7 Nonprofit Communications Mistakes to Avoid
by Mike Montalto
October 8, 2020

When’s the last time you did some soul searching and asked, “What fundraising communication mistakes are we making and how do we fix them?”

Whether you’re new to fundraising, or have been working at a nonprofit for decades, there’s always room for improvement. In fact, we’ve never met a fundraiser that has everything 100 percent figured out!

We know no two organizations are alike and each face their own unique challenges. But we find many nonprofits run into the same issues in their outreach. Some of these mistakes hold your fundraising back and cause you to miss out on donations!

Here are seven of the more common fundraising communication mistakes we see in organizations across the board and what you can do to fix it.

1. You Undervalue Your Data

Data-driven communications strategies are far more effective in raising money. Organizations that don’t use their data to its potential are selling themselves short and missing out on revenue. They won’t have a deep understanding of their donor base and can’t evaluate their efforts effectively.

You probably have more data than you think. First, get your database in order. Then, use your data to build donor profiles and create audience segments with similar characteristics. This helps you create and send communications that feel more relevant for each recipient.

Your data can also help you determine if there are other fundraising communications mistakes in your strategy. For example, if your emails get a ton of opens, but not a lot of clicks, you might need a stronger call to action.

READ: 3 Easy Ways Nonprofits Use Donor Data

Don't ask for money every time you reach out

2. You Don’t Balance Communications

Audit all the regular communications you send throughout the year. How many of them make an ask?

When donors are asked to give again and again, without other meaningful interactions, they feel like an ATM.

Varying your outreach is critical to grow relationships with donors and retain them over time. So, share success stories about your work and invite donors to volunteer opportunities, in addition to your appeals and thank you’s. And if donors reach out with questions, make sure you respond as soon as you can!

Then, make these communications more meaningful by using your data. It’s easy to say happy birthday and acknowledge donor anniversaries.

Or, if a donor has given to a specific campaign, let them know about your progress towards that goal.

A donor survey is an under-utilized and powerful communications tool. You’ll learn more about your donors so you can be more personal with them in the future. But keep it brief and fun. A survey shouldn’t feel like a chore. And be sure to let donors know how much you value their opinion.

READ: Using a Donor Survey to Better Understand Your Audience

3. You Don’t Use Cross-Channel Communications

We are a culture of consumers and we are bombarded with thousands of messages every day.

“Drive this car!” “Eat this food! “Support this cause!” “Watch this movie!”

These messages are coming at us from all directions and in every medium. It’s easy for your nonprofit’s message to get lost in the clutter. Yet, some organizations still send only a direct mail appeal and wait to see how much they raise. But if you want your communications to stand out, you need to reach your audience with the right message, in the right way, at the right time.

A campaign that reaches audiences across multiple channels is your best bet. Try sending an email appeal a week before a regular print appeal. You might see a new slew of online donations when your mailer is delivered.

If your initial email inspired donors, but they didn’t have a minute to donate and it slipped their mind, your direct mail appeal can remind them to go back and finish their making their gift!

And don’t forget to apply the integrated approach in all of your messaging! You can tell a holistic message throughout a campaign by using the same images on your donation page as your appeals, highlighting the story in your appeals on social media, and sending follow up emails.

READ: Why Direct Mail Fundraising is Essential in the Digital Age

Do write for your donors!

4. You Don’t Write for Donors

If your appeals and other communications contain anything about meeting your budget, you have some work ahead of you. Your board members would be interested in how this initiative will help you meet financial goals, but your donors really aren’t.

Your nonprofit is the vehicle donors use to make an impact on the causes that are important to them. They are only really interested in how their donation furthers your mission. So, telling them that your annual fund is 20 percent behind last year isn’t going to inspire giving.

Your appeals and other messages need to be mission-centric and highlight how donations makes your work possible.

You want donors to feel like they can be a hero by doing their part to further the cause. Your communications should focus on the donor and put them at the center of the story. Remember, it’s not about what the organization is doing. It’s about what the donor makes possible.

READ: How to Tell a Donor-Centric Story

5. You Don’t Do Enough to Say Thank You

This is one of the more common fundraising communication mistakes we see. We understand the chaos of working at a nonprofit. With only so many hours in the day, building your stewardship strategy can sometimes slip through the cracks.

But do not fall into this trap! We know donor acquisition is always on mind, but it is actually far more cost effective to make sure donors who gave recently don’t lapse!

Make sure your donors are thanked immediately with an automatic email containing their donation receipt. Then, reach out again within a week with a more personal and heartfelt thank you.

READ: Using Better Thank You’s to Build Bonds with Donors

6. You Understate the Impact of Giving

Too many nonprofits speak in broad terms when explaining how every donation makes an impact. It’s not enough to say, “your gift helps provide job opportunities to underserved populations.” Instead, show your donors how each dollar furthers that goal.

In this scenario, you might say something like, “Your gift of $50 buys 10 ties, so our beneficiaries can dress for success at their next job interview.”

There is no shortage of donors that identify with your cause. If your mission didn’t speak to them, they wouldn’t want to learn more about you in the first place.

But that’s not enough to make a donor want to give. They want to see the real impact their gift will have towards advancing the values they share with your nonprofit.

READ: 5 Ways to Show the Impact of Every Donation

Invest in Your Mission

7. You’re Unwilling Invest in Your Outreach

Money doesn’t grow on trees. So, if you’re not investing the necessary time, resources, and capital into your fundraising communications, you’re not going to bring in as much revenue as you hoped.

Would you rather spend $2,000 to raise $10,000 doing what you’ve been doing, or spend $20,000 to raise $100,000?

Yes, it’s important that as much of your revenue goes towards your goals as possible. But your organization could do so much more for the cause if you invest more into your fundraising!

For example, you might be ready to invest in fundraising software, depending on the size of your organization and your nonprofit’s budget.

But first, research! You’ll want to consider a number of factors before determining the right nonprofit solution for your organization. Because yes, fundraising software is a great way to be more effective, but only if it fits your unique needs.

Many nonprofits find themselves in fundraising limbo. They’re understaffed and spread thin, with board members who are resistant to change.

Whether you hire an outside firm or consultant to take charge of an initiative, or use that money to add staff and build up your own development department, spending money to make money will enable you to have a bigger impact!

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