Have you ever tried to step into your donor’s shoes for a minute? Tried to really understand their experience?

Odds are you don’t just work for a nonprofit; you also donate or volunteer somewhere else. Have you considered how that knowledge should affect how your nonprofit goes about communicating with your donors?

Get Me Rex Kramer!

My favorite movie of alltime is Wizard of Oz. 1A on that list is Airplane. No movie makes me laugh harder no matter how many times I’ve already seen it.

And trust me, that’s a LOT of times.

As the pilots flying the plane in the movie become ill and can no longer fly, Steve McCroskey (played brilliantly by Lloyd “looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue” Bridges) is on the ground trying to find someone who can take control of the situation. He lights a cigarette and says, “I want the best available man on this. A man who knows that plane inside and out, that won’t crack under pressure. Get me Rex Kramer!”

When Rex Kramer (played by Robert Stack) arrives at the airport, this is what greets him and how he reacts:

That’s How Your Donors Feel

The movie makes fun of different types of street solicitations one might come into contact with. Scientology, Jehovahs Witness, Buddhism, Jerry’s Kids and more. Notice what Rex Kramer does to them all?

Donors at times feel EXACTLY like Rex. Their inboxes are overflowing with emails from charities trying to solicit donations from them. When it gets overwhelming, they’ll Rex Kramer their inbox. Delete, delete, delete.

I find myself in that position right now. As part of research for my ebook on successful nonprofit email subscriber onboarding, I subscribed to 76 nonprofit newsletters.

You read that right. I did so voluntarily. Don’t try this at home. (I remain subscribed to all of them because I’m doing a new round of research into fundraising emails.)

Whether it was year end appeals or coronaworld related messaging, my inbox is full every single day. There’s the business emails, personal emails and then the “only 12 hours left!” emails because it seems that every organization has a matching gift campaign they want me to donate to.

Side note: Seriously, I’m not kidding. Maybe I missed the memo but was May “Matching Gifts Month” in the nonprofit sector?!

Now put yourself in your donor’s shoes: They donate to a couple of charities each year. During corona, they’ve added a few more. Some of those charities have automatically added these donors to their mailing lists. What do you think the donor’s inbox looks like now?

step into your donors shoes

Photo by Arek Adeoye on Unsplash


Your organization wants to break through the clutter. I’ve previously written about making phone calls and not just relying on email. Sure, phone calls are a throwback to a bygone era but they work! Talk to your donor for a few minutes. Check in on them. While you have them on the line, do a little research: Ask them for their “giving story.” Find out why they initially gave to your organization and why they continue giving. You’ll learn a ton of valuable information and maybe even garner some stories you can use in communications at a later date.

Email still works. I’ve heard from organizations that their open rates have gone up over the last few months. That’s great! But how about click thru rates? Not so much. Stagnant for the most part.

Here’s where you need to think like a donor: What do THEY want to read? What do THEY need to know? How can THEY help your service recipients?

If your email is all about WE WE WE they’re not going to click thru and take action. They’re going to delete.

Subscribers have limited time. Best to Keep It Simple and Straight (K.I.S.S.). Tell them about the added needs of your constituents because of corona. Let them know the consequences of not meeting the current need. Tell subscribers exactly what you need them to do- how they can provide a solution to the current problem. Make the CTA (call to action) easy to understand and easy to carry out.

There’s a rule in marketing: Clear beats creative. I’ve reviewed hundreds of nonprofit emails over the last three months. What sounded really creative in the office doesn’t come off that way to your subscribers and donors.

People WANT to help. Make it easy for them to do so. Otherwise you’re just inviting them to Rex Kramer your email.

P.S. Amazing to think that 40 years ago, when the movie came out, Rex Kramer knew about social distancing when he said: “Get that finger out of your ear. You don’t know where that finger’s been!”

NOW’S the time to be engaging your donors via your website, social media and email. Since you might not be able to in person, let’s give your digital communications and marketing a kickstart, so we can give a boost to your bottom line!