Guest Post Commentary

Guest Post Commentary.

Tuesday we featured a guest post from @BradyJosephson with two proven tactics for how to raise more money using “vertical Integration.”

On the surface, Brady’s advice appears to go counter to my normal advice. Because when I’m asked, “How many times a year should I mail our donors?” I usually respond, “Two more times than you did last year.”

I know that sounds glib – but in my experience, it’s true for about 90% of nonprofits.

But go read the post if you haven’t, and here are my takeaways…

“Vertical Integration” is really, really smart

This is especially important for smaller nonprofits without big communications departments.

It’s the idea that you can communicate the same thing to your donors in multiple channels to take advantage of the power of each channel.

And I’ll add “take advantage of the different portions of your audience” that each channel reaches.

But the key here is to be repeating the same message across all the channels – just executing it differently depending on the channel.

Note to astute readers: vertical integration is the proven idea of repetition (repeating the same powerful message multiple times) updated for the modern era. In the past, not every org could use the mail, radio and TV. And that’s still true today. But every org can use the mail, the web, email and social. And they need to be integrated!

“Direct mail isn’t dead, and it won’t be for a while, but its upside is limited.”

This is both true and not true.

It’s true that, for all nonprofits across north America, direct mail response rates and donor acquisition is down.

But for smaller orgs who aren’t experts at direct mail, there is a massive opportunity for you. The organizations we work with are all seeing very large gains in revenue and donor retention from our work in the mail. It’s why we developed “Instant Appeals & Reports.”

Maybe I’ll put it this way: for most smaller nonprofits, direct mail is still the best investment for communicating with your current donors. You just have to do it well – which is something that’s generally not taught.

Facebook is a Thing

Facebook is becoming a big deal for many organizations.

The most effective way we’re seeing it used, without going into the data-nerd details, is to present your most powerful message to your existing donors again, about the same time they are seeing that message in the mail and in your email.

That’s the “repetition” thing again. That’s the “vertical integration” Brady is talking about.

Thanks, Brady

Brady and Next After, thanks for sharing your knowledge. I love how you’re constantly testing, looking at the results, and making all of us better at online fundraising.

It’s both the present and the future of fundraising. Just don’t forget the entire generation of donors that are plugged in online!

What to Measure, and What to Evaluate, in Fundraising

Three gauges.

This post is written for smaller nonprofits.

The goal is to show you what data to track, and then what to evaluate, in your fundraising.

Most small nonprofits don’t realize it, but every single thing they ever send to their donors is a test. It’s a test to see whether their donors respond or not. So these nonprofits are performing all these tests, and creating incredible data about what their donors like and dislike – and not paying attention to it.

My goal today is to give you a great start into what to track, and then what to evaluate, so that you learn as much as possible from all these fundraising experiments you’re performing.

And you’re not learning just for learning’s sake. You should be doing this because you will raise more money faster.

Example for You

Say you’ve sent an appeal letter at Thanksgiving for the last five years. If you track the right information every year, you will know which of those Thanksgiving appeals was most effective with your donors.

Then you can “repeat” and improve your best-performing Thanksgiving letter. That’s how save time and raise more money each year.


Here’s a list of the primary metrics we recommend tracking. (Of course there are more if you get into the details. These are the primary ones.) If you track these, you’ll be able to properly evaluate the performance of your main fundraising efforts…

  • Mail: # Sent, # Gifts, Total Expense, Gross Revenue
  • Email: # Sent, Open Rate, Click-through Rate, # Gifts, Gross Revenue
  • Event: # Invited, # attended, # who gave, Total Expense, Gross Revenue
  • Major Gifts Programs: # major donors, # gifts, Total Expense, Gross Revenue

I should mention that this assumes you have donor software that tracks every gift.


If you track the right metrics, you can calculate and then evaluate the right metrics.

You can use the info above to calculate the metrics you should be using to evaluate the performance of your fundraising impacts.

For each of the types above, here’s how we evaluate performance. The metrics are listed more-or-less in order of importance…

  • Mail: Net Revenue, ROI, % Response, Average Gift
  • Email: Net Revenue, % Response, Open Rate, Click-through Rate
  • Event: Net Revenue, Average Gift per person, % of attendees who gave
  • Major Gifts Programs: Net Revenue, major donor retention rate, revenue retention rate

Like I mentioned earlier, you can go waaaaaay deeper into metrics for all of these. But today’s post is for the organization that wants to really understand and evaluate their fundraising – so that they can get better faster.

And if you want to see what this looks like in action for direct mail, grab our free proforma excel template for data tracking.

What We Don’t Measure

Now, you might notice that there are several things that we didn’t recommend measuring:

  • Complaints
  • Board Member reactions
  • Program Staff feedback

Of course, if Board members and program staff spot factual inaccuracies, you absolutely need to take their feedback. But as for whether they like it or not, or whether they think it will work, or whether they would prefer that you use different words, we don’t measure that.

Why? They are experts on your organization and your cause. They know far more than donors. But your fundraising should be aimed at donors, not experts! Your fundraising should use words and concepts that motivate donors to give gifts, not motivate in-house experts to give gifts.

#donorlove is in the data

One of the best things a small nonprofit can do is to establish a culture of tracking and evaluating everything fundraising.

In my experience, the organizations that do that tend to grow faster. They tend to raise more money. They also tend to have stronger relationships with their donors. Why? Because paying attention to what donors respond to is a pure form of #donorlove!

How to Innovate (and when NOT to)

We’ve been blogging all this month about “Repeating” the tactics and messages that work for your donors.

And earlier this month I brought up an important question: “how do you innovate when you’re in a culture of repeating what’s worked in the past? Because you have to innovate.”

I Was Wrong, That’s Awkward…

Let me begin by saying that I was wrong about something: you don’t have to innovate.

This might be controversial, but most nonprofits should not be innovating.

In my experience, the vast majority of nonprofits should focus on the basic building blocks of solid donor communications and fundraising before they try to innovate.

Most nonprofits should “learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist” (eternal thanks for that quote, Picasso). Most nonprofits should take advantage of the incredible body of knowledge that’s been built up over the last 60 years for how to raise money effectively.

Listen, if you’re raising less than $2 million per year, you probably shouldn’t be innovating. You should focus your time on fundamentals like getting good at Asking, Thanking and Reporting, getting receipts out on time, focusing your time on major donors, having a website that’s good at receiving & tracking gifts, etc.

For instance, say you’re currently sending out 3 appeal letters per year and have a newsletter that doesn’t raise money. My advice would be to send out 5 appeals per year and start raising money with your newsletter before trying something your organization has never done before.

Those are the “long cuts” to success.

Two Paths to Innovation

Ok. You’ve fostered a culture of Repeating: you repeat tactics that work, and you invest the minimum time and money needed to update successful tactics (and not a dollar or minute more).

Then there are two paths to innovation:

  1. When you update your materials, work to improve We call this “incremental innovation,” and it’s what most nonprofits should be doing.
  2. Try entirely new tactics. This looks like “launching a Facebook presence” or “trying telemarketing.”

Incremental Innovation

Here’s how you innovate incrementally…

As you update materials you’ve used in the past (e.g., your year-end appeal letter, or your fall event), you do your necessary updates and then ask, “Are there any tweaks we could make so that this works a little better?”

Here are examples of tweaks you can make that almost always work:

  • Add matching funds
  • Make the language more donor-centric
  • Talk about your organization less
  • Add a deadline with consequences
  • Make the offer more attractive
  • Use customized gift ask amounts based on each donor’s last gift

Not very sexy, eh? But it’s how most of the really successful fundraising programs got where they are today. Incremental innovation over time creates a fundraising program that predictably raises more money.

Try New Tactics (but Minimize Risk)

The big idea here is to try new things without putting large portions of your revenue at risk.

Here’s a perfect example from a couple years ago: a nonprofit that regularly raised $50,000 from their Year-End appeal letter decided to not send their letter. They chose to only send emails because email was so much cheaper.

The organization saved approximately $4,000, but raised $25,000 instead of their regular $50,000. Ouch.

Any time you are considering an idea that puts a lot of revenue at risk, your goal should be to minimize the risk as much as possible.

For instance, they could have sent the letter to their Major and Mid-level donors. That’s where about 80% of their revenue came from. That would have guaranteed 80% of the revenue ($40,000!). Then they could have experimented by doing an email-only campaign to the rest of their donors.

And you know what would have worked even better? Sending the letter to all donors, and then sending a follow-up letter, and emails.

When trying something brand new, we usually follow these three principles:

  1. Determine the “minimum effective dose.” You want to figure out the least amount you have to spend in order to get a test with reproducible results. Maybe it’s a new Facebook presence where you need to spend 15 hours per week and $1,000 per month boosting posts. Maybe that’s a radio campaign where you need to spend $20,000 on spots to really know if the campaign is working or not. Whatever it is, do the research and figure out what you need to do to make your test a good test.
  2. Have a budget and a timeline. Define exactly how much money and time you’re going to spend on a test. If you don’t have a specific budget and timeline, you’re at risk of over-spending, or getting out too early, or running into conflict because different people in your organization have different expectations. We see this all the time in donor acquisition. Starting to do donor acquisition is hard, and usually takes at least a year to really get going. If you know that but don’t say it, and someone in the organization thinks it’s only going to take 3 months, you’re in trouble.
  3. Define success. You have to specifically define what success looks like. It doesn’t work to say “we’ve engaged our donors more” or “we’ve built awareness in our community.” You want to use specific metrics like “our retention rate will go up 2%” or “we’ll acquire 250 new donors.” Get specific. As Peter Drucker said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” I’ve watched a LOT of money get wasted on new initiatives where the results weren’t really measurable.

What’s Next for You?

Hopefully this helps you a) think about what you should be doing next to raise more money, and b) avoid the common mistakes many nonprofits make.

Now, make a plan and go get ‘em! And if you want help, get in touch. You can use our experience (from successes and failures we’ve learned from) to move your organization forward faster!

How to Repeat Yourself (because you’ll raise more money) and NOT sound like a glitchy robot

Reuse heart.

Today we have an appeal letter from a small organization that shows how to repeat the main message – and do so without sounding repetitive.

I’m highlighting this because the main pushback I receive when teaching nonprofits that their fundraising should be “more repetitive” goes something like, “We can’t do that; we will sound ridiculous.”

Here’s a simple rule for how you can be repetitive but not sound ridiculous: each time you repeat what your donor’s gift will do, add another reason to give today.

The letter below – written by a non-professional with our coaching – does a great job of it. Let’s take a look… (click the image to see a larger version in PDF format)Direct Mailing Campaign.

I want you to notice two things. First, look at how many times the main message of “you can feed one person for $12.50 a month” is repeated. I count five places in the letter itself, one in the headline of the reply card, and one in each of the gift ask amounts.

Then notice how the idea is repeated, but the phrasing is a little different almost every time, to keep it interesting. That’s the secret!

The Same, But Different

Let’s break down each mention to see how they say the same thing – but with different emphasis and different spicing:

  1. In the large copy at the top of the page: “See how YOU can feed one person for $12.50 a month!” That lets the donor know, clearly and immediately, what their gift today will do.
  2. 5th paragraph: “Your generous donation of $12.50 will help begin the Thompson’s journey back to financial stability and security with one box of food.” That adds a reason to give: the donor’s gift provides a whole box of food, and that one box starts the beneficiary’s journey. That’s a great deal for $12.50!
  3. Blue call-out copy: “What I got was so much more than a box of food.” That helps the donor know that the organization does so much more than just provide a box of food.
  4. 9th paragraph (in blue): “Your generous donation of $12.50 by July 15th will provide one person with 4 boxes of food this month.” The donor hears two more reasons to give here: that their gift provides not just one, but four boxes of food, and that there is a deadline by which they need to respond.
  5. In the P.S.: “Just $12.50 provides 4 boxes of food to someone in your community who just needs a helping hand to get back on their feet!” This reinforces what the donor’s gift will do, and frames it as a way to “give a helping hand to help a person get back on their feet again.”

What the donor’s gift will do is clearly described in the beginning of the letter. Then each subsequent time it is repeated, another reason to give today is added.

>>>  What could have felt repetitive instead feels really helpful to a donor.  <<<

This is a perfect example of a principle we teach all the time: your fundraising will be more successful if you go deep on one specific part of what your organization does (in this case the power of a box of food) instead of listing all of the things your organization does.

From the Donor’s Point of View

Here’s the thing: to your donor, a letter like this feels like your organization is focused. To your donor, this feels like you are showing her exactly what she can do to have the largest, most powerful impact.

To your donor, that’s really attractive.

Sure, it might still feel a bit repetitive to you. It might even feel a skosh repetitive to a donor who reads the whole thing – but remember that most donors won’t read the whole thing!

Can We Help You?

Want to learn how to think and write like this – and start raising more money with your next appeal or email? Because you don’t have to be a professional writer to raise lots of money. Get in touch!

The Two Reasons Effective Fundraising Writing is Repetitive

Short post today.

A little brevity seemed in order after posting mini-manifestos on how to save time and raise more by “repeating” and a list of what to repeat and even on follow-up mailings.

So. There are two reasons effective fundraising writing is so repetitive:

#1 – The more people read and hear something, the more likely they are to think it’s true and important.

So when you repeat words/phrases/ideas like “your help is needed today” and “your gift made a big difference” in your fundraising, your donor is more likely to believe them. And then she’s more likely to take action.

Here’s the science:

Repeated statements are perceived as more valid than novel ones, termed the illusion of truth effect, presumably because repetition imbues the statement with familiarity. In 3 studies … participants with low or high motivation to process information were presented persuasive arguments seen once or twice. In all 3 studies, repetition increased the persuasiveness of weak and strong arguments when little processing of message content occurred.

— From the Abstract to “The impact of repetition-induced familiarity on agreement with weak and strong arguments.” By Moons WG, Mackie DM, and Garcia-Marques T.

#2 — Most people don’t read the whole thing.

Most donors quickly scan your letter or email; they don’t read all of it.

So the savvy fundraising writers and creators make their fundraising more repetitive to increase the chance that your scanning donor sees it.

Take a look at this heatmap of a direct mail letter. The green shows the locations that the readers spent time on:

Heat map.
Now does it make sense that pro writers repeat the main message at the beginnings and ends of their letters and emails?

And does it make sense that the classic nonprofit letter – a letter that buries the Ask about 2/3 of the way through the letter – doesn’t work as well? Many of your donors never even see it!

Taking My Own Medicine

I’ve been writing about the power of “repeating” and being repetitive all month.

It’s beginning to feel repetitive…

But I’m taking my own medicine. I know that when something feels repetitive to me, that means it’s just starting to get through to my readers.

That’s the same advice I give to nonprofits every week: “I know it feels repetitive to you, and that means it’s getting through to your donors. Because it’s your donors’ reaction to your fundraising that matters most, not yours!”

Please do read our posts this month on “repeating.” Especially if you’re with a small- to medium-sized nonprofit. It’s not sexy, but the idea of repeating your best content, repeating your best tactics, and repeating your best messages is a powerful key to raising more money!

Proven way to “Repeat” — send a follow-up mailing to raise 1/3 more

Repeat mailing letters.

There’s a simple way for small nonprofits to increase revenue by 1/3 for most of their campaigns.

There aren’t that many “tricks” that nonprofits can use to raise more money immediately. But this is one of them.

Repeat Your Message in a Follow-up Mailing

Here’s what to do almost any time you have a mailing going out with a time-sensitive deadline: send a follow-up mailing, with the exact same main message as the initial mailing, a couple of weeks after your initial mailing.

A “follow-up mailing” is a proven tactic that large nonprofits have used for 60 years. And a few years ago I noticed something when our smaller clients added follow-up mailings…

The Benefits of a Follow-up Mailing

  • The follow-up mailing will raise about 1/3 what the initial mailing raises.
  • Sending a follow-up mailing will not materially reduce the amount of money the initial mailing raises.

So by sending a follow-up mailing you’ve increased your revenue by 1/3.

And that 1/3 is new money. Additional revenue. It’s from donors who otherwise wouldn’t have given to the campaign.

An Example

Say you have a Back-to-School campaign every August. And you normally mail your letter around August 7th.

Here’s what I’d do. Send your Back-to-School letter earlier, around July 25th. Then send a follow-up mailing on August 9th.

The follow-up letter should have exactly the same main message as your first letter. Repeat the same phrases and the exact same call to action. Just make it a little shorter, and mention the deadline for response a couple times more than you did in your first letter.

The second letter will raise about one third of what your first letter raises. And your initial letter will raise about the same amount that it always does.

Why This Works

There are two reasons this works:

  1. Not every donor received your message the first time you sent it. Some were on vacation, some didn’t open the mail, etc.
  2. Not every donor who received your initial mailing was convinced that it was important enough to respond to. Have you ever had to repeat something to someone who wasn’t really paying attention the first time? It’s the same thing here. Donors are generous, compassionate, busy people who aren’t always paying attention.

The Cost Is Clear

It’s pretty easy to figure out if you should add a follow-up mailing.

Say your Back-to-School appeal letter raises about $20,000 and costs $2,500 to mail.

You can assume your follow-up appeal will raise about $6,500 on costs of about $2,500. You’ve just created an extra $4,000 in revenue you can use for your Back-to-School campaign.

Usually, the only reasons not to do a follow-up mailing are if:

  • The cost of the follow-up appeal doesn’t cover the increased expense.
  • There’s something else you could be saying to your donors during that period that would raise more than the follow-up appeal would raise.

No Negative Effects

There are basically no negative effects to doing a follow-up mailing.

Your donors won’t unsubscribe or complain from too much mail. You won’t drive them away. They won’t give less later.

And if you’re worried about the follow-up letter bothering some donors, put a line in the letter that says, “I’m sorry if you sent in a Back-to-School gift and our letters have crossed in the mail. But I’m writing today because it is so important that the kids walk into school their first morning with everything they need to succeed…”

This Tactic Works

It works in the mail, in email, on social media, on the phone.

It works because not all of your donors got your message the first time. And not all of the donors who got the message the first time were convinced that it was important enough to respond.

I know I’m repeating myself from above, but it’s that important.

Repetition works, people!

LIST of what to “repeat” to save time and raise more money


I know the idea of “repeating” fundraising you’ve done before doesn’t make sense at first. And it can feel weird.

That’s why we’re blogging this month about the secret of “repeating” – just think of it as a tool that savvy fundraisers use to save time and (surprisingly) raise more money.

What We Mean By “Repeat”

When we say you can “repeat” something, here’s what we mean in a nutshell: do the same thing again, but slightly differently.

  • Send the same letter again, but slightly reword it
  • Send the same email again, but slightly reword it
  • Run the same event again, but with a different beneficiary speaker
  • Send the same letter again, but with a slightly different design

Are you picking up what I’m laying down?

And in some cases you can send the exact same thing. Same email. Same letter. We’ve done both of them and they’ve both worked:

  • My podcast partner Jeff Brooks tells a story about an organization that sent an appeal every month. One month it accidentally sent out the exact same appeal that it sent the previous month – and it raised more money the second time!
  • In my last post I shared a story about an organization that took half their donors and sent them the same exact email the last four days of the year. Those donors gave more than the other half of their donors who received four unique emails.

Because remember:

  1. Most of your donors aren’t paying that close attention
  2. Many donors need to hear something twice (or more) before they pay attention and really think about it

When To Repeat Letters And Emails

Here’s how to repeat your appeal letters and your emails.

If you are doing something that you did the year before, you can repeat it.

Say you send out a Thanksgiving appeal last year, and you’re going to do another one this year. The first thing to do is to look at last year‘s Thanksgiving appeal and its results.

If the results were better than the previous year, repeat it. Don’t write a completely new email. Don’t design a completely new letter. Make only the minimal number of changes you need to make.

The same is true for anything you do each year. Here’s a list of things we’ve repeated to great success, and I’m sure there are more examples:

  • Year-end / Thanksgiving / Back-to-School / etc. – letters & emails
  • Facebook campaigns
  • Events
  • Giving Tuesday
  • Renewal
  • 13th Gift
  • Sponsorship/monthly giving upgrade campaigns
  • Monthly giving recruitment

You name it. If you do it every year, you should be repeating it and making slight tweaks to make it better, not reinventing the wheel.

When You Repeat, Watch Out For…

Here’s what to watch out for when you’ve decided to repeat a fundraising tactic…

  • Any detail that was true last year, but not this year. You need to update anything that’s not true. New ED? Update the name at the end of the letter. This year’s “Thanksgiving Meal” costs $1.93 instead of $1.92? Update the letter. Your organization now rescues Wombats? Add “wombats” to the list of animals you rescue.
  • Does the story need to be updated? Many letters contain a story about a person that illustrates the need. That story should be swapped out and replaced with a new story. But the rest of the letter doesn’t have to change.
    • Note: this is true for events as well.
  • Doing too much. Don’t make too many changes just because you’re in there.

Story Time With Steven

I used to write appeal letters and emails for The Salvation Army. They are a fundraising machine who has all of this down to a science. (You might read that they are a “fundraising machine” and think, “Well, that would never work with my donors.” Please be open to the idea that it would work. Many of your donors also give to the Army.)

Most of the time I would receive the following instructions when it was time to write a letter:

“Here’s last year’s letter. It worked great. Update it for this year and change only what’s absolutely necessary. Do not mess this up.”


No, not really. At least if you’re a ‘creative type’ like me.

But that’s how you build a mature fundraising program that raises the big bucks. You take something that works. You repeat it. You refine it. You look for little ways to make it better. You watch the results closely and look for what donors love, as told through their giving.

Over time you build a money-raising machine that allows you to do so much good in the world that people come to learn fundraising from you.

Listen, a lot of people don’t like hearing this. They want to be creative. They want to love the fundraising they send out.

I’m the same way. I get bored writing the same emails for the second (or tenth) year in a row.

But over time, if you look at the results, it becomes really obvious that if you repeat what worked before, you’re going to raise more money.

Please trust me – I’ve banged my head against that wall enough time to have a small dent in the middle of my forehead. (Well, actually that scar is from my sister throwing a Hot Wheel at me, but it’s a better story if it’s a fundraising scar.)

You are going to be tired of what you’ve been doing. So will your boss and your Board. You’re going to want to do it differently. You’re going to want to ‘come up with a new theme for this year’!

Don’t give in. Keep doing what’s been working great. You’ll raise more money each year.

If you invent a new approach each year you’ll be causing two problems: #1, you’ll be raising less money; and #2, you’ll be taking a LOT of time you could be using to do something else. Like, you know, focusing on major donors, where 90% of your individual donations come from. Or acquiring new donors, who are the future of your organization.

But Whither Innovation?

I’m going to write a post later this month on ‘how to innovate when you’re in a culture of repeating what’s worked in the past.’ Because you have to innovate.

But you want to innovate in a way that minimizes your risk. And I’ll share how to do that. But here’s an analogy to tide you over…

If you’re Apple, do you decide to stop making the iPhone and replace it with something completely new? No. You keep on updating, tweaking the iPhone to make it better each year. And you keep releasing different versions of the iPhone to try out new ideas.


Enough rambling. I hope the concept of “repeating” is making sense. I know it’s not how normal nonprofits operate. But it’s one of the secrets that savvy fundraisers have discovered – and you should be using it. You’ll save time, and you’ll raise more money.

If you’d like to have me help your organization know what to repeat – or to tweak what you’re doing to make it even better – get in touch!

How smart fundraisers save MASSIVE time and raise more money


You are overworked.

You have too much to do and not enough time to do it.

But there’s an easy way to save a ton of time and raise more money: instead of reinventing everything each year, repeat your fundraising wins.

I know this might sound crazy. But it works like crazy. Here are some examples:

  • When it’s time to do your Thanksgiving letter, dust off last year’s Thanksgiving letter, update only what you need to, and send it again. Don’t change the formatting, don’t change the call to action, just send it again.
  • For your event, don’t make a new video. Use last year’s video.
  • Here’s a crazy example of “repeating” your way to success. I know an organization that, for the last 4 days of the year, divided their email list in half. Half of the people received the exact same fundraising email 4 days in a row. The other half received 4 unique fundraising emails. The group that received the same email each day raised more money and had a higher response rate!

Here’s the thing that smart fundraisers (and organizations) know: most of your donors are not paying very close attention.

Your donors don’t remember what last year’s Thanksgiving letter said. And they wouldn’t be bothered if this year’s letter were remarkably similar to last year’s letter.

So what do smart fundraisers do? When it comes time to Ask for donations, they repeat as much of what was done before as possible.

Those smart fundraisers focus on what works, do more of it, and actively work to NOT have to reinvent the wheel each time.

That’s how they save massive time. And raise more money.

They save the time of writing a new Thanksgiving letter. And getting it approved. And designed. And wrestling with the Program team over the exact phrasing.

Don’t Do Two Things

And perhaps what’s most important, they don’t do two things.

They don’t let themselves change something just because they are bored with what was done last time. If the previous thing worked really well, they dig deeper into that thing to try to make it better.

Second, they don’t bow to internal audiences who want to do things differently because of personal preferences. Your Board member may be bored with your event because it feels repetitive to him – but if you know that your event is raising more and more money every year, and most attendees don’t go for more than 2 years in a row, your board member’s opinion should be graciously accepted and then quickly left behind with other advice like “Direct mail is dead!” and “Let’s focus only on millennial donors!”

Learn From The Advertising World

Not everything from “advertising” is helpful in fundraising. But focus and repetition are VERY helpful.

The advertising world spends a LOT of time and money to a) figure out which message for each client is most powerful, and then b) make sure you see that exact same message multiple times.

But for some reason it’s a value in the nonprofit world to do everything different every time. Here’s how this manifests itself:

  • “What will our new theme be for this year’s auction/event?” Why is there an assumption that we need a new theme? If last year’s theme was powerful and worked great, use it again!
  • “What are we going to talk about in this year’s year-end letter?” If last year’s letter was great at motivating donors to give, why not save time by using it again and make only the updates we need to make?

The value of doing so many things new and different each year causes a lot less money to be raised, and a lot less good to be done.

Don’t Trust Your Feelings, Luke

To some people, it feels like less fun to work hard to identify what’s working and then repeat it. It can feel like less fun to concentrate on making it better each time instead of making it new and fresh.

It can feel like you’re not doing a good job when you send out an email that’s exactly the same as last year.

But I would argue that it’s way more fun to raise more money and do more good.

Does HGTV feel like they aren’t doing a good job when they have aired 50 programs in one week about improving houses? Does Apple feel like they aren’t doing a good job when they air the same commercial 50 times in one week?

No. Because they are focused on repeating what works.

Your organization should be, too. Because that’s what works best to raise more money.

And raising more money is why we’re here!

Your Fundraising Should Be MORE Repetitive

I often say, “In fundraising, repetition is the best friend you don’t know you have.”

Many people literally can’t believe I would say something so crazy.

But it’s true. Using repetition as a tool is the biggest lesson that advertising & marketing have to teach us fundraisers.

This post will tell you why that’s true, and how to use this idea to raise more money.

Two Reasons for Repetition

There are two reasons your fundraising materials — and all of your fundraising — should be more repetitive:

  1. Your donors don’t read the whole thing. They skip and skim.
  2. Humans often need to hear a message multiple times before they take action. And your donors are humans.

As always, this post is an attempt to explain what we’ve seen in head-to-head testing. Put another way, we know from testing that repeating the right things will increase how much money you raise, and this is an attempt to explain why.

Note: this idea is especially important for smaller organizations who are trying to make ‘the leap’ to the next level in revenue. Being more repetitive is counter-intuitive. It’s something your board or E.D. might push back against. But if you embrace it you’ll start raising more money both immediately and in the long term.

Your Donors (and Potential Donors) Don’t Read the Whole Thing

People don’t read your whole letter . . . or email . . . or newsletter, etc. (Except for your board, they read everything to find errors.)

If you want to make ‘the leap’ to the next level of income, you need to wrap your mind around this. People don’t read/watch/listen to the whole thing. They skim, they jump around.

If you want evidence of this, go check out the work of Siegfried Voegele.

So to increase the chances that your donor sees your main message (usually your call-to-action) you repeat it multiple times. That way, as your donor is skimming your fundraising, there’s a greater chance they will see what you want them to do.

Remember: you go through your fundraising with a fine-toothed comb, reading from the top to the bottom, looking at every detail. But most of your donors just glance at it. Repeating your main idea increases the chances that even your “glancers” will read what you want them to read.

This makes it difficult (at first) to write effective fundraising, by the way. We learn in school to set up an argument, tell a story, and then make our point. But the most successful fundraising tends to make it’s point, tell you why the point is so important, and then make it’s point again. Writing that way is a learned behavior.

Humans Often Need to Hear a Message Multiple Times Before They Take Action

You know this from your own life; telling a busy co-worker something multiple times, or talking to a friend who is doing something else at the same time.

It’s a good idea to assume that your donors are busy, or are looking at your fundraising and doing something else at the same time.

Smart fundraisers use this knowledge to do two things:

First, in their letters and emails, they’ll repeat key phrases and ideas multiple times. For instance, my rule of thumb is that each appeal letter should have three direct asks to the reader to send in a gift today. I usually put those three “asks” in the following three locations:

  1. Somewhere in the first three paragraphs
  2. Somewhere in the last three paragraphs
  3. In the P.S.

Because your donors are skipping around, if you only put your ask in one place in your letter, a whole bunch of donors just got your letter but don’t know you’d like them to send a in a gift. That’s a recipe for raising less money than you could be.

Second, smart fundraisers ask donors to do the same thing multiple times during the year. Because they know that of the donors who saw the message the first time you sent it, not all of them were convinced to make a gift.

Say you’re a community museum that has a hard time raising money with your general appeals, but the one time each year you ask your donors to ‘send a local child to the museum’ you raise a lot of money. Well, next year ask you donors to send a child to the museum twice (and do the things you need to do to make the funds undesignated).

To give you a real-life example, Jeff Brooks tells a great story about an organization that accidentally sent out the same exact appeal letter two months in a row. The same letter to the same people. What to know what happened?

The letter did better the second time!

The Consequences for Your Fundraising

It takes real discipline to use repetition in fundraising. Because when you do, your nonprofit will end up communicating more often to your donors, and communicating about fewer things to your donors.

Here’s a story to illustrate my point. We worked with an organization in the Midwest who raised about $10m per year. They talked about EVERYTHING they did, every program, all the time. They always wanted to say all the things!

We counseled them to make their fundraising simpler and more repetitive. For instance, in each letter and email they should only talk about one of their programs. Their response was an all-time classic:

“Steven, you don’t understand. We’re not a simple organization that just does one thing, like World Vision. We do so much more!”

Now, I’ve done some work for World Vision. They are anything but simple. So I explained that World Vision isn’t simple, but they are disciplined in their donor communications.

So we convinced the organization to get more specific about one program in one letter. That letter raised roughly double any of their other letters that year.

By the way, iIf you follow this advice, it’s totally possible that your board and staff will like your fundraising less. They will think your letters and emails are repetitive. They won’t all hear about their favorite programs or parts of your organization. But you’ll raise more money and will be able to do more good. Whether they like your fundraising or not should not be a core issue. The core issue should be whether your fundraising is effective or not.

And if you use repetition as a tool, your fundraising will be more effective.

Repetition at Year-End

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that repetition is one of your core tools to year-end fundraising success.

Your donors are busier than ever, and repeating the same message (and your call-to-action) is one of the best ways you can get noticed by them.

Our Year-End Digital Fundraising Toolkit is on sale right now for more than 40% off. Grab it. You’ll see exactly how to use repetition over the next few weeks – among lots of other tips-n-tricks – and you’ll raise a LOT more money this year!