Direct mail and… Kale?

Kale.

Direct mail is like kale – nobody likes it the first time they try it.

Kale is a tough, leafy vegetable that tastes like a hedge.

But over time, a person can come to see the benefits of eating kale.  You start to appreciate kale.  And with the right prep and dressings, even enjoy it.

Direct mail is a tough, counter-intuitive, expensive way to raise money.

But over time, an organization can come to see the revenue that direct mail brings in and the relationship it builds.  You start to appreciate direct mail.  And with the right approach and understanding, even enjoy it.

Kale will never be as enjoyable as a cheeseburger.  Direct mail will never be as enjoyable as a great conversation with a major donor, or the emotional high of a beneficiary’s story at an event.

You might not like direct mail or kale.  But both of them are still good for you.

Four Reasons to Have a Direct Response Fundraising Program

Reasons why.

Do you ever wonder why your organization is doing all the dirty work of direct response fundraising – the briar patch that is direct mail letters and emails and landing pages and coding and tracking response rates?

You might especially be wondering this if you’ve done the math and seen that 80% to 90% of your revenue from individual donors comes in from a tiny percentage of your major donors.

If that’s you, here are four reasons smart nonprofits of all sizes still do this type of fundraising today…

Major Donor Identification System

Sending mail and email – and watching the results carefully – is one of the main ways organizations reliably identify new potential major donors.

That’s because many major donors will begin their relationship with you by making a small gift. 

Organizations then use their direct response fundraising program to identify those potential major donors.  They set up systems to:

  • Notice when gifts above a certain size come in
  • Use wealth-screening software (and occasionally good old-fashioned Google research) to determine which of their smaller donors has the capacity to give larger gifts

There are “hidden major donors” on your file right now, today.  Are you using the mail and email to find them?

Anti-Fragile

One of the goals of mature nonprofits is to have multiple revenue streams.  In other words, they don’t want their lifeblood coming from just events, or just grants, or just major donors, or just earned-revenue.

Because if you have just one main revenue stream, the organization is fragile.

A few months into the pandemic I talked to a national organization that was $15,000,000 (!!) behind their budget for the year.  Their fundraising was overwhelmingly based on regular, small events with wealthy donors. 

Because they had not developed a direct response fundraising program (they told me they thought fundraising through the mail was “icky”), they did not have a way to stay in relationship with their donors when they couldn’t meet in-person.  Unfortunately, they and their beneficiaries suffered because of it. 

The more income streams you have, the less fragile you are, and the more prepared you are to fundraise in uncertain times. 

Stay In Touch

Most people reading this blog will have major donors that you’re not in relationship with.  They make a gift or two every year, but they’ve resisted your attemps to build a personal relationship with them.

And you have people who receive your mail and email… but you’ve never met them.

Your direct response fundraising program is how you build relationship with those donors. 

This becomes more important as you grow.  If you have 500 donors, you likely know 30%-50% of them.  But if you have 5,000 donors, you likely only know 10%-15% of them.  That means your direct response fundraising IS the relationship for a large percentage of your donors.

Unless you’re an organization that has a natural source of publicity and a cause that people regularly think about, it’s extremely difficult to grow your donor file without a direct response fundraising program.

And Hey, You Can Raise Real Money!

Many of Better Fundraising’s clients raise the majority of their revenue through the mail and email.  Maybe they haven’t spun up a grants department yet, or their major donor program is just getting off the ground.

But they are raising between $4 and $10 for every $1 they spend in the mail.  

In addition to the three reasons above, they are raising serious revenue to power their nonprofit or ministry. 

The Goal

The goal with your direct response fundraising program is to establish a system where your organization stays in relationship with donors as you grow… and identifies & cultivates more major donors… and becomes less fragile… and raises money while doing it.

That right there is why savvy organizations are investing in their direct response fundraising programs.  And it’s why Better Fundraising loves helping organizations build the systems and repeatable processes that help them be successful in the mail and email.

Almost Done, My Friends

Almost there.

This is just a note of encouragement that you’re almost done with year-end fundraising. 

All the sweat, and stress, and extra hours… they are almost over.

And they were worth it.

You created fundraising that inspired and encouraged your donors to give gifts.  They did so joyfully.  Your beneficiaries will be helped, your donors will feel more connected.

You didn’t manipulate anybody, you didn’t twist anybody’s arm.

Every gift that came in was an act of generosity.  Some of them were acts of sacrifice.

And they all happened because you created and sent out your fundraising.

Well done, and good luck the next couple of weeks!

Got Shame?

Shame.

Many Fundraisers and organizations feel shame about fundraising.

If you’re afraid to send out fundraising, or afraid to do too much fundraising, or afraid to ask too boldly, you might have shame around fundraising.

If that’s you or somebody in your organization, there are two ideas I want you to lean into…

1 – Fundraising Helps Donors

Remember that your organization’s fundraising gives people a chance to do something good about something they care about.

Donors already care about your beneficiaries or cause. (If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be on your mailing list.) But donors don’t have any programs or expertise!

Each time you ask donors to help, you’re giving them a chance to do something good that they would like to do but can’t do by themselves.

Are they going to say yes every time? Of course not. But are they going to say yes more than you think, if you give them more opportunities? Yes.

2 – Don’t Ask Donors to Help Your Organization, Ask Donors to Help Beneficiaries

Many organizations ask donors to support the organization. You see evidence of this approach any time you see phrases like “please support us” or “support our good work” or “partner with us” or “please give us a gift so that we can…”

In a nutshell, there’s an “us” or “our” any time the organization asks for a gift because the organization is asking for money for itself.

This exposes organizations and Fundraisers to shame, because when they receive a “no” it feels like the organization or the Fundraiser is being rejected.

Instead, ask donors to help your beneficiaries. You see evidence of this approach any time you see phrases like “please help a [beneficiary] with a gift today” or “you’ll provide X for a [beneficiary].” There’s no “us” and no “our.”

In that scenario, a “no” means the donor is saying “no” to helping a beneficiary today, not saying “no” to your organization. For the emotional well-being of the organization and Fundraiser, that’s a big difference.

❋❋❋

Shame about fundraising holds Fundraisers and Organizations back from creating more powerful fundraising, from raising more money, and from achieving more of their mission.

Embrace these two ideas. Not only will you enjoy your fundraising life more, you’ll raise more money and do more good.

New Competition from For-Profit Companies?!?

for-profit

Last week after the fires in Hawaii I received four emails raising money to help. Two of the four emails were from for-profit companies.

One was from an outdoor clothing brand with ties to Hawaii. The other was from an eyeglass company that, as far as I can tell, has no strong connection to Hawaii.

Both brands have values that caused them to want to help. Both were clear that the money raised would be routed to foundations assisting in the recovery from the fires.

As more companies begin to figure out what you and I have known all along – that donors like to donate and they feel good when doing so – more and more companies are going to fundraise. Companies are going to see fundraising as a tool to exercise their values and create deeper connections with their customers.

I believe this is great for donors, but bad news for smaller nonprofits.

It’s great news for donors because they are going to be given more opportunities to support causes they believe in and beneficiaries they care about. And the emails from for-profit companies are going to raise awareness for whatever issue is being talked about. These are both good, and will cause an overall increase in giving; more people are going to donate, and it’s going to increase the number of younger donors.

To put it another way, the size of the pie is going to increase.

That said, there’s more competition for the pie. This is bad news for smaller nonprofits because they are now in competition with these companies:

  • People’s inboxes are going to be full of more options to give
  • Some of these companies have teams to create and send emails – they are going to send more emails faster than a one-person fundraising shop can.

The good news for smaller nonprofits is that these companies are going to quickly return to selling shirts (or whatever). They probably aren’t going to “Report back” on the difference the donor’s gift helped make. And their fundraising will most likely focus on big, disaster/systemic issues, and less on local issues.

The other good news is that you can build trust in your organization by talking all year long about your cause and your donors – not just when there’s a disaster.

But it’s good to know that an era of increased competition in donors’ inboxes is arriving.

Nobody

first

I have a message for all the young Fundraisers and smaller organizations out there.

Nobody gets their fundraising right the first time.

I say that because it’s easy to get discouraged.

As you start – as an organization starts – there is SO MUCH that you’re having to figure out. Not to mention, nobody got into this business because they desperately wanted to send letters and emails to people. 🙂

So, please know three powerful things…

  1. You’ve begun! That’s a LOT farther than most people get. Maybe they look the other way. Maybe they refuse. Who knows. But you started. From my perspective 30 years in, that’s a bigger deal than you think it is.
  2. Becoming effective is an iterative process. You start. You pay attention. You add another skill. You get better. You notice something else. You get a little better every month. That too is a bigger deal than you think it is.
  3. The whole way, you’re helping your cause and you’re helping your donors. You’re helping the cause by raising awareness, and raising money, so that more good gets done. You’re helping donors because they care – but they don’t have programs like you do, so they can’t do much by themselves.

That’s a lot of good. You could be spending your time marketing bags of chips. Instead you’re helping make change.

It’s not easy. (If it were easy, we’d all be raising tens of millions of dollars and have six-pack abs.)

So keep going. Keep iterating. Keep practicing.

And thanks for being a Fundraiser!

It’s a Gift to Be a Fundraiser

It’s a Gift to Be a Fundraiser

Today’s the last day of sharing the stories behind my fundraising posts that got the most reactions on social media.

Here’s #7, #6, #5, #4, #3 and #2.

And #1 is…

The ability to do fundraising as a career is a gift.

I was gratified to see that this was the most liked tweet in my “51 fundraising lessons on my 51st birthday” thread.

Because if you’re like me, sometimes you find fundraising infuriating. It’s emotionally hard work, there are more tactics to know than ever before, sometimes organizational stakeholders have no idea what they are talking about but are still given equal voice, etc.

There’s a lot of complaining in the world of fundraising. Some of it certainly from me.

And yet! At some level I think most of us know how rewarding our work is.

Fundraisers get to help organizations do the work they were founded to do. Fundraisers get to help donors do good and powerful things.

All of us reading this blog could be in the “sales” business – chasing attention and profit. We could be in the “news” business – chasing attention and profit.

Instead, we’re in the Fundraising business. We’re certainly still chasing attention, but there’s a purpose behind our work that’s deeper and more valuable than pure profit.

This holiday season, I hope you’re thankful for your job in fundraising. I hope you’re thankful for the role you play in the life of your organization, your beneficiaries, and your donors.

In this season of giving, we remember that it’s a gift to do fundraising – we thank you for being a Fundraiser!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanks.

Thank you for the work you do!

On behalf of your beneficiaries or cause, you make the generous act of asking donors to help. That’s a gift to who or whatever you serve, to your organization, and to your donors.

Fundraising is often hard, draining work. You have to see and hear so many stories that are tough. Then you have to share them. You have to be other-focused. All of which is wearing.

But there are so many parts of fundraising to be thankful for! For the funds you help raise that make your organization’s work possible. For increasing people’s awareness of what you’re working on and giving those people a chance to do something about it. For the incredible changes made possible by your organization.

You make the world a better place! As Dr. Martin Luther King says, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Thank you for “bending the arc” towards justice – and we at Better Fundraising love getting to be a small part of the great work you do.

Thank you for being a Fundraiser, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

~ Jim & Steven

Closest Available Fundraiser

fundraiser

The most meaningful fundraising in the world is usually created by the “closest available fundraiser.”

Not a professional fundraiser, or even a trained fundraiser. But the person sitting in the fundraising seat at the time.

The closest available fundraiser.

Here’s the thing. There are some people – or a cause – that need help right now and your organization is the only one that can do it.

Maybe you’re the only organization that knows about the need you serve. Or you’re the only organization that is in a position to meet the need soon.

For those people, you’re their shot. There isn’t anyone else right now.

Your beneficiaries or cause don’t need you to be confident or certain or fearless. They just need you to try.

But be heartened – when you create and send out the fundraising for people or a cause that no one else is going to help, you’ve given an incredible gift. You’ve created the best (and only) fundraising in the world for them.