Love letters

What’s Going On? What Can We Do?

Love lettersI had a fundraising post all ready to launch today, but I just couldn’t do it.

The world seems wildly out of whack right now.  I can’t pretend it’s business as usual.

I try to stay away from “politics,” because I know that’s not why you read my blog. However, we live in a political world. And so do our nonprofits, our staff, our volunteers, our donors and our clients. Simply put, politics is about making agreements between people so that they can live together in groups.

Nonprofits cannot seal themselves off in little bubbles, pretending what’s happening in the rest of the world doesn’t exist.

That’s why, during the pandemic, I encouraged you to talk about how events touch those who rely on you. It’s why, all the time, I encourage you to relate your work to what’s in the news and top of mind to donors. Be it hurricanes, fires, famine, drought, social unrest, war, civil liberties, mass shootings, homophobia, racism, sexism, bigotry, or anything else horrifying to body, mind, heart and soul.

If it’s something you’re thinking about, you can bet it’s something your constituents are thinking about.

If you don’t address it, you risk coming across as unimportant, blind, shallow or out of touch. Being relevant, and meaningful, means getting inside your supporters’ heads and knowing what’s important to them. What are they thinking? How are they feeling? In what way do the emotions they’re currently experiencing interact with your mission? How can they help you, and you help them?

I don’t know how you’ve been feeling, but many folks I’ve been talking to have mentioned anger, outrage and fear. Even those who are happy about one or two things are deeply concerned about other developments. And this holds true for both sides. Listen to Fox News, then listen to MSNBC.  You’ll hear equal doses of horror. The pendulum has been swinging wildly, back and forth, and the world seems madly out of whack.

What can the social benefit sector do to bring things back into balance?

I keep coming back to the Golden Rule. What if none of us ever did anything to anyone else we didn’t want them to do unto us? What if we only treated others as we would want to be treated? It seems so simple. So logical. So in everyone’s best interest.

What is it about the human animal that leads the same people who don’t want government to impose mask or vaccine mandates on them wanting to impose no abortion mandates on others? Or, from the other perspective, those who don’t want government telling them they can’t smoke pot wanting to tell others they can’t carry guns? All of this “I can impose, but you can’t” is nonsense from the perspective of “do unto others.” Yet, we persist.

The only way to make sense of these things is through an understanding of balance. We must strive toward philanthropy (translated as “love of humanity”).

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Fundraising Do's & Don'ts logo

Fundraising Do’s vs. Don’ts: Monthly Donor Appeal Strategy

Fundraising Do's & Don'ts logoHere comes my occasional “Do’s vs. Don’ts” feature, where I share with you something arriving in my mailbox that seems a good ‘teaching opportunity.’

Today we’re going to review a monthly donor campaign strategy.

It arrived as an email. There’s (1) a subject line, (2) the email itself, and (3) what happens if/when you click through and are transported to the donation landing page.

We’ll take a look at the various elements; then assess what works/doesn’t work.

I’ll ask you some questions.

  1. Would you open this email?
  2. If yes, why?
  3. If no, why?
  4. What looks good about the email?
  5. What looks not so good about the email?
  6. Would it inspire you to click through?
  7. If yes, why?
  8. If no, why not?
  9. Once you click through, would you be inspired to take action?
  10. If yes, why?
  11. If no, why not?

First, I’d like you to think about your answers and jot them down.

Second, I’ll tell you what I think.

Third, if you disagree with me please let me know in the comments below.

Really take the time to notice what you like and don’t like.

I promise you’ll learn a LOT more this way. We learn best by doing.

Seriously, I mean it.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

Subject Headline

Claire, here’s a simple way to do your part to repair the world.

This may help: Take three minutes and jot down your answers to the first three questions on a piece of paper or your screen. I want to know if what was in the subject headline would have caused you to open the email or hit ‘delete.’

Okay.  Ready to learn what I think thus far, and also see what else we’re working with?

Let’s begin!

Does this Email Say “Open Me?”

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Money on Table

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.

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Fork in the Road

4 Strategies to Connect Nonprofit Donors to Cherished Values

Your donor’s philanthropic journey begins with you. Your job is to steer them down the pathway to passionate philanthropy, making them feel joy and fulfillment every step of the way. When the gift is finally made, they should experience a true sense of victory in a job well done.

The cherished philanthropic outcome generally will only happen if you do your job well.

One of my favorite fundraising experts, who specializes in major and legacy giving, is Dr. Russell James. He knows everything there is to know about what the industry calls “planned giving,” but he knows so much more than most. Because Dr. James, while a skilled technician, is also a thoughtful and strategic fundraiser. And he knows the best practitioners guide towards a goal. I recently listened to a webinar where Dr. James spoke extensively about the universal hero’s journey and how this comes into play in fundraising. It dovetails so nicely with my fundraising philosophy I thought I’d write about it!

You see, once you know where you’re going with any particular donor (be sure to pick a goal!), your job is to advance their journey towards that goal with every step you both take. You’re like a “Donor Engagement Sherpa,” who supports your donor up their trek towards the mountain’s peak. Sometimes there will be more than one way to get there. Be open to your donor’s needs, not just yours. Lead with vulnerability, but lead.

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R.I.P. Donor Pyramid?

Swirling fractalThe modern model is more like a vortex — an energized circle where everyone is equal. People move in and out as needed, and your job is to keep the energy flowing.

NOTE: My article on the topic of moving away from the donor pyramid model for donor acquisition, cultivation and major gift solicitation recently resurfaced on social media dialogue, so I thought it was time for a reprint.

Why do we always think of donors with pyramids? The pyramids were built in Egypt. On the backs of slaves. It took a very, very long time. The cost, in human terms, was untenable and unsustainable.

That’s why you don’t see many pyramids being built these days.

Except in nonprofits, where building the donor pyramid is still the holy grail. Get ’em in. Move ’em up. Acquire through direct mail. Convert to monthly donor or sustainer. Acquire through events. Convert to mail. Up, up, up … to the pinnacle of major and planned gifts!

Except for one tiny thing.

It doesn’t work.

Pyramid building is so 2630 BCE. Nobody’s got 100,000 workers (aka direct-mail donors) building a solid pyramid anymore. Many so-called pyramids really look like hourglasses. Or upside-down pyramids. Or plateaus. Even the pyramid-shaped ones are resting on shaky foundations of donors who move in and out, in and out — eight out of 10 newly acquired bottom-of-the-pyramid donors leave — making the “foundation” more like a river than a solid, secure slab of mortar. The days of the donor pyramid model are gone!

Digital toppled the donor pyramid. Actually, it crumbled it … slowly, surely … until there was nothing left but an empty frame. A triangle on paper. The donors no longer fit inside of it.

R.I.P. donor pyramid. You had a good run.

The donor pyramid (sometimes call the donor ladder) was a great model for linear thinkers like me. It was neat and orderly. Engage folks from the bottom up, level by level, one step at a time. It was stable.

Or so we thought,

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Show-me-you-know-me.jpg

Show Me You Know Me* — 5 Strategies To Sustain Donor Relationships

Let’s pretend you and your donor are not connecting meaningfully right now. You’re not sure why. Could it be they feel financially insecure…  they’re worried for their kids… they’ve been let down by politicians… they’re just feeling cynical and/or hopeless? For whatever reason, things aren’t singing between you and them. They haven’t renewed. They haven’t upgraded. They haven’t responded to any of your outreach. They seem to have other priorities.

So, you decide to go to counseling to reinvigorate the relationship. The therapist makes a wise observation: Sometimes in life, one partner feels strong; the other less strong. In such times, the stronger partner has resources to support the weaker partner. Other times, neither partner feels they have coping resources. During these times, we have to depend more on ourselves, be patient, and accept that our partner is not currently in a strong position – even though we really need their support.

Are you being a support for your donor? Are you helping, not selling all the time? Are you being patient, yet persistently showing you care?

We’re in turbulent times.. Giving has surged overall during the pandemic, but there are fewer individual givers.  Some industries, like education, are losing support. As are many smaller charities not involved in addressing hot-button topics. And prior to the pandemic studies showed giving to be sluggish. Donors are less loyal. Donors may be distracted by emergencies. Or so-called rage giving. Or simply uncertainty about what lies ahead. So they’re giving less consistently. As a result, donor centered fundraising has never been as important as it is now.

People are feeling a need to be nurtured. In other words: Ask not what your donors can do for you, but what you can do for your donors. Recognize they don’t serve you; you serve them. They don’t owe you; you owe them.  Your job is to help them experience the joy of giving. It is through you they will achieve their most meaningful work.

Embrace the true meaning of philanthropy as love of humankind.  Remember your donors are humankind; you must love them if you want to be a part of philanthropy.  Otherwise, you’re just transacting business.

So… what can you do to embrace the love and thereby keep your donors close?

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How Yucky Email Addresses – and Inhumanity — Hurt Your Nonprofit

Robotic_dinosaur_with_face_mask_-_Art_in_the_VoidThese days you’re likely communicating with constituents digitally more than ever before.

That’s terrific, but… I want you to remember one important thing, especially if you’re a small to medium-sized, local nonprofit.

Philanthropy, translated from the Greek, literally means ‘love of humanity.’

Whatever you do that gets in the way of your humanity?

Stop doing it!

I really mean it.

Why?

PEOPLE GIVE TO PEOPLE

Sure, sometimes the ‘cause’ alone is enough to drive donations. But generally this holds true only for first-time gifts, emergency response gifts, and gifts to national and international charities with large name recognition. Even in these cases, repeat gifts and major gifts are driven by human interaction.

When it comes to your current supporter base, they tend to want to engage with real human beings.

Want to know what’s not a real human being?

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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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Not Today Covid 19

Anatomy of a Coronavirus Nonprofit Email + Thank You

Not Today Covid 19Last week I shared a number of real-life examples from innovative nonprofits taking creative steps to connect meaningfully to their supporters during these trying times. While staying connected, some organizations are succeeding in stepping up both their marketing and fundraising communications to the next level.

Sometimes this means virtual events, online conference calls and hang-outs and, yes, asking for the philanthropy needed to respond to urgent needs and stay in business for the longer haul.

I promised today I’d share an example of a straight-up email appeal.  Actually, it’s more than an appeal.

Because every communication you have with folks today must be more than business as usual.

It’s got to be empathic.

Let’s face it. All folks are thinking about today is coronavirus. If you ignore this fact, you’ll come across as out of touch and even insensitive. So begin every communication with some acknowledgement of what people are going through. Not just you. Them.

Check in with people and ask them how they’re doing.  This is actually always a good way to begin. We do it more in our personal lives (oddly, particularly with strangers).  You ask the clerk at the counter “How’s it going?” You leave the store saying “Have a nice day.” In fact, one of the hallmarks of a culture of philanthropy is you’ll find staff always asking each other “How can I help you today?” [See “Fundraising Bright Spots”]

Silver lining of this pandemic? Rediscover the power of empathy.  Take this opportunity to connect the dots between the problem you lay out and the solution with which the donor can be helpful. This is solid, basic fundraising – the way it should always be practiced but too often is not.  Use this opportunity to be better.

It’s got to be innovative.

Remember, this is not ‘business as usual.’ Already every nonprofit and their dog are sending out messages related to this crisis.  What will get your messages to stand out? Lots of things come to mind, including great subject headlines, compelling images and graphics, engaging stories and an authentic tone. All the basics apply.

Practice solid fundraising, of course, but try to add in a little bit of something extra. Novelty. Fun. Inspiration. Prayer. Social action.  Whatever is best suited to your particular brand and community.

Silver lining of this pandemic? Many of your familiar, tired strategies were probably due for a change anyway. This is an opportunity to reject the status quo, develop new skills and consider fresh initiatives that may, ultimately, serve you far better than the ones you’ve been using.

TIME TO SHARE AN EMAIL EXAMPLE: APPEAL PLUS

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