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5 Ways to Tell Your Donors You Love Them

When it comes to donors, we know you can never say “thank you” enough. Turns out you can never show enough #DonorLove either!

This Valentine’s Day, skip the roses and chocolates. Tell your donors you love them with an earnest love note (or even better, a video) that comes straight from the heart.

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How do you love thy donor? Take a cue from Elizabeth Browning and count the ways…and then tell them via email, social media and/or even a quick phone call (because that wouldn’t be awkward.)

In the sample love letter below for a made-up animal shelter, we’ve listed 5 reasons we love our “donors.” Cut and paste these into your own #DonorLove letter…or better yet, do some quick soul searching and write a few of your own heartfelt reasons.

Dear /Donor Name/,

We see you, and we think you’re pretty special. Here’s why:

  1. You believe in the underdogs!
  2. Your life reflects your values!
  3. You’re dedicated to making the world a better place.
  4. You make personal sacrifices so our four-legged friends can feel safe and loved.
  5. You dream big and love even bigger!

Oh, and the animals you help happen to think you’re pretty special too!

PC: Jonathan Daniels

We just wanted to send a little love your way this Valentine’s Day.

From all of us, thank you for your continued love and support,


Bonus tips:

  1. Your donors are constantly being asked for money. This is not the time to ask for another donation! Give your donors a break by showing them some real love without a call-to-action!
  2. If possible, let your client’s do the talking through photos or videos. It doesn’t have to be fancy.

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3. Take advantage of the day to show your volunteers a little love too!

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PC: Chris Becker

How are you showing #DonorLove this Valentine’s Day? We’d love to hear your ideas. Please share in the comments below.


10 Unexpected Lessons From my First Day on a Nonprofit Job

My first nonprofit communications project involved helping a rural health clinic in Western Kenya develop its branding and marketing strategy.

The clinic, Matibabu Foundation (, had received PEPFAR funding along with a good deal of technical assistance to enhance its new HIV prevention programs and to strengthen its capacity to serve its community well.

A very clever member of the Technical Assistance (TA) team recognized a need to help Matibabu develop a branding and marketing strategy to ensure its products and services were distinct within its community and on a national level. Acquiring the capacity to market itself could also increase its odds of receiving future funding.

Having moved to Uganda from Austin, TX a year prior, I was chomping at the bit to get in on the action of the amazing work some African non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were doing. These people were doing stuff that mattered. They were making a difference. They were changing the world. I was desperate to be a part of it. (I’m selfish like that.)

So, I pretty much thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I was selected for this project. I wasn’t exactly going to be saving lives, but I was responsible for facilitating the first step in creating a branding and marketing strategy: developing a positioning statement and messaging framework. (Pretty sexy, huh?)

I was giddy with the glamor of working in rural Kenya with an indigenous clinic to fight the spread of HIV. (Finally, these waterproof cargo pants with 17 pockets would come in handy.) I was also persuaded by the promise of more work to come with other PEPFAR-funded organizations if this project went according to plan.

I eagerly accepted the job. A 5-hour bone-jarring drive from Kampala, Uganda to the Kenyan border (with no A/C), a dubious encounter with the boarder-patrol (where my camera went missing), and many layers of red dust encasing my body later, we arrived at a colorful little village in a remote region of Western Kenya.

The village’s claim to fame was that it was home to Obama’s paternal grandmother. (Yup. Got to check that one off the bucket list!)

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The Independent, June 22, 2015, AFP/Getty

Though it was lacking in the kind of wealth and modernity most of us are accustomed to (you know, wifi, hot water, round-the-clock electricity), it more than made up for its shortcomings with its vibrant spirit and weathered but charming character.

We slowly made out way through the town, grabbed some chicken-on-a-stick, and followed a dirt road to the clinic, marked by a carefully hand-painted sign.

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At least nothing’s misspelled, I thought to myself.

Following a windy footpath to the heart of a modest medical compound, I came to an outdoor waiting area filled with patients sitting on benches before a small permanent structure where the clinic and lab were situated. This building was flanked by multiple metal cargo containers stacked one upon another and repurposed into a quaint little office complex for staff members.

It was a beautiful, warm day. The kind of day where the scent of Bougainvillea and Jacaranda trees compete for your olfactory attention. The kind of clinic where patients hum melodies in the waiting area while nurses scurry cheerfully about. (At least, that’s how my wistful memory recalls the day.) I drank it all in like a refreshing bottle of Snapple as I stood in the shade of a sign that read “free HIV testing and counseling.”


I spent the afternoon touring the clinic, meeting patients, interviewing department heads and becoming increasingly smitten by the combined talent, knowledge and enthusiasm of Matibabu’s staff.

That night, in my hotel room, I rehearsed my presentation repeatedly. I made sure there were no glitches in my impeccable slide deck. I fought off mosquitos, closed the windows tightly and buried my sweaty self deep within the safe confines of my dusty mosquito net.

The next morning, I convened with department heads, doctors, nurses, and lab technicians to facilitate my positioning statement session, followed by a messaging workshop. The TA team, made up of seasoned experts from JSI, had me shaking in my boots despite their encouragement. (It is possible they were under the impression that this wasn’t my first nonprofit rodeo, though I can’t say for certain.)

I was pleasantly surprised and equally confused by the level of enthusiasm that permeated the room. Each person sat before me with a smile, pen in hand, and notebook before them.

These people have no idea what they’re in for, I thought. I’ve clearly misled them.

In my experience (which, to date, had involved working with tech startups in Austin, TX) running positioning and messaging workshops was met with about as much enthusiasm as a 5th-grader condemned to studying the dictionary.

Positioning statements. Core messages. SWOT analysis. All a tedious process and necessary evil in the quest for more breathtaking branding activities, like developing logos, taglines, and sales pitches.

After the customary introductions and greetings, I turned the projector on, presented the agenda and flipped to page 2 of the most stellar slide deck ever created.

Everything is going to be just fine, I thought. Unless the power goes out.

Which it did, naturally, three slides into the session.

So, I did what any good communications consultant in a foreign country and culture would do. I winged it. I pulled out the Sharpies and taped flip chart paper onto every inch of the walls. I asked every question I could remember from said stellar slideshow and scribbled responses onto the paper lining the walls.

I listened. I refereed discussions. I pretended the heat, humidity, and lack of Diet Coke didn’t affect me in the least. And I acted like I understood all the health-industry acronyms and jargon being thrown my way.

But here’s what I learned, and it kind of blew my mind.

A small rural health clinic out in the remote bushland of Kenya can be a heck of a lot more than just a small rural health clinic in the bush of Kenya.

  1. It can be a welcoming and safe community for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLA’s) to gather, interact and support one another. This community, which met regularly throughout the week, was a lifeline for PLAs who were all too familiar with the discrimination and stigmatization that comes with the disease.
  2. It can inspire 100s of community members to serve as volunteer Community Health Workers (CHW’s), sacrificing several hours each week to walk long distances to take health care to people living in remote areas.
  3. It can motivate legions of volunteers to teach neighbors and communities about good hygiene and proper pit latrine development, resulting in less illness and disease.
  4. It can dismiss deep-rooted myths embraced by entire communities about the “evils” of hospital deliveries, resulting in more women delivering healthy babies in hospitals and fewer maternal deaths.
  5. It can serve as the voice of its community, communicating urgent health needs of the community to the government while promoting government-sponsored health initiatives in return.
  6. It can change the behavior of future generations. By uniting the community’s youth in the fight against HIV (through high school clubs that give teens a safe place to talk about sex, AIDS & HIV prevention) the community saw a significant drop in teen pregnancy and teen HIV+ rates.
  7. It can be an unofficial workspace for local women focused on creating income generating activities (IGAs) and building trustworthy savings and loan programs.
  8. It can have a say in the national health agenda. (The director, a tireless health care advocate, served as an advisor to the Kenyan Ministry of Health on the development of its national healthcare plan.)
  9. Its employees can throw around a heck-of-a-lot of acronyms, like PLA’s, CHW’s, VCT (volunteer HIV counseling and testing), M&E (monitoring and evaluation) and my favorite, MARPS (most at-risk people groups.)
  10. It can help a 30-something mother of 6 discover her purpose.


I’ve since worked with dozens of NGOs, from the likes of World Vision Uganda and the Diana, Princess of Wales Foundation, to local grassroots organizations working out of metal cargo containers marked by hand-painted signs.

After working with African-based NGOs for seven years my family returned to the states where I continue pursuing work with organizations working to make the world a better place.

I’m inspired daily by passionate people I come across who are fully committed to changing the world.

Some of these people are no richer in resources, manpower, or reputation than a little clinic in rural Kenya called Matibabu. But they refuse to give up. They relentlessly pursue their passions. They don’t let obstacles like funding, capacity, and sticky bureaucracies deter them. They just fight harder and smarter and with more moxie.

I consider myself blessed to be working behind the scenes to support these amazing people and the important work they do.

Do you remember your first day on the job? What went wrong? What went well? What did you learn? Please share in the comments below.



The last thing you want to do is the most important thing you can do for your nonprofit’s bottom line.

It’s time to develop your 2018 marketing plan. Meh…

I know. I’ve been in your shoes. You’re juggling 100 balls with one arm tied behind your back, and your head is spinning. Between thanking last year’s donors, crafting your annual report, updating social media posts, and writing your monthly newsletter, the last thing you have time for is developing a marketing plan for your nonprofit.

Creating a marketing plan requires more time and effort than you can give right now. But it’s a valuable process that, when done right, can significantly impact your nonprofit’s bottom line and overall success.

It’s the roadmap that keeps you and your organization on track.

Most importantly, it’s your guide to successfully promoting and growing your organization.

And if that doesn’t inspire you, then hopefully your intrinsic desire to make the world a better place will. Because let’s face it, your clients’ welfare (or the cause you’re championing) is directly impacted by your ability to market your organization well.

When it comes to the people and causes we’re championing, let’s not fly by the seat of our pants. 

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

So, clear your schedule, roll up your sleeves, grab a latte and start working on your marketing plan today. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  1. Start with an audit and evaluation of last year’s communications, fundraising and outreach efforts, including social media, email, direct mail, web traffic, campaigns, and events. This may seem like a tedious task, but by understanding what worked, what didn’t work, which channels were most effective, etc., you’ll be able to develop practical, data-driven strategies for 2018.
  2. Establish 2-3 SMART goals. Whether it’s the amount of dollars raised, volunteer hours committed, new donors, or donor retention rates, be sure your goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. (“Increasing new donor-retention rates by 17 percent by August 3, 2018,” is a SMART Goal. “Increasing awareness through more aggressive social media outreach is not.”
  3. Align your marketing plan with your organization’s fundraising plan. Successful non-profit marketing plans are closely tied to fundraising plans, so work with your development team to ensure fundraising goals inform and drive your marketing strategies. What’s that? You don’t have a development team? You are the development team? I’ve been there. The struggle is real. Work with your finance team/person and executive director to establish your fundraising goals before you craft your marketing plan.
  4. Identify your target audiences and make sure your messages are still relevant to them. Tweak them if necessary. Define who your target audiences are, how you plan to reach them, what you want them to do, and what messages will drive them to do it.
  5. Carve out strategies that map directly back to your objectives and SMART goals. Identify key performance indicators (KPI’s) and other milestones that will help you measure the effectiveness of these strategies throughout the year.
  6. Create a timeline that includes important days, events and planned outreach efforts. Highlight days that newsletters, blogs and appeal letters will be published. Include fundraising campaigns, special events, holidays, and special dates, like your organization’s anniversary, internationally/nationally recognized days relevant to your cause. (Check out this 2018 Cause Awareness & Giving Day Calendar or the UN’s international version here.) Be sure everyone in your organization is aware of what’s happening when, and don’t forget to indicate 1) who’s responsible for each activity, 2) when you need to begin planning or preparing for each event, and 3) deadlines. Note: you do not need to include all social media updates here.
  7. Chart the course for your multi-channel editorial calendar. You may not be able to craft specific content or messages for your social media posts, blogs and newsletters today, but if you can create a calendar that indicates what messages you’ll be promoting, when and through which channels, you’ll definitely be ahead of the game. And you’ll thank yourself later.

We’re really just scratching the surface here, but these tips should help get you off on the right foot for crafting your marketing roadmap for 2018. Go ahead and get started. You’ll sleep better tonight, I promise.

Don’t have the bandwidth to develop your organization’s marketing plan? We can help. Click here to learn about our Marketing & Communications Power Plan offer.


How to Speak Like a Boss: Lessons Learned from Oprah’s Speech at the Golden Globes

Google “great speeches,” and you’ll find page after web page of lists of the greatest speeches ever made. John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln…all the usual suspects are included. That’s about to change.

After Oprah’s acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award last Sunday (Jan. 6, 2018) at the Golden Globes, there’s no denying this media maven has claimed her stake as one of the world’s greatest modern-day orators.

Love or hate her, Oprah spoke with the kind of conviction, grace and authority that moves and inspires people across generations, races, socio-economical-political divides, and even genders.

And while her speech — which so brilliantly balanced both the personal and the political, along with great grace and authority — appears to have been ingeniously engineered, it’s actually an almost perfect reflection of conventional textbook speechwriting.

We may not all be famous entertainers, politicians or human rights activists, but we can certainly apply what we’ve learned from Oprah’s iconic speech to move, inspire and motivate people with our words…whether we’re speaking to small audiences of major donors, a dozen passionate volunteers, a few key government stakeholders, or massive assemblies of people.

So, let’s break this speech down and glean what we can from one of today’s most powerful and inspiring orators.

(I’ll be quoting portions of the speech throughout this blog, but you can read the transcript in full at:

From the Top

“In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history: ‘The winner is Sidney Poitier.’ Up to the stage came the most elegant man I ever remembered. His tie was white, his skin was black—and he was being celebrated. I’d never seen a black man being celebrated like that.”

Oprah immediately engages her audience with a story. Actually, it’s not necessarily even a story. It’s more like a moment. A brief moment that encapsulates just enough detail and sentiment to convey a few important points: She’s human, she comes from humble beginnings, she was deeply moved by what she saw, and she was inspired.

And while this personal anecdote enables us to relate to her a bit better (because who hasn’t had an inspiring TV moment when you thought anything was possible) this was about more than just establishing a personal connection. In a few minutes, this moment will qualify her, an entertainer, to talk about injustice on a massive scale.

Key Learning:

1)    Use a personal story to connect with your audience. Be human, be humble, be authentic. Make sure your story is connected to the main point you intend to make. This is your launch pad, and if done right it can also be the event you circle back to in your closing statements.

2)    Consider a story that’s not only compelling, but also inclusive of the evidence needed to justify your authority to speak on an issue.

For those of us who experience a bit of anxiety on stage, a personal story will help calm your jitters. After all, it’s easy to talk about yourself. When you tell a real story, you don’t need to read a script. Just some parameters and structure around it in advance and then speak straight from your heart.

If you don’t have a compelling story to share, come out swinging with something equally fascinating: a startling fact or statistic, a thought-provoking question, or, if you’re truly funny, a light-hearted self-deprecating joke. (Humility is important, people.)

By the time you’re ready to move on you’ll be feeling much more comfortable on stage and you’ll have the audience in the palm of your hand.

Now, let’s figure out how to keep them there.

It’s not about me…

From her intro, Oprah seamlessly transitions into the launch of a graceful but powerful tirade against the big ugly issue plaguing not only the entertainment industry, but the entire world.

The transition begins with some very brief words of thanks to those who helped her achieve her dreams. She then goes on to express her gratitude to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and ultimately to all news publishers committed to telling the truth. This is where things get interesting.

“…which brings me to this: what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story.”

What just happened? Isn’t she supposed to go on at length about how grateful she is to her friends, fans, and the press. She certainly has bragging rights, yet she’s not boasting about herself or her successes. Instead, she shifts the focus to the audience and one of the biggest issues plaguing women today.

And she can do that. She’s Oprah freakin’ Winfrey after all. She may well be the most influential woman in America right now. As a leading figure in the entertainment industry (where the magnitude of this issue was first brought to light) one could argue she has a social and moral obligation to address this pressing issue.

Guess what? As an expert in your field dedicated to fighting injustice, inequality, inhumanity, etc., you’re equally qualified to address the big, important issues your audiences need to know and care about. So be bold. Speak truth.

Key Learnings:

1.    Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about the people you’re talking to. “Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell….” Focus on how great your audience is, and they won’t turn a deaf ear your way. (Do your research in advance so you know your audience and understand their interests.)

2.    If you need to thank people, keep it brief. The quickest way to lose an audience is with a long list. Don’t forget, it’s their time that matters, not yours.

3.    If there’s a current event or issue you need to speak to, get to the point. Here, Oprah lauds those women who have shared their personal stories. This speech is not just about a poor black girl inspired by an entertainer who made history, it’s about women having the courage to speak up. And it’s about to be about a whole lot more!

But I’m not a Hollywood actor. Why Should I Care?

Ok, Oprah. You are awesome. Every actor in the room is awesome, especially the women. But why should I care? How on earth does this apply to me?

You’re about to find out.

“…it’s not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It’s one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace. So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.”

Would you look at that. Oprah takes an issue that’s heavily plaguing the entertainment industry and politics and quickly puts it into context, showing us the bigger picture and how it’s directly affecting regular, every-day people just like you and me.

Lesson Learned: Once you’ve disclosed the problem, present the implications of that problem and how it matters to everyone listening. Answer the question, “why should I care,” from your audience’s perspectiveThis might be the most critical thing you can do to inspire your audience to respond to your impending call-to-action.

Here’s an example of the mental process I might go through when I’m told about an issue that’s not on my radar.

Executive Director of Save the Streaked Horned Lark Foundation: The Streaked Horned Lark is near extinction?

Me: Bummer. It’s a cute bird, but why should I care? How could this possibly affect me?

ED: Because the extinction of the lark will directly impact the eco-system in Pacific Northwest, which will impact agriculture and could result in significant increases in the price of dairy, fruit and veggies. It could also affect the livelihoods of the farmers.

Me: That’s sad, but I’m not a farmer.

ED: The cost of berries could triple.

Me: What? Berries will be more even expensive? What will I put in my smoothie? Now I’m going to get fat.

ED: Did I mention the entire economy of the Pacific Northwest is going to be affected.

Me: So, the job market will become even more competitive. How will I ever land my dream job? PEOPLE UNITE! We must save the Streaked Horned Lark!

Oprah does it better, but you get the point. People are inherently selfish. Show us how the issue directly impacts us and we’ll be a heck of a lot more likely to act.

Does Your Audience Need More Convincing? Probably.

I cannot emphasize the importance of storytelling enough. Whether you’re writing a newsletter, a social media post, your annual report, or a speech, nothing captivates an audience better than a well-told story. Oprah gets this.

“And there’s someone else, Recy Taylor, a name I know and I think you should know, too. In 1944, Recy Taylor was a young wife and mother walking home from a church service she’d attended in Abbeville, Alabama, when she was abducted by six armed white men, raped, and left blindfolded by the side of the road….”

Oprah initially captured our attention with a story that gave us a glimpse of the world through her eyes. Now she pulls us in even deeper by showing us the world from the perspective of an innocent woman who was brutally assaulted.

It’s disturbing. Maybe too disturbing for some. But it’s also an extremely powerful reminder of those who suffered unspeakable horrors for the rights we enjoy today, and why we need to continuing fighting hard to protect those rights.

Thankfully, Oprah quickly follows the story with a bold statement that inspires hope:

“For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.”

This statement could actually be considered the thesis of Oprah’s speech. Notice how everything that came before it was building up to this one passionate rally cry, spoken with fierce determination and absolute authority.

Lessons Learned:

1.    Sharing your own story probably isn’t enough. Give us a story of a client or beneficiary. Are you mentoring at-risk youth to keep them out of gangs? Tell us how the life of an ex-gang member was radically changed. Are you standing up to police brutality? Share a survivor’s story. Are you helping refugees affected by war and trauma? Take me through a refugee’s journey. (But please, dear nonprofit professional, do not share a story at the expense of a client’s dignity. Be sensitive to their privacy, future and safety. There is an appropriate way to share harrowing stories. Your job is to figure out how to do it in the most ethical way possible.)

2.    Don’t leave us more depressed than we were when we came in. Follow your story up quickly with a hopeful, inspiring message.

3.    Determine your key message (main idea, call-to-action, that thing you want your audience to do) in advance and structure your speech so that everything you say builds up to it.

4.    If possible, deliver a memorable and quotable one-liner. You know the kind: “Ask not what your country can do for you: ask what you can do for your country,” John F. Kennedy. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world,” Mahatma Gandhi. “And the greatest of these is love,” Jesus. “Their time is up,” may not be the most profound one-liner we’ve heard, but it sure is powerful, especial when accompanied with one of Oprah’s TV screen-penetrating gazes that sees straight through your polished exterior and into your filthy soul. Time’s up people. If you even think about harassing someone, Oprah and her star-studded troupe of warriors in black sequence will take you down.

5.    Speak with passion, conviction, and authority. If you’re an expert in your field and a relentless champion of your cause, this shouldn’t be a problem. History has showed us time and again – from Jesus, to JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela and now Oprah – the power these traits play in memorable oration.

Wrapping it up

Oprah’s just taken us through some pretty intense scenarios. She’s successfully captivated our attention, made us understand why we should care, and delivered a powerful message. She’s taken us on a journey into the past, brought us back to the current situation, and is now going to wrap this puppy up by ushering us into a hopeful future.

“So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.”

The past and present may seem bleak my friends, but there is hope. If we refuse to tolerate harassment, if we have the courage to come forward and say “Me too,” if we unite to fight this inexcusable behavior, we will be victorious. There is hope for a brighter future.

Key Learnings:

1.    Be hopeful. Be inspirational. Make sure your audience doesn’t leave thinking your issue is too big to fix. Because if the problem is too overwhelming, no one’s going to bother investing their time or money into fixing it. Tell your audience what your solution is and show them how they can help achieve that solution. Give them a sense of purpose and hope for the future.

2.    Make your audience feel like a part of the solution. Notice how Oprah places the responsibility for change on the shoulders of the “magnificent women” and “some pretty phenomenal men,” “many of whom are right here in this room…” as she closes? Assume everyone listening shares the responsibility for facilitating change. Don’t ask them for help. Talk as though they’ve already decided to help. It’s not a choice, it’s a given. You might be surprised by the power of subtle persuasion.

There are so many other important topics we cover when it comes to making a great speech (body language, tone, theatrics, understanding your audience, etc.) but you can easily uncover those things by Googling great speeches.

We’ll probably never bring the house down the way Oprah did in her speech last week. But my hope is that by taking a lesson from her we can at least raise the roof a bit while raising the money and support we need to continue making the world a better place.


The 1st thing your non-profit must do in 2018

It’s the dawning of 2018, and between strategic planning for the new year, developing your 2017 annual report, and publishing your organizations top 10 lists for last year, your plate is already overflowing.

But it’s your job to make your donors feel seen, known and appreciated!

So before you get started on anything else, you must take a moment to acknowledge everyone who contributed to your year-end campaign. Heck, while you’re at it, you might as well thank everyone who contributed to your organization in 2017…after all, we know we can never thank donors enough.


You may have already sent a quick “thank you” email to each and every donor who contributed to your organization. But that’s not enough. If you care at all about improving donor retention rates, YOU MUST thank them again.

Statistics show that for every 100 donors in a given year, only 46 will give again. That means unless you’re engaging with new donors in a meaningful way, you could lose over half of them after their first contribution. (Association of Fundraising Professionals, 2016 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report.)

So how do you make your big THANK YOU message meaningful? Follow these guidelines and you’ll be well on your way to establishing lasting relationships:

  1. Be personal, warm, and genuine.
  2. Tell me how my donation is going to make a difference.
  3. Share an easy to remember, repeatable story (and photo or video) about one (or some) of your organization’s beneficiaries.
  4. Let me know you couldn’t have done it without my support.
  5. Make sure my thank you note comes from the top…ideally your executive director.

Here’s one last tip. Rather than writing a thank you note, make it more memorable by creating a thank-you video. Just think about how much more engaging a video with real people, sights and sounds is than a static photo or words alone.

These days, you don’t need to hire professionals or rent expensive equipment to make a video. All you need are these three things: 1) a decent smart phone, 2) a lapel microphone or captions, and 3) B-roll (or video footage) of your beneficiaries or clients.

The 5 guidelines above still apply. Simply plug them into the video and do your best to keep it to under 1 minute. For maximum exposure, embed your video in an email blast, and post it on your Web site along with all your social media channels.

Here are a few of my favorite thank you videos to help get you started:

Helping RhinosScreen Shot 2018-01-02 at 3.30.47 PM.png

Who knew Rhinos were so adorable? This touching video comes from Helping Rhinos, an NGO focused on ensuring the survival of the endangered rhino in Africa. This video is so endearing, I didn’t even know I liked rhinos until I watched it. I’ll definitely be making room in my philanthropic budget for this organization this year.

Samaritan’s Purse

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Straight from Franklin Graham, the President and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, this heartfelt video appreciates donors while giving us a glimpse into the many ways the funds raised are improving the lives of those they serve. Stick around and you’ll immediately be shown another thank you video narrated by one of the children impacted by their programs.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

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This organization made their clients, all children, the stars of their video by having them thank donors for exhibits that enable them to share unique educational experiences.

How ever you create your thank you message, be sure to weave it into the plan I introduced a few weeks ago on “How to Convert New Donors into Monthly Donors in 4 Short Emails” ( If you’re following that plan, this message would probably serve best as your 1st or 2nd follow-up email.

We’d love to see what you come up with. Please share your thank-you videos with us by posting them with the hashtag: #smackdab. Or, send your link to me via email at

Happy new year! Thank you for your continued support. You inspire me daily to keep writing and supporting organizations working tirelessly to change the world. May you be blessed in 2018 with boundless energy, endless creativity, and crazy passion for the work you do and the people/cause you serve.

With deepest gratitude,

Sarah Lambie


You made the world a better place in 2017. Thank you!

You did it! You made it through another year of fundraising, campaigning and advocating for the people and causes you’re passionate about. Thanks to you, the world is a better place to live in than it was in 2016. And it’s only gonna get better!

Your relentless pursuit of justice, equality, empowerment and peace is transforming lives and inspiring the multitudes. I’m just one of many who are eternally grateful for the important work you’re doing.

I sincerely hope your Christmas was merry and meaningful. And I wish you continued passion and success in the new year as you pursue your dreams and goals.

I’m humbled and honored to be working behind the scenes with my team to help organizations like yours tell inspiring stories, develop meaningful content, raise much-needed funds, and promote the issues you’re championing.

2017 marked the beginning of our SmackDab journey. We’ve watched our brand grow steadily, learned a lot, and truly enjoyed getting to know our clients. I’m infinitely grateful to the clients who’ve entrusted their work to us, and I look forward to building those relationships along with lots of new ones in 2018.

Onward and Upward,

Sarah Lambie & the SmackDab Team


How to Convert New Donors into Monthly Donors in 4 Short Emails

Year-end giving is in full swing and that means most nonprofit are scrambling to thank donors. What better time to implement a donor retention plan than now?

According to a Dec. 4, 2017 Bloomerang post, donor retention is “generally abysmal,” with only 23% of first-time donors renewing, and only 46% of all donors renewing on average.

I just came across an even more staggering statistic attributed to Bloomerang stating that for every 100 donors gained by nonprifits in 2016, 99 were lost due to attrition.

That’s a shocking stat and should be making us all do a double-take on our donor retention and new-donor follow-up strategies.

We’re really good at asking donors to give again and again, but we don’t necessarily do a good job of 1) making them feel like an important part of our community, 2) informing them about the impact of their gifts, and 3) asking them to sign on as monthly donors.

How can we do this better?

It’s simple. And it all starts with your thank you note.


Here’s a simple 4-step email strategy you can implement today to nurture new donor relationships and convert them into monthly or recurring donors.

It involves 4 short emails (4-12 sentences each) issued once a week for 4 weeks, following the TERRA model: Thank/Engage, Report, Report again, Ask.

Rather than explaining the contents of each email, I’ve drafted four sample emails to highlight the main points and key messages you need to focus on in each one.

Warning: The sample articles below revolve around a fake organization and fake facts made-up specifically for this piece. These pieces serve only to demonstrate how to achieve the objectives cited below. They are most certainly qualify as “fake news.”

Email #1 – Thank & Engage

Your first thank-you note should go out within a few hours of receiving the donation. Your objectives here are to: 1) ensure your donor feels recognized and appreciated, and 2) strengthen your donor’s sense of connection to your community.

Subject Line: Thank you & welcome to the family

conversion email 1.png

Email #2 – Report

Your second email should go out approximately one week after sending Email #1. The objectives of this email are to:

  • Strengthen the emotional connection between the donor and your organization/beneficiaries
  • Share the important impact of their gift
  • Make donor feel like a hero

Subject Line: Saving Arctic Animals, One fox at a Time

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conversion email 2.png

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Email #3 – Report Again

Your third email should go out within a week of Email #2.

Your objectives are to continue the work you started in terms of strengthening the donor’s emotional connection to your organization and making him/her feel like a hero. If the donor gave to a specific program within your organization, this might also be a good time to introduce your organization’s overall mission, or the bigger picture.

Sample Subject Line: You’ll be Surprised to Learn How Many Arctic Foxes You Helped Save


Email #4 — Ask

Your final email for this campaign should be sent within a week of Email #3.The objective here is straight forward: Convert one-time donors to recurring donors.

Subject:  More Endangered Arctic Animals Will Perish Unless We Act Today

Conversion email 4.png

So there you have it. Utilizing the TERRA methodology of retaining donors, these four email samples can guide you in drafting your own emails aimed at converting first-time donors to recurring donors.

And like I said, it all starts with your first thank-you letter. With more than 1/3 of all donations being made during the month of December, there’s no better time than now to implement this strategy!


Need Help Writing your Year-End Appeal Letter?

If you haven’t gotten around to writing your year-end appeal letter, don’t fret. We’ve got you covered!

For just $400, we’ll write your appeal letter for you. But this offer is only good until Dec. 21. This includes:

  • As many discussions as we need to have to help me understand your organization, your campaign goals and the program(s)/initiative(s) your campaign will fund.
  • A Q&A to help me compile the information needed to write a compelling story based on the experiences of one of your beneficiaries (clients), volunteers or staff members.
  • A draft for you to review and comment on.
  • A final draft that you can cut and paste directly into your email newsletter, direct mail piece, blog post and any other medium you choose to use to issue your appeal.
  • Advice for boosting your appeal campaign through incentives, social media and other channels, etc.

More than 1/3 of all donations will be made to non-profits during the month of December. Make sure your organization stands apart with a winning year-end appeal letter designed to inspire your audiences to give.

You handle logistics and distribution (donation page, email distribution, blog posting,  etc.) we’ll take care of the rest.

To take advantage of this great deal, email today with “Write My Appeal” in the subject line.




5 Keys to Effective P2P Campaigns

Thinking about integrating peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising into your year-end campaign? If you have a small army of crazy passionate supporters, then you definitely should. After all, P2P fundraising accounts for 1/3 – 1/2 of all online donations.

P2P fundraising is undeniably one of the smartest strategies for raising funds and reaching new networks of people. And, it costs your organization next to nothing.

It all sounds very promising, but can you really make this form of DIY fundraising work for your organization?

The answer is yes, but only if

Only if you can enlist campaign “evangelists,” “advocates,” or “friend-raisers” who are crazy-passionate about your cause and organization.

Passion alone is not enough my friends. What you need is some cray cray passion. You need people who are so crazy in love they’re willing to sacrifice their time, and maybe even a bit of dignity (keep reading), for your cause and organization.

Here are 5 key lessons I learned from my own P2P fundraising experiences:


Three years ago, while living and working in Uganda, I decided to launch a P2P fundraising campaign in honor of the 30 year-anniversary of a nonprofit called Music for Life (MFL). The parent organization of the African Children’s Choir, MFL is dedicated to providing impoverished African children with a quality education.

Because my goal was fairly ambitious and my social network wasn’t terribly robust, I knew I’d need to do something somewhat exceptional to get people behind me.

Since I’m a runner, I decided I’d run 30 miles to raise $30,000 for the 30-year anniversary of MFL. Hence, the birth of the 30x30x30 campaign.

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Living abroad meant I needed a crowdfunding platform that would accepted funds internationally. I chose Indiegogo ( From here I could post videos and photos from training runs, update my followers, offer giving incentives, issue appeals, and instantly share it all on my social media feeds.

Within the first week of the campaign I had secured over 80 donations, averaging over $70 each. And I had dozens of new followers made up largely of running enthusiasts from all aroundthe world. With video and photos taken during my training runs, I was able to bring them on my journey with me, through the neighborhoods and villages of Uganda, while educating them about the good work of MFL.

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Key Learning #1: Encourage your P2P campaigners to take their followers on a journey  by putting their gifts and talents to work. Love to knit? Knit 100 hats for the homeless and post updates as you distribute them. Supporting the humane society? Foster 12 puppies and post video and photo journal updates. Build a tiny home, host a poetry slam, sing your favorite Christmas carols, make meals for the hungry…do what you do, but do it for a good cause.

Everything was running smoothly until week 3 when I hit a fundraising wall at about $13,000. So, I introduced a challenge. For a mere $5K, I’d shave my husband’s head and paint (ok, Sharpie) the logo of the donor’s favorite football team on his lovely scalp.

Within a few days, a generous man whom I’d never even met answered the call on behalf of Texas A&M. Go Aggies!

This man is a true saint!

Key Learning #2: Challenges work and people will pay to see you sacrifice a bit of your dignity (or, in my case, my husband’s) and to claim the prize.

By race day, I was still $11,100 short of my goal. But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I ran, I died, and then I thanked everyone for their support and told them it was worth it, despite the shortfall. A few hours later, an old friend from church who I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years, called to say he was sending $11,100 to the choir.

Key Learning #3: Nobody wants to see you fail, especially when you’re earnestly working to do something good. Roughly 25 percent of all P2P donations come in after the deadlineTell your fundraisers not to fret if they don’t meet their deadline goals. If they let people know and show gratitude for what they have raised, chances are, someone will step up. 


Last year, MFL asked me if I’d raise money on their behalf again. I said sure, but I’m not running.

Since they were in the midst of their own year-end giving campaign, I was able to incorporate MFL’s campaign branding, photos, videos, profile stories, etc. into my campaign. This was exciting. It made my job easier, and their resources made my campaign look and perform even better.


Key Learning #4: Less time and work = more enthusiasm. Make fundraising easier by sharing your campaign assets with your P2P team. Logos, photos, videos, suggested social media posts, as well as incentive gifts (t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.) will be eagerly leveraged and appreciated. 

This time I decided to try a Facebook Fundraiser campaign. (

At a mere $5,000, my funding goal was considerably less this time, so I knew I didn’t need to employ measures as extreme as an ultra-marathon to reach it. But I still needed a slightly outrageous idea up my sleeve, just in case.

Raising money at my husband’s expense worked so well the first time, I decided to give it another try this time around.

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Remember the guy who bailed me out last time by making up for my goal deficit? He took pity on poor Scott and offered to match any gifts up to $5,000 if I wore the women’s equivalent of this outrageous outfit. Guess how we rang in the New Year?

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Key Learning #5: Two is better than one. That goes for dollars and shameless shenanigans. Encourage your campaigners to seek donors who will match gifts, and ask them to explore other fun ways to incentivize their audiences.

Let me just wrap up by stating again that no matter how hard you work to incorporate a P2P fundraising strategy into your organization’s campaign, it’s not worth it if you only have a few half-hearted commitments.

But it can work brilliantly if you’re able harness the energy (and social networks) of a few of your most ardent supporters, and provide them with the practical resources they need to succeed.

Wondering where to start looking for your P2P army?

Here’s a bonus tip: Focus on Millennials. As an extremely “passionate generation,” they make excellent advocates for causes they truly believe in.

Of course, social fundraising isn’t just for young people. All generations have embraced fundraising and giving through P2P campaigns. In fact, 66% of dollars raised by millennials come from older generations. (Go Gen X and Boomers!)

There are hundreds of other ways to inspire your P2P campaigners to rally. These are just a few tips based on my personal experiences. I’d love to hear what’s worked for you. Please send your tips and suggestions my way!