Almsgiving

Boxing day.

Today is Boxing Day, and also St. Stephen’s Day.

It’s traditionally a day of generosity:

  • In the Boxing Day tradition, in Britain, tradespeople received gifts from their employers.
  • For the Feast of St. Stephen, alms boxes in churches were opened and distributed to the poor.

In western culture, this time of the year is still a time of alms-giving: money is pouring in to nonprofits, and the biggest week of online giving of the year is just starting.

Almsgiving is known to foster a sense of community, empathy, and social responsibility.  Perhaps that’s why many people feel just a little bit better during the holidays.

Yes, this week is also full of sales and conspicuous consumption.  But it’s good to remember we Fundraisers are a part of a tradition with deep historical, religious, and cultural roots.

Remember those traditions this week.  They drive this wave of giving; we just get to surf it.

Enjoy the week, and may your lockboxes and inboxes be full of gifts!

The Power of a Belief

belief

Here’s a quick story about how an organization’s beliefs about donors unknowingly drove their fundraising strategy…

We serve an organization that has a large number of monthly donors. 

I asked them if they had ever asked their monthly donors to give a little more each month.  “No,” came the answer, “we’ve never done that.”

I suggested we run a short campaign to their monthly donors asking them if they’d like to upgrade their giving.  It’s my belief that almost every organization has a lot of donors that are willing and able to give more.

But some folks around the table were nervous – they had a different belief.  They agreed that some small number of their monthly donors would and could give more.  But they believed that a greater number of their monthly donors would complain or completely cancel. 

In other words, they believed that their monthly donors (as a group) were giving as much as they were willing and/or able to give. 

I shared a couple of stories of campaigns like this I’d successfully run in the past.  And we decided to go ahead with the campaign.

The results were spectacular.  A thrilling number of monthly donors chose to give more each month.  Plus, those donors increased their monthly gift by even more than we thought they would.

As far as I know, there were zero cancellations.

And the impact?  The organization started raising an additional $60,000 every single month.

Lesson #1

An organization’s beliefs about donors drive its strategy, its annual plan, and even its copywriting. 

If you believe your donors are willing and able to give more, you do things like ask monthly donors if they would give a little more each month.  You send more appeals and e-appeals, and you ask major donors to give larger amounts. 

If you believe your donors are willing and able to give more, you write things like, “Will you please send in a gift today” instead of the equivocating, “Will you please consider sending in a gift today?”

Should you be smart about which donors you include when you do this?  Of course.  If you have a monthly donor who has told you that she’s on a fixed income and can’t give any more each month, don’t ask her to upgrade.  If you have major donor who has told you that they aren’t going to give any more this year, then don’t ask them.

Your organization has a set of beliefs about donors, and fundraising, and money.  Often those beliefs are unstated.  But they are driving your strategy, your annual plan, and even your copywriting.

Do you believe that your donors are willing and able to give more?

Lesson #2

There are real costs to believing your donors can’t or won’t give any more.

The organization above could have been raising that additional $60,000 every month the previous year.  And the year before that.  Think of the impact that was missed!

My goal in pointing this out is not to make all of us (myself included) feel bad for all the opportunities we’ve missed over the years.

My goal in pointing this out is for all of us to realize that our beliefs about donors and fundraising have real-world consequences. 

In my experience, believing that “many of our donors are willing and able to give more” will have positive real-world consequences.  Believing that “our donors are giving as much as they are willing and able” will have negative real-world consequences.

Try It On

So here’s what I want you to do.  I want you, just for a moment, to “try on” the belief that your donors are willing and able to give more.  Name one thing you would do differently.

Now, make a plan to do that thing.  Your organization (and the additional people you’ll help) will be thankful that you did.

The Reminder

hook

Before your organization arrived in a donor’s life, their beliefs and values caused them to be generous, to believe in right and wrong, to care for people in their community.

In other words, they put themselves “on the hook.” They decided to take responsibility for some of the ills in the world and donate to help.

So if it ever feels uncomfortable to ask people for money, remember that the people you are asking put themselves on the hook. They are on your donor list or mailing list because they want to help.

So you shouldn’t feel guilty about sending out fundraising. You shouldn’t feel like you’re manipulating people.

Instead, be thankful and joyful they put themselves on the hook. Boldly ask them to put their money where their values are.

Fundraising doesn’t put donors on the hook. Fundraising reminds donors that they put themselves on the hook.

What to Do When Things are Uncertain and Donors Aren’t Giving as Much

wait

My colleague Steven Screen said something profound recently:

“When times are good, donors give. When times are bad, donors give. When times are uncertain… donors wait.”

This spring your organization may have experienced donors waiting. Your fundraising results may have been lower than normal, and you may feel a little panicked.

You are NOT alone!

There are times when some donors wait to give, for reasons we can’t control.

This spring there was scary messaging in the US news around the debt ceiling.

We (mostly) suspected it would turn out okay, but if it didn’t, then… Catastrophic global economic consequences! Immediate recession! THINGS WILL BE TERRIBLE!

Those were the types of headlines we were seeing in the US. (Okay, I made up the last one, but that’s what it FELT like…)

I suspect there were donors waiting to see how the debt ceiling situation played out.

When your job is fundraising and donor giving dips, whether that’s major donor fundraising, direct response fundraising, event fundraising – any area, really – here are three things you should do:

  1. Glance at a few headlines. Do your best to understand what your donors might be thinking about, fearing, or uncertain about.

  2. Review your strategy. Are you asking donors to give in a clear, confident, emotional way that has worked in the past? Are you thanking your donors when they give and reporting back on what their gift did?

  3. If the answer to #2 is YES, you may be in a time where donors are waiting. Keep being faithful with the things you can control and don’t stop fundraising. We’ve seen time and time again that donors resume giving after periods of uncertainty. Make sure you are in front of your donors with strong fundraising offers so they resume their giving to YOUR organization.

By the way, if the answer to #2 is NO, the lack of giving may have more to do with your Asks than your donors. Review your communications with a more critical eye. Sometimes in the day-to-day shuffle – especially when times are weird – messages that are off-topic to donors creep in and cause fundraising to underperform.

Whether times are good or times are bad, donors want to help a cause they care about. Keep asking! Keep thanking! Keep reporting back so they see the good they’re doing!

By the way, once the uncertainty has passed you may have a gap in funding. Tell your donors about it and ask them to help!

The Difference Between “Understanding” and “Feeling”

gratitude

A major donor can understand that their gift was appreciated.  That’s nice.  And pretty easy to make that happen.

Yet it’s also possible for a major donor to really feel that their gift was appreciated.

There’s a big difference. 

The blog post How to Thank a Major Donor So She’ll WANT to Give Again gives you a simple road map to making your major donors feel your organization’s appreciation.

I share that post today because the signs are pointing to donations from individual donors being down this year. 

If that holds true for the rest of the year, it’s more important than ever for your organization to make sure your major donors feel your gratitude.

Here’s what often happens in down years.  Major donors deploy a two-part strategy:

  • They reduce the number of organizations they support, and
  • They reduce the amount they give to each organization. 

But major donors usually have a couple of organizations – close to their hearts, where they feel their giving really matters – that they do not cut or reduce.

That’s the group you want to be in. 

But you must earn your way into that group.

So go read the post, then go make sure your majors feel your gratitude!

Turning Complaints into Gifts

complain

In my experience, about 2 out of 5 people who complain about a piece of fundraising will give a gift immediately after complaining.

You read that correctly.

Here’s what it looks like…

  • If the complainer can be spoken to in person or on the phone, and…
  • The staff member does a good job listening & asking questions, and…
  • The staff member gently asserts that what the donor read in the fundraising was true and that the donor’s gift will make a real difference…
  • Then about 2 out of 5 complainers will make a gift on the spot.

This makes perfect sense if you think about complaints the way I do. (Note: I’m talking about complaints caused by the content of a piece of fundraising. I am not talking about complaints caused by poor data or mistakes, or generic complaints like “too many organizations ask me for money!”)

A high-performing appeal or e-appeal tends to tap into peoples’ emotions. It reveals tensions donors hold between the way the world is and the way they would like the world to be. Most donors respond to that tension by sending in a gift.

But some donors respond to the tension by sending in a complaint. (There’s no blame or shame here, by the way. Who among us has never said or written something they regretted while experiencing tension?!?)

So when a complainer gets to speak to a compassionate staff member who really listens to their complaint… who commiserates with the complainer about the situation… and who confirms that what was in the fundraising was true and that the donor can help by making a gift… gifts happen.

Not every time. But more often than you’d think.

In these conversations, many donors will even bring up making a gift without being prompted. Many times in my career I’ve had organizations share stories about donors who send in a note complaining about how a piece of fundraising made them feel… and include a gift to help.

Complaints and gifts are often more closely related than we think. They are both responses to tension.

Read the series:

  1. Getting Used to Complaints
  2. Outline for How to Respond to a Complaint
  3. Not All Complaints are Equal
  4. Natural, But Not Productive
  5. The Two Times Smaller Orgs Get More Complaints
  6. So. Many. Reasons. To. Complain.
  7. The Harmful Big Assumption
  8. Turning Complaints into Gifts (this post)
  9. “Friendly Fire” — Complaints from Internal Audiences
  10. Our Final Thoughts on Complaints

The Pandemic Fundraising Lesson That’s Applicable Tomorrow

pandemic

Isn’t it odd that, during the pandemic, many organizations whose work had nothing to do with the pandemic raised record amounts of money?

What should that strange fact teach Fundraisers who are paying attention?  Because on the surface of things it sure doesn’t make sense.

I think there are a bunch of reasons, and here’s my attempt at a summary…

People give charitable gifts to exert a little control over the world.

All of us like feeling that we have control in their lives. The pandemic took away that control. Jobs were lost, jobs changed, we couldn’t leave the house, etc.

Yet people still had a deep need for control.

One of the things they did was give to charities. They gave, according to their priorities, to exert a little control over the world.  To remake a little bit of the world into the world they wish it was.

Those people – your donors – determined their priorities long ago. They had their priorities before they started giving to your organization, and will most likely have those priorities after they have finished giving to your organization.

The pandemic changed their circumstances, but did not change their priorities.

And For Today…

The principle we’re discussing is good to remember if North America slides into a recession. 

If (when?) that happens, the voices at nonprofits will start sharing their reasons that “we shouldn’t be asking donors for gifts right now.”

But remember: the recession might change donors’ circumstances, but it won’t change their priorities.

That’s exactly when you need to remember to be sold out for your cause.  Give your donors a chance to “exert a little control over the world” through your organization to help your cause or beneficiaries.

Everyone (and by that I mean your beneficiaries, your donors, and your organization) will be glad you did.

(H/t to Andrew who recently reminded me of this in a meeting.)

Reasons to Give Today

Reasons to Give Today.

Hello from San Diego!

As I post this, I’m presenting at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference. The graphic above is part of my presentation, and I thought you’d find it helpful as you create your next piece of fundraising.

It attempts to illustrate a simple principle: when asking for support, the more reasons you can provide that your donor should give a gift right now, the more likely it is that the donor will make a gift.

If the only reasons your nonprofit provides are that the donor’s gift will support your organization and do good work, you’re less likely to receive a gift. Because every nonprofit can say that every day of their existence. That’s what it is to be a nonprofit.

But if you can give your donor more specific reasons that her gift is needed today, you’ll raise more. Reasons that are proven to work well are things like:

  • Matching funds will double the donor’s gift – this appeals to a donor’s sense of thriftiness
  • That there is some need today, some wrong that can be righted – this appeals to a donor’s moral sense of right and wrong, and her belief that she’s a person who responds when people or causes she cares about are in need
  • That something bad will happen if help is not received – this appeals to donors because humans are motivated to avoid negative things happening

Those aren’t the only reasons; there are lots of others.

But for today’s purposes, think about this the next time you create a piece of fundraising. Don’t just tell your donor that her gift will support your organization and do more good. Any organization can say that. Instead, provide your donor with more specific reasons she should give a gift today. If you do, you’ll receive more gifts.

You Are More than Your Programs, Your Process and Your People

You are more

Your organization has people and programs and processes that make you effective. They make your organization a force for good. They make your organization a great place for a donor to give a gift.

However, your organization is also far more than your people, your processes and your programs:

  • Your organization is also a vehicle that donors use to make the world a better place
  • Your organization is also a way for donors and not-yet-donors to be reminded of the injustices in the world
  • Your organization is also a way for donors to self-actualize by acting out their own personal story of giving
  • Your organization is also a way to donors to fight back against evil
  • Your organization is also a way for donors to make themselves feel good (by giving you a gift)
  • Your organization is also a way for donors to exert a measure of control over the world.

Here’s why this is important. In our experience, those additional things – all those “also’s” – are the primary drivers of why most donors give.

And when you focus your fundraising on the primary drivers of why donors give, you’ll raise more money.

So instead of making the easy choice to make your fundraising about the reasons your organization is effective, make the generous choice to make your fundraising about the reasons your donors give to your organization.

It’s a generous choice because you’ll be communicating to donors about why they support your organization, instead of communicating with them about why your organization would support your organization.

Don’t mistake what makes your organization effective for the reasons donors like to have you in their lives.