Part 1: Six Improvements
Sunsets provide a daily promise: Every end sets up a new beginning.
The end of shelter-in-place and the economic shutdown will launch a new, defined-as-we-go era. After reducing, restricting and removing, the doors will open for rethinking, rehiring, reworking, and more. Much more.
Take a couple deep breaths now and prepare to embrace reality that will soon dawn.
Leadership guru Patrick Lencioni tweeted on April 6: “No organization is going to emerge from this crisis unchanged - I don’t mean [just] financially. During a time like this, we’ll either get better as a result of what we choose to do as teams and organizations, or we’ll be diminished for what we fail to do. And that is the question every leader must answer. Will we get better, or worse?”
Patrick’s prophesy applies as much to associations and nonprofits as it does to businesses. That said, let’s consider how to improve donor communications – a need shared by any organization that solicits donations. Get better in this area, and you will begin your new era strong. How might you change letters, emails, updates, requests, and acknowledgements? These six ideas will deliver immediate and disproportionate impact – while costing you nothing:
1. Segment donors into different groups that will receive different communications. Your supporters likely possess varying appetites for information. A general guideline: The greater the gifts, the more you should feed.
2. With a specific donor group in mind, picture a representative person and craft your message to him or her as if you’re meeting over coffee. A conversational tone invites engagement – on paper, on a screen, and at Starbucks. Formal language falls far short.
3. Use the pronouns “you” and “your” often, while avoiding “I” and “our” whenever possible. The former two should outnumber the latter pair by at least 3 to 1. The word “we” should reference the joint effort of your donor and you, not the organization.
4. Make it fresh; always share something new. Donor communications that read like general overview brochures or, even worse, simply describe the same mission in a different manner invite little or no response. Find someone who writes well to help you. Just don’t continue to waste your donors’ time with dull pieces.
5. Show more, tell less. Illustrate impact through a story. Emotional connection with a donor happens through well-crafted stories. In his book All Things New, author John Eldredge says, “Hope is the sunlight of the soul.” Show how your association or program shines bright, and you’ll secure support from a very deep place within a person. Key word: Show.
6. Transparency must play a leading role. If finances concern you, say it. Or any other difficulty. Donors appreciate your forthrightness when they hear about your challenges. A simple graph or chart can show reality quite well and with punch. Just make sure that you also provide the planned solution, especially the role you want the reader to take. (Read Deliberate but not Desperate)
Using the six items above, read your three most recent communication pieces and look for specific items you could change. Make the edits and then read again. See the difference? Donors will. And they will appreciate your association or organization’s new day.
Next week, part 2 will provide content development suggestions that help you answer the question: What do I say?
This article provides further coaching from writing expert Roy Peter Clark: Make Hard Facts Easy to Read
© 2020 David Staal. All rights reserved. davidstaal.net
David Staal serves as a consultant to the nonprofit sector following 11 years as President & CEO of a national organization (Kids Hope USA), 10 years in church staff leadership (Willow Creek Community Church), and a 13-year marketing career (Abbott Laboratories). A senior editor for Christianity Today International for 12 years, he also authored these books: