The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Five Things You Should Never Say to an Online Donor

This just went out in the Network for Good newsletter – authored by my colleague Rebecca Ruby Higman. I’m sharing because I liked it. A lot! Hope it’s useful in your nonprofit marketing and fundraising.

Picture one of your supporters sitting at her computer. She’s browsing your website. She just finished reading a heart-warming story of success about someone whose life has been transformed by your nonprofit’s program, and there’s a tear in her eye. (There’s also a bit of broccoli between her front teeth, but don’t focus on that now.)

Now you watch with baited breath: Will she convert from supporter to donor? What can you say during this open-minded moment of truth? What should you absolutely avoid saying during this crucial time?

If you peruse the Learning Center, you’re bound to find information about effective messaging, good donor stewardship and tips to get your online fundraising off the ground (peruse away!). But for all the warm fuzzies and smart messages you’re sending, consider these five things that you should never say to your online donors:

“I’m not trustworthy.” Obviously you would never have a headline on your nonprofit website: “Don’t Trust Us with Your Money.” However, make sure that’s not the message folks are reading between the lines. Are you set up to receive online donations? Did you hide your enigmatically- named “consider giving” page beneath 12 layers of informational pages? Are your physical address and annual report listed and easy to find? Legitimize your online presence, validate your online visitors’ preference to donate online and show your site visitors you need and appreciate their help.

“I take you for granted.” If your website forces supporters to search for a long time to find out how to, you know, support you online (or if there’s no way to support you at all), it’s frustrating – see point 1. If online supporters are not acknowledged, it’s downright ungrateful. If your site is set up for online giving, ask yourself, “What happens when people donate?” Do they hear from you again? Do they get a tax receipt? Is the only thing they get a receipt? The quickest way to turn a donor into a one-timer is to neglect the follow-up.

“I have no idea how much you should give.” Of course your donors will give in varying amounts, and you want to allow that sort of flexibility to your supporters. However, to say, “Give whatever you want” is not a specific, tangible ask. Make it easy (and easy-to-picture) to choose a giving level. Here’s an example: Recently one of our Network-for-Gooders sent a birthday fundraising ask that outlined exactly what a $37 donation would buy (“the food for a healthy, homemade breakfast for 15 homeless men and women”). Set up custom giving levels (like Malaria No More’s “$10 buys one bed net!”). Paint the picture of how the money will be used.

“What’s your name again?” If you met a donor in person, you wouldn’t greet him, “Hi, friend.” Why treat your online donors any differently? In your email marketing and outreach, be sure to include personalization whenever possible. Use whatever data you have to create the most engaging messages possible. For example, “Hi, Bob! I wanted to reach out and say thank you for your $20 online gift–” (This works if his name is Bob, of course.) And here’s a helpful hint: If it looks like a form letter, sounds like a form letter and quacks like a form letter, it’s a form letter and your donor will know it. Although, sending something is better than nothing, which brings us to point 5–

*Nothing at all.* And, the most important thing to avoid saying to online supporters and donors: Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Radio silence. If you know nothing else about the Internet and all this Web 2.0 business, you should know this: The Web is about engagement and building connections. Thank your donors. Encourage monthly giving. Offer other opportunities to get involved including volunteer openings, signing up for your e-newsletter and so on. If you donor came in as anything above and beyond “anonymous,” take that opportunity to build a relationship and make the most of it.

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About This Blog
Caryn Stein hi res

Caryn Stein
Vice President, Communications and Content, Network for Good

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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