Setting a Course for Growth, Part 2

No two organizations are alike, and each one has to discover and develop its own “fundraising voice.” However, there are some things that work for nonprofits — big or small — that can help grow income and, therefore, program output.

Last week, this column discussed three things that growing nonprofits do: work hard to retain donors, invest in acquisition and take calculated risks. Here are three more “best practices” that propel organizations to be fundraising giants, no matter what their size.

Successful nonprofits make new donors feel welcomed
We’ve all had that experience — going into a restaurant or store for the first time and being genuinely welcomed. That’s the feeling every donor deserves, but first-time donors demand.

When you receive a first gift, no matter the size, thank the donor promptly. The receipt you send should be accurate — the donor’s name and address entered correctly, the gift designation as the donor intended, and the letter or note that goes with the receipt acknowledging that you are aware this is her first gift. Welcome the donor warmly, and be generous with your gratitude. Your goal? Donors who feel truly appreciated because they gave.

After the receipt is mailed, send the new donor some additional information about your organization. This should be informative and visual, not dense and exhaustive. Explain the work you do, how you invest donations and what particular amounts can do. Invite him to your website, and mention some specific content that is most appealing. Don’t send annual reports (unless requested) or other materials that look expensive. You don’t want donors feeling their entire gifts just went to pay for the first few mailings they receive.

The “welcome” can continue for a series of three or four mailings or e-mails, and the first few appeals they receive may be specially chosen because they are your “best of the best.” But at the very least, have a special welcoming receipt and a follow-up mailing that offer more information in an inviting format.

Growing nonprofits use e-mail effectively
A nonprofit that increases its revenue, both from new donors and existing donors, understands that e-mail is a very effective tool — but it’s not the only one. A well-balanced fundraising program coordinates messages to donors over a variety of mediums, and it neither neglects nor overwhelms in any one channel or in its entirety.

To be honest, e-mail is one area where I think many nonprofits are sorely in need of improvement, and it’s a place where having more money (i.e., being a large nonprofit) isn’t necessary for excellence. Even though e-mail is low-cost (compared to many other channels), it still must be strategically managed across the organization.

E-mail needs to offer a variety of messages — program updates, results reporting and asks. But it should not arrive in the inbox so frequently it becomes a nuisance. Having an e-mail calendar that lays out the frequency of messages as well as the overall content — and sticking to that plan — is the best way to effectively balance messages and keep your e-mail appreciated by your donors.

Effective fundraisers make sure that every, single e-mail is worth sending to the donor — and that “worth” is in the mind of the donor, not only the organization. It only takes one time to be forever relegated to the spam folder or to generate an “unsubscribe.”

Nonprofits strategic about growth thank their donors effectively
Donors who feel appreciated and that their gifts made a difference in advancing your mission are more likely to give again and give more. They begin forming an impression about your organization’s use of their gifts immediately after sending them. What are you doing to prevent “donor remorse”?

Every receipt should have a warm message of gratitude — not just a perfunctory “thanks,” but a genuine statement of appreciation and a reaffirmation that your organization invests gifts wisely and is effective in fulfilling your goals. Other ways of thanking donors (calls, visits, reports, etc.) should also restate your appreciation and give a clear report on progress you are making because of the support.

While some organizations don’t receipt gifts of $25 or less, I suggest you ask this question: “Can we afford to carry out our mission if all our gifts of $25 and smaller disappeared?” If the answer is “no,” reconsider your decision to not receipt these gifts (and creatively look for ways to do it more cost-effectively). Donors who aren’t thanked and reassured that their sacrifice (money) is resulting in positive change are likely to not give to you again.

There is no magic way to grow your nonprofit year over year. It requires working hard and making sure you are excelling in all the basics including deliberately acquiring new donors, welcoming first-time donors, working hard to retain your donors, using e-mail effectively, thanking donors appropriately and taking calculated risks to find new ways to increase revenue. A thoughtful strategy that includes these things can increase the likelihood that your program will succeed.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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