3 Tips to Find New Major Donors


Finding new major donors can seem like impossible work. But it doesn’t have to be.

Here are three proven tips that will help you find new major donors for your organization:

Tip #1: Your future major donors are your former major donors! Look through your past giving records to identify donors that used to give to your organization, but no longer do. These lapsed donors, for one reason or another, stopped giving. But with a little bit of work, many will give a gift again.

Tip #2: Your future major donors are currently giving to your organization (they just aren’t giving at the major donor level yet). These donors tend to give smaller gifts, and more of them. However, with some direct communication and an ask for more than they typically give, you can convert some of these donors to major donors.

Tip #3: Your future major donors aren’t currently giving you a gift, but they have a heart for the work you do. The best way to meet these potential majors is to host “non-ask” events like open-houses, dinner parties, tours of your facility, etc. The more people you can introduce to your organization, the more potential major donors you’ll meet.

Pro Tip: I want to remind you to do all that you can to keep your current major donors actively giving. It costs you more money and time to find new donors than it does to keep your current donors.

The best way to keep your donors actively giving is to Thank them promptly and emotionally for their recent gift. Then Report back to them on the amazing things they did, because they gave a gift.

Thanking and Reporting are the powerful tools you can leverage to keep your current major donors giving to your organization – and loving it!

Want to know more? Get Jim’s recorded webinar and start learning how you can raise more money and steward important donor relationships during this crucial year-end fundraising season.

To help you with your major donor fundraising this year-end, we’re running a series of Jim Shapiro’s most helpful posts.

We hope it provides you with some tips and tactics that skyrocket your major donor revenue during this important fundraising season.

Things an Old Fundraiser Knows

Things an Old Fundraiser Knows

This year I completed my 25th year-end fundraising campaign.

It made me think about the lessons I’ve learned over the years communicating to donors en masse. Not the ‘one major donor who likes this’ or ‘the foundation that likes that,’ but when nonprofits are communicating to everyone on their file.

So in hopes that this is helpful, here are a handful of big-picture things that this Fundraiser has come to realize are enduring truths…

It’s harder than ever to get and keep attention

Get great at getting your donor’s attention. And keeping it. This means more drama and less process. More National Enquirer and less National Geographic. This means louder, bolder, redder, and not that fricking shade of light blue that no older donor can see or read.

Mostly it means not assuming that your donor is going to read anything you send them, let alone the whole thing.

You have to earn their attention, my friend.

The way your organization does its work is rarely important

And I mean rarely.

Most organizations, most of the time, should be talking about the outcomes their work creates. They should not be talking about how the organization creates those outcomes.

So if you find yourself talking about your process, the names of your programs, the features of your programs … rethink what you’re talking to donors about.

The best-performing fundraising is usually about something the donor cares about, at the level at which they understand it, and about what their gift will do about it.

This is a hard truth. It saddens me to say that most small nonprofits never embrace this, and they stay small because of it.

Most small nonprofits have ‘untapped giving’ of 15% to 25% of their total revenue

This is based on applying best practices to a LOT of smaller nonprofits. They simply have a lot of donors who would like to give more money if they are Asked well and then cultivated correctly.

It’s a thrill to get to work with those organizations because the increase is real and immediate.

Most of the barriers to raising more money are self-imposed

The things that are holding back small- to medium-sized nonprofits are almost always fear-based barriers:

  • “We can’t talk to our donors more, we’ll wear them out”
  • “We have to share everything that we do, and that we are good at it”
  • “We can’t be so forward, we need to engage our donors/potential donors more before…”

If you’re willing to do things differently, an experienced fundraiser can help you start raising more money immediately.

Successful fundraising is a knowledge issue, not a talent issue

One of the biggest joys of my life is watching fundraisers become Fundraisers. And it almost always happens when they internalize an idea – like the ones I mention above – rather than learning a new tactic.

Donor generosity is amazing

Donors continue to surprise me, even after 25 years. Their generosity is astounding. They want to make the world a better place. They are looking for opportunities to do so.

And we get to tap into that. For a living.

Fundraisers have the best job in the world.

Please Don’t Make These Two Assumptions

Don't make assumptions.

There are two assumptions that many fundraisers make about their mass donor fundraising. The assumptions reduce how much money they raise and hurt their organizations.

If you stop making these assumptions – you’ll start raising more money right away.

Bad Assumption #1: I’m going to love our fundraising.

When most people start working for a nonprofit, they assume that they’re going to love the fundraising done by that organization. They assume their fundraising is going to make them feel good.

Is that true for you?

Because here’s the thing: some of it should make you feel good. But not all of it.

For instance, your appeal letters and e-appeals should not make you feel good. They should be about the problem that your organization was started to solve. And nobody feels good about that problem. Nobody likes talking about it.

But talking about it – sharing that problem with donors – is what helps your donors remember that the problem is happening and gives you the opportunity to show them how their gift makes a difference.

Newsletters, on the other hand, should make you feel great! Any sort of Reporting – where you’re sharing with donors the powerful changes their gifts helped make – should make you and your organization feel great.

But not your appeals. The only thing that makes most savvy fundraisers feel great about their appeals is that they like sharing with donors a way that the donor’s gift today can make a real difference.

So check your assumption. If you’re creating or judging your fundraising based on an assumption that you’re supposed to like your fundraising, you probably have some re-thinking to do.

Bad Assumption #2: We’ll get to share good news all the time!

This is the second assumption, in my experience, that most people in nonprofits make.

They assume that their fundraising will be full of good news all the time.

They know they have to ask for money – which can feel icky – but they expect to do so by sharing stories of success. So it won’t feel that bad.

This assumption is mostly played out in appeals, e-appeals, and events. It’s assumed that the nonprofit will share stories of success.

But in our testing – and we’re not the only people who have tested this, by a long shot – when stories of success are shared in appeals, e-appeals, and events – less money is raised.

By assuming that good news will always be shared, and that stories of success will be the only type of story that a nonprofit tells – a LOT less money is raised.

Are You Making These Assumptions?

If you are, realizing that you’re making assumptions is a great place to start.

Then, I’d recommend our eBooks on Storytelling and on Asking.

Because if you can take assumptions out of your fundraising – and instead make your content and storytelling decisions based on performance data – you’ll start raising more money right away!

10 Great Questions to Help You Collect Better Stories


As I wrote in my last post, Make Your Story a Memorable One, storytelling in your fundraising can be very effective. A good story will help to support your fundraising offer and connect your donor to what your nonprofit does.

There’s good reason for this, too. Telling stories is what humans do best. Ever since we were drawing pictures onto the side of rocks, storytelling has been our go-to form of communication. With a good story, we’re able to share our passions, our hardships, and our joys. It’s often the best way to explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we persuade others.

For us fundraisers, a good story is vital to engaging our donors. A moving story, if told simply and well, will invoke emotion and motivate her to give. But putting a story together is not always easy. Especially when you’re dealing with beneficiaries who may be embarrassed, shy, or reluctant to share about the difficulties they’ve faced.

So how can you collect the information you need to tell a compelling story in your fundraising communications?

To collect a good fundraising story (including emotional quotes that you can use to help the donor feel something) you need to first see several sides of the beneficiary. And one great way to do that is to interview a beneficiary in person, over the phone, or via email.

But it’s not just a matter of asking them to “tell their story.” You need to ask specific questions that are worded and framed correctly. Do this, and you will get the responses you need.

To help you get started, here are 10 interview questions I’ve used to get great responses from beneficiaries. If you end up using any of these questions, make sure that you adjust the wording to suit your cause and your nonprofit.

  • Tell me your first memory of (what your nonprofit prevents or supports)?
  • What did you find most challenging about (the cause)?
  • What was the best/worst thing to happen?
  • What would someone be surprised to know about you?
  • Tell me how you first got involved with (your nonprofit)
  • What did you think when you first met (your nonprofit)?
  • Tell me how (your nonprofit) helped you
  • If you hadn’t met (your nonprofit) what do you think your life would be like?
  • What does your future look like now?
  • If you had the chance to say something to those who have helped you, what would it be?

You can also pepper any answers with follow up questions like, “What makes you say that? Can you give me an example? How did that make you feel?”

Stories inspire us to act. So whatever it is that your organization does for others – providing food, clothing, safe housing, safety, or spiritual support – capturing and then telling a beneficiary story can support your offer and help you raise more money.

Happy Fundraising!

Ideas to Make Your Outer Envelopes POP!


I open a lot of mail – a lot of fundraising direct mail.

Every day I’ll receive at least two appeals, along with the usual smattering of utility bills and pizza promotions.

I must have received thousands of letters over the years, but I only remember a handful. Yes, it takes something special to get my attention.

Your donor needs something special, too. From the moment she wakes up, she’s bombarded by messages, all competing for her attention. So don’t assume she’s going to open your next appeal letter.

But there are some things you can do to make your letter stand out in the mailbox. And it starts with the outer envelope.

Also called the “carrier,” the outer envelope serves two purposes – to deliver your letter, and then, to entice her to open it. But there are some simple guidelines it should follow:

  • The language on the outside, usually called the “teaser,” should be donor-focused – keep it about her, not your organization
  • Teaser language should focus on a benefit to your donor, the offer, the match, etc.
  • The teaser should steer away from being conceptual, cute, or clever, as it lowers response rates

The first impression your donor has – your outer envelope and your teaser – is the critical first step to getting a donation. But it can be a tightrope walk – go too far with a teaser or image, and your appeal will likely end up in the trash.

To avoid that result, here are some ideas I’ve used to help make outer envelopes pop:

  • Use a blank #10 outer envelope. Put your organization’s details, if you need to include them, on the reverse flap. But a blank envelope can really grab a donor’s attention.
  • Consider writing a handwritten note on your outer envelope (e.g. Your gift doubles, SEE INSIDE!)
  • Experiment with alternative envelope colors such as brown craft, canary yellow, light blue, pink, or even green
  • Try a different sized envelope such as a 6×9
  • Thicker envelope stock can help your appeal stand out in the mailbox, separating it from all the other communication she may receive
  • Use a reverse window (flipping the window and address block to the back of envelope and giving you more real-estate up front)
  • Use full-bleed, which is a wrap-around full-color envelope. But this can be expensive

A well-written and well-designed outer envelope has the power to draw a better response from your donor. And if the goal is to have your appeal stand out in a crowded and noisy mailbox, you should try some of these ideas!

3 Fundraising Writing Tips from our New Creative Director

When I first started to write fundraising appeal letters, it was really hard. I’d never written anything like it before, and I struggled to see how anyone would find the letters interesting to read, let alone respond to.

To help you become a better fundraising writer I want to share a few ideas that I learned early on. My hope is that they’ll help you become a better communicator, too.

Now, let me preface these ideas by saying that while there are oodles of tips out there for you to follow, these are the tactics that have worked for me. You need to find what works for you. But these methods helped me avoid writer’s block (yep, that’s a thing), helped me to think about the donor, and above all, removed my ego from the process.

So here are three different techniques that I’ve used to help me stay on-track and write more compelling, donor-focused appeal letters:

1. Write to Judy

I have a photo of Judy on my desk. She’s smiling at me as I write you this blog post.

Judy’s my mom. She’s religious, makes great soup, and gives to a bunch of different charities. And when I write a fundraising letter, I write to her.

Why? Because Judy is the target demographic for fundraisers. She’s older, has a higher level of disposable income, is passionate about helping others, keeps an address book in her purse, and sends grammatically perfect text messages.

I also write to Judy because it helps me to keep the letter personal. If I don’t look at Judy during the writing process, it’s easy for me to drift into writing copy that I’d want to read. Judy won’t read that.

2. Write Everything in One Sitting

One of the biggest mistakes a copywriter can make is writing the various elements of their fundraising packages at different times.

Now, there are exceptions. But it’s a good habit to write your outer envelope, reply device, receipt copy, and insert (if you have one) at the same time you write your appeal letter.

The reason I try to do this is rather simple: I get distracted. And if your nonprofit is anything like the ones I’ve worked for, then you’ll know that distractions happen all the time. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been focused on writing an appeal letter only to be told there were donuts in the kitchen.

You may not notice it, but if you separate your packages and write the components at different times, your donor will notice. I receive a lot of direct mail, and it’s a tragedy to see a compelling appeal letter hidden inside an uninspiring outer envelope.

3. Keep it simple

I often struggle to keep my own ego in check when writing.

As someone who loves to write, it’s tempting to introduce a beneficiary in an appeal letter with the same detail a novelist would use to introduce a character. But it’s an ego-filled waste of time! To avoid that trap I always write to Judy – because I need to remember my audience!

And to that end, I write my fundraising letters, emails, and every other piece of donor communication as simply as I can. I’m not submitting a college essay; instead, I’m writing a deeply personal letter from one person to another.

Someone once told me to write copy at a middle-school level. That doesn’t mean adding the word “like” before every sentence, but you should avoid using words that aren’t used in normal, everyday conversations. And please, please, please – don’t use jargon.

Instead, keep it simple and personal.

Take this example from an organization providing food for the hungry:

In our city, a lack of nutrient-rich food is causing children to become malnourished, and leaving them highly susceptible to the spread of preventable disease.

It might be true, but your donor doesn’t speak like that. Instead, be personal, and use short sentences and simple words…

Little Mary is very hungry. Her tummy is sore because she hasn’t eaten a proper meal in days. And her body is so weak she’s in danger of getting sick.

This is called writing donor-focused copy; when you do it well, it’s magic.

I’d encourage you to find what works for you… and practice it. It will make you a better writer, and your donors will love you for it.

Five Tips for the First Sentence of Your Next Appeal Letter

Appeal Letter.

The first sentence of your next appeal letter is really important.

Most readers will use it to decide whether to keep reading… or start thinking about whether to recycle or delete your message.

So yeah, it’s important. We’ve written hundreds of appeals and e-appeals over the years, and studied the results. Here are five tips to make your first sentence GREAT:

1. Short and Sweet

Your first sentence should be short and easy to understand. If your first sentence is long, complex, has lots of commas and clauses, and maybe a statistic or two, would you want to keep wading through? Remember, your reader is using it to decide whether to keep reading… or not.

2. Drama, Drama, Drama

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!

The worst example of this I ever saw was a first sentence that said, “Recently we hosted a staff leadership seminar.” Ouch.

3. What’s The Point?

One of the best first sentences is, “I’m writing to you today because…” That sentence forces you to get right to the point – which donors really appreciate. You want to know why so few donors actually read fundraising letters? It’s because they know how long it takes most nonprofits to get to the point! So if you and your organization get to the point quickly, your donor will be far more likely to read more.

4. Who Cares?

Another great tactic is to make the first sentence about the donor. Think “I know you care about Koala bears” or “You are one of our most generous donors, so I think you’ll want to know…” Listen, most of the other organizations she donates to wax poetic about totally unrelated things or about how great they are. When you write her and talk about her, she’ll love it!

5. Less is More

After you’ve written the first draft of your appeal, you can often delete your first couple of sentences or paragraphs. This happens to me all the time in my own writing, and in appeal letters that I edit for clients. In the first draft, the first couple sentences or paragraphs are often just warmup. They can be deleted and your letter will be stronger because now it gets right to the point.

So next time you’re writing, pay special attention to your first sentence. Keep it short and easy to read. Fill it with drama if you can. And when more people read your writing, more people will donate!

7 Crucial Storytelling Tips to Help You Raise More Money

I make a lot of fundraising videos.

It’s a joy when a video helps a lot of people raise more money – and that’s exactly what this video has done.

I made it with Jeff Brooks and Chris Davenport.  It’s called 7 Crucial Storytelling Tips to Improve Your Fundraising

You’ll learn Jeff’s best tip for how to start your stories, my advice on the best stories to tell in appeals, and why repetition is so important to successful fundraising.

It’s a long one – 20 minutes – but if you watch just the first couple of minutes you’ll leave with a tip that will help you raise more money the very next time you send a communication to your donors. I hope you’ll watch it and raise more money!

Good questions

Man with questions.

I get asked questions about appeals ALL THE TIME.

The questions tend to fall into three buckets:

  1. Tactical questions
  2. Right Path questions
  3. Wrong Path questions

The tactical questions are good ones. They’re a sign of people and organizations trying to figure out the best practices for fundraising in appeals and e-appeals.

These are things like, “How long should my letter be?” and “Who should sign it?” (I should mention that I answer a number of these every week during Free Review Fridays.)

Right Path Questions

There’s a set of questions that I think are signs that a Fundraiser or organization is “heading down the right path” toward creating successful appeals and e-appeals.

Another way to put this: they are questions that people are asking about the things that really matter in the success or failure of appeals.

Because working on the things that matter will help you be more successful, faster.

My hope is at least one of them sparks a conversation about your appeals that leads you to the next level.

So here are just a few questions that I love getting, because they’re a sign that an organization is moving their donor communications forward…

  • What am I actually trying to make happen with an appeal?
  • Do we want our donors to “like” our appeal?
  • What should not be in an appeal?
  • What’s my offer?
  • Does the headline on the reply device make perfect sense after reading the letter?
  • Is the letter repetitive enough?
  • How many times should I ask?
  • Should I use “I” or “we”?
  • How do I create custom gift ask amounts?
  • Who should I send this to?
  • What should and shouldn’t go on a reply card?
  • What types of teasers work best?
  • What information should be a “headline” and what should be a “copy point”?
  • What should I leave out of the letter?
  • Should I do a different version for major donors?
  • Is my first sentence super easy to read?
  • What’s the real purpose of underlining and/or bolding?
  • How long before a deadline should I mail a letter?
  • Should I send a follow-up mailing?
  • What kinds of offers work best?
  • How can I use email to increase response to my appeal letter?

Each of these questions – to me – is a good question. It shows that the organization is wrestling with an issue that will help them better connect with their donors and raise more money.

Next Post…

Then there’s a set of questions I call Wrong Path Questions. They are questions that are usually a sign of an organization that is already on its way down a path towards raising less money.

It’s like a flock of birds arguing whether they should fly East or West for the winter when, really, they should be flying South.

Stay tuned for those in my next post.