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The Loyalty Letter

E-news that helps you keep donors connected (and giving)
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March/April 2011
Published by Lisa Sargent

Welcome, Nonprofit Professionals:

Much to share in this March/April issue:

1. "One of the best annual reports I've ever read": a Q&A w/ expert Jim Mueller. You can read the full article here (opens in a new page on this website, includes link to PDF sample of annual report Jim mentions).

2. Do you struggle to write in memoriam donation thank-yous? Your struggle is over: the memorial donation thank-you clinic is now "live" on SOFII. Seven before-and-after examples plus a how-to article authored by yours truly, especially for you.

3. Follow-up to CARE article: in February I wrote an article called "How CARE Engages New Donors" and received more replies to it than any prior. So I wrote a follow-up to address the most popular question of all. Article below.  

4. Copywriter's commentary: The case against going all electronic. My response to anyone thinking of abandoning their printed donor communications. Also below.

I hope you like this issue... if so, please tell your nonprofit friends. Thanks, as ever, for reading The Loyalty Letter. I'm glad you're here.

Until next month,

Lisa Sargent
Sargent Communications

P.S. If you aren't yet a subscriber, you can sign up free using the box at the top right of this page. And if you like this issue, please share. Thanks!

How CARE Engages New Donors, PT 2:
A Follow-Up for Smaller-than-CARE Nonprofits

When "How Care Engages New Donors" appeared in the February 2011 issue of The Loyalty Letter, responses flooded in. "HELP. We don't have CARE's big budget! What donor communications plan will work for us?" Here is one answer...

NOTE: in a freakish twist of fate Fundraising Success featured the very program I wrote about in How CARE Engages New Donors. Turns out other donors like CARE's plan too: it increased retention by sixteen percent.

What would a good donor communications plan look like, if your budget is smaller than CARE's?

Below, a basic, "do-able" donor comms plan that won't break your budget. Nonprofits everywhere use, and prosper from, plans like this. And since some are my clients, I can tell you: it works.

1. Acquisition Appeals.
I'm going to assume you send them. If not, I ask: where do tomorrow's donors come from? Attrition is reality for even the best organizations.

2. Thank You Letter.
And definitely going to assume you send these too, within 48 hours of receiving the gift if at all possible. I will also assume that your thank-yous have been updated recently (as in: this year or last), and that you do this regularly (as in: annually or bi-annually at a minimum). If you need help crafting better letters, go to my thank-you clinics on SOFII. They're free, and no one will be the wiser for it but you.

NOTE: If donors are new, I suggest that you test a two step thank and welcome. Thank-you should note that welcome pack is coming in the mail soon. Welcome pack arrives and can contain an Ask. (This enables you to send thank-you letters without an Ask but still get an Ask in soon after first gift.)

3. Welcome Pack.
You probably need one. And if you don't, I'll bet the pack you do have needs updating (read as: a welcome pack does not consist of fistfulls of outdated brochures stuffed into a glossy folder...making it sing takes more). So try this: a special welcome edition of your newsletter. Sandie (designer) and I do these, and people love 'em. Essentially, it's an intro to your best work in newsletter form. Evergreen articles, stories, statistics, how to get in touch and more. Shows what that first gift is accomplishing! And, of course, an opportunity to give again with a BRE. In the coming months, if you'd like I'll focus a separate issue on how to craft good ones. Just let me know.

4. Quarterly Donor Newsletter.
Yes, quarterly. For more than one organization I know, donor newsletters routinely pull ROIs of 2 or 3:1. At many, they are a major source of revenue. Should you cut back and mail three? If you must. But I will continue to whisper in your ear, "Send quarterly...send quarterly." As The Who said, "People forget." It's our job to remind them, and donor newsletters accomplish that aim. (This case study from a previous e-news issue shows one newsletter that's working well.)

5. Quarterly Appeals.
After each newsletter follows an appeal. Why do I say after? Mostly because, if your newsletter did its job, donors are feeling good about seeing the good their last gift did. Get the timing right, and one of these will be your holiday appeal.

Then, to the above five basics, you add as you're ready:

- Monthly Giving Appeal (UK readers would add this to the above five; in US it might take more back-end prep). Note that once you do the appeal, you also need to plan a special way to communicate with these folks: via a special version of your appeal, president's briefing, etc.
- Bequest Appeal
- Major Gift Appeal
- Annual Report (You're producing it anyway, right? So if it's good enough, why not send to major donors with a nice cover letter? And for others, how about a card/postcard to notify that annual report is ready, w/ info on how to request?)

Copywriter's Commentary (Read at Your Own Risk):
The Case Against Going 'All-Electronic'

Every now and then, a (usually much younger) donor-communications-slash-marketing-associate asks me, "I'm talking to the board about going 'all electronic'. Please let me know your thoughts..." Here they are:

Call me the queen of dead media.

It's a huge mistake to abandon printed donor communications altogether. No matter how seductive the savings presented by social media and e-mail, 'online' isn't a magic wand.

There are, of course, costs associated with those channels (see Fire Fundraiser #84? from The Agitator, where Stephen Hitchcock writes: "The true costs of the technology and the staff time necessary to bring online fundraising to a meaningful scale are huge. Open rates, click-through rates, and donation completion are so low it takes hundreds of thousands of email addresses to generate any real revenue - and then there are PayPal and credit card fees to pay. Mobile fundraising comes with additional fees - along with smaller gifts.")

My experience with clients and their donor communications programs shows time and again that direct mail dominates. And if you want to go one better, integrate online and direct mail. But keep print.

DM dominates on many levels: donations, retention, acquisition, stewardship, the list goes on. Refer to this month's article on annual reports, where Jim Mueller discusses the study he did for a wildlife advocacy organization on print vs. digital. Have a look at the report I wrote last year based on interviews with nonprofit executives at organizations with revenues that total in the billions: all say direct mail is king when it comes to donations.

Anecdotally, I can tell you about the newsletter that led to a call for bequest info, or the acquisition pack that led to a bequest declaration, the appeal that prompted a foundation to write the charity and ask that they please apply for funding.

We humans are hardwired for print. The touch, the feel, the sound of the envelope, the crinkle of the page. If you don't believe me, then have a look at the brain scans in this article, Paper Beats Digital for Emotion over at Neuromarketing.

Or how about Seth Godin's Why pay extra for a collectible? at The Domino Project. Despite the Kindles and the tablets and the smartphones, we still buy books. If you're going to abandon print and go all-electronic because you expect your donors to "get it," I have news: most won't. Or least, not this generation. And probably not the one after that either (i.e., the old folks...those people who send you the most money and will leave you bequests).

Want more? I've got more...

Brian Mullaney, co-found of Smile Train (he's since moved on), is raising $25 million to send out 200 million pieces of mail, according to Time Magazine, for a new foundation called Surgery for the Poor. Mullaney knows his stuff, as you'll see in the article, and in Joanne's post => (HUGE hat tip to Joanne Fritz for covering this first in her blog at, "Junk Mail for Good: Will Direct Mail Make a Comeback?")

And here's another from FundRaising Success on Case Studies: Using Printed Materials to Raise Funds in an Uncertain Economy. From calendars to donor recognition pieces, these organizations are decidedly not going 'all-electronic,' and I would not advise you to go all-electronic, either.

Not today. Not tomorrow. And not next year.

Integrate? Absolutely! But always remember: the power of print is proven.

P.S. Subscribing to The Loyalty Letter is easy:
scroll up for handy sign-up form at the top of this page.

And lastly, if ever you have a question on donor communications, send it along to The Loyalty Letter. All you have to do is:

Email me.

Or call: +001 (860) 881-7009.

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My new donor thank-you clinic is READY on SOFII:
in memoriam
donation thank you letters. Includes seven before and after examples.

Here's the link.

And, this is the link to my previous donor thank you letter clinics on SOFII (occupies top 3 links or so).

While you're there, and if you haven't already, I encourage you to sign up for SOFII's e-mail updates.

That way, you'll never miss a new exhibit (all of which can help you in your work).

Or sign up to receive e-mail updates from SOFII here.


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