How Jargon Destroys Nonprofit Fundraising & Marketing

I hate jargon. With a passion.

Hate it. Hate it. Hate it.

Just. Can’t. Stand. It!

Yes, I guess you could call it a pet peeve.

But, really, why would you ever use jargon if you wanted to truly communicate with someone?

Just check out the definition:

“language used by a particular group of people, especially in their work, and which most other people do not understand”

— Cambridge dictionary.

Jargon = Failure to Communicate

When you talk to people in words they don’t understand, really, what’s the point?

Are you just trying to make yourself look smart?

Because, trust me, that’s not how it comes across.

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"Story Quilt" by Faith Ringold

How to Project Manage Your Nonprofit Story

"Story Quilt" by Faith RingoldYour nonprofit’s story is the whole ball of wax.

Without it, you’ve got nothing.

So let’s really talk about this for a minute.

A story is not “Give us money because we’re good guys and do good work.”

Nor are “Sustain humanitarian aid,” “Support the arts,” or “Save our rivers” stories.

Sure, there may be some implicit narratives hiding within these phrases, but they’re really tag lines or calls to action. Useful, sure. But not until you’ve laid the groundwork of telling a compelling story.

You never start a story with “And they lived happily ever after.”

Similarly, you should never start a fundraising appeal with “We saved the whales.” Where’s the emotion and drama here?

You know donors are moved to give through emotion, right?

The best way to get inside a donor’s head and heart is by telling a dramatic, emotional story. Something that taps into their core and arouses their curiosity, or some deeper feeling like sadness, fear or anger.

You see, human brains are wired for story.

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What Monkeys Can Teach Your Nonprofit

Monkey looking at youBabies can teach you the same thing.

If one baby does something, the others will want to ape them.

“Monkey see, monkey do.”

This is actually a psychological principle of influence and persuasion known as “social proof.”

It’s best explored in the 1984 groundbreaking book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini. He outlines six principles of influence affecting human behaviors. They’re all well documented, and can be incredibly useful to fundraisers.

One of the most useful principles is the one we also know today as the “Yelp effect.” It’s a type of positive (or negative) word of mouth that can make or break your business. I know how often I’ve abandoned my cart after reading a negative review. You?

Word of mouth is perhaps the most powerful form of social media you can find, so it pays to leverage it to your advantage.

Even someone inclined to support your cause may not give unless you push the right buttons. Of all the ways to do that, social proof is among the easiest and most successful.

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Sign: Good News is Coming

How to Raise Money with Nonprofit Newsletters

Sign: Good News is ComingYes, nonprofit newsletters can raise money!

And they should delight, retain and upgrade donors too.

How does this work?

It works by using your newsletter to give credit where it is due.

To your donors!

  1. Great newsletters are the opposite of all about you and your organization.We did this.” “We’re planning to do that.”
  2. Great newsletters sustain the joy donors felt at the moment of giving by confirming for them their decision was a good one.You made this happen.” “Your gift gave a happy ending to this story.”

You see, a charitable gift is not the same as a purchase of a product or service. With the latter, you have something tangible to continue to appreciate (e.g., you use your laptop daily; you continually admire the new paint job on your house). With the former, you’ve got nothing but an initial shot of dopamine … and then a memory. For most donors, this becomes a distant memory.  Because most nonprofits don’t consistently and repeatedly report back. With donors, out of sight truly does mean out of mind.

Use newsletters to show authentic gratitude and demonstrate how the donor’s gift made a difference.

You see, once is not enough.  Research shows for gratitude to be deeply felt it must be repeated. Repeat gratitude and reporting back accomplishes the following:

  • Donor feels good

  • Donor trusts you’re good to your word.

  • Donor feels inclined to give again.

  • Donor retention increases

  • Average gift size increases

  • Your raise a lot more money over time

Be guided by the “virtuous circle.”

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Helping hand

Nonprofit Content Marketing Should Help, Not Sell

Helping handWhen I think about nonprofit content marketing, one of my favorite marketing strategists is Jay Baer, author of Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help, not Hype.

He says the difference between “helping” and “selling’ is only two letters. But what a difference those two letters makes!

If you substitute ‘h’ and ‘p’ ( in ‘helping’) for ‘s’ and ‘l’ (in ‘selling’) in building your nonprofit content marketing strategy you’ll convince more of your nonprofit social media fans and followers to convert to subscribers or members, and more of your subscribers and members to convert to donors.

Think of it this way. If you’ve traditionally focused on selling vs. helping, you’ve emphasized ‘s’ and ‘l’ [stupidity (your customers) and laziness (you)]. You’ve acted like your customers don’t know very much, so they need you to show them the way. Yet at the same time you’ve been too lazy to gently teach them what they need to know.

Now imagine you focus on helping vs. selling. You emphasize ‘h’ and ‘p’ [humanity (your customers) and peer (you and your customer)]. You treat your constituents like individuals with specific values, needs and desires. You endeavor to learn more about them so you can meet their needs. You engage them as partners, showing you’re all in this together. You create a community of like-minded folks, welcome folks to your community, and take care of your members. Not as infants, but as peers. No one likes to be infantalized.

Sell something and you create a customer today. Help someone and you create a customer for life.

It’s human nature to fall into a ‘sales’ model when you feel so proud of what you do you assume everyone else will want to jump on your bandwagon. Yet just “doing good” is not enough. Anymore than having a good product is good enough for the soap manufacturer. You need to tell people how you can be helpful to them, their loved ones and their community. And don’t expect them to just take your word for it. Show them by offering up useful content and sharing powerful emotional stories and facts that demonstrate your outcomes. Otherwise, you keep people dependent on you to tell them what to do because “you know best.” When you keep people in the dark about the details, they feel both stupid and disempowered. Since these are not good feelings, how to you think this “sales vs. help” model makes your constituents feel?

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Color-Emotion-Guide-300x189.jpg

Hue Are You? What Color Can Mean for Your Nonprofit Marketing Strategy

Color Emotion Guide Infographic

What emotions align with your nonprofit mission and brand identity?

I adore color.  I’m definitely not someone who wears only black!

My personal ‘brand’ is multi-hued. You can see it at the top of my website. You can see it on my person.

What do the colors you ‘wear’ say about your brand?

I thought it would be interesting to think about how you use color in your donor communications, and happened on several great infographics, including The Psychology of Color in Design and Color Psychology and Marketing. They offer a terrific overview of the meaning of colors in the western hemisphere.

What you’ll learn is eye opening.

Color is a powerful form of nonverbal communication. There should be more to selecting color than just a whim. 

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Gifts of many colors

Top Nonprofit Marketing Tip: If You Want Gifts, You Must Give Them

Gifts of many colorsI often say “If you want gifts, you must give them.”

I’ve written about this multiple times, suggesting little gifts of useful or inspirational content – things that cost you virtually nothing – you can ‘gift’ to your constituents.

  • Often it’s information you use in your daily work, and it’s just a matter of sharing your expertise and recommendations with your larger community.
  • Other times it’s inspirational stories to uplift spirits.
  • Or you can share a news article if you don’t have the expertise you wish to share in-house. It’s okay to outsource from another publication.  Just make sure to give credit where credit is due.

Think from the perspective of your donors and volunteers.

What information do you have they might find helpful, thought-provoking, inspiring or fun?

Rather than guess, why not ask?

1. You can survey your constituents directly using a simple format like Survey Monkey, or

2. You can ask your staff who work with your clients and/or supporters on a regular basis. For example:

  • Ask your reception person what some of the most frequently asked questions are when folks call your organization.
  • Ask your webmaster or marketing person what website pages are most frequently visited.
  • Ask your marketing staff what e-newsletter or blog articles are most frequently opened.
  • Ask your volunteer coordinator what most inspires and keeps your volunteers engaged.
  • Ask your program staff what their clients and client families most need from them.

Here are some content ideas from different sectors — especially for the times we’re in:

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Even Nonprofits Get the Blues

2020-06-07 15.39.42Times are tough. It’s easy to get demoralized. Especially if you work for a business, nonprofit or otherwise, that doesn’t feel ‘essential’ in today’s environment.

It’s human to feel depressed.

A survey conducted in June by the Kaiser Family Foundation found more than 30% of adults in the United States were reporting symptoms consistent with anxiety or depression since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Even our former First Lady revealed in a recent podcast:

“There have been periods throughout this quarantine where I just have felt too low… I have to say, that waking up to the news, waking up to how this administration has or has not responded, waking up to yet another story of a Black man or a Black person somehow being dehumanized or hurt or killed, or falsely accused of something, it is exhausting. It has led to a weight that I haven’t felt in my life — in, in a while.”

Michelle Obama

I know it’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel sometimes.  And waiting for time to pass sucks.

Yet my Mom always said, “This too shall pass.”

I found it comforting.

It was like she was sharing some universal truth by telling me time-specific depression need not turn to despair.

There’s another path.

Mrs. Obama said she had benefited from keeping a routine, including exercise, getting fresh air and having a regular dinner time. I’ve found these things useful as well. Most important, I’m learning to focus more on what I can control than what I can’t. Plus I’m learning to accept there are some things I can’t do. Some things I can’t fix.  Not now.

Sometimes we have to wait.

Meanwhile, there are things to do to make the waiting bearable.

What Nonprofits Can Learn from the Blues

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Playground art alien robot

Is Your Nonprofit Inadvertently Creating Stranger Danger Due to Coronavirus

Playground art alien robotI’ve been writing since this pandemic began about the importance of staying connected to donors right now.

Especially right now.

Empathically connected.

Humanly connected.

Dependably connected.

Now is no time to go dark on folks.

Not when they most need social connection!

Please take heed and, when it comes to your donors, don’t be a stranger.

Social Distancing Does Not Justify Donor Distancing

There are many aspects of staying connected with donors during this pandemic, and I’ve covered a lot of them in past articles. [See here, here, here and here for just some ideas; I have more!] Holding virtual events. Making thank you calls. Calling supporters to check in. Offering participation opportunities like town halls, community conference calls, zoom focus groups, engagement surveys and so forth.

But there’s one area I haven’t covered, because I didn’t think I needed to. Apparently, I do. Why? Because social isolation is changing us in unforeseen ways. And it’s messing with our minds in a way that comes out in our verbal expression.

Because there is so much emphasis on staying separated from others, and taking care of ourselves, this ‘separation mindset’ is creeping inexorably into our psyches. What do I mean?

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Sign StaySafeBeKind

Nonprofit Crisis Response Tip-a-Day-DO-Dah!

Sign StaySafeBeKindResist the temptation to throw your hands up in the air because you’re hearing people are giving less now. While it may be true(ish), it doesn’t apply to everyone. And it doesn’t need to apply to your nonprofit.

Also, the fact folks aren’t giving may not be for the reasons you assume. In fact, one of the biggest reasons this is true is because nonprofits are asking less.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Recent research shows:

  • Giving is increasingly seen as good – as is fundraising. Even donors who have been hit economically are remaining remarkably generous.
  • Charities with little relevance to tackling Coronavirus will still receive support from donors that value them – as long as they ask for help (otherwise they’ll be perceived as not in need of funds).

It all boils down to a need to put together both short and long-term plans to connect meaningfully with your supporters right now, using the correct approach and tone. Towards that end, I’ve put together five ‘to-do’s – one for each day of the work week.  I suggest you put aside a little bit of time this coming week to consider how you might actualize each of these suggestions, if not in whole at least in part.

Ready for your five timely tips?

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