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November 2005

The transforming power of the Boomers

Don't miss this special report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy on how the coming wave of older Baby Boomers is going to transform the nonprofit world: Make Room for Boomers:

Instead of viewing older Americans exclusively as a drain on society who are going to bankrupt health-care and Social Security programs . . . they should be considered a tremendous asset that can be tapped to help solve social problems.

A hearty Donor Power Amen to that!

The report is about volunteerism -- how Boomers will impact nonprofits with their "ask what you can do for your country" social consciousness and their sheer numbers. But the same issues will apply to Boomers' giving to charity. In fact, the impact will be larger, because for every volunteer, there's a whole auditorium full of loyal financial supporters.

This is a huge opportunity for nonprofits, but also a challenge. As the article notes:

... boomers are a fussy bunch, and charities need to learn how to accommodate them. They want positions where they can make a difference, research shows, and most nonprofit groups have not figured out how to offer them those kinds of opportunities, experts say.

Their parents and grandparents gave out of their sense of duty. Their need for information and connection with the causes they supported was low. Boomers give strategically, each one marshalling her charity so it moves forward her personal world-changing mission.

The nonprofits that learn how to support the Boomers' personal missions will win -- they'll win her donations, her volunteer time, and her advocacy. The old-line organizations that think their donors remain duty-bound and disconnected will fall by the wayside.

Surprise your donors

The ever-useful Duct Tape Marketing blog remembers the old Kmart Blue Light Special in a post title What's Your Blue Light Special?

The power of the Blue Light Special was the surprise. Shoppers couldn't predict it, so it had higher value than a "normal" sale. John Jantsch urges modern businesses to harness the power of surprise:

The thing about surprises is they create word of mouth. People will go on and on about getting something extra, something they didn't expect.

How about nonprofits?

What pleasant surprises might we delight donors with?

  • A letter or phone call that's pure affirmation -- that goes into great detail about what the donor has accomplished through her giving.
  • A valuable coupon -- something from a business partner that donors would like, such as dinner at a local restaurant, or something free or discounted. If you can work a deal like this with a business, it can create lots of good will for them too.
  • Cause-related merchandise (but be careful that it not seem too "expensive" or "wasteful").
  • Invitation to an insider-only event or conference call.
  • Give her an unexpected opportunity to have her gift matched by matching funds.

Think about it. Imagine happy, valuable donors telling their friends about the pleasant experience you created.

Book review: Raising More Money with Newsletters than You Ever Thought Possible

NewsletterbookYou have to love this title: The Mercifully Brief, Real World Guide to... Raising More Money with Newsletters than You Ever Thought Possible by Tom Ahern. The book is more mercifully brief than its title. And I highly recommend it. (Available at Amazon and at Powell's Books.)

This book quickly covers a lot of ground -- everything from what donors care about, to how to write headlines to good design. If you follow the principles in this book, you will get good results -- and by results, I mean net revenue. I know that because I follow most of them, and they work.

Here are Ahern's seven fatal flaws that keep newsletter from being effective:

  1. Newsletter fails to use the word "you" often enough.
  2. Newsletter skimps on emotional triggers.
  3. Newsletter has no news.
  4. Newsletter isn't donor-centered.
  5. Newsletter isn't designed for rapid skimming and browsing.
  6. Newsletter has weak or dysfunctional headlines. (The "most deadly" of the fatal flaws.)
  7. Newsletter depends too much on statistics to make the case (not enough on anecdote.

That's just the beginning. There's a lot more in this short book. Worth your time and your money.

If you do a newsletter, get this book. If you don't do a newsletter, get this book and then start publishing a newsletter.

(Full disclosure: The Domain Group and one of our clients' newsletters are mentioned in the book.)

How to get donors to do your work for you

Do you want to see the Marketing Revolution playing out in fundraising? Visit Barb Takata's Red Kettle Page. Don't just look -- give a gift. Experience it. Feel it the way a donor would.

This is the future of fundraising.

Barb, my colleague at the Domain Group, set up this page on The Salvation Army's website. Went here to host a kettle. She's encouraging everyone she knows to give to The Salvation Army this holiday season. That's powerful, because the powerful brand of the Army gets a boost from Barb -- she lends her own credibility among her circle. It will probably get donations that would not have reached the Army any other way. And its impact on Barb? You know she'll feel good about it all season long.

This is a very simple example of how you can get more by giving your donors more -- more power, more responsibility, more connection to the cause. Wouldn't it be great if it were localized, if you could fund specific projects and needs? That's only steps away.

Happy Thanksgiving. Express your thanks by giving.

How headlines power newsletter success

The quarterly newsletter of a local nonprofit in Seattle just arrived here at Donor Power Fortress of Charity. It's a great negative example of the importance of the headline in nonprofit newsletters. (I won't reveal the name of the organization, because I think they're doing their best, and don't deserve to be embarrassed.)

  • The lead story on page one, a column by the executive director, has no headline.
  • A sidebar on page one as a very small headline: THE ISSUE
  • Story telling donors how to take advantage of a matching challenge: Take the Feinstein Challenge.
  • Story about a new program called "Three Squares": Three Squares for Kids
  • Story about a client who was helped: MUCH MORE THAN A NUMBER

There are a few more, but this gives you the picture. And these headlines are very much in the style prevailing in nonprofit newsletters today.

Here's the problem: This organization, like so many others, seems to assume that their donors will read what they have to say just because it's there. That's not the case. With your newsletter, you are in a second-by-second campaign to woo your reader's heart and mind into involvement; she doesn't owe your newsletter anything, least of all her most precious commodity, time.

Headlines are the most important tool (closely followed by photos) for drawing your reader into your stories. Your headlines should have these things:

  • Strong verbs. A headline should be a sentence, not a title or a label. In the examples above, there's only one headline that has a verb -- and it's not a strong one.
  • Drama.
  • Human relationships. Words like "mother," "son," "baby," etc.
  • Multiple elements. Kickers (above the main headline) and/or subheads (below) enrich the headline and give you more chances to draw the reader into the story.

And by all means, don't omit the headline over any block of type that you want people to read!

If you respect your donors, your working assumption should be that it's your job to entice them into involvemnt. That's how you create a Donor Power newsletter.

For the best headlines written by anyone, anywhere, take a look at The National Enquirer. They really work up a sweat to entice readers.

Down with focus groups!

The marketing world is waking up to the unpleasant truth: Focus groups are bogus.

Okay, that's a bit strong. Focus groups have their uses. But they are limited, mainly to helping copywriters find good colloquial phrases. No one should ever make major decisions based on focus group research alone. It's just not accurate enough.

See this valuable article in BusinessWeek: Shoot The Focus Group. (I'm not the only one with strong opinions about focus groups!) It describes how many who depend on market research are turning to other tools to discover what people think:

Perhaps the most common complaint about focus groups is that consumers are not honest in front of other people.

Hey -- they aren't lying. It's just that a group sitting around a table is a very different place from the privacy of one's own home. I've been at many a focus group (eating snacks and trying not to laugh out loud behind the one-way glass) where the group was shown a long-standing direct-mail control. The reaction: "I hate that! I'd never respond to that!" What you say in front of others doesn't necessarily match what you do in private.

There are some wonderful online research solutions that are not only more accurate than focus groups, but also much cheaper and much faster.

Curious about what donors think? Good. But don't find out through focus groups.

Web design mistakes can crush donor involvement

A lot of the Web is bad. Really bad. Hard to read. Hard to navigate. Hard to use. Obscure. Either too boring or too flashy to invite people in.

You'll see these things all over the web -- not just on nonprofit sites. The fallout is terrifying. Unlike a store, where a shopper has made some effort and commitment to be there and will put up with a certain amount of bad design and unpleasant experience, every website is one click away from oblivion! Annoy or confuse a donor and she's gone.

There's a very useful article in useit.com titled Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 2005. Lots of straightforward, helpful knowledge that you should put to work on your site. In short, it says:

. . . users don't care about technology and don't especially want new features. They just want quality improvements in the basics:

  • text they can read;
  • content that answers their questions;
  • navigation and search that help them find what they want;
  • short and simple forms. . . .

There's much more. Your web donors will thank you for taking this advice.

Holiday giving expected to go up

Here's some much-needed good news, assuming it's true.

Deloitte & Touche LLP's annual Holiday Mood Survey expects giving to charities this holiday season to be up. The survey looks at consumer attitudes about spending in various categories, and places donations high:

Charitable donations ranked fourth in spending categories, exceeding planned spending for holiday entertaining at home, non-gift clothing and holiday furnishings ....

This is survery research, not actual response date, so don't take it to the bank. But it might point to improvement for nonprofits that have suffered from the post-hurricane drop in giving.

If THEY build it, they will come

Kettle Foods, a potato chip maker in Salem, Oregon, recently involved customers in inventing two new flavors of potato chips. The end result: "Spicy Thai" and "Cheddar Beer" potato chips. (I promise I didn't make these up.)

Okay, there's a goofiness factor here, but the buzz, excitement, and customer involvement they got from this was astounding. Read more about it in this DM News article titled Viral Effort Yields Fine Kettle of Chips and also in this post on the Consumer Empowerment Blog.

Now imagine this: Letting donors design and fund their own programs.

Of course, this already exists. If a donor gives enough money -- say, enough to put up a building -- he gets input into the final product. But why not take it to a smaller scale?

  • An international relief and development organization might have a donor (or group of donors) adopt a Third World village, learn about its problems, and fund an appropriate mix of projects for that community.

  • A medical organization might allow donors to fund specific areas of research that interest them.

  • An orchestra might let donors directly create concert programs. (Sorry, you'll have to perform "Suite from Star Wars" -- if that's what donors want.)

Put donors in control. They're starting to get this kind of power and involvement in other areas. They'll love it when they get it from the charities they support!

Four ways to make email newsletters work

If you're interested, read my guest column on email newsletters in the Convio Connection newsletter. It's called Four Principles to Turn Email Newsletters into High-Impact Tools for Driving Donor Loyalty. Convio is an online service provider to nonprofits.

Exactly how stupid do they think people are?

The DM News Blog notes a new scam service from a company called ShredJunkMail.com that saves people the agony of throwing away unwanted direct mail. Here's how it works, according to their press release:

You simply find a cardboard box. Fill it up with junk mail. . . . Log onto shredjunkmail.com, print a shredding label and affix it to your box. FedEx will pickup the box from your doorstep and deliver it to an AAA certified shredder where it is destroyed, box and all. The shredded paper is recycled . . . and you get a certificate of destruction confirming your documents were shredded.

Price: $19.95.

I wonder if ShredJunkMail.com plans to rent their list. Certain Nigerian bankers might appreciate it.

The best day of the week to send email

Short answer: It depends.

That's according to a report from eMarketer called Picking the Best Day To Send E-Mails. (This report is available only until December 11, 2005; after that it's only available to subscribers to eMarketer's eStat Database -- which costs $5,000 for a one-year subscription.)

Overall, Sunday is the best day for open rate (30.8%) and click rate (7.2%), with Friday second best and Wednesday the worst (with an open rate of 22.8% and a click rate of 3.5%).

But there are significant differences depending on list size:

  • Lists under 5,000: The best days are Saturday and Sunday
  • Lists 5,000 to 24,999: Friday is best.
  • Lists 25,000 to 99,999: Monday and Friday.
  • Lists 100,000 and above: Monday through Wednesday.

Smaller lists tend to do better, probably because they are more tightly defined and thus more relevant. That tells you if you have a large list, segment it.

Email fundraising is still tiny compared to the postal variety. But it's growing. And we have a lot to learn.

Word-of-mouth fundraising: available now

A great piece in a recent Monday Morning Memo by Roy H. Williams: How to Buy Word of Mouth. Talking mainly about consumer-driven businesses, Williams says you can indeed "buy" word-of-mouth advertising -- the best kind there is:

Word-of-mouth is triggered when a customer experiences something far beyond what was expected. Slightly exceeding their expectations just won't do it. . . . Your word-of-mouth trigger can be architectural, kinetic, or generous.

Which of these triggers are available to nonprofits? You might say none. Or all. But I think "generous" is the one any of us can do -- if we will.

In the commercial world, it's not hard to imagine what it means to be generous: It's the unexpected upgrade, the free dessert. But what does it mean to be generous to a donor -- who, after all, is being generous to you? You don't want a donor to feel that you are "wasting" their donations on needless lagniappes. So try things like these:

  • Mailings, phone calls, or other contacts that are pure thank you and affirmation.
  • Birthday cards or calls.
  • Project reports.
  • Offers to tour facilities or project sites.

Any other ideas?

Will direct mail follow the dinosaurs into extinction?

Not according to the Post Office. An article in Direct Magazine outlines a study presented recently by USPS business specialist George McHale: "Generations X and Y Value Direct Mail.”

In short, folks are still paying a lot more attention to snail-mail than to email, even the highly wired generations born since 1964:

Overall, 95% of all American households collect, assess and sort their mail daily, while only 57% of households check e-mail weekly.

Fair enough. Email doesn't even come close to replacing postal mail in our daily lives. Yet. But consider the source. The Postal Service will be the last organization to trumpet the rising power and relevance of email.

For years, we've watched direct mail get squeezed between rising production and postage costs and increasing competition. If postal mail were to lose its relevance in people's lives, that would be the death-knell of direct mail as a fundraising medium.

That's not happening. But it could in coming years. Improving technology (crash-proof computers, ubiquitous wi-fi, things like that) and users who trust and enjoy the medium could meaningfully shift people away from the mailbox.

This won't happen all at once, and it won't be a complete shift. Just as TV didn't replace radio and the telephone didn't supplant the personal letter, email will most likely add to people's options, not replace them.

Don't be too quick to give up on direct mail. But don't put off learning to use online communications -- it'll be very important, probably sooner than you think!

Nonprofit technology: maybe broke, but fixable

It's easy to laugh at nonprofit ineptitude in technology (see this post from two days ago). It's a lot harder to do something about it.

Here's some good thinking from the Technology for the Nonprofit and Philanthropic Sector blog titled Ten Things (Just Ten!) That Every Nonprofit Executive Needs to Know About Information Technology.

Here are the things I found especially trenchant:

4. You can keep an eye on innovations in IT, and think about possible uses for them in the nonprofit sector, even if you don't have a technical background.

5. Information technology, no matter how strategically you apply it, will probably never save your nonprofit organization any money.

7. Secretaries and administrative assistants should be the lynchpins of your IT infrastructure.

9. Donated hardware, software, and services can cost a nonprofit more than purchased products or services in the long run.

10. In a nonprofit organization, most strategic IT problems are actually organizational development problems.

Give it a read.

How to shock donors

I can't decide whether to cringe or to laugh. Or to congratulate them.

UNICEF Belgium has a campaign that shows Smurfs suffering from war. (Story here.)

The idea is to break through the clutter and get donors' attention in a new way, acknowledging that the traditional images of child war victims no longer capture attention like they used to. Says a spokesperson: "We've learned over the years that the reaction to the more normal type of campaign is very limited."

Give them an A for effort: It's original. It's an attempt to solve a perennial and serious fundraising problem. But seriously -- can you look at this and not snicker? Is there an adult in the Western World who would not react with something like, "Cool. Now can they napalm Barney or bunker-bomb Sponge-Bob?"

Here's another UNICEF ad, this one in German:

The text says, "More than 100 million children live on streets. And eat off it."

Again, clever. Edgy. The kind of work that wins awards in ad shows. But what does it have to do with the real world donors live in? Almost nothing.

The Donor Power approach would recognize where donors really are. Not waiting to be shocked into action, but hoping to make a difference in the world. Dead cartoon characters make a point. But they seem to miss the donor.

The nonprofit version of Google

How Google might look, if it were run the way many nonprofits operate today.

Are you sharing purpose with your donors?

Ageless Marketing, a blog that covers marketing to older people, is looking at basic human behavior. This recent post looks at the role of Purpose (or "P-Values") as opposed to individual and relationship values:

Purpose or P-Values drive behavior and motivations that give people a feeling that their life is worthwhile. A sense of purpose focuses our energies. . . . Purpose is a primal need that is essential to life.

Few marketers give customers’ P-Values much thought. The one exception is marketers for nonprofit organizations. They connect with people’s P-Values altruistic side.

I'll buy that. Nonprofits automatically appeal to donors' Purpose Values. The very fact that they ask for money and give nothing in return show that a donation is a transaction taking place at a higher level than most.

But most nonprofits stop there. They just don't give donors their "money's worth" of Purpose. The "churn-and-burn" method of fundraising that many of the largest nonprofits still use undercuts the Purpose that's inherent in their missions:

  • They rely on low-information, extremely general appeals.
  • Their fundraising offers are broad, raising funds for the organization's mission in general, not for specific actions.
  • They often focus on unrelated premiums, rather than their cause.
  • They're weak on reporting back to donors what their gifts accomplish. (Since funds are undesignated, the story is pretty uncompelling anyway.)

With this kind of fundraising, you count on your donors' innate sense of Purpose, but you add little to
the relationship.

To do more to share Purpose with donors -- and reap the benefits of their increased loyalty and involvement -- do things like these:

  • Go to them with real, compelling, specific, urgent needs.
  • Allow them to specifically fund those needs.
  • Once they give, thank them elaborately, gratefully -- and promptly.
  • Report back to them on how their gift is making a difference.
  • Give them chances for involvement beyond giving -- even if not many take you up on it, it's the asking that counts.

These are the ways to enhance the Purpose you share with donors. New donors -- the Boomer generation that's now entering donor age -- will insist on it.

Are we just making up stories?

Over on the commercial side of the marketing revolution (Donor Power, of course, is the nonprofit side of the revolution), they often say it's more important to make your product better than to make your ads better. Here's part of that conversation at the Brand Autopsy blog: What You Do vs. What You Did. The distinction here is between "telling the story" and "making up a story":

TELLING THE STORY is about designing marketing communications to deliver on the promise all the while being clever, savvy, authentic, and true to the brand....

Making Up a Story is when marketers engage in outrageously gimmicky attention-grabbing antics that over-promise and woefully under-deliver....

How much of fundraising is just fancy packaging of programs that wouldn't interest donors if they really understood it?

How much of our energy is put toward obscuring the fact that our programs are just like everyone else's?

Are there any legitimate nonprofits that launch programs with donor interest in mind?

Tough questions. Who's ready to answer them?

The more they give, the more they love you

I know professional fundraisers whose mental picture of donor goes like this: Donors give to us with tight fists and gritted teeth. Every time we ask donors to give, we withdraw from a limited pool of good will -- and every time they give, an even bigger withdrawal happens. Nonprofits subsist on a tragic irony: While they seek to do good in the world, they rely on fundraising -- which is a bad thing.

That's balderdash. Self-destructive balderdash.

Donors love to give. They love the organizations that create outlets for their generosity. The more they give, the more they're likely to give. (In fact, the top indicator of likeliness to give is recency of the previous gift!) They like being asked, and they like even more saying yes.

Furthermore, giving can lead to other forms of involvement: Volunteering, advocacy. And vice-versa.

It's called the Ben Franklin Effect. Because Franklin once said: He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than whom you yourself have obliged."

Seth Godin noted this in a recent post where he commented on a Yale alumnus who wondered why his multi-billion-endowed alma mater bothered to solicit from him:

. . . Yale wants Ben Stein's money so that Ben will be inclined to do the things that Yale really wants: send over great students, hire graduates, talk up the school and maintain its place in the pantheon of liberal arts colleges. And donors are far more likely to do that than disconnected alum.

That's the rich, wonderful ground you're on as a fundraiser: Giving begets love. Every time a donor gives, they grow more bonded to your organization. More likely to give again, more likely to give larger amounts. More likely to tell her friends about you. More likely to answer other calls to action.

Reality is directly opposed to the belief that donors are a non-renewable, zero-sum resource and that fundraising is a necessary evil.

(Read more about the Ben Franklin Effect here.)

A lot of the world of commerce is win/lose. One side gains at the expense of the other. Not fundraising. The only losers here (other than frauds) are those who don't join the circle, who hold back out of fear, who fail to see how much donors love what we do together.

Give your donors titles!

Here's a nice direct mail piece I recently received:


They've given me a title! Friend of Sacred Heart Southern Missions. Sure, they're just stating the obvious. But it's also the extraordinary truth: I've signalled with my wallet that I'm a friend of this organization, and they've put a name to it. A simple but effective way to recognize donors.

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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