“Why are you writing about the organization?”

Thinking writing.

This is the second post in our series on donor-centered print newsletters. The kind of newsletters that delight donors and raise more money for your nonprofit.

The first post was about the purpose of your newsletter. This post is the second and final Big Idea you need to succeed.

And after this – I promise – the posts will get tactical.

But if you don’t know this one idea, all the tactics in the world won’t help very much.

A Powerful, Unexpected Question

It’s 1994. I’m less than a year out of college working at a fundraising agency that specializes in helping large nonprofits raise money. And I’m writing my first newsletter.

I handed my draft to my boss – an accomplished, brilliant fundraiser.

He read the first story, scanned the rest of the stories, and handed the stack of paper back to me.

Then he asked me a powerful but unexpected question:

“Why Are You Writing About the Organization?”

I didn’t know it at the moment, but that was one of the most powerful lessons I ever learned about effective fundraising.

At the time all I could do was say, “What do you mean? It’s … the organization’s newsletter.”

“Sure.” My boss said, “but most donors aren’t reading a newsletter to find out anything about the organization. They are reading it to find out if their gift made a difference.

“The most effective newsletters are written to show donors what their gift accomplished. And the best way to do that is through stories about beneficiaries.

“So stop writing about the organization and its programs. Start writing about the donor and telling her stories about lives that have been changed because of her kindness. Then she’ll think it was a great idea to give to the organization, and be more likely to give again.”

So … I went back to my office to do a complete rewrite.

But I was a far more effective fundraiser from that moment forward.

Your Newsletter

As you create your newsletter, you will be tempted to “write about your organization.”

People in your organization will even push you to write about your organization.

They’ll say things like, “But we have to tell people about everything we do and tell them that we’re good at it!”

No. You don’t. In fact, when you do, fewer donors will read your newsletter. Because hearing about your organization is not why they are reading. They are reading because they are hoping to hear about themselves. Whether and how their gift made a difference. Whether they are a valuable part of your organization.

Keep this idea in mind as you read this series. Then all the tactics – the writing style, the headlines, the picture captions – will make sense.

You’ll start keeping your donors for longer. And your newsletter will become a major revenue source!

This post was originally published on February 25, 2020. Get a free downloadable “e-book” of this whole series here.

Donor-Centricity and Boundaries

Line island.

A quick post about donor-centricity…

Based on my understanding of donor-centricity, I believe most of the critiques are targeting what I’d call “donor-centricity taken too far.”

And anything can be taken too far. No technology or tactic has ever been invented that hasn’t been misused or corrupted. But that doesn’t mean the technology or tactic is bad.

What IS Donor-Centricity?

Donor-centricity is a marketing tactic. The principle is borrowed from advertising and is based on the first rule of human persuasion: you must meet someone where they are before you can get them to go anywhere.

This shows up in fundraising writing. A donor-centric e-appeal might start off with, “You know how important it is to have enough nurses during the pandemic.” Where an organization-centric e-appeal might start off with, “Our nursing program produces the most qualified nurses in the tri-state area, and we’ve grown 140% in response to the pandemic.”

Donor-centricity is also an organizational stance, a “leaning in” towards donors and their needs.

This shows up in how an organization spends its time and resources. A donor-centric organization might send a hand-signed thank you note to each new donor within 48 hours of their donation. Whereas another organization might send thank you notes but “batch” sign them at the end of the month when it’s easier for the signer.

Neither is right or wrong. An organization’s level of donor-centricity depends both on how much it adopts the approach and on how many resources are available.

Organizations have adopted donor-centric approaches over time because they tend to result in increased money raised and increased capacity for the organization to achieve its mission.

However, an organization’s “increased capacity” is not more important than the organization’s staff or beneficiaries.

Boundaries

Organizations should have boundaries around their donor-centric approach.

For instance, an organization can practice donor-centricity and absolutely say things like:

Donor, you are not welcome at our events any longer because you make the younger staffers feel uncomfortable.

I’m sorry, Donor, but we can’t accept your donation and its requirements because that would change our mission.

Staff Member, I see that writing the daily Thank You notes is one of the things causing you to burn out. Let’s change that practice because you are more important than a marketing goal.

Donor-centricity should never harm your organization, staff, beneficiaries, or ability to perform your mission.

Knowing what donor-centricity is (a marketing tactic, an approach) and knowing what it isn’t (“the donor is always right”) can lead to an organization having both the fundraising and relational benefits of donor-centricity AND a healthy organizational culture.

Why are you writing about the organization?

Thinking writing.

This is the second post in our series on donor-centered-newsletters – the kind of newsletters that delight donors and raise more money for your nonprofit.

The first post was about the purpose of your newsletter. This post is the second and final Big Idea you need to succeed.

And after this – I promise – the posts will get tactical.

But if you don’t know this one idea, all the tactics in the world won’t help very much.

A Powerful, Unexpected Question

It’s 1994. I’m less than a year out of college working at a fundraising agency that specializes in helping large nonprofits raise money. And I’m writing my first newsletter.

I handed my draft to my boss – an accomplished and brilliant fundraiser.

He read the first story, scanned the rest of the stories, and handed the stack of paper back to me.

Then he asked me a powerful but unexpected question:

“Why Are You Writing about the Organization?”

I didn’t know it at the moment, but that was one of the most powerful lessons I ever learned about effective fundraising.

At the time, all I could do was say, “What do you mean? It’s the organization’s newsletter.”

 “Sure.” My boss said, “but most donors aren’t reading a newsletter to find out anything about the organization. They’re reading it to find out if their gift made a difference.

“The most effective newsletters are written to show donors what their gift accomplished. And the best way to do that is through stories about beneficiaries.

“So stop talking about the organization and its programs. Start talking about the donor and telling her stories about lives that have been changed because of her kindness. Then she’ll think it was a great idea to give to the organization and be more likely to give again.”

So I went back to my office to do a complete rewrite.

But I was a far more effective fundraiser from that moment forward.

Your Newsletter

As you create your newsletter, you’ll be tempted to “write about your organization.”

People in your organization will even push you to write about your organization.

They’ll say things like, “But we have to tell people about everything we do and tell them that we’re good at it!”

No. You don’t. In fact, when you do, fewer donors will read your newsletter. Because hearing about your organization is not why they’re reading. They’re reading because they’re hoping to hear about themselves. They’re hoping to hear whether and how their gift made a difference and whether they’re a valuable part of your organization.

Keep this idea in mind as you read this series. Then all the tactics – the writing style, the headlines, the picture captions – will make sense.

You’ll start keeping your donors for longer. And your newsletter will become a major revenue source!

Read the series:

This post was originally published on February 25, 2020.

“If you serve one audience, you’ve let another down.” – Seth Godin

Choices

That quote explains why some organizations have trouble “making the leap” to their next level of fundraising success.

Too many nonprofits create fundraising that serves an internal audience.  And their fundraising lets another audience down: their donors.

Here’s how this happens.  An organization’s fundraising is often written and designed to make internal audiences happy.  Members of that “audience” tend to be Executive Directors, the program team, the Board, or a Major Donor who is super-involved.

We can’t ever forget that their intentions are good.  They’re trying to help.

They prefer fundraising to be a certain way.  And they hold sway.  So fundraising is created to serve that internal audience.

But… “If you serve one audience, you’ve let another down.” 

The audience that gets let down is their donors. 

Want to Make the Leap?

Create fundraising that serves donors and “lets down” internal audiences.

Creating fundraising that serves donors instead of internal audiences is often a seismic shift for organizations.  Seth calls this “the difficult choice of disappointment.” 

It’s hard to choose who to disappoint.  It creates conflict.  I’ve seen people lose jobs and leave jobs. 

I’ve seen organizations become aware of the choice, yet continue to let their donors down.  Even despite testing data that shows that donor-serving fundraising would raise more money and allow the organization to do more good! 

And I’ve seen organizations who shift their fundraising to serve donors and very quickly make the leap to their next level of fundraising success. 

What to Do?

For the “internal audiences” reading this, I hope you’ll make the difficult choice to create fundraising that serves your donors.  Set aside what you like and what you think will work.  Then research what donor-serving fundraising looks like.  Follow this blog.  Sign up for Free Review Fridays.  Make the Big Shift.  Be willing to try things that will make you uncomfortable.

I often encourage Fundraisers to do the “hard, other-centered” work of creating fundraising that generously “crosses the gap” to meet your donors where they are. 

Because fundraising is supposed to be for donors.  Not for internal audiences.

My 25+ years of experience tells me that if you choose to disappoint the internal audience by choosing to serve donors, you’ll raise more money and do more good. 

Why are you writing about the organization?

Thinking writing.

This is the second post in our series on donor-centered-newsletters – the kind of newsletters that delight donors and raise more money for your nonprofit.

The first post was about the purpose of your newsletter. This post is the second and final Big Idea you need to succeed.

And after this – I promise – the posts will get tactical.

But if you don’t know this one idea, all the tactics in the world won’t help very much.

A Powerful, Unexpected Question

It’s 1994. I’m less than a year out of college working at a fundraising agency that specializes in helping large nonprofits raise money. And I’m writing my first newsletter.

I handed my draft to my boss – an accomplished and brilliant fundraiser.

He read the first story, scanned the rest of the stories, and handed the stack of paper back to me.

Then he asked me a powerful but unexpected question:

“Why Are You Writing about the Organization?”

I didn’t know it at the moment, but that was one of the most powerful lessons I ever learned about effective fundraising.

At the time, all I could do was say, “What do you mean? It’s the organization’s newsletter.”

 “Sure.” My boss said, “but most donors aren’t reading a newsletter to find out anything about the organization. They’re reading it to find out if their gift made a difference.

“The most effective newsletters are written to show donors what their gift accomplished. And the best way to do that is through stories about beneficiaries.

“So stop talking about the organization and its programs. Start talking about the donor and telling her stories about lives that have been changed because of her kindness. Then she’ll think it was a great idea to give to the organization and be more likely to give again.”

So I went back to my office to do a complete rewrite.

But I was a far more effective fundraiser from that moment forward.

Your Newsletter

As you create your newsletter, you’ll be tempted to “write about your organization.”

People in your organization will even push you to write about your organization.

They’ll say things like, “But we have to tell people about everything we do and tell them that we’re good at it!”

No. You don’t. In fact, when you do, fewer donors will read your newsletter. Because hearing about your organization is not why they’re reading. They’re reading because they’re hoping to hear about themselves. They’re hoping to hear whether and how their gift made a difference and whether they’re a valuable part of your organization.

Keep this idea in mind as you read this series. Then all the tactics – the writing style, the headlines, the picture captions – will make sense.

You’ll start keeping your donors for longer. And your newsletter will become a major revenue source!

Read the series:

“Our organization exists so that donors can help these girls”

communications.

I recently spent an hour talking to a founder of a nonprofit who totally gets it.

His organization provides schooling for girls in Africa.

We got to talking about fundraising (surprise, surprise) and I mentioned the principle of donor-centered fundraising.

He said the best thing any Founder has ever said to me:

“Our organization exists so that donors can help these girls.”

I just sat there and grinned widely.

Because how great is that? That one belief – that the organization exists so that donors can help – will be an incredible driver of fundraising success.

They will just skip right by all the pitfalls of talking too much about the organization itself. Of making the organization the hero.

Of relegating donors to mere “partners.”

I told him about the raw fundraising power of his belief, and how it was going to make his fundraising more effective.

He said, “Well, I knew I loved being able to provide schooling for the girls that I was able to help. I figured other people would love it too. So I’m creating a way to help more donors do that – which of course helps more girls.”

The Truth He Knew

This guy knew another powerful truth.

Most of your donors are more interested in your cause or beneficiaries – and what they can do to help – than they are interested in your organization.

In other words, he knows that his donors will enjoy sending a girl in Africa to school more than they would enjoy being a supporter of his organization.

So he’ll focus his communications on how the donor can send a girl to school in Africa instead of focusing it on his organization and how the donor can support them.

And he’ll raise more money.

How Different Would Your Communications Be?

If your nonprofit were to adopt this attitude – even if it’s just your fundraising that adopts the stance – how would your donor communications change?

Try writing your next appeal as if you were writing to donors, telling them about something they care deeply about – and offering them a chance to make a powerful change that they are going to love doing. You’ll love how well it works!

How to defend donor-centric fundraising to your boss

Videostill.

Today’s blog post is a 4-minute video.

It’s taken from a recent free webinar I did where I was doing live reviews of appeals and newsletters. (There’s another one this Friday – you can sign up for free here.)

The video helps explain why donor-centric fundraising is more effective than organization-centric fundraising.

It’s this simple truth – that most donors are more interested in themselves and the things they care about – that explains why classic organization-centric fundraising doesn’t work as well.

So if you want to try donor-centric fundraising, share this reasoning with your boss. It seems counter-intuitive at first. But it makes sense when you think about it – and we have 70 years of direct response fundraising testing to prove it!

Watch the video here.