Fundraising Blog

Lively Newsletters—How Do They Do It?

Whatever the frequency of your newsletter, make each one fresh, unique, and valuable to the reader.  You may think repeated information provides an additional hit, but it doesn’t if the donor ignores it.

It’s too easy to fall into the habit of rerunning the announcement of your gala, calls for volunteers, upcoming education schedule, etc.  The problem with this is that the reader sees something he’s read before and assumes that he needn’t read further.  Even worse, the reader begins to regard your communications as something he doesn’t need to read.  Zzzzzzz.

Content and visuals must be new, even if the topic isn’t.

That wonderful poster graphic for the gala is only News once.  Each subsequent pitch must be based on a different facet, use a different (or variation of) visual interest, and be just as “new” as the first one.

With a newsletter, you never know if the reader received the prior issue or took the time to read it.  You want the reader to feel the excitement of the event, even if he’s already bought his ticket.

Give yourself a fresh chance to make the sell each time.

It takes more work to freshen the news every time, but it’s worth it.  Imagine if you opened next Sunday’s paper and saw the same headline you’d seen the week before.  You’d either think you were losing your mind or you’d think “I don’t really need to renew this subscription.”


A Call to Action They Can’t Ignore

Tell the donor what action to take, when, how, and why!  Especially in today’s world of short attention spans, dominance of quick web communications, and preponderance of urgency, you need an appeal that is hard to ignore.  Some pointers:

 Call to action must be prominent, in a place and in font or colors where it can’t be missed. (Remember most readers look only at the first paragraph and the postscript.)

 Identify the specific action: Click the Donate button, write your check, call to volunteer, etc. 

 The action must be feasible for the donor to accomplish now, before he sets the letter aside.

 Visualize the reader taking that action.  If you can’t visualize it (“raising awareness”), your reader won’t either.

People want to make a difference.  If you’re not telling them how to make an immediate difference, you’re not hitting the right buttons.  An appeal letter isn’t meant to convince people of the long-term accomplishments of your organization; it’s meant to spur them to immediate action.

Compelling Story-Telling

Here’s a beautiful example of using story-telling as an effective appeal:

Ngan’s parents were poor rice farmers, struggling to survive. When they saw her cleft lip and cleft palate for the first time, they thought she’d been cursed. Neighbors pitied her. Other children were afraid to look at her.

Four short sentences, at the beginning,  compelling content, emotional, visual.

Generous friends like you enabled us to give Ngan the surgery she needed–and save her from shame and rejection. She now has a terrific smile and a bright future ahead. Such a transformation seems miraculous! But we cannot rest.

“You” (donor) focus, complimentary, resolution of problem stated in first paragraph, hopeful, visual. Switches to “we” (moves donor to his part in all of this).

We want to go to more places and help more children. We want to continue to train local doctors and nurses to carry on the work, and establish more care centers in our partner countries, so surgeries can continue year-round.

States the goal in human terms, mostly visual.

We have medical teams who volunteer their time standing by. Now we need your help. Any gift amount will help give a little one like Ngan a new smile and a new life.

How you can join other volunteers to make a difference, visual.

And for as little as $240, you can help pay for a surgery for a child who’s waiting now. That’s one life changed, entirely because of you.

The difference the donor can make, visual.

Thank you in advance for helping us work toward changing the lives of children one smile at a time.

 Appreciation and reinforcement of the difference donor can make.

There’s not a lot more for me to say. All this in 197 words. Imagine a photo or two, the logo identifying the sponsoring organization, and an action-oriented response device. Do you think this is more effective than the ponderous two-pager? Can you top this?

Online Giving to the Fore

It’s happening.  “Online giving is now a donor’s preferred method of giving,” for the first time, according to Grizzard’s 2014 DonorGraphics Study (Grizzard Communications, Omnicom Group Inc.)

However, many donors are prompted to give online by a direct mail piece.  Grizzard notes that “as much of 70 percent of your online and white-mail giving. . .  is coming from a donor who received a direct-mail piece within the previous 30 days.”

Time to integrate your direct-mail and online solicitations (and responses) to reinforce this multi-channel interest.  Donors who respond through more than one channel typically give a larger amount over five years than donors who work through only one channel.  Add to that, the Boomer’s affinity to online giving.  The net result is that your best strategy to take advantage of this new swing in giving methods is to make sure that your two approaches work well together.

            Although the copy will differ, the message should be the same.

            Keywords should carry over between the two.

            Graphics should have a relationship to one another.

And, though you’ll respond through the medium in which the donor gave, make a plan to cross-promote to this donor within the next month!

Engage, Engage, Engage

Ever wonder why your local newspaper announces 20 or more fundraising events each week?  Surely there can’t be an endless of supply of people eager to show up on Saturday for a dog wash, a rubber duckie race, —

But, yes, in fact there are!

It doesn’t take a lot of research to see that: People want to be engaged.  Especially people under 50. Perhaps philanthropy has changed from the days of formal teas and peer soliciting peer.

It’s always been important to communicate with your donors.  Today it’s critical to engage them.  Give them a live experience connecting with your organization.  As you have probably seen for yourself, participating in an activity involving your organization, your mission, and your clients has a much higher impact in creating involvement than sending a check or clicking a Donate button.

Some examples:

            5K races, bowlathons, tournaments

            Dog washes and dog parks

            Demonstrations at the State Capitol

            United Way Cleanup Day

            Helping with summer camp

            Testing water samples or counting birds

            Coach a team or read to clients

Why do this?  Because when you take a step to involve the donor (especially a new donor) live, these are the connections you are making;

             The donor/volunteer:

                      “Feels” the nature of your work and the good you are doing; and feels a part of it.

                        Associates helping you with a pleasurable “belonging” experience

                        Meets like-minded others

                         Fulfills his need to do meaningful work

                         Feels that you responded personally and positively to his gift; you need him.

The best of these events are those closely related to your mission (painting the homeless center, cleaning up the stream, taking a group bus to the capitol to show support). 

This kind of event may not be your favorite thing to organize.  But if you look around and brainstorm, you may find a volunteer who will be excited to launch this for you.

 No more teas.  Today’s fundraising calls for an ever-changing landscape of activities to attract donors!





Forgotten Constituents!

So much of our focus is on our donors, don’t forget those internal stakeholders!  Special attention should be given to those whose support makes our work possible.  You probably do have a plan for nurturing your Board each year. But do you have nurture plans for your staff, volunteers, and clients?


Why do you need to add this assignment to your already long list? What are the benefits?

                Draw these valuable assets closer to you—friendmaking

                Help them feel a part of your mission—ownership

                Increase their abilities (and inclinations) to spread the word of what you’re doing and how great an organization you are.

How do you do this?

                First identify these stakeholders

                Ask them what they want from your organization.  (Stop giving them what You want them to know; meet Their needs/wishes.)  You’ll need to use separate efforts to survey each group, maybe with personal interviews, small group meetings.  You’re not likely to get useful information by handing out a written survey.

                Don’t patronize these valuable individuals.  Although these groups aren’t usually at the top of our cultivation lists, perhaps they should be.  They have already expressed a very tangible interest in your mission; they may be pretty knowledgeable about what you do; and they have reason to be involved in your ongoing success.

Now that you know what they want, find a way to provide it, put it on your annual calendar, and just do it!

Be more than a paycheck to your staff.

Get to know volunteers personally, developing their ability to spread the word for you.

Although we don’t often think of clients as potential donors, that may be a mistake.  Low-income donors generally give a larger percent of their income than other donors.  Give them the opportunity to participate in the work of your organization, not just the benefits.  Let them share in the ownership. (Think of Habitat for Humanity Homes.)  They may also be able to add connections related to your mission—professionals, related organizations, etc.

These stakeholders are too valuable an asset to neglect!



Oh, no! Not another meeting!

So the Chairman of the Gala Committee does a wonderful job, but her meetings are boring, consist of endless reports, and don’t leave the right people with the information they need. 

Not your problem?  Of course it is! The meeting attendees are all, if not your donors, then your best prospects.  She may be leading the meeting, but you stand to lose the very people you’re working so hard to attract.

 “I can’t tell Sally how to run her meeting,” you say.  Well, you’d better think again.  (Maybe you don’t “tell” her, you show her.)  There are tactful ways to encourage a volunteer to do a better job.

Here are some tips to  make meetings (from the Board on down) work for you in attracting and keeping the friends of your organization:

 Make sure there’s an agenda in advance, and that you stick pretty close to it.  This may mean meeting with the chair ahead of time—well worth your effort. The new member can plan her time and reports; your meeting won’t throw a wrench in her day.

 Encourage members to report on a regular basis and in a useful way.  In advance, provide them with samples of good reports, model the length of time spent giving the report, show how the interlocking of reports creates a whole picture of the project and its progress.

 No “downers.”  Don’t let negative talk go on in the meeting; you don’t want to turn off a first-time attendee.

 “Uppers.”  At each meeting, plan some accomplishment to report—latest results from last year, or new donors/prospects joining through the project, or latest news from elsewhere in your organization.

 Once again, it’s not about you!  It’s about making time spent with your organization truly a benefit to the recipient. What excites the attendees sends the message that the organization really wants their involvement, values the attendees’ contributions, is willing to put forth the effort to make their participation worthwhile, does things professionally, and knows how to make projects successful.

 When volunteers have raised their hands to help you, make it pleasant for them.  They might resign on for the next project as well!








If You Can’t See it, Neither Can They!

How do you feel about “making an impact’?  Are you motivated to “sustain” the “continuum of care”?

How about helping people “realize their potential”?  Does “sharing a commitment” excite you to participate?

 I picture the first fundraising professionals sitting around the table and thinking up these intellectual constructs years ago when looking for umbrella words to convey the seriousness and heft of their messages, while trying to avoid sounding like the used car salesman in a tv ad.  The practice was conceived and many of us are still following it.

But today’s readers expect something more visceral, something that will compel them to action and involvement.  If they can’t picture what you’re offering, chances are they’ve moved on to someone else’s appeal.

Some of these words overused in fundraising are: engage, empower, facilitate, outreach, outcomes, capacity, leverage, etc.  They may be effective in grant proposals, but don’t inflict them on donors you hope to inspire.

Consider the difference in these sentences from two different appeals:

“We hope you’ll join us in supporting the programs and services we provide to help young people realize their potential…..”

“Your gift will give Anna and others like her a place to go, meet friends, laugh and learn, and maybe go to college someday.”

Accompanied by lively photos and Anna’s story perhaps, the second appeal provides a picture of what the gift can cause to happen.  Much more likely to hit the donor’s sweet spot and spur him to action.  Not to mention creating an association in his mind of what your organization’s work looks like, instead of the picture of bureaucrats sitting around a table crafting phrases that sound important and say little.

Pep Up Your Next Auction

The concept of an auction as a fundraiser sounds great!  And when the idea was new, some groups had great ones!  But don’t rely on an old standby event when it’s no longer having a positive impact on your audience.  Beware the pitfalls of a less-than-stellar auction!

No dud prizes.  While that $25 gift certificate to have your oil changed may have generated some excitement in the past, it probably doesn’t anymore. In addition, the vendors you solicit annually for these ho-hum items are probably tired of giving and haven’t seen any great surges in their businesses as a result of the auction item.

The early bidding on these routine items quickly produces boredom in your audience and does anything but set an exciting pace.

Your auction-attendee probably comes in intending to bid on something in support of your organization, but if there’s nothing of interest, it’s a real downer for the attendee—and that negative feeling may transfer to your organization or your future events.

If someone donates something, and then finds out that no one bid on it, or the minimum bid wasn’t met, now that person has a bad taste in their mouth—and you’re the person who made that happen.

There are plenty of creative ideas to assure your auction success.  I recently attended one where the (professional and engaging) auctioneer began the bidding by auctioning off a glass of water.  People got excited and bid up to $300—for the benefit of the sponsoring agency.

Another idea is to auction off services your agency provides.  As an auction item, offer “buy 10 meals for the homeless for $25,”  “send 3 campers to camp for $300,” etc.  This type of auction item brings your mission front and center.  Multiple bidders can sign up and buy one or five of the item. Many of your auction-attendees really don’t need to buy another bottle of wine or tickets to a baseball game, or picnic basket with all the take-alongs; a mission-oriented opportunity offers them something they’re already interested in and can get enthusiastic about bidding-up.

Get your creative juices going and set up something exciting for your next event!

Online donors: Respond in Their Language!

Donors who give online are a special class of people.  By definition, you know that they are savvy and comfortable with technology; appreciate the immediacy and convenience of making that donation happen right now (while it’s on their minds); and feel trust in your organization and its systems.  Perhaps they also appreciate how an online gift reduces the hassle factor—both for you and for them.

Your response needs to take these factors into account. 

Respond quickly—within the hour you might even catch them during the same online session! (Imagine how impressive and gratifying that would be!)

Use technology to respond—not merely return email.  As with any donor, personalize that response in some way.  Don’t send the equivalent of the fill-in-the-blanks form letter/tax receipt (generated by a robot). Call them by name, make a comment, refer to what triggered their gift if you know (“So glad to meet you at the gala on Thursday.”)

Use technology to add value to your response.  Show “thermometer” graph of the progress of your campaign, tell a fresh client story,  attach a short video of a client expressing thanks, photo/photo montage of happy consumers, a relevant cartoon, or a pithy quotation in clever graphic form.  You can easily put together a small library to have on hand for this (and other) uses.

Acknowledging a gift promptly is always good form.  Use what you know about online donors to customize your online response to hit their hot buttons!