LIST of what to “repeat” to save time and raise more money


I know the idea of “repeating” fundraising you’ve done before doesn’t make sense at first. And it can feel weird.

That’s why I want to talk about the secret of “repeating” – just think of it as a tool that savvy fundraisers use to save time and (surprisingly) raise more money.

What We Mean By “Repeat”

When we say you can “repeat” something, here’s what we mean in a nutshell: do the same thing again, but slightly differently.

  • Send the same letter again, but slightly reword it
  • Send the same email again, but slightly reword it
  • Run the same event again, but with a different beneficiary speaker
  • Send the same letter again, but with a slightly different design

Are you picking up what I’m laying down?

And in some cases you can send the exact same thing. Same email. Same letter. We’ve done both of them and they’ve both worked:

  • My podcast partner Jeff Brooks tells a story about an organization that sent an appeal every month. One month it accidentally sent out the exact same appeal that it sent the previous month – and it raised more money the second time!
  • I think about an organization that took half their donors and sent them the same exact email the last four days of the year. Those donors gave more than the other half of their donors who received four unique emails.

Because remember:

  1. Most of your donors aren’t paying that close attention
  2. Many donors need to hear something twice (or more) before they pay attention and really think about it

When To Repeat Letters And Emails

Here’s how to repeat your appeal letters and your emails.

If you are doing something that you did the year before, you can repeat it.

Say you send out a Thanksgiving appeal last year, and you’re going to do another one this year. The first thing to do is to look at last year‘s Thanksgiving appeal and its results.

If the results were better than the previous year, repeat it. Don’t write a completely new email. Don’t design a completely new letter. Make only the minimal number of changes you need to make.

The same is true for anything you do each year. Here’s a list of things we’ve repeated to great success, and I’m sure there are more examples:

  • Year-end / Thanksgiving / Back-to-School / etc. – letters & emails
  • Facebook campaigns
  • Events
  • Giving Tuesday
  • Renewal
  • 13th Gift
  • Sponsorship/monthly giving upgrade campaigns
  • Monthly giving recruitment

You name it. If you do it every year, you should be repeating it and making slight tweaks to make it better, not reinventing the wheel.

When You Repeat, Watch Out For…

Here’s what to watch out for when you’ve decided to repeat a fundraising tactic…

  • Any detail that was true last year, but not this year. You need to update anything that’s not true. New ED? Update the name at the end of the letter. This year’s “Thanksgiving Meal” costs $1.93 instead of $1.92? Update the letter. Your organization now rescues Wombats? Add “wombats” to the list of animals you rescue.
  • Does the story need to be updated? Many letters contain a story about a person that illustrates the need. That story should be swapped out and replaced with a new story. But the rest of the letter doesn’t have to change.
    • Note: this is true for events as well.
  • Doing too much. Don’t make too many changes just because you’re in there.

Story Time With Steven

I used to write appeal letters and emails for The Salvation Army. They are a fundraising machine who has all of this down to a science. (You might read that they are a “fundraising machine” and think, “Well, that would never work with my donors.” Please be open to the idea that it would work. Many of your donors also give to the Army.)

Most of the time I would receive the following instructions when it was time to write a letter:

“Here’s last year’s letter. It worked great. Update it for this year and change only what’s absolutely necessary. Do not mess this up.”


No, not really. At least if you’re a ‘creative type’ like me.

But that’s how you build a mature fundraising program that raises the big bucks. You take something that works. You repeat it. You refine it. You look for little ways to make it better. You watch the results closely and look for what donors love, as told through their giving.

Over time you build a money-raising machine that allows you to do so much good in the world that people come to learn fundraising from you.

Listen, a lot of people don’t like hearing this. They want to be creative. They want to love the fundraising they send out.

I’m the same way. I get bored writing the same emails for the second (or tenth) year in a row.

But over time, if you look at the results, it becomes really obvious that if you repeat what worked before, you’re going to raise more money.

Please trust me – I’ve banged my head against that wall enough time to have a small dent in the middle of my forehead. (Well, actually that scar is from my sister throwing a Hot Wheel at me, but it’s a better story if it’s a fundraising scar.)

You are going to be tired of what you’ve been doing. So will your boss and your Board. You’re going to want to do it differently. You’re going to want to ‘come up with a new theme for this year’!

Don’t give in. Keep doing what’s been working great. You’ll raise more money each year.

If you invent a new approach each year you’ll be causing two problems: #1, you’ll be raising less money; and #2, you’ll be taking a LOT of time you could be using to do something else. Like, you know, focusing on major donors, where 90% of your individual donations come from. Or acquiring new donors, who are the future of your organization.

But Whither Innovation?

I’m going to write a post later this month on ‘how to innovate when you’re in a culture of repeating what’s worked in the past.’ Because you have to innovate.

But you want to innovate in a way that minimizes your risk. And I’ll share how to do that. But here’s an analogy to tide you over…

If you’re Apple, do you decide to stop making the iPhone and replace it with something completely new? No. You keep on updating, tweaking the iPhone to make it better each year. And you keep releasing different versions of the iPhone to try out new ideas.


Enough rambling. I hope the concept of “repeating” is making sense. I know it’s not how normal nonprofits operate. But it’s one of the secrets that savvy fundraisers have discovered – and you should be using it. You’ll save time, and you’ll raise more money.

If you’d like to have me help your organization know what to repeat – or to tweak what you’re doing to make it even better – get in touch!

This post was originally published on June 7, 2018.

Greatest Hit: Five Tips for the First Sentence of Your Next Newsletter Article

The following post is one of the most popular posts in the history of this blog.

I’m reposting it because you might be new to the blog, or you might be like me and need to hear a piece of advice more than once before it really sinks in.

This post proved helpful to thousands of people, I hope it’s helpful for you!

The first sentence of every newsletter story is really important.

Don’t do what most nonprofits do. They assume that all donors read to the end of all articles. I routinely review newsletters where the most powerful parts of the stories are in the last paragraphs – where very few people will see it. Because all the eye-tracking studies show that most donors don’t “read” your newsletter. They scan it.

So, you want to work hard on the first sentence of your newsletter articles and stories. If the donor likes your first sentence, she’s more likely to read your second sentence, and so on.

And you don’t have to be a “writer” to make the first sentences of your newsletter sing. But you do have to think about them differently. I have 25 years experience that testifies that the following ‘ways of thinking differently’ about how your start your newsletter articles will help you raise more money.

Keep it simple

Make it short and easy to read. No long sentences. No complex sentences with multiple clauses. Your reader should be halfway into the second sentence before she realizes it.

Now you have momentum. Now you have a greater chance your donor is going to get the message you’re sending her.

Good Example: “Ebola took everything Elisabeth had.”

It’s not about your organization

The first sentence of any newsletter article should never be about your organization or staff.

The most successful newsletters are written with the purpose of showing your donor what her gift accomplished. Not to talk about all of the things you’ve been doing or have coming up. Because more people are reading your newsletter wondering “I wonder if my gift made a difference?” than are wondering “I wonder what the organization has been working on?”

So, your first sentence should be about the donor, or about a beneficiary.

(And remember: as your donor is deciding whether to read your story or not, she is in a hurry and has other things asking for her attention. So, if your first sentence is about your organization or staff, she’s just not as likely to keep reading.)

After all, would you be more likely to keep reading if the story was about something amazing you helped do, or something an organization you support is working on?

Bad Example: “After landing in the capital city of Kinshasa, The Democratic Republic of Congo, our team traveled inland to a village outside the town of Kivuvu.” Why would a busy donor keep reading?

Good Example: “Thanks to you, Sarah’s life turned completely around.” Bonus points for including the donor and a beneficiary in the very first sentence!

It’s the start of a summary

I need to do an entire post on writing newsletter stories. But here’s one of my tricks; the first paragraph is often a summary of the whole article.

Why? Because most people are not going to read the whole article, but you still want them to get the message you’re trying to send. So if you summarize the message in a compelling way two great things happen:

  1. More people get the message you’re sending
  2. More people will read the whole thing

Good Example: “Your gift did something simple but life changing for a mother named Teri Maes, and you might have saved the lives of her two sons.” This one is a little long, but it summarizes the whole story AND includes the donor!

Don’t start with a statistic

In a nutshell, experts love statistics. But donor’s don’t.

Experts like you, your staff, and your incredible program people love statistics. Statistics are meaningful to experts because they provide context, show progress, and show expertise.

But that’s not what most donors are looking for. They are looking for a quick, easy way to know whether their gift to your organization made a difference. That’s usually a story of a beneficiary, with a little editorial content for how the donor’s gift helped the beneficiary.

Starting with a statistic immediately reduces the number of people who will keep reading because it asks the donor to understand something new and then understand why it’s important or helpful. That’s a lot to ask of a non-expert donor who is moving fast.

She’d rather read a story, my friend. So start with a story.

Bad Example: “Only one in nine children in our great state will ever go to a symphony.”

Drama! Action! Peril!

I’m going to quote my post on appeal letters on this one:

“Fill it with drama or make it interesting to your donor. Drama and tension are two of the best tools you have for engaging their interest. Or make it something that would be interesting to your donor – which is likely something different than would be interesting to you!”

My best one-liner about this is, “You want to write like the National Inquirer, not National Geographic.” That probably over-dramatizes it, but drama and emotion catch people’s interest. Most nonprofits assume they have their donor’s interest – and that’s a bad assumption.

Bad Example: “Drs. Martha and Robert Bryant strive to use their medical practice to make an impact.” Who are those people? Why should the donor keep reading?

Good Example: “The first night Jacqueline went to community theater, her life changed in the second act.”

So as you go to work on your next newsletter, here’s what I hope you’ll remember:

  1. Very few people will read an entire newsletter article. So get to the point very quickly, summarize it, then tell the full scope of the story.
  2. To increase the chances that your donor will read more, make your first sentence easy to read and interesting to her!

This post was originally published on February 2, 2018.

All Cars are the Same and Unique

Cars Look the Same

When we work with nonprofits for the first time, we run into a situation again and again.

We present fundraising we’ve created for them and someone will say…

“But… this will make us look like all those other organizations.  How can that be good?”

(Perhaps weirdly, when I hear them say it, I know we’re on the right track.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

There’s a deep vein of distrust of fundraising that “looks and sounds alike.”

Many small- to medium-sized nonprofits I know actively work hard to make their fundraising look and sound different from other fundraising they see.

They want their fundraising to be unique.

Unfortunately, in their pursuit of uniqueness, most nonprofits cause themselves to raise less money than they could. 

The best way to illustrate this is through a simple analogy.  I want you to think about cars…

What Cars Can Teach Us About Fundraising

From one perspective, there’s a remarkable amount of uniqueness among cars.  There are two-door cars, there are four-door cars.  There are trucks.  There are family cars.  There are sports cars.  There are different colors, there are different curves.  Massive differentiation.

But from another perspective, all cars all “look and sound alike.”  They all have four wheels.  They all have windows on the front, back, and sides. They all have doors. They all have steering wheels.  They all have mirrors so you can see behind you.  Cars are all the same!

That “sameness” is a result of 100+ years of trial and error as the car industry identified the common set of attributes that a car needs to have to be functional and successful. 

And after a car has those attributes, it gets customized to become unique.

The same is true for direct response fundraising…

The “sameness” of successful direct response fundraising is a result of 70+ years of trial and error as the fundraising industry identified the common set of attributes that an appeal or e-appeal needs to have to be functional and successful.

And after an appeal or e-appeal has those attributes, it gets customized to become unique.

The trick is to know what the attributes are.  And to start with them.  

These are things like “an appeal needs to be easily readable by a 75-year-old” and “the writing has to work for people who read and for people who scan.”

Those – and a host of others – are the windows, the steering wheels, the four wheels.

What happens too often is that nonprofits design cars that have five wheels, no windows on the left side, and the steering wheel in the back. 

Can you get somewhere in that crazy car?  (In other words, will you get some donations?)  Sure.  But you’re not going to make it as far as you could.

So What Do I Do?

I wrote this to help the organizations who “don’t want our fundraising to look like those other guys” to have another way to approach this situation. 

Here’s my advice:

  1. Know that doing direct response fundraising (appeals, newsletters, e-appeals, etc.) is different from other types of fundraising.
  2. Learn the “attributes” and best-practices
  3. As you create your direct response fundraising, focus first on the attributes that will increase your chances of success.
  4. Then (and only then) focus on how those attributes look and sound coming your organization.

All successful direct response fundraising tends to look, sound, and feel the same.  When your fundraising starts to sound like other professionally-produced fundraising, it’s a sign of success, not failure.

Uniqueness in fundraising, in and of itself, usually leads to raising less money.

But you know what’s unique and successful?  Your organization sending out fundraising that has all the attributes of successful direct response fundraising.  You are the only organization in the world who can do it.  And when you do it, your donors will respond far beyond your expectations.

A Note to Leaders

Leader compose letter

This is a note to Leaders of organizations who want to raise more money this year through the mail and email, or who need to raise more money through mail and email because you are still unable to have events and meet with donors. 

You’ll raise more money faster if you can cultivate an attitude that each piece of mail or email your organization sends out is an experiment and an opportunity to get better.

Organizations that get better at direct response quickly do not treat every piece of fundraising as precious.  They look at each piece as:

  • An opportunity to raise money
  • An experiment that might work
  • A data-producing effort that will be learned from
  • A chance to stay “top of mind” with their donor (in contrast to all those organizations that “go dark” for weeks and months at a time)

And here’s what I see in organizations that do not get better quickly:

  • A belief that each piece is something precious.
  • A deep fear of offending anybody, and a belief that any offense would cause outsized negative consequences. 
  • Large approval teams. Everyone who sees it is allowed to make changes.

A Structure for Quick Improvement

It’s probably too much to ask a blog post to change the beliefs an organization has about mail and email fundraising, the “story they tell themselves” about mail and email fundraising.

But here is a structural recommendation for how the fundraising gets created that can help…

  • After a draft of an appeal or e-appeal is created, a very small number of people review it.
  • Reviewers can submit suggested changes, but not make changes.
  • No more than three people are allowed to make changes, and preferably fewer.
  • If a Reviewer’s suggested edits or changes are not accepted, they are told why.
  • After appeals or e-appeals are sent to donors, anyone in the organization can comment on it.  The person in charge of the fundraising decides whether to take the comments into consideration for future fundraising, or not.

Cascading Benefits

This structure has several cascading benefits…

The person or team who creates the fundraising saves time and can focus on their expertise  →  The team then creates more pieces of fundraising  →  This allows more fundraising to be sent to donors  →  This speeds up the pace of learning what works and what doesn’t →  This increases donations →  This increases donor retention. 

Another benefit: this structure will help you attract and retain better fundraising talent.

But you have to trust the structure and the process.  You have to trust the fundraising team.  You have to trust the skills they’ll develop.  

Show me an organization structured like this, with a team that uses data and best practices to make decisions instead of having to make the edits from Bob in Accounting, and I’ll show you an organization primed to learn quickly and raise more money in 2021.

The Big Shift


When most organizations write an appeal letter, they believe that the letter needs to convince the donor to support the organization. 

That approach results in appeals that don’t raise as much as they could. 

There’s a simple shift in thinking that results in appeals, e-appeals and newsletters that raise more money…

The Big Shift

The “shift” is this: moving from “trying to get the reader to support our organization” to “trying to get the reader to do one powerful thing for one beneficiary.”

That’s the Big Shift.

And when you write a letter that asks your reader to do one powerful thing for one beneficiary, you end up with a letter that raises more money.

It raises more money for a host of reasons, but here’s the main one: you’ve asked your donor to do something easier.  And when you ask your donors to do something easier (as opposed to something harder) you get more gifts.

Because asking a donor to support your organization is a Big Ask.  It means supporting your vision, your strategy, your cause, your accounting, your staffing structure, your… everything.

That’s a Big Ask because it asks your donor to do a lot.  That’s fine when you’re talking to a Foundation, or submitting a long application for a grant.

But not when you’re doing direct response fundraising and you have your donor’s attention for a few seconds.

You want to make it easier for them to say “yes,” not harder.  You need to make the shift.

To make this happen, customize the “one meaningful thing” for your organization.  Maybe it’s moving a piece of legislation forward by one small step.  Maybe it’s giving one person the tools they need to advocate for your cause.  Maybe it’s making the experience of a cancer patient just a little bit easier. 

You get the idea.

When you ask for something smaller, you’ll get more yesses.  And you’ll get more second yesses and third yesses.  Then you’ll raise more money. 

What Happens Next

Here’s what happens when you internalize this shift…

Your appeal letters become easier to write.  Because rather than trying to convince them to support your whole organization, you’re just trying to convince them to do one thing for one beneficiary. 

And you raise more money.  It’s a proven approach.


As you make the Big Shift, you’ll notice something.

When you write appeals, you’ll find yourself (out of habit) inserting boilerplate copy about your organization – those phrases you’ve always used in the past.

And you immediately notice that those boilerplate phrases make your letter less interesting and less powerful. 

You’ll start to see how the way you used to communicate was boring to everyone but insiders and core donors. 

Additionally, when you circulate a draft of a letter that has made the shift, some well-meaning person will say “But we also have to mention our program that does X…”  And someone else will say, “We need to add a couple paragraphs about how effective we are…”

And you will see how neither of those things make your letter more likely to convince a donor to do one meaningful thing for one beneficiary. 

The Big Fear

The big fear that organizations tend to have around this approach is this: if I ask for something smaller, will my larger donors start giving smaller gifts?

In my experience (27 years and counting) this doesn’t happen.  In fact, what’s more likely to happen is that you’ll start getting second gifts from your major donors – gifts that are in addition to what they normally give!

The Leap

The “big shift” is one of the shifts in thinking that helps organizations make “the leap” to the next level of fundraising success. 

It helps them create fundraising that is attractive to more people than just insiders and core donors.  It helps them create fundraising that acquires more new donors.  It helps them grow.

The Big Shift at Year-End

If you want to make the Big Shift in your year-end letter, check out our new training

It’s just $40 and when you’re done with the training, you’ll be done with your year-end letter.

It shows you exactly how to write a powerful letter – that asks your readers to do something easy instead of something hard – that will raise you more money at year-end this year.   

The training is video-based and step-by-easy-step.  One option has you finished with your letter in 30 minutes.  The other option has you done with an even better letter in about 90 minutes.

The Time to Shift is Now

I hope you and your organization have made the Big Shift.  I believe in the extraordinary generosity of donors – we’ve seen it this year more than ever.  But I also believe this is going to be a competitive fundraising environment for at least the next several months.

Making it easier for your donors to say “yes” is a tool – a way of thinking – you should use to fund your mission.  So make the “big shift” and start raising more money!  

New Kind of Training for Year-End

something new

This blog post is a little different.

You may have heard me talking over the past few months about the big project / new thing we were working on.

We kept it a secret, but now it’s time to “lift the curtain” and share it with you!

For this year-end, we’ve created a new kind of fundraising training.  It’s built on a simple idea…

When you’re done with the training, you’re DONE with your year-end letter.

Done in 30 Minutes

For instance, you can take the 30-minute version of the new training and have a very effective year-end appeal letter completely written in half an hour.

No more ‘finish the training/webinar’ and then stare at a blank document trying to figure out how to turn all the advice you just received into a letter for your organization.

How can you do it that quickly?  I’ve already written your first draft for you.

So, say it takes 3 minutes to click over and join.  That means you can have a GREAT year-end appeal written 33 minutes from now.

Want to Raise Even More?

You can take the “Gold” version of the training.  This version takes between 1.5 and 2 hours.  I will teach you my process for writing effective year-end appeals and help you write yours. 

I will take you through, step by easy step.

When you’re done with either the 30-minute version or the Gold version, you’ll have an effective year-end appeal letter written. You’ll also be more effective at writing any appeal.

Both versions are included in the training.

Free Reply Card Template

After your letter is written, keep going in the training and you’ll learn how to make your envelope do its job (get opened!).  

Then you’ll be given a proven template for a Reply Card that works great.

Then you’ll learn the easy way to design your letter.

And you’ll see exactly who to send your letter to, so that you raise the most at the lowest cost.

The “Get Your Boss to Approve It” Videos

Lots of people don’t like effective direct response fundraising.  They think “it doesn’t sound like us” or “it’s too aggressive.”

The training includes five friendly “direct response fundraising fundamentals” videos for the express purpose of helping people understand and approve the fundraising you create.

There’s no lecturing.  Just a short introduction to the ideas that make direct response fundraising work best, how it’s different than other types of fundraising, and what will give you the best chance at success.

Some early customers purchased the training just because of these videos!

Coming Shortly…

In the next weeks we’ll be adding another training module for your year-end fundraising emails.

Then a module for creating an annual plan for 2021.

And a “My First Gift” campaign to acquire new donors from your email list.

All of them are built on the same idea: when you’re done with the training, you’re done with the task.  I’ll walk you through, step by step, and you’ll be ready to go!

Every one of those modules will be included in the . . .

Low, Low Price

$40 per month.

Why monthly?  Because $40 for an effective year-end letter is ridiculous.

And then you’ll get your year-end emails done.  And you’ll get your 2021 fundraising plan done.  And you’ll get your “My First Gift” campaign done (and acquire a bunch of new donors). 

But if you don’t want those, no problem.  Seriously.  You can just join for a month, write a record-breaking letter, and cancel. 

We’re trying to help as many organizations as possible during this year’s extra-competitive year-end fundraising season. 

You can choose to pay monthly, or get two months free when you sign up for the year

Remember, when you’re done with this training, you’re done.  Sign up today and be done writing your year-end appeal 30 minutes from right now!

“What should we avoid in our fundraising?”


Remember the Founder I told you about last Thursday?

The one who said that his organization exists “so that donors can help these girls”?

He also asked a question that I wish more non-profits would ask themselves:

“What should we avoid in our fundraising?”

When was the last time you heard a non-profit ask that question?

There are LOTS of things to avoid in your fundraising, like the non-obvious mistakes that cost so much money, of course.

But mostly I liked that he asked it because it’s such a good question.

Two challenges for you:

  1. Quickly jot down a list of all the things your organization currently avoids in your appeals and newsletters. It’s likely to be an interesting list because most organizations have a set of unwritten rules for what they can and cannot talk about.

a. I can almost guarantee you that there are some things on that list that you should be including, not avoiding. For instance, if “Avoid telling stories where the person still needs help” is on your list, you should take it off.

b. Follow-up question: are there some things you should avoid for some segments of your audience, but not others? For instance, there are some things you should avoid doing in grant applications. But if you avoid them in your direct response appeal letters, you’re raising a lot less money than you could be.

  1. Sign up for Free Review Fridays. At 10:00 AM Pacific each Friday, I review appeals, e-appeals, and newsletters submitted by your fellow Fundraisers (and you can submit yours, too). Watch a few examples, and you’ll quickly see what to include – and what to avoid – with your appeals and newsletters!

The Non-Obvious Mistakes that Cost You Money


This post is a list of what I call “non-obvious mistakes.”

No one in your organization will ever notice them.

But they cost you thousands of dollars every time you send out an appeal.

Because these mistakes are the difference between an appeal that raises $40,000 instead of the $68,000 it could have raised. These are the difference between an appeal that raises $2,500 instead of $8,000.

Regardless of how big or small your organization is, these non-obvious mistakes are expensive:

  • Lack of clarity about what the donor’s gift will do. Saying things like “Please send a gift today to provide hope” are not clear descriptions of what a donor’s gift will accomplish. As Brené Brown puts it, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” (Want to know how to be clear? Have a great offer.)
  • Not printing your donor’s name, address, and suggested gift amounts on their reply card. The tests are clear: customized reply cards with customized gift asks will increase the number of people who respond, and increase the size of gifts they give.
  • Mailing too many people. You’re sending your mailing to all your past donors, even the ones who haven’t given in several years.
  • Making your appeal hard to read. These are things like type that’s below 13pt, too many words per page, too-small margins, too much reverse-type, etc.
  • Not including clear reasons why the donor should give a gift right now, today. Most nonprofit appeals and e-appeals share what’s happening at the organization and ask for support. But they don’t include any reasons that the donor should give a gift right now – and then are weirdly surprised when very few donors give a gift today.
    How many of those mistakes is your organization making on a regular basis?

These get missed because – somewhat rightly – we’re usually focused on the obvious mistakes that everyone knows about:

  • Messing up donor data. Like addressing mail to me as “Dear Seven” instead of “Dear Steven” and doing it for years. (True story.)
  • Print shop foul-ups. Things like half of your donors getting a reply card for a different nonprofit. (Another true story. Super fun!)
  • Lousy Links. When the links and buttons in your email don’t lead donors to the right place.

Everybody who has done direct response fundraising for any length of time has a couple of these under their belt. Things happen. But you can build systems and processes to eliminate most of these obvious mistakes, most of the time.

But it’s the other kind of mistakes that kill you.

It’s the non-obvious mistakes that stop organizations from “making the leap” to the next level.

It’s the non-obvious mistakes that keep organizations from ever reaching the scale they need to make a big difference.

The best thing you can do is learn. Read this blog. Follow people who have done this stuff at scale. For instance, follow Lisa Sargent on Twitter – she’s rocking it lately with great advice. As much as possible, do what experienced people recommend, not what know-nothing opinion-havers in your organization say they like.

And for those of you who can’t do what experienced people recommend because people in your organization won’t let you – hold tight. I’m working on something I’m calling the Convince Your Boss Kit. Stay tuned. And for now, do as much as you can!

The Choreography of Donor Attention

Donor Attention.

Superfast, three-part tip to help you raise more money with your appeal letters.

Part 1 – Here’s How Your Donors “Read”

This is what’s called a “heat map” – it shows where donors’ eyes go as they look at your direct mail letters.Heatmap.Your donors will scan your letter to decide IF they will read your letter.

And not everyone will decide to read your letter.

But you still want everyone to receive the message you’re sending, right?

Part 2 – So, You Need To…

Knowing where your donors are likely to look, you need to “choreograph” your letter to put the most important information in the places where a donor is most likely to see it.

Part 3 – And You’ll Raise More If…

So you might ask, “What’s the most important information I can share with my donor?”

Here’s what our experience says. The most important information to share quickly with a donor in an appeal is:

  • Why their gift is needed today
  • What their gift will accomplish

Note: this is just one of the reasons why having a great fundraising offer, and knowing how to Ask powerfully, are vital to success. Great offers communicate very quickly why a donor’s gift is needed, and what it will accomplish.

Once you know all this, you’ll make different choices about what you say in your letters, and where you say it. You move away from the demonstrably poor-performing “share a story of success and ask for support” approach, and toward a direct mail approach that raises lots of money.