Three Fresh New Year Tips for Nonprofits

What nonprofits do in these first ten days of the year will leave a lasting taste in the mouths of their supporters. Will it be the feeling of a warm hot toddy on a cool winter’s eve? Or a sip of eggnog that’s been in the fridge a week too long?

Here are three tips — two things you should do plus one idea that might intrigue your supporters, a best practice gleaned from the news publishing industry.

1.  Say thank you, and do so in a way that reflects your brand. By now most nonprofits know they have a brand image, whether they choose to manage it or not. In the midst of the charitable gift acknowledgement letters that are fluttering in was this little gem, a handwritten note from Betty Cooper, development director of the American River Natural History Association, and artwork created by one of ARNHA’s little clients (click images to see full size):

Is it practical for every nonprofit to send out a handwritten note? Of course not. The point is that it is important to capture the feeling of the nonprofit’s mission. Run the organization like the responsible business that it is, but for heaven’s sake don’t sound like an accountant. (Sorry, accountants.)

2.  Remind supporters what THEY accomplished by getting behind the nonprofit’s mission. I gave small amounts to over 20 nonprofits this year (due partly to journalistic curiosity about events like #ArtsDayofGiving) and I subscribe to probably a dozen nonprofit newsletters. I received TWO emails with subject lines that congratulated supporters. My favorite was an email from No Kid Hungry with the subject line, “Look what you helped do in 2013.” I don’t actually donate to No Kid Hungry — I prefer to support local food banks and closets like River City Food Bank — but I thought this was a brilliant piece, complete with video. Listen to the music. It’s anthemic. Listen to the words. They’re hopeful. You end up singing along, “We could do this all night!”

A more basic but still effective approach was taken by Appleseed, a nonprofit network of public justice centers. The subject line of its January 3 email was, “Looking back, looking ahead.” Betsy Cavendish, the president, wrote:

As we start a new year, Appleseed joins millions of Americans in reflecting on the past year and thinking about our potential for 2014. Before I get into that, I first want to thank all our supporters. As you may know, four Appleseed board members offered a $20,000 challenge grant in the waning days of 2013, matching each dollar we raised. I am delighted to report that donors rose to their challenge! 

And now for the look back. My law school classmate Ken Stern wrote a powerful critique of the nonprofit sector last year, taking to task nonprofit organizations whose programs don’t work effectively. I’m glad to say that, as broad as Appleseed’s mission is, we are effective at what we’re doing. We’re not content to simply identify a problem and call it a day: we translate our research into lasting solutions. Here are some of those recent successes from the Appleseed network…

3.  Look ahead. As soon as newspapers and magazines have finished their year-in-review and their best-pictures-of-2013, they’re off to the races hooking readers for the year ahead. City Arts, an arts magazine based in the Pacific Northwest, promoted its January issue with “The Future List: 12 Artists and Innovators Who Will Define 2014.” Why not a list of ideas for solutions, or program improvements, or hopes for 2014? As we start the new year, that’s what we all want, isn’t it? Hope that things will get better? A plan for change that we can support?

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  1. Pingback: Three Fresh New Year Tips for Nonprofits | Sacramento Region Community Foundation