Blog Archives

Don’t text and drive, but please use it to fundraise!

Text messaging for solicitation (or stewardship) of donors

By Rose Reinert
Guest blogger

rose1For those of you who are new to the DonorDreams blog, I’m going chapter by chapter through Lon Safko’s book, The Social Media Bible and applying his thoughts to the non-profit sector in a blog on Monday mornings. Of course, it is Tuesday morning (because Erik just returned from his five month engagement in Texas & New Mexico and he got confused).

Last week, we explored marketing yourself through SEM — Search Engine Marketing — and this week we will explore maximizing your message through using mobile.

Do you remember back in January 2010 when The American Red Cross received an overwhelming response with text message donations after the Haiti earthquake?  Well, “overwhelming” equaled $41m! The Red Cross received 4.1 million messages valued at ten dollars each, 95% of which were from first-time donors.

Text Message Donations

Simply put, you advertise the fundraising phone number to potential donors. The donors send a text message, and 60 to 90 days later you receive the donation. Seems simple right?

There are some common frustrations that surround that simple equation, which are important to explore. Many non-profits have and are running similar campaigns as The Red Cross, but there are some large hurdles including the cost of processing.

Mobile Site Donations

As we have discussed through our journey in this blog, ensuring that your website is mobile friendly is critical. It also can provide the opportunity to raise funds. A downfall of text message donations is that there is a limit of $10. This, of course, can leave money on the table for your non-profit.

You can utilize similar methods as text message donations, but direct people to your website’s Donate Now button.

Text Message Cultivation

Beyond the usage of text messaging for the end result of raising money, you can utilize it to build your relationship with your donors to position them for larger solicitations in mind.

Send your donor a few quick messages every month (or even once a month) focused on how their contribution is making a difference. Using text messaging in this manner can keep your donors excited and engaged with your mission.

In a year-end campaign for the Humane Society, donors who periodically received stewardship messages via text contributed online with an increased response rate of 77%.

So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get texting!

I am very interested to hear your experiences (both good and bad) with utilizing text messaging for donations or engagement for your agency. Additionally . . . have you used text messaging to donate to an organization? Please share what you liked and disliked in the comment box below.
rose draft sig


A fundraising lesson in persistence and much more

university1I graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with my graduate degree in Urban Planning in 1994. In the summer immediately following graduation, I received my first fundraising appeal from the university. So, this story started almost 20 years ago, and it ended last night in an Applebee’s restaurant in Roswell, NM. In my opinion, there are lots and lots of little lessons throughout this story that every fundraiser should internalize.

I graduated at the height of the Chief Illiniwek controversy. For those of you who don’t know the story, it is akin to what the Washington Redskins are currently going through. It is simply a question of whether or not a sports team mascot can be a racist and insensitive symbol.

I came down on the side of the argument that “racial stereotypes dehumanize people“.

So, when my first fundraising letter came in the mail, I responded with a letter asking the university to stop soliciting me until the board of trustees addressed the Chief Illiniwek issue.

Believe it or not, the letters stopped.

university2Almost 13 years later, The Chief danced his last dance at a football or basketball game.

I couldn’t believe it when the fundraising letters started arriving in my mailbox again. Wow … 13 years later. I kinda thought they would’ve forgotten about me.

Not only did the letters start coming, but it felt like I got something every few months.

And then the phone calls started coming.

And then the email started coming.

I almost caved at first. After all, I kind of felt obligated to give to a fundraising solicitation that was 13 years in the making. Yet, I held off on making my first contribution. Our charitable giving budget was big back then and we had lots of charities we liked to support.

I decided that my alma mater would have to earn it just like the other charities did.

On September 17th of this year, I blogged about the Urban & Regional Planning Department at the University of Illinois and their 100th anniversary. I used their event to talk about how your agency should use anniversaries to engage donors as well as do some fundraising.

In that post, I shared some of the activities and communication strategies being employed by the university. I openly wondered if I would attend the big weekend celebration or make a contribution.

Fast forwarding to last night . . .

I am on the road for business and find myself in Roswell, NM. Across the street from my Holiday Inn Express is an Applebee’s restaurant, which is where I found myself for dinner eating alone and reading a white paper on monthly giving campaign best practices. (LOL . . . isn’t my life glamorous?)

While I’m on the road, I forward my home phone to my cell phone because I hate weeding through tons of voicemail upon returning from the road.

In the middle of my wedge salad, my phone rings. I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered it anyway. Of course, it was a student from the university asking if I would like to make a contribution to contribute to a scholarship fund as a tribute to the Urban Planning Department’s 100th anniversary.

Six years of countless mail . . . a steady stream of email . . . and diligent phone calls from students . . . and it finally happened last night.

She asked me specifically for $300. I declined, but countered with my first $100 contribution to the University of Illinois. It is perhaps the hardest earned $100 contribution any non-profit organization has ever received.

Why last night? I have no idea. The spirit moved me? The ambiance of Applebee’s set the stage? The case for support language included support of a scholarship fund and had a tribute angle? Who knows!

I think this story is ripe with lessons for fundraising professions. Here are just a few

  • Persistence is an important element for a successful fundraising program
  • Donor databases (when used appropriately) are powerful tools
  • Multi-channel communication is the wave of the future (e.g. mail, email, phone, etc)
  • The case for support is important
  • What your agency does on the front line impacts donor perceptions (e.g. Chief Illiniwek impacted my charitable giving; whereas, bad press or not offering certain programs may impact your donors’ appetite for giving)

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

Are there other lessons that you see from this story. Please use the comment box below to share. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health! (And congrats to the university for a job well done)

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

What have you done to increase individual giving?

Events, Grants and Individual Giving

By Dani Robbins
Re-published with permission from nonprofitevolution blog

eventI was having breakfast this week with a friend and fellow consultant and we were discussing resource development efforts, including events and grants. By now I’m sure you are well aware, I’m not a huge fan of organizations hosting multiple events. Events are expensive, labor intensive and don’t usually generate a lot of income.

I can hear you out there saying “No Dani, they’re fun!” And they are, at least some of them are.

One signature event a year is a wonderful way to engage new donors, connect with current donors and showcase your programs while raising significant money. Even signature events that don’t raise significant money may still be a good use of your resources. However, more than one signature event is too much.

More than one event (two, if you must) may be a sign that your leadership, board or executive, is reluctant to raise money in other ways.

Leadership that doesn’t want to embark on an annual appeal or a major donor campaign will often advocate more grants be written or additional events be introduced. Not only will more events not raise more money, more events will cannibalize your signature event and may yield less income for more work. Any process that doesn’t get you to your goal is a bad process.

The Executive Director is the Chief Development Officer” of any non profit that seeks contributed income. (Erik Anderson Donor Dreams blog) Whether they want to or not; whether they’re good at it or not; whether they have a development director whose job it is or not, the Exec is still responsible for fund raising and one of the responsibilities of a governing board is to raise money. Neither is a role that can be abdicated.

Events are often 5% to 15% of an agency’s budget and generally net 50% of what they cost, sometimes less. Most attendees would be appalled to know that, but it’s true. It’s too high! I recommend events net 75% of what they cost. There are other, better, avenues to raise money.

grantsGrants, which are often 30% to 50% of an agency’s budget, more if they receive United Way funding, are one way. Yet, they too come with a cost. Most agencies get somewhere between 50% to 80% of the grants they submit. That means that the time spent on writing the 20% to 50% of the grants that don’t get funded is time lost. For the grants that are secured, there are reports to be written, dollars to be tracked, objectives to reach and programming to introduce. All of which is as it should be, and none of which is without cost.

As I mentioned in the Culture of Philanthropy or Fund Raising post, according to “Fund-Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process” (1999) individual giving offers the highest rate on return for the lowest cost (5% to 10%) to the organization. It is also the largest post of money given in this country and usually only reflective of the percentage special event income in most agencies’ budgets. In other words, 80% of the philanthropic dollars in this country are given by individuals yet 10% to 15% of most agencies budgets are received from individuals. Like the post says, “opportunity is knocking. Get the door!”

Your board, staff and major donors will be the foundation of any individual giving program and the program should be introduced in just that order: Board giving should come first with the Board setting and then meeting a giving goal. Staff should then be asked and then major donors. Individual giving is about one on one relationships that are cultivated — and later, stewarded — and require intentional asks for specific dollar amounts.

Once those asks are made, as mentioned in the Sustainability by Descending Order of Love post:

“If you have the time and the volunteers, consider asking your larger mid level donors and prospects in person. Those with the potential to become major donors should also be asked in person as should anyone who is committed to your organization.  While we follow the path of descending order of love in planning, we love all of our donors equally.  If someone would like to see you in person, even if it will be a small gift, go.  It is fun to thank someone in person and is worth keeping a committed donor engaged. When that is not practical, the next best thing is a phone bank or phone calls.”

There are a lot of ways to raise money and some will generate more money in less time than others. Nonprofit leaders are busy. Get the best bang for your buck and get on the individual giving path. It will be scary, and also worth it!

What have you done to increase individual giving?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience.  Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email.

A rising tide raises all boats.
dani sig

What is your non-profit agency’s sustainability plan?

Sustainability by Descending Order of Love

By Dani Robbins
Re-published with permission from nonprofitevolution blog

sustain1The new normal has forced a lot of nonprofit leaders to rethink the way they do business. Crises, as unpleasant as they are to experience, allow for growth. I love Rahm Emanuel’s quote “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

The old normal, otherwise known as normal, to which we all ascribed went something like this: Have a diverse funding base. That way, if ever you lost a government grant, major donor, or foundation award, you could continue to provide services.

Then, as we all remember, the economic crisis of 2008/2009 came, with the compromise of every funding source we had and the end of life as we knew it.

It forced all of us to reassess.

So….what’s a good Executive Director and talented Board to do?


Think about every process and every assumption, put it on the table, look at it, talk about it and figure out if it still works for your organization. If it does, keep it. If it doesn’t, create a plan to evolve that process into one that better serves the organization and its need for revenue sustainability.

How do you work towards revenue sustainability? Some organizations do it with a consultant, some with a board member, some with a staff member or a donor.

Where do I start? I start with explaining the history of giving in the US and the fact that 80% of all financial gifts, grants and awards, including corporate and foundation giving, come from individuals. I then move on to explain that 80% of most non-profits’ income does not come from individuals.

What, then, do we have? Enormous Opportunity!

I then introduce the idea of descending order of love. Individual giving starts with the people who love you the most.

sustain2Let’s get those people together and brain storm: Where are we today? Where do we want to go? How can we get there?

Big gifts require big dreams and the capacity to engage people to help reach those dreams.

Get together and figure out your dreams, turn them into goals and then create a plan to meet those goals. Then, put together a list of current donors and a robust list of potential donors, also called prospects. Take a look at your current gift acceptance policies. (Revise or adopt as necessary) Once we have a goal, a plan, lists, and the requisite policies to increase the revenue for your organization, I move to descending order of love.

Your board, staff and major donors will be the foundation of any fundraising plan. Those who love you the most will support you the most. If sustainability were a board game, there would be a Start Here button.

Each board and staff member should make a significant gift. I can hear you thinking  “Dani, significant is a fluid term.” Yes it is and that is intentional; my goal is always 100% Board and staff giving. It is critical that those closest to an organization financially support that organization. If they don’t, how can they ask someone else to?

Each board member should be asked in person for a specific gift, not the same gift as every other board member, but a specific gift o that board member which should be determined based what the staff and committee know about their capacity and level of engagement. If someone has enormous capacity but is not that engaged, a significant gift may be less than someone who has less capacity but is more engaged.

Who should do the asking? The person who is most likely to get a YES. Usually that’s another board member, but sometimes, it’s the Executive Director, or a volunteer.

Staff should also be asked to financially support the organization. Care should be taken to who should make that ask as well. I recommend a volunteer, because with fundraising and everything else, we want to avoid even the perception of impropriety.

Once we have 100% giving of staff and board, we move to our major donors and our prospect list and again, make specific in person asks. Prospects should be appropriately cultivated before they are asked for financial support. The definition of appropriate will change based on the individual and the need.

I consider major donors to be the top 10% of givers to your organization. It may be $250, it may be $25,000. It may be more and it may be less. If we continued to play our sustainability board game, there would be a This Way arrow here.

After major donor solicitation are completed, if you have the time and the volunteers, consider asking your larger mid level donors and prospects in person. Then move into your actual mid level donors and prospects. Those with the potential to become major donors should also be asked in person as should anyone who is committed to your organization. While we follow the path of descending order of love in planning, we love all of our donors equally. If someone would like to see you in person, even if it will be a small gift, go. It is fun to thank someone in person and is worth keeping a committed donor engaged. When that is not practical, the next best thing is a phone banks or phone calls.

Our Board game and our plan for income sustainability ends with an appeal letter to those who have not yet been asked or have been asked but have not given and also haven’t said no.

I invite you follow the descending order of love of path to sustainability. Please let me know how it goes. As always, I welcome your feedback.
dani sig

Did fundraising cause the recent government shutdown?

shutdown1In the weeks leading up to the government shutdown, I heard some rumblings via the news media that Senator Ted Cruz and those aligned with him were dragging things out in Congress to maximize their online and direct mail fundraising efforts. To be honest, I didn’t give much thought to those accusations. They sounded like sour grapes and something partisan opponents would say in the heat of the moment. And then . . . when the government actually shut down, I started receiving a flood of email from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). This is when my fundraising spidey-sense started to tingle, and I started paying attention because there must be lessons to be learned for non-profit organizations somewhere in this mess.

Here is what the most recent DCCC fundraising email said:

Dear Erik —

Boehner’s Tea Party majority is teetering on the edge:

A new poll shows that Democrats are leading SEVENTEEN Republican Congressmen after the Tea Party-inspired shutdown. Guess how many seats we need to win back a Democratic Majority? 17.

Voters are done putting up with the extreme Tea Party antics that have paralyzed the government. We have to act quickly to press our advantage in these crucial races. Will you help us raise $500,000 immediately to take on vulnerable House Republicans?

Donate $3 IMMEDIATELY to the Democratic Majority Rapid Response Fund.

This shutdown could spell the end of the Tea Party controlled Republican Majority.

But if we want that to happen, we have to act now.

DCCC Rapid Reponse

I purposely omitted the hyperlinks and website addresses because my intention is to evaluate language and strategy and not raise money for the DCCC.

So, let’s strip out the partisanship and set aside our personal political feelings. Let’s avoid the temptation to point fingers. Let’s just look at the circumstances, strategies and verbiage in the letter from a “Just the facts, ma’am” perspective.

What do you see? What do you sense?

shutdown3Here is what I’m seeing:

  • I see a misspelling in the signature block.
  • I see a case for support spelled out in five simple sentences.
  • I see emotionally charged words intended to poke and prod me into action (e.g. teetering, extreme, paralyzed, etc).
  • I see a fundraising goal clearly articulated (e.g. $500,000).
  • I see a specific ask (e.g. Donate $3.00 immediately).
  • I sense the strategy here is to set a very low barrier to entry to entice first time donors. In other words, they poke me, I get upset, and the solution is as simple as just giving $3.00 to make things right again.
  • I see an email with a small handful of carefully worded sentences fitting neatly on my computer screen. I don’t need to scroll down to continue reading.
  • I see short easy to read sentences. The longest sentence was 16 words long.

There is so much that you can learn if you just keep your eyes, ears and mind open. Professional fundraisers cram your mailbox and email inbox full of examples every day. Are you paying attention? Because with a little discipline you can teach yourself a lot in a short period of time.

Let’s circle back to the question I pose in the headline of this blog post:

Did fundraising cause the recent government shutdown?

I think a case can be made for the answer to this question being “YES”.

There is so much noise being made in our political arena on a daily basis that many people tune things out. I know that I am as guilty as others in this regard. So, when you have fundraising goals to hit, then your case for support needs to be very big and noisy in order to get people’s attention.

I believe the lesson to be learned here for non-profit organizations is that your case for support is powerful. It is the engine at the center of your resource development plan. It is the jet fuel for all of your fundraising appeals regardless of whether it is a direct mail appeal, email, social media, telephone solicitation, face-to-face pledge drive or special event.

shutdown2When crafting your case for support, this is what our friends in the political fundraising world seem to be telling their non-profit cousins:

  • Make it emotional
  • Focus on an issue that people care about
  • Choose an issue that donors and the media will talk about and magnify
  • Wrap marketing efforts around your fundraising efforts
  • Where possible, infuse advocacy into the appeal

For those of you who are skeptical and find yourself thinking at the end of this blog post that non-profit organizations can’t “manufacture” a crisis and weave it into a case for support like politicians, then let me suggest that you open your mind a little more.

I cannot tell you how many agencies I’ve seen neglect their buildings by minimally investing in maintenance and upkeep. In the final analysis, aren’t those agencies just slowly creating a powerful capital campaign case for support for down the road? Maybe it is purposeful and maybe it isn’t, but the fact that it is a manufactured crisis cannot be denied.

There are plenty of needs and gaps in our communities around which non-profit organizations can build a powerful case for support. We don’t need to manufacture crisis to raise money like our political counterparts, but it does happen more often than you think.

So, what are you waiting for?

It is the fourth quarter and year-end fundraising is one of the biggest shows on Earth. Start writing your case for support document today so you can transform it into an eloquent and powerful fundraising appeal in the next few weeks.

But whatever you do, please don’t “shutdown” your agency to make a buck or two. I suspect donors can only handle this strategy in small doses.  😉

And I am making a mental note to myself . . . perhaps, I need to stop tuning out politicians on a daily basis so they stop doing drastic things to get my attention.  😉   (Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.)

Here’s to your health!

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

Do your board members gather around the campfire?

campfireRecently, I’ve been doing a lot of what I consider “Nonprofit 101” trainings focused on board roles and responsibilities. After talking with board members about their fiduciary responsibilities, they often push back on their role in fundraising. I’m becoming really good at giving them the “sympathetic smile,” which communicates that I’m hearing their fear but not giving them permission to wash their hands of their role in resource development.

After my last training, I literally had three board volunteers standing around the room waiting for a private moment with me. Each one told me how much they appreciated the content, and sure enough each one made their way around to the subject of fundraising. My mouth hurt that evening from a lot of sympathetic smiling.  🙂

While driving home, I couldn’t stop thinking about each of those three board members. Their stories were all the same:

  • They are passionate about the organization.
  • They love serving on the board.
  • They were asked to serve because they brought a certain skill set or relationships (e.g. mostly access to their company).
  • They know there is more they to do.
  • They know how important fundraising is.
  • They see the organization’s need for money.
  • They are just very reluctant . . . it doesn’t feel right to ask their friends for money. They mention a few fears, and worse yet they say it feels like begging.
  • They promise to try harder.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this in the last few months. And in some strange way, I find it endearing which probably explains how I’ve mastered the art of the sympathetic smile.

Getting back to my drive home . . .

With nothing more than windshield time in front of me, my mind started wandering. I started thinking about a recent DVD purchase I made from 501 Videos of Tom Ahern talking about writing. As a bonus, they tossed in a 32 page mini-publication from Chris Davenport titled “Nonprofit Storytelling for Board members“.

As the blurry miles whizzed by me, a thought finally struck:

Stop pushing those reluctant board members into something they find
Instead, focus on something they will find less objectionable
like turning them into great storytellers.

fearAfter all, how scary can it be to “tell stories,” right?

And when you boil down a fundraising solicitation visit, isn’t it mostly a series of stories followed-up with an ask?

So, it stood to reason in my travel weary head that teaching reluctant board members how to tell stories is 90 percent of the battle.

After a few days of reflecting on this thought and a number of cups of coffee, I still think this is a great idea. So, I dusted off that “Nonprofit Storytelling for Board Members” book this morning in an effort to figure out where someone should start.

Luckily for me, the answer is easily found on page 4 where Chris Davenport says, “Here are three stories you need to concentrate on perfecting first . . .”

  1. Your Involvement Story
  2. An Impact Story
  3. A Thank You Story

So, there you have it folks . . . if you have board members who HATE fundraising, I think you should teach them how to be a good storyteller and start with the three stories identified above.

What? You think it isn’t as easy as that? There is more to storytelling than what meets the eye?

OK . . . you’re probably right, which is why Chris Davenport goes on in his mini-book to talk about:

  • The 4 C’s of Storytelling
  • Emotions vs Facts
  • Story Structure
  • Seven Story Triggers
  • And much, much more

I suggest that you go buy the book. It is only $7.95. Such as deal! Click here if you want to learn more and possibly order this amazing little pocketbook resource. (Disclaimer: I do not profit in any way from you purchasing that book. This is not a paid advertisement. I don’t even know Chris.

Do you have board members who are reluctant to fulfill their fundraising roles and responsibilities? How have you dealt with it effectively? Have you tried to teach your board volunteers how to be good storytellers? If so, how did that work for you and what lessons did you learn?

Please use the comment box below 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!/eanderson847

Spray and pray fundraising strategies don’t work anymore

spray and prayThe concept of “spray and pray” in resource development is simply sending out many appeals (aka shotgun effect), and then waiting for (aka hoping and praying) that enough donors respond so that you can make your goal. “Spray and pray” doesn’t just refer to direct mail. Back in the day, I used it in annual campaigns where I asked fundraising volunteers to identify five people from their social network, sit down with them in-person, and ask for a pledge or contribution. If your fundraising program is still loaded with “spray and pray” strategies, then you’re probably struggling because those days are long since over.

I decided to blog about this topic today because it has now come up in conversations with clients and fundraising professionals and in other various ways (e.g. things I read, etc) more than just a few times over the last six months.

Why? Why? Why?

I’m not sure that I care about “The Why?” A friend of mine used to say all the time — “It is what it is” — which was his cute way of saying “It doesn’t matter because getting to an answer doesn’t change the fact that you still need to address the issue.”

For those of you who are still searching for answers, I encourage you to not think too hard about it. The fact of the matter is that the Great Recession changed everything. Economists, politicians and newscasters have taken to using the phrase “The New Normal” to describe things in our communities that look-act-behave differently now than they did before the stock market tanked in 2008. Let’s face it . . . things are different and it impacts donor behavior.

In my opinion, the answer is simple and right under our noses. Take a step back and look at your own philanthropy.

Before the recession, my partner and I were making contributions (of various sizes and shapes) to 12 or more non-profits both locally and nationally. Some of those agencies were near and dear to our hearts, and others just got lucky because they asked us on the right day at the right time.

After the recession, the number of organizations we support has dropped. You might think that it is because of limited money, fear of market forces and other recession-related issues. While this may be somewhat true, none of these reasons are even close to the big reason. If we were playing The Family Feud, Richard Dawson would shout out . . . “Survey Says?” and the number one answer for me (and I trustthink millions of other donors) would be:


In most cases, my partner and I eliminated our support of those non-profit organizations where we didn’t have a personal connection. We support agencies where we:

  • know a staff person
  • know a board member
  • know a friend who is passionate about their mission

In those instances, we TRUST that our contribution will be used in the manner they said it would be used. We TRUST the outcomes and impact they claim to achieve in their case for support is factual. We TRUST that we’ll be kept in the loop (aka stewardship) on how things are going either through traditional means (e.g. newsletters, eBlasts, etc) or through informal means (e.g. word of mouth from that staff person, board member or friend). Hopefully both!

What replaces “Spray and Pray”?

In order to build trust, you need to become more personal in every aspect of your fundraising program:

  • Your cultivation efforts need to focus on pressing the flesh. Get prospective donors in your door and touring your facilities and programs.
  • Your solicitation efforts need to focus on two things: 1) matching the right solicitor with the right donor based upon their personal relationship and 2) making the ask in-person with the right case for support themes that resonate with that donor.
  • Your stewardship efforts need to focus on a multi-channel approach — mail, phone and in-person. Just sending newsletters isn’t enough anymore.

I am sure that some of you are overwhelmed by these suggestions because you have thousands of donors and limited resources. To those of you who might be shaking your heads and clinging to your spray and pray strategies, I have two things to say to you:

  1. Evolve or die! Welcome to “The New Normal” . . . you need change because someone has “moved your cheese“.
  2. Use your donor database! Technology is amazing and you should have the ability to segment your donor list. You may not be able to become personal with thousands of donors, but your Top 10, Top 100 or Top 250 donors are super important to you and a little bit of focus can go a long way.

What has been your organization’s experience lately with spray and pray fundraising strategies? What have you done to adapt? Have certain strategies worked better than others? 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!/eanderson847

Is your non-profit preparing for the Times Square countdown?

santa letterI spent a decent amount of time last week in the car. When I do that, I typically listen to National Public Radio (NPR), which in the Chicago market is WBEZ 91.5 FM. So, all week long I heard how they were approaching the end of their fiscal year and how they need to hit their pledge drive goal.

When I woke up this morning, I had a few thoughts racing through my head:

  1. OMG . . . it is July! How did THAT happen?
  2. I wonder if WBEZ made its pledge drive goal?
  3. I wonder how many other non-profits that don’t have June 30th year end financials are preparing for their December 31st year-end push?

I remember when I was on the front line and making decisions about fundraising matters. I typically wanted my year-end fundraising efforts and mailings to hit the post office in the beginning of November.

When I gave donors a few weeks before Thanksgiving to consider what they want to do with their year-end charitable giving, it usually worked out better. I tested all sorts of different launch times over the years, and the beginning of November always produced the best results.

So, if your agency follows the same blueprint . . . guess what? You only have four months left to get all of your ducks in a row.

My best advice is to get to work NOW and avoid the last minute rush. Why? Because in my experience the last minute rush always resulted in unexpected hiccups and delays in getting the mailings to the post office.

I’m not suggesting that you write your letter today (but I wouldn’t discourage it either), but there are things you can start doing now that will help you later. Here is a short laundry list of those things:

  • Determine your theme.
  • Put together your project management plan and establish deadlines.
  • Write your internal case for support, which will be the basis of your letter and package.
  • Pull together a focus group of donors and test your case for support.
  • Use the input that you get back from your donors to tweak your messaging and theme.
  • If you like to incorporate a client story into your year-end appeal, then start identifying the client and their story now.
  • We all know that the mailing list is the biggest factor in your success. So, start building your list today. It takes time to wrestle with your donor database and work with a mail house.
  • Plan on mailing out a cultivation / stewardship letter four to six weeks prior to mailing your year-end appeal. Start developing that messaging and package today.
  • Use social media to cultivate and steward your year-end donors. Develop a three month campaign that leads up to and culminates in the launch of your appeal in early November. This obviously starts NOW.

Your agency is probably preparing to march in a Fourth of July parade in the next few days, and year-end thoughts are probably far away, but don’t blink! Because Santa Claus will be coming down the chimney any day now.

You know I’m right!

Still not convinced? Well, consider the fact that more than one-third (and I’ve recently read it could be as big as one-half) of all charitable giving happens in the fourth quarter during the holiday season.

I’ll leave you with this thought and popular expression: “Prior proper preparation prevents piss poor performance.” I’ve heard it referred to as the Seven P’s.

When does your agency start preparing for its year-end appeal? What goes into your planning? What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced? When do you plan on starting this year?

Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Don’t set the bar too high for your next fundraising appeal

case2Hmmm? I must be on a Jeff Brooks kick because this is the second or third time I referenced his blog — Future Fundraising Now — in the last few weeks. LOL  Did you read his blog post titled “Pixar’s 22 rules of fundraising” from a guest blogger named Andrew Rogers? If not, then you have to find a few minutes to do so. Those 22 rules are awesome and should be part of every fundraising professional’s toolbox. Today, I’m focusing on “Rule 16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

When applying this Pixar rule to fundraising, Andrew Rogers says:

Rule for fundraisers: What happens if the need isn’t addressed? How are real people being affected? In our case, we should never “stack the odds” by exaggerating or otherwise being less than perfectly truthful. On the other hand, don’t tell less than the full truth either, and remember that the full truth often isn’t very pretty.”

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen a non-profit organization try to apply this rule by telling donors things like:

  • We’ll close our doors unless we meet this fundraising goal.
  • We’ll shut down a site if this campaign fails to hit goal.
  • We’ll eliminate this program if we’re not successful.

To be clear, I don’t think Rule 16 is a license to practice extortion or heavy-handed fundraising tactics.

In instances where I’ve seen agencies use urgency messages laced with “We’re gonna close or we’re going to eliminate programming,” two interesting things seem to happen every time:

  1. They usually get an initial bump in money coming in (e.g. donors respond), and
  2. The next time donors get solicited, the response is down again.

I believe there is a simple explanation for this phenomenon . . . donors don’t like to throw good money after bad.

Before you decide to hit that big red panic button on your fundraising dashboard and tell the entire community that you’re in trouble, I advise that you think twice about doing it. All you’re doing is setting the bar very high down the road, and what happens if you cannot get over that bar?

case1I suggest going back and doing exactly what Rule 16 tells you to do:

  • Write a case statement that tells a story about one of your clients (or a composite client).
  • Describe their needs. What is at stake if they don’t succeed?
  • Describe how you help them with those needs. Help me root for them!
  • Describe how a donor’s support will tip the scales in their favor of our main character.
  • Don’t make this story so dramatic that donors conclude that nothing they do will make a difference.
  • Be truthful and make it emotional. You are telling a story!

This case for support document is internal. Use this tool to:

  • develop your agency’s marketing materials and fundraising brochures,
  • write your direct mail and targeted mail letters,
  • write your website and social media copy, and
  • train your fundraising volunteers on how to turn it into a story that they share with donors during a cultivation, solicitation or stewardship visit with a donor.

Always remember . . . donors care about your mission, your clients, and the impact of their contribution. They don’t normally care about saving institutions and your sacred cows.

What does your case for support (e.g. case statement) look like? When was the last time your refreshed that document? How do you go about developing that document? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

Fundraising professionals say “Open sez me”?

popeyeWhen I was a kid, I loved to watch cartoons. One of the first cartoons I fell in love with was Popeye. It was because of this early childhood idol that I first ate my spinach. It is also why I’ve been struggling with something I recently read in Tom Ahern’s “Love Thy Donor” eNewsletter.

First things first, here is the passage I’m referencing in Tom’s recent publication:

Last year, my colleague Jen Shang, “the world’s first philanthropic psychologist,” as the New York Times dubbed her (and wife of chief fundraising researcher, Adrian Sargeant) was quoted. “Seven adjectives define what Americans see as a ‘moral’ person,” Jen told the reporter. Here are those seven words, in a sterling silver bracelet custom-crafted by The adjectives: kind, caring, compassionate, helpful, friendly, fair, hard-working, generous and honest.

So, what does Popeye have to do with any of this for me?

Well, there is an episode where Popeye meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves and one of the lines of dialog is:

“Open sez me!”

These were magic words that opened something like a cave or possibly his can of spinach. The bottom line is that these were magic words.

When I read Tom’s eNewsletter, all I could hear was Popeye reciting those nine magic adjectives: kind, caring, compassionate, helpful, friendly, fair, hard-working, generous and honest.

popeye2Here were some of my initial thoughts:

  • Jen Shang told the New York Times reporter that there are “seven words,” but I could “nine words” on that bracelet. Where did the extra two words come from? Hmmmmm? I smell a mystery! Perhaps, this is where Scooby Doo and his meddling friends enter the picture?
  • Wow! How can I use these magic words in my donor communications? If I use them in a solicitation vehicle (e.g. mailing, email, social media campaign, annual campaign case brochure, etc), will they be as magical as when Popeye uttered the words “Open sez me“?
  • Is it the use of the those words or are these feelings and conditions I need to establish in my donor communications?
  • A little voice inside my head is starting to crowd out Popeye, and the name of that voice is Penelope Burk. I’m beginning to worry that this doesn’t feel very “donor centered”.
  • Maybe I should start getting concerned about all of these voices in my head!   😉

OK, OK, OK . . . I think I can reconcile my concerns about magic words and donor centered fundraising. However, that is another topic for another blog. I suspect a case can be made for the nine adjectives being the essence and soul of donor centered fundraising if you use them as guiding principles rather than magic words in a direct mail solicitation.

Let’s keep today’s blog post at 50,000 feet and end it with the following questions:

How do you instill any (or all) of the nine magic words as principles into your donor communications? In other words, what do you do and how do you say things to make a donor feel like they are being: Generous? Helpful? Honest? Compassionate? etc

Can you share some examples? If so, please do so in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

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