Imagined Constraints Can Lead to Real Revenue

Boy in a box.

The following is a guest post from Mike Duerksen of Buildgood in Canada.

The exercise he proposes is a GREAT way for your organization to uncover (quickly, in my experience) actions you can take next year to help you raise more money and keep more of your donors.

Think of the exercise as making your fundraising healthier & more robust and increasing your organization’s immunity to difficulties.


The little boy isn’t limited by the shape of the cardboard box.

Yesterday it was a secret cave. Today it’s a plane flying through the skies. Tomorrow it might be a pirate ship.

His only constraint is his imagination, not the four walls that box him in.

And that’s the power of constraints: they force creativity.

Right now your nonprofit might be in a cardboard box. And you feel stuck. And you’re waiting for the day when the walls come down again.

But what if the pandemic is giving you a rare chance to think creatively about how you can free yourself of the ways you’ve always done things?

What if you can use the new limits imposed on you to re-imagine the ways you show up in the world?

And what if you can actually improve your fundraising and future-proof your revenue to protect yourself from the next crisis?

Chances are you can…by playing a game of constraints.

What Is A Game Of Constraints?

A game of constraints is a simple exercise where you imagine a scenario that might seem impossible or unlikely.

Then you brainstorm as many ways as possible to overcome the problem.

You’ll be surprised how quickly you can free your mind from thinking:

  • “We can’t do that!” to
  • “This is tough, but maybe not impossible” to
  • “Here’s one way we could respond that would solve the problem”

You can have a lot of fun playing these games and stretching your imagination. But you’ll also feel energized about the opportunities ahead.

You’ll be more confident in your ability to solve potential problems. And you’ll identify where you are weak today, so you can become more resilient for tomorrow.

Ready to play some games?

5 Games You Can Play Today

Here’s a few scenarios to get you started…

1: A WORLD WITHOUT THE MAIL

Imagine a world where the postal service is no longer operating. From one day to the next, you can no longer reach your donors by mail. How will you communicate with them?

This is a great game to start with because we have seen postal strikes before. And when COVID hit, some print houses weren’t sure at first if they would keep operating

Chances are the options you came up with were to email, call or use social media to reach your donors.

Now ask yourself: How many emails do we have on file? What’s our email open rate? How many phone numbers? How many cellphone numbers? What do we need to do today to make sure we increase emails and phone numbers on file?

What you’ll discover: You likely need a better strategy to harvest donor email addresses and phone numbers.

2: A WORLD WITHOUT EVENTS

Imagine a world where you are no longer able to host any fundraising events in person. How do you engage current donors so they feel like they are still part of a community of givers? How do you attract new donors? What tools or approaches do you use instead?

This one hits close for many nonprofits right now. Some are finding success (and profitability!) moving to online formats.

Others are discovering that simply moving your event online is not a sound strategy — you have to re-invent the entire experience.

And some are letting go of events altogether, replacing them with something else.

What you’ll discover: There are many ways to draw donors closer to your mission outside of special events that may yield higher net revenue, save you time and give your donors a greater sense of connectedness.

3: A WORLD WITHOUT GRANTS & GOVERNMENT FUNDING

Imagine a world where you can no longer get funding from public and private foundations, governments and other institutional funders. How will you raise your yearly budget? How much more will you need to raise from individual donors? How many more individual donors do you need to get there?

This is one of the most important games you can play if you rely on applying for large grants and government funding every year.

Priorities for funders change. Governments change. Key relationship players at foundations change.

Don’t wait until you are denied funding before creating a strategy to diversify your income.

What you’ll discover: You may need to invest in your individual giving program a lot more in the coming years to protect your mission from future volatility.

4: A WORLD WITHOUT MAJOR DONORS

Imagine a world where the largest gift you can secure from anyone is $10,000. How many $10,000 donors would you need? How many $5,000 donors? Or $2,500? How would you identify who in your donor file can upgrade to give close to $10,000? How would that change the way you treat your donors?

Some organizations are getting the highest gifts in their history right now. Others are seeing major donors sit back a bit while they evaluate the situation.

Meanwhile, foundational donors — those in the “mass” file — are stepping up. Many just needed to be challenged with a clear and urgent problem to solve.

What you’ll discover: You likely have hidden value in your middle donor file — and you likely need a strategy to help each donor in your mass file give the best gift they can.

5: A WORLD WITHOUT DONOR ACQUISITION

Imagine a world where you can no longer acquire new donors. All you have to work with is your existing records in your database. How will you ensure your active donors don’t lapse? How will you convert your loyal donors to monthly givers? How will you upgrade your active donors to middle donors? How will you upgrade your middle donors to major donors? How will you re-activate your lapsed donors?

The point of this game is to help you realize that you can grow the value of your current donor file. You just need to pay some attention to the donors you’re at risk of losing.

Because the donors you already have are a lot more valuable than the ones you hope to acquire.

After playing this game, you’ve probably identified a few ways you can become a smarter fundraiser using the resources at hand.

What you’ll discover: You have a lot of room to improve your donor retention, and win back donors who haven’t engaged in a while.

Your Next Steps: Play A Game With Your Team

Now it’s your turn.

  1. Pick one of the games above. Or create your own scenario. Then gather your team.
  2. Split into smaller groups and brainstorm. Make sure each person knows there are no bad suggestions, as long as they stay within the given constraints.
  3. Share your answers. Have each team read out their answers to each other.

What you’ll end up with is an invaluable source of raw ideas that will help you uncover better ways to serve your donors, make your fundraising more resilient and position your nonprofit for growth.

And you’ll notice your mindset will shift.

You’ll feel more prepared to meet this moment in time. You’ll be more optimistic about your ability to raise funds.

You’ll start to see the cardboard box you’re in not as a limitation, but as an opportunity to create something new.

And you’ll feel more confident that you can emerge stronger…thanks to the power of constraints.


Big thanks to Mike for letting us share his post with you. And if you’re interested in more from Mike, here’s a link to his podcast that’s focused on practical fundraising tips and strategies.

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

Quick Thanks & Encouragement

encouragement

Today’s post is a little different: it’s the text of an email I sent out yesterday. It made a number of Fundraisers like you “feel seen and encouraged” — and I hope it does the same for you.  

— Steven


Dear NAME/Fundraiser,

If there’s one thing I know right now, it’s that Fundraisers are tired.

Most of us aren’t “about to quit” tired.  But there are a lot of us who are second-week-of-December-tired even though it’s only February. 

There are a lot of us who used to push hard until 5:00 or 6:00 each day… and are now finding themselves (finding myself) kind of… losing steam around 3:30. 

One day last week I had three meaningful, unprompted conversations with Fundraisers who were tired.  A high-powered V.P.  An experienced leader with a long track record of success.  The founder of a growing organization.

Then the next day I spoke to a young woman who’s been in fundraising for two years.  She can’t decide if working in fundraising is the best thing ever, or it’s going to burn her out before she’s 30. 

I won’t get into comparisons – most of us haven’t been in PPE on the front lines this last year – but I will say that fundraising is more emotionally draining than many jobs because of the amount of empathy required

But I’m not a motivational speaker.  Nor am I a counsellor.  So why am I writing you today?

Two things.

First, if you haven’t recently, I encourage you to talk about the tiredness at your organization or team.  And if you aren’t more tired than normal, thank your lucky stars – and then ask if other people are.  Because chances are, they are.

Naming what’s going on will help us all have a little more grace for each other.

Second, I just want to say thank you for being a Fundraiser

Thanks for all the good you’ve done for your beneficiaries or cause, especially over the last year.  Thanks for all the times you’ve shown #donorlove and let donors know the difference they’ve made.  And for all the times you’ve shown #donortoughlove by reminding donors about real needs and injustices, and asking donors to help meet those needs and right those wrongs.

Your fundraising makes a meaningful difference for your cause or beneficiaries.  Your fundraising makes a meaningful difference for your organization.  Your fundraising makes a meaningful difference in the lives of your donors.

That’s pretty good news for Fundraisers to hear.  All of us Fundraisers should hear it more often.  Not because we’re more virtuous or heroic than anyone.  But because we’re part of the solution.  And that should occasionally be called out and honored.

I love the MLK quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

In this “inescapable network of mutuality,” you are making everyone’s world better. 

Thank you.


Steven & the Better Fundraising team

“You’ve got some PR in your fundraising”

public relations

Most people do not expect Public Relations strategies to raise money today.

That’s why I’m always surprised when organizations put PR in their appeals and then are surprised that their appeal raises less money than it could.

Short & Sweet

Keep PR out of your direct response fundraising.  That’s your appeals, e-appeals, and newsletters (if you’d like your newsletter to raise money).

Why?  Because PR is meant to increase goodwill between the reader and the organization.  Merriam-Webster defines it this way: “the business of inducing the public to have understanding for and goodwill toward a person, firm, or institution.”

But the appeals that raise the most money are relentlessly focused on motivating the reader to take action now.  That’s a completely different goal and – when pursued – results in a completely different appeal.

Two Places PR Sneaks In

In my experience, here are the two ways PR shows up most often in appeals:

  1. A story of a person who has already been helped
  2. A description of the organization, or its programs, meant to make the reader believe that the organization is good at what it does

In my experience, including either of those things in an appeal causes the appeal to raise less money, not more. 

  • A note on the #2 item above.  I often hear nonprofits say things like, “But we have to tell them how effective we are!”  Here’s the truth as I’ve experienced it: how effective your organization is (and similar sentiments) is something like the seventh-most important thing at motivating a person to make a gift to an appeal. 

    If you’ve done a great job communicating and repeating the six things that are more likely to motivate a person to give a gift – things like a great offer, strong urgency, clear negative consequences to inaction, etc. – then by all means mention how effective your organization is. But make sure you cover the more important stuff first.

The Place For PR

There is absolutely a place for PR in your nonprofit communications toolkit. 

I’ve seen PR succeed at getting nonprofits in front of new, large groups of potential donors.  I’ve seen PR lay the groundwork for successful fundraising campaigns.  I’ve seen PR get nonprofits out of communication jams.

But good PR is always focused on helping an organization raise more money in the future. 

And an appeal or e-appeal is focused on helping an organization raise more money today.

Mind Blown In 3, 2, 1…

Here’s a mind-bender for you:

A successful, hard-hitting appeal is excellent PR.

How?  If successful PR “increases goodwill between the person and the organization,” then a successful appeal is excellent PR because it motivates a lot of people to give a gift – and every one of those donors feels great about giving

If that’s not goodwill, I don’t know what is.

It’s just that the “goodwill” was developed through the act of giving.

This is the secret I wish more small- to medium-sized organizations knew: the best way to increase goodwill among their donors is to get their donors to give more often, not by telling donors how great the organization is. 

So the next time you look at one of your appeals or e-appeals and think, “We’ve got some PR in our fundraising,” take it out.  Focus your appeal instead on your offer and a strong ask.  You’ll increase goodwill and raise more money at the same time!

Reporting Back in a Pandemic (Or after Any Disaster)

reporting

Better Fundraising has three tips to make your Reporting Back to donors resonate.

Because if your reports are timeless – if they could have been sent at any time during the past year – it means they aren’t relevant to the world the donor is living in today.

And if they aren’t relevant, they don’t need to be read.

Which trains your donor to read fewer of your communications – and you don’t want that, do you?

So here are three tips to make your Report Backs relevant to your donors:

Report back on something that happened during the pandemic.

What happened in January isn’t relevant right now.

And your messaging has to be relevant right now, or it’s mostly useless.

You want to share a story of something that happened because of the pandemic. That might mean a transition to telemedicine to care for a hurting person. It might mean emergency rent assistance for someone who lost their job.

But it can’t be the same story you would have told if the pandemic hadn’t happened.

Think of it this way: during Christmastime, you don’t see a lot of stories about Halloween. And any story you tell right now about something that happened before the pandemic is at high risk of being about Halloween while everyone else is singing Christmas carols.

A “Breathless Report from The Field” will beat “Standard E-News.”

Your donor knows that the world is upside down. So don’t give her a standard e-news report.

Don’t treat your writing like business-as-usual.

The organizations that will bond with their donors most closely are ones who make their donors feel like they are right there – getting the fresh news. Yesterday’s update from the CEO. The email that came in earlier this morning from program staff.

We’re already seeing this in action. Organizations we serve are sharing simple little updates of stories that just came in. The person who received the meds they needed – the family that was rescued.

And the donors love it! High open rates. Lots of giving in response to Reports. And even replies to the emails thanking the organizations for letting the donors know what’s going on.

Donors respond to this type of immediacy.

Donors are wondering, “what’s going on right now?” and are forgiving (even appreciative) of communications feeling like they were put together at the last minute.

Remember: donors care more about your beneficiaries and knowing what’s going on than they care about the professionalism of your communications.  

Fear is Contagious. Hope Is, Too.

Donor generosity is amazing.

Hopefully, you’ve done a great job sharing the problems facing your beneficiaries, cause, or organization. And you’ve raised a ton of money these last few weeks.

So be sure to share good news and hope, too.

Because donors want to hear some good news; they’re hoping that there are signs of people taking care of each other when there’s so much bad news on the front page.

When you do this, give the credit to your donor. Be super clear that the good news is happening because of her, and her generosity.

Because if donors are looking for some good news – and you share good news with them and give your donor the credit for causing that good news – don’t you think that increases the likelihood that she’ll like your organization a bit more?

And don’t you think that will increase the chance she’ll read your next email or letter?

And don’t you think that increases the chance that she’ll give to you during the coming slump?

And she’ll continue to be a donor once all of this is over?

I don’t “think so” – I know so.