Do You Have a Clear Way for Donors to Give Stocks?

Giving complicated.

Does your organization have a simple and clear way for your donors to donate stock or other investments?

If not, you’d be smart to get started!

Here’s why this is important…

Most wealthy donors have some of their money in cash (checking and savings accounts). Think of this as a small bucket.

But MOST of their money is in investments (stocks, bonds, IRAs) where it can earn them more money. Think of this as a large bucket.

And right now, this large bucket of investments is likely doing well.

If you only accept cash gifts from donors, they will likely donate from their small bucket of cash.

But if you make it easy to donate stock and other investments, donors can give out of their large bucket of invested wealth, while also receiving some nice tax breaks.

Your donor loves your cause and your organization. She wants to do what she can to help. And when you have a simple, clear way for your donor to donate stock or other investments, she may be able to give more than she could if you only accept cash.

That’s a win-win!

If your organization doesn’t have simple way to accept gifts of stock or other investments, it’s worth the bit of up-front work it takes to get started.

You’ll need to:

  • Open a brokerage account for your organization. Compare a few to find one with the lowest fees. Two of the most common are Fidelity Charitable and Schwab. Someone on your team will need to monitor this account periodically.
  • Set up policies and procedures so that everyone in your organization knows how to handle stock gifts, including receipting.
  • Let your donors know they can transfer stock and investments to your org. When they transfer the stock instead of selling it themselves, they can avoid capital gains taxes. They may also want to check with their financial advisor.
  • Have simple instructions for giving stocks and investments on your website and on a one page handout you could give to a donor.

For more detail on getting your organization ready to receive gifts of stock and investments, here’s a helpful resource from FreeWill.

And here’s the bottom line:

The stock market has been performing well in the last year, which means donors have more money to give… IF you accept gifts of stock and investments. Take the time now to set up a simple, clear way for donors to give, and you’ll see the benefits for years to come.

Don’t Let Your DAF Donors Fall through the Cracks of Your Thanking Process!


Could you imagine a situation where one of your most dedicated and generous donors gives your organization a gift… and you never acknowledge or thank them?

That would never happen, right?

But it’s happening accidentally more and more often…

More and more donors are giving gifts through Donor Advised Funds (DAFs).  Because the gift is often labeled as from “Fidelity Charitable” or “Network for Good” (or something similar), the donor who initiated the gift mistakenly goes un-acknowledged and un-thanked.

You might remember that a few years ago, when Twitter was still Twitter, there was an account called The Whiny Donor.

Whiny was a gift to the nonprofit world because she Tweeted what other donors were thinking but not saying.

And Whiny had some experience with DAF giving…


Another gem…

Whiny has since stopped Tweeting, but what she experienced as a DAF donor is still too common.

And here’s the thing… if this is happening to your donors, most of them won’t complain. They’ll simply stop giving because they start to feel like their giving doesn’t matter.

That’s why it’s so important to thank and steward your DAF donors.

As you’re looking at year-end reports, make note of any gifts that came from a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) like Fidelity Charitable, Schwab Charitable, Vanguard Charitable, Network for Good, or any community foundation. Double-check to make sure the donor who initiated the gift was thanked.

If you’re unsure whether a DAF donor has been thanked, reach out with a phone call, a handwritten note, a personal email thanking them for their kind and generous gift — I’m sure you would put a smile on your donor’s face.

Donors who give through DAFs are some of your org’s most faithful donors. You can stand out from the crowd by doing an excellent job of thanking and stewarding them when they give through their DAF.

Why your direct response fundraising should be like a Hallmark Christmas movie…


This post is back by popular demand in honor of Hallmark Christmas movies starting TOMORROW! — Sarah

Something strange happens to me at the end of October.

I’m a smart, logical, educated person who appreciates arts and culture.

But at the end of October when Hallmark Christmas movies start playing 24/7, I turn into… someone else. Someone who will watch movie after movie with essentially the same characters and the same plot. Someone who tears up at the end of the movie when the lovers FINALLY kiss and then a gentle snow begins to fall.

Sigh. It’s so sappy.

But I’m a direct response fundraiser, so I notice something else.

A Hallmark Christmas movie reminds me of effective direct response fundraising. It’s formulaic. You know what’s coming next. The plot is easy to follow. And you may tear up because, gosh dang it, it’s emotional!

And it works.

Every year, they make more of these movies because people – like me – are watching them!

Sometimes we try to make our direct mail fundraising appeals into something more like a Cannes Film Festival entry. Complex. Ironic. Edgy. Different.

But that just doesn’t work as well.

If you want to appeal to the highest number of donors, your direct mail fundraising should be more like a Hallmark Christmas movie.

Here’s the basic formula:

  • Tell them why you’re writing to them
  • Share the problem that needs to be solved
  • Tell how the problem could be solved
  • Ask the donor to give a gift to solve the problem
  • Go into more detail about the problem and solution
  • Include a story that illustrates the problem (optional)
  • Ask them to give again
  • Signature and title
  • P.S. Ask them to give again and include the deadline.

Listen. I get it. Near the end of every single Hallmark Christmas movie, I grumble and complain and wonder why I watch these silly movies.

Then the snow starts to fall and there’s a magical kiss and I’m a puddle on the floor.

There’s something about that feeling…

The direct response formula isn’t a secret. Simple. Easy to follow. Emotional. Maybe a little bit of magic… These things help donors get to the point where they will write a check to make something good happen.

Follow the formula with your next direct response fundraising appeal or email and let me know how it goes!

What Becker the Yellow Lab Can Teach You about Fundraising Offers

Recently, I came across the strongest, clearest “offer” I’ve ever seen.

This “offer” came from my dog-nephew, Becker. He’s a one-year-old yellow lab.

Becker LOVES when people visit his house. And he presents one clear offer to each visitor:

“Will you play tug with me?”

Becker shares this offer using his warm brown doggie eyes, with a toy in his mouth and FULL confidence that you will say YES!

When you DO say yes, here’s the game:

You hold onto a toy that gets increasingly slimy while Becker tugs and shakes the toy until your teeth rattle. If you let go, he gives you a puzzled look and then gives you a chance to try again.

Taken at face value, this isn’t a game I would choose to play.

But I say yes nearly every time, because Becker presents his offer (play tug with me!) with urgency and contagious excitement (excited eyes and wagging tail). And I know what he wants is for me to grab the toy and hang on for dear life.

If I don’t respond, he is doggedly persistent and keeps nudging me with the toy until I respond.

Becker does all this without saying a word!

YOU can have this kind of success with your fundraising.

You see, Becker’s offer has three key nuggets that also make an effective fundraising offer.

  1. Shows a clear need
  2. Is urgent
  3. Tells the recipient exactly how to respond

When your fundraising offer is that clear, your donor doesn’t have to guess what’s needed right now. Nor does she have to guess what her gift will make happen. She knows exactly what to do!

This means you’re more likely to get a response and raise more money for your cause and your organization.

So next time you’re putting together a fundraising offer — whether it’s for an appeal, email, event, or in-person meeting — make sure you include all three of Becker’s heart-tugging tactics. Be clear with the need. Share the urgency. And make sure your donor knows what to do next with a clear instruction like “send in a gift today using the envelope I’ve enclosed for you.”

Why Easier to Understand Wins Every Time in Direct Mail Copy


When you’re writing fundraising copy, before you add a sentence, explain more, or tweak what you’ve already written… stop and ask this question.

Does this make it easier to understand or harder to understand?

It can be so tempting to complicate things. Explain the extenuating circumstances. Explore the nuances. Add something interesting but only loosely related.

But then you end up with something that is harder for your donors to understand.

As a professional fundraising copywriter, I ask myself this question all the time. It keeps me focused on what’s important to my reader, not just what’s important to me.

Here’s something you can try that might make it easier to write things for donors to read. Imagine you ARE your donor.

Do you ever wake up and think, “Hey, I’d like to read something really complicated today – where I have to read every sentence three times – and then I’m STILL wondering what’s happening?”

Probably not.

This is especially true if it’s something you don’t have to read.

When it comes to donors who are busy and moving fast, easier to understand wins out over harder to understand every time.

By the way, this also means easier to understand leads to more donations when you ask donors to give. Because donors must understand what you need before they’ll give.

Now we’re talking!

So next time you sit down to write fundraising copy, don’t forget this important question: does this make it easier to understand or harder to understand?

Bonus idea! Easier to understand vs. harder to understand is also important when you’re editing fundraising writing, planning a presentation, or communicating with donors in any way.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

What 90s TV show ER™ can teach you about fundraising appeals


It’s the worst day.

You get a deep cut on your hand while preparing for a summer barbeque. It looks bad to you. So you head to the emergency room!

But when you get to the ER… some bored receptionist takes your name, gives you a load of paperwork, and tells you to sit down and wait.

So you wait. And wait.

Then the automatic doors BURST open, and they wheel in a guy who’s bleeding and eerily still!

“Fell through a plate glass window! We’re losing his pulse!” a paramedic yells.

They wheel the gurney right past where you’re waiting. And a guy who looks a lot like George Clooney LEAPS into action to try and save his life!

You may think you’re in an episode of ER™ (the early years), but you’re actually… in the fundraising ER.

You see, you ended up in your donor’s waiting room because you forgot the urgency in your fundraising appeal.

When asking your donors to give in your appeal letter, you used phrases like:

“Will you consider making a gift today?” or “Please support our organization.”

Meanwhile, another organization used phrases like:

“”Here’s why your gift is needed TODAY” and “Here’s the [negative consequence] that will happen if this problem isn’t solved.”

Here’s why this matters:

Your donors triage their mail a lot like ER docs triage their patients.

Right now! Stat!
For your donor, these are the personal letters, the mysterious envelopes, and fundraising appeals that share the urgency to give today. In the ER, this is the guy on the gurney.

For your donor, this is bills and other stuff she doesn’t dare throw away yet. It may also be fundraising appeals from organizations she especially cares about. In the ER this would be a kid with the stomach flu.

When we get to it.
For your donor, this is everything else. Junk mail and the fundraising appeals that don’t give a good reason to give a gift today. In the ER, this is you with the cut hand… still waiting.

A lot of organizations make the mistake of hiding the urgency from their donors. And their appeal ends up in the “later” or “when we get to it” pile.

Big mistake.

Here’s where my ER metaphor breaks down.

The ER docs will eventually get to you with your cut hand.

But if your appeal gets put in the “later” or “when we get to it” pile, chances are your donor will never get to it.

She’s busy. And there’s more mail arriving tomorrow. So mail that gets set aside tends to get recycled… it just takes a bit longer to get to the recycling bin.

You must SHARE the urgent reason to give with your donor — quickly! On the outer envelope. Right at the start of your letter. Repeated throughout the letter. In the P.S. On the reply card.

That’s what it takes to get noticed in your donor’s mailbox AND in the ER.

Your cause is important — you wouldn’t be writing to your donor otherwise. Make the urgency crystal clear! And tell the donor exactly how she can help.

What to Do When Things are Uncertain and Donors Aren’t Giving as Much


My colleague Steven Screen said something profound recently:

“When times are good, donors give. When times are bad, donors give. When times are uncertain… donors wait.”

This spring your organization may have experienced donors waiting. Your fundraising results may have been lower than normal, and you may feel a little panicked.

You are NOT alone!

There are times when some donors wait to give, for reasons we can’t control.

This spring there was scary messaging in the US news around the debt ceiling.

We (mostly) suspected it would turn out okay, but if it didn’t, then… Catastrophic global economic consequences! Immediate recession! THINGS WILL BE TERRIBLE!

Those were the types of headlines we were seeing in the US. (Okay, I made up the last one, but that’s what it FELT like…)

I suspect there were donors waiting to see how the debt ceiling situation played out.

When your job is fundraising and donor giving dips, whether that’s major donor fundraising, direct response fundraising, event fundraising – any area, really – here are three things you should do:

  1. Glance at a few headlines. Do your best to understand what your donors might be thinking about, fearing, or uncertain about.

  2. Review your strategy. Are you asking donors to give in a clear, confident, emotional way that has worked in the past? Are you thanking your donors when they give and reporting back on what their gift did?

  3. If the answer to #2 is YES, you may be in a time where donors are waiting. Keep being faithful with the things you can control and don’t stop fundraising. We’ve seen time and time again that donors resume giving after periods of uncertainty. Make sure you are in front of your donors with strong fundraising offers so they resume their giving to YOUR organization.

By the way, if the answer to #2 is NO, the lack of giving may have more to do with your Asks than your donors. Review your communications with a more critical eye. Sometimes in the day-to-day shuffle – especially when times are weird – messages that are off-topic to donors creep in and cause fundraising to underperform.

Whether times are good or times are bad, donors want to help a cause they care about. Keep asking! Keep thanking! Keep reporting back so they see the good they’re doing!

By the way, once the uncertainty has passed you may have a gap in funding. Tell your donors about it and ask them to help!

Once upon a time… a (fun!) direct mail fundraising fable


Once upon a time…

There was a small organization in a town near you.

The staff sat in a room one day and asked, “How can we show our donors that we know what we’re doing and that we should be taken seriously?  How can we make our fundraising more professional?”

So they hired a graphic designer, who made their next mailing look like a shiny brochure. They began to print out mailing labels instead of handwriting donor addresses on envelopes. And they stopped calling their donors because nobody uses the phone anymore.

The staff was excited because these improvements would also free up their time to get more done!

Meanwhile, in that same town… there was a large organization.

Their leadership team sat in their conference room and asked, “How can we let our donors know they matter and that we care about them? How can we be more personal with our donors?”

They decided to make their next mailing feel like a personal letter from the executive director to the donor. They decided to handwrite some of the addresses on the next mailing, and even put a real stamp on the envelope. And they started to call some of their donors three days a week.

They knew these efforts would add time to their work. But they also knew these personal touches would help their donors feel more connected to the organization.


Okay, I get it. This… little fable could only EVER be interesting to fundraisers.

But hear me on this. If you are a small organization you have a superpower that large organizations are trying their best to imitate. You are personal.

Please DON’T give up that superpower!

Your donors want to know there are living, breathing humans behind the letter they are reading.

So embrace the gift of being a small organization!

Be real. Be quirky. Be creative. Be… YOU!


PS — Click here for Steven Screen’s amazing tips for HOW to provide the human touch to your direct mail fundraising – whether you are a small organization or a large organization.

The Magic of an Evergreen Fundraising Offer


As organizations begin to fundraise more, we advise them to develop what we call an “evergreen offer.”

That’s an offer that is:

  • Easy for donors and non-donors to understand,
  • Closely aligned to your main mission, and importantly…
  • Can be “seasonalized” to work during different times of the year

Here’s an example of what this looks like for an organization we’ve served for almost a decade:

$33 provides a night of safety and care for a mom and her kids

What makes this offer so helpful for the organization is that it can be made to work during every season…

In the summer: “No Mom and her children should have to live and sleep outside during this dangerous heatwave. Your $33 provides a night of safety and care to help…”

In the winter: “It’s dangerous for a mother and her children to sleep outside or in their car during our freezing nights. Your $33 provides a night of safety and care to help…”

For Thanksgiving: “Mothers and their children should not have to be homeless at Thanksgiving! You can provide a night of safety and care – plus a Thanksgiving feast – for just $33…”

Evergreen Offers usually involve a program or service that your organization runs all year long. The trick is to break up seasons into “slices” and talk about the reason the program or service is needed during that season.

Then you’re always giving donors a reason to give now – which is one of the keys to raising money in email and the mail.

Evergreen offers also allow you to raise more money with less work. The “more money” part comes from growing more and more effective at delivering the offer. You quickly get better at knowing what to mention, and what not to mention.

The “less work” part comes from your spending less time inventing new things to talk about. And you spend less time creating each piece because you’ve already created something similar and successful in the past. You have a “model” to follow that makes all subsequent fundraising easier.

If you haven’t already, brainstorm ideas for your organization’s evergreen offer. Try them in email to see which one works the best. Then try it in the mail. You, and your donors, will love what happens!