donor engagementUnless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that good fundraising is based on relationships.

Good fundraising = sustainable, repeatable, comes-from-people-who-love-your-cause, not-working-yourself-silly, raising-craploads-of-money fundraising.

Building relationships requires ongoing communication with your donor.

When it’s done well, it’s interesting, timely, and relevant.

When done poorly, it’s boring and a huge turn-off.

I believe poorly-done communication is what causes donor attrition.

Think about it: when donors aren’t engaged or when they don’t feel good about giving money to your nonprofit, they go away and look for another group that will give them what they want.

Want to drive your donors away? Send them screaming for the hills? Never hear from them again?

Here are ten ways you can bore your donors to tears and kill your donor engagement.

1. Be ego-centric.  Talk more about your programs, your history, and your annual fund. Keep the spotlight on you. Keep it all inwardly focused.

2. Show no passion. Be dry and mind-numbing. If you write at the last minute, you’ll be more likely to be bland and dull.

3. Leave out the stories. Stories are interesting, keep our attention, and help us feel something. So definitely don’t include them. Besides, you’ve got privacy issues to worry about if you share a story.

4. Use lots of mind-numbing statistics. You want to be sure people understand the full scope of your cause, right? Pile on the numbers! Oh, and include them in text – don’t put them in a chart or anything that makes them easier to read.

5. Use lots of jargon, slang, and acronyms. Those industry terms will show how qualified your organization is.

6. Be predictable and safe. Don’t push the envelope to make people feel a strong emotion like anger or compassion. Play it safe – vanilla is good. Say what you think your donor wants to hear.

7. Use lots of big, fancy words and really long sentences. This will definitely show that you’re smart enough!

8. Omit the outcomes. People should just trust that you’ll get the job done. No need to talk about results.

9. Bury the lead. Make your reader work really hard to find the interesting morsels. Put the most important points at the very end of your articles or paragraphs.

10. Leave them out of the club. Communicate in a way that affirms that donors aren’t part of the insiders of your nonprofit. That will clearly delineate “us” and “them.”

Okay, this is very tongue-in-cheek, but you get the picture? (PLEASE tell me you get it!)

I got a letter in the mail just yesterday from a nonprofit I barely know anything about. I think I met someone from there several years ago and we exchanged cards. Clearly, they’ve added me to their mailing list without my permission (which is a huge problem in itself!). So get this – I’m not currently a donor, have no clue what their mission is, and couldn’t tell you the last time I heard from them (maybe not ever). And a letter arrives asking me for money.

The letter has 3 short paragraphs that are all focused internally. Here’s the first paragraph (I’ll leave out the real name so as not to embarrass them):

“We believe “Name of Organization” is uniquely positioned for the greatest impact in our 10-year history as we enter the coming year. However we can’t do it alone.”


Who cares how you’re uniquely positioned? What great impact?

Even when I read the other two paragraphs, there’s nothing in there that gives me ANY reason to care or to send money. I still have no clue what they do, nothing has inspired me, and I have no idea what they’ll do with the money.

I am NOT moved to give them money. None.

In their defense, I just noticed the P.S. says “Be sure not to miss the enclosed “Ministry Highlights: sharing some of our impact stories. This is a good example of intention gone wrong. They expected me to read the entire package – letter, attachments and all.  I don’t have that kind of connection. They’ve done nothing to build a relationship with me such that I would read the entire piece.

So, do yourself a favor – take the learning from this article. Communicate regularly with your donors. Inspire them. Remind them they’re the hero and the reason you’re here doing good work. Keep it interesting and relevant.

I guarantee you’ll see more money coming in as a result.