Good News and Bad News, Part II

Yin Yang.

Part I was about our belief that nonprofits are called to share the whole situation – the good news caused by their work and the bad news that causes their work to be needed.

But that’s a complex story. And do you think that today’s individual donors – who have shorter attention spans and are bombarded by more messages and information than any time in human history – are going to read and think about your complex story?

No. At least not many.

So here’s the fundraising maxim we live by:

When you only have a few moments of a person’s attention, focus your message on either the good news or the bad news.

Here’s how this works in practice:

  • You put the “bad news” in your appeals and e-appeals. These are your Asks.
  • You put the good news in your Thanks. These are your Thank You/Receipt letters and email receipts.
  • You put more good news in your Reports. These are your Newsletters.

This provides a series of messages that are easy to understand by individual donors who are moving fast. This communicates both the good news and the bad news about what’s going on, rather than hiding the news in communication pieces that attempt to tell the whole story every time.

It will also raise you more money, if the results of our customers are any indication.

And when you have more time with a donor – say at an event, or a coffee with a donor, or a grant application – then you can tell the whole complex story, sharing both the good news and the need for your work.

But in the meantime, focus each message to individual donors on either good news or bad news. By narrowing the focus, more of your message will make it through to donors, and to the world.

Good News and Bad News, Part I

Yin Yang.

If a nonprofit isn’t sharing the good news caused by their work, the nonprofit is hiding something and isn’t doing all of its job.

And equally true, if a nonprofit isn’t sharing the bad news that causes their work to be needed, the nonprofit is hiding something and isn’t doing all of its job.

You can see both types of nonprofits today. Look around and you’ll see organizations that only use the doom-and-gloom sky-is-always-falling approach that diminishes the progress being made. And you can see organizations that focus completely on success and diminish the situation that causes their work to be needed.

It’s our belief that nonprofits are called to share the whole situation. If only one kind of news is shared, a nonprofit is not giving donors a true picture. Their fundraising becomes just as polarized as a news media outlet that only shares one side of the story.

This is why our fundraising system is built on Ask, Thank, Report. When you Ask donors for support, you share the bad news that causes the work of the nonprofit to be needed. When you Thank, you share the good news that will happen because of their gift and your work. And when you Report back to donors, you share the triumphs and amazing changes that happened.

It’s yin and yang. It’s the good and the bad. It’s the full picture. It has to be a mix of good news and bad news in order to be true.

New Competition from For-Profit Companies?!?


Last week after the fires in Hawaii I received four emails raising money to help. Two of the four emails were from for-profit companies.

One was from an outdoor clothing brand with ties to Hawaii. The other was from an eyeglass company that, as far as I can tell, has no strong connection to Hawaii.

Both brands have values that caused them to want to help. Both were clear that the money raised would be routed to foundations assisting in the recovery from the fires.

As more companies begin to figure out what you and I have known all along – that donors like to donate and they feel good when doing so – more and more companies are going to fundraise. Companies are going to see fundraising as a tool to exercise their values and create deeper connections with their customers.

I believe this is great for donors, but bad news for smaller nonprofits.

It’s great news for donors because they are going to be given more opportunities to support causes they believe in and beneficiaries they care about. And the emails from for-profit companies are going to raise awareness for whatever issue is being talked about. These are both good, and will cause an overall increase in giving; more people are going to donate, and it’s going to increase the number of younger donors.

To put it another way, the size of the pie is going to increase.

That said, there’s more competition for the pie. This is bad news for smaller nonprofits because they are now in competition with these companies:

  • People’s inboxes are going to be full of more options to give
  • Some of these companies have teams to create and send emails – they are going to send more emails faster than a one-person fundraising shop can.

The good news for smaller nonprofits is that these companies are going to quickly return to selling shirts (or whatever). They probably aren’t going to “Report back” on the difference the donor’s gift helped make. And their fundraising will most likely focus on big, disaster/systemic issues, and less on local issues.

The other good news is that you can build trust in your organization by talking all year long about your cause and your donors – not just when there’s a disaster.

But it’s good to know that an era of increased competition in donors’ inboxes is arriving.

Things That Happen When You Don’t Really Like Fundraising

Below the surface.

We love fundraising around here.

But we have discovered, through deep observation, that some people do not like to fundraise.

(Theatrical Gasp!)

Please know that there’s absolutely no judgment here. The nonprofit world is overflowing with people who got into nonprofit work to do something else… and found themselves doing fundraising for one reason or another.

But a person’s dislike or discomfort with fundraising almost always manifests itself in ways that cause their fundraising to raise less money.

Here are four of the top recurring behaviors of people who don’t really like to fundraise, and how those behaviors manifest in fundraising to individual donors (appeals, e-appeals, newsletters, etc.). And how the behaviors reduce the amount of money people raise.

  1. They do most fundraising tasks at the last minute. Looking at my own life, I do this when I’m trying to avoid something or am afraid I’m going to fail. I think the same thing is true of some people when they do fundraising functions; they would prefer to avoid it, and they fear failing. They avoid writing the Ask at the big event until the day before the event. They delay writing the year-end appeal until December. And when words matter, writing fundraising at the last minute rarely raises as much as it could.
  3. They do far more “education” than fundraising. Rather than doing the emotionally vulnerable work of boldly asking for money, people instead educate donors about the cause and the work. They create fundraising materials that go far deeper into the details than most individual donors would be interested in. They achieve the very real “good” of a few donors being more educated, but don’t realize that education-focused fundraising creates a barrier that keeps most casual donors away. Almost no individual donor wants to have to learn a bunch of things before they give a gift.
  5. The fundraising they create never actually communicates that help is needed. Some people don’t like to communicate that negative things are happening to their beneficiaries. So they create fundraising that makes it look like everything is going great and no one needs help today. This is a great message when an organization is Reporting back on donors’ previous giving. But when “things are going great” is consistently the primary message, the organization is raising less money than it could be.
  7. They don’t ask donors to send in money. Many people who don’t like fundraising will avoid the discomfort of asking directly for a gift. Instead, they’ll ask for things like “partnership” and “support.” Or they’ll insert wiggle-room words like, “Would you consider making a gift today.” By beating around the bush, they avoid the discomfort of asking for financial gifts… but raise less money.

If you see any of these behaviors in yourself or another person, be kind.

These behaviors are usually symptoms of a discomfort or a dislike of fundraising. Help them see how embracing vulnerability is key, and how it will deepen their connection with donors.

Once they understand more about donors, and about how donors process the fundraising they receive, you can’t help but drop some of these behaviors. They’ll start raising more money and become a happier fundraiser!



As you grow in fundraising experience, you understand that consistency is often more important than sincerity.

In any particular moment, sincerity (like authenticity) is a byproduct of feelings at that moment. And feelings change all the time.

This makes “sincerity” not the best foundation for a fundraising program.

What if, on the day you write your year-end appeal, you’re sincerely thinking about another job opportunity?

What if, when the time to deliver your speech at the event finally arrives, you’d sincerely rather be in bed?

Now “consistency,” on the other hand, is reliable. Steadfast on behalf of the beneficiaries and cause – no matter how you’re feeling that day. Willing to be vulnerable enough to ask boldly, no matter the day. Willing to show up in donors’ inboxes even though you feel like you’ve said everything before.

That sounds like a great foundation for a fundraising program.

Sincerity and authenticity are, of course, needed in a fundraising program. But for your mass donors, if you want to grow, fundraising done consistently will outraise sincere fundraising done occasionally.

The Easy Thing


Measuring the easy thing is the easy thing.

It’s easy to measure how we feel about an appeal. It’s easy to measure whether any complaints came in. It’s easy to measure whether someone made a typo in the mailing.

It’s harder to measure things like the cost per piece, the gross yield per thousand, or your retention rate for major donors.

Ultimately, everything you send out in the mail or email is fundraising. Measuring the effectiveness is the hard thing, and the important thing.

It’s easy to measure whether an organization sent out an e-news or not. It’s more important and more difficult to measure whether the e-news helped.

Helpful New Book/Tool for Fundraisers

Every once in a while, something crosses my desk that I think would be helpful to a lot of Fundraisers.

This is one of those times – and it’s free!

There’s a new book out called “Story Prompts for Nonprofits.” It’s written by Chris Davenport, the founder of the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference.

This book will be incredibly helpful if you’ve ever struggled with writer’s block, or had a fundraising brainstorming meeting that didn’t go anywhere. (I think it’s more of a “helpful tool” than a book, which you’ll see in a second.)

It’s a free download. Or you can buy a physical copy for $20.

To give you a better sense of why I think of this as a “tool” you’ll keep within reach on your desk, here’s the description: “900+ storytelling prompts for attracting new donors, generating media buzz, connecting with your community, and deepening relationships with donors!”

The story prompts are categorized by nonprofit sector, by types of beneficiaries, and by the types of help that an organization provides.

I think that’s remarkably helpful because one thing I always hear is, “I see lots of examples of fundraising for organizations that feed and house people, but that’s not what we do and I don’t know what will work for what we do!”

I obviously can’t promise that your exact sector and program activities are covered in this book. But there are more than 900 prompts, and I’m sure you’ll find more prompts that apply to you and your organization’s work than you’ll need in a year.

If you’ve ever wondered which of your stories to tell to engage, inspire and cause action in your donors, I think this book will help!

Time-Sensitive Reminder: Donors Aren’t Thinking About Your Cause


I wrote last Thursday about how donors put themselves on the hook.

Donors have chosen to take some responsibility for what is happening in the world, and to do something about it through their giving.

But that doesn’t mean donors always remember that they care, or even think about your organization.

Personally, I don’t remember very often that there’s a lack of affordable housing in the Seattle area. It’s just not something I think about. But I’m thankful that a couple organizations regularly remind me, because it’s an issue I care about.

I think most donors are in a similar situation: donors aren’t inclined to think about your cause or beneficiaries often, but it’s in their values to do something about it.

At Better Fundraising, we think that one of the functions of fundraising is “to remind people who care that there is work that needs to be done.”

I say all this because Fundraisers and organizations are often uncomfortable sending out fundraising that reminds donors of the work that needs to be done. It can feel awkward.

So I want all Fundraisers to remember that your donors chose to be responsible. They know that work needs to be done. They care. But they probably don’t remember right now.

Your fundraising provides the invaluable function of reminding them and giving them a chance to do something about it.

Happy Fourth!


This Independence Day we’re reminded of the line, “toward a more perfect union.”

Not perfect, but trying to get better every year.

Just like fundraising.

Happy Fourth!