Make Your Story a Memorable One

Group sitting on a sunset

How often do you find yourself telling other people what you do for a living?

Be it at a dinner party, a random event, walking the dog, or even at the grocery store, I’ll share what I do for a living at least once a week. And because it happens so often, I’ve had to find a way to tell that story in an exciting way.

Ever asked someone, “Oh, and what work are you in?” – only to immediately regret it?

The last thing you want to hear is a jargon-filled, boring explanation. It’s for that reason that I learned that the best way to tell my story was to make people feel something.

For example, I could tell people that I’m a fundraiser. That may get an interested grunt or two, but more than likely it will kill the conversation. Instead, I might say that I write letters to thousands of people every week. If nothing else, this would make someone curious and get them asking some questions.

Try applying this same philosophy to your next fundraising appeal: focus less on what your organization does, and more on making the donor feel something. Because we know that when a donor is emotionally involved, they are more likely to give a gift.

Make sense?

A great way to get our donors feeling something is to tell stories. Stories have been with us from the beginning of time. They help us learn. They inspire us. They move us. And they help us remember.

And when we use stories to communicate with our donors, whether through appeal letters, newsletters, or reports, they immediately become emotionally involved. Because just as people who ask you what you do for a living aren’t looking for a boring job description, donors aren’t looking for a laundry list of what your non-profit does.

For example, if you’re an animal shelter sending an appeal to cat lovers, then focus on the story of a cat that needs help. In your letter, explain the problem that the cat is having and what will happen if it doesn’t get help. And when you use a story to highlight a problem that the donor can solve with her gift, you position her as the hero.

Appeals work best when your donors are emotionally involved. And stories are a powerful way to introduce a problem and invite the donor to solve it.

This post was originally published on August 13, 2019.

How to Make Sure a Low-Priced Offer Does NOT Produce Small Gifts

Plate of money.

Here’s a question I get every time an organization is thinking about using a good fundraising offer with a low price point:

  • “OK, so our offer is $7. Are we going to get a ton of $7 gifts? Aren’t we going to raise less money this way because our donors are going to give less?”

The short answer is:

  • Not if your Ask Amounts for each donor are at or above what that donor gave last time.

Let me explain…

Offer Amount vs. Ask Amount

There’s a difference between your Offer Amount and your Ask Amounts.

Your Offer Amount is the cost of your offer – the cost to do the thing you promise will happen if a donor gives a gift. (We’ve talked about how those amounts should usually be less than $50.)

Your Ask Amounts are the amounts you list for your donor to give on your reply card. They often look something like this:

  • [ ] $50
    [ ] $100
    [ ] $150
    [ ] $_______

Those are your Ask Amounts. (This is also often called “gift ask string” or “gift ask array” but we’re going to refer to them as Ask Amounts for clarity’s sake.)

Think of it this way:

  • Your Offer Amount is how much it costs for the donor to do one meaningful thing.
  • Your Ask Amounts are how much you’d like the donor to give today.

Make sense? Still with me?

How Smart Organizations Raise More Money

This is simple to explain, but it takes a bit of work to do. But here’s what the smart organizations do:

  • They customize the Ask Amounts for each and every donor.
  • The customized Ask Amounts for each donor are in increments of the Offer Amount.

Here’s what that looks like. Say I had recently given a donation of $100 to an organization. And they were writing me with an offer of “$35 will train one volunteer to advocate for our cause.” My Ask Amounts would look something like:

  • [ ] $105 to train 3 advocates
    [ ] $140 to train 4 advocates
    [ ] $210 to train 6 advocates
    [ ] $______ to train as many advocates as possible

There’s a lot going on in that example that’s helpful.

  • First, the Ask Amounts are all in $35 increments – increments of the Offer Amount. Because remember, your whole letter (or email, or newsletter, or event) should be about the Offer. So it will make more sense to your donor if your reply card has amounts that are based on the offer you are writing them about.
  • Second, the beginning Ask Amount is at or above how much I gave last time. This is key to helping donors give how much they gave last time… or more!
  • Third, the description text (“…to train 3 advocates”) describes how many of the outcomes my gift will fund. This helps donors know exactly how much good their gift will do. It’s a proven tactic.

To do this, most smaller organizations use Excel to calculate the Ask Amounts and Outcome Amounts (“3 advocates”) for each donor. Then they merge in those amounts onto the reply card.

This takes real work. It’s worth it.

The Benefits to You

When your Offer Amount is low, and your Ask Amounts are at or above how much your donor gave last time, two positive things happen:

  • More people respond because your barrier of entry is so low. In other words, more people respond because it costs so little for them to make a meaningful difference.
  • You’ll raise more money because donor’s gifts will usually be at or above what they gave last time.

Increasing the number of people who respond + keeping their gifts at the same size or larger = more money for your cause!

This post was originally published on May 7, 2019 as part of a series on creating successful offers. Use the links below to read the entire series, or click here to download the e-book we created from these posts.

  1. How to Create a Great Fundraising Offer: What’s an Offer?
  2. Why a Good Fundraising Offer Works So Well
  3. The Ingredients in Successful Offers
  4. How to Describe the “Solution” Your Organization Provides
  5. How to Raise More Money by Asking for the Right Amount
  6. How and Why to Give Your Donors a Reason to Give Today
  7. What About Internal Experts Who Don’t Like Fundraising Offers?
  8. How to Make Sure a Low-Priced Offer Does NOT Produce Small Gifts
  9. Half As Important
  10. Offers for Major Donors
  11. Summarizing and Closing This Chapter on Fundraising Offers

Make “The Leap” to Acquire a LOT of new donors

Make “The Leap” to Acquire a LOT of new donors

This post is about acquiring new donors.

But it’s for nonprofits at a very specific stage in their development.

Keep reading if the following three things are true for your organization:

  • You’re actively trying to grow
  • You realize that to achieve that growth you need more new donors each year than you’ve been acquiring
  • You know that your current ways of acquiring new donors won’t achieve your new goals

I’ll give you an example. We work with a handful of organizations that have between 500 and 4,000 donors. These organizations want to grow… but the ways they acquire new donors are labor-intensive and are hard to expand:

  • Tours of their facility
  • An event or two a year
  • Word of mouth
  • A major donor connects them to another major donor
  • Vision Meetings

All good things – but small nonprofits can only do so many of them each year.

So the organization is stuck: they want to grow, know they need more donors, but don’t have the staff to do more.

If That’s You, What Do You Do?

If that’s you, please know that you’re in good company. A LOT of organizations are in your shoes.

But your question remains: how do you begin to acquire significantly more new donors than you have in the past?

It starts with thinking differently about acquiring donors. The Big Idea is that there is a cost associated with acquiring new donors. You’re going to need to pay for the attention of potential donors via media like radio, the mail, Facebook ads, etc.

In my experience, most smaller nonprofits never make the leap from homegrown, labor-intensive methods of acquiring donors. These smaller nonprofits don’t want to pay (or don’t think they can’t afford) the costs needed to do this.

But if they really want to grow, they need to.

Making the Leap

Below are my tips for “making the leap” to a new way of acquiring new donors.

And I need to say right away that I’m not providing the solution to your donor acquisition problem. This is not “7 easy tricks to more donors than you can count!” (That post would probably get a lot of readers, but it wouldn’t hold water because there is no silver bullet.)

The Current Situation

Most small nonprofits have no line item in the budget for donor acquisition. They also really don’t know their current cost for every donor acquired, because those costs are buried in other expenses.

For example, they might spend $50,000 on an event that acquires 100 new donors. But the expenses are only looked at in relation to how much revenue came in, not how many new donors were acquired.

What’s needed is a dedicated budget for donor acquisition.

How to Grow

Smaller nonprofits basically have two options for growth. You can pursue either one, or both:

  1. Start a scalable Donor Acquisition program. This means doing specific activities like buying radio spots and/or mailing lists, upping your online donor acquisition game, etc.
    • For example: doing a radio share-a-thon for $15,000, getting 500 new donors, then doing that every year moving forward. And this is scalable because you could do two radio share-a-thons for $30,000 and acquire 1,000 new donors. Or 3 radio share-a-thons for $45,000 and acquire 1,500 new donors.
  2. Do more of what you’re currently doing. (For clarity’s sake, I would define what most smaller orgs are doing in donor acquisition as not scalable. Could you expand your event and get 250 more donors? Maybe. Could you add three more events and get 750 new donors? Probably not.)

In my experience, “doing more of what you’re currently doing” almost never results in the type of growth a motivated organization is looking for.

So they have to bite the bullet. They have to pay the costs to start up a donor acquisition program.

Ask a Good Question

The most successful organization leaders, when they want to grow, are asking one of these questions:

  • “I have $XX,XXX to spend on getting new donors in 2018. How many new donors could we get for that?”
  • “I need X,XXX new donors in 2018. How much is it going to cost me?”
  • “By 2020 I need to have our income be 50% higher than 2017. How many new donors do we need to reach that level, and how much will it cost?”

If you know how much you have to spend, we can estimate how many new donors you can acquire.

If you know how many new donors you want to acquire, we can estimate how much it will cost you.

If you know how much you want to be raising 5 years from now, based on how your current donors are performing, we can tell you how many new donors you’ll need, to reach your goals.

Helpful Big Ideas

For organizations who want to begin scalable donor acquisition, there’s a set of ideas that more-or-less must be present in your organization for it to work:

  • If your organization is serious about acquiring new donors, you’ll have a line item in your budget for Donor Acquisition.
  • Measuring the Cost Per New Donor is a sign of maturity for an organization. It means you’re running the thing like a business, with known (and measured) inputs and known (and predictable) outcomes.
  • Scalable methods of donor acquisition require an investment mindset. Usually in donor acquisition you lose money in the short term, but you make money in the long term. For example, you might spend $1,000 and get 10 donors who each give you $50. So you spent $1,000 to raise $500. BUT, if you do a good job retaining those 10 donors they’ll give you $3,000 over the course of their time with you. So you actually spent $1,000 to raise $3,000.
  • There’s no way to know exactly how much a new donor will cost for an organization without testing. But there are industry standards and deep experience for every media channel – even Instagram, believe it or not. Find somebody or some organization who is doing a lot of donor acquisition, and ask them. In my experience, people will help you.
  • The Cost Per New Donor is always higher when you first start scalable acquisition methods. That’s because you do not know what will work best. Over time, you figure out which messages and mediums work best, and the cost per new donor comes down over time. (This is another reason it’s so important to have an investment mindset when you start to scale your acquisition.)
  • There is a “minimum level of investment” to start a donor acquisition program. For instance, if a radio share-a-thon costs $20k and gets you 200 donors, you can’t buy half a share-a-thon for $10,000 and get 100 donors. And by the way, Dear Reader, I don’t think you need to hear this. But I share it because there’s always someone on a Board that says, “Could we just buy seven commercials and see if that works?” What you want to do is figure out what the “minimum effective test” is, and do that. Not half of that.

Moving to this type of donor acquisition is a great sign of growth and maturity for an organization. It’s almost always a sign of a nonprofit being run like a business – and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s being a great steward of the resources given to us by donors to maximize their impact.

Good luck out there – and get in touch if you’d like to talk about donor acquisition!

This post was originally published on September 13, 2018.

“If you serve one audience, you’ve let another down.” – Seth Godin


That quote explains why some organizations have trouble “making the leap” to their next level of fundraising success.

Too many nonprofits create fundraising that serves an internal audience.  And their fundraising lets another audience down: their donors.

Here’s how this happens.  An organization’s fundraising is often written and designed to make internal audiences happy.  Members of that “audience” tend to be Executive Directors, the program team, the Board, or a Major Donor who is super-involved.

We can’t ever forget that their intentions are good.  They’re trying to help.

They prefer fundraising to be a certain way.  And they hold sway.  So fundraising is created to serve that internal audience.

But… “If you serve one audience, you’ve let another down.” 

The audience that gets let down is their donors. 

Want to Make the Leap?

Create fundraising that serves donors and “lets down” internal audiences.

Creating fundraising that serves donors instead of internal audiences is often a seismic shift for organizations.  Seth calls this “the difficult choice of disappointment.” 

It’s hard to choose who to disappoint.  It creates conflict.  I’ve seen people lose jobs and leave jobs. 

I’ve seen organizations become aware of the choice, yet continue to let their donors down.  Even despite testing data that shows that donor-serving fundraising would raise more money and allow the organization to do more good! 

And I’ve seen organizations who shift their fundraising to serve donors and very quickly make the leap to their next level of fundraising success. 

What to Do?

For the “internal audiences” reading this, I hope you’ll make the difficult choice to create fundraising that serves your donors.  Set aside what you like and what you think will work.  Then research what donor-serving fundraising looks like.  Follow this blog.  Sign up for Free Review Fridays.  Make the Big Shift.  Be willing to try things that will make you uncomfortable.

I often encourage Fundraisers to do the “hard, other-centered” work of creating fundraising that generously “crosses the gap” to meet your donors where they are. 

Because fundraising is supposed to be for donors.  Not for internal audiences.

My 25+ years of experience tells me that if you choose to disappoint the internal audience by choosing to serve donors, you’ll raise more money and do more good. 

All Cars are the Same and Unique

Cars Look the Same

When we work with nonprofits for the first time, we run into a situation again and again.

We present fundraising we’ve created for them and someone will say…

“But… this will make us look like all those other organizations.  How can that be good?”

(Perhaps weirdly, when I hear them say it, I know we’re on the right track.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

There’s a deep vein of distrust of fundraising that “looks and sounds alike.”

Many small- to medium-sized nonprofits I know actively work hard to make their fundraising look and sound different from other fundraising they see.

They want their fundraising to be unique.

Unfortunately, in their pursuit of uniqueness, most nonprofits cause themselves to raise less money than they could. 

The best way to illustrate this is through a simple analogy.  I want you to think about cars…

What Cars Can Teach Us About Fundraising

From one perspective, there’s a remarkable amount of uniqueness among cars.  There are two-door cars, there are four-door cars.  There are trucks.  There are family cars.  There are sports cars.  There are different colors, there are different curves.  Massive differentiation.

But from another perspective, all cars all “look and sound alike.”  They all have four wheels.  They all have windows on the front, back, and sides. They all have doors. They all have steering wheels.  They all have mirrors so you can see behind you.  Cars are all the same!

That “sameness” is a result of 100+ years of trial and error as the car industry identified the common set of attributes that a car needs to have to be functional and successful. 

And after a car has those attributes, it gets customized to become unique.

The same is true for direct response fundraising…

The “sameness” of successful direct response fundraising is a result of 70+ years of trial and error as the fundraising industry identified the common set of attributes that an appeal or e-appeal needs to have to be functional and successful.

And after an appeal or e-appeal has those attributes, it gets customized to become unique.

The trick is to know what the attributes are.  And to start with them.  

These are things like “an appeal needs to be easily readable by a 75-year-old” and “the writing has to work for people who read and for people who scan.”

Those – and a host of others – are the windows, the steering wheels, the four wheels.

What happens too often is that nonprofits design cars that have five wheels, no windows on the left side, and the steering wheel in the back. 

Can you get somewhere in that crazy car?  (In other words, will you get some donations?)  Sure.  But you’re not going to make it as far as you could.

So What Do I Do?

I wrote this to help the organizations who “don’t want our fundraising to look like those other guys” to have another way to approach this situation. 

Here’s my advice:

  1. Know that doing direct response fundraising (appeals, newsletters, e-appeals, etc.) is different from other types of fundraising.
  2. Learn the “attributes” and best-practices
  3. As you create your direct response fundraising, focus first on the attributes that will increase your chances of success.
  4. Then (and only then) focus on how those attributes look and sound coming your organization.

All successful direct response fundraising tends to look, sound, and feel the same.  When your fundraising starts to sound like other professionally-produced fundraising, it’s a sign of success, not failure.

Uniqueness in fundraising, in and of itself, usually leads to raising less money.

But you know what’s unique and successful?  Your organization sending out fundraising that has all the attributes of successful direct response fundraising.  You are the only organization in the world who can do it.  And when you do it, your donors will respond far beyond your expectations.

Offer Amount vs. Ask Amount


Today’s post shares an email exchange with the Executive Director of an organization on the East Coast.

I’m sharing this with you because the ED had a very common fear: if he highlighted a low dollar amount in his appeals and e-appeals he would cause his donors to send in lower gifts than usual.

This fear often happens to organizations who are using a strong fundraising offer for the first time.

The email exchange below helped the ED set aside his fear enough to try what we were recommending. And our conversation helped him understand two helpful ideas:

  1. The “offer amount” is different than the “ask amounts.”
  2. Having a lower “offer amount” will not result in high-value donors giving lower amounts of money.

I’ve placed the emails in the order they were sent. I’ve edited them lightly for clarity and to anonymize the organization.

  • Hi Frank,

    Great meeting today. At the end of our time together it was suggested that we have the offer for our first appeal be based on the cost for one of your team members to learn Spanish.

    I would not focus the offer on this. Given the list of powerful activities you guys are doing this summer (working in hospitals, caring for the poor, volunteering in food banks, etc.) I think that learning Spanish is not the most impactful thing in the list that’s included in the letter.

    In our experience, the best place to focus the offer is on an outcome or action that your donors will immediately see and feel the value of.

    So I’d be working to find the cost to serve in a hospital for a day. Or to serve the poor.

    I think those things would be more likely to result in a gift.


Note: I know from experience that it’s important (and even vital) for members of their team to learn Spanish. However, most donors would be more likely to value the acts of service performed than they would value learning the language that allows for the act of service.

What I’m trying to do is focus the fundraising on the outcome (the act of service) as opposed to focus the fundraising on the process (learning Spanish in order to provide the act of service).

  • Hi Steven,

    I totally get that point. However, the reality is that we don’t pay much of anything for a team member to serve in a hospital or a soup kitchen. All we pay are the travel costs to and from our HQ for the summer assignment. The real costs are the language study which involve sending a team member abroad to learn the language in the actual culture.

    This year, we are spending $20,000 for the team members to do language studies. But since the language study is not the real motivator to donors, could we perhaps say something generic like “The average cost of supporting a team member in a summer of service to others is $400.” ($20,000 divided by 50 team members)

    What do you think?


My Reply to Frank . . .

  • Hey Frank,

    Totally get it.

    I like how you broke down the cost per team member to arrive at the $400 number. (It’s always a great service to your mass donors to help them see impact.). However, I wouldn’t recommend using the $400 amount because it’s too high. To have the most success, the amount we use needs to be low enough (usually below $50) so that any donor can afford it.

    Here’s what I’d do; divide the travel costs for the team members who serve at hospitals/soup kitchens by the number of days served. That gives you the “cost per day of service” for a team member in those places.

    Two reasons:

    1. As mentioned earlier, the type of service offered in hospitals and soup kitchens is far more interesting to donors (in my experience) so it would be crazy not to focus a donor’s attention there.
    2. Because all your organizations pays for is the travel, the “cost per day” is going to be really low. That will feel like a great deal to donors – which is always a good thing. I would even say something like, “Their food and lodging costs are covered, all we need to pay for is their travel and they’ll serve people for the entire summer! And if we write the letter correctly the funds will be undesignated and can be used for all of the team members this summer and anything else your organization needs the money for.

    That’s my reasoning. Does it hold water with you?

Frank replied…

  • Okay. The approximate travel costs for all of the team members is $15,000. If we divide this by 35 (the number of team members doing the service work), and then divide that by 40 (number of work days), that comes to a little over $10 per day, per team member. Since the $15k above include some other things besides travel from HQ to the different cities, e.g. lunch money, commuting expenses to the work sites, etc., I think we could simply say it costs $10 per day to support a team member in their service.

    I understand the pitch you want to make. My concern is that we’ll get lots of $10 gifts, but very few larger gifts that will make the mailing profitable.

    Can you help ease my concern here?

My reply…

  • Your concern is reasonable, and I think can ease it.

    First, let me call out the difference between the “offer” and the “ask amounts.” The offer is “$10 provides one day of service.” The offer shows donors a) what their gift will accomplish and b) how much it costs to make a meaningful difference.

    The gift ask amounts — how much we ask for — will be higher than the offer amount. For example, the suggested gift ask amounts on the reply card will be something like “$30 to provide 3 days of service” and “$70 to provide a week of service” and “$300 to provide an entire month of service.”

    When you have a low offer amount and higher gift ask amounts, a couple things happen:

    • More people give because the barrier of entry is so low. If we’d gone with the “$400 supports a team member for a summer” offer – that’s a high barrier of entry and fewer people would have given.
        • At risk of repeating myself but to make a point: if we provide a low offer amount then almost all donors will see that they can make a meaningful difference with even a small gift. This will increase the number of people who respond.
    • We have tons of experience seeing that the majority of donors will give about the same amount that they gave last time — or higher. (Will you get a couple $10 gifts? Sure. But the overall revenue is consistently higher.)

    I hope that helps. We wouldn’t recommend this technique if we didn’t have a LOT of experience with it working.

    Finally, to make this technique work even better, we will customize the gift ask amounts that each donor receives based on the size of their most recent gift. This is done by taking each donor’s last gift, then calculating the appropriate-sized gift ask amounts for that donor, then printing those amounts on each donor’s reply card.

    Does this help? Does it prompt any questions?

Frank was still slightly worried that focusing the letter on a low offer amount ($10 provides a day of service) would result in lower-than-normal gifts. However, he was willing to try it once.

And thankfully the appeal was a great success. It raised more money than it ever had before, completely funded the program for the year, and even raised additional undesignated funds.

After a string of successes, the organization now looks for low offer amounts for every appeal they send.

I realize that focusing on a low dollar amount is counterintuitive. But organizations who switch to this approach with their mass donors reliably raise more money than they previously did.

If you’re interested in trying this out for your organization, get in touch!

Four Ways to Get More from Your Capital Campaign

Get More Money

Many of our clients are already busy planning their next Capital Campaign.

And a common question they’re asking is this: how can they incentivize smaller corporate donors to make a donation to the cause?

Let me give you an example…

One organization I work with is wanting to build an Early Learning Center for underserved kids.  It will include a playground, activity rooms, classrooms, and a host of naming-rights opportunities.  But they’re rightly wanting to reserve these valuable naming opportunities for their mega donors.

So, what about smaller corporate donors?  What can motivate them to give during a capital campaign?

It’s our role as fundraisers simply to do our best job to sweeten the pot.

You see, smaller business owners usually have three pockets:

  • A personal pocket
  • A marketing and promotion pocket
  • A business and philanthropy pocket. 

Capital Campaign incentives for mega donors – like naming rights for a playground or classroom – target the third pocket. 

So, for smaller businesses, we need to focus on the second.  It’s all about how much promotion or recognition they can get for their donation.

As such, we’re forced to think outside the box to get sizeable donations from the marketing and promotion pocket.  Here are four simple ways you can incentivize smaller businesses to support your Capital Campaign:

  1. Provide the prospective business or corporation with an opportunity to display their name/logo on your website for a period of time
  2. Mention them in social media, give them shout-outs, tag them, and share their good work with your followers
  3. Add their name/logo to any email that you send to your community
  4. Include them in a press release to a local media partner, such as a radio station or newspaper

Of course, every campaign and every small business is different.  But I’ve found, more often than not, that finding unique and creative ways to recognize smaller businesses is a sure-fire way to involve them in your Capital Campaign.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Afraid to Ask

I wrote this blog a few years back but it’s more relevant now, than ever.  The summary is that there’s an easy way for you to raise more money in 2021 with very little work.

It’s worked for years, and it worked again in 2020.  Even in the midst of the pandemic…

Every one of our clients who Asked their donors for support more often in 2020 (compared to 2019) 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 some unsubscribes from their email lists.

But those negatives were completely overwhelmed by the additional donors that were engaged and extra money that was raised.  In short, donors wanted to help.

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, did more good work, and learned more about their donors. 

Which now sets them up for an even more successful 2021.

Let me put it this way…

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 2021
  • 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 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.  Especially after the year we’ve had.

But it’s a bad assumption.  Let your donors make the decision not to give.  Don’t make it for them. 

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.

A Note to Leaders

Leader compose letter

This is a note to Leaders of organizations who want to raise more money this year through the mail and email, or who need to raise more money through mail and email because you are still unable to have events and meet with donors. 

You’ll raise more money faster if you can cultivate an attitude that each piece of mail or email your organization sends out is an experiment and an opportunity to get better.

Organizations that get better at direct response quickly do not treat every piece of fundraising as precious.  They look at each piece as:

  • An opportunity to raise money
  • An experiment that might work
  • A data-producing effort that will be learned from
  • A chance to stay “top of mind” with their donor (in contrast to all those organizations that “go dark” for weeks and months at a time)

And here’s what I see in organizations that do not get better quickly:

  • A belief that each piece is something precious.
  • A deep fear of offending anybody, and a belief that any offense would cause outsized negative consequences. 
  • Large approval teams. Everyone who sees it is allowed to make changes.

A Structure for Quick Improvement

It’s probably too much to ask a blog post to change the beliefs an organization has about mail and email fundraising, the “story they tell themselves” about mail and email fundraising.

But here is a structural recommendation for how the fundraising gets created that can help…

  • After a draft of an appeal or e-appeal is created, a very small number of people review it.
  • Reviewers can submit suggested changes, but not make changes.
  • No more than three people are allowed to make changes, and preferably fewer.
  • If a Reviewer’s suggested edits or changes are not accepted, they are told why.
  • After appeals or e-appeals are sent to donors, anyone in the organization can comment on it.  The person in charge of the fundraising decides whether to take the comments into consideration for future fundraising, or not.

Cascading Benefits

This structure has several cascading benefits…

The person or team who creates the fundraising saves time and can focus on their expertise  →  The team then creates more pieces of fundraising  →  This allows more fundraising to be sent to donors  →  This speeds up the pace of learning what works and what doesn’t →  This increases donations →  This increases donor retention. 

Another benefit: this structure will help you attract and retain better fundraising talent.

But you have to trust the structure and the process.  You have to trust the fundraising team.  You have to trust the skills they’ll develop.  

Show me an organization structured like this, with a team that uses data and best practices to make decisions instead of having to make the edits from Bob in Accounting, and I’ll show you an organization primed to learn quickly and raise more money in 2021.