Don’t Hide Behind Polish

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Many smaller organizations have a very hard time increasing the number of communications they send to their donors. 

It’s a human resources question/issue.  There’s only so much time.

However, many of those organizations are… self-sabotaging.

It’s not their fault, either.  Somewhere in the nonprofit-o-sphere we were all taught that our donor communications need to reach a certain level of fit & finish or they’re not going to work at all.

That single belief has resulted in an astonishing amount of money NOT raised.

Today, hundreds of thousands of smaller organizations desire for their fundraising to look and sound as professional as organizations 100 times their size.  So it takes them far longer than it should to create and send their fundraising communications. 

And so they send fewer communications than they should.

But here’s the thing: their donors know that they’re small.  The donors’ expectations for small organizations’ fundraising are different. 

So my advice to smaller nonprofits is to embrace your smallness.  Don’t prioritize looking like one of those massive organizations with perfect email templates and a fancy website.

Instead, just write.  Just send it.  

Send one email a week that’s 250 words that shares a quick detail of some good thing that happened that week.  Give the donor the credit.  Doesn’t have to be anything close to perfect.  Typos are fine.  Do that every week for a year and you’ll have an expanding tribe of devoted followers and incredible donor retention.

When some acute need or surprise expense happens, dash off an email to your email list. Provide a couple links for them to click on that go directly through your donation form, tell them that their gift will help with that acute need or a special expense and support the work of your whole organization.  Now your funds are undesignated.  Do that 12 or 15 times a year and you’ll raise more money than you expect and have a higher donor retention rate.  And you’ll have a higher engagement rate.

For smaller organizations, getting good at communicating more often and direct response basics (things like effective landing pages and reply cards) is so much more important than perfectly written and designed donor communications.

Don’t try to be perfect.  Your goal should be to create breathless dispatches from the field, not fundraising emails and communications that look like they went through the standard nonprofit pastel-colored hope machine.

And always remember, you learn more about what works by doing more and paying attention to the results.  You learn less by trying to be perfect and doing less.

  • Your donor values knowing the problems in the world that you’re working on more than she values perfect, professional communications.
  • Your donor values reading a story about how her gift made a difference in the life of one person more than she cares about perfect, professional communications.
  • Your donor values having a one-to-one relationship with a human who is working like crazy to make the world a better place more than she values perfect, professional communications.

In your donor communications, do not hide behind a need to appear professional.  

There’s nothing in that hiding spot that helps you help more people.