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October 2005

Tear down your website barriers

What's the #1 error nonprofit websites make?


Site after site has built barriers that block donors from giving. Some even block donors from getting information. They do this by making people register before getting where they're trying to go. What are they trying to protect?

Herschell Gordon Lewis, everybody's favorite direct-marketing curmudgeon, recently railed against this in Direct magazine in an article titled, It Ain't Easy to Breathe Easy. He concludes:

As painful as it may be, welcome visitors as though you're actually glad you lured them to your site. The most wonderful of all consequences can result: You'll actually get an order.

People use the web because it's easy. Anything you do that makes it less easy is costing you eyeballs and revenue. Every day, the internet is becoming a more important medium for donor relationship-building and fundraising. Now is the time to start getting the details right!

Your purpose, the way donors experience it

Good post over at Duct Tape Marketing on how every company should have a Marketing Purpose Statement:

The purpose statement is not meant to ever be directly communicated to your clients, but it is meant to be the basis for all of your marketing and customer service activity. . . . This is how you want to be perceived, in plain English, not in polished marketing rhetoric.

A good example might be, "We're Crestwood Custom Home Remodelers and we want to be known as the no-mess, no-trash, we'll-make-your-neighbors-happy contractor."

Pretty cool, huh? Now imagine a Fundraising Purpose Statement -- something that describes how you want to make donors feel. What would it be like?

  • "We want to be known as the charity you're proud to give to."
  • "We want to be known as the cause that's fun to be involved in."
  • "We want to be known as the charity you involve your kids with."

Notice that with each of these statements (as with the home remodelers example) it's not about the organization. It's about the donors. Imagine the great ideas and powerful fundraising that would flow from an organization that thinks that way. Most of the nonprofit world is tangled in thick webs of their own greatness and distinctives -- which they believe will capture donors' hearts and loyalty. Well, self-focus doesn't help you in personal relationships, it doesn't work in the commercial world, and it doesn't work in fundraising.

I challenge you to see if you can do it: write a Fundraising Purpose Statement. Pull it off and live by it (assuming it's something attractive to enough donors), and you'll be rewarded.

Boomers are already out-giving their parents

If you've been running around saying "the Boomers are coming! The Boomers are coming!" -- it's time to change your tune.

The Boomers are here.

A recent study by the DonorTrends Project looks at adult Americans by age, and shows some of the important differences between Boomers (those born 1946-64) and those older and younger. PDF of the exucutive summary available here (registration required).

The top-line findings you should think most about:

  • Per person, on average, Boomers already give more than the preceeding generation (they gave $1,361 in the previous 12 months, while those in the older generation gave $1,138).

  • Boomers plan to give even more -- 33% say they'll give more in five years than they do now.

  • 40% say they plan to leave money to charities in their wills.

That shows a bright future for fundraisers. The Boomers, just turning 60 now, are already surpassing their elders in giving. And there are going to be many more of them in the coming years.

Go out there and get them!

Neo-marketing: First Cousin of Donor Power

A recent post at Creating Passionate Users (a software-oriented blog), takes an interesting look at the difference between mass marketing as it's practiced today and "neo-marketing" -- a different, customer-centered way.

This neo-marketing sounds a lot like Donor-Powered fundraising. It says that everything is about the customer, not the company, and the marketing is not a specialized silo at the organization, but something everyone does -- even the customers.

Here (with a few things removed for the sake of brevity) is their comparison. You can see the whole thing, along with additional commentary, here.

Old-school marketing


marketers/advertisers do it

everyone does it

focused on how the company kicks ass

focused on how the user kicks ass

marketers have the power

users have the power



tightly-controlled "brand message"

brand hijacked by users

one-way broadcast

two-way conversation

company-created content

user-created content


personalized, custom-tailored

focus groups

user feedback & contributions

development often independent from marketing

impossible to separate development and marketing

focus on branding

focus on passionate users

get the customer to believe in it

YOU believe in it

This is right on the mark. And it doesn't take a whole lot to see how these concepts might translate into the nonprofit world:

Old-school fundraising

Donor-Powered fundraising

development department does it

everyone does it

focused on how the charity makes the world a better place

focused on how the donor makes the world a better place

the charity sets the agenda

donors are in control

tightly-controlled "brand message"

donors shape the brand

constant stream of appeals for funds from the charity

two-way conversation between the charity and the donor

one-size-fits-all mass mailings

personalized, custom-tailored programs based on donor preferences and behavior

focus groups

every donor is a "focus group of one"

program often independent from fundraising (and mutually distrustful)

impossible to separate program from fundraising

focus on "our message and brand"

focus on donor needs and aspirations



donors give out of guilt, obligation, and duty

donors give because they believe in changing in the world

quantity of donors

quality of donors

charity leaders decide what will hear about

charity is an open book; donors learn about what interests them

charities raise general funds and allocate according to their own needs and judgment

donors fund projects and areas of their own choosing

That's a different kind of nonprofit, isn't it? Just as with the customer-driven neo-marketing companies above, it will require major cultural and policy shifts for most organizations to become Donor Powered.

But the new donor -- the Boomer Generation donor who has changed every business and cultural sector she's touched -- is going to make Donor Power the price of admission for nonprofits. We'd better get to work now.

How you create a brand: Starbucks method

Starbucks has the brand everyone admires. In a post titled Building the Business Creates the Brand, the Brand Autopsy blog looks at how Starbucks did it. In short, they didn't create a brand; they built a business, and that formed the brand:

Starbucks teaches us that rarely, if ever, can you sprinkle magical branding dust to create an endearing and enduring brand.

But that doesn't stop companies from trying. Instead of spending money to improve the functionality of a product, the quality of services offered, or enhancing the customer's experience, many companies will attempt to build a brand by throwing money into multi-million dollar mass advertising brand image campaigns.

What does this mean to nonprofits? It means save your money on the fancy-pants branding consultants; just work at giving your donor a great experience and a deep connection with what you do. Then you'll have the great brand that attracts, excites, and motivates donors. It doesn't start with a platform and graphics standards. It starts with what you do for donors.

The Most Important Word in Fundraising

Here's a challenge thrown out in the Hello My Name Is Blog: What is the most important word in marketing? Here are some of the answers:

  • You
  • Why
  • Commitment
  • New
  • Free
  • Respect
  • Authenticity
  • Whoa
  • Passion

Here's a hodge-podge of words you should use in marketing, words that should inform your marketing, and words that should describe your marketing. Even so, that's a good list.

What's the most important word in fundraising? Here are my suggestions:

  • You
  • Love
  • Passion

Any other suggestions?

Did Katrina flatten your organization?

The Hurricane Katrina disaster was a massive fundraising event.  It motivated US donors to give to charity even more (in the short term, at least) than the Indian Ocean Tsunami or 9-11.  That's the silver lining to the hurricane cloud.  But there's another downside:

If you are a nonprofit not involved with hurricane relief, you can expect a dip in giving.  You likely already have.  This drop is probably much more pronounced in prospecting/acquisition than it is in donor cultivation.  Fortunately, giving should rebound to normal within a few weeks.  Not catastrophic.

For some organizations, my scenario might sound mighty rosy. That's because I'm working with one assumption:  You have a strong, clear, relevant, donor-centered message, and you stick to it.  If you don't, you are subject to outside forces like a rudderless ship.  A big disaster can totally distract your donors for a long time.

If you keep on message and focus on your donors, Katrina shouldn't be a big problem for you.  Your cause, while momentarily less compelling than the emergency of the moment, ultimately stays important to your donors.

People Magazine: a great source of marketing research

Nice post titled My Dirty Little Marketing Research Secret on the Duct Tape Marketing blog. One of his favorite market research tools is People Magazine. It's a treasure trove of things people are interested in -- things many professional marketers don't care much about:

A tough thing for some small business owners to swallow is that it doesn't really matter what you like or dislike, what matters is what your target market likes or dislikes.

A lot of fundraisers have this problem too. They shape their messages for themselves, not their donors. They think their messaging should flow from their own hard-won education and sophistication -- not the real level most people live at most of the time.

Hey -- I have season tickets to the opera, listen to NPR, eat phad thai, read poetry, have two master's degrees, and hate no-talent pop celebrities ... but if I make my taste the basis of my marketing messages, I'm just a fool and a snob.

Most Americans are not embarrassed to read about Paris Hilton's underwear and similar topics in People Magazine or the National Enquirer (my favorite source of marketing research). Even those of us who come down from our Olympian heights of culture to experience this stuff feel its pull. It's fun to read!

So get Donor Powered -- read what your donors read. It's worth every minute you spend on it.

The Donor Newsletter of the Future?

Premise: Donor-centered newsletters are among the best things a nonprofit can produce: Donors want 'em, and donors respond to 'em. If you seek the rewards of engaged, active, empowered donors, do a donor-centered newsletter!

Premise: E-newsletters don't work. I can almost say that categorically -- they get low open rates, miserable click-through rates, and pitiful response, almost all the time. (By e-newsletter, I mean communication pieces very much like print newsletters, but sent by email.)

Conclusion: With a day coming when many donors are using the Web as a primary giving medium, we really need to figure out how to do newsletters on the internet -- or we'll be up a certain creek, in a cement canoe, looking around for a paddle.

This is not just an empty syllogism. It's a tough, important issue that's going to get more important soon. Good news is, here at the Domain Group, we've been testing all kinds of new approaches, and we're finding some promising new ways to do newsletters online. Have any ideas? Let me know.

They're asking similar questions in the commercial world. Here's something from a very useful blog called Chris Baggott's Email Best Practices. He brings up the idea of many different individuals within an organization emailing relevant material to constituents:

How should I get my news from your company or organization?

  • Batched from an institution once a month?
  • As it happens and from the person I have a relationship with in your organization?
    1. The great thing about email technology is that you don't have to choose. With easy data integration and dynamic content, anyone can now accomplish both. Determine who to assign the relationship to for everyone in your database, set categories or news that are relevant to each subscriber and step away.

      Full post here.

      Can you imagine a system like that? It's very different from what we're used to in the print-centric world. But imagine the power and relationship building potential!

      There are many ways to solve this puzzle.

      Seth is a New Donor!

      In his blog today, author and marketing guy Seth Godin excitedly tells us how the proceeds from the sales of his latest book are being used to build a school in an impoverished community in Nepal. Pictures and all.

      He's just like the New Donor, the activist Boomer-generation, conscious, change-the-world donor we talk about here at the Donor Power Fortress of Charity: Empowered, informed, generous, and an advocate. What a catch he is for the nonprofits he's chosen to support. Not only do they get his gifts, but they benefit from his credibility ("Seth Godin thinks this is a worthwhile organization -- it must be pretty good!")

      This is a picture of the future of fundraising. Donors choosing causes willing to inform them. Writing about it in their blogs (most of them not celebrities, but all of them with a certain circle of influence).

      Get ready. The old fundraising style -- general, unrestricted, "trust me; I know what to do with your money" -- is not going to reach donors like Seth!

      Word of mouth in the nonprofit world

      Word of mouth -- WOM, for insiders -- is the cheapest and most effective fundraising medium there is. The commercial world is starting to catch on to the power of word of mouth, and one place you can follow a fascinating conversation about it is at the Word of Mouth vs. Advertising Blog.

      A recent post there asks "Are you WOM worthy?" and proposes four things any company, product, or service must do for its customers to get WOM working in its favor: fascinate, inspire, reward, and engage.

      If word of mouth is critical for selling stuff, it's even more important for nonprofits. All we give in return for our customers' money is a receipt -- and a lot of intangibles. That's where Donor Power comes in.

      So let me try to apply these four great concepts to the donor-charity relationship:


      Tell great stories. Show powerful images. Make your communications connect to your donors' hearts, minds -- and guts. You owe it to them, and in today's rich media environment, you hardly stand a chance to hold their attention or influence their behavior if you don't fascinate.


      Show your donors how they're making the world a better place through their involvement. Remind them at every chance. Connect them with the community they belong to. They hunger for that, and you can give it to them.


      Thank them. Early and often. Thank them in unexpected ways. Bowl them over with your gratitude. At the very least, send them a receipt that specifically and emotionally thanks them for what they've done. (And, to return to a frequent Donor Power Blog rant topic, send out that receipt promptly. Within 24 hours.)


      Get them involved. Signing a check is just one way for them to be part of your cause. Your donors love you. They want involvement and connection. Ask them for advice. Give them opportunities to advocate for you or your issues. Invite them to visit you. Ask them to volunteer.

      Nonprofit guarantee: I dare ya!

      Boomers have grown up with money-back guarantees. They're everywhere, and they're increasingly gutsy. But it hasn't hit fundraising.

      Read this post in Duct Tape Marketing titled "What If Your Guarantee Was Astonishing?"

      He defines an astonishing guarantee as "one that makes you nervous -- and that's the point .... a guarantee that nobody in your industry would even consider..." -- a paradigm-busting move that changes the ground rules.

      In the nonprofit world, an astonishing guarantee would be the old-fashioned, straightforward money-back guarantee.

      Imagine telling your donors this:

      If at any time you are not satisfied that your gift is making a difference, contact us and we will refund it in full for you to use as you see fit.

      Think about it. You already have this guarantee. If a donor called you and said she had second thoughts about her donation and would like it refunded, you'd comply with her wishes. Right? (I sure hope so!)

      Who will be the first nonprofit to make this astonishing guarantee? If someone is already doing it, let me know -- you deserve a Donor Power medal!

      Who signs the letter?

      The other day, I got a letter from Gerard Schwarz, the Music Director of the Seattle Symphony.

      "Oh good," I think. "A letter from the Maestro."

      Now I know they'll be asking me for money, but I don't mind, because I love the symphony, I'm proud to support it, and I really like Gerard Schwarz. Such a handsome, personable man. And a wonderful conductor.

      So I open the envelope, pull out the letter, and turn it over to look at the signature. (I always do this.)

      And where was Mr. Schwarz' signature? No where!

      The letter was from Paul Meecham, Executive Director and Symphony donor!

      I don't have anything against Mr. Meecham. I'm sure he's a nice man and very talented. But I go to the Symphony to see Mr. Schwarz. And I'd pay attention to him, just like I do in the concert hall.

      Mr. Meecham, if you read this, don't feel bad. I'll probably be writing you a check anyway. But I sure would like to hear from Mr. Schwarz!

      You say "Balkanization," I say Donor Power?

      Five years from now, everything will be the way it is now ... but different. Anyway, that's what the experts say in a recent NonProfit Times feature that looks at the nonprofit sector in 2010.

      Among the pontificating is a section about online giving by consultant Rick Christ. He makes some interesting and noteworthy assertions, among them this:

      In general, donor loyalty will be strained by more choices (the Balkanization of nonprofits is astounding), by the decreasing attention span of younger donors, and the passing of the largest part of the WWII generation (the youngest GI’s at the end of WWII will be 85 in 2010). Nonprofits will have to be much more nimble than they are now.

      At the risk of being a bit talmudic, here are three comments on that paragraph:

      • "Balkanization" could be just an unpleasant epithet for Donor Power -- if it means focused, donor-centric fundraising offers that give power and choice to donors and organizations building themselves around donor needs.

      • Remember, "younger donors" won't be as young tomorrow. The march of the generations is a moving parade, and as one generation marches out of sight, another comes in. The passing WWII generation will be replaced (more than replaced in numbers) by the Baby Boom generation.

      • Decreasing attention span is partly a function of age: younger people tend to give things in general less attention. It's also cultural, and the media-engulfed Boomer generation probably will mature into old age with shorter attention spans than their parents. This will no doubt impact fundraising tactics.

      See the full Nonprofit Times 2010 special report here.

      What is this blog all about?

      If you're serious about raising money from donors, you need to get serious about donors. More than ever before, donors are insisting that you share power with them, not treating them like passive ATMs. This blog is about the ways you can do that -- and the rewards that await you and your donors when you do.

      About the Blogger

      DonorPower Blog is penned by Merkle's Power Blogging Team, led by Greg Fox, our senior vice president of strategy. Working with Greg is a police line-up of guest "artists", fundraising pros all, who like to pose as blogatorialists when the sun goes down. You can reach this blog, and any of our regular contributors, at
      donorpowerblog [at] merkleinc [dot] com. See this blog's policies.

      A great partner for the nonprofit that wants to get donor-powered and grow revenue like crazy!
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