Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Afraid to Ask

I wrote this blog a few years back but it’s more relevant now, than ever.  The summary is that there’s an easy way for you to raise more money in 2021 with very little work.

It’s worked for years, and it worked again in 2020.  Even in the midst of the pandemic…

Every one of our clients who Asked their donors for support more often in 2020 (compared to 2019) raised more net revenue than they did the year before.

And there were almost zero negative consequences.  To be more specific, there was a complaint or two, a worry from a board member, and some unsubscribes from their email lists.

But those negatives were completely overwhelmed by the additional donors that were engaged and extra money that was raised.  In short, donors wanted to help.

The nervous fundraisers, EDs and organizations who weren’t sure whether they should do this were handsomely rewarded with more net revenue for very little cost.

There were no breakouts of “donor fatigue.”  No massive numbers of people unsubscribing.

These organizations just raised more money, did more good work, and learned more about their donors. 

Which now sets them up for an even more successful 2021.

Let me put it this way…

The easiest way to raise more is to Ask more often.

This means adding another appeal or two.  Or more e-appeals. 

Not replacing what you’ve been doing.  In addition to what you’ve been doing.

Here’s an easy way to add an Ask:

  • Look at your fundraising calendar for 2021
  • Look for a gap where your donors don’t hear from you for a while
  • Think back through your most successful appeals and e-appeals last year (other than year-end)
  • Pick the most successful appeal that’s appropriate to send during the “gap” in your calendar, then create a version of that appeal to send in the gap

What you’re trying to do here is add another appeal with the least amount of effort possible. 

And if you want easy ways to improve all your appeals or e-appeals, download our free eBook, “Asks That Make Your Donors Take Action.”

Please Try It

Almost no one believes me when I say, “The easiest way to raise more money is to Ask a couple more times this year.” 

Almost every organization has an awful, no-good, very-bad, organization-shackling assumption that they can’t Ask their donors any more often than they already are.  Especially after the year we’ve had.

But it’s a bad assumption.  Let your donors make the decision not to give.  Don’t make it for them. 

So please, try it.  You can even just try it with an e-appeal so there’s basically no cost.  Track the results.  Look at the expenses, the revenue, your retention rates, everything.  You won’t see the negative consequences you fear.

And you’ll LOVE the amount of additional money you raise with very little work.

‘If you send this appeal letter you won’t get invited to any holiday parties’

No Parties For You

A client just told me a fantastic story that I have to share.

It’s a perfect – and funny – encapsulation of the fear that many nonprofits have about fundraising.

Here’s the Story…

Their organization helps smart, underprivileged young women go to college. It’s an incredible program.

They’ve sent out a couple of direct mail appeals here and there. Each would raise between $2,000 and $3,000. This revenue was always a pleasant surprise to the organization because they raise most of their money through a couple of events.

Last fall, they hired me to write a year-end appeal for them.

When the organization’s Founder reviewed my appeal draft, she was worried. She thought it was too aggressive. Too bold. “We don’t ask for support like this,” she thought.

So she showed it to her Board. Same reaction there: the appeal was too aggressive. One Board Member was really worried. She said to the Founder…

“If you send this letter out, you’re not going to get invited to any holiday parties!”

That is so bad it’s good.

Let’s take a look at that reaction. The person who said it was afraid that a fundraising letter would somehow offend donors. And that the offense would be so great that the donors wouldn’t invite the Founder to any of their holiday parties.

In what world would that actually happen?

Now, I don’t want to dismiss the Board Member’s feelings. They are real, and they matter. It can feel weird and risky to ask for money. Direct mail is a weird medium.

But the Board Member’s reaction was based in fear. And fear is a lousy way to determine communication and fundraising strategies – especially given we have 70 or 80 years of best-practices in the field of direct mail fundraising to base our decisions on instead. Thankfully, the Founder said, “You know what? We’re paying an expert to do this. We should do what the expert says.”

How Did the Letter Do?

The letter raised over $75,000, and money was still coming in when the Founder told me this story.

That’s approximately 25 times more than their previous letters raised.

There were zero complaints. And the Founder was invited to just as many holiday parties as she normally was.

I share this to help nonprofits understand a couple powerful ideas:

  1. Effective direct mail might make you uncomfortable, but it’s not for you. It’s for your donors. And your donors experience the letters differently than you do.
  2. There are 70 or 80 years of best-practices in direct mail fundraising (most of which also applies to email fundraising). Those best-practices became best-practices because they bring donors closer to your organization, not drive donors away.

So please, as you create your fundraising this year, don’t base your reactions in fear. Fear of effective fundraising almost cost this organization $70,000! And that’s in just one letter. Think about all the other letters they’ve sent over the years.

Don’t let that happen to your organization. Follow the best-practices. Ask boldly. Your donors will love hearing the difference they can make, and you’ll raise more money!