A nonprofit client asked me for advice on end-of-year campaigns. Here’s a quick list of smart things to focus on now:

1.       Send your end-of-year campaign appeal soon, instead of sitting back and worrying about it being inappropriate to solicit at this time. Now is the time to explain your problem and proposed solution … and how your donor can be part of that solution.

2.       Hire a professional fundraiser to write your appeal letter (instead of the executive director who signs it). Your executive director certainly has the passion — but it’s unlikely she’s an expert at the intricacies of copywriting for fundraising. Most likely, she would try to write the letter in her voice, probably at an advanced reading level. Strong donor communications, however, are written at the 4-6th grade level. It’s not about underestimating anyone’s intelligence; rather, it’s about making the letter easy and enjoyable to read. It’s also about setting the right tone and using the right pronouns … like ‘you’ instead of ‘we.’ That’s how you attract more donors.

3.       Include a heartwarming story in your appeal letter, instead of bragging about your organization’s great programs. Talking about your programs may seem logical, since you’re so excited about what’s new or working well at your organization. But those types of messages do not inspire donors to give. To inspire a response, you need to tell your donor about an urgent problem. The donor wants to hear about a specific need or problem — and what’s changing, or will change, because of her donation. This is emotional stuff, and she really isn’t interested in the details of your programs.

4.       Thank your donors within 48 hours, instead of asking again before thanking. File this advice under treating people as relationships, as opposed to transactions. A relationship with your donor is more important than the donation. Treat donors with care, and the money will follow.

5.       Pay attention to details like spelling donors’ names correctly, instead of being careless with your database. People always pay attention to their names and notice when they’re spelled incorrectly. Some people even call up and complain! If they do, be sure to fix the contact info in your database, ASAP. Ignoring this “small” detail can cost you if the donor gets upset and leaves.

6.       Segment your list by first-time donors, repeat donors, higher-gift donors, and monthly givers, instead of treating them all the same. It’s important to customize how you treat your donors based on their interests and other factors. First-time donors need to be welcomed into your community with a special package. Repeat donors need to be graciously thanked for their continued support. And you should call higher-gift donors personally to thank them, or even to simply check in. Monthly givers need a special response, because you can count on their gift every month.

7.       Keep sending out print versions of your newsletter, instead of going digital to save money. When cash-strapped organizations are trying to cut back, this strategy might seem to make sense. But how valuable is an email newsletter if no one bothers to read it, since it’s so easy to ignore? An effective print newsletter is worth its weight in gold, because it:
·      includes stories of impact with strong captions and engaging photos,
·      arrives in a carrier envelope that makes it feel more important,
·      includes a reply envelope, and
·      if done right, more than pays for itself!

These are some of the most effective ways I know of to communicate with and nurture your donors. Some of these recommendations may seem counter-intuitive, but trust me: they’ve each proven themselves time after time, for organizations large and small. Best of luck in your end-of-year campaign!