Things an Old Fundraiser Knows

Things an Old Fundraiser Knows

I just completed my 25th year-end fundraising campaign.

It made me think about the lessons I’ve learned over the years communicating to donors en masse. Not the ‘one major donor who likes this’ or ‘the foundation that likes that,’ but when nonprofits are communicating to everyone on their file.

So in hopes that this is helpful, here are a handful of big-picture things that this Fundraiser has come to realize are enduring truths…

It’s harder than ever to get and keep attention

Get great at getting your donor’s attention. And keeping it. This means more drama and less process. More National Enquirer and less National Geographic. This means louder, bolder, redder, and not that fricking shade of light blue that no older donor can see or read.

Mostly it means not assuming that your donor is going to read anything you send them, let alone the whole thing.

You have to earn their attention, my friend.

The way your organization does its work is rarely important

And I mean rarely.

Most organizations, most of the time, should be talking about the outcomes their work creates. They should not be talking about how the organization creates those outcomes.

So if you find yourself talking about your process, the names of your programs, the features of your programs … rethink what you’re talking to donors about.

The best-performing fundraising is usually about something the donor cares about, at the level at which they understand it, and about what their gift will do about it.

This is a hard truth. It saddens me to say that most small nonprofits never embrace this, and they stay small because of it.

Most small nonprofits have ‘untapped giving’ of 15% to 25% of their total revenue

This is based on applying best practices to a LOT of smaller nonprofits. They simply have a lot of donors who would like to give more money if they are Asked well and then cultivated correctly.

It’s a thrill to get to work with those organizations because the increase is real and immediate.

Most of the barriers to raising more money are self-imposed

The things that are holding back small- to medium-sized nonprofits are almost always fear-based barriers:

  • “We can’t talk to our donors more, we’ll wear them out”
  • “We have to share everything that we do, and that we are good at it”
  • “We can’t be so forward, we need to engage our donors/potential donors more before…”

If you’re willing to do things differently, an experienced fundraiser can help you start raising more money immediately.

Successful fundraising is a knowledge issue, not a talent issue

One of the biggest joys of my life is watching fundraisers become Fundraisers. And it almost always happens when they internalize an idea – like the ones I mention above – rather than learning a new tactic.

Donor generosity is amazing

Donors continue to surprise me, even after 25 years. Their generosity is astounding. They want to make the world a better place. They are looking for opportunities to do so.

And we get to tap into that. For a living.

Fundraisers have the best job in the world.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

We trust that your year ended on a high note – both personally and with a rush of donations!

You and I both know that nonprofits, and great fundraising for them, are needed more than ever right now. It’s up to you, me and others like us to do what we can.

So here’s to a fantastic year of fundraising in 2019 – and doing more good than ever in the lives of beneficiaries and donors!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

We hope today is a day of wonderful celebration, gift giving, and gift receiving!

You’ve worked hard this year, and you’ve made a difference. It’s a gift to be able to do this fundraising thing with you!

So have a great day today. And tonight we’ll raise a glass to all the good you’ve done this year!

With gratitude for you and what you do,

 

Jim, Steven, and the entire Better Fundraising Team

Happy thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving.

We’re grateful for you!

The work you do to make the world a better place is a big deal! So Thank You, we love getting to be a small part of your work, and hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Jim & Steven

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!

Six Helpful Ideas for Smaller Nonprofits

Some non-profits want to grow!

Recently I spent the day working with a bunch of smaller nonprofits who wanted to grow.

On my bike ride home that day – which is when I do most of my best fundraising thinking – I thought, “There should be a simple list of things smaller nonprofits need to know if they are serious about growth.”

When I got home I dictated the following list into my phone. It’s a little rough, but it’s my attempt to summarize what small nonprofits tend not to know – and the “upgraded” ideas that in my experience help them break through.

#1 – Small nonprofits don’t know what they don’t know

There’s a whole set of “best practices” out there that small nonprofits should make an organizational priority to discover and put into practice. Things like donor segmentation, a systematic approach to major donor fundraising, having a great fundraising Offer, to name a few.

My advice is to actively seek out best practices and to rely less on making decisions by finding out what the staff likes or doesn’t like. Case-in-point: nobody likes telemarketing, so small nonprofits rarely use it. But it works like crazy and is a fantastic investment.

#2 – Small nonprofits usually don’t know that their donors are not paying close attention

Small nonprofits tend to think that every donor reads every word of every piece of donor communication. That’s just not the case. What does this mean? You need to communicate to your donors more than you think you need to. And know that most donors won’t read every word of what you send them. They might scan it though, so make sure your message comes through even if they scan it!

#3 – Small nonprofits don’t know that they are going to have to talk differently about their organization if they want to grow

In a word, small nonprofits need to simplify their message if they want to grow.

Most small nonprofits assume that a person needs to understand the depth and complexity of the organization’s work before they will become a donor. In my experience, a potential donor is most likely to give when presented with a simple, emotional, powerful current need the organization (or its beneficiaries) is facing. Then, over time, the donor may come to understand your depth and complexity. But start with simple – you’ll get more people in the door.

#4 – Small nonprofits don’t know that repetition is a strength

They try to describe their organization in new ways each time – and as a consequence their message to donors is all over the place. Or they communicate to donors as if donors ‘read every word of everything’ so they only say important things once. (Remember #2 above.)

Instead, find out what message most of your donors are most interested in, then repeat that message to drive it home.

Take this lesson from the world of advertising: it’s a general truth that people need to hear a message three times in a short amount of time before they take action. So if you have two appeals a year, one in the spring and one at year-end, your message isn’t getting through to whole swaths of people.

#5 – Small nonprofits don’t realize they should be spending more time and money on their Major Donors

To be clearer, most small nonprofits do understand this – they just don’t do much about it.

And that’s too bad. Because major donors are more important to small orgs than to large orgs!

What a small nonprofit should do is identify and rank their major donors, then devote real time and energy to getting to know those donors, learning about their passions (why they give) and actively looking for ways the donor can exercise their passions through the organization. Asking, Thanking, Reporting on an individual basis to all Majors is a good idea, too.

#6 – Small nonprofits don’t know that what they say to donors matters more than what their materials look like

Another way of putting this is to say that an organization’s visual brand (colors, logo, typeface, website design) matters far less to donors than things like being donor-centered, having a good offer or Reporting back to your donors on what their gift accomplished.

Wrapping Up

If you’re a smaller nonprofit, I hope this is helpful.

If you know a small nonprofit that would benefit, please pass this along to them.

Jim and I firmly believe that helping small nonprofits raise more money is the biggest area of opportunity in fundraising today. There are just so many of them! More than a million of them in the U.S. alone.

So if we – you, Jim and me – can help the small nonprofit ecosystem get better at fundraising, we can make a meaningful impact on our culture and society. That’s the goal. Let’s get to it!

PS – And if you’d like to work on it together, drop us a line!

​Top 5 Blog Posts of 2017 + more

In a hurry? Want the best of the best – fast?

Here are the top five Better Fundraising blog posts of 2017, as voted on by savvy internet viewers like you:

  1. Five Tips For The First Sentence of Your Next Appeal Letter
  2. How (and Why) to Tell Unfinished Stories
  3. Remind, Don’t Persuade
  4. The False Assumption That Does Massive Damage To Your Fundraising
  5. Simple Outline For Appeals That Raise Money

Plus the most-listened to podcast of the year, an interview with Scott Harrison of Charity Water. I was a better fundraiser, immediately, for having listened to Scott

There are also three other posts that we personally loved and think everyone should read:

That’s it. A little curated reading for you over the holidays. THANK YOU for being a fundraiser and making the world a better place – enjoy your holidays!

SuperPost of proven Year-End Fundraising Fundamentals, Tactics and Tips

Short, powerful post for today.

You have one more week to make your online year-end fundraising great. And we’ve written a recent series of posts designed to help you.

I think these posts answer all the main questions that nonprofit fundraisers still working on their year-end emails, web and social would have:

There’s probably some repetition of core ideas in there. But you know that repetition is a fundraiser’s best friend, right?

It’s our hope that this is set of information is helpful to you. Or that it’s helpful in convincing your boss that the approach you want to take is tested and proven, not just something you made up or some yahoo on the internet said.

If you don’t have time to read all the posts, and just need what’s basically a template you can follow, check out our Year-End Digital Fundraising Toolkit.

As you make the most of your last few days, go boldly. YOU are the sacred connector between your donors and your beneficiaries or your cause. Because of you and your work, your donors get to experience the joy of giving. Because of you and your work, more people are helped and the world is a better place!

And stay tuned to the blog, we’re about to publish a sort of Benediction For Fundraisers for 2017. You’re going to love it!

Thanks for Standing Up Like My Neighbor

Growing up, my next-door neighbor was an old guy named Mr. Barnett. He was kind, avuncular attorney. Great neighbor.

It wasn’t until later that I learned he was a hero. And it wasn’t until a long time after that I learned that you are, too.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I grew up on an island outside of Seattle. It has the unfortunate distinction of being the very first place during World War II that Japanese Americans were forcibly rounded up and relocated to internment camps.

Not the brightest moment in our history.

I learned later that Mr. Barnett was the attorney for the only Japanese American to challenge, through the legal system, the forced removal of Japanese Americans from their homes. Mr. Barnett took the course all the way to the Supreme Court, and was not a popular guy for doing so.

But he stood up for the men, women and children who were interred. And for the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I was thinking about how I had no idea my next-door neighbor had done something so incredible. And my next thought was that most fundraisers have no idea they do something so incredible.

The deeper into my career I get (25 years!) the more I see that most fundraisers — and maybe even you — only barely grasp the important role you play.

You stand up for your beneficiaries. Who often have no voice.

You are their voice to people who have the resources to help.

Without fundraisers like you, how would they get help?

Like Mr. Barnett, you stand up for a person who needs justice.

And maybe the cause you work on isn’t one of the sexy ones, like “social justice.” Maybe it’s foundational like “supplemental math skills for elementary school kids.” Maybe you’re one of the few standing up for your cause. Maybe you’re the only one – like Mr. Barnett.

But you stand up.

Thank you.

As a fundraiser, you do fight for justice. Whether it’s for food or math skills. For immigrant rights or for a museum that preserves Quilting Arts. Over these next couple busy months, in the middle of this crazy year-end, remember this . . .

You are standing up for your beneficiaries or cause. Who often have no voice.

You are their voice to people who have the resources to help.

Thank you!