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5 Common Mistakes Nonprofits Make (and how to avoid them)

Improving your fundraising game doesn’t have to be complicated or costly.

Sometimes, the key to improving your fundraising results isn’t about adding something new, but rather knowing what mistakes to avoid.

Here are five common mistakes made by non-profits like yours and how to avoid them. Whether you’re a seasoned fundraiser or a non-profit newbie, dodge these five mistakes and watch your fundraising results soar!

Mistake #1: An inaccurate donor database and poor data hygiene

No matter your mission, you can’t get there without a good donor database. Your nonprofit’s Customer Relationship Management software (CRM) is one of your most important tools. It comes as no surprise, then, that an inaccurate donor database and poor data hygiene can impede your fundraising success.

To illustrate, consider this real-life example. As reported in the article The Cost of Bad Data – Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, after sending a campaign to 1 million households, a nonprofit discovered they had mailed to more than 34,000 invalid or deceased addresses. In addition to the $16,000 they wasted sending those invalid pieces of mail, they missed out on the opportunity to solicit 34,000 other donors (a potential of an additional $6,600 based on the campaign’s response rate and average gift size).

Aside from the obvious cost of sending inaccurate or duplicate direct mail letters, when your data is inaccurate or dirty, you pay a price in the way of inefficiencies, lost productivity, and staff frustration. Then there’s the cost that often cannot be recouped: the loss of a donor’s trust and goodwill due to an incorrect or misspelled name. Having the right contact information is essential.

Whether your CRM houses 200,000 records or 2,000, you can’t afford to skimp on data management. If you need to clean up your database act, just remember these donor management best practices: Collection, Correction, and Cleanup.

  • Collection: To ensure accurate data collection, you need to standardize and document your data collection policies and procedures and formally train all database users.
  • Consistency: Inconsistent data entry can cause irreparable damage. For instance, you might lose a major gift prospect because a Do Not Solicit code was entered incorrectly. You may want to consider regular database audits to correct data inconsistencies before it’s too late.
  • Cleanup: People move, spouses pass away, and board members leave. A good data hygiene practice is to run your donor database through NCOA and deceased processing every 90 days. With some CRMs, like Blackbaud, you can schedule this to be done automatically as often as you’d like.

Accurate data and data hygiene are essential practices to retaining donors and reaching your campaign goals. Before you export your next direct mail list, make sure your data is in tip-top shape.

Mistake #2: Writing ineffective fundraising appeal letters

Direct mail appeal letters are the bread and butter of many annual giving programs. The last thing you want is to spend thousands of dollars on direct mail fundraising letters that are ineffective. Fortunately, it doesn’t take a copywriting degree to learn how to write an appeal letter. Follow these tried-and-true tips to write fundraising letters that engage your readers and improve appeal results:

  • Use a short, attention-grabbing first sentence. If you fail to hook your reader, your letter will end up in the trash. Try using a powerful quote, a thought-provoking question, or an introduction to a story. Speaking of stories …
  • Tell a story: Studies show that the act of making a charitable gift is an emotive response. Touch your donor’s heart with an emotional story that moves them to support your cause.
  • Use donor-centric language: Make your reader see and feel how they can be part of the solution. For instance, say, “When you make this gift, you will help a child get their next meal,” not, “When you make this gift, we can provide …”
  • Make it readable. Fundraising experts suggest writing your letters on a sixth grade reading level. Think short, indented paragraphs, simple sentences, and simple action verbs.
  • Be direct: State your cause, show the donor how they can make an impact, and tell them exactly what you want them to do.

Effective letter-writing is essential for a successful fundraising campaign. Incorporate the above strategies before writing your next fundraising donation letter and watch your response rates improve in no time.

Mistake #3: Thinking strangers will donate

Thinking strangers will donate is a common misconception that wastes valuable time, not to mention missed opportunities with more promising prospects.

Instead of investing time soliciting strangers, it’s best to focus on your existing donors. If you work for a community hospital, for example, rather than purchasing a rented list for a fundraising appeal, a better strategy would be to solicit recent hospital users. And don’t forget to about your SYBUNTs; these are excellent prospects that are often overlooked.

Likewise, when contemplating who to solicit for a major gift, it would be wishful thinking to expect a stranger to make a large donation. While there may be a propensity to give, unless they have a connection to your cause and have been warmed up, a major gift would be a tough sell.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming strangers will donate. Focus on your existing donors and other prospects who trust and respect your organization for the best possible prospects for your nonprofit cause.

Mistake #4: Asking for the wrong amounts on your donation pledge cards

Now that you’re targeting the best prospects and writing effective fundraising letters, don’t slipup by asking for the wrong amounts on your campaign pledge cards. Ask amounts—also known as gift strings, a gift array, or gift ladder—should be given just as much thought as your pledge card’s copy and design. Why so?

  • If you ask for a gift too low, you might offend your donor. To illustrate, if you target a $500 donor with a gift string starting at $25, this sends the message that you aren’t familiar with the donor or their giving history.
  • Set the gift string too high, and you might lose the donor altogether. If a donor’s pledge card has a gift array that’s way beyond their reach, they’ll feel their gift won’t make a difference.
  • If you use a static gift string that has nothing to do with the donor’s giving history, you’ll end up with lower average gifts for your fundraising campaigns.

Long story short, your donors are individuals; your gift string should be personalized to the individual. Some nonprofits base their gift string on the donor’s most recent gift. Others start with the largest past contribution. Once you find the right method for you and your donors, you’ll see increased revenue and larger average gift sizes in no time!

Download our fundraising pledge card template and personalize it for your organization.

AskGenius gives you the ability to create personalized ask amounts for every person on your mailing list. Simply connect your data, determine your campaign strategy, and easily adjust ask amounts up or down based on our recommendation. Start your free trial today, no credit card required.

Mistake #5: Too many fundraising events, not enough face-to-face visits

Fundraisers know face-to-face visits are crucial to building donor relationships. Yet, for many non-profits, there’s an imbalance of having too many fundraising events and not enough face-to-face visits.

If your fundraising calendar is event-heavy, it’s easy for face-to-face visits to take a back seat. Or, you might may skip a personal visit because your donor is attending an upcoming event. You may have no problem mingling with donors at an event, but dread having a one-on-one visit with a new prospect. Whatever the reason, events should never replace a one-on-one visit. Here are three reasons why:

  • Think about your non-profit’s largest gifts. How many came through an event, direct mail, or a phonathon? Probably few, if any. Time and again, large donations come from frequent and consistent face-to-face visits.
  • When you engage with donors in a more intimate setting, you can build a meaningful rapport that would be difficult to achieve at a crowded event with speakers, auctions, and other distractions.
  • You can’t discuss a major gift in a public setting like an event. Private, face-to-face meetings are the best way to cultivate and solicit your donors for a major gift.

If face-to-face visits aren’t a top priority, now is the time to make a change. As you plan your calendar for the months ahead, be sure to schedule ample time for face-to-face donor visits.

Take action today for better fundraising results.

Whether you work for a small nonprofit or national organization, it’s never too late to rethink your database management, pledge cards, fundraising letters, face-to-face visits, and donor prospecting pool. Avoid these common mistakes and experience wins in your fundraising program in no time. At AskGenius, our team wants to help you elevate your fundraising strategies.

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