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!

‘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!

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.

The Simple Shift in Perspective That Will Help You Raise More in 2019

Here We Go 2019

It’s the first week of 2019.

We’re spending the month blogging about what worked best in 2018.

And I want to start with one simple thing that’s done by every effective fundraising organization I know. They ask themselves the following question:

What did we do last year that worked best, and how can we do more of that this year?

That’s contrary to how, in my experience, most nonprofits think about their fundraising year:

  1. Either they “wipe the slate clean” and start over, inventing and creating new letters and themes and ideas all year long.
  2. Or they “do mostly what we did last year because that’s what we always do.”

But the most effective organizations all tend to do one thing you can learn from: they rigorously look for what worked the year before, then look for more times/places/channels to use their success.

Here’s what that looks like:

  • Your spring appeal worked great? Fantastic. Send an additional letter a month earlier, with the same offer, to see if it will work then, too.
  • You had a campaign that went really well? Add three more emails to that campaign in 2019, and try a smaller version of the campaign in a different season.
  • Did the three emails you sent at the year-end deadline work really well? Add a firm deadline to another campaign, and send three emails right at that deadline, too.

The Simple Perspective Shift

The big difference between these organizations and smaller shops is simple perspective.

The smaller shop tends to think that a success was great, and they don’t want to “wear it out” – they assume that it wouldn’t work again.

The more effective fundraising organizations think the success was great, they know that something it about engaged their donors and caused action (which the donors loved taking), and then they look for other opportunities to try the same approach as soon as possible.

If your organization will take the second approach, I basically guarantee you’ll raise more money in 2019 – and every year after that.

So go look at what worked well last year. Then look for ways to do more of it this year!

Don’t stress about your year-end emails, watch this video

Don’t stress about your year-end emails, watch this video

It’s easier than you think to write year-end emails that work like crazy.

I’m talking about those three emails you send on the last days of the year that work so well.

If you are still working on your emails, here’s a short video I made for Movie Mondays with an easy template to follow for your year-end emails.

You’ll learn the five things you need to include, the order to put them in, and how to EASILY create your 2nd and 3rd emails.

Sneak peek: you only really need to write one email!

The video takes 7 minutes; you’ll save hours of time, and you’ll raise more money.

Pretty good deal, no?

So go watch the video!


On a completely different subject, small nonprofits come to us all the time because they are uncertain.

Uncertain because they need to raise more money and they don’t know the best way to do it.

Uncertain because there are so many options for what they can do next… but no one at their organization has the experience to really know which one is best.

And they end up feeling stressed. (“Stressed” is putting it mildly, in many cases.)

It’s a joy to help those people! You should see their faces light up when we tell them the best thing for them to do next and why it will work.

If you’re uncertain about 2019 – or if you just want to take your fundraising to the next level – keep reading.

So how would it feel if you could hand off your problem to a team of experts who will solve it for you? A team who could create your fundraising communications in a way that would raise more money immediately and keep your donors for longer?

If you’re interested, go here and fill out a simple form. Takes two minutes.

There’s too much stress on small nonprofits already. So outsource your core fundraising communications to experts – that’s what our team does all day, every day.

If you work with us, your organization will raise more money by asking your donors to help your cause or beneficiaries in powerful ways. You’ll thank your donors in ways that show them how important they are to you. And you’ll retain more of your donors than ever because you’ll report back to donors so they see the good work (that you do) that their gift made possible.

All of it will follow the tested and proven Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat communication rhythm. Each piece of communication you send out will be easier to make because a) you won’t have to make it, and b) you will enjoy working on other important things while we make it for you!

So fill out the form. Find out more. Ditch your uncertainty and your stress. And if you sign up before the end of the year, you’ll save $3,500!

You’ll do less work, you’ll free up time to work on other important things, and your fundraising will raise more money.

Imagine starting 2019 knowing that your appeals, e-appeals, and newsletters are in great hands – and knowing you don’t have to do them yourself.

Say These Three Powerful Things

Say These Three Powerful Things.

Here are three powerful phrases you should say directly to your donors.

We work these ideas into almost every appeal and e-appeal our clients send out. And I’m certain they’re a part of our clients’ success.

Here’s the list:

  1. “Your gift is needed”
  2. “You and your generosity make a real difference”
  3. “I’m thankful I can write to you about this”

Your donor almost never hears these things from the charities she supports!

And if you say them, you’ll raise more money. Let’s take them one by one.

“Your gift is needed”

Most nonprofits don’t ask directly for gifts. They’ll share a story of a person the nonprofit has already helped. They’ll talk about all the good work the nonprofit is already doing.

And then they’ll ask for “partnership” or “support.”

I’m here to tell you that you will raise more money if you directly say to your donors, “Your gift is needed right now.”

Your donors are hearing from lots of nonprofits today. Many of them are talking about the good work that the nonprofit has already done. But if you’re asking for a gift and if you make a good case for why her gift is needed today, and tell her that her gift is needed today, you’ll be overjoyed at the response you receive.

And your donors will love giving the gifts. Because they love to feel needed.

“You and your generosity make a real difference”

Again, this is something most donors never hear directly.

I think that nonprofits feel like they are saying this all the time. But they aren’t – they’re usually talking about what the organization has done, not what the donor has done.

So when you directly say to your donor, “You and your gift make a real difference,” you’ll probably be the only nonprofit in her portfolio that’s telling her.

When it comes time for her to give her next gift, do you think the nonprofit that’s made it incredibly clear to its donors that they and their gifts make a real difference has the best chance of getting that gift?

You bet.

“I’m thankful I can write to you about this”

This is one of those powerful ways you can show your donor that you don’t take her for granted.

Take off your “fundraiser” hat for a second and put your donor hat on.

Wouldn’t you love to hear, regularly, that the organization writing you is thankful even for the opportunity to write to you?

If they’re thankful to be able to write and talk to you, how thankful must they be when you give them a gift?

And if they are that thankful for you – if you mean that much to them – doesn’t that make you more likely to give them another gift?

Personally, I think this is such a powerful idea that I’ve put it in every appeal and e-appeal I’ve written recently.

You can think of all three of these ideas as clearly and quickly communicating ideas that matter to donors.

In today’s world of harder donor acquisition and dropping retention rates, isn’t telling your donor that she’s needed, that she makes a difference, and that you’re thankful for her – isn’t that more important than ever?

I believe it is. So I say it all the time. And it works.