Time to start writing your 2015 resource development plan


fred the bakerAfter spending a nice long Labor Day weekend in Michigan at a friend’s summer cottage on Saginaw Bay, I am now faced (as are you) with the long slide towards the end of the year. Not only can I not wear white clothing now that Labor Day has come and gone, but my fundraising friends should be starting to engage board, staff and fundraising volunteers in developing their agency’s written 2015 resource development plan.

The process of engaging all necessary stakeholders in this process can oftentimes feel like that old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial featuring “Fred the Baker” who was famous for saying “Time to make the donuts!

Additionally, some fundraising professionals complain that the process can be complicated and confusing.

With all of these things in mind, I decided to commit this morning’s blog post to providing you with resources, samples, templates and worksheets to hopefully make this exercise a little easier this year.

However, before we start, let’s review why writing your agency’s annual written fundraising plan is so important:

  1. It mirrors the creation of your agency’s operating budget, providing board members with the necessary strategies and explanations behind the revenue numbers they see in the revenue budget.
  2. It provides fundraising professionals an opportunity to “engage” their co-workers, board members and fundraising volunteers (e.g. as Jim Collins talked about in his book,  “From Good To Great,” getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats).
  3. It provides clarity around the goals, strategies and tactics necessary for success in the upcoming year.
  4. It allows you to take a step back and see the “forest through the trees” before plunging into another series of campaigns, events and set of fundraising activities (e.g. grant writing, cultivation, stewardship, etc).

Of course, plans come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes.

strategic planning implementationHaving two degrees in planning, I tend to get overly excited about developing plans, and some of my past resource development plans have been 50 and 75 pages in length (Yeah, I have gotten carried away). Those plans included elements such as:

  • statement of fundraising purpose (e.g. big picture case for support document)
  • goals
  • strategies
  • tactics (e.g. action plans for each strategy)
  • comprehensive fundraising calendar
  • resource development policies
  • range of gift charts
  • prospect lists of volunteers broken out by campaign/event
  • prospect list of donors broken out by campaign/event
  • budgets
  • toolkit in appendices with resources such as job descriptions, GRPIs, committee charters, etc

Before you contemplate going to the roof and throwing yourself off of it, please understand that it doesn’t have to be this way.

I recent purchased a copy of Pamela Grow’s e-book “Simple Development Systems: Successful Fundraising for the One-Person Shop“. Her book is a wonderful reminder of how your annual written fundraising plan doesn’t need to be much more than a one page summary sheet that ties back to a series of simple worksheets focused on:

  • grant writing
  • growing individual donors
  • public relations and donor stewardship
  • website and social media
  • how to tell your agency’s story

Regardless of what your plan looks like, I’ve scoured the internet this morning looking for resources to help make your planning experience a little easier this year. Please take a moment to click-through and review some of these samples, templates, and worksheets. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

First, if you have the time, I found this one hour long YouTube video from Emily Davis at GiftWorks on “Creating a Resource Development Plan“. It’s a great resource to frame your journey if you have the time. You might want to also share it with your fundraising volunteers before inviting them to their first planning meeting.

The following are samples and templates you might want to check out (because Stephen Covey always says “Begin with the end in mind.)

Oftentimes, national organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs of America produce samples and worksheets to help their local affiliates with their resource development planning process. Here are two links I think you will find useful:

Is your organization starting its resource development planning process for 2015? What are some of the considerations you’re looking at? What resources do you use to help frame this important process? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Ice Bucket Challenge: You know you’ve gone viral when . . .


going viralJeff Foxworthy has made a career out of answering a simple question: “You know you’re a redneck when . . .”  This morning I thought I’d do something similar with: “You know you’re fundraising campaign has gone viral when . . .” by describing how last week unfolded for me as it relates to the ALS #IceBucketChallenge.

Monday, August 18th

I am getting ready for bed and the local news is on my television. Before cutting away to commercial, the news anchor teases an upcoming segment. The video footage shows someone dumping a bucket of cold water over their head.

I turn the TV off and think to myself “What kind of stupid person dumps ice water on themselves, and how in the heck is that newsworthy?

Tuesday, August 19th
I’m in Rockford, Illinois having lunch with a non-profit executive director. Towards the end of the meal, he starts to lament about how he wishes his national office had the foresight to innovate something as creative as the “Ice Bucket Challenge.”

I must have looked stupefied because his next question to me was: “You’ve heard about this fundraising campaign, right?

When I told him that I had no idea what he was talking about, he proceeded to fill me in on the details.

Wednesday, August 20th

lightning in a bottleFellow blogger and fundraising genius — Jeff Brooks — publishes a blog post titled “What a weasel is going to tell you about the Ice Bucket Challenge“.

I forward it along to the executive director in Rockford with whom I just had lunch along with a few other fundraising friends with an “Amen” and” Hallelujah” because Jeff does a nice job of hitting the nail on the head when he says:

“The problem is the Lightning Factor. ‘Lightning’ has to strike for a campaign to go viral. And nobody has control over the lightning.”

On a side note, I’m beginning to see my Facebook feed fill with friends who are all dumping buckets of ice over their heads, making a charitable contribution to ALS, and challenging others to do the same.

I also saw on Google+ that my friend, Marissa Garza, had written a blog post titled “Haters Gonna Hate: Ice Bucket Challenge Edition.”

This is then first time I remember thinking “Uh-Oh . . . I wonder if someone is going to challenge me since fundraising and non-profit consulting is my line of work?

Thursday, August 21st

ALS icebucketchallenge1The day is winding down. The television is on, we’re into what will likely be the last show of the evening before going to bed, and my phone starts to blow-up. Needless to say, one of my former Boys & Girls Club of Elgin board presidents and good friend, Tim Williams, just completed the ALS #IceBucketChallenge, and I was one of three people he challenged.

My first reaction was: “I should’ve seen this coming sooner.

My second reaction was: “Yippee! I get to do something fun for charity and gain my 15 minutes of online fame by joining my friends in doing something crazy and for a good cause.”

My third reaction was: “What if I do this thing wrong? I don’t want the world to laugh at me. I better do some research. What will I say? Who will I challenge? How much should I donate?

I immediately go to Google+, dig up Marissa Garza’s blog post on “Haters Gonna Hate: Ice Bucket Challenge Edition,” and start my research.

Friday, August 22nd

I get it all figured out, and I take the challenge on my deck in the backyard. I dedicate my challenge to one of my very best friends — Jim Chambers — whose father lost his battle with ALS a number of years ago. I immediately come inside to my computer and donate $100  to ALS using their online donation page.

I bask for hours in the warm glow of philanthropy because the entire exercise from dumping ice water on my head to making the contribution felt really awesome and fulfilling.

Click here to check out my ALS #IceBucketChallenge video:

Later that evening, we attended a Kane County Cougars game with a friend and his children. His 10-year-old son, Mitch, was buzzing with excitement about getting called out by a friend to do the ALS #IceBucketChallenge.

I made the mistake of assuming that Mitch was just being a 10-year-old and getting all excited about the act of dumping ice water on himself and mugging for the camera. I quickly learned how wrong I really was, when I asked Mitch if he planned on making a small donation from his piggy bank to the ALS Foundation. The following response warmed my heart:

“No, I have a bank account and I’m trying to decide whether to donate $50 or $100.”

It was at that moment I realized the complexity of ALS #IceBucketChallenge. All of the following things seem to be going on simply as a result of a bucket of ice:

  • The ALS Foundation is raising a ton of money . . . last story I saw indicated this campaign has crested $30 million since the end of July
  • There is a flood of new donors surging into the ALS Foundation’s donor database systems . . . it will be interesting to see what resource development strategies they employ to steward and retain these donors.
  • Millions of people are self-educating themselves about ALS.
  • The non-profit sector has another successful online fundraising campaign to evaluate as a case study.

My takeaways

I find myself marveling at how I experienced something so viral. I literally went from knowing nothing about this online fundraising campaign early last week to participating in it at the end of the week. If I had to describe what I felt, I would simply use the words “tidal wave” to describe the experience.

To Marissa Garza’s point, I am not a hater. I am intrigued by what is happening, and I am excited to see so many people get into philanthropy (especially when it comes to teaching kids about the power of philanthropy).

However, I totally agree with Jeff Brooks when talks about how non-profits are better served in focusing on fundraising basics rather than trying to catch lightning in a bottle by trying to duplicate the ALS #IceBucketChallenge.

What is your agency doing when it comes to resource development in the wake of this online campaign? Are you trying replicate it? Are you ignoring it and focusing on other fundraising basics and best practices? Or are you trying to find the next wave to ride? Please scroll down and share your thoughts in the comment box below because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

The difference between success and failure


goalsMany years ago I traveled the Midwest region as an internal consultant working for a large national non-profit organization. For part of my time there, I worked with countless local affiliated organizations on planning and implementing an annual campaign focused on face-to-face solicitation strategy. Some agencies took to it like a duck to water, and others just struggled. Every once in a while (typically when I’m contemplating the origins of the universe), I think back to those days and wonder what the difference was between those two realities.

Whenever I get into one of those “WHY?” moods, I’ve concluded that differences in the following factors must be what made the difference:

  • resource development skill sets
  • state of donor donor readiness
  • board of directors
  • community factors

While I am sure all of these things play a role, I think it might be even more simple.

This morning I was enjoying my coffee and reading a book when I came across the following passages from the book “The Magic of Thinking Big” written by David Schwartz:

Desire, when harnessed is power.”

Success required heart and soul effort and you can only put your heart and soul into something you really desire.”

When you surrender yourself to your desires, when you let yourself become obsessed with a goal, you receive the physical power, energy, and enthusiasm needed to accomplish your goal. But you receive something else, something equally valuable. You receive the ‘automatic instrumentation’ needed to keep you going straight to your objective.”

While I’ve always believed in the power of goal setting, I guess I’ve never seen it in this light or from this perspective.

So, the answer to my original question very likely is simple . . . those who succeeded just desired it more and those that didn’t do well didn’t.

I guess this is why successful fundraising professionals are focused on measurable goals such as:

  • campaign and event contribution goals
  • sponsorship goals
  • grant writing goals
  • donor retention goals
  • new donor acquisition goals

These goals are encapsulated in strategic plans, fundraising plans, stewardship plans, major gift prospect cultivation plans, annual performance plans, etc.

What type of fundraising-related goals does your organization have? Where are those goals written down? How do those goals get translated into your individual goals and where are those written? Were those goals developed collaboratively and do they align with what you’re passionate about? If not, how do you bridge that gap in order to avoid failure?

Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Just say NO to planning for the sake of planning


It happens all the time in my line of work. A new executive director or board president gets it in their head that they need a strategic plan because it “cures all that ails you“.  With this vision, they call a planning consultant to facilitate creation of this perfect solution. Of course, the problem is that . . .

Not everyone is ready for strategic planning

The other day I was clicking around the internet looking for readiness assessment tools to share with a client, and I came across a wonderful white paper published by the The Nonprofit Center at La Salle University’s School of Business. It identified the following five instances when many non-profit organizations tend to instinctively reach for the strategic planning tool and should definitely resist doing so:

  1. not readyWhen they are in (or starting to slide into) financial crisis
  2. When the board realizes the executive director “isn’t right” for the organization
  3. The board is fuzzy when it comes to their roles and responsibilities
  4. There is tension throughout the organization (either in the boardroom or on the front line)
  5. There is a pervasive attitude of “We don’t do it that way” or “We tried that and it didn’t work”)

When any of these circumstances are present, then strategic planning isn’t something you should engage in. Click here to read more of that article from The Nonprofit Center. They offer some nice solutions to each of these five situations.

Of course, even if your agency passes this initial test, there are still additional readiness questions you should ask before proceeding. The following are just a few questions I found online embedded in a survey tool developed by the Community Foundation of Monterey County:

  • Is our board proactive in preparing for the future instead of waiting for emergencies to react?
  • Are key community leaders and partners willing to participate in our planning process in a meaningful way?
  • Are the board and staff knowledgeable about current trends in nonprofit management?
  • Does our organization keep good records? Does it use data to support decision‐making?
  • Are board and management aware of the time and resources required to engage in meaningful strategic planning?

There are 10 other readiness assessment questions included in that tool. Click here to read more from the Community Foundation of Monterey County about strategic planning readiness.

questions2My advice to those of you considering a strategic planning engagement is:

  • ask yourself a few questions first
  • make sure the right people are sitting around the table for a potential planning engagement
  • engage a variety of key stakeholders in a collaborative discussion around readiness
  • do a little research about various planning models
  • develop an informed decision about which planning model fits your internal and external circumstances
  • if you decide to hire an external consultant . . . define the project, develop and RFP, and hire someone with experience using the planning model you’ve chosen
  • if you decide against strategic planning, what needs to happen to position the agency for planning and who is doing what and by when to address those issues

Are you considering strategic planning for your non-profit organization? What considerations are you weighing? Who is involved in this decision? Please scroll down and use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Donor stewardship postcards? They work!


UIUC student unionI have a confession to make. For years, one of the ideas I’ve shared with clients is that a postcard can be an effective stewardship strategy. The truth is that I’ve doubted the effectiveness of this strategy primarily because I had never seen it done well. Today, I’m able to say that I’ve seen the light and officially have become a believer thanks to my alma mater — University of Illinois (UIUC).

Let’s take a moment to review . . .

Back in December, I blogged about how the University of Illinois finally convinced me to make a contribution to the annual fund. I explained in that post how my first gift had been a long time in the making. Click here to read about the initial solicitation, the rejection, the expert use of donor management systems and the persistence involved in securing gift number one 20 years later. It really is a great story in fundraising persistence.

At the end of my December post, I said this:

“For the record, I am excited to now see how the university stewards its donors. Stay tuned!”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the fundraising professionals at UIUC are good at stewardship. Here are just a few of the stewardship strategies they’ve used on me:

  • an automated gift acknowledgement letter
  • another letter from the Department Head  with a little handwritten notation on the letter
  • a letter from the President of University thanking me for my support and updating me on what’s been going on since I made my contribution
  • a number of different email communications
  • a postcard with some many different subtle (and not so subtle) messages

Have you done the math yet? I made my contribution in mid-December. It is mid-August and I’ve probably already received between five and seven stewardship pieces and countless marketing impressions with targeted messaging all designed to secure a second charitable contribution.

It was this last stewardship piece that convinced me that postcards can be an affordable and effective strategy for donor stewardship. I scanned the front and back of the postcard and inserted them below for your viewing pleasure.

UIUC postcard front

This is the front of the postcard. Here are some of the things that jump out at me:

  • The content of the picture conveys a happy graduate and implies that my support helped make her future very bright.
  • The picture also features the most iconic and powerful image that every UIUC graduate loves — Alma Mater. Every graduate I know has some story and happy memory associated with this statue. Just seeing it again on the front of the postcard brought a smile to my face and fond memories flooding back.
  • The two simple words — “Thank You” — are printed on the front of the card. In combination with the words “Illinois Annual Fund” in the lower right hand corner, I don’t even need to turn the postcard over to understand what they are trying to communicate to me.

A picture is worth a thousand words and this stewardship postcard exemplifies this in spades!

UIUC postcard back

This is the back of the postcard. There are 165 words used in the  letter. Here are some of the things that jump out at me:

  • I am updated and told what my charitable contribution is doing (In reality, my gift was made to a department scholarship fun, but that doesn’t stop them from giving me credit for lots of other great things)
  • I am thanked again in gracious tones
  • They specifically recognize that I was a first time donor (so this postcard is obviously targeted)
  • They specifically recognize that my first gift was secured as part of a solicitation to support the Department of Urban & Regional Planning
  • They tell me how I can make a second gift online (this time to the annual fund). Obviously, this stewardship tool is also a cross-channel  ePhilanthropy solicitation tool. It is also a crossover strategy to move me FROM a donor restricted gift to a departmental scholarship fund  TO the annual fund.
  • The words are few, but they are powerful and emotional. They are purposely used to repeated hit my heart. Here are just some of those emotional words and phrases: generosity, impact, invest, choosing, transformational, discovery, innovation, friends, makes a difference, shape the future, etc

We can learn a lot from this stewardship postcard. What do you see? What impressed you? What ideas are you walking away with and plan to incorporate into your next stewardship postcard? Please scroll down and share your thoughts in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Fundraising lesson learned at a lemonade stand


lemonade1Last week I was walking our dog, Betrys, when I came across a lemonade stand in my neighborhood. A mom was helping her two young sons set-up as I approached. It was in that moment that the 3-year-old boy learned a valuable lesson that every fundraising professional learns sooner or later in their career. So, I decided to take a minute to blog about it this morning.

As I approached, we exchanged pleasantries and I complimented the boys on how nicely their roadside stand was coming together. Without missing a beat, the 3-year-old asked me if I wanted to buy a refreshing drink.

Unfortunately, I had left my wallet at home and I explained that I didn’t have any money to make a purchase. I wished them lots of luck and continued walking the dog.

As the dog and I continued on our way, I heard the youngest boy in a distressed voice ask his mother:

“Why didn’t the man stop and buy our lemonade?”

Of course, his mom had to explain in “kid terms” what just happened:

  • It takes money to make a purchase
  • I didn’t have any money
  • Not everyone will want to buy lemonade that day for reasons including lack of funds or in some instances not having a taste for what they were selling

Wiser words have never been spoken, and that boy just learned something that every fundraising professional eventually learns if they practice their craft for long enough.

The fundraising lessons are layered:

  • Not everyone will have the financial means to support your non-profit when you ask, but no doesn’t necessarily mean “never” . . . it might just mean “not now
  • Just because someone has the financial means to make a donation, doesn’t mean they will be inspired by your mission or case
  • Not everyone is going to donate and that is OK … it isn’t our job to beat the money out of them

lemonade2Our job as fundraisers is to understand the rules of engagement when it comes to fundraising:

  1. We need to have a good case for support
  2. We need to identify people who care about that case
  3. We need to develop many channels for people to give because not every giving opportunity will be convenient or desirable to every donor
  4. We need to tell our story well — with emotion and passion
  5. We need to not let the donor who takes a pass on buying our “lemonade” bum us out and impact the next opportunity

What other lessons do you think can be drawn from this lemonade stand experience? How does your agency translate those lessons into fundraising practices? How do you infuse these things into your organizational culture and pass them down from fundraising professional to fundraising professional?

Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Get over your fear and ask for a specific contribution amount


ask1On Tuesday, I wrote a post titled “Things to consider before sending your next direct mail solicitation” and there appeared to be great interest from DonorDreams readers. So, today I decided to drill down on one specific mail solicitation topic — “asking for a specific donation amount” — because it is something few people seem to feel comfortable doing.

Everyone I’ve ever talked to about their mail appeal swears that they are good at asking for a contribution in their letter. However, the truth is that many of the letters I receive default to what I call the “passive ask.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • But we can’t do any of this without you. We need you to make a contribution today.”
  • All gifts are appreciated and needed to continue this important mission. Small or large, your gift makes a difference.”
  • Say YES to making a donation today to XYZ agency and being a special part of the XYZ family.”

These were real solicitations that I received from organizations.

Many of you are probably asking:  “What is so wrong with this approach?

The truth of the matter is that this donor (and I suspect many other donors) want to know:

  • what is a reasonable gift for donors like me?
  • what contribution amount from me will help you hit your goal?
  • what level of donation will help you make a difference with your clients?

Put me in a ballpark. Make a suggestion. Bottom line? I don’t really want to think too hard about this. Throw out a suggestion (based upon what you know about me). I’ll consider it. If it is something I can and want to do, then I’ll do it. If it isn’t something I can or want to do, then I won’t.

In my opinion, there is a darker side to this entire question . . .

Stop putting your donors on the spot and making them guess what you need.

This is, in fact, exactly what you’re doing. Right? Let’s think about this situation in a different light.

ask2What if your spouse or friend approached you and said, “I am really hungry and I need you get me food and make a meal before I starve.” However, they didn’t tell you:

  • How hungry they are?
  • How much time they had left before they starved?
  • How much food would satisfy their need?
  • What they want to eat?
  • How they like their food prepared?

You’ve been put on the spot, but you have no idea what is expected of you or what needs to occur to solve the problem.

In my book, that is frustrating! And the last time I checked, it is never a good idea to do things that frustrate your donors and supporters.

So, you’re probably wondering what’s the right way to respectfully make an ask in a mail appeal?

Here’s a few real examples:

  • Smile Train: “We hope you can send a donation of $25 that can cover the cost of sutures for one cleft surgery . . . $50 that can cover the cost of anesthesia . . . $125 that can pay half the costs of one surgery . . . or a most generous donation of $250 that can cover the cost of one complete surgery to save a child forever.
  • Council of Indian Nations: “Mr. Anderson, do you realize that for $10, we have the ability to provide over 90 servings of food to hungry Native Americans?
  • Michelle Obama: “So please, without waiting even a moment, rush your contribution of $1,000, $1,500 or whatever you can afford to Obama for America today.
  • The Washington, DC Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation: “But Founding Sponsors who contribute $150 or more will also receive a limited-edition, numbers photograph of Dr. King and his ‘American Dream’ speech.
  • Boys & Girls Club of Elgin: “Would you consider making a $25.00 donation to the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin to help underwrite educational and technology programs?

ask3A few observations:

  • Technology is amazing and easy to use. Mail merge allows you to personalize every letter and change the solicitation amount for each donor and prospect.
  • If you don’t know the person receiving your solicitation letter, you can always ask for consideration in a range.
  • You can also lay out a variety of giving options with an explanation of what each option helps underwrite.

With all of this being said, I understand the following:

  1. this isn’t easy
  2. there are times when you shouldn’t ask for a specific contribution amount
  3. some people insist there is a science to these issues

If you want to explore this question in more depth (and I encourage you to do so), you might want to investigate the following resources:

How does your agency tackle the issue of setting suggested ask amounts in your targeted and direct mail solicitations? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. Because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Things to consider before sending your next direct mail solicitation


direct mail3A client called and asked for a little help with their upcoming direct mail solicitation. As a result, all I’ve had on my mind over the last few days is direct mail. So, it only made sense to blog about it today. I’m breaking this post down into small sections, and I’m doing so in the order of highest importance (e.g. the first section has a bigger impact on the performance of your mailing than the second section, etc)

Before I begin, I offer this disclaimer (and then a disclaimer to the disclaimer) . . . I am not a direct mail expert. However, with that being said I believe all of us are “quasi-experts” because we all receive mail and if we’re paying attention then we know what works and what doesn’t work (at least from our perspective). Don’t sell your intuition short and always remember to: “Use the force, Luke.

The List

direct mail 4Perhaps, the biggest factor in the success of your direct mail appeal is your mailing list. The following are just a few donor segments that I’ve mailed to throughout the years:

  • current donors
  • lapsed donors
  • donors to a specific special event who you are trying to crossover into an annual campaign
  • new donor prospects (cold lists being used for acquisition purposes)

Your response will vary depending on your audience. For example, you will most likely get a better response rate and raise more money by mailing to people who already give to you. Why? Because they know you. They love you. They know what they’re investing in and understand the return on investment.

Which donor niche most likely to yield the lowest response rate? Your cold list of prospects . . . people who don’t contribute yet.

Not only does the character of the list, in and of itself, typically determine campaign performance, but it should also inform your strategies and tactics. Here are just a few examples:

  • letter content will likely be different for lapsed donors compared to new prospects
  • follow-up recognition and stewardship messaging and strategies might look and sound different for new prospects compared to returning donors

The Outer Package

direct mail1Your beautifully crafted letter means nothing if the recipient of your mailing doesn’t open the envelope. Right?

For this reason, you need to put some thought into what the package looks and feels like. Here are just a few strategies I’ve read about and experimented with throughout the years:

  • use pictures and teaser phrases on the outside envelope to encourage people to open the envelope
  • use actual stamps (e.g. first class or non-profit bulk stamps) because they allegedly get a higher open rate than an envelope using an indicia
  • use color enveloped because get opened more regularly than a standard white one (or at least put color on the white envelope)
  • use an odd sized package because they allegedly get opened more often than a standard #10 envelope
  • hand address envelopes (when practical) because those letters allegedly get opened more often than those with labels and windows

The psychology of direct mail is complex and every expert has their own opinion. My suggestions are:

  1. Google around, read some of the data out there, and develop your own point of view
  2. Test, test, test . . . try different approaches and track your results
  3. Pull together focus groups of donors or prospects and ask their opinions

Always remember that the more you personalize your mailing, the better off you will be.

The Letter
If you are lucky enough to get someone to open your envelope, a good rule of thumb is to design your letter with the understanding that most readers will spend 10 seconds or less with your appeal.

I suggest you focus on making the following parts of your letter pop because these are the components most commonly viewed by readers in the first five to 10 seconds:

  • salutation (make it personal and get it right)
  • first paragraph (don’t beat around the bush and ask for specific contribution amount right off the bat)
  • signatory (customize who is signing the letter based on relationship with reader or secure well-known and respected person in your community)
  • post script (most people read the PS so use it right by reiterating your call to action and tell them how to participate)

Lots of experts have lots of advice when it comes to your letter. Here is some of the advice I’ve personally subscribed to throughout the years:

  • tell a story and make it emotional (focusing on heroes and villains puts you on the right track )
  • ask for a specific contribution amount
  • bold/italicize/underline a few words or sentences that are most important and convey your message
  • don’t pack the letter with lots of words . . . less is more
  • write the letter using a conversational style (don’t worry about what your 7th grade grammar teacher told you)
  • focus more on the donor and less on your agency (use the word YOU)
  • when referencing yourself and your agency don’t use the “royal WE” . . . make it personal and use “I”
  • white space and pictures of people (especially cute kids and animals if applicable to your mission) are preferable to lots of words
  • larger fonts and more space between sentences accommodates your more mature donors

I could literally go on and on and on, but you don’t have time for that this morning. If you are interested in doing more research, the following are a few of the people I love to read on this subject:

What has been your organization’s experience with targeted or direct mail? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. Why? Because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Faith in fundraising


I’ve been thinking about this post for months, but I’ve been frightened to tackle it head-on. However, after speaking with a number of non-profit professionals and faith-based donors, I’ve found my sea legs and decided to talk about God and resource development. Buckle up! This should be an interesting post.  :-)

Genesis

genesisHaha! You thought I was going to start with something like, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  (OK, the thought went through my head. Guilty as charged!)

The idea for this post came from a former client whose name I will not share. I decided not to share the agency’s name for three main reasons:

  1. I’m not sure how you will react to what I’m about to say and they don’t need added attention
  2. I feel strongly about the confidentiality clause in my contracts
  3. I honestly couldn’t help them and this isn’t a success story

The idea for this post came from a client whose . . .

Resource development strategy was rooted in prayer

There isn’t a lot of structure to this agency’s fundraising program. As I said, the strategy was mostly asking God to provide.

While I respect people of faith incorporating their relationship with God into their agency’s comprehensive resource development program, there was little to no structure to speak of . . .

  • There was no written resource development plan
  • There was no donor cultivation going on
  • Solicitation involved sending letters to random names in the phone book
  • There didn’t appear to be much stewardship going on either

However, on two different occasions, when cash appeared to be getting tight, prayers were answered and each time it was an unlikely five figure gift.

Needless to say, the prayer strategy was working and nothing I could bring to the table compared.

In the end, I walked away from this engagement wondering if I failed this organization and more importantly contemplating what role prayer could and should play in resource development.

seekHe who seeks finds

In the gospel according to Matthew, it is written:

Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened.

I sought out a friend who has worked in the non-profit sector for decades including time as a fundraising professional at a faith-based hospital foundation. I sat down with her and asked her to please share a few of her experiences.

While she didn’t subscribe to the idea of simply praying for contributions, she did educate me on the role that faith played in her fundraising shop at the hospital foundation. The following are just a few examples she shared:

  • When doing prospecting work for their capital campaign, a donor’s Catholic faith was a consideration.
  • In cultivating or soliciting prospects and donors, it wasn’t uncommon for a nun to play a role because fundraising is all about relationship building.
  • Religious messaging was built into the case for support because the hospital was faith-based.
  • Mission moments at the beginning of meetings sometimes had faith-based elements.
  • Prayer (when appropriate) sometimes occurred at the beginning of a meeting with a donor.

The bottom line is the fundraising department was very sensitive to how religion was used in the resource development process, and their guiding principle was always RESPECT.

good worksGive to him who asks of you

Sitting down with my faith-based fundraising friend helped me process what I had encountered, but things didn’t really come together until recently when I interviewed a number of faith-based donors.

These individuals see their philanthropy through a faith-based lens such as the one found in the gospel according to Matthew:

‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;

These donors understand charitable giving in a different way. Depending on their faith, some saw philanthropy as “good works” and others said it was something they were called by God to do. One donor even explained to me that she is in business in order to use her profits to do God’s work.

When speaking to these folks, it wasn’t uncommon for them to answer my question with an answer sounding something like this:

“I’m not sure. That is something I will need to pray on.”

If these individuals are going to see your agency and its mission as something that fits into their philanthropic portfolio, they will need help from you in seeing how it fits. As mentioned earlier, this might mean drawing connections between where your mission intersects with the mission of their faith. However, it is important not to use faith as a “strategy” or “tactic” and instead let the value of RESPECT guide everything.

How have you engaged faith-based donors? Do you have any church congregations who donate to your cause? If so, how do you steward those gifts? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Non-profits need more board volunteers like Mike


advocacyAs many of you know from previous blog posts, I’ve facilitated a ton of “board roles and responsibilities” trainings this year. So, the curriculum is fresh in my mind, which is why what happened on my Facebook page a few days ago struck me as awesome. Before I tell you about what happened, let’s quickly recap the following key points with regard to board roles and responsibilities:

  • There is a difference between the board’s collective responsibilities and an individual’s roles
  • An individual board member is responsible for being engaged (e.g. attending meetings, reviewing materials, preparing for meetings, asking questions, etc)
  • Board volunteers should look for people in their circle of influence, who are interested in the agency’s mission, and engage them in volunteer and fundraising activities
  • Individual board members are asked to make financial contributions and engage in the organization’s resource development program
  • Board volunteers need to participate in planning activities (both for the board’s internal activities and the agency’s external direction)
  • Individuals need to find opportunities to talk about and advocate for their non-profit organizations (e.g. chamber after-hours, social parties, etc)

In a nutshell, non-profit boards collectively: 1) establish identity and strategic direction; 2) ensure resources; and 3) provide oversight. An individual board volunteer understands that apart from the board’s collective responsibilities their personal role at the boardroom table is: 1) being active and participating in the work of the board, 2) staying informed, 3) promoting the organization, 4) safeguarding ethics and values, and 5) upholding legal obligations.

OK . . . with this in mind, let’s commence with the Facebook story.

On Saturday, my partner and I realized we had fallen behind on picking the cucumbers in our garden. So, we decided to quickly do some harvesting before running off to a wedding reception. Little did we realize how crazy things actually were in our garden.

Twenty minutes later we were the proud owners of 25 pounds of cucumbers! 

After washing our bounty, we stacked the vegetables and I decided to take a stupid picture of my partner posing with the cucumbers in our kitchen. (See picture below)

IMG_20140726_162802596[1]

What do people do with these types of pictures nowadays? Of course, they post them to Facebook.  ;-)   And so I did.

In addition to the picture, I posted the following verbiage:

“OMG … This is after we gave a whole bag away to a neighbor.

Michelle Obama told the nation to plant gardens, but she never warned us about this.

Thank goodness that John Zawada learned how to can relish and pickles.

Eeeeeeeeek!”

Mike WarrenAt first, there were the comments ooooooohing and aaaaaaaahing over the silly picture.

Then there were those people who commiserated with our plight.

And then a friend of mine, who serves on a local non-profit food pantry board of directors weighed in and said the following:

You can drop the extras at Food for Greater Elgin when you have too much.

Now this might seem like a non-event, but this response did my non-profit heart good.

Why?

In my experience, I don’t see many board members advocating like this for their non-profit agencies. Of course, you see them standing in front of the city council advocating for a grant from time to time. However, I just haven’t seen many board volunteers advocating in smaller social settings (e.g. cocktail parties, social media, etc) for mission-related issues.

So, this morning I decided to use my bully pulpit to recognize this good deed and remind board volunteers that advocacy is one of their many roles and responsibilities. AND most importantly . . . advocacy doesn’t have to be standing on top of the mountain every day and shouting the praises of your agency. It can be as simple as commenting on a friend’s Facebook status when the topic aligns with your organization’s mission.

How do you provide support and encouragement to your agency’s non-profit board volunteers when it comes to advocacy?  Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

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