Author Archives: Abigail Harmon

How Many Letters Should I Send?

The “how many letters should I send” debate is back in session.

If you are like most organizations, you continually have the same conversation every year. It’s summer, when you take the time to plan your ”End of Year” Appeal Calendar, and someone will ask, “How many letters should I send at year-end?” Then the question is, “how many emails?” Followed closely by, “is that too many emails?”

Let’s answer the question, “how many letters should I send?”

We know, when budgets are tight, two letters can seem extremely expensive. Sometimes the conversation changes from, “how many letters should I send?” to “how few letters can I send?” A lot of organizations are shifting to one letter, but more important is to see the letter as one element in the year-end appeal calendar. Before you eliminate one or all letters, consider what else you can change in the overall calendar.

If the decision is purely cost-based, ways to reduce costs on a letter include sending:

  • One letter to everyone in your database and one postcard to non-responders who gave by post last year
  • One letter to everyone 
  • One letter only to donors and LYBUNTs who gave by post last year
  • Would one response card be less expensive than a tear off? 
  • Can it be two colors instead of multi-color? 

Then include emails and social media for the balance of the campaign.

If the decision is based on time or staff constraints, there are other strategies I would implement. Email me and let me know your concerns. From there I can write you back with suggestions and/or write another article focusing on those issues.

How did your donors give last year?

I am a believer that letters encourage gifts – even online gifts. I believe that because I save the letters of the nonprofits I will donate to this year, bring them to my computer, and give online. However, that is a reminder mechanism for me, and not the reason I give. If an organization I want to support only sends me an email, I still give.

However, if your donor took the time to write a check or squeeze their credit card information onto those tiny lines on the response form, the letter may impact their gift. And no matter the size of that gift, their gift matters.

What if there are only 100 people who gave by mail last year?

There are still more ways to save. If a small number of people gave by mail over the past few years, you might be able to print your appeals in your office. It should still look professionally designed (or at least Canva-designed), including a printed response mechanism with a unique, personalized set of asks, and a return envelope. They do not need to know that you are printing them in-house. But, they should see the personal handwritten notes that you can write if you are printing appeals in-house.

What does all this mean? Stop procrastinating and create a:

  • Calendar (include cost estimates/budget constraints)
  • Theme for your year-end appeal (this makes every step easier to write)
  • Write each element including the letters, emails, response mechanism, etc. (you can edit them later but do it asap, so you avoid the stress of last-minute writing)
  • Thank you notes for online gift auto-response, online gift personalized note, mailed thank you note, letter from board president, and any other thank you notes you will send

Really, stop procrastinating and get to it. If you don’t know where to start, or even if you do, use AI to write stronger, clearer letters. I wrote this article about AI early in February, which seems like a lifetime ago (look for an update soon). The NYT had a great series on how to use it with guidance on prompts. Tom Ahern recently wrote an article about how he used AI in fundraising. Now you have no excuse not to get those letters done.

And speaking of letters, don’t forget to write the emails. Write more than you think you will use – at least 10 over 3 months. You can always reduce the number you use – but you won’t want to write more in crunch time.

You will feel so much better by tomorrow when you have a calendar and drafts done. Then the questions will not be “how many letters should I send?” but what other strategic elements can I add to improve the end-of-year appeal. 

Nonprofits Are Asking: Will We Reach Our End-of-Year Goals? 

Crystal ball to answer " Reach Our End-of-Year Goals"

Way, way back in 2019, we could predict fundraising trends for individual nonprofits. 

Using the standard KPIs like previous giving history, the number of donors, and retention rates for various donors, helped form a reliable path to your goal. There was always testing to determine if your timing was right or if you should send a letter and five emails or two  letters and eight emails. But the basics were set if you knew where to look. 

Cut to 2023. There are a lot of people asking, “Will we reach our end-of-year goals?”

Development staff openings remain unfilled. Inflation is higher and faith in the markets is lower. And past performance is difficult to analyze when you include the pandemic-inspired giving in 2020 and 2021. Can you rely on 2022 giving data as the core predictor for 2023? Especially when costs continue to climb and your staff positions remain vacant.

I find my crystal ball a little cloudy today. But let me offer you some advice to give you the best possible outcome.

  1. Continue to ask. This may seem obvious, but the Donor Giving Days in the spring, extra NPR drives in June, and plans to start asking an extra time in August are ways organizations are looking to make up the shortfall this year.
  2. If you are short staffed, get creative with your hires. In the past few weeks, I have heard of three new hires with zero fundraising experience. They just found a really smart person and decided the organization could train them. Or hire someone like us to train them. Which, coincidentally, is how I heard about them.
  3. Understand the realities of the situation. If you are down three people in a department of six, there is no way for you to do the work of six. And that is true if you are down two or even one. If you want to retain the remaining employees you have, don’t assume they will absorb all the work. That’s a formula for disaster.
  4. Make sure your fall appeal is calendared – and even written – in the summer. How many letters, postcards, emails will you send? You don’t want to be annoying and at the same time, prospects who unsubscribe from your list were probably not going to continue to give and grow their gifts. I believe that because I don’t unsubscribe from the organizations I love. I may ask for a different cadence or opt out of emails, but if I care about the work, I will stay involved.*
  5. Worry less about new donors and worry more about donor retention. If your overall donor retention is less than 50%, you will lose one in two donors who you acquire each and every year. Work on keeping the donors you have. It is less expensive and easier to do.
  6. Pick a segment to focus on for your end-of-year goals. If you can’t choose everyone, choose wisely. Let’s say you choose your mid-level donors. (What a good idea!) This is the group of donors who have been giving to you for years at an amount that is above entry level but below that major donor threshold. Remember that in the past couple of years, donor retention is down but average gift is up. Can you:
  • Create an incentive for them to become major donors?  
  • Ask your volunteers to check in with them this summer and see how they are feeling about the nonprofit?  
  • Send a personalized postcard just to that group? Segmentation strategies are essential to help a donor feel connected.

I could keep going but we all know how hard it is to get through a long article these days. Even if the topic is as interesting as reaching your end-of-year goals. As always, if you would like organization specific help, email me or schedule a time on my Calendly.

*Really, even I, who love seeing what my colleagues are sending out, unsubscribe when it gets to be too much. But never to an organization I want to support. And definitely not my top philanthropies.

Care About a Nonprofit? Make Sure You Update Your CRM

Make Sure You Update Your CRM

If I asked you to list five facts about each of your top 20 donors, could you do it? Could anyone in your organization list five facts about those donors? If not, it’s time to start putting your notes and update your CRM*.

Caring about a nonprofit and the mission you serve should transcend your time with the organization. And documenting a donor’s affinities, interests, and contact preferences are ways to ensure the future.

Your job — whether you are an Executive Director, Development professional, or passionate volunteer, is to help the organization thrive. One can assume you are motivated to spend your time to help fulfill a mission and vision that you believe in. Maybe you even fill your days dreaming of how to raise more money and achieve more. Then ensure continuity and update your CRM after every meeting.

Is updating your CRM as sexy as sharing your three recent successful solicitations with your team? No. Is it as important, if not essential, to put detailed notes into a place everyone can see? Yes.

While you may think you will be there forever, things happen. People suddenly leave their position, decide to retire, or realize it is time to move on. And nowhere in your two weeks — or even two months — notice is updating your CRM notes going to take priority. Having lunch with colleagues is much more fun.

But, if you want to support the nonprofit into the future, use your CRM for more than tracking gifts. Notes will help the nonprofit succeed in the future. Which, I am hoping, is also part of the reason you work for the greater good each day.

*CRM stands for Constituent Relationship Management and is the term used for the software nonprofits and for-profits use to track relationships. KindfulShulCloudRaiser’s Edge NXT, and DonorPerfect are all currently being used by our clients to great success. If you want to discuss your needs, email me.

Donors Do Not Just Donate. They Invest.

Today’s donors are sophisticated. Gone are the days when they just donate to…

… a cute picture of a child or dog was enough to raise millions

… because a donor gave an amount last year, they would automatically give at least the same amount this year 

… appeal letters addressed to “Dear Friend” are seen as really coming from a friend

The list can go on. It takes a lot of effort to raise money in 2023. Or, if not effort, it takes strategy, thoughtfulness, and transparency.

Donors want to know what their investment in your organization does for the world. How their donation makes an impact. And why they should give to you… and why now.

They want infographics explaining the kids that have been helped. Images of the programs at work. And copy that makes the donor the hero. They want personalized asks and they want to know that you are paying attention to them as individuals. And recognize that they are not ATMs waiting for a withdrawal request to just donate.

They want to know that your organization is a good investment of their philanthropic dollars.

Are You a Good Investment for a Donation? 

If your first thought is, “Of course we are,” then your second thought should be, “Why?”

Why should anyone give their money or “just donate” to your nonprofit?

  • Can you tell them how their last gift was used?
  • How many people were impacted?
  • Do you know where their next gift would go?
  • Are there new goals?
  • Do you need to raise the same amount of money to offer the same level of services?
  • If the donor increased or decreased their gift, how would it change their impact?
  • Were they the only donor at that level or are they part of a valuable cohort that you want to highlight?
  • Are there any benefits to donating to your nonprofit? Will their name be listed publicly, or will they get a sweatshirt?

The “Why?” is essential. Once you have that, you can go out and ask for gifts. With specific ask amounts to specific people with specific stewardship between asks.

Think You Have Asked for a Major Gift Donation? Think again.

Time after time, I hear clients say they asked a prospect for a major gift donation. When I ask for details, I hear they:

  • sent a letter — with a handwritten note
  • believe board members are implicitly asked — they give because they know they should
  • saw the person at an event where there was an ask for everyone in the room — and the person gave
  • sent in a form to the foundation — the same thing they do every year
  • sent an email to set up a meeting and the person donated
Think you asked for a major gift donation?

Think you have asked for a major gift donation in one of these ways? Think again.

The only way to actually ask someone for a donation of this type is to have a face-to-face conversation with the person(s) and ask for a specific amount.

In fact, highly successful fundraisers believe that a successful solicitation strategy includes the right people, asking the right prospect, for a major gift of the right amount, for the right project, at the right time, in the right way, and with the right follow up.

Those seven “rights” are one of the basic foundations behind successful fundraising.

Major donors who continue to donate, and increase their donations, do so because they understand their connection to the organization and the impact they have with each gift. When you have an individual conversation, you can tailor the ask to their interests, their impact, and their giving level. You are asking for a specific gift from a specific person for a specific purpose.

Well, then, if you didn’t ask for a major gift, what did you do? Let’s take a closer look at each of the five bulleted scenarios mentioned above…

The Letter. If you send a letter with a handwritten note, you are treating the major gift prospect like the thousands of other donors you mail a letter to each spring and fall. Ok, maybe only 100 got the note. If this is the only way they hear from you, you are making it clear that you are not especially invested in them.

If you met and spoke to them throughout the year, told them how their gift was used, and what you would do if they could increase their gift to $XX,XXX this year (during your conversation — not just in the handwritten note), it is considered an ask.

The Board. Board members do not give because they know they should give. Well, some do. But many feel like they are giving you their time and talent — you can get your funding elsewhere.

But if a board member doesn’t feel you are a good financial investment, why should anyone else? Go for 100% board participation with the Board or Development Committee Chair asking each board member each year.

The Event. An event is usually geared towards raising money for a specific element of your organization. If you want to fundraise for scholarships, but your prospect’s interest is in food insecurity, they will give a smaller gift — but feel like they gave this year.

You think they decreased their giving because they are focusing on something else. But really, it is because you are focusing on something else.

The Foundation. Foundations may state that they only give to preapproved organizations and every donation has to go through the site. But great grant writers know it is still about relationships.

Relationships with the funders — if you can connect with them. Consistent contact with the staff who have previously helped you receive your donation(s). Any contact that can be above and beyond the basic application.

The Pre-emptive Strike. When you send an email to set up an appointment and the prospect sends in a gift, we call it a “pre-emptive strike” — they are assuming that you will be asking them for more money. Or maybe they don’t have time right now and still want to give.

Your job is to break the cycle by engaging with them outside of the ask and stewarding the relationship. This way, when you send an email to set up a meeting, they will look forward to the opportunity to see you and learn what is happening at the nonprofit.

It can feel hard or awkward to make a specific ask for a major gift donation. But if you have built the relationship throughout the year with conversations, updates, and acknowledgments, the face-to-face solicitation should be a natural outcome. 

And remember, if you’re not developing these relationships and asking them, someone else is!

AI in Fundraising? The Pros and Cons of Artificial Intelligence

By Abigail Harmon

ChatGPT writes commercials for Ryan Reynolds, papers for college students, essays written by AI detectors for professors, and can even pass MBA and med school tests. Image AI is under scrutiny for being able to gather so many images that it infringes upon copyright laws.

Meta and Google know that they are already behind with AI, so they have already begun beta testing their Chat AI. Microsoft announced it will add it to Bing. (If it is impacting Bing, you know AI is far-reaching.)

But how about AI in fundraising? 

The Pros:

  1. You are already using AI in fundraising if you use prospect research. All that amazing data you see when you use IWaveDonorSearch, and Candid is culled through Artificial Intelligence. Not to mention when they recommend your best prospects or hidden gems. 
  2. You can use ChatGPT to write a first draft for direct mail. I tried it by asking the software to create a fundraising email for a nonprofit Jewish sleepaway camp. And the result was really impressive. But, it is not ready to send. It is missing essential elements of a strong direct mail piece, like anything about the specific camp(s). But it is a nice way to start a first draft if you hate writing. Seriously, only use it for a first draft. Our client, the Cohen Camps, could send this letter, but so could 100 other Jewish sleepaway camps. 
  3. You can use ChatGPT to gather information on anything. Think about the information you could find about donors, prospects, and foundations. Could AI in fundraising be helpful for events, stewardship, and birthday card ideas? Yes, it is brainstorming without the group. Of course, that also means you didn’t use the brainstorming with board leaders and donors as a stewardship opportunity. 
  4. Online Chatbots are amazing when helpful but annoying when you want something really personalized or uniquely sophisticated. I’ll let you decide whether to use it, but Chatbots are obviously powered by AI.

The Cons:

  1. If you get lazy and overly reliant upon AI in fundraising, you will quickly become a terrible fundraiser. If 100 camps use the same prompt, they will have similar letters in a similar order with similar content. Unlike me, most people might only receive solicitations to one Jewish summer camp. But if someone is interested in youth development, food insecurity, the arts, colleges, etc., they will likely support more than one. And that same letter or email will be noticed.
  2. You will waste time. Think about a recent hour lost to a Google search (what does that prospect look like?), a TikTok binge (what is that tofu-cucumber air fryer app?), or Facebook (I just want to say Happy birthday to a friend). Like those examples, AI in fundraising can be super fun but all too often sends you down a rabbit hole for an hour.
  3. There are currently no ethical boundaries. You can receive writing or images that have a copyright without any idea that is the case. Just because you change around a few words, doesn’t make it yours. As in the Getty Images lawsuit linked in the first paragraph.
  4. I just went to test it out and received the equivalent of a busy signal. For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, click here. But like any technology, we begin to rely on it and when it is not there, we start to freak out. Like when my meeting alert didn’t go off last week and I was late to a Zoom.

If you have read this far, you are wondering if you should use AI in your fundraising. I will make you an offer. If you create an email or letter using AI technology, and send it to me, I can look through and show you what I think is missing from it. That is assuming you want to make it a unique, dynamic letter that will help you raise money. 

If you have already used ChatGPT to create an email or letter and you have turned it into a masterpiece, send that too.  I am happy to ooh and ahh about it. Sometimes all we need is a little validation.

Why You Can’t Hire Staff

Are you not able to hire staff because you can’t…

Why You Can’t Hire Staff

Find the right candidate? 

Searching for the ideal employee is like selling a house — you don’t need hundreds of people to come through, you just need the right person to walk in and get interested.

Are you attracting the right people? Do you really know (and does everyone agree) what you are looking for? Are you paralyzed by a previous hire that didn’t work out? 

In this competitive market, months can go by without a hire. Which means you are spending more time and resources than you expected. 

Solutions include changing your process, getting better buy-in from those involved, or hiring an Executive Search firm to clarify process and help determine who would be successful in your organization.

Afford to take on a full-time employee? 

Would you consider a part-time employee, an interim staff member, or a consultant? Temporary staffing can help increase funding so you can afford to staff up permanently. 

Get your favorite candidates to accept the job offer? 

If this happens, think about if it is based on:

  • The reputation of your nonprofit’s workplace environment.

    Given a choice, employees are not going to choose the job where everyone is overworked, there are micro-managers, and no one stays for more than a year. In other words, the high rate of nonprofit turnover is not only happening because there is more money at another organization. It’s also because employees want to like showing up at work every day while still having a life.
  • Your compensation package.

    With the trend/requirements to list salary ranges, saying that you can’t afford the current rate will eliminate many people whom you might like. You can list something like one recent Netflix posting for $90,000-$900,000. Or you can consider other ways to compensate employees, like bonus vacation time or paid education stipends.
  • Your nonprofit’s cause doesn’t make enough of a difference.

    Sure, your cause matters to a job candidate, but not as much as you may think. An employee can help increase cancer research, enhance education, or improve youth programming at many different organizations (not just yours). And that is true of most markets. Especially if you include jobs that are 100% remote.

Join us next month when we tackle Part 2 of this topic, with a focus on preventing employee burnout. In the meantime, if you have ideas for what I should include, please email me and let me know!

Emailing donors? Think About Celebrating These End of Year Holidays

Every nonprofit is emailing donors in December. How could they not when a third to a half of all annual donations come in November and December. But when you are creating your email calendar (if you have not already) there are so many options.

Emailing donors? Celebrate creative holidays

Creativity can help you stand out. 

Consider all the holidays you have yet to celebrate — there are some extremely random ones that could be fun and engaging when emailing donors and prospects.

And the good news is there is at least one (if not more) for every day of the year like:

December 4 is “Santa’s List Day” — don’t forget to add a donation to Waltham Boys & Girls Club to your list!

 December 8 is:

  • “Pretend to Be a Time Traveler Day” — See what this region looked like 50 years ago – You can help support the re-foresting of our area by donating $XXX today.
  • “National Brownie Day” — Chewy, corner piece, or extra chocolatey are only options if you can buy the ingredients or a box mix. But this year, with costs rising on everything, that box of Brownies might not make it into the cart. But our food bank can provide a sweet treat thanks to your support. Will you consider a gift of $XXX? 
  • “National Christmas Tree Day” — As you pick up your tree this year, consider the number of people who don’t have a place to put a tree. You can help families find stable housing and end the cycle of childhood homelessness. Your gift of $X,XXX will help transitioning families find a place to celebrate their holidays —this year and next.

December 18 is “Bake Cookies Day” — Even if you don’t bake, and don’t make holiday cookies, you can get into the giving spirit by donating to Camp Tel Noar. And if you do bake, feel free to drop some off at the Cohen Camps’ offices — we would love to say hi in the off season!

December 22 is “Fifth Night” —My colleague, Rachel Glazer, started an organization to help those celebrating Hanukkah use the 5th night as donation night — when instead of giving gifts to one another, families support the community. I’m trying to spread the word!

December 30 is “It’s Not Too Late to Donate Day” to Daily Table.

Ok, I made that last one up, but I do think you could be emailing donors to support it. And really, is it any more random than, “National Chocolate Covered Anything Day?” That is, of course, December 16th. If you were wondering. 


Should you Include Stories in Your Case for Support?

Should you Include Stories in Your Case for Support?

Recently, while writing a case for support for a client, I interviewed 3 board members. When I asked why they got involved, they each gave vastly different answers. One was passionate for the work, one had lifelong family connections, and the third thought the nonprofit was essential for the community.

And this is true of most nonprofits. Everyone gets involved for a different reason, but they all understand the importance of supporting the organization.

Then the question is, how do you write a case for support that is compelling but  speaks to different people with various motivations? Over the years, we have found that there are many different ways to go about it. Here are two options.

Option 1: Reasons to Support Temple Sinai

Temple Sinai has been a part of our community for 71 years. We have had hundreds of bar and bat mitzvahs, education from 2-year-olds to senior adults, and more simchas and funerals than one can count. We are here for you through every life stage, life cycle, and life event. We are a community, thanks to you.

Options 2: 3 Stories in Your Case For Support

Andrew went to the Bar Mitzvah on Saturday morning with his family. As he looked around the room, he realized he had created an amazing community through the congregation. And, he was so thankful he and his wife chose Temple Sinai’s preschool.

As Michelle presented the Kiddush cup and certificates to Adam, the boy who had just become Bar Mitzvah, she was incredibly proud to serve on the board. It had been fifteen years since her own children went through the religious school. But she still remembered the unbelievable feeling of being surrounded by friends and family during this momentous rite of passage. Through the years, Temple Sinai has continued to provide her with a spiritual center, a place to gather to play mahjong with the Sisterhood, and education for everyone from her 2-year-old neighbor to her own Torah study. She sees the benefits of a strong congregation every day.

Rick came to the Bar Mitzvah because his wife takes a class with the Bar Mitzvah Boy’s Grandmother. And his wife wanted him to go. He thought about the last time he was in the sanctuary with a mask for Yom Kippur (don’t get him started on the sermon). But then he looked back at the many b’nai mitzvah he’d attended through the years – including his own children’s many years ago. He remembered his friend’s funeral and his daughter and son-in-law’s Auf Ruf. He remembered why it is so essential to keep the congregation strong. His own generation depends on it, but so do the people he will never know in the future.

In case you haven’t guessed, we have started to include stories in our case for support – and our end-of-year letters.

People will strongly identify with one story and understand the other two. Which is what we think the beginning of the case for support is all about – to create the emotional response which will open minds to the facts. Emotions, like feeling you are a part of the community, that you are passionate, and that the nonprofit is essential, are how you will encourage giving.

Now you just have to explain what the outcome and benefits will be from the fundraising that the case justifies. 

The Donor As The Hero

Donor as hero - Photo by Pixabay @Pexels

In my 22+ years in development, I have seen a lot of “new ideas” in solicitations:

  • Send the same letter to everyone, some people will give
  • Buy mailing lists!
  • Send the same letter to everyone along with an incentive piece like a notebook, return address sticker, or even a coin!
  • Every letter should be personalized
  • Letters should be personalized and have a specific ask
  • Offer a gift with certain donation levels
  • Not only personalize letters, but include a specific ask and list the previous year’s gift
  • Every letter should be personalized, have an ask, list the previous year’s gift, and tell a story.
  • Did you forget to include a cute animal or child? Every letter has to be personalized, have an ask, list the previous year’s gift, tell a story, and include cute pictures
  • Only send emails to people who contact you by emails
  • Forget letters, send everyone emails!
  • Don’t send too many emails
  • Send a combination of letters and emails
  • What do you mean you haven’t been using Instagram for solicitations?
  • Send letters, no one sends them anymore so you will stand out
  • Send postcards, no one even has to open an envelope to give!
  • Use twice as many “you” references than “we”, “me”, “our”, etc. in your letter

I could go on but, you get the idea. Maybe you’ve lived through many of these ideas. And they weren’t wrong for their time and the world lived in. So, what’s the latest?

The Donor As The Hero

How has the donor helped your beneficiaries?

“Your gift helped provide 3,248 meals for our community in the past year”

“Your $5,000 gift helped create 198 after school job opportunities for disadvantaged teenagers

“Your gift of $1,000, along with your fellow donors in the Foundation Society, created a mental health space for every one of the 12,838 people who walked through our doors last year. We hope you will help us continue to develop our safe space with a gift of $1,500 this year.”

Using the donor as the hero can highlight your best statistics while making the donor feel great. A win-win.

Now, just sit back and wait for donations. And the next big fundraising idea.

Or, if you would like help with your annual appeal and annual campaign, click here to set up a 30-minute free consultation