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!

The Power of YOU at Shoreline Rotary

football coach

Since your job as a fundraising professional is often hectic and overwhelming, I thought you would be encouraged by a recent talk I gave to the Shoreline Rotary Club about how to move yourself to positive action and outcomes.

My work at Better Fundraising has allowed me to be a high school football coach for the past 24 years. The members of this particular Rotary Club know me as “Coach Shap.”

The group brought me in to talk since they were looking for a little “team motivation” before they set out to fulfill summer work projects in the community. I organized my talk around the three different kinds of power each of us has in our lives that can motivate positive action and produce great personal and professional results.

Here is a summary of what I shared.

The power of choice

We make choices every day that impact the outcomes and results of our day. We can choose to get out of bed on time or to be early to the next scheduled business meeting. We can choose to be kind to our spouse after a mistake has been made around the house, or give grace to our kids after a poor choice was made. The power of choice truly can drive results, actions, and our ultimately shape our perspective on life. Let’s choose to be positive and encouraging to the people we care about the most.

The power of people

I believe we become whom we surround ourselves with. If we choose to hang out with people that are positive and make good choices, they will have a positive influence on us. If we choose to hang out with negative people or friends that make poor choices, we eventually will get caught up in their way of thinking or in negative circumstances. My hope for you is that you can surround yourself with people that build you up and encourage you to be the best you that you can be.

The power of self-talk

The last area that I believe can truly make a difference in your attitude and performance is the power of self-talk. We tend to be our hardest critic. Most of us walk though our daily lives replaying in our mind self-talk that is negative and hurtful: “I’m not smart enough, strong enough, sharp enough, professional enough,” and the list goes on. The best thing you can do today to turn your day around is to fill your self-talk with positive comments. Be like the childhood story of the little engine that could. If you think you, can you will. If you think you can’t, you wont. It is that simple.

I hope these thoughts encourage you to take on the day with fervor and energy. You truly can make it a great day; it just comes down to how you choose to live your life.

Now go out into the world and choose to make it a great day!

Why Does “Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat” Work?

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I recently received an email from a woman I met at a conference I spoke at. She ended her email with this comment; “Because of your knowledge I have been kickin’ a** fundraising and will only get better as we make more money, add more staff, and implement more of your plan!”

Reading this made me ask myself, ‘Why does Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat work so well?’ Here are just some of the reasons . . .

  1. Fundraising is not a talent issue, it is a knowledge issue. The fundraising fundamentals I teach can be learned by most anyone. The key is they must have the willingness to learn.
  2. Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat puts the donor at the center of the fundraising conversation. The system honors the donor, their stewardship decisions and gives them the credit for making the world a better place because of their donation.
  3. You will communicate more often to your donors when using Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat. The system requires you to Ask with clarity, Thank promptly and Report back emotionally. Doing these things means you’ll communicate to your donors more often – which is a very good thing for most nonprofits.

My hope is as you run fast into 2017 you will consider learning more about Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat.  And that you will leverage the fundraising power behind this simple, donor-centered communication rhythm.

Major Donor Fundraising: Another $240,000 raised in one weekend

Major Donor Fundraising

It is hard to believe the success one of our clients is having raising money via small group, major donor gatherings. They call them “major donor summits.”

Just in recent months they have raised over $500,000 by bringing together select groups of current major and mid-level donors to hear more about their mission and to be given a very clear opportunity to make a significant donation.

The ingredients we came up with for these events are actually very simple and something you can implement:

  1. Find a geographic location where you have a number of major and mid-level donors residing
  2. Invite them to a one or two-day gathering at a desirable location or venue
  3. Include your leadership team at the event
  4. Share with them the big-picture vision and goals you hope to accomplish with their financial help
  5. Give them a campaign goal that they can collectively fund
  6. Deliver a clear and simple fundraising offer
  7. Include a giving deadline, ideally by the end of the event

These basic ingredients have proven to be a successful combination. I challenge you to come up with your version of a major donor summit so that you can raise more money and develop deeper connections with your donors!

Major Donor Fundraising: One simple phrase can change your major donor fundraising forever

Major Donor Fundraising

“Thank you!”

This simple phrase is the glue that keeps your donors engaged in giving and wanting to give more over time.

When you thank your donors promptly and emotionally for their gift, they feel appreciated and start to develop a deeper connection with your organization, mission and beneficiaries you serve.

Knowing that saying thank you is so important, I challenge you to review your thank you letters and receipt packages to see if they do an absolutely great job thanking your donor for her generosity.  Consider these things when evaluating our thank you process and content.

  1. Are you thanking your donors promptly? The goal is to thank them within 72 hours after having received their gift.
  2. Are you thanking your donors emotionally? Can your donor feel your gratitude coming through the letter?
  3. Are you telling your donor what is going to happen because they gave a gift? Or are you just ‘acknowledging’ their gift and using stuffy “CFO language” or marketing-speak?
  4. Do your receipt packages include a response device and return envelope? Really successful fundraising organizations raise more money by making it as easy as possible for their donors to make their next gift.
    1. Note that they aren’t Asking for a gift, but they include a reply card and envelope because they know that some donors will be moved to send in another gift.

Do you have room for improvement when it comes to thanking your donors?  Do all you can before summer ends to improve this important part of the Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat rhythm.

FREE Training for Board Members and Executive Directors– Register Today!

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Are you a Board Member or Executive Director?  Would you like FREE Training on how to know whether your organization’s fundraising is effective — and what to do if it isn’t?

As an E.D. or Board Member, we know you want to understand what a great fundraising program looks like — and how you can govern, support and evaluate your staff’s efforts.

Here are the details on the training that’s been created just for you! Jim Shapiro and Steven Screen, two nationally-known experts, will teach you what you need to know to evaluate your fundraising, to know what to focus on, and what you need to know to really make a difference

In honor of International Day of Charity, Jim and Steven are hosting a FREE Training specifically for Executive Directors and Board Members:

  • WHEN: September 8th, 2016; 9:30am-12pm
  • WHERE: 415 Westlake (415 Westlake Ave N., Seattle, WA 98109)
  • COST: FREE!

You’ll learn:

  • The two performance metrics you should focus on: net revenue and retention rate
  • The three things your organization needs to be doing, especially with Major Donors
  • How Boards can govern their organization’s fundraising but still let the fundraisers do their jobs
  • What successful donor-focused fundraising looks and sounds like

Learn more here and register Today!