There are many reasons to write, but when we are writing to move someone to action, we must be crystal clear. In this episode, you’ll learn three questions to help ensure you’re communicating clearly.
I recently attended the Hope Words conference for writers, where one of the speakers was Katherine Paterson. Mrs. Paterson is the author of over 40 books and the recipient of many awards for her writing, including two Newberry Medals. She told us about a time when she got a note from her long-time editor about a certain paragraph. She had taken great care with this paragraph and she held it dear.
The editor’s note said, “It’s beautiful, Katherine, but what does it mean?”
As a writer, I feel the pain of having something I’ve labored over being misunderstood or torn apart. As an editor, I know it’s a question that must be asked.
All our beautiful writing and storytelling is worthless if it isn’t clear.
To be clear in our nonprofit writing, we must answer three key questions:
What is happening?
What does it mean?
What do you want me to do about it?
By answering these questions, you can provide context for your message and make it clear what action you want your readers to take.
End-of-year fundraising may be over, but that only sets up some key messaging for January. In this episode, I’ll give you three key messages to send donors in January (plus a bonus).
After the big year-end fundraising campaign, it’s tempting to let out a big sigh of relief and sit back for a bit. But you’ve built momentum over the last few months, and you don’t want to drop it now. Send these messages to donors in January to keep them engaged in the new year.
Use giving statements to build relationships.
There is one obvious piece of mail you need to get out to donors this month–that’s the giving statement. You need to send these out for anyone who gave $250 or more. But don’t just send out a dry financial statement with a boring letter that says, “Here’s your statement.”
That is a missed opportunity.
That giving statement is a cause for celebration! Send a letter with the statement that essentially says, “Look at what you did last year!” Remind those donors of the impact their gifts had. The accomplishments, the souls reached, the lives saved, whatever your mission is, let your donors know their donations are STILL being celebrated, and there is more work to do. You’re excited they’re with you, because xy and z still need to be done.
Thank everyone who donated to your nonprofit in the past year (not just in December – and not just those who gave more than $250). But don’t stop at monetary gifts.
Remember to thank the people who donated their time and energy. Volunteers give you their TIME. Don’t ever forget that we can make more money, but we cannot make more time. Volunteers are giving you something they can never get back. Their time is a precious gift.
Sometimes fundraisers tell me it feels strange to thank people who haven’t made a donation. Thank them anyway. You have people praying for you who never tell you they’re doing it. You have people who tell their friends, who mention you and who share your social media posts. You never know. Thank everyone for being with you and sharing your mission. It never hurts to show a spirit of gratitude.
Make an extra effort to welcome new donors.
During year-end fundraising, you’ve picked up new donors and you only have a tiny window to invite them into a deeper relationship. From Thanksgiving to year’s end, between 70% and 75% of one-time donations are from brand new donors.
Brand new donors don’t know you well.
Brand new donors can quickly forget you and move on to the next thing.
Brand new donors, if you haven’t thanked them properly, may feel unappreciated or even duped. These will likely leave and not come back.
More than 80% of new donors will never give again.
Is that because new donors are just flighty and fickle, or do new donors (everybody, really) need to be nurtured and cared for and loved so that they want to be more involved?
Give your new donors some extra love. Thank them for that gift–again! And send them a welcome packet and an email welcome series that tells them more about your vision and how they can be involved. The goal is to build relationship and nudge them toward a second gift.
Prepare them for what’s to come.
Your thank you message should include something about what they can expect from your organization in the months ahead, and remind them how their support makes this possible. Add a personal touch by pointing out initiatives you know that donor is likely to be interested in joining.
If someone donated to your Spring fundraising campaign, send them a thank you message along with a reminder that you’re running a similar campaign again this year. If they like to give to matching campaigns, let them know when your next matching campaign is.
You can combine these messages in any way it makes sense for you and your mission. Just remember every message helps keep you and your mission top of mind.
Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we planned. When that happens, use the opportunity to invite donors to have a closer look at the important work you do.
We love a good transformation story: someone was hurting. Things were all wrong. Then your donors stepped up and your organization did life-changing work. Those stories are powerful and effective, and we love to tell them.
But what if things didn’t turn out so well?
How do we tell a story when it’s just the beginning of a long process of change?
How do we tell stories when we don’t know the ending?
I believe some of our internal conflict over these stories is our fear of giving donors a not-so-perfect picture of our mission. On the one hand, we’re seen as the experts. But really, there are so many factors beyond our control. We cannot fix it all.
I’m not talking about taking responsibility when we mess up (more on that another time). I’m thinking about those interventions where we did our best, and it seemed like things were okay. We saw change. We may have shared a story from a beneficiary who made a radical turnaround because of our work. But a few months later, they were right back in that unhealthy situation. Do you tell that story?
You probably don’t want to (or need to) highlight that person’s personal setbacks. But there are stories you can tell around the experience:
Explain the process of change your beneficiaries go through.
Focus on one aspect of the change process and help supporters understand why it’s such a hurdle.
Share a story about the setting that causes difficulties in the change process.
Feature something in your work that deals specifically with one of those hurdles.
This works for unfinished stories, too. For complicated stories, and for slow change. Use setbacks and the unknown to invite your donors to draw close. You’ll be glad you did.
I got a message recently from a supporter who needs to stop her monthly donations. I’m thinking of my friends in ministry who raise support–missionary support or raising funds for the ministry as a whole–and you’re on the field, you’re doing the work, and you get a message like this.
The temptation is to shrink back. The temptation is to say, “Well, people are hurting (they are) and so I feel bad asking for money to support the ministry.” But I want to encourage you that this is not the time to pull back.
The money belongs to God. It’s not yours. It’s not your donor’s money. It’s God’s.
The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes. Proverbs 21:1
Things are being moved around, yes. Some donors will leave you. But some will also come to you. Coming or going, we’re still called to relationship. We’re in this together. The resources belong to God, and He will move them around from time to time.
You still have to do your part. You still have to be ready to receive. You have to make it easy for people to give. You need to ask. Not only ask–more than ever, you need to tell stories.
Fundraising is Ministry
Fundraising is part of discipling and leading and ministering to the people God has given you for this season. You pray together, weep together, celebrate together.
If you feel bad about asking for money, ask yourself a few questions:
Do I only talk to my people when I need something?
Am I sharing the ministry with them without asking for money? (stories)
Do they ever get to see the smiles I get to see?
Do they ever experience the joy and fulfillment I feel on a day when I absolutely know that God is with me, and that God loves without reserve the people He’s called me to serve?
If you haven’t been telling stories, sharing the work, sharing the joy, then start now. We grow closer by sharing stories.
We are fundraisers, but it’s not the only thing we are. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We bear one another’s burdens. We share one another’s joys. We celebrate all that God is doing and look to Him with eager expectation.
We find solid ground to stand on when we remind each other of God’s faithfulness. Don’t just say He’s faithful, share the story of how you know he’s faithful. This is the word of your testimony. We are always called to glorify the name of the Lord. Stories help us to see how He is moving and working in the world today.
We need that.
There is a time to ask – and yes, you can ask in tough economic times. But at any time, you must tell stories. And you must tell stories before earning the right to ask.
Share the stories. Share them with boldness and confidence in the Lord, as you trust Him to turn hearts and resources where He wishes.
Make your fundraising materials more inviting and easier to read, so more people can join you in your life-changing mission.
Your work is important! But that doesn’t mean people will read your emails, blog posts and newsletters. Sorry. It’s the truth.
Why don’t people read all that wonderful content your organization puts out?
We don’t think there’s something of value for us
It’s boring (think story instead of reports)
It’s too long or too difficult
In this episode, I tackle the “too difficult” problem, with simple tips to make your content easy for donors to read.
According to the Literacy Project, about half of Americans read at an 8th-grade level or lower. If your writing is above an 8th grade reading level (some would say grade 6-7 max), you are not communicating with your audience as well as you could.
Even people who read at a higher level will appreciate a story that’s easy to read. Great writers embrace simplicity. Novels are generally written at a grade 5-7 level, while non-fiction titles come in at grade 8-9.
Your donors are giving you their time and attention. Don’t make them spend that time wading through complex prose. Your writing can be beautiful and easy to read.
Reading level is affected by:
length of sentences
active voice vs passive voice
use of adverbs
Tools to help simplify your writing
Word will give you a reading level score and Flesch Reading Ease score. Find out how to locate these tools on the Microsoft support site. I like to use the Hemingway App. Hemingway highlights hard-to-read sentences and words that make your writing more difficult to read. This highlighting action lets you go straight to the problem areas, and shows you in real time how your changes affect readability.
After Hemingway, I like to read what I’ve written out loud. You can also get Word to read to you. When you’re listening, you can hear mistakes. You can hear when the writing gets monotonous or repetitive. Once you have that done, go through once more for spelling and punctuation. Now you’re on your way to communicating clearly with your audience!