Thursday, January 31, 2008

Organization Spotlight - Reeling and Healing Midwest

This series of articles is meant to highlight organizations doing great things. Of course, there are so many I could never write about them all. And, of course, I tend to be a little wrapped up with work for my existing clients. That said, I'd still love to use this blog to shine a light when and where I can.

If you have suggestions for other organizations that should be spotlighted here, please let me know


My thanks to the Nonprofit Blog Exchange for pointing me to the blog of an organization called Reeling and Healing Midwest which champions fly-fishing retreat programs for women who have been diagnosed with, or who are surviving all types of cancer.

I've excerpted a small section below from some recent press they've received to paint a picture of the work they do, and the lives they've touched.

What a wonderful idea - and what a wonderful organization!


[original article at]

Reeling in the Magic

by Catherine Spader, RN

“Fish on!” It’s the fly-fisher’s motto — the equivalent to Nike’s “Just Do It!” But for participants of fly-fishing retreats designed for people with cancer, Fish On! is far more than a slogan — it’s a mantra.

“I became a cancer survivor the day I was diagnosed,” says Kathryn Navin, RN, BSN, a staff nurse on the step-up cardiothoracic unit at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, Mich. “Fish On! means I have a life that I need to continue, and that’s why I’m still here.”

Navin is a breast cancer survivor who has been a participant and a volunteer with Reeling and Healing Midwest, a Branch, Mich.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to providing women living with cancer with a one-of-a-kind experience that combines fly-fishing with nature, peer coaching, camaraderie, and support. The new-participant retreats offered in Michigan are open to women in any phase of cancer survivorship, from new diagnosis to remission.

Participants do not need fly-fishing experience to attend the retreats. Women receive expert fly-fishing instruction that allows them to discover a sport they can enjoy throughout their recovery and lifetime. The retreats accommodate participants who have a variety of medical and dietary needs and mobility issues. Retreats include services such as healing touch, manicures, pedicures, and massage. Most important, Reeling and Healing Midwest offers a safe, reflective venue in which participants can share their disease and recovery experiences with other women who have cancer.

Volunteers and participants say magic happens in the fly-fishing environment. The retreats are where hope is kindled and spirits are renewed.

“There is something special about being in that rushing water, connecting with your spirit and with other women, and acknowledging where you’re at in your life,” says Navin.

To read the whole article - click here

Finding Your Hook

Getting your organization's story into the press comes from a combination of great storytelling, great press outreach, and a great hook.

What's a hook? It's that one thing that makes your story interesting, relevant, and immediate. Jocelyn Harmon over at the Non Profit Technology Blog refers to this idea of a hook (she calls it an "X Factor") as:
[...] a precipitating event which brings or gives RELEVANCE to your cause [...] having an X Factor is extremely helpful, if not imperative, in making your cause spread like fire.
A great hook (or X Factor) usually makes the difference between getting a press hit, and not getting one. If you can't find a way to make your story relevant in your press release, it's unlikely that the reporter who receives your pitch is going to find it for you.

Try this exercise (hat tip to Charles Brown for this approach) to get yourselves in the habit of always finding a hook for your story:
  1. Take an article or topic off the web and send it to a group of 5 people asking them to come up with a “connection” to your sector?
  2. What is the key message from the story that resonates for your sector?
  3. Which of your sector's key messages is in line with the story?
  4. Is there a local connection to the story?
  5. What connections are there to your sector's target audience(s)?
No matter how often you tell your organization's story, it's up to you to make it fresh, relevant and compelling each and every time. Get in the habit of scanning headlines and trends for hooks that might work for your organization. Or make your own by publishing research findings, conducting a survey, or hosting a forum.

Try it right now. Go to Google News and see if you can find a connection between your organization and the top news story of the hour. Ask 4 of your colleagues to do the same thing. Are their answers the same as yours? Different?

If it's your job to get your organization into the news, this is a great way to get your PR juices flowing. If you need more inspiration, check out the Non Profit Blog Exchange for links to other articles that might also help get you going.

A Map of The Internet

An amazing map of the current state of the internet - using social networking, file transfer protocols, corporations, applications, etc. to show how it all connects together.


Brand vs. Tribe

An absolutely brilliant post today by Seth Godin (the author of the book Permission Marketing, among others) about moving away from the concept of brand, and towards the concept of tribe.

I've copied what I think is the key section of his post below -
Brand management was top down, internally focused, political and money based. It involved an MBA managing the brand, the ads, the shelf space, etc. The MBA argued with product development and manufacturing to get decent stuff, and with the CFO to get more cash to spend on ads.

Tribe management is a whole different way of looking at the world.

It starts with permission, the understanding that the real asset most organizations can build isn't an amorphous brand but is in fact the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them.

It adds to that the fact that what people really want is the ability to connect to each other, not to companies. So the permission is used to build a tribe, to build people who want to hear from the company because it helps them connect, it helps them find each other, it gives them a story to tell and something to talk about.

This is a wonderful way for non-profits to internalize the idea of branding - something that is often considered foreign at best, and superfluous at worst.

By focusing on the idea of tribe instead of brand, it becomes much clearer that an organization first connects people around an idea - and that idea then creates community. The organization is a means to create connections. Once the connections are made, and the tribe is formed, the organization has a responsibility to act in the best interests of the tribe as a whole.

More from Seth's post:
...product development and manufacturing and the CFO work for the tribal manager. Everything the organization does is to feed and grow and satisfy the tribe. Instead of looking for customers for your products, you seek out products (and services) for the tribe.
What have you done for your tribe lately? And what does your organization do every day that has nothing to do with the tribe? Your answers to both questions are critically important.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Taking The Plunge

Todays Network for Good's Nonprofit Marketing & Fundraising Tips newsletter has an excellent list of tips for getting your organization started with social networking. The key message of the article - which I think is spot on - is this: "It's time to turn your message over to your constituents."

I couldn't agree more. There's no way for your organization's staff to reach out to everyone who might be interested in your work. You couldn't possibly find them all - let alone find a way to contact them. More importantly, people tend to pay attention to things that are introduced to them via a friend or trusted contact. While you may grow to play that role in the lives of your supporters - you certainly won't begin your relationship with them that way.

In truth, this is exactly how things have always worked for non-profit organizations. A small group of active supporters recruits new supporters from their circle of friends - those friends recruit new supporters - and so on. This same behavior has simply moved online. The only new element is that organizations now have the ability to fuel this word-of-mouth growth by providing supporters with web-based tools and information to pass along to their friends. It's a win-win situation - if you're willing to do the work it takes to create those tools and make them available online.

Here are the tips offered by today's newsletter (I've edited them down a bit for length) - all of which mirror my own previous posts on this topic -
  1. Pick one social networking channel in which to get involved. Try, Facebook or MySpace. Or set up a blog. [...] It's better to have a strong presence in one network than to spread your organization too thin across Web 2.0.
  2. Search the network, Facebook Causes or MySpace pages for a nonprofit with a similar mission as yours. See who their "friends" are and invite them to your cause once you're up and running.
  3. Make it easy for supporters to find you. [...] Name your social networking page exactly as your organization is named. Again, have a strong presence in one channel rather than all of them. [...]
  4. Build your [list of supporters..] give them a strong call to action to supply their email address to you so you can contact them later.
  5. [...] empower [your supporters] to share your charity with others: ask them to recruit friends to volunteer for you, create a charity badge and invite them to post it on their own blogs and social networking sites.
Network for good also has a good white paper on fundraising using social networking if you'd like more info.

Twitter Me This

Add one more social network site to your organization's list of communications tools - Twitter is the latest in a long list of ways to communicate with, and to, those who are interested in your organization's work.

What is twitter? It's essentially a shared space where people answer the question "what are you doing right now?" with short posts called "tweets". Answers range from the innocuous (someone in my group just posted the name of the movie they're watching), to the political (many people in my group are commenting on the Florida primary results), to the obscure (someone in my group is working on a slideshow about knitting). Just as often, these short tweets will break news or encourage conversations on topics that might not find a home in mainstream media.

I often think of twitter as the hum of background chatter you might hear in a bar when you walk in. It's strangely soothing, and it acts as in indicator of activity - the louder the hum, the more interesting the bar. You can ignore the individual conversations but still feel plugged in to the larger group - or you can pick up on a conversation that interests you and choose to either listen or join in.

How are organizations using twitter? NPR's Bryant Park Project sometimes uses twitter to solicit listener comments and questions during their live broadcast. Barack Obama's campaign (as well as Hillary Clinton's and John Edwards') uses twitter to update supporters on progress and give them an inside view into their campaigns (although, to be sure, campaign staffers rather than the candidates themselves keep those tweets up to date).

How can your organization use twitter? If your organization is focused on a sector where things change quickly, and if your organization tends to have web-savvy constituents, twitter might be an excellent way to keep new news flowing quickly to those who are interested. Before diving in, however, be sure to test the waters. Sign up for an account and begin to follow people and organizations you personally find interesting. If you find you can't stop twittering, it may be worth adding twitter to your organization's online strategy.

For more on using Twitter in the non-profit sector, check out Beth Kanter's great post here.

For a great case study detailing how the Brooklyn Museum is using Twitter, blogs, Flickr and YouTube, read Dave Evans' great post here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Going Mobile

I've discussed social networking on this blog a great deal, but I haven't spent much time discussing new ways for organizations to communicate with their audiences offline. Outside of printed pieces like newsletters and donation solicitations, what are an organization's options? What are the most effective ways to communicate with donors that aren't sitting in front of their computers?

Text messaging has emerged as a great way to communicate with younger users. The Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project recently released a study demonstrating the effectiveness of using text/SMS messages to mobile phones to mobilize young voters in the November 2006 elections.

The fascinating study includes some key takeaways that may surprise some of us who can no longer check the "under 25" box when filling out forms (note that I've made some minor edits to their key points below to generalize their findings beyond youth voting):
  • Young [people] are a very mobile population and are increasingly difficult to reach by traditional ... channels such as telephone calls to landlines.
  • A quarter of Americans under the age of 25 used a mobile phone as their only telephone in the first half of 2006.
  • The mobile-only population is projected to reach nearly 30 percent of the entire American public by ... 2008.
  • Text / SMS messaging is already widely used among young people as a form of communication.
  • 59% of recipients reported that the [text message] was helpful, versus only 23% who found it bothersome.
Another key item I took away from their report was how cost effective Text/SMS messaging was for their efforts. In terms of votes generated, text messaging was less than 1/10th the cost of any other type of effort according to the chart below:

How can your organization use text messaging to reach those who rely heavily on this form of communication? Do you know if any of your key audiences fall in to this category? If they do, do you have their mobile phone numbers and permission to send them text messages?

In an increasingly connected - and increasingly mobile - world, these are going to become critical questions.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Organization Spotlight - GodParents Youth Organization

This series of articles is meant to highlight organizations doing great things. Of course, there are so many I could never write about them all. And, of course, I tend to be a little wrapped up with work for my existing clients. That said, I'd still love to use this blog to shine a light when and where I can.

If you have suggestions for other organizations that should be spotlighted here, please let me know


[original article from]

CA Bus Driver Takes Kids to Help Others

Despite the manners and behavior of many adolescents in the urban core of Los Angeles (Crenshaw Area), Tanya Walters, through the GodParents Youth Organization (GYO), has created an opportunity for inner city youth to experience and explore more than they find in their own backyards.

In 2005 Ms. Walters formed GodParents Youth Organization, a nonprofit public benefit organization, composed of a core group of California school bus drivers who share a common love for young people. Travel has become a vehicle for GYO to educate, encourage and enhance the lives of youth often left behind for various reasons.

On Sunday, December 26, 2006 GYO will embark on a trailblazing experience called the “Share Care Project”, a week long trek that will take 20 students from California to Louisiana and back. These school bus drivers give freely of their vacation time to provide such opportunities to the students.

Along the way, the group will visit traditional and private colleges, experience geographical and cultural heritage sites, and tour historical memorial locations such as the Alamo. They will visit Phoenix, Dallas, San Antonio and New Orleans. They will journal their experiences at the end of each day. The mission of the “Share Care Project” is to expose urban youth to fresh experiences leaving them with tangible memories that will influence future life choices they will make.

The “Share Care Project” is one of GYO’s programs designed to provide young people with the opportunity to see the world around them while teaching them to give of themselves. They will be distributing needed items in gift backpacks to their peers still living in still living in temporary housing throughout the areas damaged by Hurricane Katrina. They will also be encouraged to become pen pals to one or more of the students they visit. An important objective is to plant a desire for higher learning by having them visit college campuses in these states.

“Why is this cause so vital to me? It’s very personal” states Walters. Her passion for youth and travel drove her and a team of LAUSD school bus drivers to find more time in their already busy schedules to provide a service to those less fortunate. Walters states “Today, our youth are feeling trapped in what we call the “less mess”. They feel helpless and hopeless. Despair in many cases has robbed our teens of the idealism, energy and creativity.”

In talking with students on the school bus, the drivers easily recognized that many of them have never been outside their communities. When questioned about their behavior, the response was “We would do better if we knew better.” Such statements drove the bus drivers to volunteer their free time to chaperon trips beyond amusement parks.

Since touring Northern California with fifteen young people in April, 2006 and a 4,800 mile trek along the Mother Route 66 with 10 youth in August, 2006, the organization has developed and created a buzz among the teens that are willing to venture out, improve their academics, and explore the USA. These tours have sparked an interest in these students to strive toward an avenue for higher learning.

These 20 students who travel to New Orleans will return to their community with an enriched vision of the United States. The organization is registered as a non-profit organization to help California school children learn to give to others.

For more information:
GYO Website

Bringing Community In-House

Both Facebook and Google are exploring the idea of portable community - which means that soon corporations and organizations will be able to create and embed applications and widgets from both community networks into their own websites.

Facebook's recent announcement (which is converted from very geeky tech-speak to real language beautifully by Jeremiah Owyang - a true industry guru - here) means that organizations will soon be able to move active Facebook onto the organization's main website more seamlessly.

Similarly, OpenSocial will allow anyone to build an application and embed it on any site that accepts OpenSocial (again elegantly converted from tech-speak to real language by Owyang here) meaning that organizations can build and then reuse the same elements over and over again in multiple settings.

Both of these developments are still very new and still need to be allowed to evolve further, but the idea of portability is what matters. Soon your organization's website - on it's own - will not be enough to spread your message or house your community of supporters. Start thinking now about how to create the kind of presence online that will allow users to interact with you wherever they are - and will allow them to act as evangelists for your organization within their own circle of friends.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

More On Distributed Funding

As I've mentioned before, movement of everyday interactions on to the web (also known as social networking, or Web 2.0) is changing the face of philanthropy by creating a new funding model that I'm calling "Distributed Funding."

PayPal is a natural platform for this type of funding and it's recently launched a promotion designed to encourage non-profits to use it's services to generate online donations rather than the many others out there (like Kintera or JustGive). As part of its promotion, PayPal is offering $50 to organizations that generate $500 in online donations using the PayPal donate button within a certain time window.

Another organization called good2gether appears to go one step further (they have yet to launch, so their service is a little tough to evaluate) by adding search into the mix. (An aside, their tag line is "Transforming Cause Into Effect" - but there's no relationship between Cause+Effect and their company).

All of the entrepreneurial activity in the sector - from both established players and recent entrants - points to continued growth for the "distributed funding" model. Non-profit organizations that establish pathways in this new frontier now will be much better off than those that don't.

Creative Publicity

The point of publicity is to get your organization noticed. There's no one way to accomplish this goal, but smart organizations make sure there's always a steady stream of new news to report to the press, their supporters and their peers.

One way to keep the publicity pipeline full is to create a way to systematically collect compelling, relevant and fun stories from people who have a connection to your organization. A simple "tell us your story page" on your site (check out some examples here and here) is a great way to collect stories from your supporters that you can use for publicity purposes. Encourage users to submit their stories by adding a clear call to action on the front page of your site, in newsletters, and at events.

You can also encourage people to submit their stories by subtly suggesting topics in advance. A recurring list of "3 simple things you can do" - things that don't involve standard fare like writing a check or volunteering to stuff envelopes - in your newsletter could prod someone to take action, and could generate a great future story. Some ideas for your list could include:
  1. Use your wedding to raise money for charity [services like the I Do Foundation, and Travelers Joy make this easy to do]
  2. Throw a party for a cause [see my earlier post on that topic for more ideas]
  3. Write a letter to the editor [op-ed pieces are a great way to generate buzz - see my earlier post, or check out the great CCMC primer here]
Your organization's stories are some of it's biggest assets - don't miss out on the opportunity to collect as many of them as you can.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Social Networking With a Mission

The January 17th issue of the Non Profit Times Instant Fundraising Newsletter includes an article on successful social marketing techniques for non-profits.

Using social marketing for non-profit organizations is all the rage these days of course, but this particular list actually brings something new to the discussion in my opinion because it asks a key question that many others miss: "What's it got to do with mission?"

To summarize the article's 4 suggestions - the article recommends that non-profits:
  1. Build Web 2.0 toolkits for donors to use, such as toolbars and donation links to post on blogs and personal pages.
  2. Keep an eye on search engines such as Google and Technorati, to see what people are saying about your organization.
  3. Work toward new ways to measure the audience, such as a Web survey to see how many more members or supporters have you on their blogs, etc., and flag them. Go back in six months to a year and determine the value of that segment.
  4. Develop and implement a conversion strategy that would drive Web 2.0 traffic to become registered users on your site and then on to donors. Remember to measure it all the time.
Those are, of course, all excellent suggestions, but the central point of the article - that non-profits focus on Web 2.0 components that can be worked in to measurable things they are already doing - is the most interesting one.

Social networking is most likely to succeed when it's not seen as yet another task for an already overworked staff member to accomplish. The new social networking tools available on the web are just one more way to feed your organization's mission, spread it's vision and support its values - and any tasks that don't do that simply aren't worth doing.

What tasks do you already do every day that translate well into an online discussion? If your organization distributes a quarterly newsletter or monthly email - could that information be repurposed for use on a MySpace or Facebook page? If you maintain an event calendar, could you just as easily use a google calendar so that volunteers and supporters can subscribe to it and allow your events to appear automatically on their personal schedules? If you regularly generate press releases for the media to highlight your organization's accomplishments, could you just as easily use those to create an official blog for your organization?

Seamlessly integrating social networking into your everyday routine will ensure that it serves as an extension of your organization's existing mission - rather than an unwieldy addition to it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

PayPal Gets In To The Game

It looks like PayPal has joined the trend of providing badges and widgets for individual users to integrate into their own online profiles. A number of companies - like Network For Good and Chipin - are doing similar things, but the entrance of the financial juggernaut PayPal could change the conversation quite a bit.

A new PayPal Facebook application has popped up which allows users to both create a donation badge and track who else in their network has added the badge to their profiles. It's interesting not only because the average web user is likely to associate a certain amount of information security with the PayPal brand, but also because the Facebook integration allows a user to actually track activity on their network.

Privacy issues aside, this could be a new way for someone working on behalf of a non-profit to actually take full advantage of the network effect generated by online fund raising. Yet another example of why non-profits should be joining the activity on Web 2.0 sooner, rather than later.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Non Profit Web At Work

I'm a member of the Non-profit Web 2.0 group on Facebook and today someone posted a link to this article by Alexandra Samuel originally from the blog Social Signal.

The article is called "Best practices for non-profits using web 2.0" and it outlines the following best practices:
  1. Focus your site on a particular goal or conversation.
  2. Invite your community to make contributions other than money.
  3. Play nicely with other non-profit (and for-profit) organizations.
  4. Ease into the web 2.0 culture by making effective use of existing web tools
  5. Be patient with colleagues who need to get comfortable with this new approach.
  6. Stay current with how other non-profits are using web 2.0, and learn from their experiences.
I applaud Alexandra for this list - it's well thought out and very practical. I'd encourage anyone in the sector to read the entire article, as well as the case studies she provides.

The thing I'm most struck by, however, is the way these conversations are now making their way through the internet. If you read the entire post, it follows a thread that began on her blog, moved to LinkedIn Answers, moved back to her blog, and then ended up on Facebook - where all 521 members of the Facebook group are now able to participate in the conversation. This is Web 2.0 at its finest - simple conversations that begin in one location, take on a life of their own, and expand to include hundreds of other voices along the way.

This is the power of information in motion. This is why it's so important for non-profits to engage now - while these patterns of interaction are still forming - to fully benefit from this new way of communicating.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The World Wide Fundraising Web

I talk about how the internet has impacted communications within the non-profit sector a lot in this blog - and I'm certainly not alone (Beth Kanter, Sean Stannard Stockton, and Katya Andresen are all frequent commenters on this topic as well).

Mainstream media is also picking up on this theme these days. I just ran across this article in the Philadelphia Enquirer that I think makes some good points - so I wanted to pass them along to all of you -

Photo credit: NOELLE THEARD / Miami Herald
Photo caption: Hands On Miami volunteers paint a mural at an elementary school. "Everything we do, our entire business model is built around the Web and our technology," said Pat Morris, president of the group.
Here are some of the key quotes from the article (in my opinion):
  • "There is no such thing as local anymore," said Ruth Shack, president of the Dade Community Foundation in Miami. "This new generation of givers are very, very different. They see themselves as change agents. . . . They are giving to issues. Global warming or breast cancer or whatever it is they feel close to."
  • "This new Web 2.0 approach - social-networking sites and that kind of thing - has really started to intensify for charities in the past year or two," said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy magazine in Washington. "New charities are being created using those tools, and older, established charities are embracing them, too."
  • "They have a different notion of privacy than their parents, a different idea as to what information they share in a public forum like the Internet," he said. "Most adults I know aren't comfortable with these concepts. They place a greater trust in brands. The kids have a greater trust in their friends, and that's who they want to hear things from."
Have other thoughts on this topic? Add your opinions below in the comments section.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Communicating With Online Donors

Should the way you communicate with your online donors differ from the way you communicate with other donors?

This great post at White Courtesy Telephone quotes a recent survey from Network for Good which notes the following:
  • Online donors give significantly more than offline donors.
  • Online givers are young, with men and women giving in equal numbers.
  • Donors are not new to giving, but they tend to be new to giving online.
  • Disaster relief is the leading category of giving and ranks among top searches; other leading giving categories are international causes, animal-related causes, human services and education.
  • Donors turn to the Internet at times of disaster and for year-end giving.
  • People seem to be at their most generous on weekdays, not weekends.
  • The number one reason donors say they give online is convenience: it is easier than writing a check.
If all those things are true, what should change about your outreach messaging? Your thank you notes? Your website's home page? If convenience is key, how can you make your donation process more convenient? How can you reassure new donors that their donations are safe?

It's a lot to think about, but it's worth it.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Measuring Success

I've been participating in a conversation on Tactical Philanthropy that's being moderated by Sean Stannard-Stockton regarding how to measure success in the non-profit sector. It's a fascinating conversation and I encourage all of you to add to the thread if you have a chance.

The basic question is this: what common measurements should we use in the non-profit world and why? People from all over the sector have chimed in - with widely ranging viewpoints. Some have insisted that metrics have no place in philanthropic work, others have insisted that philanthropy is worthless without some way to measure its effectiveness.

The impetus for this conversation is the addition of non-profit organization data to the pool of information available via Google finance - something that investors regularly use to evaluate their options, and something that could eventually serve a similar purpose for donors. Take a moment to search for organization's data and see what information comes up. Is it an accurate reflection of your work? Does it tell potential donors what you do and why they should become a part of your efforts? What additional or different information would you add if you could?

I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Leave your comments on this blog, or on Sean's, and let the world know what you think!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Saying Thank You

Saying thank you after receiving a donation is one of the key elements of any fund raising campaign. It's also a kep element of any communications plan. Communicating your gratitude to your donors in an effective manner is as important as communicating any other message your organization has. In fact, the messages you convey to your donor audience might be some of the most important of all.

This month, Mal Warwick's newsletter includes this great list from Sandy Rees of ways to make sure your thank you's are hitting the mark. It's worth a read.

Enjoy -

10 ways to energize your thank-you letters

By Sandy Rees

The thank-you letter often is created and sent without much thought. It may seem to be the last step in getting a gift from a donor and a routine task that warrants little merit. But it's actually the first step in securing the next gift!

Purposeful and well-thought-out thank-you letters can help you steward your donors, not to mention provide you with another way to communicate with them. Make sure you are getting the most from your thank-you letter efforts with these ideas.

1. Get the letter out quickly!
Everyone has probably heard that the faster you get your thank-you letters out the door, the better. That's absolutely true. A donor wants to be sure you received her gift, and a thank-you letter is the best way to let her know it arrived safely. Experts say to let no more than 48 hours go by from the time you receive a gift until the time you send out a thank-you letter. If it takes you a little longer and that's the best you can do, work with it. Figure out what will work for your organization and put a priority on getting the letters out the door.

2. Relate your thank-you letter to the Ask.
Instead of sending out a generic letter, customize your thank-you letter to the specific Ask that was used to generate the gift. If a gift comes to you from an appeal you sent out, then make sure your thank-you letter refers to the story or the text in the appeal. You may need to write several different letters that can be used for whatever you have going on. For instance, you may want to write one letter for a special event you're working on, another one for monthly givers, and another one for donors who respond to your newsletter. Relating the thank-you letter to the Ask is a way to let your donors know you are paying attention.

3. Tell the donor what you will do with their money.
This is critical. Make sure the donor knows how you plan to use the donation he or she just sent you. Text like "Your gift will ensure that 15 children will go to summer camp for one week" makes the process of donating tangible to the donor. He can envision 15 kids going to camp for a week, and it helps create a bigger feeling of satisfaction for him.

4. Use a real signature.
Digital signatures are easy and eliminate hand-signing a stack of letters. But technologically savvy donors know the difference between a digital signature and a live one. Have your President or Executive Director sign the letters, or ask a volunteer to sign them on his or her behalf. And use a blue pen so that donors can clearly tell it is a real signature.

5. Have the ED or President go through the letters and add personal notes.
This can bring big rewards in terms of stewarding donors! Taking a few minutes of a busy day to go through a stack of letters may seem like a chore to your boss, but donors who get a thank-you letter with a personal note will be thrilled that the ED took time to personally acknowledge his or her gift.

6. Add a reply envelope.
Don't be afraid to include a reply envelope in a thank-you letter. Many donors will hang onto these and use them for their next gift. You may receive some negative feedback, but you will likely receive a large number of gifts as well. It's not uncommon to receive thousands of dollars in gifts from these "bounce-back" envelopes. You may want to code these envelopes so that you can track the number, size, and amount of donations received using this technique. [Editor's note: Not all of us in the field advocate including a reply envelope in thank-yous. But it's a common practice and represents a matter of judgment.]

7. Include year-to-date or lifetime giving data.
For donors who have been giving for several years, this information can be very enlightening to them. A donor who gives a $10 gift regularly to your organization will immediately see how her gifts add up over time. Sometimes donors forget when they last gave. Including year-to-date information can be a gentle reminder for them if they have pledges or commitments to make.

8. Make it clear that the letter is also a receipt.
Don't you hate getting boring thank-you letters that drone on and never clearly spell out the gift you made? If you have to, draw a line on the page below the thank-you text and print "Gift Receipt" along with the actual gift information.

9. Include an offer to tour your facility or program site.
Always include in your letter an offer for a guided tour of your facility or program site. You may never have anyone take you up on this, but they will remember that you offered. You will probably get a few people who want to visit you. Seeing firsthand the work that you do may make all the difference in the world to a particular donor. It can also mean the difference in an average size gift and a major gift.

10. Include the name and contact info of someone the donor can call with questions. Make sure that person is available.
Donors want to be able to call and talk to a real, live, knowledgeable person when they have questions. So be sure to include the name and phone number in your thank-you letters of someone who can answer questions for them.

From the blog Step-by-Step Fundraising. Sandy Rees can be reached by phone at (865) 216-0083, at her Web site, or by e-mail at

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Communications Planning for your Non-Profit

If your organization has never taken the time to create a formal communications plan - now is a great time to do so. Set aside a day if you can, half-a-day if that's all you have, and work through the details of your organization's plan.

  1. Start with a situation analysis - what's happening in your organization? In your sector? In your industry? Be honest and take the time to analyze what has recently changed, and what lessons have been learned.
  2. Next move into objectives - what are your communications objectives for the year? What objectives did you achieve last year? What objectives are still outstanding?
  3. Examine your target audience(s) - who do you normally reach? What new audiences should you look to reach going forward? Where do your target audiences get their information? How do they pass information amongst themselves?
  4. What research is available to you? When needed, do you have ready access to facts to facts and figures that support your claims. Have you made that information available to others? Does your organization do research it can share? Do you need to commission research to show progress from year to year?
  5. What are your key messages? Can your staff, volunteers, donors, board members and funders repeat them easily? Do you need to adjust your key messages to be more relevant to new audiences you've targeted? Do your key messages have supporting stories, photos, videos or sound? Are those easily available to press contacts? Do you have a plan to keep those elements updated and fresh?
  6. What's your press strategy? How are you going to get the word out about your organization's work this year? Will you focus on generating coverage related to calendar events and milestones? Will you establish press coverage goals by quarter? Do you have an online strategy that extends beyond your website? Is your website set up to help members of the press easily find what they need? Have you identified individuals that are ready to work with the pres on short notice? Do additional people need media training? Are there organizations or groups with whom your organization should look to partner for increased exposure?
  7. How will you monitor and evaluate your work? What metrics should you track? How often? What thresholds differentiate between success and failure? Who should have access to the data?
Take the time now to tackle these tough questions with your organization's core team, and set up a session now to revisit your progress in six months. You'll be glad you did.