this year…”)
  4. Make your communications to Major Donors stand out. When sending them an appeal letter, use a nicer envelope and hand write the address. When sending them a newsletter, put it in a 9×12 envelope and don’t fold the newsletter. Trust us; it’s worth spending the extra time and money to ensure your major donors pay attention to your communications!
  5. Communicate more than you think. If you only mail your donors a couple times, mail them at least one more time. For smaller organizations who mostly use email for fundraising, please mail your donors at least twice. We recommend most organizations mail their donors at least 4 times from September through December.
  6. During December, review your list of major donors. For all majors who have not yet given a gift this year, ask them!
  7. Have a campaign for Giving Tuesday, not just one email. Email your list on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Pro Tip: having a match for giving Tuesday really increases results. So many nonprofits are asking for gifts that day — having gift-doubling matching funds really helps your organization stand out.
  8. After giving Tuesday, change the first/main image on your website to a simple call-to-action to give a gift before the end of the year. Keep that as the main message on your homepage until January 1.
  9. During year-end, mail another appeal letter. Most organizations only mail one letter, but they should mail two. Mail the first letter the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and mail the second letter around December 11th. The second letter will raise about 1/3 the amount your first letter raises, and it won’t reduce the effectiveness of your first letter.
  10. Send 3 emails the last 4 days of the year. Everyone’s inbox is crowded – make sure they see an email from you when they are so likely to give a gift!

How To Thank & Report this Summer

a heart drawn in the sand

Summer is a perfect time for your nonprofit to Thank and Report back to your donors. While most other nonprofits are ignoring their donors during the summer, you can earn your donors’ loyalty by thanking them and showing them the effects of their gifts.

And remember that your donors are BUSY – but that works in your favor this time of year. It means you don’t have to send them an epic thank you letter or an 8-page newsletter. You just have to send them something that gets their attention and has a short message.

Here’s a list of quick things you can do. And as always, make sure you’ve Thanked and Reported to your major donors first, then move on to the rest of your donors.

  • Send a Thank You card:

    Just a short note that says something like, “Thank you for your incredible gift. Because of you, someone will be helped. Your gifts are really making a difference!” And if you can, send it on a card from the hallmark store, not on a card branded from your organization. Make it feel personal!

  • Send a picture of a beneficiary:

    All you need to do is print out a photo and write a quick note on the back. Keep it short and sweet – and about outcomes: “This is Jerry and he’s at camp this week thanks in part to your generosity. Thank you!”

  • Email it:

    You can do the same thing in email to all of your donors! (If you do send it out via email, fight the urge to send it to everyone on your email list. Send it just to donors.)

  • Send photos of summer programs in action:

    If you have programs that are active in the summer, send photos of the beneficiaries participating. Avoid the urge to write too much – you’re trying to create a bite-sized Report that your donor can recognize even if they immediately delete the email. Three short paragraphs (max!) and make sure the word “you” is used in the very first sentence.

  • Pick up the phone:

    This is a stretch for many organizations, but call your donors this summer! Starting with your major donors and your monthly givers, just call them! Prepare a 30-second speech that starts of by saying, “I’m not calling to ask for money, I’m just calling to thank you for your gifts and generosity. . .” If you’re on the phone with the donor for just a few seconds, that’s great. If they want to engage you for longer, even better. But it’s their call – you’re just there to thank them, tell them they matter and that their gifts make a difference!

 

Jeff Brooks’ Summer Recommendations — An Interview

Jeff and I have been friends for a long time — both personally and professionally. We often bend each other’s ear about fundraising and he’s one of the people in my circle who I reach out to for advice and new perspectives. And Jeff’s a straight shooter. So, I thought I’d ask him for his candid recommendations to nonprofits on what to work on this summer. Here’s what he said:

SS: What do smart nonprofits do during the summer to get ready for fall?

JB: Use the lull in activity to get ahead for the final months of the year. It’s gonna get crazy — and the crazier the better! So know exactly what fundraising activities you are going to be doing. Dates and descriptions. And get started on it now.

SS: Of those things, what’s the most important and why?

JB: Most important is having your plan in place. If you don’t know what to do and when to do it, you’ll be distracted by the craziness and not working on the things that matter most.

SS: What’s an example of a successful summer fundraising campaign that you’ve seen?

JB: When the topic has something to do with the season. Like raising money for hungry children who are not getting the subsidized school lunches and breakfasts they get during the year. Or offers having to do with the challenges posed by hot weather. It may surprise you that appeals about the “Summer Slump” in giving often do well. Just be honest with donors and tell them how giving drops in the summer but the need for services stays high.

SS: If there was one thing you could have nonprofits focus on this fall, what would it be?

JB: Make sure you have the systems in place to treat donors well even when things get crazy. You MUST be able to acknowledge gifts promptly no matter how busy you get. Systems things like that really matter!

So, there you have it, folks! Make a plan, work ahead this summer, and build donor-focused systems. If you’re already doing these, well done! If not, this is a great “short list” of things to work on thus summer.

Fundraising’s “Virtuous Circle”

the fundraising "virtuous circle": Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat

I had the privilege of teaching at the South Sound AFP chapter a few nights ago. The group was made up of young professionals, several of whom had been fundraising for less than 6 months.

We walked through fundraising’s Virtuous Circle. A “virtuous circle” is a chain of events that reinforces itself through a feedback loop. Here’s what it looks like in fundraising:

  1. Asking donors to solve a problem with their gift,
  2. Thanking them promptly and emotionally,
  3. Reporting back to them on how their gift made a difference.

Doing those three things well, one at a time, and in the correct order causes donors to trust your organization. This makes it more likely they’ll give to your next appeal, and stay donors for years and years.

I asked the group how many of their organizations Reported back to donors. **Only one person raised their hand.** Only one organization in the whole room was completing the circle.

I’ll do a longer post about fundraising’s virtuous circle later, but for now let’s focus on the incredible opportunity this presents for you and your organization. If your donor is giving to (on average) 7 to 10 different charities – but your organization is the only one does a great job showing her what her gifts have done, what do you think will happen? Here’s the short list:

  • Your donors will stick with you for longer
  • Your newsletters will raise money
  • Your response rates to appeals will increase
  • Even event income goes up

I think every fundraiser needs to learn (or be reminded of) this fundamental part of fundraising. Letting your donors’ know what their gifts have done is both honoring and a huge opportunity to raise more money to do more good.

Shower Your Donors With Love

Thank

Valentine’s Day is a great reminder to shower your donors with love!

Here are a few ways for you to love on your donors before February 14th:

  • Send your donors a Valentine’s card. Send the Valentine on behalf of your organization and staff.  Even better, have one of your beneficiaries sign it!
  • Send flowers to your top donors. During the December holiday rush it is common to receive gifts and treats from friends, family, co-workers and business associates.  What’s to stop you from sending flowers to your top donors? Include a ‘donor love’ note!
  • Pick up the phone just a few days before the 14th. Let the donor know how much you appreciate their giving. And how your beneficiaries LOVE knowing that your donor cared enough to send in a generous donation.

The big takeaway here is to leverage the holiday. This is a great chance for you to show your donors that you love and appreciate them.  And here’s the not-so-secret payoff; donors that feel loved and appreciated are more likely to give future gifts!