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March 2006

Donor Power alert! Donors control giving at Kiva.com

Here's a very exciting look at the coming Donor-Powered future of fundraising: Run, don't walk, to Kiva, an organization that lets donors help specific people in developing countries build and grow self-sustaining family businesses (that's microenterprise in the professional jargon). Here's how they explain it on the website:

Kiva finds outstanding entrepreneurs who need loan funding . . . and once approved, post each business' profile on our website. This is where you come in. You can choose to loan money online . . . in increments as low as $25 toward the loan needs of a business. With your participation, Kiva gives entrepreneurs access to the capital they need to lift themselves out of poverty. . . . Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive monthly email updates that let you know about the progress being made by the small business you've sponsored.

And you can really do it! There's a list of actual people and their businesses that need capital. You choose the one(s) that interest you, then give them money. When the entreprenuer you've helped pays back her loan, you can get your money back, lend it to new businesses (of your choice), or donate it to Kiva.

This is Donor Power!

Organizations like Kiva -- or existing ones that manage to make similar leaps -- will rise up and swallow the lumbering dinosaurs that can't offer their donors this level of choice and control.

Seriously -- go make a loan at Kiva. Then think how you might bring these principles into your organization.

There's an organization with a similar offer called nabuur.com. The difference is this one allows you to offer volunteer time and expertise to help solve specific problems around the world. I found it a bit obtuse. Still, it's really distributing power, and that can only lead to good things.

If you know of other Kiva-like nonprofits that are radically empowering donors, tell me about them! Especially if they're in sectors other than international development.

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U.S. Census has great news for fundraisers

Here in the Donor Power Fortress of Charity, we're still cleaning up the mess after our huge celebration of Donor Power Day: January 1, 2006 -- when the first Boomers turned 60, ushering in the Age of the Empowered Donor.

But we just had to stop recycling champagne bottles to read this Washington Post about older Americans: Census Foresees an Older, and Wiser, America:

The U.S. population age 65 and older will double in 25 years, and the new elders will be healthier, wealthier and more highly educated than previous generations, redefining what it means to be older in America, a Census Bureau report issued yesterday shows.

That is a bundle of good news for fundraisers, so I'll unpack it:

  • More older Americans. The majority of donors is always older people. They're the ones with the time, disposable income, and wisdom to be donors. Fundraisers are going to see a growing universe of potential donors in the coming years.
  • Healthier. They'll live longer. And give longer.
  • Wealthier. They'll be able to give more. Both donations and -- eventually -- bequests.
  • More educated. Better educated people are better donors -- they give larger amounts and stay around longer.

Fundraisers have some great years ahead of us. If there's any bad news in all this, it's only for those who are unable to adjust to the needs of this new generation of donors -- the old line organizations that won't or can't empower their donors. But they don't read the Donor Power Blog, so we can't warn them!

You can download the entire Census report (PDF) here.

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Just don't call it blogging

Wondering if you should launch a blog? Here's some great advice from John Jantsch at the Duct Tape Marketing blog: I'm Just Going To Stop Using The "B" Word. His main point: When he says "blog," people in marketing shut down their brains. They don't want to hear about such flaky tactics. So he's vowed not to use the word blog, but to recommend on online strategy that:

  • Will bring you a substantial increase in search engine traffic.
  • Will greatly enhance your ability to communicate with your market.
  • Will increase your odds of being interviewed by the media.
  • Will allow you (or someone you designate) to instantly post news updates to your web site.
  • Will guarantee that your web site has fresh reasons for people to come back.
  • Will allow you to be seen as a thought leader in your industry.

Yes, a blog can do those things. If it's good. But if you want to get it past the gate-keepers, don't call it a blog.

I posted recently on why (and why not) a nonprofit should blog here: Should your nonprofit blog?. And here's another from Have Fun • Do Good blog called 10 Ways Nonprofits Can Use Blogs.

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Snakes on a plane! Customers want involvement!


I hope you're not hearing it here first, but there's a movie coming out next summer called Snakes on a Plane. This is not a weird joke cooked up in the Donor Power Fortress of Charity. You can read more about it on Wikipedia.

Snakes on a Plane is pretty much what it sounds like: A really terrible Hollywood movie. Other than it starts Samuel L. Jackson, the title tells you everything else you might want to know. But here's the difference: Snakes on a Plane is a massively consumer-driven movie. It has become one of those inexplicable internet phenomena, and as fan voices have about the movie have grown, the producers are listening:

  • More than once, the producers have tried to change the title to something less goofy. No way, say the fans. So they've changed it back.
  • Even though filming finished last year, they recently re-shot more footage to bring it more in line with fan expectations -- mainly to move the rating from a PG-13 to an R.
  • One fan-made parody trailer has Jackson delivering the insanely stupid line: "I want these mBLEEPing snakes off the mBLEEPing plane!" This line so obviously belongs in the film, it will be there.
  • There's a song contest. The winning song will appear in the film.

Do you see what these folks are doing? They're letting their customers build their movie! They've swallowed their pride (assuming they had any in the first place) and are letting their movie be the gloriously bad experience it was going to be anyway -- but now it'll be bad in a very special way that their customers want to be. In other words, good. By letting go of control, they went from a bad, forgettable film, to something entirely different.

Could you be as brave and self-effacing as the producers of Snakes on a Plane? Could you give up control to donors -- and let them take you where they want you to go? That doesn't mean taking something bad and making it worse (like Snakes on a Plane); it means taking the good work you do and making it better for donors.

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Disturbing memo for fundraisers

In his Word-of-Mouth Marketing Blog, George Silverman asked companies some hard "what-if" questions: Disturbing memo to marketers. His point: "The customer is truly in charge." Customers are interacting with companies in new ways that present both a threat an and opportunity -- depending on how it's handled. Here are his questions, which I've paraphrased for the nonprofit sector:

  • What if your donors knew more about your work -- or, at least, the most important things about it -- than you do?
  • What if your services were defined by your donors and not you?
  • What if your donors were in control of the logistics of fundraising: what if they determined how they would give, when, how frequently, to what, etc.?
  • What if donors determined the marketing, the messages, the communications, what is said about your organization?
  • What if your donors -- not your development people -- actually did your fundraising?
  • What if your donors knew your organizational secrets: yours, revenue, methods, finances, etc., or with easily accessible guidance could estimate them with a high degree of accuracy?
  • What if your donors knew -- if they wanted to -- who works for you and their beliefs, interests and quirks?
  • If there were problem with your organization, what if your donors found out about it in hours, even before you did?
  • What if your insiders could publicly post insider secrets, gossip, etc. about your organization?
  • What if donor complaints didn’t just go to your donor relations department, but were broadcast to all of your present and potential donors?
  • What if your donors, instead of your PR, determined your reputation?
  • What if your donors determined brand loyalty -- indeed, the identity and value of your brand?
  • What if a few cranky donors could kill your fundraising by badmouthing it?
  • What if you couldn’t control who raised funds for you?
  • What if your donors made their own ads and other marketing, and they got more exposure than those of your ad agencies?
  • What if your organization were an open book for all of your donors to look into?

George's point: If these things are not already happening, they will be! Perhaps soon.

The new generation of donors -- empowered by the Internet -- is going to seize control in a way never before dreamed. The corporate world is already starting to experience this. Some, like Dell, are suffering terribly. Others, like Apple, are reaping the benefits.

Which side will your nonprofit organization fall on? It's up to you. How will you listen to, respect, and serve your donors?

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Don't drop that pen!

Why do signers of direct mail seem to have so much trouble keeping their pens in their hands? Or rather, why does it look that way so often in direct mail pieces?

Check out this letter ending from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee:


It looks like Senator Clinton signed her name, then dropped her pen, picked up a new lighter-weight pen to write her P.S. Not only that, but she suffered a total personality change while picking up that second pen -- maybe she hit her head on the desk when she dropped her pen? -- her handwriting went from expansive, epic, and magisterial to cramped, small, and preternaturally neat. Just like a font.

Now, I doubt there's a donor anywhere who would think this was a personal letter from Hillary Clinton and wonder what happened to cause the handwriting change. But a healthy respect for the medium of the letter should lead to handwriting that looks like it was done by the same hand as the signature.

Like this nice example, from the National Women's History Museum:


This one looks like Ms. Streep signed the letter, then dashed off the "Thank you!" with the same pen, and in the same frame of mind. Wonderful!

In this case, the designer was in the same frame of mind as the writer: creating a piece that has plausible and meaningful appearance of flowing from the heart and hand of the signer. That's direct response fundraising. The kind of work your donors and your cause deserve.

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The spirituality of fundraising -- maybe more than you think

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) was a Roman Catholic priest who wrote many books an spirituality. (If you haven't read any of them, you're in for a treat. Start with Return of the Prodigal Son -- see at Amazon.)

He also wrote a little book called The Spirituality of Fund-Raising. It's available free from the Henri Nouwen Society, here. (The Society is a nonprofit, so I hope you'll also donate to them.)

To give you an idea of Nouwen's outlook, here are some quotes:

Fundraising is, first and foremost, a form of ministry. It is a way of announcing our vision and inviting other people into our mission

As a form a ministry, fundraising is as spiritual as giving a sermon, entering a time of prayer, visiting the sick, or feeding the hungry.

To raise funds is to offer people the chance to invest what they have in the work of God. Whether they have much or little is not as important as the possibility of making their money available to God. . . . God's Kingdom is a place of abundance where every generous act overflows its original bounds and becomes part of the unbounded grace of God at work in the world.

Whether people respond to our fundraising appeal with a "Yes," a "No," or a "Maybe" is less important than the knowledge that we all are gathered as one on the holy ground of God's generous disposition toward us.

If you're a religious believer and a fundraising professional, get this book. If you're not a believer, get it anyway; it will give you a glimpse at the spiritual significance of fundraising and giving -- a rich world that's going on under your nose, since most of your donors are religious, no matter what your cause.

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Even a penny will help

One of the barriers to charitable giving is the belief that your gift doesn't make a difference -- that the problem is too big for your part to make any headway. Who wants to give if it's futile?

In fundraising, we often contribute to this problem by our vivid descriptions of our problems. It's necessary to depict the truth -- to show the problem is urgent and big. But do we leave donors hanging and discouraged? Do we help put the solution in each donor's reach?

An interesting study on the Inside Influence Report titled A Little Can Go A Long Way (found via the 4Nonprofits Blog) reports on a 1976 study by social psychologists Robert Cialdini and David Schroeder:

[Researchers went] door-to-door to request donations for the American Cancer Society. After introducing themselves, they asked . . . "Would you be willing to help by giving a donation?" For half of the residents, the request ended there. For the other half of the residents, [they] added, "Even a penny will help." . . . more people agreed to donate money in the even-a-penny-will-help condition (50.0%) than in the other condition (28.6%). . . . there was no difference in the average donation per contributor.

Variations on "even a penny will help" are common in fundraising today. So common, in fact, that they probably don't have the kind of impact they had 30 years ago. But the principle is a good one: We need to help donors know that they matter. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Create bite-sized fundraising offers. The most typical example is the "$1.79 meal" used by social-service agencies. This makes it clear to the donor what her gift is worth.
  • Connect the fundraising offer to the donor's giving level. Someone who's given you $50 is overwhelmingly likely to give you $50 again. Why not give her an offer that's in the neighborhood of what she's already likely to give?
  • Give the donor choice. Not just on the amount of her gift, but where her gift will go.
  • Report back. After the gift, let your donors know what they've helped accomplish. This is a great function of donor-centered newsletters.

And don't be afraid to use variations of the old "even a penny" line. It's a little shop-worn, but it's motivating.

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Boomers aren't so bad after all

A Washington Post article takes a look at the Baby Boom generation with a little less hand-wringing than usual. The first, Boomers: The Real Greatest Generation, punctures the "boomers-as-plague-of-locusts" meme that's so popular these days:

The generation preceding the Boomers gets all the good press: They survived the Depression. They defeated Hitler. They rebuilt the entire world.

The Boomers? Whiny, self-centered, and destructive. But consider this:

. . . boomers have an important story to tell. It's a story about a more inclusive and tolerant America, about women's equality and men's growing respect for it, about an appreciation for cultural diversity too long denied, about a society that no longer turns a blind eye to prejudice or pollution.

The Boomers have made society a better place. Whiny? Sure. Self-centered? Yeah. But their impact for good has been astounding. Changing the world has been one of their defining features.

And that's good news for fundraising. Now the Boomers are entering their donor years -- with more time and more disposable income than they've ever had. And the same desire to change the world. If you can show them you are a great way to help them change the world, they will give to you. They'll do more than give -- they'll volunteer, advocate, and get involved in many ways.

Are you ready for Boomer donors? If you are, you have some good decades ahead of you.

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Tap into your donors for innovation

A great article in The Economist looks at the phenomenon of consumer-driven innovation (CDI, for those of us in the know): The rise of the creative consumer.

Smart companies realize how smart their customers are. So they're inviting customers to help them improve, extend, and design their products. BMW is just one good example:

BMW's efforts to harness the creativity of its customers began two years ago. . . when it posted a toolkit on its website. This toolkit let BMW's customers develop ideas showing how the firm could take advantage of advances in telematics and in-car online services. From the 1,000 customers who used the toolkit, BMW chose 15 and invited them to meet its engineers in Munich. Some of their ideas (which remain under wraps for now) have since reached the prototype stage, says BMW.

Could a nonprofit enlist its donors to help design programs? Of course it could. In fact, many already do: If a donor gives enough, he can demand all kinds of influence over the things he's funding.

But the really smart nonprofit will cast the net much, much wider. Find passionate donors at all levels (you'll overwhelmingly find them in the middle to upper regions of your donor file) and enlist them for innovation. Here's what you can get out of doing this:

  • You'll uncover some very passionate and loyal donors that you may not have known about.
  • You'll build deeper connections with your most-connected donors. They'll love it that you even asked.
  • You'll get ideas for marketing your programs -- new or old -- to your donors. Talking about programs with donors in a big-picture way will be incredibly enlightening.
  • You'll probably get some great ideas that can help you more effectively accomplish your mission.

Donors -- the best ones, anyway -- want to be involved. That involvement could be a source of great power, if you're willing to harness it.

Lots more on this topic in the book Democratizing Innovation by Eric von Hippel available (free) for download here (PDF).

(Thanks to the Consumer Empowerment Blog for the tip.)

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Are you dramatically different?

Troy White's Word Wealth Blog asks a good question: Are you dramatically different?

He's talking to businesses, but the question should be asked of nonprofits: Are you a lot like other nonprofits in your sector -- or are you offering donors something dramatically different? Because, Troy points out: ". . . having a dramatic difference gives you a 353% better chance of succeeding [and] 80% of copycats end up failing in their business. . . ."

I don't know if those numbers translate into the nonprofit world, but I'll bet it's in the ballpark.

Here's Troy's process to help businesses be dramatically different:

  1. List out all your biggest benefits you provide right now.
  2. List out your competitors' biggest benefits.
  3. Cross out the benefits on your list that are the same as your competitors'.
  4. Is there anything left over? Can you create a dramatic difference from this so far?

What would make [people] stop everything they are doing to visit your store, read your ad, or answer your letter to them?

To even begin following this very good advice, most nonprofits will have to make at least two very significant changes to their way of thinking:

  1. Think in terms of "donor benefits." On top of all the other things you do to be effective, you also need to ask, "What's in it for donors?"
  2. Be willing to take risks. Because change is dangerous. But not changing is even more dangerous.

So far, most "dramatically different" nonprofits are small, local, and limited in scope. (Some of them are not going to stay that way.) But the marketing revolution is spreading, and sooner or later an established nonprofit is going to make the leap. Will it be you -- or someone else?

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Let donors set your agenda

Quote of the day:

"Companies are no longer setting the agenda for what customers want. They're finding out where the agenda is being set and enhancing it. The customers decide what's important. Your job is to listen and respond."
--Avram Miller, technology consultant

It's in a new book from Fast Company: The Rules of Business: 55 Essential Ideas to Help Smart People (and Organizations) Perform At Their Best. (Available at Amazon.)

Are you listening to your donors? Are they setting the agenda? The nonprofits that recognize donors decide what's important and respond to that will be the ones that see sky-rocketing growth in the coming years.

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Nothing but brand

In the mailbox, this piece from my local Salvation Army:

As you see, this piece leans heavily on The Salvation Army's famous shield logo. And that's about it throughout the package. In the letter, it says, "Your generous donation will allow The Salvation Army's Red Shield to remain a symbol of help and hope to struggling people right here in our community." The ask line on the reply device is, "Yes, Colonel Griffin, I want to keep the Red Shield strong for those in need!"

That's it. No specific fundraising offer.

No fundraiser other than The Salvation Army could get away with this appeal. (I don't know how well this appeal does, but I'll guess it's acceptable.) That's because the Army has unmatched brand recognition and positive mind-space. The only other U.S. nonprofits that come close -- Red Cross and United Way -- have suffered scandals and bad press in recent years.

Any other nonprofit that attempted this logo-based appeal would be (deservedly) hung out to dry by their non-responding donors. Everyone else needs to come up with specific fundraising offers that will empower donors to direct their giving to real and compelling things.

Which only begs the question: What if The Salvation Army practiced Donor Power? Suppose they combined their powerful brand with a focus on donors' needs? I think we'd see an unstoppable fundraising juggernaut.

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Donors are answering nature's call

Don't miss this article: Study Shows Babies Try to Help.

A study by German psychology researcher Felix Warneken seems to show that babies as young as 18 months hold have the capacity for altruism:

. . . Warneken performed a series of ordinary tasks in front of toddlers, such as hanging towels with clothespins or stacking books. Sometimes he "struggled" with the tasks; sometimes he deliberately messed up.

Over and over, whether Warneken dropped clothespins or knocked over his books, each of 24 toddlers offered help within seconds -- but only if he appeared to need it. . . .

To be altruistic, babies must have the cognitive ability to understand other people's goals plus possess what Warneken calls "pro-social motivation," a desire to be part of their community.

This apparently tells us something that wise people know already: Helping others is "normal." In fact, it's hard-wired into us (though we can choose not to do it).

What does this mean for fundraisers? Only this: Giving is something people want to do. When you give them an opportunity to give, you aren't creating an artificial or difficult situation; you are helping meet a need that pre-exists in your donors. Don't let anyone tell you that asking is a bad thing -- it's a deeply good thing. Nature is on the fundraiser's side.

(Thanks to Trent Stamp's Take for finding this.)

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Name your issues wisely

In an eye-opening post, Seth Godin looks at The problem with "global warming". He asks why global warming, "what might be the greatest threat ever to the future of mankind," gets so little attention or action.

His answer? The problem's name:

Global is good. Warm is good. . . . How can "global warming" be bad? I'm not being facetious. If the problem were called "Atmosphere cancer" or "Pollution death" the entire conversation would be framed in a different way.

How many of the causes we care about have this problem? How often do we let a neutral or even inappropriately positive terms color our causes?

Think of the problem that's usually called "third world poverty." Doesn't sound like much, does it? Something sociologists might study. Yet it's probably the greatest cause of human suffering that's ever been. It directly kills millions every year and keeps billions trapped in suffering and hopelessnes. It creates a clear and constant danger to us all.

And yet most of the time third world poverty gets little notice, and it only captures the hearts of a small group of people.

Then, every once in a while, one piece of the third world poverty problem rises up and gets renamed -- usually as a "disaster" of some kind. Awareness skyrockets. Donations go through the roof. Suddenly, huge numbers of Americans become compassionate and involved.

The death-toll from everyday dull-sounding "third world poverty" dwarfs that of disasters like the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster.

What are you going to do about that?

Let the dispassionate nomenclature you've inherited from boring people frame your issue? Or try to change it so the problems you want to solve actually sound like problems?

Your donors want to make a difference. But they have to know there's a problem before they'll be motivated to help solve it.

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Fundraising forecast: your donors want more power

An article in DM News takes a look at the near future: Outlook 2006: Fundraising Forecast for ’06, Beyond. Two points worth noting:

Donors need to be assured that their personal data will not be misused or sold, and rightfully so. With the news media focused on misused consumer information, fundraisers will need to hammer at this point. Legislation and technology — do not call, do not spam and spam filters — give donors more control.

Nonprofits must migrate toward more donor-focused marketing strategies, using best-of-breed analytic solutions to target the most loyal donors and profitable members.... Also, analytics will let fundraisers match appropriate offers and creative copy to each defined donor segment.

Any look at what's ahead must put donors at the center. If you plan that way, you won't go wrong. The donors of the near future are going to demand more from us. Not only in the areas of privacy and relevance, but in these ways:

  • Service. Are you receipting promptly? Are you getting things right for each donor?
  • Influence over what the organizations they support do with their money.
  • Respect. Are you talking donors' language, or are you stuck on a quixotic quest to "educate" them?
  • Reporting back. Do you tell them what their investment through you has accomplished?
  • Communications channels. Are you using the channels donors prefer?

The consumers of yesterday used to put up with a lot of crap. They don't any more. The same is about to be true of donors. The smartest changes and innovations you can make today are the ones that will treat donors better. Count on it.

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How to create "pull" fundraising

I don't need to join the chorus of rants about Miller Brewing's little stunt, where someone one their email list tried to opt out, but they hunted down that person's email address in order to keep them on. But here's a good one on the Sound Principles blog titled Marketing Sociopathy: Miller Brewing Co. & Equifax.

Your customers DO NOT WANT intrusion, interruption, nor to be stalked . . . . Your needs are not more important than their own . . . and they can see through the smarmy stock photography and legal-safe copy. . . .

Color me idealistic, but I want my fellow marketers to embrace Truth Marketing. I want my colleagues to try a different kind of "insanity": to focus on building an attracting, relevant, compelling brand rather than forcing a shitty one under customers' noses at every turn. I want us to CREATE PULL.

Create pull. Imagine that. Actually do something that will cause donors to come to you and ask to be part of it.

How? I can't answer that for you, but I can give you some hints:

  • You're going to have to know, love, and respect donors.
  • You're going to have to meet their needs, not your own.
  • You're going to have to speak their language, not yours.
  • You're going to have to give them power and choice.
  • You may even have to change what you do -- slaughter the old organizational sacred cows that are making you irrelevant to donors.

Do those things, and you're on your way to creating pull. And when you do that, you'll have more donors than you can shake a stick at.

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Online fundraising up 40%, but open rates are down

For some helpful context on the state of online fundraising right now, download this report: eNonprofit Benchmarks Study (PDF). It's a thick, detailed report, but here are some key findings:

  • Organizations with larger online communications budgets built larger e-mail lists, generated more advocacy activity, and raised more funds online.
  • E-mail open rates are in decline.
  • More e-mail subscribers took online action than made an online donation.
  • Online annual fundraising totals increased by 40 percent on average from the year before.

You might see it as a mix of good and bad news. But more important, it shows that the online fundraising pie is getting bigger. It's a great opportunity to reach new donors and build relationships in new ways. And knowledge is power!

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Ways to thank your donors

There's a good post on thanking donors over on the Step by Step Fundraising Blog: Thanking Donors On A Dime. The suggestions include:

  • Make thank you gifts available but optional
  • Thank you reception
  • Honorary naming privileges & plaques
  • Electronic thank-yous
  • Business partnerships (that is, find businesses willing to offer discounts to your donors)
  • Personal phone calls

Thanking donors is very important. In a way, it's the only thing you're "selling." Donors give to make the world a better place -- but they also give for the good feeling giving generates. A thank you of any kind extends or reawakens that "donation buzz."

I'd add to any list about thanking donors Receipt promptly. Send it within 24 hours! If you're not doing that, you are throwing a powerful source of donor loyalty in the trash!

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*WHACK!* Take that, donor!

Does asking for a gift hurt donors?

To hear some fundraisers and consultants talk, you might think it does. In fact, some folks in our industry seem to equate a direct mail fundraising appeal with a slap in the face by a very ripe fish: rude, painful, odoriferous, and just plain uncalled-for.

This is a faulty and insidious assumption.

Worse yet, it's self-fulfilling. Because if you believe fundraising hurts donors, I can almost guarantee you're doing fundraising in a harmful way.

The belief that donors just barely tolerate an organization's communications and give in spite of them is crazy. Think about it -- your communications with donors are for the most part their entire experience of the organization. To say they love you but hate your communications is to attribute them with a nearly clinical level of cognitive dissonance!

The Donor-Powered fundraiser works from a higher and more beautiful set of assumptions:

  • Communicating with donors is good.
  • Donors love to hear from us.
  • Every touch can and should be a positive, relationship-building experience -- even when it doesn't generate a gift.

You'll have a much more satisfying life if you believe these things rather than the pessimistic, self-destructive assumption that fundraising is bad, but we have to do it anyway.

Of course you don't want to send irrelevant, money-wasting mail to people who aren't interested and unlikely to give. That's what smart segmentation is about. But in your heart, you need to believe that asking is good. Otherwise, you are on a path to anti-donor communications and fundraising failure. And one heck of a miserable career in fundraising.

If you struggle with that dark sense that asking is shameful, wrong, or hurts donors, repeat this little Donor Power Catechism every day until your attitude improves:

  • Donors donate.
  • Donors love to donate.
  • Giving feels good.
  • Giving is good.
  • Creating opportunities for giving is a great service to humanity.

When you feel these truths in your heart, you are a fundraiser.

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Too many cooks

Here's a hilarious video that looks at what might happen if Microsoft redesigned the iPod box.

Okay, it's very funny. But does it look at all familiar?

How many projects have you been involved in where too many people with too many agendas turned something clear, powerful, and effective into confusing garbage that's just like all the other confusing garbage out there. This is one of the main reasons so much marketing (and fundraising) is just plain bad.

If you want your fundraising to sing, kick most of the cooks out of the kitchen. Let your best people do their best work. And watch the results.

It's time to stop donor-churn fundraising

Don't miss this important article in Fundraising Success magazine by my Merkle|Domain colleague, Tim Burgess: Please Don't Churn the Donors. Burgess defines donor churn this way:

. . . a nonprofit acquires new donors, gets its first gifts, and then fails to secure long-term relationships along with any true financial gain from all the activity. These donors often are motivated to give because of the name labels, stickers or other premiums included in the direct-mail package; the donors give out of an obligation to reciprocate. The result is many new donors being acquired who then rush out the back door.

The result of churning: Poor (and often falling) net revenue and poor return on investment.

There's another, even more insidious result: Every donor-churning program hurts our entire industry, painting us all as irrelevant. How many would-be donors think direct-mail fundraising is nothing but guilt-inducing stupid address-label packages? You can hardly blame them. The churn tactics that work best do not resonate with the New Donor, the person who gives to change the world, not just to reciprocate for cheesy up-front premiums.

If you respect donors -- and want to do the best fundraising job possible -- you will not practice churn fundraising!

Churn fundraising is cherished by owners of old-line lettershops. They love the high quantities and the simple, easy production it generally uses. It's a massive cash cow. Some advice: If your fundraising council owns a lettershop, ask a lot of hard questions about net revenue, ROI, and donor retention. If you see low numbers in those areas, you may be seeing the results of churn.

Go read the article for more practical things you can do to stop churning. See also Five steps out of stupidity.

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Get more traffic the old-fashioned way

Everyone asks how they can "get more traffic." Seth Godin gives the hard but true answer in How can I get more traffic?: You don't get more traffic, you have to earn it:

People never say, "how can I earn more traffic?" or "How can I rethink the core of what I'm offering so that it organically attracts people who want to see it?"

Getting traffic is a little like getting a date. You can probably manipulate the system for a little while . . . but self-reinvention is a markedly better long-term strategy.

How many nonprofits are languishing in obscurity, blaming the world because they are not interesting? How many are trying to manipulate the system (with things like robot-generated spam comments on blogs), rather than just become interesting? So many struggling nonprofits think their problem is a marketing problem -- when it's most likely something much deeper: they just don't have much to offer. Fix that, and the marketing solutions will grow themselves.

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Cast aside fear: do great work

Here's a fine post in the Creating Passionate Users Blog (software-oriented): Death by risk-aversion.

Risk-aversion is the single biggest innovation killer. . . . . if you're not doing something that someone hates, it's probably mediocre.

Attention nonprofit organizations: There's a good chance you are saddled by fear, and fear is making you far less effective!

If your decisions are controlled by fear, hemmed in by the thought that someone might hate you -- seek change! This menality is hobbling your mission ... making you fail ... crushing your marketing and fundraising ... throttling innovation.

Be bold. Cast aside fear. It's the only way!

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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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