Do your fundraising materials have a donor-shaped hole?

Donor shaped hole.

Let me share an idea that’s been helpful for a number of fundraisers recently:

All of your donor communications should have a donor-shaped hole in them.

Why? So your donor can see a role for herself in what your organization is doing. So she can see a place where she can step in and do something meaningful.

If you get really good at doing this, really good at creating fundraising that makes donors say, “I see that, I can do that,” you’re going to raise a LOT of money.

The idea of a “donor-shaped hole” is an attempt to explain why a set of fundraising tactics is so effective at engaging donors. I’ll list some of the tactics below. You’ll see how each one creates a donor-shaped hole in appeals, e-appeals, events, and newsletters.

Talk To Her about What She Can Do

As you write your fundraising, write it as if you’re talking to one donor. And talk to her about what she and her gift will accomplish.

That approach is significantly different than talking about your organization, your programs, and the people you’ve already helped.

That’s a lot different than asking your donor to “become a supporter” or “please partner with us.”

Instead, write directly to her. Not to everyone, just to her. Use the word “you” a lot. Tell her that great people like her are needed. Give her an example of what her gift will do.

When you’re done, you’ll have a letter (or email, or event) that feels like a 1-to-1 communication to her and about what she can do. That’s a letter that a donor is far more likely to read and respond to than a letter (or an organization) that just keeps talking about itself!

Highlight a Small, Specific Thing Her Gift Does

What you want to do here is pick one powerful thing (or part of a thing) that your organization does. The trick is that it needs to be easy to understand, and inexpensive enough that everyone can afford one of them.

Say you’re an Education organization. You have lots of different programs, most of them long-term. You should look for part of one of those programs. For instance, if you provide math tutoring to middle school students, you can figure out the average cost to provide one day’s worth of tutoring for one student.

Most likely the cost to do that is low enough so that every donor could afford it. Congratulations, you’ve created a donor-shaped hole!

A $50 donor can provide one incredible day of tutoring for a child. A $1,500 donor can provide one incredible month of tutoring for a child.

Pro Level: Ask for the Amount She’s Most Likely to Give

Sophisticated organizations create a donor-shaped hole by asking for an amount that is the right size for the donor.

They do it using customized gift ask amounts based on each donor’s previous gift. Here’s what they do, in a nutshell:

  • When they export the mailing list, they also export the amount of each donor’s previous donation. This is often called “Most Recent Gift” or MRG.
  • That amount is used to calculate three gift ask amounts for each donor. Those amounts are usually 1 x MRG, 1.5 x MRG, and 2 x MRG.
  • When printing the reply card for each donor, the donor’s name, address, and customized gift amounts are merge printed onto the reply card.

This is a proven way to increase response and giving. Why does it work? Because it asks your donor to give about the same amount they gave last time. This makes a donor feel like you know them. It creates a donor-shaped hole that is exactly their size.

Thank, and Report

Organizations that Thank well (promptly, emotionally, donor-centrically) make donors feel great. Great Thank You’s show the donor that she is needed and that she is appreciated.

Great organizations tell each donor, “Thank you, a great person just like you was needed, and you did exactly what was needed!” That tells the donor that there was an important role for her to play in your cause or organization, and she played it.

Take off your “Fundraiser” hat for a moment and put on your donor hat. As a donor, wouldn’t you like to hear that there was an important role for you to play, and that you played it perfectly?

After Thanking, great organizations Report back to donors on what her gift made possible.

Richard Perry is the founder of Veritus Group and one of the best fundraising strategists in North America. (He’s also my old boss!) He says, “The greatest cause of donor attrition is that the donor did not know she made a difference.”

If a donor doesn’t know that she and her gift made a difference, why would she give another gift to your organization?

Again, take off your Fundraiser hat and put on your donor hat. If your donation was needed, wouldn’t the organization Report back and let you know? If you and your gift are important, wouldn’t the organization Report back to you and show you how?

If you mattered to the organization, wouldn’t they Report back to you?

If you mattered, they would. So if your donors matter to you, Report back to them and show them how they made a difference. For each donor, show her the ‘hole’ she helped fill!

Your Next Steps

Use these tactics to create donor-shaped holes in all of your fundraising communications. If you do, your donors will start engaging with your organization more because they’ll see that they are needed, that they have a powerful role to play, and that they matter!

And if you’d like fun, experienced coaches to help your organization do this, get in touch! We can review your fundraising and help you make it stronger, or we can even create your appeals, newsletters and e-appeals for you. For less than the cost of an employee, we can improve your fundraising materials, raise you more money, and free up internal resources!

The best way to ask major donors when you can’t get in front of them in person

Major donor fundraising should be intentional and relational.

But sometimes you can’t be as relational as you’d like! Sometimes donors are unable to meet. A large percentage of your donors won’t even be interested in meeting.

Or even speaking to you.

But there are times when you still need to ask them for a donation!

Thankfully, many of them will open mail from your organization. And that’s why mailed appeals to major donors are still so successful.

Super Simple Guide

I’ve had to do this a lot over the years, and here’s a quick list of the tips I’ve found to be most helpful:

  • Send the appeal in a large envelope. 9×12 should do the trick.
  • Hand-address the envelope and use a live stamp (no meter postage).
  • Send a longer letter than you would to your mass donors. 4+ pages should give you the room you need to make your case for support.
  • Most donors won’t read the entire letter, but they will scan it. Design the letter to be easy to read, and underline a couple of key things; specifically the reason you’re writing them today and what you hope they will do.
  • Personalize it with their name.
  • Hand-sign the letter.
  • Always include a customized reply card (again with the donor’s name) and reply envelope with a live stamp. Make it as easy as possible for the donor to send you a donation now!
  • Ask for a specific amount based on their previous giving, but also include an “open ask” in case they’d like to give less – or more! (An open ask usually looks something like, [ ] Here’s my gift of $_________.)

Big Picture Goal

Your big-picture goal here is to make the letter feel like it was put together just for the donor – not something you produced for everyone.

I know it’s not possible to ask every Major Donor in person each time. So you need to get good at using the mail to make sure they see your ask.

Hopefully, this blog post helps you think through and plan how your direct appeal should look in the mail!

How to ask major donors for a sizable gift

What if I told you it could be just as easy to ask a donor for $10,000 as it is to ask her for $1,000? Would you believe me?

Well, I’m here to tell you that it can be just as easy – BUT only if you are willing to keep things simple, follow the ‘success ingredients’ I’ve outlined below, and then ask with confidence.

Here are the ‘success ingredients’ that need to be in place in order for you to have confidence when asking major donors for a sizable gift.

  • Know your donor. What does she like about your organization, or about the outcomes your organization creates? What has she funded in the past? What are her personal interests or hobbies? The more you know about your donor, the more likely it is you can create an Ask that appeals to her.
  • Before you ask your donor for a sizeable gift, tell your donor that you plan to ask them for a sizeable gift. Don’t surprise your donor! Tell her your intentions. If you prepare her to be Asked, she’ll respond better when you ask.
  • Develop a great fundraising offer that you know she will love. Ask her to fund projects, programs and outcomes she already likes! If you know your donor likes directly funding meals for homeless moms and kids, then don’t ask her to fund the new job-training program for men. Stay on target.
  • Make your ‘Ask’ part of a larger vision or campaign goal. Most donors don’t want to feel like the only donor giving a sizeable gift. They want to know that other donors are giving or being asked to give at sizeable levels.
  • Ask for more than you think your donor can give. I can tell you story after story of Major Gift Officers that have applied this thinking and come away with $100,000 gifts when they were first thinking of asking for $10,000. The big idea here: don’t accidently downgrade donor giving amounts by always asking for what you think donors can/will give. Sometimes you need to ask for what is needed, because oftentimes donors will surprise you!
  • Ask with confidence, and then give your donor time to mentally process your request and respond. It is all too common for Major Gift Officers to do most of the talking. It is critical that after you have delivered your appeal for support, that you stop talking and listen. Remember, this is a two-way conversation, and the donor deserves time to ask questions or respond with a financial commitment.

Try it!

The best way to improve your confidence and ability to ask donors for sizeable gifts is to go out and try it. I challenge you right now to identify 2-3 major donors (or potential major donors) and ‘cook up’ an Ask with each ingredient.

It might feel awkward at first. But it’s what I see successful major gift fundraisers do again and again and again. For you, this process will become easier and easier to do as you practice the steps above. And pretty soon, you won’t believe you used to do major donor fundraising ‘the old way’!

If you don’t have any major donors to try this out on, or you don’t feel as confident as you’d like, then practice by role-playing. Do it with a co-worker, a board member, or even a friend.

Whatever you do, it is time for you to get out there and put this thinking to work. You’ll be amazed at how much easier major donor fundraising can be – and how much more money you can raise for your cause.