16 Things to Expect in Your Nonprofit’s First Year

The first year of your new nonprofit will likely be a blur of excitement, learning new things, and meeting new people.

And, of course, fulfilling your mission.

It’s amazing how much of nonprofit life is about tasks other than the important work your nonprofit set out to do. You know – the work that makes people’s lives better?

You can find yourself really busy doing all the things. Fundraising. Social media. Donor appreciation. There is so much to stay on top of. But then you have moments of pure joy when a program comes together, your reality aligns with your vision, and you feel like you wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now.

For many nonprofit leaders, the first year can feel like one intense emotion after another crashing into one another. All while you try to keep cool and maintain an image of a calm, confident leader who knows everything is going to be okay.

To help you navigate and find your way, here are 16 things you can expect in your nonprofit’s first year:

1. You will feel overwhelmed. It is normal to feel overwhelmed in the nonprofit sector, especially in your organization’s first year. There is so much to do all the time! You will need time management and organization tools and strategies. You will learn to accept that you cannot do it all. But, still, you might feel overwhelmed to varying degrees at various times.

2. You will feel exhilarated. When your efforts pay off and your organization is able to change a life, meet a need, be there for someone going through a difficult time, remove a barrier, or throw someone a lifeline, you will feel more amazing than you ever thought possible. This is why you started this journey in the first place!

3. You will have a successful event or program that exceeds your expectations and makes you think that, YES, I can do this. Maybe it’s your first day of providing food to people in need. Maybe it’s your first community event. Maybe it’s your first fundraiser. When all your planning pays off, you will feel validated that you are on the right path.

4. You will have an event or program that does not go according to plan and makes you think that maybe you were crazy to think you could do this. Yes, there WILL be things you try that don’t quite work out. This is part of nonprofit life, trying new strategies and seeing what works and what does not. You will learn to learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward.

5. You will have a tiny moment of clarity that reminds you why you chose this path and affirms that you are on the right path. The tiny moments can pack a punch even more than the really big moments. The one-on-one connection with a person your organization is serving. The text you receive from a person who benefitted from your organization. The tiny problem you solved that allowed everything to fall into place. These moments keep you going and fill your heart.

6. You will wonder how on earth you are going to raise the money you need to meet so many needs. This could be a weekly, daily, or hourly occurrence. That feeling of … how. But as you get the training you need, put a fundraising plan in place, and experience small successes, you will realize that you can raise the money you need for your organization to thrive.

7. You will feel like you could accomplish so much more if you did not have to worry about money. If only you could focus 100% of your time and energy on the work your nonprofit does in the community. Wouldn’t that be great? It can be frustrating to feel like you have to spend so much energy on fundraising. But when you find the right strategies, fundraising will get easier, and you will have more time and energy to devote to programs.

8. You will feel the need to broaden your mission to meet all the needs you see in front of you. This is mission creep, and during the first year of your nonprofit, it will be tempting to take on more responsibility so you can help more people, meet more needs, save more animals. But as you grow into your role, you will realize how important it is to remain focused and grow slowly in tandem with your capacity.

9. You will be filled with love and gratitude for your board and volunteers. It is an amazing feeling when your board members dig in and do the work and move the organization forward. It is beautiful when volunteers go the extra mile to meet the needs your organization exists to serve. There are moments when everyone works together for the greater good, and you will experience and savor these moments.

10. You will feel like you’re all alone. But as surely as you will experience moments of unity, you will at times feel like you can’t count on your board, your volunteers, or your friends and family. Your volunteers have other priorities and their interest in being part of your organization’s work can ebb and flow. As time goes on, you will learn how much you can count on from each board member, volunteer, friend, and family member.

11. You will feel the urgent need for a social media coordinator. Managing multiple social media platforms can be a significant time suck. Social channels are important for your nonprofit’s growth, but you can only put so much time into the task. Invest in a social media scheduling tool, and put together a team from your board and volunteers to share the task of creating and posting social media content. Social media management is also a great task for an intern.

12. You will scream into the void for lack of a director of development or professional fundraiser. An organization has to grow to be able to afford to pay someone to shoulder the responsibility of fundraising. Yet how can an organization grow without that person? The reality is, your startup nonprofit has a fundraiser … YOU! With time and the right strategy, you can find your fundraising groove and fully fund your programs. Seriously, you can.

13. You will not know which cloud-based donor platform to choose. It’s one of the most frequently asked questions among nonprofit leaders. Which donor management system should we use? The market is crowded with options, all with different features and pricing plans. You want to choose something you can stick with for a long time. Don’t agonize over these types of decisions. It’s like buying a car. Get something that meets your needs, is in your price range, and you can see yourself using. Pick a platform and embrace your choice!

14. You will rage in frustration over your email marketing program. Sending regular emails to your supporters is an essential strategy for building a loyal base of donors and volunteers. Many of your social media posts will go unseen by a huge chunk of your supporters, but creating nonprofit emails can challenge your patience in so many ways. As you get into a routine and learn the ins and outs of your platform, you will dread it less. Still, a volunteer who enjoys creating nonprofit emails is a gift.

15. You will feel like you have so much to learn and not know where to start. Online courses and webinars can teach you a lot. A mentor can also be extremely helpful during your organization’s first year. You can also learn by networking with other founders of nonprofit organizations and participating in Facebook groups. In time, you will not be the student, you will be the teacher.

16. You will look back on your first year and realize that, WOW, you learned and accomplished a lot!

About the Author:

Sandy Rees is the author of this guide to a nonprofit's first year.Sandy shows founders and leaders of small nonprofits how to fully fund their dream so they can make the difference they want to make in the world. She has helped dozens of small nonprofits go from “nickel-and-dime fundraising” to adding 6 figures to their bottom line. As a trainer, she shows her students how to find ideal donors, connect through authentic messaging, and build relationships that stand the test of time, so that fundraising becomes easy and predictable. Find out more at www.GetFullyFunded.com.

How to Successfully Onboard Event Staff and Volunteers

Event staff and volunteers are integral team members for organizations all around the world; they can even be the main workforce behind large events or programs. With such a crucial role to fill, it’s important to invest in setting up your event staff and volunteers for success. 

Getting these individuals up to speed quickly allows them to develop crucial skills and start fulfilling expectations much sooner than they would otherwise. With a complete onboarding experience, they’ll spend less time learning through trial and error and more time carrying out their duties.

At InitLive, we’ve worked with thousands of organizations to train and manage their event staff and volunteers. We’ve seen which tactics tend to work well and which tend to fall short of expectations when onboarding newcomers. Based on this experience, we will look into what steps are required to successfully onboard and train your event staff and volunteers. Here is a quick outline of what will be covered in this article: 

  1. Provide Sufficient Training.
  2. Lay Out Expectations Upfront.
  3. Share Access to Event Materials.
  4. Create a Direct Line of Communication.

Ready to learn more about successful onboarding? Let's jump in.

1. Provide Sufficient Training.

Volunteers need to be given training just like any employee would require. It’s important to ensure that every volunteer is set up for success from their first day to their last. There is nothing more frustrating to a volunteer than the feeling that their time is being wasted. Investing in training for all your new volunteers and training for existing volunteers who are being tasked to perform new duties is essential to successfully onboard your staff. 

A simple and effective way to provide training during the onboarding process is through online training. Online training offers the most accessible and convenient training experience. Going digital allows your volunteers to do their required training on their own schedule, whenever it’s most convenient. Most online training tools also offer you the ability to incorporate online assessments to ensure that every volunteer has obtained the information they need to succeed from the training courses. 

Training should line up directly with the roles and responsibilities that fall under their duties as well as any health and safety training that is required. Your training program should be ready to go before you even begin recruiting your volunteers. That way, they start training right away. 

2. Lay Out Expectations Upfront.

Nobody likes being blindsided with responsibilities or tasks they didn’t sign up for. In order to find the right volunteers for the right roles, you need to communicate what the expectations are for each of your volunteer roles. This will ensure that every volunteer who signs up to work will understand what they are committing to.

A volunteer role description should be as detailed as possible to ensure that no expectations are left out of the role or shift listing. Here is a quick list of things to consider adding to your event volunteer role descriptions: 

  • A simple but descriptive role title - You want your role titles to describe the role’s main duty or responsibility. For example, go with distinct titles such as Clean-Up Crew Member, Athlete Registration Clerk, or Refreshment Stand Clerk.
  • A list of tasks - Here you want to quickly outline the tasks and duties that will be performed in this role. This where you really need to set expectations and provide the volunteers with an idea of what they will be doing during their shifts. 
  • Skill requirements - List the skills required to perform each task for the role. For example, this could include ‘money handling’ or ‘food preparation.’ 
  • Certification qualifications - If the roles require specific certifications, you should state what they are. For example, list out details such as the need for a driver’s license, background check, or CPR training. 
  • Physical requirements - Some roles will require physical abilities, and that should be defined in your role description to ensure people aren’t injured on the job. This includes things like the ability to lift 50 pounds, walk 5K, or stand for 5 hours. 

The time investment required to create full role descriptions is well worth it as it will ensure that every one of your volunteers understands what they are responsible for on the big day. This role description can be reused over and over again if you host similar events where the scope of work doesn’t change. 

3. Share Access to Event Materials.

Next up is ensuring your volunteers and event staff are equipped with all the tools and information they need to do their best work on the event day. There is nothing worse than a lost-and-late group of volunteers right when they are needed the most. 

To avoid any confusion and reduce shift no-shows it is important to ensure every volunteer has quick and convenient access to their personal volunteer schedule and any additional material they may require.

Here is a list of materials volunteers require access to when they are working:

  • Their personal schedule with detailed shift information like location, time, and who their supervisor is 
  • Access to a venue map that clearly outlines the various volunteer shift locations to ensure they are able to find and start their shift easily  
  • Emergency plan documents to reference if needed 
  • An event itinerary to keep track of activities and aid people when required
  • Any other vital information like health and safety protocol documents

Providing access to material through an event volunteer mobile app offers a great solution for event producers and their volunteers. Mobile access to all these documents ensures that everyone has access to what they need without the risk of losing paper documents. 

Regardless of how you choose to equip your volunteer with these materials, what is important is that they are given everything they need to perform their duties while ensuring the event runs safely and smoothly. 

4. Create a Direct Line of Communication.

Communication is an absolutely vital part of onboarding and managing a team of event staff and volunteers. It is important to establish an open line of communication with volunteers from the day of sign-up to the work itself to the day after your event is over. In order to accomplish this, determine who is responsible for communicating with volunteers.

Consider assigning volunteer team supervisors who are responsible for managing and communicating directly with your team of volunteers. This ensures that volunteers understand who to contact with questions and who to expect a response from. By assigning a supervisor to a team of volunteers, it is less likely that any question is forgotten. 

As for keeping volunteers in the loop on any schedule updates or shift changes, consider investing in a volunteer management software that automatically communicates updates to volunteers who are affected by any changes to the schedule. This communication automation ensures no updates are left uncommunicated and everyone is always kept in the loop. 

Mobile communication tools like a volunteer management app also allow for quick direct communications during the event. This tool will allow volunteers to send chat communication directly to their supervisor when needed, ensuring no volunteer is left in the dark. 

Now it’s time to start implementing your event staff and volunteer onboarding strategy. No matter how large or small your event or program is, taking the time to implement the above recommendations will ensure that your team is set up for success and that everything runs smoothly.

This was a guest post contributed by Cassandra Smallman of InitLive.This guest post was contributed by Cassandra Smallman of InitLive.

Cassandra is a passionate content creator dedicated to fostering positive impact through thought leadership in both the Nonprofit sector and live events industry. You can find her work at www.initlive.com or on Linkedin and Twitter.

Preparing Your Board Members for Action at Your Nonprofit

When it comes to joining a nonprofit board, there’s usually a pretty steep learning curve. Every organization has its own quirks and operational processes, so even if a new board member has previous experience serving other nonprofits, they’ve never served your nonprofit.

Without guidance and ample training, new board members may struggle through the adjustment period, or worse, they may never find their footing and wind up leaving before the conclusion of their terms.

A new year gives you the opportunity to re-evaluate your board experience and ensure you’re taking every step necessary to set members up for success from the start. Whether your training is formal or more relaxed, it should provide everything new board members need to know to effectively serve your organization.

Comprehensive training sets a positive tone for a member’s term and enables them to become engaged in their work right away. Not to mention, this contributes significantly to your board’s professional development as a whole. It ensures everyone is on the same page so that members can collaborate toward achieving goals and making strategic progress rather than slow down organizational growth.

To help you start their terms off on the right foot and encourage continuous development, we’ll review a handful of training best practices that your nonprofit can easily implement, including:

  1. Review board member responsibilities.
  2. Share helpful documentation.
  3. Offer insightful training courses.

Your board members are the true changemakers at your organization. Ready to set them up for successful terms with exceptional training? Let’s dive in!

1. Review board member responsibilities.

You can’t expect board members to live up to expectations if they don’t even know what those expectations are. Starting preparation off on the right foot means thoroughly reviewing responsibilities, both for general board members and for specific leadership roles. Typically, this is done as part of the onboarding process, but you should also review duties on an annual basis with returning members.

According to Boardable’s guide to board member responsibilities, there are several core responsibilities that any nonprofit board member should fulfill. A few common duties include coming prepared to meetings, offering their skills to advance the organization’s mission, and recruiting standout members. While there are countless others, all responsibilities are typically divided into three categories across many nonprofit boards:

The core duties of nonprofit board members are care, loyalty, and obedience.

  1. Duty of Care: Members should be committed to fulfilling their roles and assisting the organization to the best of their abilities. In other words, they should actively participate, practice open communication, follow through on assignments, and support program initiatives.
  2. Duty of Loyalty: This responsibility means that all activities and decisions should be completed in the best interest of the organization, not the individual board member. Those who exemplify this duty fully embrace your mission.
  3. Duty of Obedience: While board members should do everything in their power to drive the organization’s mission forward, they still must follow your organization’s guidelines. These guidelines are found in your governance documents, and a board that strays from these rules can steer your organization in the wrong direction.

While each board member is expected to adhere to these duties, leadership holds a higher level of responsibility. For instance, on top of the core expectations listed above, the chairperson oversees board meetings, helps appoint committee members, and makes high-level strategic decisions with the board that align with the nonprofit’s mission. As another example, the secretary schedules meetings, records and distributes meeting minutes, and assures that all documents are filed and accessible.

In addition to these duties, members will have individual roles that depend on your organization’s unique needs. By clearly stating who’s responsible for what, each of your board members can take the steps necessary to lead your organization toward a sustainable future.

2. Share helpful documentation.

As part of the onboarding process, board leadership should provide sufficient resources to catch everyone up on the organization’s history, processes, and mission. Not to mention, sharing the proper resources can help more experienced members fulfill their tasks as well. 

When bringing on new board members, consider putting together a welcome packet complete with helpful documents. Documents are always part of an effective training experience, and a welcome packet will ensure they receive these in an organized fashion that doesn’t overwhelm them.

According to this guide to welcoming new board members, there are several documents you should share during onboarding, including:

These are key elements to include in your welcome packets for nonprofit board members.

  • History one-pager: This covers your organization’s history and mission in-depth. It provides context and helps them fully understand your work.
  • Roles and responsibilities: This reviews what duties are assigned to which roles. Including this enables members to quickly revisit expectations at any point.
  • Organization bylaws: A copy of your bylaws helps members understand the decision-making hierarchy and what they can (and can’t) do.
  • Financial data: Include financial data such as your annual budget and any recent financial audit results. Knowing where your organization stands financially can inform members’ decisions and is a crucial responsibility of the board.
  • List of current leadership and board members: This page should include a brief bio, a photo, and contact information for leadership and current board members.
  • A calendar: This lists any upcoming board meetings and events. Sharing this upfront allows members to mark their calendars and adjust their schedules accordingly.
  • A list of committees and their charges: This names each committee and its correlated responsibilities. Be sure to also include committee members’ names.

Pro tip: A board portal with document sharing capabilities will allow you to consolidate all essential documents into one convenient location. That way, your team doesn’t have to deal with reams of paper that just take up space or keep track of multiple email attachments.

3. Offer insightful training courses.

One of the best parts of nonprofit boards is inclusivity. Anyone can volunteer to serve so long as they have a passion for the cause, but this doesn’t mean these individuals always have the skills to fulfill expectations. To be resilient and effective leaders, board members must invest time in improving their abilities and growing their knowledge of effective governance. That’s where training courses come in.

Training courses—particularly those that are online—are a convenient way for new members to get up and running and for veteran members to continue advancing their skills. 

As covered in DonorSearch’s virtual training resources guide, virtual training courses were popular long before the shift to working from home due to their many advantages. While in-person training is certainly engaging, it can be extremely inconvenient and inaccessible. Compared to face-to-face training, online courses tend to be low-cost or free, so you don’t have to worry about purchasing physical resources either.

Professionally-developed online courses tend to be high-quality and offer a high level of education and training, which is a vital part of any board’s development. Making use of these courses can help members become true assets to your mission. Not to mention, offering such opportunities can contribute tremendously to board engagement.

Whether board members need help mastering governance practices or your executive director wants to strengthen teamwork, there are plenty of training opportunities available.

For inspiration, check out this Nonprofit.Courses page that presents specific content aimed at training board members at any nonprofit, from grassroots organizations to international NGOs. These courses are created by professionals in the field, which means you can easily provide an enriching experience with specialized expertise.

Your nonprofit expects so much from its board members. In turn, you need to thoughtfully prepare them for the hard work ahead of them, and that starts the moment they walk into the boardroom for the first time. Investing time and resources into training your board members is a key component of growth.

Whether your board is full of returning members or brand new faces, you’re never past the need for training. By sufficiently preparing these individuals, you’ll empower board members to effectively complete their tasks and overcome any obstacles thrown their way. In turn, they’ll be well-equipped to serve as committed ambassadors and advocate for your mission for years to come.

This was a guest post contributed by Boardable.This was a guest post contributed by Jebb Banner of Boardable.

Jeb is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a nonprofit board management software provider. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Donor Appreciation: 4 Effective Strategies for Nonprofits

When was the last time you received a really good “thank you” from someone? Did someone send you a note thanking you for a birthday gift? Did a family member thank you for a favor you did for them? Chances are, if the appreciation note came as a letter, you didn’t immediately throw it away. And if it came in person, you may have thought the words over during your next commute. 

The fact is that a note or token of genuine thank you sticks with us for a little while. You receive a warm, fuzzy feeling in your stomach when you know that someone truly appreciates you. 

Nonprofits often don’t put enough stake and effort into their appreciation of supporters.  They frequently think a simple “thanks” will be enough. However, when you show real, genuine, heartfelt gratitude for your supporters, they remember it. 

Showing appreciation to your supporters is a crucial part of developing a sustainable system for your organization. That’s because it plays directly into your donor retention strategy. 

Retaining supporters is the best way to bring in consistent revenue, increase that revenue, and spend less on fundraising acquisition activities. On average, donor retention rates rest around 40% to 45%, but thousands of dollars more can be saved simply by increasing this by a few percentage points. Those percentage points become attainable when you work to build stronger relationships with your supporters, starting with (you guessed it) appreciation. 

In this guide, we’ll walk through a few of our favorite strategies that nonprofits can use to improve their appreciation programs and increase retention with supporters. Specifically, we’ll cover: 

  1. Calling your donors. 
  2. Creating a timeline specifically for first-time donors. 
  3. Focusing on the impact supporters have made. 
  4. Responding directly to supporters’ interests. 

Ready to jump into appreciation strategies? Let’s get started. 

1. Call Your Donors

When a donor gives online to a nonprofit, they expect a confirmation email. It’s become common practice for them to receive a combined confirmation and appreciation email in response to their contribution. If this constitutes the extent of your appreciation efforts, you’re likely leaving donors feeling cold. 

Ideally, your organization should be reaching for the stars to stand out from the crowd. That’s what helps build relationships and keeps them coming back. Therefore, it’s necessary to find a new and more personal way to communicate your appreciation. 

We recommend calling your donors. When nonprofits call their donors within at least 90 days of their contribution to say “thank you,” first-time donors are more likely to give again, to give sooner, and to contribute more to the organization. 

This graph displays the impact of phone calls on donor retention rates.

The graph above shows the immense impact that a phone call can make on the likelihood of a donor giving a second time. No phone calls lead to about 33% of donors giving a second time, one call results in 41% of donors giving again, and more than one call results in 58% retained supporters. 

When you make these calls, they shouldn’t be completely aimless or unscripted, although they also shouldn’t be unfriendly or rigid. We recommend taking the following steps to prepare for these calls, while also ensuring they’re as natural as possible: 

  • Check out the donor’s information in your donor database. Take note of how much they contributed, how long ago, what campaign it was for, and other important details that can help lead to a more personalized conversation. This is one reason why it’s so helpful to have access to your database as a part of a fundraising mobile app. You can do your research from the same device you call with!
  • Plan out what you’ll say ahead of time. Planning conversations beforehand can help them be more straightforward and minimize rambling. The main purpose of the call should be appreciation, but donors do frequently want a “next step” as well. However, make sure this “next step” isn’t to donate again. For example, if you send a welcome packet after a first donation, ask donors if they’ve received it or if they have any questions for you. If they haven’t read it, then ask them to take a look so they can learn more about your mission. 

As our world has become more and more digitally minded, we have inadvertently taken the personalization out of many of our communication strategies. How connected do you feel reading an email or a social media post versus actually talking to someone on the phone? Picking up the phone or scheduling a time to connect via Zoom is a way to add that personal touch back into interactions. 

These personal connections are what drive supporters and help you develop relationships with them. The next step you should add into your organization’s strategy is ensuring these relationships are cultivated early, as soon as you know someone has taken interest in your organization. 

2. Create a New Donor Timeline

Not all donors should be treated the exact same way. Everyone is unique and, therefore, different appreciation strategies will resonate more effectively with different groups of supporters. That’s why nonprofits group supporters into carefully selected segments for marketing and communications. 

One of the most important segments you can create for your donor appreciation strategy is new supporters. These are the people with whom you have an early opportunity to establish a relationship. More importantly, you may not know much about them, and they may not know much about you yet.

New supporters are also those who have the ability to give a “golden donation,” or the second gift that any individual gives to an organization. The majority of donors will only give a single donation to nonprofits. However, repeat donors (those who give the “golden donation”) are much more likely to continue contributing in the future. You can see the comparison of the new versus repeat donor retention rate below:

These graphs display the difference between first-time donor retention rates and repeat donor retention rates.

That’s why after you’ve acquired a new donor, it’s important to establish a relationship so that they’re more likely to contribute that second “golden donation” and continue giving into the future. 

After you’ve created a new donor segment in your system, you should create a plan that’s devised specifically for them. 

This timeline will give you ample opportunity to show your appreciation by email, phone, and mail. You can send information for the supporter to learn more about the mission, collect feedback, and invite them to get more involved. Then, you can ask for the second gift. Below is an example of a well-planned new donor timeline for nonprofits: 

Take a look at a well-planned donor cultivation timeline.

After you’ve acquired your second donation, that doesn’t mean your job is over. You’ll still need to put in the effort and work to continue stewarding your supporters and encouraging them to get more involved with your mission. However, having that strategy in place for the first few months of your new relationships ensures they’re off to a good start. 

3. Focus on Impact

Donors don’t give to organizations; they give to missions. They’re not contributing to your organization just to help you out, but because they want their funds to go toward a good cause and you can help get it there. 

Emphasizing the impact that donors have on your mission brings the note of appreciation back to the roots of the cause: your mission. 

Your mission is the common goal that aligns both you and your supporters, which is why it’s such a great emphasis for effective appreciation strategies. 

Bloomerang’s nonprofit CRM guide explains that all of the information you’ll need to put together an impact statement for your supporters lies in your donor database. This is where you can find detailed information about the amount that a donor gave and the campaign to which they gave it. From there, you can see the information about what the campaign achieved, and send that information to your donors. 

In the donor thank you templates found from this resource, you can see that almost every appreciation letter has some variation of an impact statement. For example, the major donor appreciation letter includes this paragraph: 

Your gift will provide [describe the actions you’ve taken and the impact the gift has made. Use specific details that correlate with the exact gift amount, like “Your gift has provided X amount of books for kids with low access to education.”] 

Get as specific as possible with these impact statements. Remember the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from a successful thank you that we talked about earlier? Generally, this statement is what accentuates this feeling. It also creates a level of transparency and trust between your organization and the donor, meaning they’re more likely to trust you with their money again in the future. 

4. Respond to Donors’ Interests

When you read up on various donor appreciation ideas, you’ll likely get a list of potential activities and actions that your organization can take in order to say “thank you.” However, you shouldn’t just pick the most creative idea you find (or worse, blindly point to pick one). Rather, you should make sure the idea is well-adept to suit your specific donors. 

Consider your audience. If it helps, create an average persona (or several for each campaign). These personas will likely look drastically between organizations. For one, it might be a 35-year-old woman with children attending the local school. For another, it might be an elderly man dedicated to preserving the history of the town. Either way, knowing these traits will help you choose and design the best appreciation ideas to suit their interests. 

For example, Eleven Fifty Seven’s list of appreciation ideas includes the following: 

  • Host a Tour (Or Virtual Tour). Giving donors the opportunity to see your mission in action will have an enormous impact on their likelihood to give again. Utilize live-streaming on social media or tools like Zoom to make it easy, accessible, and safe.
  • Texting your supporters to say thank you. Text messages have an average open rate of about 98%, much higher than that of email. However, not everyone will appreciate having messages sent in this manner. Generally, your younger, more technologically adept audience will be more accepting of this type of appreciation message than other segments. 
  • Spotlighting donors on social media. Carefully consider which social media platform you want to use to get the most attention from your audience. For example, if you’re trying to reach people ages 30 to 49, you might consider using Facebook because 77% of this age group is on that platform. However, if you want to use Instagram, you’ll want to tailor your message for those ages 18 to 29 as 67% of that age group uses that platform. 

Communicating appreciation for your donors is never a random process. It’s a very important part of your organization’s strategic plan and should be dealt with methodically. Carefully consider each element of the process from the platform, the message, the images, and the other elements you use to craft your note. 

Showing appreciation for your donors is more than simply saying a quick, “thank you.” Rather, it’s an opportunity to enhance relationships, build trust, and help supporters dive deeper into your mission. That’s why it’s so crucial to create a concrete strategy for handling donor appreciation at your organization. 

These four tips are by no means the only ways that you can show your appreciation. However, if you’re just getting started building your strategy, they are a great place to start. Good luck!

This was a guest post contributed by Jay Love of Bloomerang.

This was a guest post contributed by Jay Love of Bloomerang.He has served this sector for 33 years and is considered the most well-known senior statesman whose advice is sought constantly.

Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth.

4 Tried-and-True Tips for Effective Direct Mail Solicitation

Marketing and solicitation for nonprofits can often seem irrelevant compared to the overall mission you’re pursuing, but it is actually an immensely important task for any charitable organization. Most nonprofits rely on donors’ contributions to bankroll the organization’s efforts, and the only way to get these donations is through effective marketing and donor outreach. One of the most successful methods for nonprofits being direct mail. 

Direct mail is a transformative method of fundraising for nonprofits who want to directly pursue their supporters. In addition, utilizing direct mail is a non-invasive way to call on donors and prospects to support your nonprofit. Direct mail appeals are the backbone of fundraising for most nonprofits in the U.S., and these efforts provide a solid structure of communication between donors and the organizations they support. 

Though these may sound simple, sending effective appeals can be a difficult task. That’s why we’re going to discuss a few tried and true tips that will help set your campaign apart from the others. Consider these best practices for effective direct mail fundraising appeals:

  1. Leverage strategic audience segmentation
  2. Keep your volunteers in the loop
  3. Personalize your direct mail appeals
  4. Work with a direct mail agency

Ready to learn how you can transform your direct mail campaign? Let’s get going!

1. Leverage strategic audience segmentation

One of the first ways to build an effective direct mail campaign is to maintain a strong relationship with your audience through one simple method: segmentation. Segmentation is a method of marketing that encapsulates categorizing your audience into groups of similar interests in order to further personalize your campaign. 

Now, if you’re wondering how to segment your own audience, here are four easy steps to get started:

  • Utilize donor management software. The first thing you can do to segment your direct mail audience is to utilize donor management software. A nonprofit CRM, or constituent relationship management system, allows you to increase the personalized aspects of your letters and organizes your donors based on their demographics, donation history, location, or other relevant characteristics. 
  • Categorize your audience. Now that you have a CRM, you can effectively segment your audience. When doing this, be sure that you are categorizing your audience into like-minded groups. Thus, begin finding commonalities between your audience members. For example, if you decide to segment mature donors, you could group together older generations in order to push a more targeted message to your audience.
  • Nail your fundraising asks. The most important component of a great question is the language you use to make the ask. When crafting your donation appeal, focus on the donor instead of the organization. While this may seem counterintuitive at first, this makes the donor feel as if they are the hero in your organization’s story. Your donor’s contributions count, so make sure they feel as though they are truly making a difference no matter how big or small their donation is. 
  • Collect response data. Though nailing a great ask may seem easy enough, you also have to make sure that your specific appeal aligns with your donor’s ideals and abilities to give. In order to do so, you must complete the final step: donor data collection. If you have categorized your donor’s correctly, they should respond well to your ask. However, it is also important to ensure that they actually resonated with your appeal and went through with the donation.

Then, after walking through each of these steps, you can continue to adjust and revise the process, ultimately leading to extremely targeted donation appeals. As you know, the more specific an appeal is to its recipient, the more likely they are to make a donation.

2. Keep your volunteers in the loop

Your volunteers are key supporters of your mission, and as such, you should include them in things like your mailing list or other outreach efforts. This way, you can keep them in the loop about how impactful their support is—whether they’re making financial contributions, in-kind gifts, or volunteering their precious time. 

Furthermore, including follow-ups after a particular event or volunteer task is a great way to keep these individuals in the loop and increase supporter retention. After all, you want these dedicated supporters to keep coming back to help pursue your mission time and time again.

Another way to increase retention is by diversifying your volunteering options. Volunteers are more likely to donate to your cause than non-volunteers since they already care about your cause. With this in mind, if you increase your volunteer outreach by incorporating direct mailings, you have a higher likelihood of the recipient volunteering, which ultimately leads to an increased chance of donation. 

3. Personalize your direct mail appeals

Personalization is another powerful fundraising strategy that can bring any direct mail appeal to the next level. Specifically, these efforts ensure that the appeal an individual receives is unique to that person and different than every other mailing you sent out.

Some simple ways to personalize your fundraising appeals include:

  • Addressing your recipients by their preferred name
  • Acknowledging previous donations they have made
  • Wishing them a happy birthday 

In doing this, you show the donor that you recognize their efforts to be a part of your cause and you care about them as an individual. 

One way to create an even more personal and engaging ask is by incorporating storytelling strategies into your fundraising campaign. There are many ways to tell a story that effectively appeals to your audience, but one way to do so is simply by sharing the path of your donor’s contributions. For example, if a supporter gave $100 to help fund an upcoming youth outreach initiative, you can follow up on that gift with specific details about the new program. Even better, you can tell the donor a real story about a child who was impacted by their gift! 

4. Work with a direct mail agency

Though these previous tips can help you have a successful campaign, you don’t have to jump into the deep end alone. There are many great direct mail platforms and agencies that have tons of experience with organizations big and small. These fundraising experts can help you tackle everything discussed in this article, and more! 

And while the benefits can be significant, it’s important to recognize that these agencies are not one size fits all. For example, some organizations may choose to conduct their direct mail campaigns in-house and find great success on their own. On the other hand, some organizations find that working with a dedicated direct mail platform is essential to the success of their campaign. 

When selecting an agency, make sure that they provide all the tools that your organization needs, and will merge well with your core values and principles. If you find an agency that suits your needs, don’t hesitate to leverage their resources and experience. It may very well take your organization (and its fundraising efforts) to new heights!

All in all, direct mail is a useful tool to implement within your marketing strategy that can transform your organization. When you integrate this powerful channel alongside the tips and tricks mentioned in this article, you get to reap benefits such as increased donations, powerful storytelling opportunities, and increased donor retention. Good luck!

This was a guest post contributed by Grant at GivingMail.

Grant Cobb is a fundraising specialist with over 6 years of experience in the nonprofit space. Currently the head of marketing and analytics at GivingMail, he is a huge proponent of data-driven decision making and the push to bring high-level analytics and fundraising to all.

Nonprofit Advocacy: How To Mobilize Supporters For Change

You joined the nonprofit sector to make a difference in the world. Whether you’re trying to provide food and other resources to people in need, find forever homes for abandoned animals, fund research for a disease, or pursue one of the countless other noble missions, you work tirelessly each day to promote social good.

Depending on your role at your organization, you may spend time cultivating relationships with donors, providing support to constituents, or getting the word out about your work through email, social media, and other communications platforms. 

While each of these activities is critical, there’s one aspect of nonprofit work that can enable you to accomplish all of these goals at once. Nonprofit advocacy can help your organization advance its mission and create a stronger sense of unity among supporters.

With the right tools and training, nonprofit advocacy can help you to maximize your organization’s civic engagement and make an even larger societal impact. These tools can have the added benefit of connecting parts of your outreach that are often siloed, i.e., your digital efforts and your field-based grassroots efforts. This allows for the content generated in one place to be used across other areas of your organization.

At Grassroots Unwired, we empower nonprofits and political advocacy groups with the groundbreaking technology they need to create an effective, holistic strategy for messaging and fundraising. 

Based on our years of advocacy work, we’ve developed a quick starter guide to help your nonprofit understand and leverage the power of an advocacy campaign. In this article, we’ll do the following:

  • Define nonprofit advocacy
  • Explore the difference between advocacy and lobbying
  • List examples of nonprofit advocacy in action 
  • Share the benefits of nonprofit advocacy
  • Provide top recommendations for nonprofit advocacy

As you read this guide, keep in mind that the best advocacy campaigns are a group effort. Partnering with coalitions or other similar organizations to maximize your efforts can lead to a higher probability of success in the long run. However, you can still enjoy the benefits of an advocacy campaign as a single organization. Let’s dive in.

Defining Nonprofit Advocacy

Nonprofit advocacy is the practice of generating support for issues that are closely related to your purpose and mission. In general, advocacy means speaking out on behalf of a group or cause on a local, state, or national level. A nonprofit can engage in advocacy as a way to influence a larger change (spearheaded by government entities or a coalition) than the organization could enact on its own.

Nonprofit advocacy can occur both online and in-person. However, with the social distancing guidelines of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual canvassing and online advocacy options are recommended over traditional face-to-face opportunities. Regardless of the venue, a number of activities can fall under the umbrella of nonprofit advocacy, including petitioning, emailing, and organizing events.

While some organizations may be hesitant or fearful to “get political,” nonprofits can legally engage in issue-based advocacy without jeopardizing funding or tax-exempt status. However, we’ll discuss a few caveats to this in the next section.

Advocacy vs. Lobbying | What’s the Difference?

If you’re wary of participating in nonprofit advocacy, you may be confusing advocacy with lobbying.

While advocacy is more general, issue-based, and awareness-focused, lobbying refers to the practice of supporting or opposing a specific piece of legislation. Lobbying always falls under the broader category of advocacy, but not all advocacy counts as lobbying. 

Not only is there a difference in meaning, but there’s also a difference in legal status. For 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, the IRS prohibits political campaigning and lobbying that forms a “substantial part” of your organization’s budget. In this instance, “substantial part” is defined as devoting any more than 20% of the organization’s operating budget toward the effort.

For example, the state of Georgia recently passed a referendum to create a property tax exemption for nonprofits under specific circumstances. Many local chapters of Habitat for Humanity supported this item while it was moving through the state legislature, and then they encouraged their supporters to vote “yes” when it was on the ballot. This was a legal example of nonprofit lobbying—as long as the chapters didn’t devote more than 20% of their operating budgets to these efforts.

Examples of Nonprofit Advocacy

Nonprofit advocacy is not a one-size-fits-all activity. Depending on the cause you’re trying to support, the interests of your supporters, and the desired outcome of your campaign, you’ll encourage different advocacy-related actions.

Here are a few common examples to demonstrate what nonprofit advocacy can look like: 

  • Encouraging supporters to contact representatives on social media to share your cause (ex: Tweet-a-Rep campaigns)
  • Collecting signatures for a petition
  • Launching a photo-sharing campaign that relates to your cause 
  • Inviting supporters to call legislators, providing a script or talking points to empower callers with the right message
  • Gathering supporters together for an advocacy event (or virtual event)
  • Conducting an email or letter-writing campaign

To determine which of these actions is most appropriate for your campaign, consider what you know about your supporters. Are they typically active on social media? Responsive to direct mail? Use this knowledge to guide the planning of your campaign and create compelling messaging that will foster participation.

Keep in mind, though, that any action directly related to a piece of legislation falls under lobbying rather than just advocacy. So, if you’re conducting a lobbying effort, be mindful of your budget while planning!

Benefits of Nonprofit Advocacy

In addition to the obvious benefits of creating broad change or raising awareness of a mission-related issue, there are many additional advantages to engaging in a nonprofit advocacy campaign:

  • Improve donor engagement. According to Qgiv’s guide to donor retention, the average donor retention rate is only around 40%. One frequently-recommended way to encourage retention is to offer alternative involvement opportunities, and nonprofit advocacy serves this purpose well. When supporters speak out in favor of your cause, they will feel more connected to your mission and more likely to stay involved over time.
  • Engage volunteers. Your dedicated volunteers can encourage other supporters to take action in your campaign, such as by capturing signatures or reaching out to individuals.  This can also be a useful virtual volunteer activity for the remote era.
  • Increase fundraising. While funding shouldn’t be your primary goal in launching a nonprofit advocacy campaign, it can still help with fundraising. First, advocacy campaigns increase awareness of your issue and the visibility of your organization, which can lead to an influx of new donors. Additionally, involvement in your campaign is a signal of fundraising participation—supporters who participate in advocacy campaigns are 7 times more likely to donate than non-advocates.

Lastly, engaging with your mission in a new format can help foster excitement and professional development within your nonprofit’s staff and board of directors. It provides variety to your ongoing fundraising efforts and can enhance the way your team communicates with supporters.

Best Practices for Nonprofit Advocacy

1. Provide adequate training opportunities and resources.

To execute a successful advocacy campaign, you must ensure that everyone has the tools and information they need to be successful. This applies both to your staff members who may be undertaking new and unfamiliar activities as well as your supporters. 

For your staff, make sure everyone understands the general purpose and goals of nonprofit advocacy, as well as the legal difference between advocacy and lobbying (you could even pass around this article!). You should also look for relevant online courses or other training materials to bring everyone up to speed. 

For supporters, you’ll want to provide clear and well-written scripts and templates for any communication-related actions. Since a common barrier to advocacy is not knowing what to say or feeling awkward or uncertain, offering these resources upfront will increase participation. Having a step-by-step outline to make a call, write a tweet, or send an email will give supporters the confidence they need to get involved (and ensure everyone stays on-message). 

2. Track supporter involvement.

As previously mentioned, nonprofit advocacy has the added advantage of increasing supporter engagement. To make the most of this benefit, keep detailed records of the overall metrics of your campaign and the involvement of individual supporters.

When it comes to individuals, you should already be tracking engagement data in your donor database, and advocacy actions should be no exception! Be sure to record the number of calls made, hours volunteered, emails sent, or any other relevant metrics. 

This can give you an idea of which of your supporters are the most committed to your work and may be good candidates for future fundraising asks. Your most vocal social media advocate today may turn into a generous major donor tomorrow.  

When considering your overall campaign, the data you collect will help you plan your future advocacy efforts to be even more successful. For instance, the data may reveal which prongs of your campaign led to the highest number of target actions, so you’ll know where to focus your future efforts.

3. Empower your team with the right technology. 

Advocacy tech solutions will empower a more effective campaign by facilitating deep conversations and streamlining follow-up actions. 

For best results, look for advocacy software that focuses on establishing relationships, since that level of connection is what will most effectively drive supporters to take the desired action.

As an example of a software solution that takes this approach, Grassroots Unwired’s grassroots and legislative advocacy app allows organizations to:

  • Enable issue-based conversations that encourage supporters to take action
  • Conduct surveys and automatically report data in real-time
  • Send out immediate follow-ups to supporters
  • Send out immediate messages to target legislators and government agencies
  • Continue work without internet access
  • Securely collect donations

You also may want to consider looking for advocacy software that can integrate with your donor database. This will make the process of data collection and analysis more seamless and give you a full picture of your advocacy data in the context of your overall operations.

As you create your nonprofit’s calendar for 2021, consider adding a nonprofit advocacy campaign into the mix. By mobilizing your supporters to create change for your cause, your organization can make a widespread impact and cultivate a stronger community. Best of luck!

This guest post was contributed by Russ Oster of Grassroots Unwired.

This guest post was contributed by Russ Oster of Grassroots Unwired.Russ’ first experience in the world of grassroots organizing came when he was an infant and his mother pushed him in a stroller door to door to collect signatures for the Impeach Nixon movement. Eighteen years later he embarked on his college career in Washington, DC and during that time developed a passion for campaigns and elections that started with an internship on the campaign of the first woman ever elected to Congress from the State of Virginia. 

For the next 15 years Russ lived and breathed campaigns, running field operations in a wide range of races and for a number of coordinated campaign efforts. When it became obvious to Russ that the technology existed to make field efforts drastically more efficient and accountable but the solutions did not, he launched Grassroots Unwired and has worked every day since to keep GU on the cutting edge, pushing new features and enhancements to meet the needs of every evolving grassroots organizing efforts.