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Compassion Services International on Growing Your Nonprofit Email List, Donation Thank You’s, and Powerful Storytelling

Gia Chow
Gia Chow

Among the thousands of nonprofits that use CauseVox, we’re always amazed at the impact each organization makes everyday.

In our effort to highlight brilliant changemakers, we sat down with Cylinda Nickel at Compassion Services International to dive deeper into their global fundraising initiatives – particularly their work for Ukraine- and hear about her top fundraising tips.

Watch the interview on demand here.

About Compassion Services International

Compassion Services International (CSI) operates worldwide helping with medical missions, humanitarian aid, disaster relief, and education. Their goal is to bring hope and help to various nations during times of crisis.

Cylinda Nickel is the Executive Director at Compassion Services International. As a graduate of Indiana Bible College, she spent two decades working at a ministry and mentoring missionary kids before transitioning to her current role. 

Cylinda’s story aligns with why Rob Wu and Jeff Chang co-founded CauseVox in the first place. Starting off as volunteers in Uganda, Rob and Jeff worked with a variety of organizations to stand up their infrastructure. Eventually, they saw the need to harness technology to help simplify fundraising, inspire supporters, and rally communities.

Grow Your Email List

It may sound strange but Cylinda and many other nonprofit professionals swear by it: the #1 fundraising hack is to grow your email list. Put simply, the more effort you put into building your email list, the more your numbers will grow, and the more successful your fundraising will be. 

Message Your Followers

A great way to grow your email list is through social media. When someone follows your organization, send a direct message to thank them and invite them to stay in touch via email (“Thank you so much for following us. We would love to keep in touch. What is a good email address we can reach you at?”). Anecdotally, Cylinda found that by reaching out on a personal level, people are more inclined to provide their email address, which in turn steadily builds her donor email list. 

Invite People To Like Your Page If They’ve Liked Your Post

Just because someone likes your post, doesn’t necessarily mean that they follow your page or even know who you are. To ensure that people can see your future content, invite them to like your page when you see that they liked your post. For CSI, they have witnessed their social media grow by the thousands by doing this.

Tracking How Your Email Open And Click Rate Grow 

It’s not enough to just collect email addresses and send updates; you’re going to be interested to see how your open and click rates trend over time. By tracking this data, you can better strategize and refine your communications going forward. 

Provide Resources For Donors

Another great tidbit from Cylinda is to step into your donors’ shoes and think about providing something for them, like resources that illustrate the work that you’re doing. Resources can be free or low-cost but can really help raise the profile of your mission.

For their Ukrainian effort, CSI provided a suite of free, publicly available resources. That way, whenever someone accessed these resources, they would think of Compassion Services.

Fundraising Campaign Best Practices 

We could talk your ear off about how to run a fundraising campaign but we wanted to show you instead. An excellent example is CSI’s Ukrainian relief effort, which exemplifies the best of the best when it comes to running a fundraising campaign.

With this particular campaign, CSI had their teams take cash and supplies to partners in Ukraine. Every dollar donated strengthened the people of Ukraine and helped with refugee relocation. Among the various things CSI did well, we rounded up the top 4 strategies you can implement in your own campaign.

1. Updates: Let Your Donor Know How Their Donation Is Being Used 

By providing regular updates, CSI was accountable for the funds raised. Since they don’t have the bandwidth to regularly post to their CauseVox campaign site, they kept donors in the loop by linking to their org’s Facebook where they’re more active.

2. Recent Donors Notes 

Another feature offered by CauseVox that allows donors to directly connect with beneficiaries are donor notes. When donors add commentary to their gift, the people that CSI helps can see these personalized messages of support and encouragement.

3. Using The Power Of Storytelling To Sell The Need

A great fundraiser is a great storyteller. You need to be able to put yourself in the shoes of a donor and sell an experience. The many flexibilities of storytelling lets you get creative with how you want to bring your donor on the journey with you, whether it’s a written appeal or a video.

4. Utilizing Multiple Donation Forms

CSI has a ton of forms on CauseVox. By using different donation forms and pages, CSI can tailor for each individual fund, which helps their back office. They have four main funds but the separation allows them to view totals easily and pull reports efficiently.

Donation Tiers

When creating your donation form, you don’t want to forget about donation tiers. Donation tiers are predefined amounts on your donation form that donors can select from. Not only do donation tiers expedite the transaction process but they drive donor conversion rates. The sweet spot for each tier will vary based on the organization so it’s good to look at your own donor data to formulate donation tiers based on what’s historically been given.

Setting High Donation Tiers

Not a lot of nonprofits do enough on setting high tier reference points that donors can select from. If your tiers are too low, you could be getting $25 but missing out on $250.

Psychology of Donation Tiers

There’s definitely psychology behind donation tiers. For CSI, their price points cater to whether the donor is a self-donor, a family, or an individual working for an organization. They’ve found that $500 is usually what an organization or business will give, $300 is optimal for a family unit, and $200 is a personal donation. There’s always going to be instances where none of the predetermined amounts are feasible so it’s good to have a fillable “other” option.

Pro Tip: Add donation tier descriptions if possible. By tying the amount back to impact (i.e. $150 provides ten days of meals for the homeless), you’re likely to drive more donations.

Donation Tipping 

With any digital transaction, you can expect a processor fee and online donations are no exception. Processor fees are a nominal amount added to a donation and used to offset the cost of a third-party processor. However, these fees can add up quickly, especially as the volume of donations grows. 

To alleviate this cost, select a fundraising platform that lets donors cover the fees on your behalf. CSI has found that most people will add a tip to cover transaction fees as long as it’s not above 3%.

Pledge Donations 

Rising inflation has paved the way for economic uncertainty and it’s important to note that donors may not be able to give a lot all at once. Among its many benefits, pledges give your donors the option to split up a large gift into smaller chunks. With CauseVox’s Pledge Now, Pay Later, your donors can promise an amount today and pay over time in monthly or yearly installments.

Recurring Donations 

Unlike pledges, recurring donations don’t have an end date. Donors set an amount that’s automatically deducted each month. Illustrate it by breaking down the amounts and making it bite-size ( $30 donation comes out to $1/day), and a donation may be more digestible for your donors.

#1 Fundraising Pet Peeve

Let’s say you’ve received a donation…now what?

According to Cylinda, the worst fundraising faux pas is not carving out time to thank your donors. Compared to other fundraising activities, thanking your donors and showing gratitude pays outsized dividends. If your donors give but never hear from you (whether it’s a simple thank you or a program update), they’re probably not going to want to give again. Plus, Cylinda reminds us to remember how much of an honor it is that donors choose to give their dollars to our organizations to begin with, and that we must truly respond to that with respect and gratitude.

Why Compassion Services International Loves CauseVox 

As Cylinda puts it, “we couldn’t do this without CauseVox”. By allowing donors to give via the CauseVox platform, CSI is able to keep their staff small and have more money go towards their work. Also, with a quick response rate, CauseVox gets CSI the support they need, in real time.

Cylinda reminded us that from North America to Asia (and every continent in between), CauseVox helps different organizations and causes to magnify their impact across the globe. We at CauseVox want to say thank you to all the nonprofits like CSI who make the world a better place. We’re honored to get to help play a role in your success!


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