Blog Archives

Culture trumps strategy? Maybe it is more of an alignment issue

culture1It is a basic truism for some organizational development professionals that “Culture trumps strategy“. In the last few months, this expression has been front and center in my mind. I guess the reason it bothers me is because of its implications, which is none of what I bring to the table as a non-profit and fundraising consultant matters unless the organization’s culture is ready to receive it and act upon it.

If the organization’s culture isn’t open to the change they wish to make, then the first order of business needs to be how to evolve culture in such a way that helps people embrace the impending strategies that will emanate from the desired initiative or plan.

So, does culture really trump strategy or that just a bunch of hooey? When I struggle with things, I usually Google it. So It did. And this is what I found:

Confusing? I know. But I really liked what Mike Myatt said on May 29, 2012 in his article appearing in Forbes titled “Culture vs. Strategy – What’s More Important?”

“Put simply, a corporation’s strategy that ignores, or only pays lip service to culture, will be the beneficiary of the toxic environment they deserve.”

I also liked what what I read in the Switch & Shift article when it comes to synergy between many organizational forces:

“Culture, strategy, leadership, branding, innovation, customer orientation and employee centricity must co-exist.”

I think I like this last quotation because it provides me with an idea of how organizational culture can be changed. In other words, you need to work intentionally with all of these organizational threads to weave your organization’s tapestry we call “organizational culture“. I think this idea is best fleshed out in Steve Denning’s Forbes article titled “How Do You Change An Organizational Culture“.

culture2I’ll stop Googling now. Because I think I get it now.

If your non-profit organization wants to raise money by implementing private sector philanthropy strategies, then you better have a “Culture of Philanthropy” in place first. If you don’t, then there will be a ton of resistance from every corner of your organization.

Sorry for such an egg-headed post today. I’m obviously struggling with something in my professional life and it spilled out into the blog this morning.

Do you have a good handle on your non-profit organization’s:

  • culture
  • leadership
  • strategies
  • employees
  • donors
  • clients
  • brand

If so, how do you know that you do? And more importantly, how are you aligning all of these things as your organization’s leader?

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

A book every fundraising professional MUST read!

henry freeman bookI do a lot of reading as a non-profit consultant and blogger. I subscribe to other people’s blogs (e.g. Marc Pitman, Jeff Brooks, Seth Godin, etc). I subscribe to e-newsletters (e.g. Tom Ahern, Pamela Grow, etc). I allow companies like Blackbaud, DonorPath, Network for Good and Convio to send me awesome whitepapers, eBooks, etc.

I love to read. I believe you cannot thrive (let alone survive) in our industry unless you’re a lifelong learner and committed to continuous improvement and evolution. There are lots of ways to achieve this goal. I prefer to read.

So, when my friend — Henry Freeman — told me that he just published a book and wanted to sit down and talk about it, I couldn’t resist an invitation like THAT.

I won’t go into the details, but I walked away from that meeting with a suspicion that my life was about to change (or at the very least, my life was about to become clearer). After consuming Henry’s book in two short airplane rides, I am now totally convinced my life has been touched and I am different.

Here is a short excerpt from Henry’s book — Unlacing the Heart — from page 2:

“One of the most visible hats I wear is that of a fundraising consultant. As is true of most professions, a rather generic title like “fundraiser” tells you very little about who I am and what I actually do. When someone learns that I am a fundraiser, the conversation usually drifts off into a discussion of his or her work and occupation. Yet I do no see myself as a person who simply helps organizations raise money. I am a person blessed with the desire and capacity to hear people’s stories and help them build their dreams.”

I felt the same way after reading Penelope Burk’s book, Donor Centered Fundraising. However, Henry’s book added to that experience.

When I read Penelope’s book, which was full of data-facts-figures, I understood more deeply why I loved resource development and fundraising. The idea of “donor-centered fundraising” resonated with me because I never saw myself as a “solicitor of funds“. I loved the relationship building aspect of resource development and felt a sense of fulfillment when talking to people about their philanthropic passions and working with them on finding ways to make their vision a reality.

When I read Henry’s book, my epiphany was that “philanthropy” is spiritual in nature. Relationship building requires finding a sacred and vulnerable space for both the the fundraising professional and the donor. AND this isn’t a fundraising tactic. It is a human trait that good professionals who love their jobs just so happen to possess (or ultimately find inside themselves).

Here is a short excerpt from Henry’s book — Unlacing the Heart — from page 98:

“For fundraisers and members of most professions, the “hat we wear” clearly states that our presence in the room with another human being is primarily grounded in what we do to pay the bills. Indeed, few people will trust you (nor should they) if at any point you try to disown the professional role that brings you to their door and into their lives. There are, however, many opportunities to move relationships to a deeper level while still working within the boundaries framed by the professional roles we play.”

If you are someone who loves the spirituality aspects of philanthropy, then you’re going to love this book!

If you are someone who loves the relationship building aspects of resource development, then you’re going to love this book!

If you are someone who loves the storytelling nature of fundraising, then you’re going to love this book!

Philanthropy is so much more than asking people for money in an effort to sustain our non-profit institutions. Henry demonstrates that so clearly through a series of stories about:

  • his journey to El Salvador
  • his mentor relationships with Henri Nouwen and Herb Cahoon
  • his professional relationship with Margaret
  • his personal relationship with Alfredo

As I read this book, I found myself moved to tears, which is how I know Henry was unlacing my heart and helping me tap into what I love most about philanthropy and my job. I am confident that he will do the same for you.

This book is a “MUST READ” for anyone who works in our field and aspires to find meaning and fulfillment in this work.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Wealth screening versus Yoda and The Force

yodaI came across a cool infographic from DonorSearch thanks to Bloomerang’s Monthly Nonprofit Wrap-up digest of blogs and fundraising resources. After digesting the data in the infographic, I couldn’t help but conjure up an image of Yoda talking to a fundraising professional and saying “Use your donor database you shall.” Hahaha! OK, maybe this thought was a result of Force Friday and all the marketing hype around the soon-to-be-released newest Star Wars movie. Regardless, please keep reading . . .

While there was lots of data embedded in the infographic (and you want to click-through to see that graphic), here are two no-brainers:

  • The donors most likely to donate in the future are those who have previously donated
  • Philanthropic giving to other nonprofit organizations is the second most predictive sign of future giving

Looking at these two predictive data points, Yoda would probably say:

  • To find donor prospects for your year-end giving appeal and 2016 annual campaign use your donor database.  Herh herh herh.”
  • For new prospects, look around at other organization’s annual reports, newsletters,  websites and donor honor rolls.

Having worked with non-profit organizations who use wealth screening tools, I share the following observations:

  • these tools are powerful
  • they are expensive
  • they are great for major gift planning, endowment prospecting and capital campaign evaluation and qualification work
  • it is like using a bazooka to kill a fly if you’re using it for annual campaign purposes
  • too often fundraising professionals view wealth screening as a perfect science whereas it should be seen as complimenting the human intelligence gather exercises associated with prospect identification – evaluation – qualification work

What has been your organization’s experience with donor databases, wealth screening, prospect identification/evaluation (e.g. setting targeted ask amounts) exercises? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box and try to do so in Yoda-speak. Let’s have some fun today.

To your health, here is!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

“Hangin’ with Henry and talking about how to secure donor meetings

As most of you know, the first Thursday of every month has been dedicated to featuring a short video from Henry Freeman, who is an accomplished non-profit and fundraising professional. We affectionately call this monthly series “Hangin’ With Henry”  because of the conversational format around which he has framed his online videos. This month we’re talking about Opening the Door for a Future Visit.

For those of you who subscribe to DonorDreams blog and get notices by email, you will want to click this link to view this month’s featured YouTube video. If you got here via your web browser, then you can click on the video graphic below.

Personally, I can recall countless times where I’ve had difficulties securing an initial meeting with a prospect/donor. In hindsight, my struggles have always stemmed from:

  • not having much (or any) relationship with the person
  • not understanding the person’s philanthropic vision (and reason they support us)
  • simple fear of the unknown

My first strategy has always been reaching out to someone who knows us both and asking that person to set up the meeting. Of course, this isn’t always an option.

Our friends at 501 Videos recently published a similar video to Henry’s as part of their FREE Movie Mondays service.  The video was titled “Getting the Donor Meeting” and the interviewee provides additional helpful tips. It is definitely worth the click!

The tip that I received almost 10-years ago (it was from a video produced by Bob Osborne of the Osborne Group) that has been the most successful for me was:

Have three reasons for needing to sit down with a prospect/donor.”

It is important to make these reasons “real and genuine” or you will come across as plastic and insincere. However, you likely have lots of reasons to sit down with someone is you just thought about it for a few minutes. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • You are looking for advice
  • You need help with a project
  • You need help opening a door
  • You want to share something (e.g. annual report, success story, etc)
  • You need feedback on a special event (e.g. critique, evaluation, etc)
  • You want to talk about their charitable giving and future support of the organization

You always want to include the last reason in the laundry list of bullet points in order to avoid turning the meeting into an ambush.

How have you gotten over the hurdle of securing difficult meetings with prospects/donors? Please share your tips and best practices in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Embrace storytelling as a catalyst for organizational change

storytellingLast month I sat down with an executive director and two board members to explore how I might be able to help their organization grow their organizational capacity. Over the course of an hour, we talked about all kinds of awesome things such as:

  • the capacity of their existing board volunteers to govern effectively and raise enough funding to operate
  • what average Joe & Jane on main street think their community’s biggest needs are and what the organization sees as the community’s greatest needs . . . and do those things align?
  • measuring the impact the organization is having with its programs.
  • what does “data-driven decision-making” look like and how does it impact board governance?

This laundry list of awesome topics actually could include another three or four topics. It really was shaping up to be a great meeting. I was starting to believe there might be a project or two this board might invite me to collaborate with them on undertaking.

So, when I injected a consensus building question into the conversation such as “So, where do you think I can help,” imagine how surprised I was when none of the things we had just discussed were presented as something they wanted my help with doing.

My jaw nearly hit the table when the board president looked me square in the eyes and said . . .

We can really use your help with developing our organization’s ‘stories’ and working with us on how to effectively tell those stories to the community. We recognize the value of data, but we think storytelling is of greater value.

I’d be lying if the voice inside my head was immediately skeptical. Luckily, I found the strength to keep mouth shut and simply agree to help them with what they asked of me.

In the days and weeks since that meeting, I am getting more and more excited about this project. I’m even starting to think the board president might be a genius. Here are just a few reasons for my ever increasing “glass-half-full” thoughts:

  • Let’s face it . . . data is worthless when shared with donors in a vacuum
  • Real-life stories bring data to life and provide context
  • Resource development activities such as cultivation, solicitation and stewardship are rooted in emotions which require stories coupled with a little bit of data
  • Using storytelling as a starting point could be an effective “organizational assessment lens for board members as they try to develop their own personal stories about the organization, its programs and its impact
  • The art of developing a board volunteer’s story can lead to increased engagement (e.g. visiting during operational hours, volunteers to work with clients, talking to those who have been impacted by the organization’s programs, etc)
  • This approach can spark an honest discussion between board and staff about what more needs to be done to generate more success stories (or conversely, why board volunteers are reluctant to share stories and ask for contributions from friends)

After marinading on this commitment for a few days, I got back to my home office and immediate visited the website of my “virtual friend” Chris Davenport at 501 Videos, surfed over to his virtual store and purchased a 10-pack of his back-pocket book “Nonprofit Storytelling for Board Members“. My plan is to return in a few weeks, distribute one of these booklets to each board volunteer, and start working with them on how to develop their own stories and share those stories with their friends.

I’m viewing this as an organic approach to organizational development. I am buckled up and prepared for wherever this exercise takes us. I’m already predicting that the possibilities are endless.

Are your board members out in the community actively telling their friends and your supporters (and prospective new donors) stories about your organization? If not not, why do you think that is? More importantly, what are you going to do about it?

I feel compelled to provide a FREE PLUG for the 2015 Nonprofit Storytelling Conference being hosted in Seattle, Washington on November 12 & 13. Only the first 300 people who register will be allowed to attend. (Disclaimer: I am not a conference organizer. I have never attended. I don’t gain anything from this shameless plug. I just thought some of you might be interested in learning about this opportunity, especially if you’re intrigued by today’s blog post)

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

So, your non-profit cannot make its payroll obligation?

Let me start with an apology to DonorDreams readers for my recent absence. My workload has increased exponentially lately, and the last few mornings when I’ve sat down to write the floodgates opened unexpectedly. I will try harder, but if things don’t get better, then I will have to seek out more guest bloggers and re-publish popular posts from the past. Please accept my apologies and my promise to work this problem.  ~Erik

This morning’s post is top of mind because I’ve recently had the privilege of working with a non-profit organization that is encountering a cash flow situation. First, let me say that this is something many non-profit leaders have had to deal with. Second, I’ve recently come to realize that many people freeze when confronted with these situations and very little is written about how to survive such a crisis. So, I’m going to provide a few tips from my experiences of working with clients facing a cash flow and payroll crisis.

Ask board members to contribute

boarddev1The people closest to your mission are board and staff members. So, when the organization is short on cash and cannot meet its payroll obligations, it is only natural to ask board members to dig a little deeper.

While this will bring in some money and help bridge the gap (at least partially), the bigger reason you need to start with the board is that no other donor will jump into the gap if they don’t see the board doing their fair share. Additionally, you won’t likely be able to get board members to jump in and help you engage other donors if it doesn’t feel like they have skin in the game.

Ask key donors to contribute

donor solicitorDon’t pass the basket and ask smaller, low capacity donors. Identify your larger, more capable donors and schedule an in-person meeting to explain what has occurred and ask for their support.

Be careful!

Don’t make your “case for support” sound like your organization is the S.S. Titantic. You might get a contribution from someone by telling them you’ll go out of business without their support, but making the ask that way makes getting future gifts significantly more difficult.


Because no one likes to through good money after bad money. Remember . . . only the captain goes down with the ship.

So, when talking to those key donors, make sure to explain what happened and why you’re in this situation. Clearly explain to them what the plan is for getting out of the hole. Make sure to keep your message mission-focused because donors are emotionally attached to your clients and programs. They are not inspired by your overhead and business challenges.

Contact your accounts receivable list

acct receivableAccounts receivable can be any number of the following individuals/entities:

  • individual donors with pledges that are due at a later date
  • foundations or government agencies who have given you a grant and your reimbursement paperwork is still pending
  • individuals or companies you invoiced for a service you provided and are still waiting for payment

Call these people and explain your situation. Ask them if they could work with you on paying their pledge early, speeding up the reimbursement paperwork, or paying their outstanding invoice sooner-rather-than-later.

Always keep in mind that you catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar. Being polite is a necessity because your crisis isn’t their problem. More importantly, you are in the relationship building business, and your words today can impact your relationships tomorrow.

Pay your bills carefully

phone billIf your organization finds itself in this mess, then the bank is probably not extending you additional credit. While managing your cash flow on the backs of your vendors is a bad thing to do, sometimes life presents you with a bunch of bad options.

Make sure to prioritize what little cash you have in the bank towards making payroll. The phone company can wait a few weeks. However, be transparent and ethical about this strategy. Pick-up the phone and call the vendors who will be impacted by this decision. Explain your situation and ask them for patience and assistance. You might be surprised at their response.

Don’t rest once the crisis passes

assessmentThis crisis came to your door for a reason, and you owe it to your clients, donors, volunteers and community to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The following is an incomplete checklist of things you should consider:

  • Revisit the budget and make necessary changes
  • Create a cash flow project tool and keep it updated
  • Invest in evaluating board composition, structure and governance practices and fill those gaps ASAP
  • Evaluate executive leadership and make changes if necessary
  • Conduct a resource development audit and use it as a springboard to create a written resource development plan

Has your organization ever experienced a cash flow crisis that resulted in a payroll panic? I know this can feel embarrassing, but please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other, and our clients and communities can benefit from that collective wisdom.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


“Hangin’ with Henry and talking about Keeping the Ask Simple

As most of you know, the first Thursday of every month has been dedicated to featuring a short video from Henry Freeman, who is an accomplished non-profit and fundraising professional. We affectionately call this monthly series “Hangin’ With Henry”  because of the conversational format around which he has framed his online videos. This month we’re talking about Keeping the Ask Simple (aka applying the K.I.S.S. principle to asking donors for a contribution).

For those of you who subscribe to DonorDreams blog and get notices by email, you will want to click this link to view this month’s featured YouTube video. If you got here via your web browser, then you can click on the video graphic below.

After listening to Henry for almost seven minutes this morning (and I wasn’t even done with my first cup of coffee), I was left thinking the following:

  • Face-to-face solicitation is the most effective form of solicitation (even though Henry was talking mostly about mail and email solicitations)
  • There is a serious risk of burying the donor in lots of collateral material and talking the donor’s ear off, especially if the person doing the asking is apprehensive about doing so
  • Fundraising professionals should probably only give volunteer solicitors nothing more than an internal case for support document (aka their talking points), an external case for support document (aka the campaign brochure) and the pledge form

This video also reminded me of an awesome training my former employer developed that turned every solicitation into a series steps. As I reflect upon those steps in the warm glow of this morning’s video, I now appreciate how they were trying to make in-person solicitation a simple exercise for volunteers.

checklistFor those who are curious, here are those 12 steps to a simple and effective face-to-face solicitation:

  1. Don’t call your prospect until you’ve inked your pledge form
  2. Don’t think about the money . . . think about the client who will benefit from this potential contribution (and keep doing so throughout the entire process)
  3. Make sure you have a connection or relationship with the prospects you’ve chosen to solicit because cold calls are scary and not very effective
  4. Pick-up the phone and ask your prospect for time in their calendar (guard against accidentally asking for the contribution while you’re on the phone)
  5. Prepare for the meeting (e.g. review the case for support doc, FAQs, etc)
  6. When sitting down with the prospective donor, talk about what is in the case for support document (e.g. org mission, community need/s that the org is trying to address, what the org is doing to address those needs and the effectiveness of those programs, etc)
  7. Share your personal commitment to the campaign and the organization (e.g. your gifts of time, talent and treasure and why you are doing so)
  8. Ask the prospect to join you by considering a contribution of a specific dollar amount (e.g. “we’re hoping you will give some thoughtful consideration to making a contribution of $XXX to support the programs we just talked about as well as everything else this organization does for its clients)
  9. Be quiet and let the donor give your request some consideration (and the first person to speak should be the donor)
  10. Answer the donors questions
  11. Set-up a time to follow-up with the donor if they aren’t ready to immediately ink the pledge form (e.g. never leave the pledge form behind and always walk out of the meeting with a definite date and time to touch base again)
  12. Express your thanks and gratitude for their time (because their time was a gift unto itself)

I love this list because as Henry expressed in his morning’s video, volunteers need tools to help them keep the solicitation meeting simple and following this 12 step process could very easily help keep the in-person meeting focused and short.

matt damonThis morning’s video also reminded me of another YouTube video a friend sent me a few days ago. It is a montage of video clips featuring actor Matt Damon in the HBO television series “Entourage“. The YouTube video illustrates the emotions, fears, and mistakes associated with asking your friends and colleagues for a charitable contribution.

The person who posted the Entourage video clips blocked my ability to embed the video into my blog. So, you need to click here to watch that video directly on YouTube. But don’t forget to circle back to this post and finish up our discussion.  ;-)

So, what are you thinking this morning after watching two great YouTube videos and reading this post? How do you help your fundraising volunteers “keep it simple“? How do you keep it simple when soliciting donors? How many mistakes were you able to spot in the Matt Damon video clip? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

How does your non-profit leverage donations to secure more funding?

Sorry for not posting anything on Tuesday morning. The internet connection from my hotel room was non-existent, which is why you’re receiving this late breaking edition. Enjoy!  ~Erik

IMG_20150802_102350339_HDR[1]A few days ago, I was in an airport trying to catch a connecting flight when I saw a poster advertisement for an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides medical services to children and families in third world countries. I took a picture of the portion of the advertisement that immediately caught my attention.

Every $1 you give will send $105 worth of lifesaving medicine and supplies.

One of the eight best practices I teach clients as it relates to fundraising is that challenge gifts are very effective and will help you reach your goal. The following are just a few reasons challenge gifts are effective:

  • it reassures donors that there are other big donors behind the campaign and lends credibility to what you’re trying to accomplish
  • it is inspirational and creates a bandwagon effect for donors
  • it gives donors the feeling their gift is bigger and more impactful
  • most importantly . . . it creates a “sense of urgency” for your fundraising staff and volunteers

There are many different ways to leverage one gift (or a pool of gifts) and secure other contributions. The following are just a few effective examples I’ve seen throughout the years:

  • Traditional challenge gifts to annual or capital campaigns where a donors says “I’ll match every dollar up to a certain level of contributions” 
  • Using a grant to leverage private sector philanthropy by telling donors that your organization secured a grant for a certain amount, but the program/project costs more which is why additional donors are needed before the grant can be ethically accessed
  • Securing in-kind contributions of supplies/materials and asking donors to underwrite the staffing and overhead costs needed to use the in-kind donation (as shown in the picture above)
  • Asking leadership giving donors to join a donor recognition society whereby their pool of donations will be used as matching dollars for other donors (e.g. national public radio does this very well)
  • Using one donor’s contribution (of any size) and asking another donor to match it (e.g. the Obama campaign did this very well with their online fundraising strategy)

In my experience, non-profit organizations reserve this strategy for BIG projects (e.g. capital campaigns, endowment campaigns, etc); however, there is no good reason why you couldn’t use this strategy to leverage additional dollars for your annual campaign, major gifts initiative (as long as it is project focused), special event, etc.

Please use the space below to share an experience where you successfully used a challenge gift or leverage strategy to raise more money for your organization. How did you identify the opportunity? How did you present it as an opportunity to the donor? What was the result?

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Ode to Rachael Jones: Here’s to not putting donors in boxes!

rachael jonesOne of the clients I’ve been working with for a while is located in Bloomington, Indiana, which is where I met Rachael Jones. Rachael is a transgender woman who used to own “Rachael’s Cafe”. Unfortunately, after eight years of serving coffee, food and a side of acceptance, Rachael closed her doors last month. During my last visit, the executive director handed me a copy of the June 29th edition of The Herald-Times newspaper with a front page story headline that read “Downtown gathering place closes after 8 years of fostering acceptance“. He shared the newspaper story with me because he knew I had wanted to be there for Rachael’s last day, but I just couldn’t make it work with my travel schedule.

So, what does any of this have to do with non-profits or fundraising? Well, tucked away inside of Kurt Christian’s front page article, there was an amazing story Rachael told that I think is applicable to every fundraising professional’s life. And I want to share it for two reasons:

  1. To pay tribute to an amazing human — Rachael Jones (someone I greatly admire and wish I had half her courage)
  2. To help new fundraising professionals understand something very important about their donors

In the article, Rachael tells the newspaper reporter about a life lesson she learned from one of the construction workers who had been working on the renovation of the cafe prior to it opening in 2007. After coming out to the crew as being a transgender woman, one of the guys asked Rachael if she would consider judging a chili cook-off event in a small rural town south of Bloomington, Indiana.

Rachael was hesitant to accept the invitation because:

  • small town America isn’t ready for a transgender woman
  • people would judge her
  • it might not be safe

Or so she thought.

Thanks to the insistence of the construction worker who had invited her, Rachael showed up and judged the chili cook-off. In hindsight, here is what she said about this life changing event:

“I went, and I was so sure I was going to be judged. But these people were wonderful. It was a beautiful experience, and I had a lot of fun, and I learned a great lesson. I had put them in a box that didn’t exist; they didn’t belong in that box.”

I just love how Rachael framed her experience. I’ve been thinking about these words for weeks during countless hours of windshield time driving from client to client. The more I think about these words, the more I wondered “how many people have I put in boxes during my life?

It was during one of these contemplative moments that another more interesting question bubbled to the forefront:

“How many donors have I put in a box that didn’t exist and they didn’t belong in?”

I fear that I’ve done it a lot, and I’ve justified it all in the name of “segmenting donors lists“.

Segmenting donors is a common practice in most fundraising shops, and it is a best practice. Not only does it keep you from asking people to attend events who hate going to those type of fundraisers, but it also keeps you from sending mail to people who prefer email communications. When done right, you are categorizing donors based on their feedback and their wishes.

HOWEVER . . . is it possible to take the practice of donor segmentation too far? Could we be creating boxes that shouldn’t exist? I’m inclined to think so. Here are a few confessions I’ll make when it comes to constructing boxes for donors that I probably shouldn’t have:

  • I’ve looked at a list of donors and said something like: “They wouldn’t be interested in supporting THAT program
  • Prior to a stewardship visit, I’ve decided what to share with the donor based on what I thought they were interested in hearing
  • I’ve excluded donors from receiving certain solicitations because I was fearful they might make a contribution, which could undercut another solicitation for a different project

In this era of so-called “Donor-Centered Fundraising,” shouldn’t we take a page out of Rachael Jones’ book by engaging our donors in more exploratory conversations and do a little less segmenting and box building?

I’m interested in what you have to say about this question. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health! (And congrats to Rachael on eight great years and for being an inspiration to us all)

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Tips to Improve Your Direct Mail Strategy

I’ve recently signed a contract that has me working with organizations in upstate New York, Vermont and New Hampshire for the next few months. With this new super new exciting challenge, I plan on increasing my use of guest blog posts as a way to make my life work. Hopefully, this will also bring new and exciting points of view to the DonorDreams blog community. I want to thank Gretchen Barry and our friends at NonProfitEasy for today’s contribution. I’ve included Gretchen’s bio at the end of today’s post. Enjoy!  ~Erik

4 Ways to Improve Your Direct Mail Strategy

By Gretchen Barry

mailboxesThe ease of technology now reaches almost all aspects of life, even fundraising.  With the help of social media and email and texting, nonprofits are now able to raise money with the click of a button.  This shift has been hugely beneficial.

Easy access equals quick donations.

HOWEVER, the growth in online fundraising techniques does not mean that older methods should fall by the wayside.  In particular, direct mail should remain a fundraising method of choice.

There’s a common misconception that direct mail is only for reaching nonprofits’ ages 65+ demographic.  There is some validity in this statement.  Yes, a powerful contingent of donors prefers direct mail because those in that age range use the online functionalities nonprofits provide with less frequency.

Remember though, younger donors appreciate direct mail just as much.

For young donors, like millennials, snail mail is actually a novelty.  The internet has made everything so easy that it takes very little effort to email a friend or send an e-card.

A hand-written note or a personalized, mailed package takes effort and, as a result, shows dedication and care.  A direct mail campaign will surprise and connect with the elusive and generous millennial population.

Showing care in your communications is a great way to improve your fundraising effectiveness.  Direct mail can make a huge difference in your donor acquisition efforts.  People want to feel appreciated for the time and money they’ve invested in your cause.

The four tips below will help ensure your team is implementing the best direct mail strategy around.


This point might seem obvious, but let me explain.  Each nonprofit is centered on a mission to serve a needed and worthwhile cause.

It should be easy to convince people that your cause is worth caring about.  What’s harder, and what should come into play when deciding whether to use direct mail or not, is knowing if any given fundraising campaign will be one people will feel compelled to donate towards.

Campaigns run the gamut.  Some are for new equipment.  Others are for events.  The scope is broad, but usually you’re asking for funds for a set venture rather than a generic fund.

So you can feel confident about your decision to put the extra effort and money into direct mail fundraisings, ask:

Once you’ve thought through those questions, you’ll be better equipped to decide if direct mail is the right fit.

Direct mail is not limited to fundraising.  Its uses range from sending out educational content to requesting RSVPs for an event. Don’t forget that when weighing if direct mail is the right fit.

Just really think through what you’re asking for.  A donor wants to help the cause.  She might be more inclined to donate an auction item to your annual gala’s live auction than a check for new office chairs.  Both asks are valid, but you have to determine what is important to your constituents.


An ineffective mailing list will result in an ineffective campaign.

There are three biggies when it comes to organizing a mailing list:

  1. Reliable Donors
  2. Updated Information
  3. High-Quality Prospects

You want to spend your time and money contacting those who read and respond to direct mail.  It’s a good idea to have a donor segment of your prospects and donors who prefer direct mail.

If a donor has a history of never contributing as a result of a hand-mailed campaign, why would you spend the postage on shipping materials to him?

Also think about the time wasted mailing an item to a donor’s former address, or, worse, referring to an outdated detail.

Let’s say Mrs. Smith, formerly Ms. Jones, has moved in with her new husband.  If your list doesn’t have this information, your campaign likely won’t reach her.  If you do end up getting the correct address, what happens when she’s addressed by her maiden name?

Side-step this problem by making sure your donor database information is current and accurate.

The mishap might not upset her, but using her new, married name would certainly impress her.  It would demonstrate care — one of the biggest benefits of direct mail.


If direct mail’s benefit is a demonstration of effort and email’s benefit is ease, how do you bridge that gap?  Just because donors enjoy the care you put into sending a package, it doesn’t mean that they won’t miss the simplicity of donating online.

How do we solve this problem?  Send your mailings with an SASE.  If your donor has decided to send funds don’t lose them on a technicality.  Take the guess work out of replying.

With a SASE a donor simply applies postage and sticks the envelope in the mail.  You could even talk to your post office about getting a permit to make the postage on your SASEs pre-paid.


Your direct mail methods should become more effective over time if you actively work on improvement.  What’s the best way to improve your approach?  You look at what you’re doing, determine areas of weakness, and focus on lessening those weaknesses.

Take advantage of your experiences by tracking campaign results.  That data will provide invaluable insight into potential direct mail mistakes.

Here’s what you should be analyzing:

  • Number of responses
  • Response type — How many RSVPs? How many no thank yous?
  • Donation amounts (if applicable)
  • Number of returns to sender
  • Comparison of funds raised versus costs to send

After a campaign, you will have the raw data.  That raw information will be the foundation of the metrics listed above.  Let that data make a difference.

With the way recent technology has revolutionized the nonprofit marketplace, it is difficult to resist the urge to go completely digital.  Don’t forget about direct mail though.  If you do, you’ll be missing out on an incredibly valuable opportunity.

GretchenGretchen Barry, Director of Marketing — Gretchen has been a leader in corporate communications and marketing for 20+ years. Gretchen has published numerous articles related to charitable giving and is a passionate advocate for public schools.  Gretchen has donated her time to numerous causes including Relay for Life, Girls on the Run, Rebuilding Together, and just recently became involved with the local land trust.  Gretchen graduated from the University of Nevada with a degree in English literature.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,590 other followers

%d bloggers like this: