As you grow in fundraising experience, you understand that consistency is often more important than sincerity.

In any particular moment, sincerity (like authenticity) is a byproduct of feelings at that moment. And feelings change all the time.

This makes “sincerity” not the best foundation for a fundraising program.

What if, on the day you write your year-end appeal, you’re sincerely thinking about another job opportunity?

What if, when the time to deliver your speech at the event finally arrives, you’d sincerely rather be in bed?

Now “consistency,” on the other hand, is reliable. Steadfast on behalf of the beneficiaries and cause – no matter how you’re feeling that day. Willing to be vulnerable enough to ask boldly, no matter the day. Willing to show up in donors’ inboxes even though you feel like you’ve said everything before.

That sounds like a great foundation for a fundraising program.

Sincerity and authenticity are, of course, needed in a fundraising program. But for your mass donors, if you want to grow, fundraising done consistently will outraise sincere fundraising done occasionally.

Never Go Dark

Dark mode.

This is the second idea I use to help organizations create fundraising plans that raise more money:

Never go dark on your donors.

Fundraising is similar to personal friendships. We all have friends who show up, and we all have friends who go dark.

As a nonprofit, don’t be a friend who goes dark. When you go dark, you have a lower chance of remaining their friend.

Don’t let donors go months – or even weeks – without hearing from you.

The more you are a regular part of your donors’ news feed – their mail, their email, their social – the more you are a part of their lives.

Truth: the amount of donor communications you send is one of the things that communicates whether your cause is important or not. Two appeals a year, a few emails and a bunch of social? That communicates that your work must not be that important. Eight appeals, four newsletters, and thirty emails? That communicates that your work is urgent and important.

(This is unfair to organizations with small staffs, but it’s unfortunately still true.)

Like a good friend, when you show up in your donors’ lives, talk about your donors and not about yourself (your organization). Show up and tell donors what’s happening with the beneficiaries or cause that they care about. Show up and “report back” to donors the amazing things their gift has made possible through your organization.

So as you make your annual plan for next year, look for times of the year when you’ll be going dark on your donors. Then find an easy-to-create donor-centered communication to send your donors at that time.

For many small organizations, it will feel awkward to send out so many donor communications. You need to consciously make the generous choice to show up in your donors’ lives early and often.

Your donor are adults. You can’t scare them away with a few more pieces of fundraising.

And imagine how much your beneficiaries will appreciate knowing that you never go dark on their behalf.

All Cars are the Same and Unique

Cars Look the Same

When we work with nonprofits for the first time, we run into a situation again and again.

We present fundraising we’ve created for them and someone will say…

“But… this will make us look like all those other organizations.  How can that be good?”

(Perhaps weirdly, when I hear them say it, I know we’re on the right track.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

There’s a deep vein of distrust of fundraising that “looks and sounds alike.”

Many small- to medium-sized nonprofits I know actively work hard to make their fundraising look and sound different from other fundraising they see.

They want their fundraising to be unique.

Unfortunately, in their pursuit of uniqueness, most nonprofits cause themselves to raise less money than they could. 

The best way to illustrate this is through a simple analogy.  I want you to think about cars…

What Cars Can Teach Us About Fundraising

From one perspective, there’s a remarkable amount of uniqueness among cars.  There are two-door cars, there are four-door cars.  There are trucks.  There are family cars.  There are sports cars.  There are different colors, there are different curves.  Massive differentiation.

But from another perspective, all cars all “look and sound alike.”  They all have four wheels.  They all have windows on the front, back, and sides. They all have doors. They all have steering wheels.  They all have mirrors so you can see behind you.  Cars are all the same!

That “sameness” is a result of 100+ years of trial and error as the car industry identified the common set of attributes that a car needs to have to be functional and successful. 

And after a car has those attributes, it gets customized to become unique.

The same is true for direct response fundraising…

The “sameness” of successful direct response fundraising is a result of 70+ years of trial and error as the fundraising industry identified the common set of attributes that an appeal or e-appeal needs to have to be functional and successful.

And after an appeal or e-appeal has those attributes, it gets customized to become unique.

The trick is to know what the attributes are.  And to start with them.  

These are things like “an appeal needs to be easily readable by a 75-year-old” and “the writing has to work for people who read and for people who scan.”

Those – and a host of others – are the windows, the steering wheels, the four wheels.

What happens too often is that nonprofits design cars that have five wheels, no windows on the left side, and the steering wheel in the back. 

Can you get somewhere in that crazy car?  (In other words, will you get some donations?)  Sure.  But you’re not going to make it as far as you could.

So What Do I Do?

I wrote this to help the organizations who “don’t want our fundraising to look like those other guys” to have another way to approach this situation. 

Here’s my advice:

  1. Know that doing direct response fundraising (appeals, newsletters, e-appeals, etc.) is different from other types of fundraising.
  2. Learn the “attributes” and best-practices
  3. As you create your direct response fundraising, focus first on the attributes that will increase your chances of success.
  4. Then (and only then) focus on how those attributes look and sound coming your organization.

All successful direct response fundraising tends to look, sound, and feel the same.  When your fundraising starts to sound like other professionally-produced fundraising, it’s a sign of success, not failure.

Uniqueness in fundraising, in and of itself, usually leads to raising less money.

But you know what’s unique and successful?  Your organization sending out fundraising that has all the attributes of successful direct response fundraising.  You are the only organization in the world who can do it.  And when you do it, your donors will respond far beyond your expectations.