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10 Quick Donor Communication Best Practices

We love partnering with like-minded small businesses to elevate our support of our clients. This month, we asked friend and partner, Kristi Howard-Shultz of KHS Consulting, to share her thoughts on donor communications. KHS Consulting is nonprofit management firm specializing in capacity building, fundraising, and board development. As supporters of nonprofits, KHS Consulting and Evergreen often collaborate through idea sharing, project work, and more. We believe in collaboration over competition and are grateful to have such a wonderful partner!

 

When it comes to fundraising, effective donor communication is key to a successful and sustainable program. It’s an art and science to establish meaningful connections, nurturing relationships, and telling compelling stories that resonate with potential supporters. In a competitive philanthropic landscape met with fleeting attention spans, the ability to engage donors is more important than ever. 


Fundraising and marketing are partners in resource development. Together, they focus on knowing and engaging the audience through effective communication to reach your goals. Today we are sharing 10 easy-to-implement tips to gain supporters.


1: “You” phrasing. And by “you”, we mean your donors. It’s a good general guideline to use the word “you” twice as much as “we/I/our” in your communications. Let the donor see their place, their role in your vision, and how they help you achieve your mission. Using “you” phrasing offers a more urgent, and direct call to action. In fact, the audience is 13% more likely to take action when “you” phrasing is used in place of “we.” Consider the difference when reading a phrase like “you can make an impact today,” instead of “we can make an impact with your gift” 


2: Broad readability. Don’t overcomplicate your messaging with too many big words, complicated sentence structures, and jargon. Keep it to the point, and aim for a 6th grade reading level that can be easily digested by a broad audience. To help ensure your communications are at the right level of readability (and you’re using the right amount of “you” phrasing too), enter your copy into the Bloomerang Coms Audit Tool


3: Strategic bolding. Do the first few words of each tip catch your eye? In the world of technology, and all the content that comes with it, we rely on skimming through information to save time. Bolding important elements of the message helps the reader to quickly absorb essential information. In your communications, use  bolding to call out key words, outcomes and calls to action for an at-a-glance understanding. 


4: Make the ask. Give your donor guidance on how they can help. Through an effective and straight-forward “call to action” you’re creating urgency with your language. Take it a step further by using visual elements - such as a button - to draw attention to this portion of the message. This is where you make sure that the donors understand the importance of taking the next step. Get inspired with these 50 compelling call to action examples.


5: Giving ladders. Donors go through a lifecycle with your organization, as you engage with them from the start of your relationship—from when they first learn about your organization—to when they give and beyond. Giving ladders offer donors a tangible and transparent understanding of how their donation will be used. Through the Science of the Giving Ladders, you can get there in four steps: Identify your giving trends, Look at your budget to add value, Arrange your giving level, and Bring your giving levels to life. Below is just how you can bring these to life through an appeal letter, post card, or other communication. Giving levels, when used effectively, help cultivate and upgrade donors. 





6: Storytelling. It’s the stories of the individuals that gets to the heart of the donors and compels them to give. Connect with the donors by connecting them to your stories - whether that’s the teenager who overcame the odds to earn a scholarship and go to college, or the family who received the support they needed most in their darkest hour after an unexpected diagnosis. This approach gives donors a direct look into how their contributions can make a difference on a personal level. Telling the story of one person, animal, etc. addresses the heart while sharing your numbers, outcome, and impact in your giving levels, addresses the head. 


7. Segmentation. While segmenting your message takes some additional planning, the outcome is worth the effort. Separate your communications into various groups, such as previous donor, new donor, and yet to donate, last year but not this, some years but not this, (Ly/Sy,) volunteers, etc. Adjust the messaging and voice to more directly reach each group. This personalized approach connects your audience more closely with your goals. Take a look at the two segments below and how the start of each letter is adjusted to the demographic also, notice the storytelling:  






8:  With/Without Messaging. We work so hard to keep messaging positive and upbeat, but when the groups you serve are facing a real threat, don’t hesitate to call out the greater need. Explaining what happens without the support of donors can help to shed light on underlying issues and the reality you're facing. Consider using “with” and “without” donations perspectives to explain the growth potential versus the current struggles.





9: Mind the “gap.” Be transparent and communicate areas that your donors might be unsure about. When there’s a gap between what you charge for program fees and the true cost of services offered, for example, provide some insight into your methodology. For example “In Hamilton County, the average cost for before and after school care is the highest in the state of Indiana. At the Boys & Girls Club of Hamilton County, we serve every member and family, regardless of their ability to pay and with your support keep our annual membership fee at $60.  The true cost for the Club to provide these services is  $931 per member per year.  Your investment provides affordable low cost, high quality before and after school enrichment.“


10: Where does AI fit in? Technology is ever evolving, and it can sometimes be overwhelming to understand just where it fits in with your communication strategy. AI natural language generation (NLG) tools can help streamline content creation by automatically generating text based on input. When you’re experiencing writer's block or need some inspiration, using these tools, like ChatGPT, can help give you an outline or starting point. Additionally, AI tools can analyze data to help create more targeted content for donor audiences, and adjust tone and voice. One way we’ve used AI at KHS Consulting was to analyze our website through Chat GPT and Jasper. After our web content and blogs were analyzed, these tools generated an in-depth analysis. In short summary, “The writing style exudes a tone of professional empathy and experienced guidance.” This helps us to continue the same tone in our messages going forward.  


 

Thank you to Emily Heck and Evergreen Strategic Communications for allowing us to share insights from the fundraising side of things. So much of what we do in both marketing and fundraising intersects, as we’re both dedicated to helping clients reach their goals through institutional advancement. For any additional non-profit resources, stop by KHSConsulting.org.


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