Fundraising Blog

Emails: How Often?

A new prospect provides you with his/her email address on the initial contact (maybe a donation envelope, attending an event, requesting information).

Devise a strategy for your future email contacts, to maximize the results from the sharing of this precious information.

Frequency (as with all your communications) is important.  You decide if it’s once a month or more or less frequently.  Remember:  if you bombard your new contact with emails, you become a pest,  you risk being ignored,  or “blocked” into the Junk folder.  If the timing of your email communications seems random and rare, you aren’t building a relationship.

Timing is also critical.  One great time to email is when the need is highly visible (people need heat in a worse-than-usual winter; hurricane demands response ).   Another time is a few weeks before the giving season—so you’ll be top-of mind when the actual solicitation hits (and have a better chance of preempting the top position on the donor’s giving list).   Give careful consideration to whether the giver of a recent gift should be exempt from your next solicitation.

Content is key.  If you send a regular monthly solicitation, and no other email correspondence, your message is that you are interested only in the donor’s money.  One organization I support sends me an email about every two weeks—with varied content.  Sometimes an invitation to an event of interest, sometimes news of an accomplishment in the organization or news related to the organization’s mission in the world beyond our community, sometimes an opportunity to contribute time or money in a new way, sometimes seeking input.  It feels like a friendship, not a repetitive one-way ask.

Email strategy is a careful balance of friend-building and cultivation, of building the donor/prospect’s interest in the mission.  Done right, it pays off in many ways!

Creative Ways to Cover the Bases

Other than in your Annual Report and major fundraising efforts, most people are not interested in the full scope of your programs and services.  Resist the urge to run the full laundry list in each communication!

Of course, you do want to use every opportunity to inform the audience of the breadth and depth of meeting your mission.  But reciting the litany in every communique is not the way to go:  it puts people to sleep.   Your regular audience has already heard it; your potential new audience will be more attracted by a lively success story.

How, then, can you be more creative in mentioning the spectrum of your programs and services–without losing your audience?

Say your lead story is how Jane’s life has been changed because your agency provided her with a medical procedure to correct a birth defect.  With a great photo or two, you relate the wonders you’ve enabled.

Now you expand the message to include other services you offer with related mentions–not an encyclopedia:

“Jane has also benefitted from our (other services).”

“Children like Jane also benefit from….”

“Jane’s story is just one example of …..”

“If you’d like to hear more about how XYZ changes lives……”

Resist the temptation to mention all programs every time.  You can’t do justice to each every time. There’s not a logical connection every time. When you add that ponderous paragraph you use in foundation proposals, you lose the punch of the compelling story you began with.  You lose the audience’s attention.

Yes, there are times for the full list.  But Every Time is not the best time.

Use yourself as a test case.  When someone speaks for ten minutes, or when something written goes beyond three paragraphs, what do you retain?  Hopefully the excitement of the opening topic!  Don’t muffle this impact by adding the recitation of all of your virtues. With each additional sentence, the audience gets farther from the initial focus.

People within your agency might object, but remember your purpose is to attract and excite those on the outside!

Resist the Tell-All

Year-end and New-Year donor contact opportunities consume us in these winter months.  Don’t let telling-it-all turn your donors off.

Each time your CEO (or other spokesperson) takes center stage or front page, the choice of content is a new opportunity.  Of course your goals are broad appeal, opportunity for the listener to make a difference, introducing new enticements to participate, and capturing the interest of the not-yet members of your following.  Resist the impulse to promote a comprehensive list of all your programs and services.

Would you rather read a general brochure about the offerings of the American Automobile Association, or a highlight piece about a trip to Alaska they are offering this spring?  Are you interested in the full capabilities of a hospital center, or a new success story from their cardiac rehabilitation services?  You are the perfect example of who-reads-what.

Each of us knows that, with all the communiques coming at us and with our fragmented time and energy,  we limit our attention to those things which stand out because they are New, Critical to some Urgent Problem, Important to us Personally!  Of course, there are certain topics we feel an obligation to know about, certain should-listens.  But, in truth, our instincts (and our selective attention) will be drawn to the first categories.

Not only will we take those in first. We will also be listening/reading with heightened attention and absorption! That’s where impact can be made.

When you have center-stage, or front-page, or other versions of a captive audience, the subject matter is what is new, critical, and/or personally compelling to the audience.  You risk muddying that topic, and losing the opportunity at hand, if you surround that topic with your organization’s full array of issues and events.  The attention and momentum that you capture in the first five minutes will be dulled out of existence when you continue for ten or fifteen more minutes reiterating information of a lesser priority.

This is no time for a comprehensive listing of your full array of programs and services, with the latest accomplishments of each, and the progress your organization has made over time. Any planned communication, to be effective, needs a clear focus, an attention-getting spotlight, and a direct line from the focus to the call to action.

Next time we’ll consider strategic ways to include the whole picture without diluting the impact of the focus of the day.


Updating Email Addresses

E-mail is still the No. 1 way to connect with your supporters.

One-third to one-half of all email addresses go bad over the course of a year.  With all the new ways people receive email now, that number may go even higher. People change their email addresses more frequently than they move. Review the emails in your database once a year. Yes, but how?

You need to verify email addresses  at a time when it feels natural.  When you’re buying a raffle ticket, giving your email seems “normal”; how else will they contact you if you win?  (The incentive works in your favor.)  When you’re signing a petition, you may be more skeptical about providing your email.  On a donation envelope, along with name, address, and phone, a request for an email address seems natural.

Set a time of year to update the email addresses in your database. Maybe over the summer so that your November appeal gets the most hits. Or when you have a volunteer or intern to help.

Combine it with some other process already in place. Makes sense to link it with some effort that typically gets a good response.  For example, when donors send emails to you (committee members, for example), someone could check the email address against your list.

Any time a form comes in to your office, have a system to check the email listed against the email on file. 

Find a way to catch up with those you expect to hear from, but don’t.  (They may have moved, they may have changed their email address, or they may be ignoring you by intention—wouldn’t you want to know which?)

Obviously you probably can’t make a personal call everyone on your list for this purpose.  But if you make an effort to verify as many emails as is feasible, more of your constituents will have a chance of receiving your message.

Capturing Email Addresses

Email is the #1 way to connect with the most supporters in an optimal time frame and with a fresh message. Growing your email database provides benefits too numerous to mention.  But, how?

Some people are wary of giving out their email addresses.  They fear getting on a dozen lists of groups they care nothing about.  They fear scammers.  They fear getting too much email, even from  you.

You need to earn the right to deliver content directly to the inbox of your biggest fans. And you need to respect the parameters you’ve promised, so you don’t risk loss of that trust.

On your website, make it simple to subscribe to your email list.  Place the sign-up button in a prominent place, not in the footnote at the end of the newsletter or only on the Donate Now page.  If visitors have found your website, they have taken a step to learn about you.  They are already interested and capable of action.  (What more could you want?)  Jump-start the email signup with a clear call to action and a reason to sign up now.

Don’t ask for the moon.  This isn’t the time to ask for all the information you will ultimately want.  Make it simple and ask only for the information you need to reach them by email.

Establish trust.  You may want to tell potential subscribers what you will and will not do with the information they provide.  (Honor what you’ve promised.)  Showing this respect makes it easier for the person to trust you.  Offer the option to receive information from you by mail or by email.  Show that you want to communicate with them in the way that they prefer, not the way that’s easiest for you.

 If you can give a reason to provide the email, even better.  A subscription to your newsletter. Offer a prize drawing once a month.  Offer to send some special information.

Encourage joining your email list wherever you can.  On your home page, of course, but also on requests for information, donation envelopes, petition signups, raffle entry forms—use your imagination.

Ask current subscribers to spread the word with a “forward to a friend” device.  Make sure there’s a Subscribe link within your newsletter so people who do receive a forwarded copy have an easy way to sign themselves up.

A generation ago your direct mail list was your Golden Ticket.  Today email is path to power.

One Picture is Worth…

Creating (finding) effective photos of poverty, abuse, illness  and disability can be challenging.  But they are the keys to bringing your mission to life for potential donors.  Take some time to make a plan to “develop” some photos that will work for you.

Nothing says it like a wonderful photo to double the impact of your story!  But there are a few caveats when choosing the photos you’ll use.

The photo should be in focus.

  1. The photos on a page should vary in size and in prespective–not all headshots, not all long shots, but a nice mix.
  2. The photo shouldn’t compete with the text; look like it’s overwhelming the text; tell a different story than the one in the text (a photo of your Harvest Fair isn’t compatible with a story on your latest initiative to protect abused women).
  3. The photo should match the text in mood, unspoken message…
  4. Stock photos, while beautifully composed, don’t always work.  I can spot a stock photo a mile away; can’t you?  (Picture that happy healthy couple biking around the retirement community.)
  5. No empty rooms or stand-alone buildings—even if the new construction is what you’re showcasing! Viewers are drawn to photos with people in them.  Empty rooms look like furniture ads; buildings look like real-estate ads.  Your message really is that these spaces will facilitate what happens with the people in them.  Show the people!
  6. Learn how to crop effectively!  In a 3” photo, the focus should occupy two-thirds of the frame.  Showing everything isn’t what works; showing the most important thing is.
  7. No talking heads; no “presenting the check” photos.  If Donor A made a $10,000 gift for the new sound room; don’t show Donor A and your CEO standing in front of the door to the room.  Let the CEO or the sound technician be demonstrating the headphones to the donor.  Three people in suits awkwardly facing the camera, no matter how important they are, makes a terrible ( read: boring) photo.  Show three people conversing, casual, laughing—not everyone full face.

Spend an hour on the web looking for great photo ideas that might work for you.  Keep a collection of great photos for inspiration.  A photo is the first thing a reader looks at.  Make it sing!


Statistics That Sing

The right statistics add meat to your materials as well as attention-grabbing heft.  (As you scan a page, don’t you find your eyes drawn to numbers that stand out?)  Most of us use numbers to get a quick summary of what the text is going to tell us.  (Haven’t you noticed that your news and magazines feature ever-more-frequent quick lists to grab your attention?)

There are many statistics to be found in fund-raising–the majority of them intended for internal purposes (response rates, percent over last year, etc.).   Only certain statistics will be meaningful to constitutents and prospects in your materials.

To be effective in marketing, your leading statistics need to be:

Easy to identify with–” Number of counseling sessions provided or clients served in one month.

In the realm of comprehension–”reduced homeless incidents from 60 to 50 per month.”

Express urgency– “Every 4 minutes a drunk driver gets behind the wheel.”

Relate the gift to the impact possible–”only $.67 a day will help veterans adjust as they return”; “your $100 gift will feed X children for a month.”

Assure donors that their gifts go directly to serving others–”95% of gifts to the campaign goes directly to the people of the disaster area.”

Knowing that the statistics will be read first, make sure you use the ones that will have the most impact for you.  If you don’t have the right statistic on hand, find a way to start collecting data that will fill the bill!

Maintaining Hard-Won Donors

Faithful donors are our life blood.  While we are working our hardest and taxing our wits developing strategies to identify and attract new donor prospects, it is the loyal base that keeps our efforts operating.  Yet do you even know when one of the faithful falls from the ranks?

The donor rarely keeps track of the time since the last gift to you.  Most rely on your gentle reminders to trigger the next gift.  It may be your annual campaign solicitation, but hopefully you are in touch with them more often that the predictable every-twelve-months.  And you should be offering them opportunities to  interact with your organization and help financially more than once a year.  It takes regular communication to maintain your place in their hearts.

So how do you keep track of this? Well, say you do two mailings a year (your Big event and your annual appeal).  Then you need to look at your lapsed donors (sometimes called LYBUNTs—last-year but-not-this-year) about every nine months.  Whether they meant to or not (or had a change in family situation), they have neglected to respond to two mailings.  You might make a personal phone call, mentioning that you haven’t heard from them in a while, and telling them about a special project they might be interested in.  It’s a good idea to ask for a specific amount, but no higher than the amount of their last gift.

When you send your annual solicitation, write a separate letter to those who didn’t give the previous year. Make gentle reference to their lapse, as in “we want to welcome you back to our family of active supporters.” If they didn’t realize they had lapsed, now they will and will become more attentive to their giving in the future.

If the donor fails to respond to the second solicitation, sent another note saying “we miss you” and enclosing a survey asking “can you tell us why you stopped giving?”  Offer a choice of typical responses (Too much mail, Lost your address, change in giving priorities, and I didn’t realize…).  You’ll be happy to see the number who “didn’t realize” and will return your envelope with a check.

Don’t give up on those who don’t respond to “we miss you” approach.  The cost (literal and figurative) of obtaining a new donor is still more than you’ve invested so far.  After another six months, approach them with another mailing or call with a specific offer and a request slightly lower than their last gift.  (This works especially well when you can say “your gift will be matched…).

And occasionally, in the future, send your appeal with the “we miss you” letter, and include them in your planned giving offers if age appropriate.

Track your results (and costs) over time to gauge how much follow-up—and what kind–works for you.  When someone has responded to your appeal in the past, it’s very likely that they still have an interest in your mission.  And those, after all, are the ones you want most.

Fond Farewells

Whenever a Board member or other leader among your constituents is leaving your inner circle—moving, make a career move, shifting his primary support from your organization to a new one, or “slowing down,”  be sure to glean all that you can.

                First, you’ll want to take the person to lunch, show your appreciation for how valuable they’ve been, and acknowledge “publicly” their service.  Not only is this the nice thing to do; it’s smart if you’re in the business of friend-raising.  Including another influencer might also be a nice touch.

                If appropriate, invite them to continue with your organization at a different level.  Perhaps they will serve on a Campaign committee, continue to accompany you on selected major gift visits, refer you to their peers whom you might not know.

                Reap the harvest.  Ask what advice they would have for the organization, what they’ve noticed that might work better, an audience you’re missing.  This senior constituent holds years of experience working with you and yours, may have seen administrative or societal changes, and, because he is now leaving, may be willing to share insights he wouldn’t previously.

                Suggest to the group he’s leaving that they might honor him and acknowledge the impact of his contributions of service.

                Ask if you may contact him in the future concerning the area he’s an expert in.  And, make a note to yourself to check in with him in six months, both as a friend and as one who values his input.

                This person is a treasure you have nurtured.  Don’t say goodbye without learning all you can.

Let’s Talk about Real Estate

You’re drafting a letter–your next Annual Giving, a gift acknowledgement, a personal letter–or an news item for your website.  Once you’re completed the address/date portion, what part of the letter/news item is the one the addressee is most likely to notice?  The first sentence, and probably not all of the first sentence–the first three or four words.  Those few words may be all that the prospect reads! (Well, they’ll probably read the postscript.)

Don’t waste that precious real estate on openings like these:

As 2014 draws to a close…

This year we celebrate…

XYZ was founded in 1945….

Thanks to the generosity…

Following on the success of last year’s…..

Why not?

  • They speak from the point of view of the organization, not the reader.
  • They’re addressing topics of interest to the organization, not the reader.
  • They’re talking about the past.
  • They’re unrelated to mission.
  • They contain no exciting words, create no visual image.
  • etc.

Yes, it takes a little extra effort to start at the heart of the matter rather than at the beginning.  But enticing the reader to read beyond your first few words is well worth effort.  And a lively opening sets you up as an organization worth listening to, and impression that may well extend to other things you write.