Fundraising when the world turns upside down…


Shortly after my organization started following new, more effective fundraising methods, the pandemic hit.

To my surprise, the fundraising writing tactics I had learned still worked, even in this new upside-down world.

Maybe you remember how many unknowns there were.

The stock market tanked. People were sent home from their jobs – many people lost their jobs. In some areas of the US, people couldn’t leave their homes except for a few reasons like going to the grocery store.

For a few months, it felt like the world was on pause.

But the need to deliver on our mission didn’t go away, for my organization or other organizations. Funds were still needed, but would donors still give?

At my organization, there was some question of whether it was appropriate to ask donors to give in this climate full of unknowns.

But all the advice I was seeing, hearing, reading from professional fundraising strategists (including Steven Screen!)…

…if there is a need, ask your donors to give. Full stop.

DON’T stop fundraising.

If donors CHOOSE not to give, that is their decision. But if you don’t even ask them to give, you are deciding they won’t give without even asking them. And you are letting your mission or your beneficiaries down.

So, I advocated for more appeal letters, more emails, more personal touches, more sharing in the uncertainty and asking donors for help.

I was pushier than normal, and this felt very uncomfortable. This was when I realized a big shift had happened. I was a fundraiser.

I had developed new instincts, and they were fundraising instincts.

I began to trust myself and my organization was, once again, willing to try something that felt uncomfortable.

And AGAIN, donors responded in a big way.

Donors wanted to help.

Many of these donors were sitting at home, feeling helpless, and giving was something they could do to help.

Key lesson here. When there is a need, ask donors to help. Even when times are tough. Especially when times are tough.

When you ask, you are empowering donors to do something – to help right a wrong, to provide something that is needed, to make a situation better. And that is noble work.

Whether you are new to the direct response fundraising world or you’re a seasoned pro, maybe you see yourself somewhere in this series.

It can be scary to let go of what you are used to and try something new. It can be humbling to admit the rules you’ve been following are the wrong rules for the job in front of you. It can be uncomfortable to push for something that others at your organization question.

In these moments, keep your mission in front of you – your organization’s mission AND your mission as a fundraiser.

It’s okay to feel uncomfortable. Whatever the fundraising job in front of you, be bold and clear with your donors, and then trust them to do the rest.

Comment here or find me on Twitter @sarahlundberg.

Turns Out People Don’t Like to Say Hard Things

It’s hard to think, say and write things like:

If Daniel does not receive the cure in time, his eyes will deteriorate, and he will go blind.

Some marine life is dying, at this very moment, from the millions of pounds of plastics in the ocean today.

If Anitha doesn’t go to school this year, she’s likely to become a child bride.

All of those things are true. You might think they are morbid. Or that they shouldn’t be shared.

But it turns out that sharing those truths in your direct response fundraising will help you raise more, and fund more of your organization’s work.

In other words, if you say the hard things, your organization will be able to do more about those hard things.

Your fundraising should not be all about those hard things. But letting donors know what’s at stake gives them a more complete picture of what’s happening, and they react accordingly.

Even though it’s hard, say the hard things.

Less is Less

Less is Less

Most organizations would agree that “Less is less” when it comes to fundraising.

If you ask less, you’ll raise less.

But the converse is also true: if you ask more, you’ll raise more.

If your organization believes that “less is less,” but doesn’t believe that “more is more,” you’ve placed a boundary around the generosity of your donors.

It’s worth asking how that boundary came to be.

Most organizations (and the people working in them) are afraid of being rejected when asking for money. So they set the boundary out of fear.

But like most boundaries that are placed out of fear, they are pretty limiting. The boundary around your donors’ generosity limits how much they will give to your organization, and how much money you can raise.

If you can remove your boundary – and embrace the truth of “more is more” – you’ll unlock your donors’ generosity and you’ll do more good.

Lazy Summer Days – Are You Making the Mistake of Resting Your Donors?

Beach rest vacation.

In these last few summer days, I’m bringing you an important message.

Picture me, sitting in a beach chair. I’m relaxed. I’m on vacation. I am lulled into thinking the whole world is on vacation, including donors. Fundraising? Nah. Not a good time.

Danger! Danger!

This time of year, it can be so tempting to be lulled into the kind of thinking that causes you to raise less money. It’s the lazy last days of summer.

Donors need a rest from fundraising, right?


A couple years ago I was listening to Better Fundraising co-founder Steven Screen as he spoke at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference.

Steven shared this little gem, which has haunted me ever since:

“When you rest your donors, they can forget how to give to your organization.”


Thanks, Steven.

Here’s the reality of these lazy summer days.

SOME of your donors are checked out at the end of summer. But many donors are not checked out!

You have donors in your file right now who are ready to give, if only they knew the problem and how they could make it better. If only you would ask them to give!

And here’s the thing: other organizations are in your donor’s mailbox right now, reminding them how they can help, while you – giving these donors a rest – are slowly fading from their memory. There’s a thought to ruin a lazy beach day.

When you make the decision to rest your donors, you’re taking their choices away from them. You are deciding they won’t give… without even asking them!

Here’s something you can do today.

If your organization has a need… send your donors a fundraising email! And in next year’s calendar, pencil in an August appeal. Do not schedule a rest for your donors.

Your Organization and Printed Newsletters


As you think about doing you printed newsletter differently than you’ve done it in the past – or maybe doing a print newsletter for the very first time – you’re going to find out that your organization has an opinion about print newsletters.

Perhaps even a STRONG opinion.

It’s important to surface and name your organization’s underlying assumptions:

  • Maybe your organization believes that printed newsletters are obsolete. (They aren’t.)
  • Maybe your organization believes that printed newsletters shouldn’t or can’t raise money. (Neither are true.)
  • Maybe your organization believes the way you’ve always done your newsletter is the only way your organization can do a newsletter. (Not true.)
  • Maybe your organization fears that if you change your newsletter in any way, your donors will leave. (Also not true.)
  • Maybe your organization believes you could do a newsletter like the one taught here, but you could never do an Ask along with it because it would offend donors. (You guessed it, not true!)

I’ve run into all of these beliefs before. And it doesn’t matter what you believe – what matters is that you identify the beliefs that result in your current approach. Compare your current approach with the approach outlined in this series. Then decide which approach to take.

Because great newsletters don’t raise money by accident. Content is included for a purpose, and content is excluded for a purpose. Each of those things can cause conflict, and change can be hard for nonprofits.

Your printed newsletter should be raising a lot of money

It should be raising as much as your appeals and, in some cases, even more.

The goal of this series has been to give you a tested, proven approach to creating a donor-delighting, money-raising printed newsletter.

And here’s why we’re so confident about these recommendations:

  • Direct mail experts ran a series of head-to-head tests of different types of printed newsletters. The approach detailed here beat all the other approaches.
  • We’ve used this approach since 2004 to reliably (and sometimes incredibly) increase the money nonprofits raise from their newsletters.
  • We’ve taught this model at conferences, seminars and webinars. We’ve received hundreds of pieces of feedback about how the approach increased newsletter revenue. You do not need to be an expert to follow this model and raise more money!

So take it this approach and apply it to your organization. Test it against your current approach, or any other approach.

Follow the simple rules above and you’ll be on your way to raising more money and retaining more of your donors.

Good luck!

This post was originally published on August 11, 2020. Get a free downloadable “e-book” of this whole series here.

Better Fundraising in Today’s Economy


The economy in the United States is under stress.  Inflation is driving prices up, and the stock market is down. 

Thankfully, smart fundraisers have been through situations like this before.  Here’s what to do…

Stay The Course

Do not cancel any fundraising. 

You need to be sold out to your mission and your beneficiaries.  Your job is to advocate for them and to let donors make decisions for whether to give or not.

Make Your Case Stronger Than Ever

The media will be focusing your donor’s attention on a very narrow swath of issues.  Your organization will need to “break through” that noise to get your donors’ attention.

Additionally, some of your donors may choose to give to a couple fewer charities than normal.  You want to make your case so strongly that your organization is not one of the organizations a donor cuts from their giving.

Many Donors Will Not Be Affected

The last couple of years have been incredible for some donors – and many of them will become more generous during a recession… if you give them the chance to be.

The Fundraising Outlook Is Brighter Than Most People Think

Two reasons:

  1. Economic situations like this one disproportionately affect younger people, but donors tend to be older.  Fewer of an organization’s donors will be affected by this than most people assume. 
  2. Awareness of Need is high.  When people’s awareness of a Need is high, they are more likely to give. 

The economic situation may change your donors’ circumstances, but it will not change their priorities.  And they still care about your beneficiaries and cause. 

Do not take the decision to give out of your donors’ hands.  Give them the chance to be the generous people they wish to be.

How to Raise More Money by Asking for the Right Amount

Man holding a calculator.

We want to help you create powerful fundraising offers.

For a refresher, here’s my definition of an offer: the main thing that you say will happen when the person gives a gift.

Quick Refresher

The most successful fundraising offers tend to have 4 elements:

  1. A solvable problem that’s easy to understand
  2. A solution to that problem that’s easy to understand
  3. The cost of the solution seems like a good deal
  4. There’s urgency to solve the problem NOW

Today, we’re going to break down element #3, ‘the cost of the solution.’

The Cost of the Solution Seems Like a Good Deal

There are a three main ideas here…

The Cost

When you’re able to tell donors exactly how much it costs for them to make a meaningful difference, donors are more likely to give.

Most nonprofits don’t do this. They say, “Here’s a bunch of stuff we do, please help us today with a gift.”

But in my experience (and the experience of all my mentors), you’ll raise more money if you find/come up with something specific to promise a donor that she’ll help do, and if that something specific has a price.

(Of course, the price for that thing has to be the right size for the donor. But we’ll talk about that below.)

Why is so helpful for donors when you promise that a specific thing will happen if a donor gives a specific amount? Because it shows them how much they need to give for their gift to make a meaningful difference.

To be clear, there are some donors out there who will give just because you work on a cause or people group that they care about. And when you remind them that you’re doing all of that work, some of those donors will give gifts.

But we’ve helped hundreds of organizations start raising more immediately when we help them identify a specific, meaningful part of their process that they can ask their donors to fund.

And then those organizations raise even more money when that specific, meaningful thing has a specific cost.

Because donors love to know what their impact will be. So by being specific about what their impact will be, and how much it will cost, you help your donors be more likely to donate to your organization.

Of The Solution

This might seem obvious, but let’s cover it just in case. The cost that you mention above needs to be for the exact solution in your offer.

  • If you’re talking about feeding a person, the cost needs to be for a meal.
  • If you’re talking about advocating, the cost needs to be for some meaningful part of advocating.

This often goes sideways when organizations follow this tactic almost to the very end… but not quite. For instance, an advocacy group will talk about how “$50 trains 50 volunteers to advocate effectively for the cause.” That’s a great offer. But then the letter will end with, “Please donate $50 to help us do all the things that we do.”

No. Stay on target. End the letter with, “Please donate $50 to train 50 volunteers today!” Then the reply card should say something like, “Here’s my gift to train volunteers.”

Seems Like a Good Deal

Donors are generous, compassionate, value-conscious humans.

Donors love it when they feel like they are “getting a good deal” on their donation.

This is why matching grants work so well! To a donor, it feels like she gets to have twice the impact for what she normally gives. To her, it feels like her impact has gone on sale for 50% off.

Because of donors’ desire to get a good deal, offers tend to work better when the cost of the solution seems like a good deal. Let’s look at some offers we’ve had tremendous success with:

“$1.92 to feed a homeless person Thanksgiving dinner” seems like a good deal.
“$300 to cure a person of a major disease” seems like a good deal.
“$10,000 to send an underprivileged girl to an Ivy League college for a year” seems like a good deal
“$50 to join my neighbors in the fight against cancer” seems like a good deal.
“Your impact will be DOUBLED by matching funds” seems like a good deal.

As you create your own offers, look for a couple of things to help show donors how they are getting a good deal:

  • Small parts of big processes that make a big difference. Things like “the cost of airfare to help an adoptive family meet their new child” or “the cost of internet streaming services so that people around the world can watch our sermons.” See how those examples are small parts of big processes – but they seem to have an outsized impact?
  • Anything that has a multiplier. If you use volunteer hours or grants of any kind to help a process or part of a process, that means the cost of that process is lower than it would normally be. For one organization, we helped them see that they were providing over $200-worth of service to local families for just $50. So now their main offer is, “Just $50 provides over $200 worth of help to a local family to stop domestic violence.”

And any time you can get matching funds, get them. You can use them far more than you think before your donors will tire of them. FAR more.

In a nutshell: any time you can convey to donors that “their gift goes farther/has more impact than normal,” you’ve increased your chances of getting a gift. And of getting a larger gift. For instance, matching funds increase both the average number of people who respond AND the size of their average gift!

Other Helpful Advice

Here’s a handful of helpful tips we’ve picked up over the years:

  • The offer amount may be different than how much you ask a donor to give. For instance, it may cost $12 to do something meaningful. Your letter or email would repeat the $12 figure often and talk about how powerful it is. Then you’d ask the donor to give you $36 to help 3 people, or $72 to help 6 people, etc.
  • In your mass donor fundraising, the cost of the offer will be more successful if it is less than $50. I’ve gone as low as 44 cents. What you’re looking for is a cost/amount that any of your donors can easily say, “Yes, I can do that.”
  • Don’t worry if your offer amount is low. People tend to give at the amounts they give at. In other words, if you have a donor who usually gives you about $50, when presented with an offer of $10 she’ll either give you $50 or $60. But she won’t give you $10.
  • For major donors, you can create higher-cost offers. For instance, your mass donor offer might be “$50 trains 50 volunteers” while your major donor offer for the same program might be, “$5,000 pays for our volunteer center for the year” Same program, different offer and different price point.

These Funds Can Be Undesignated!

Finally, you might be wondering how you can get specific on the cost of doing one part of what you do AND have the funds be undesignated so that you can use them anywhere you. Go here to download our whitepaper on this very thing!

But Wait, There’s More!

This post was originally part of a longer series about fundraising offers. The next one in the series will show you the final of the four elements: how giving donors reasons to give NOW will dramatically increase the number of gifts you receive.

And remember: if all of this were easy, you and everybody else would be raising piles of money. It takes a lot of thought to create and refine a good offer.

But the payoff is huge – for your organization, your beneficiaries, and for you!

Read the whole original series:

  1. How to Create a Great Fundraising Offer: What’s an Offer?
  2. Why a Good Fundraising Offer Works So Well
  3. The Ingredients in Successful Offers
  4. How to Describe the “Solution” Your Organization Provides
  5. How to Raise More Money by Asking for the Right Amount
  6. How and Why to Give Your Donors a Reason to Give Today
  7. What About Internal Experts Who Don’t Like Fundraising Offers?
  8. How to Make Sure a Low-Priced Offer Does NOT Produce Small Gifts
  9. Half As Important
  10. Offers for Major Donors
  11. Summarizing and Closing This Chapter on Fundraising Offers

The Master of Monthly Giving


The following is a guest post from Erica Waasdorp of A Direct Solution.

Erica has more experience at every level of monthly giving than anyone I’m aware of. Big orgs, small orgs, programs just starting, you name it, Erica understands how it works and knows what to focus on next.

I’m sharing her post below because of the list in the middle. Regardless of whether you’re thinking about starting a monthly giving program or you have a thriving one, if you read the list you’ll find at least one actionable thing you can do to help your program work a little bit better.

During a recent webinar, someone asked me: “Does the timing of the launch of your monthly giving program make a difference? Are there certain times of the year that are better to start a monthly giving program?”

My answer is twofold:

If your organization is really gung-ho about monthly giving — as in, you almost care more about generating sustainers than one-time gifts — then by all means, go for it!

There is really no bad time to launch your monthly giving program. HOWEVER, it’s crucial that you have everything ready before you launch.

If you don’t have the people or the time to prepare, please do yourself a favor and hold off for a bit. Year-end is a busy time, so the last thing I’d want to do is add any more stress to your plate.

Knowing how you are probably as busy as a one-armed paper hanger, here’s what I recommend you do instead:

Just focus on getting as many one-time gifts in now during the year-end giving days — Giving Tuesday, holiday giving, etc. Then take one hour a week during the next two months, and chip away at getting everything ready for a launch in January.

Print out this list and just cross off each item as you go along:

  1. Decide who’s going to be responsible.
  2. Add monthly to your one-time donation page, if it’s not there already.
  3. Create a monthly giving page if you don’t have one already.
  4. Link the monthly giving page to other areas of your site and the pull-down menu.
  5. See how the monthly gift will flow into your database.
  6. If you can do pop-ups on your one-time giving page, create a pop-up to convert someone to give monthly.
  7. Create the thank-you landing page/auto-responder, emails, direct mail, etc.
  8. Create a letter to send out as a special invitation to those donors who gave at year-end.
  9. Create a few emails to send out in January, inviting your email names to give monthly.
  10. Create a special part in your homepage slider to link to your monthly giving page.
  11. Create a launch email to send to your board, staff and volunteers first thing January, so everybody is aware of it.
  12. Test everything before you go live!

If you just cross off the items on the list above, you’ll be ready to launch come January. What a great time to ask the donor to help 12 months a year.

Don’t worry too much about benefits or names if you think that’s going to take too much time; you can always add that later. The key is to ask your donors to give monthly first and make sure the recognition email and letter are in place. Send those right away. It’s always OK to “surprise” your monthly donors later with a special benefit. They’re getting the big advantage of feeling good by making a difference in a way they can afford.

Erica recently published a book on monthly giving and it’s brilliant. Here’s where to get it on Amazon – I can personally vouch that what she shares in the book will help you acquire more monthly donors, keep them for longer, and increase their lifetime values. It’s that good!

Optimistic or Pessimistic?

Think positive.

Organizations that are optimistic about their fundraising are more likely to raise more money than organizations that are pessimistic about their fundraising.

It’s a classic case of how beliefs shape actions, and then actions shape results.

Beliefs Shape Actions

If an organization is pessimistic, you think “we don’t want to overwhelm our donors” so you don’t send a second year-end appeal or follow-up emails. Because of this, all the people who didn’t see your first appeal, and all the people who might otherwise give you another gift, don’t get the chance.

If an organization is pessimistic, you think “everyone is doing Giving Tuesday and donors’ inboxes are overwhelmed” so you don’t participate in Giving Tuesday. Because of this, your donors who thought of you on the morning of Giving Tuesday and would have loved the chance to help… don’t.

If an organization is pessimistic, you think “if a major donor hasn’t given a gift by this point, they probably aren’t going to.” Because of this, instead of calling all the major donors who haven’t given a gift yet to give a friendly reminder and providing a very real service to many donors, organizations move their focus on to other things.

Actions Shape Results

If you’re optimistic at year-end and mail two printed appeals, you’ll raise more money and retain more donors than if you send just one appeal.

If you’re optimistic at year-end and participate in Giving Tuesday, you’ll raise money from donors (and non-donors!) who like to give Giving Tuesday gifts.

If you’re optimistic at year-end and call all of your major donors who haven’t given a gift yet, you’ll receive many gifts and have conversations with donors who tell you, “Thanks so much for calling! It’s been a crazy year and I hadn’t gotten to sending you a gift yet, so I appreciate it!”

All of which result in raising more money.

Beliefs Drive Tactics

My point is that an organization’s beliefs – the “stories we tell ourselves” about fundraising and donors – determine the shape and boundaries of the organization’s fundraising programs.

Of course, human resources, cash on hand, knowledge about how to set up a giving page, all of those very real variables also affect fundraising programs.

But in my experience, beliefs are the primary strategy-setters and boundary-creators.

So this year-end, are you optimistic or pessimistic? That will tell you a lot about how you can expect your next 6 weeks to go.

If, after reading this, you decide to be more optimistic, it’s not too late to:

  • Mail a second year-end appeal
  • Send out three emails on Giving Tuesday
  • Call major donors who haven’t yet given a gift this calendar year
  • Ask Board Members who haven’t give a gift yet this year to give so that you can enter next year saying that your organization has 100% Board participation
  • Send out three to five emails on the last three days of the year

You can use optimism as a tool to help your organization raise more money and do more good.