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* — 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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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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The World is Changing

Coronovirus Fundraising: Steal these Ideas!

Now more than ever you must, must, must invest in your fundraising efforts.

Rather than spending time worrying – panicking? – why not turn your mind towards positive things?  Like creative ways to invite others to help keep your mission afloat?

In my post earlier this week, I shared some ingenious ideas implemented by other nonprofits  — all so you can resourcefully borrow their ideas. I will keep sharing, because that’s how we learn. And… that’s what Clairification School is for, right? [If you’re not yet enrolled, there’s no better time than the present!]

It’s a blank slate now when it comes to fundraising. Yes, use tried-and-true principles of donor-centered fundraising. But don’t be tone deaf to the unprecedented times we are in.

Coronavirus is all folks are thinking about right now. Even while they try not to think about it.

Stay relevant, or prepare to be ignored.

You can help people!

Here’s the deal.

I’ve never in my lifetime heard so many people asking: “what can I do to be of service?” 

Charities have the opportunity to answer this question.

Living in a pandemic sucks, but you’d be remiss if you didn’t avail yourself of this opportunity to (1) keep your mission, and those who rely on you, afloat, and (2) help would-be helpers feel helpful!

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Fundraising Don’ts vs. Do’s: Major Donor Cultivation 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 major donor engagement strategy.

It arrived as an email. There’s a subject line, preview pane, the email itself, and what happens if/when you click through.

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?

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

Second, I’ll tell you what I think.

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, tell us what you think

Preview Pane

We’d like to hear from you

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 (“Claire, tell us what you think”) or the email preview pane (We’d like to hear from you”) 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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Fundraising Do’s and Don’ts: Email Invitation

FR_Do's_and_Don'tsI’m continuing with my new, occasional feature of “Do’s vs. Don’ts.”

Whenever something arrives in my mailbox that seems a good ‘teaching opportunity,’ my plan is to share it with you.

Please let me know if you find it useful!

Today’s example is an emailed invitation to a donor appreciation luncheon.  

Do you think it’s a “Do” or a “Don’t?”

What’s wrong or right with this subject line?

I received an email with the headline: Want to enjoy lunch with our kids next Thursday?

The preview pane continued:

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4 Keys to Raise Money in Today’s Social Nonprofit Fundraising Environment

keys 4 Pixabay-791641_640Wondering where fundraising is heading in our highly networked, overly saturated, noisy-as-all-get-out post-digital revolution world?

It’s a bit of a jungle out there, with so much competition for attention — for-profits, other nonprofits, political campaigns, friends, family.

It’s a wonderful time to seize the opportunity to put in place a system that values multiple voices.

Truly, if you’re able to really show people how much you value them, you’re going to rise to the top of the heap.

Of course, sometimes it’s easier said than done.

Today we’ll explore 4 keys to raising money in our socially-revolutionized zeitgeist.

Bad News/Good News:

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