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!

You Are More Important Than You Think

You already know that fundraising is so much more than writing your next appeal, or prepping for your next event, or talking to your Board.

But let me put words to how much more you do.

I think fundraising is creating a sacred connection between people who have resources and people who need help.

And that sacred connection is made by you and your fellow fundraisers. Which is amazing because less than 1 in 10 fundraisers actually likes asking for money. (That stat is based on my impromptu polls at conferences.)

I mention this today because it’s the busiest time of year. “Fundraising” seems like a series of tasks. Each day feels like a long list of things to do but not enough time to do all of them.

The difference between a fundraiser and a Fundraiser

I wish there was a difference in our field between “fundraiser” and “Fundraiser.” I think a person should only get the capital “F” if they know that fundraising isn’t ultimately about the money.

With training, it’s not that hard to be an effective fundraiser. Right? You can learn to be donor-centric. You can learn segmentation, and how you should spend more time (and money) on your Major donors than your Mass donors. You can learn to speak and write effectively. You can learn the difference between marketing and fundraising.

None of this is rocket science. There’s a set of accumulated wisdom our sector has created over the past 60 years, and it’s available to anyone with the drive to learn it.

But a person who knows all that AND knows — in their bones — that it’s not about the money? That’s a Fundraiser. That’s a person who is aware of, and loving, creating connections between donors and beneficiaries.

Notice I didn’t say ‘between donors and organizations.’ But that’s a post for another day.

But again, why take the time to write about and then send this to you today?

Because this is a call, to you, to be a Fundraiser

To know, in the midst of the year-end crazy, that you’re creating sacred connections. To know that your job is SO MUCH MORE than sending emails and pulling mailing lists. To feel — in your bones — the joy your donors have when they make a gift through your organization.

Do you feel that joy? Will you choose to feel it for the next few weeks? For every donor who gives a gift between now and midnight on the 31st? That’s a lot of joy!

Because if you do that, you’re going to LOVE the next few weeks. You’re going to write differently. You’re going to talk to donors differently.

And you’re going to raise a lot more money!

So please, when it gets hectic next week (or later today), remember the joy your work gives to donors. Remember the joy your beneficiaries get when they receive help. You’re doing that. That’s you. You’re a Fundraiser.

The “S” Word That Is Good, Not Naughty

The letter "S" for "Segmentation"

The “S” word that I’m talking about is “Segmentation.”

It’s the art and science of not treating all of the people in your database the same. Instead, you want to break them into smaller “segments.”

Here’s why this is important: good segmentation will let you save money on what you’re currently doing while raising more money. Segmentation is a 2-for-1 improvement to your organization.

Here’s what I want to provide:

A super-simple guide to segmentation for smaller nonprofits.

And here’s why I want to do it: most of the small nonprofits I get to work with don’t do enough segmentation. They tend to treat every person in their database the same. They waste money and miss opportunities.

Here’s a simple summary. It’s not perfect for everyone, but it’s a good start:

  • Send your appeal letters to all donors who have given a gift in the last 18 months. (Don’t send them to non-donors, or to volunteers, or to in-kind donors, or to donors who last gave years ago – it’s not worth the money.)
  • Send your newsletters to all donors who have given a gift in the last 18 months. (Same as above — as a rule, you will spend more money on printing and postage than you will receive in gifts.)
  • However, send your Christmas/Holiday/Year-end letters to all donors who have given a gift in the last 36 months. This is the time to include your non-donors and your volunteers.
  • Send your e-appeals to everyone on your email list.
  • Send your e-newsletters or e-updates to everyone on your email list.

That’s it. There are about 15 ways that it quickly becomes complex. But the main thing to remember is that the people most likely to give you gifts are your donors. And organizations that really analyze their results quickly figure out that it’s not worth their money to send mail to people who haven’t donated in a while.

And here’s how you can use segmentation to raise more money . . .

Identify your “segment” of major donors and send them special versions of your direct mail.

Because your major donors can give you such large gifts, it is worth spending extra money on your mailings to them. Here’s what to spend your money on:

  1. Larger envelopes
  2. Nicer paper
  3. Customized proposals in the mailing

The purpose of spending the extra money is pretty simple: it’s to increase the chance that a major donor will OPEN your mailing. And if you do that with your major donors, you will raise more money!

[FREE RESOURCE] Storytelling for ACTION ebook

We made a free ebook to help you raise more money!

Here’s what Tom Ahern said about it: “Get it. Read it. Implement it. Make way more money.”

If that’s not enough, here’s a sample of what you’ll get. This is our “Story Type Matrix” — it’s 20 years of hard-won storytelling advice about what types of stories to tell and when to tell them, condensed into a single powerful page.

And that’s just page 13. There are 40 other pages.

I mentioned this is free, right?

Why would we give away this level of information? Two reasons:

  1. There’s a lot of un-tested information about storytelling out there. Just “being good at storytelling” or “telling stories well” isn’t the magical fundraising tool it’s made out to be. What stories you tell, and when you tell them, matters a TON.
  2. We’re sharing this because our goal at Better Fundraising is to radically improve the fundraising capacity of small to medium-sized nonprofits. That’s why we’re here. We’re constantly looking for ways, for free or at very low cost, that we can share what we’ve found (through vigorous testing) works best in fundraising.

Download your free ebook today!

The 1 Thing to Know for Year-End Fundraising

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The reason your organization raises so much money at year-end has little to do with your organization.

But it has a LOT to do with your donors.

Please, let me tell you how you can use this information to help your donors give even more. This is a big idea.

People aren’t more generous in November and December because they suddenly wake up and want to help nonprofits. Your donors are more generous because this is time of year they celebrate thankfulness and generosity. This is when they celebrate the gifts they’ve been given (personally, financially, spiritually), and focus on the things that matter most to them.

A natural outcome of your donors’ celebrations — and of thinking more about what they care about — makes them more likely to give gifts. They put their money where their heart is.

Here’s why I’m telling you this . . .

Focus your message at year-end on what your donors care about and you’ll raise more money.

But most nonprofits don’t do this! Instead, they focus their messaging on the organization itself. They talk about what the organization did during the year. They talk about the programs of the organization.

Here’s a super-simple example of why focusing on what the donor cares about is so effective. Imagine you’re an arts organization. Here’s what your donors care about, in order of importance:

  1. The arts
  2. Promoting and/or preserving the arts
  3. Organizations that promote or preserve the arts

Remember, the organizations that raise the most money tend to focus on what donors care about most.

So, this arts organization would focus their messaging on the arts themselves, and how the donor’s gift will promote or preserve them.

But most organizations write about themselves. They are focusing their messaging on the least important of the three things their donor cares about! Their letter will be all about what their organization is doing to promote and preserve the arts. Then they’ll ask the donor to “support the organization” or to “help us continue this good work.”

Here’s what works far better: talking less about the organization, and asking the donor to ‘support the arts.’

In practice, this means making your year-end letters, emails and website features more about your cause and your beneficiaries than about your organization.

I know this works. Our clients usually see their biggest gains working with us at year-end, mostly because we help them communicate more about what their donors care more about! We even sell samples of year-end appeal letters that are proven to work – and if you look at the samples you’ll notice that they talk very little about the organization that sent the letter. They talk to the donor about the cause or the beneficiaries, and about how the donor can help.

So this year more than ever, make your donor communications about what your donors care about most!

Why We Are All Hypocrites About Fundraising Plans

A close up shot of a black locomotive speeding down the tracks

“It’s like you have been in our office!”

We hear this every once in a while from new clients. It usually happens near the end of summer when we’re helping them create their year-end fundraising plan.

We make a plan and everyone is excited. Then we say to them, “This is great. But now let’s talk about what could derail the plan.” Here’s the list:

  • A board member or program staff is going to object to the way a letter is written. At the last minute. Multiple times.
  • Someone will get excited about a new opportunity. They’ll want you to drop what you’re doing and do their (untested, unproven) thing.
  • You won’t actually start early enough. Things will take longer than you expect or (more likely) there are some parts of the job that you don’t like as much as others.
  • Someone will run late. Your website doesn’t get updated or you don’t get the info you need when you need it.
  • You’ll simply run out of time, unable to get everything done because there’s too much on your plate.

It happens to everyone. We all say we want a great plan. But then we don’t actually follow the plan and it never gets completed.

It happens to us, too. As I write this, we’re about to launch an online store with products like a tested year-end fundraising calendar proven to raise the most money. The plan was to launch a month ago!

Because we know your reality, we’re not going to give you trite advice like, “Have a plan and work your plan.” You know that already.

What you (and I) really need is practical advice on how to do our best fall and year-end fundraising when you know there are going to be a ton of distractions.

Here are the three things that have helped our clients. They aren’t “tips” or “weird tricks” — think of them as accumulated wisdom from the fundraisers that have gone before us:

1. Know how much money is at stake, and what percentage it is of your income.

In a word, this is the “why” your plan exists. You need to be able to say to someone, “We have a plan to raise $3.2 million before December 31st. That’s 40% of our total revenue.” Sharing the big picture quickly — and how important it is for your organization — is a very effective way to get things done. You’ll love how people will say, “Oh, you’re right, we can try my new idea in February.” Or, “That’s right, I’ll get that to you right away.” But if it’s just business as usual, we’re busy because that’s the way it always is, say, “bye-bye” to your plan.

2. Prioritize your priorities.

In addition to knowing how much money you expect to raise, know how much you expect to raise through your major donors, your mail, your email, your website, Giving Tuesday, etc. Then prioritize your time and attention on the actions that bring in the most money. That way when something comes up (which it will) or you run out of time (which you will), you can make a smart choice about what not to do. We’ve watched organizations focus on an email that will bring in $15k but neglect following up with a major donor who always gave them $50k. These types of things happen all the time — but not as much when you and your team have a list, on your desk, of which efforts produce the most revenue for your organization.

3. Publish your plan.

By this we mean, make your plan public. Post it on your door. Show the board at your October meeting. Talk about it in your first November staff meeting. Tell people what you’re working on and what’s at stake. They will be far more likely to be helpful in November and December when they know that there’s a really good reason why you’re so busy!

So, you still need to make a great plan. But use these three practical ideas to help you stick as closely to your plan as you can during the most important (and distraction filled) time of the year!

Your Fundraising Infrastructure Matters!

Gail Perry wisely encourages you to build up a strong and effective organization by investing wisely in your fundraising infrastructure. It’s a choice, but a very important one. In her blog she lists a few examples of how you can invest in your infrastructure. Here are the suggestions I’d like to highlight and I put my own twist on why I think these are important.

  • Hire and keep competent staff. Your people make your fundraising plan go. You need to be willing to spend money to hire and retain great people. It is worth the investment.
  • Now that you have great people on your team, you should invest in their professional development. Even a seasoned fundraiser will benefit from additional training and education.
  • Purchase, use and leverage cutting-edge technology to manage and deliver your fundraising content. I’m writing this very blog post using an online software program that helps my team draft, edit and post content! How up to date is your donor database, email delivery program, social media management platforms, internal communication tools? Investing in new resources and training can create great efficiencies.

The big takeaway for me after reading Gail’s blog is that if you want to grow your fundraising results year after year, you should invest heavily in your people, systems, programs and technology.

Click here to read Gail’s blog. It is worth it.

Your Donor Should See Herself In Every Story

The following is an excerpt from our new eBook, Storytelling for ACTION. If you enjoy this, download your free copy today.

“There’s an easy way to focus on your donor’s role, and a hard way. The best fundraisers do the easy way first, and then they do the hard way, too.

The Easy Way (do this first)

Use the word “you” a LOT. Use it early and often. This simple trick makes you include the donor in everything you say and write.

  • 2-to-1 Ratio: We recommend at least a 2-to-1 ratio of “you’s” to “we’s.” That’s two of “you/you’re” for every one “we/us/our” and the name of your organization.
  • Red Pen Test: Start with this classic test—circle all the “we/us/our” with red pen, and all the “you” with blue pen. You should see a LOT more blue than red.
  • 10% Rule: Master fundraising copywriter Jeff Brooks says your goal should be to have 10% of all the words be the word “you.” It sounds crazy, but try it and then read it out loud. You sound like someone talking directly to another person that you care about—which is exactly what good fundraising sounds like.

If you do this, you’ll notice your donor will start to appear in your fundraising materials much more often. And if your donor sees herself in your communications, she’s more likely to give a gift.

The Hard Way (do this second)

Make the action you want your donor to take— the role you want her to play in the story—be specific, compelling, and powerful.

Think of it this way, when you tell the story of what your donor’s gift is going to do, get specific.

Examples of the specifics we’ve had great success with:

  • provide one meal
  • shelter for one night
  • access to an art museum for one child
  • curing one person
  • one credit towards graduating from college
  • help one teacher

It’s often hard for organizations to get specific about what a donor’s gift does. To your organization, the specifics seem less important than the whole of your programs or approach. And that’s true—from your point of view. You’re an expert!

But from the point of view of a donor— who doesn’t know nearly as much about program details as you do—the specifics are extraordinarily helpful.

That’s why in all our testing an action like “Be the difference for a refugee in need” doesn’t raise as much money as an action like “Provide medical care for a refugee for $7.”

If you’ve enjoyed this excerpt from Storytelling for Action, you can download the full eBook here.

Why Your Donors Deserve Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat

You’re no doubt familiar with Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat, the fundraising rhythm we teach here at Better Fundraising.

There are two equally strong reasons you should follow this approach to fundraising.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that we arrived at it because it raised our clients the most money and retained their donors the longest. Both Jim and I come from competitive fundraising environments where we were pressured to raise money in the short term AND to set organizations up for long term success. And when we looked at what worked and what didn’t in fundraising — really getting deep in the data — it was clear that Asking, Thanking, and Reporting were the key elements for fundraising success.

And that Repeating the rhythm (and some of the messages) helped organizations grow over time.

So we developed Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat simply as a way to help organizations raise more money.

But there’s another line of thinking that leads you to the same place. We call it ‘treating your donor the way she deserves to be treated’ . . .

  • You honor your donor by sharing the problem your organization is working on, and asking your donor to help solve the problem.
  • You honor your donor by thanking her like crazy when she gives a gift to help.
  • And it’s really honoring her by showing her what happened because she gave a gift. To Report.

You could argue that it’s a moral imperative to Report. She gave you a gift in faith and received nothing in return but a hit of dopamine. How can you in good conscience ask her to give another gift without showing and telling her that her gift made a difference?

This is one of the reasons, by the way, that fundraisers don’t like their jobs. They have to ask and ask and ask. They know in their hearts that donors get tired of being asked! But the fundraisers who work in environments where their donors are honored with regular reports? Those fundraisers enjoy their jobs much more. And their donors enjoy the fundraising much more.

This is the heart of donor centricity. It’s acknowledging that the donor is central to the process of philanthropy, charity and your organization. It’s acknowledging that her role is not just “supporter” or “partner” but as central as your organization’s.

So ask yourself, “Have we Reported to our donors lately? Do we deserve to ask them for another gift?”

When you’re great at reporting you’ll notice three things: you’ll raise more money; you’ll keep your donors for longer; and you LOVE knowing that you’re treating your donors the way they deserve to be treated!