Effective Fundraising Feels Aggressive to Insiders

Effective Fundraising Feels Aggressive to Insiders

We’re doing a series of short posts called Mastermind Lessons.

The Fundraising Mastermind is transformational consulting for nonprofits that we do with Chris Davenport of Movie Mondays and The Nonprofit Storytelling Conference.

Here’s the first of the top-level lessons that every nonprofit needs to be reminded of, more often than they think.

To internal experts – that’s you, your programs staff, your leadership – effective fundraising appears overly aggressive and simplistic

That’s not the way it appears to donors. But it often appears that way to internal experts.

This is a constant theme for organizations at the Mastermind. They get pushback like this from their internal audiences (and sometimes wonder this themselves):

  • “This is too aggressive, we’ll offend people.”
  • “But I would never talk like this.”
  • “But this doesn’t mention X and Y and Z; donors need to know those things!”
  • “This isn’t the language we use. The correct term is [INSERT JARGON].

I even wrote this story because it’s such an incredible example.

So what’s the reason this happens to almost every organization? Despite, you know, 70 years of fundraising best-practices that simple, direct fundraising works better?

It’s because of a truth that most organizations don’t know about or can’t fully wrap their minds around…

You Are Not Your Donors

The phrase “You Are Not Your Donors” should be written – in 100pt Courier – on the main door into every fundraising department.

Then everyone going in that door, everyone who creates your organization’s fundraising, will remember that:

  • Your donors are different than staff
  • Your donors don’t know as much as staff knows
  • Your donors don’t want to know as much as staff knows
  • Your donors care about different things than staff cares about
  • Your donors think about your cause less than staff does
  • Your donors only interact with your fundraising for a few seconds – you don’t have time to be complex!

I say this all the time, but of course there are a couple of donors and a board member who know as much and care about the same things that your staff does. And that very small group of donors should be talked to differently than when you are talking to everybody.

But when you are talking to everybody – your appeals, your newsletters, your emails, your e-news – then the truths above apply.

And by the way, if you wrote “You Are Not Your Donors” on the fundraising department’s door, it would remind your staff that the fundraising you create has a specific worldview that is different from your staff’s worldview.

Because as Fundraisers, it’s part of our job to teach this truth to everyone in our organization.

This part of our job doesn’t get talked about much. But it’s valuable. Because the organizations that embrace this truth tend to raise more money and keep their donors for longer!

To Get a Donor to Give, Remember WHY They Give…

Remember WHY They Give

Short post today with an important tip.

Which sentence do you think would raise more?

“Right now, our Uplifting Kids program needs your support.”


“Right now, a local child needs your help.”

I can basically guarantee that asking a donor to “help a local child” will raise more than asking a donor to “support a program that works with local children.”


What I’m trying to illustrate here is “asking for support of a program” versus “asking for help for a beneficiary or cause.”

This is important because most of your donors likely got involved with your organization because they cared about the beneficiaries your organization helps, or the cause your organization is working on.

They did not likely get involved with your organization because of your programs.

The Lesson

When you’re Asking donors (and non-donors) to give a gift, you need to remember why they give.

As a rule, most donors give first and foremost because they care about your beneficiaries or your cause, not because they care about your organization or your programs.

Are there exceptions to this rule? Of course. There’s always a major donor or a board member who loves your program. Or a Foundation that gave you a grant because of something specific about your programs.

To those segments of your audience, talk about the program itself.

But when you are talking to “everybody” – in your appeals, e-appeals, at events, on your website – talk about a beneficiary or your cause.

For Example…

The most helpful example I share of this is an appeal letter that said,

“Right now, programs like Uplifting Kids need your support!”

That is a perfect example of “asking for support of a program.” Just think about how much less power that has than something like, “Right now, a local child needs your help!”

The organization that wrote the “…programs like Uplifting Kids need your support” has been a client of ours for four years. We basically never talk about their programs any more. And their appeals and events raise between 2x and 8x of what they used to.

So focus your donor communications on why your donors gave in the first place, not on your programs!

Every* Client Raised More

Allow me to share some news we’re proud of: every client we worked with raised more money at year-end than they had the previous year.

The fundraising industry is reporting that a lot of organizations saw decreases at the end of the year. “Overall the shortfall may be as much as 25% for some organizations” said The Agitator.

So we’re thrilled that our clients did so well.

The organizations with the best performance applied our Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat system throughout the year.

But even the clients who hired us just for year-end raised more than they did the year before. (Even the ones who were worried they wouldn’t get invited to parties!)

The EASY System

The year-end system we’ve developed really works. We leaned on it more heavily this year, for more clients than we’ve ever worked with before, and it worked better than ever.

What I enjoy the most is how EASY the system makes it for most of our clients. It’s not color-by-numbers . . . but it’s close.

It’s all part of our efforts to help nonprofits work less while raising more. Because there’s more good you could be doing if only you had time to do it.

The Reason for the *

There was one client that raised less. Sort of.

Our one client who raised less at year’s end is the one client that did not ask us to help with their year-end fundraising.

As you can imagine, when they asked us how our other clients did, it was a little awkward.


If you’d like to see exceptional growth in 2019 (or if you just want to make sure your organization is prepared in case the economy turns), get in touch.

And if you’re not ready to hire us, No problem. Keep reading the blog. Download our free eBook on Storytelling. And our free eBook on Asking. Get on our mailing list for the free resources.

In case you’ve never heard me say it before: Better Fundraising’s mission is to increase the fundraising capacity of small- to medium-sized nonprofits. So we give away as much of our field-tested experience and knowledge as possible.

There’s no secret special sauce we keep just for our clients. We try to put every approach, every piece of testing knowledge we can on the blog and into our resources.

And for the organizations that want to go deeper, we relish the chance to work with you on your fundraising.

Regardless, our hope is to be helpful. And our clients’ results at year-end prove that our approach is working.

We’re bullish on fundraising in 2019. Follow-best practices, stay centered on your donors, and you can raise a lot of money to do a lot of good!

‘If you send this appeal letter you won’t get invited to any holiday parties’

No Parties For You

A client just told me a fantastic story that I have to share.

It’s a perfect – and funny – encapsulation of the fear that many nonprofits have about fundraising.

Here’s the Story…

Their organization helps smart, underprivileged young women go to college. It’s an incredible program.

They’ve sent out a couple of direct mail appeals here and there. Each would raise between $2,000 and $3,000. This revenue was always a pleasant surprise to the organization because they raise most of their money through a couple of events.

Last fall, they hired me to write a year-end appeal for them.

When the organization’s Founder reviewed my appeal draft, she was worried. She thought it was too aggressive. Too bold. “We don’t ask for support like this,” she thought.

So she showed it to her Board. Same reaction there: the appeal was too aggressive. One Board Member was really worried. She said to the Founder…

“If you send this letter out, you’re not going to get invited to any holiday parties!”

That is so bad it’s good.

Let’s take a look at that reaction. The person who said it was afraid that a fundraising letter would somehow offend donors. And that the offense would be so great that the donors wouldn’t invite the Founder to any of their holiday parties.

In what world would that actually happen?

Now, I don’t want to dismiss the Board Member’s feelings. They are real, and they matter. It can feel weird and risky to ask for money. Direct mail is a weird medium.

But the Board Member’s reaction was based in fear. And fear is a lousy way to determine communication and fundraising strategies – especially given we have 70 or 80 years of best-practices in the field of direct mail fundraising to base our decisions on instead. Thankfully, the Founder said, “You know what? We’re paying an expert to do this. We should do what the expert says.”

How Did the Letter Do?

The letter raised over $75,000, and money was still coming in when the Founder told me this story.

That’s approximately 25 times more than their previous letters raised.

There were zero complaints. And the Founder was invited to just as many holiday parties as she normally was.

I share this to help nonprofits understand a couple powerful ideas:

  1. Effective direct mail might make you uncomfortable, but it’s not for you. It’s for your donors. And your donors experience the letters differently than you do.
  2. There are 70 or 80 years of best-practices in direct mail fundraising (most of which also applies to email fundraising). Those best-practices became best-practices because they bring donors closer to your organization, not drive donors away.

So please, as you create your fundraising this year, don’t base your reactions in fear. Fear of effective fundraising almost cost this organization $70,000! And that’s in just one letter. Think about all the other letters they’ve sent over the years.

Don’t let that happen to your organization. Follow the best-practices. Ask boldly. Your donors will love hearing the difference they can make, and you’ll raise more money!

Two Easy Steps to Cultivate Your Major Donor Relationships

cultivate majors

This is more of a reminder than a blog post.

The reminder: spend more time on your major donor fundraising!

Here’s why this is so important: the latest research I saw said that the average nonprofit receives 88% of their “individual donor revenue” from just 12% of their individual donors.

In my experience, disciplined major donor fundraising is the biggest-impact / least-used fundraising tool for most nonprofits.

At this moment, let’s not talk about the reasons why that is. Instead, let’s talk about two simple things you can to do start doing a better job today.

Do These Two Things

Here are two really simple things you can do to “go a little deeper” with your major donor fundraising:

  1. Subscribe to the blog from Veritus Group. They are the best at setting up internal systems to do major donor fundraising well, and at understanding what major donors want from your fundraising.
  2. Call one top donor today just to say “Thank you.” The donor you call should be one you haven’t spoken to in a while. And to make it easy, here’s a simple script for you:

“Hi [DONOR NAME], this is [YOUR NAME] from [YOUR ORG] and I’m calling just to say Thank you. Don’t worry, I’m not calling to ask for money. But we haven’t communicated 1-to-1 in a while, and I want to make sure you know how much you are appreciated. You and your generosity have done amazing things! So thank you, and are there any questions you have that I can answer, or anything you’d like to know about what your gift has accomplished?”

I’m pretty sure you can take it from there.

But the trick is to call at least one top donor today. It’s a small step. But a BIG step for that donor.

And you’ll be on the path towards a better relationship and better future fundraising results!

Ask For What Your Donor Wants, Not For What Your Organization Wants

What does your donor want

Here’s successful fundraising in a nutshell.

Don’t ask your donor to do what you want her to do,


Ask her to do what she wants to do.

Big difference.

Let me pull this apart for a moment…

“Asking your donor to do what you want her to do” is done with your organization in mind. It’s how you think about the action of your donor.

Here’s what this looks like:

“Will you please support us?”
“Join with us as we…”
“Will you partner with us?”
“Will you help us continue this good work?”

Notice who is primary in each example pulled from my files? The organization. They talk about the organization, first and foremost. Is the donor involved? Of course.

But it’s mostly about the organization. The organization doing its work.  

Make Your Ask About Your Donor

“Asking her to do what she wants to do” is done with your donor in mind. It’s talking to your donor about what she cares about in the way she thinks about it.

(Note that’s different than the way your organization thinks about it. This is why fundraising is so hard.)

Here’s what “asking your donor to do what she wants to do” looks like:

“Will you send X to one person today?”
“Will you make a difference for one person today?”
“Will you provide one person with an X?”

Notice that the organization isn’t even mentioned? Those examples are all about the donor, the beneficiary, what the donor’s gift will accomplish.

The next time you’re asking your donor to make a donation, don’t ask her to do what you want her to do. Don’t ask her to make a donation or to partner with your organization.

That’s about you. That’s about your organization.

Instead, tap into her story. She loves to help people and causes she loves.

So ask her to help a person!

It’s simple to understand, but hard to do; you’ll raise more money if you ask her to do something she already wants to do.

5 reasons the Myth of “Donor Fatigue” Persists

Donor Fatigue

Just a super quick reminder that “donor fatigue” – that mythical beast that haunts the futures of Fundraisers everywhere – doesn’t exist.

I’m neck-deep in donor data and fundraising performance all the time. And “donor fatigue” simply doesn’t exist for 99.9% of nonprofits.

But this mythical creature still affects the behavior of too many fundraisers. And without question, the fear of “donor fatigue” causes organizations to raise less money and do less good.

This is such a brutal fact that I’m going to repeat it: the fear of something that doesn’t exist – “donor fatigue” – causes hundreds of thousands of nonprofits to raise less money and do less good.

For the vast majority of nonprofits, letting “donor fatigue” affect your behavior is like not going outside because you might get hit by lightning.

I’ve identified 5 reasons that “donor fatigue” continues to haunt our sector and lower revenue. If you know of others, please share them with us. Here are my five:

  1. The complaints of a donor or three, occasionally a Board member, that your organization is asking for money too often.
  2. The fear that comes from thinking those complainers might speak for all your donors.
  3. The awkwardness some people feel about asking for money in the first place.
  4. The lack of understanding that nonprofits can be communicating to their donors far more often than they think.
  5. “Donor fatigue” is sometimes used as a scapegoat for bad fundraising. If an appeal or newsletter or campaign doesn’t work well, that elusive “donor fatigue” is blamed. Then no one has to feel bad, take responsibility, or learn from the mistake.

The first four items above are all real things. They matter.

But complaints and fears should not matter as much as the hundreds and thousands of additional gifts that will come in when you communicate with your donors more often about things they care about.

Look, if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know we believe in Asking more – because all our data shows that it works like crazy, with almost zero negative consequences.

One of the reasons Better Fundraising has been so successful is that we show our clients how organizations their size are communicating to their donors more often and raising a lot more money doing it. (And of course there are other things an organization has to do well, but Asking more is a one of the biggest levers you can pull.)

So next time someone brings up “donor fatigue,” tell them that “donor fatigue” isn’t the problem. And don’t let “donor fatigue” be used as a reason or excuse in your organization.

Acknowledge the fear that caused “donor fatigue” to rear its hideous head, then move forward.

You owe it to your beneficiaries.

Your donors will thank you for it with increased engagement and giving.

You’ll love raising more money and getting to do more good

Ask More, Don’t Fear

Ask More, Don’t Fear

Let me share a fun fact with you: there’s an easy way to raise more money in 2019 with very little work. It’s worked for years, and it worked again in 2018…

Every one of our clients who Asked their donors for support more often in 2018 (compared to 2017) raised more net revenue than they did the year before.

And there were almost zero negative consequences. To be more specific, there was a complaint or two, a worry from a board member, and several unsubscribes from their email lists.

But those negatives were completely overwhelmed by the additional donors that were engaged and money that was raised.

The nervous fundraisers, EDs and organizations who weren’t sure whether they should do this were handsomely rewarded, with more net revenue for very little cost.

There were no breakouts of “donor fatigue.” No massive numbers of people unsubscribing.

These organizations just raised more money, were able to do more good, and learned more about their donors.

Which set them up for an even more successful 2019.

So in our continuing series of posts sharing what we saw that worked best in 2018, let me share this…

The easiest way to raise more is to Ask more often.

This means adding another appeal or two. Or more e-appeals.

Not replacing what you’ve been doing. In addition to what you’ve been doing.

Here’s an easy way to add an Ask:

  • Look at your fundraising calendar for 2019
  • Look for a gap where your donors don’t hear from you for a while
  • Think back through your most successful appeals and e-appeals last year (other than year-end)
  • Pick the most successful appeal that’s appropriate to send during the “gap” in your calendar, then create a version of that appeal to send in the gap.

What you’re trying to do here is add another appeal with the least amount of effort possible.

And if you want easy ways to improve all your appeals or e-appeals, download our free eBook, “Asks That Make Your Donors Take Action.”

Please Try It

Almost no one at conferences believes me when I say, “The easiest way to raise more money is to Ask a couple more times this year.”

Almost every organization has an awful, no-good, very-bad, organization-shackling assumption: that they can’t Ask their donors any more often than they already are.

It’s a bad assumption. Our clients have disproven it so many times I’ve lost track.

So please, try it. You can even just try it with an e-appeal, so there’s basically no cost. Track the results. Look at the expenses, the revenue, your retention rates, everything. You won’t see the negative consequences you fear.

And you’ll LOVE the amount of additional money you raise with very little work.

Why You Should Thank and Report

Why You Should Thank and Report

This month I’m sharing the things that we saw working really well for nonprofits in 2018.

I talk about these ideas a lot, but they bear repeating as you begin your year…

You have to Thank your donors well,
and Report back to them on the effects of their gifts,
if you want to have the best chance of keeping your donors.

Here’s the power of Thanking and Reporting, in the simplest possible terms:

  • Thanking your donor well tells her she’s important and that her gift is going to make a difference. Almost no nonprofit clearly tells their donors this! If your thank you letters, receipts and emails clearly communicate her value, she’s more likely to give another gift to your organization.
  • Reporting back to your donor on how the world is a better place because of her gift shows her that her gift made a difference. Again, almost no nonprofit does this. And if your newsletter shows your donor that her gift made a difference, she’s more likely to give another gift to your organization.

It really is that simple. It’s not magic.

But it IS why organizations spend money and time on Thanking rapidly and well. And it’s why organizations with good donor-focused newsletters have higher donor retention rates.

Remember: each of your donors is giving to several organizations. Some of them make her feel important. Some of them make her feel like her gift makes a difference.

If your organization is one of the organizations that makes her feel important, and makes her feel like she made a difference, she’s more likely to stick with you.

And give more gifts.

And give higher gifts.

So “close the loop” by Thanking and Reporting.

Keeping your donors for longer is one of the primary keys to successful fundraising. And Thanking and Reporting will make you a pro at keeping your donors!