The stories you tell yourselves about fundraising are more important than the stories you tell your donors

Bend the arc.

The stories that matter most in your fundraising are not the stories you tell your donors.

The stories that matter most are the stories your organization tells itself about fundraising.

Every organization has a set of beliefs – a set of stories that it tells itself – about fundraising, and donors, and money.

Most of those stories are based on personal experience. On our own upbringings and relationships with money.

And – you know this – some beliefs about fundraising result in organizations that raise a ton of money and accomplish a ton. Some beliefs about fundraising results in organizations that raise less than they could and accomplish less than they could.

I’m thinking about this because I’m getting ready for the Storytelling conference next week.

People who attend or watch the videos are going to learn so many proven tips, tricks and tactics… and be excited about trying them at their organization… and then won’t be able to because the organization won’t like them. Because the proven tips and tactics are in conflict with the stories that the organization tells itself about how fundraising works.

See how the stories your organization believes about fundraising have a direct effect on the tactics and strategies your organization will use in fundraising?

It’s that very thought that caused me to draw the doodle at the top of this post. It’s the “stories the organization tells itself” about fundraising that make the difference between an organization that grows a little… and an organization that can grow a lot.

For example, here are a handful of the “stories” that I’ve seen result in greater-than-normal fundraising growth:

  • A majority of our donors would love to give multiple times per year
  • Helping donors see and feel the Need is part of why our organization exists
  • Our messaging needs to resonate with who we’re sending the message to, not with us
  • Different groups of donors require different messaging; a grant application is different than an e-appeal
  • Each piece of communication will be more successful if it only has one job
  • We’re open to messaging that doesn’t “sound like us”
  • Let’s get great at proven tactics before we try to innovate
  • If we aren’t getting enough “no’s” then we’re not asking enough
  • If we aren’t regularly having major donors give less than what we ask for, then we’re not asking for high enough amounts
  • It’s a generous act to show up regularly in donors’ lives

Think about your organization for a second. If your organization told those stories to itself, would it result in you doing fundraising differently?

Because from those stories would come different plans and tactics. For instance, if you believe most of your donors would love to give multiple gifts per year, you create an annual plan that gives donors the opportunity to give multiple gifts per year.

Bend the Arc

As I look back at the graphic at the top, it makes me think of the quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Every organization’s fundraising has an “arc.” It’s bending up or down. A lot or a little.

And believe it or not, the “stories your organization tells itself” have a lot to do with the trajectory of your fundraising arc.

So I hope you’ll examine the stories your organization is telling itself.

  • If you want to try something new but your organization doesn’t want to, I hope you’ll ask, “What beliefs do we have that result in liking or not liking a tactic?”
  • Then ask whether that belief is helping or hurting the organization in this instance.
  • And ask whether there’s an alternate belief you could try.

If you’ve been on one fundraising trajectory – one “arc” – for a long time, to bend the arc your organization is going to need to change the story it tells itself.

In my experience, if you create your fundraising following the beliefs listed above, you will raise more money.

Improve your organization’s stories about fundraising, and you’ll improve your organization’s fundraising results.

What your next newsletter should be like

newsletter.

It’s time to get tactical.

We gave you a couple of big ideas for how to think about your newsletter. (If you want to delight your donors and raise more money, that is.)

Now as we move into the details, here’s a summary for the elements of your newsletter:

  • Send it in a #10 or larger envelope (not a self-mailer)
    • Teaser should be “Your newsletter enclosed”
  • 4 pages long (1 tabloid-sized sheet, folded in half to make 4 pages)
    • The first three pages should be Stories of Success – between 2 and 4 stories, each about an individual beneficiary, each sharing the “before” and the “after” for that beneficiary, and each giving credit to the donor for making the transformation happen
    • The back page should be a Story of Need with an offer – this is a story that describes a current need being faced by beneficiaries and a description of how the donor’s gift of a certain size will perfectly meet the need for one person
  • A separate reply card, with bonus points for pre-printing the donor’s info and customizing the gift ask amounts based on the donor’s previous gift
  • A separate reply envelope that the donor can use to send back their gift

Of course, there are other newsletter formats that work.

But if you’re looking to improve your newsletter, this particular way has been battle-tested by thousands of nonprofits.

It’s worked so many times for so many types of organizations that it’s our “default setting.” In other words, if a nonprofit asks Better Fundraising to create a newsletter – and we’re going to be retained or fired based on the results – this is the model we follow. It’s the model we recommend to all our clients, the model we speak about at conferences, etc.

Why So Specific?

My goal is to show you exactly what to do to raise money and delight your donors, and to take the mystery out of successful nonprofit newsletters.

We want to make it as easy as possible for you. I heard from a client earlier today who said, “The reduction in anxiety from having a proven model to follow is priceless.” That’s what we’re offering here. And next, we’ll tackle how to write your stories, how to design your newsletter, who to send it to, even the best way to write headlines and picture captions. Stay tuned!

Read the series:

This post was originally published on February 27, 2020.

Three Things All Direct Response Fundraisers Should Know

Direct response.

Recently I received a brilliant email from a friend.

It perfectly sums up why direct response fundraising is so hard:

“I’ve started telling people there are only three things they need to know about development.

    1. It’s the most counterintuitive thing you’ve ever done. (What people like isn’t motivational. What’s motivational, you won’t like.)
    2. The only way to know what works is A / B testing.
    3. You can spend years, and lots of $’s doing your own testing, or you can hire those who have done it and see immediate results.”

Everything you need to know to succeed in direct response fundraising is all right there.

“It’s the most counterintuitive thing you’ve ever done.”

The things most people think will work in direct response fundraising don’t work very well.

For instance, there’s the assumption that “to get a first gift from someone, that person needs to know that our organization is good at what we do.” Nope. Not true. Your organization’s effectiveness is not even in the Top 5 reasons why most new donors give a gift.

There’s another assumption that says, “we need to always tell stories of success.” Nope. Not true. You only want to do this some of the time, and less often than you think.

“The only way to know what works is A / B testing.”

The reason I can state so strongly that “your organization’s effectiveness is not in the Top 5 reasons why your new donors give” is because we’ve tested it.

We know, from direct head-to-head testing, that including content about how effective your organization is in a donor acquisition piece will reduce the number of people who respond.

You can certainly acquire donors while accentuating how effective your organization is. But you can acquire more donors if you focus your message on the things that matter more.

I was taught this as a young fundraiser in the early ‘90’s. And it’s just one of the many nuggets of wisdom available from our industry’s roughly 70 years’ worth of A / B testing. Each one of those nuggets can help you and me know how to raise the most money in a given situation.

“You can spend years, and lots of $’s doing your own testing, or you can hire those who have done it and see immediate results.”

Smart organizations are constantly looking for ways they can work less while raising more money. So they’re always looking for successes from The Fundraisers Who Have Gone Before, successes that they can apply to their organization.

Sometimes that means going to AFP seminars or spelunking on SOFII. Or purchasing the latest book from Erica Waasdorp, or Jeff Brooks, or Tom Ahern. Or hiring experts like the team at Better Fundraising.

Regardless of how you tap into all that knowledge, be sure you’re seeking out the learnings of “those who have done it” so that you can “see immediate results”!

This post was originally published on February 4, 2020

What your next newsletter should be like

newsletter.

It’s time to get tactical.

We gave you a couple of big ideas for how to think about your newsletter. (If you want to delight your donors and raise more money, that is.)

Now as we move into the details, here’s a summary for the elements of your newsletter:

  • Send it in a #10 or larger envelope (not a self-mailer)
    • Teaser should be “Your newsletter enclosed”
  • 4 pages long (1 tabloid-sized sheet, folded in half to make 4 pages)
    • The first three pages should be Stories of Success – between 2 and 4 stories, each about an individual beneficiary, each sharing the “before” and the “after” for that beneficiary, and each giving credit to the donor for making the transformation happen
    • The back page should be a Story of Need with an offer – this is a story that describes a current need being faced by beneficiaries and a description of how the donor’s gift of a certain size will perfectly meet the need for one person
  • A separate reply card, with bonus points for pre-printing the donor’s info and customizing the gift ask amounts based on the donor’s previous gift
  • A separate reply envelope that the donor can use to send back their gift

Of course, there are other newsletter formats that work.

But if you’re looking to improve your newsletter, this particular way has been battle-tested by thousands of nonprofits.

It’s worked so many times for so many types of organizations that it’s our “default setting.” In other words, if a nonprofit asks Better Fundraising to create a newsletter – and we’re going to be retained or fired based on the results – this is the model we follow. It’s the model we recommend to all our clients, the model we speak about at conferences, etc.

Why So Specific?

My goal is to show you exactly what to do to raise money and delight your donors, and to take the mystery out of successful nonprofit newsletters.

We want to make it as easy as possible for you. I heard from a client earlier today who said, “The reduction in anxiety from having a proven model to follow is priceless.” That’s what we’re offering here. And next, we’ll tackle how to write your stories, how to design your newsletter, who to send it to, even the best way to write headlines and picture captions. Stay tuned!

Read the series:

Three Things All Direct Response Fundraisers Should Know

Direct response.

Last month I received a brilliant email from a friend.

It perfectly sums up why direct response fundraising is so hard:

“I’ve started telling people there are only three things they need to know about development.

    1. It’s the most counterintuitive thing you’ve ever done. (What people like isn’t motivational. What’s motivational, you won’t like.)
    2. The only way to know what works is A / B testing.
    3. You can spend years, and lots of $’s doing your own testing, or you can hire those who have done it and see immediate results.”

Everything you need to know to succeed in direct response fundraising is all right there.

“It’s the most counterintuitive thing you’ve ever done.”

The things most people think will work in direct response fundraising don’t work very well.

For instance, there’s the assumption that “to get a first gift from someone, that person needs to know that our organization is good at what we do.” Nope. Not true. Your organization’s effectiveness is not even in the Top 5 reasons why most new donors give a gift.

There’s another assumption that says, “we need to always tell stories of success.” Nope. Not true. You only want to do this some of the time, and less often than you think.

“The only way to know what works is A / B testing.”

The reason I can state so strongly that “your organization’s effectiveness is not in the Top 5 reasons why your new donors give” is because we’ve tested it.

We know, from direct head-to-head testing, that including content about how effective your organization is in a donor acquisition piece will reduce the number of people who respond.

You can certainly acquire donors while accentuating how effective your organization is. But you can acquire more donors if you focus your message on the things that matter more.

I was taught this as a young fundraiser in the early ‘90’s. And it’s just one of the many nuggets of wisdom available from our industry’s roughly 70 years’ worth of A / B testing. Each one of those nuggets can help you and me know how to raise the most money in a given situation.

“You can spend years, and lots of $’s doing your own testing, or you can hire those who have done it and see immediate results.”

Smart organizations are constantly looking for ways they can work less while raising more money. So they’re always looking for successes from The Fundraisers Who Have Gone Before, successes that they can apply to their organization.

Sometimes that means going to AFP seminars or spelunking on SOFII. Or purchasing the latest book from Tom Ahern, or Jeff Brooks, or Erica Waasdorp. Or hiring experts like the team at Better Fundraising.

Regardless of how you tap into all that knowledge, be sure you’re seeking out the learnings of “those who have done it” so that you can “see immediate results”!