I sat down at a table in a local coffee shop to enjoy a vanilla latte and work on my laptop. As I settled in, animated voices at the next table caught my attention. I couldn’t help myself; my curiosity got the best of me. Without turning around, I just tuned in to their conversation. It turned out to be several donors talking about the fundraising letters they recently received from some of their favorite nonprofits.
“I guess they don’t really need the money,” declared one woman. “They didn’t even put a return envelope in the solicitation letter.”
My ears perked up.
She went on to say that she had contributed to this organization for several years, but she was in no mood to go rummaging around for an envelope, looking for their address since it wasn’t even printed on their letterhead, and then addressing the envelope if they didn’t have the courtesy or good sense to provide her with a self-addressed envelope. “There are plenty of good groups out there who need my donation enough to give me a darned return envelope,” she exclaimed. The others agreed and added that the same thing had happened to them in the past.
Another woman at the table raised her voice and said, “Speaking of fundraising letters, I received one from my favorite nonprofit during the holidays.” She said she was so touched by the story in the letter that she gave more than she had the year before and even saved the letter. Others at the table chimed in with praise for various letters they had received in the past.
I was intrigued by these comments because, as a former nonprofit executive director, I often wondered if donors even read our carefully crafted fundraising letters. It sounded like all our efforts to tell our story in a compelling way matters to donors.
I continued to tune into their conversation, hoping to discover more wisdom from the donor perspective.
“I always love it when I get a fundraising letter signed by the executive director, with a note from a board member or the head person,” piped up one of the ladies at the table. “I feel like I don’t really matter to them when they use some sort of fake signature stamp.” She continued to explain that she asked one organization why a real person had not signed her letter. She was told that there were just too many letters to send out. She told the others at the table that she was perplexed because she often received personally signed letters from much larger organizations. The group all agreed that the personal touch encourages them to give larger gifts.
Secret Number One.
A fundraising letter can be a powerful way of telling your story in a way that inspires donors to respond with generous donations, especially when thoughtfully created, personalized, and accompanied by a return envelope.
In the last few months, I have been contacted by individuals who would like to serve on a nonprofit board and by donors who asked for my help in identifying organizations to include in their charitable giving plan. At first, I responded to each request in the moment. But there were so many requests that I decided to get more organized. So, I created a spreadsheet with information on lots of organizations to keep at my fingertips.
I love spreadsheets and this one was going to be a beauty.
I created columns for the nonprofit’s name, executive director, services provided, contact information, budget size, and other aspects I thought donors or potential board members would be interested in. I even impressed myself with this spreadsheet design.
Now it was time to fill it out.
I began by looking up each organization’s website and logging onto it. Many websites contained all the information I needed to complete my spreadsheet. On these sites, I easily found the executive director’s name and email address, which would be essential in gathering more material for my clients and for contacting executives to introduce them to potential donors. I also quickly found their 990-tax return, program activities, and other pertinent information.
Unfortunately, these websites were in the minority. I discovered that many nonprofits do not list the executive director’s email address; some don’t even give the name. Trying to gather the information by telephone proved to be frustrating and sometimes impossible as I tried in vain to navigate their complex phone systems. Sometimes I had no choice but to give up and not include some organizations on my list.
The good news is that I now have a helpful tool to refer donors to specific organizations and to match potential board members with the appropriate nonprofit. I feel badly for groups that do important work in the community but fail to benefit from generous donors and board members because of inadequate websites or hard-to-navigate phone systems.
Secret Number Two.
Your website is a golden opportunity to collect and disburse important information about your nonprofit that will attract community support. Carefully review your site to make sure it contains all the pertinent information a potential supporter might want to know.
In summary, I would suggest that each nonprofit executive director appoint someone to double check the fundraising letters to make sure they are well-written, have a personal signature, and contain a return envelope. Someone should also be designated to review the website on a regular basis to ensure that basic information is available to contact a key individual at the organization. Sometimes it’s hard to be objective for someone who is closely involved, so consider asking a board member or a donor to give you feedback on the website from time to time.