And, the envelope please…

When asked what my favorite carrier envelope is for a fundraising appeal, my standard answer is:

One that screams “open me!”

Of course, there are a variety of reasons an envelope may beg to be opened.

And an equal number of reasons why it may scream “dump me in the trash.”

Today I want to help you avoid the trash bin.

And, good news – it’s not that difficult.

You don’t need to be a direct mail expert.

You don’t need to run a zillion A/B tests.

You just need to exercise some good old-fashioned common sense.

First, think about what gets you to open an envelope.

I’d love for you to do some brainstorming now – before you read further.

In fact, if you want to do something really helpful, stop reading this article, convene a few colleagues, and do a little group brainstorming. Ideally, get your answers up on a whiteboard or other group memory so you can piggyback off of each other’s ideas. [Go do this now; come back to this article later.]

If you’re not prepared to play along (I get it, you’re busy), here’s a sample I’m sharing from a brainstorm I did with another nonprofit:

Details

Are You Accountable? Or do You Suffer from Akrasia?

I’ve long advocated for incorporating accountability into nonprofit job descriptions if you hope to get, and measure, results. Without accountability, tasks have a serious likelihood of slipping to the back burner; then off the stove entirely.

Procrastination is just a human trait. 

We tell ourselves we’ll clean out the garage this weekend.  But no one makes us do it.  So the weekend comes and goes without anything happening.

We make a new year’s resolution to exercise more. We even join a gym. We attend a couple of times, but no one is tracking our progress on the elliptical machine. We fall back into our previous habits and, before we know it, we’ve stopped going.

We plan to get out of the office and visit a donor at least three times a week, but no one really pays attention to our schedule – after all, we’re grown-up professionals! – and it’s easy to get distracted by emails, meetings, and a host of other tasks.

I could go on with a zillion examples. You probably can too. Why?  Because human beings are wired this way. We get distracted. We procrastinate. We give in to habits that may not serve us well. And we’ve been doing it for centuries.  It even has a Greek name: Akrasia.

Details

How to Stop Leaving Money on the Table

Money on TableMoney left on the table is one of my pet peeves. It’s really beyond a peeve.

I can’t stand it when organizations could be serving more people, or doing so more effectively, but they don’t because they’re too smug (“what we’re doing now works just fine, and don’t try to tell me otherwise”) … self-reportedly “too stressed” … or simply not open to the idea of trying out some new strategies.

This “resting on one’s laurels” modus operandi leads to status quo organizations that fail to evolve to meet the moment. They get stuck in the past and, too often, begin to wither and die. Or they become what I call a “boutique charity” appealing to a niche group of insiders, content with the status quo.

That’s “nice,” but if you’re dedicated to solving pressing societal problems, meeting insistent human needs, and creating transformational personal and societal change, you’ll need to connect with donors on a more direct, visceral level.

How to Stop Leaving Money on Your Table

Your best donors have linkage, interest and ability (LIA). Begin with those already linked to you by virtue of having made a previous donation, been a loyal volunteer, served on your staff or board, or been a repeat purchase of services or products. In other words, they’re hiding in plain sight in your database.

Consider how you might learn more about these folks to better connect with them and make the best use of limited resources. You can do this in one of two ways:

  1. Donor Analytics: Find out how wealthy they are (ability)
  2. Supporter Connection Survey: Find out what they care about most (interest)

It’s funny, but too many nonprofits start with the former and often completely ignore the latter. It’s a way to go (and I confess I’ve been there), but is it the best way? I no longer think so – which is why I’m writing this article.

Details

How to Write a Foolproof Nonprofit Grant Proposal

Too often grant proposals begin with some variation of “we want money because we’re a good cause and, since you’re good guys too, naturally this will be a match made in heaven.”

There’s nothing natural about this request.

In fact, it’s a version of “Alice in Wonderland Through the Looking Glass” thinking.

To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat speaking to Alice: If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.

Or not.

In fact, Alice tells the Cat she just wants to get “somewhere.” Could this, perhaps, be like you just wanting to bring in ‘some’ money to balance your budget? Hmnn… The Cat tells Alice “Oh, you’re sure to do that. If you only walk long enough.

Guess what?

Most funders reading your proposal will not want to read long enough. In fact, if you’re not clear on your destination from the get-go, they’re likely to abandon you before you get there. If you get there. In other words, wherever you end up, you won’t arrive there together.

And that’s the point of a grant proposal, right?

You seek a partnership… a travelling companion… an investor who cares about the outcome.

Where you’re Going… How you’re Going There… and How Much it Will Cost

Right from the get-go, this is what funders need to hear from you.

No beating around the bush.

Get right to the point with the specifics.

If the funder must read through several paragraphs – or pages – before it’s clear how much money you’re requesting and what, specifically, you intend to use it for, they’ll be in a ticked-off frame of mind as they read your proposal.

Not good.

Get organized!

The 6-step formula I’m about to share is one I learned when I first entered this business decades ago.

Details

6 Strategies to Make a Powerfully Winning Major Donor Pitch that Gets Top Results

I could just say (1) prepare, (2) prepare, (3) prepare, (4) prepare, (5) prepare, and (6) prepare.

Did I mention that you really need to prepare?

Preparation is the meta-message of Shark Tank’s “Mr. Wonderful,” Kevin O’Leary, to would-be entrepreneurs seeking to get spots – and funding – on the television show.

In “How to Present the Perfect Pitch: From the Shark Tank to the Boardroom” he offers 10 strategies to help you ace a fundraising pitch. Whether you’re seeking venture capital or a philanthropic gift, many of the principles are the same.

I’ve selected six strategies I find perfectly aligned with what it takes to make a successful nonprofit ask. I’ve also suggested some action tips. Take them to heart, and you’re sure to make your next in-person fundraising presentation a winner.

Oh, and there’s one more important thing, says O’Leary:

“The number-one rule is to make your pitch incredibly dynamic.”

Let’s do it!

Details

How to Apply Job Interview Skills to Fundraising

When my daughter-in-law was interviewing for a job, she asked me for some advice. Here is what I found myself telling her:

Don’t focus on your needs. Focus on the employer’s needs.

Why are they hiring?

What problems do they need you to solve?

Which of your skills are they particularly looking for?

Can you describe to them how you might use these skills to help them?

Can you give a specific example, perhaps by telling a story, showing exactly how you’ll help them?

Are you clear what their values are?

CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW YOU AND YOUR WOULD-BE EMPLOYER (DONOR) SHARE THESE VALUES?

I realized this is the exact same advice I give to fundraisers!

Ask not what your donor can do for you, but what you can do for your donor.”

Meet your donors’ needs.

This is the heart of all effective fundraising, and the following should be your daily mantra.

Today I will meet my donor’s need by…

In fact, if you really want to become effective at your job, you will adopt this mantra for your interactions with co-workers as well.

Today I will meet my colleague’s need by…

This shift in your stance and approach may not seem like a lot, but it’s actually a game changer. By beginning with putting yourself in the shoes of another, you automatically open yourself to giving and receiving gifts.  And I often say if you want gifts you must give them.

Before you engage in any fundraising strategy, ask yourself:

Details