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May 2006

Let donors build their own

Here's an in-depth look at what some smart companies are doing. Trendwatching.com looks at what it calls "Customer-made," defines as:

The phenomenon of corporations creating goods, services and experiences in close cooperation with experienced and creative consumers, tapping into their intellectual capital, and in exchange giving them a direct say in (and rewarding them for) what actually gets produced, manufactured, developed, designed, serviced, or processed.

Read it all at Customer-Made Update.

There's a close look at several customer-made initiatives by Peugeot and Proctor and Gamble.

This is one of the leading edges of the marketing revolution. The days when research, development, and design were done by experts for the benefit of passive customers are coming to an end.

But what about the nonprofit world? We need to be even more responsive to our customers -- since we have nothing to offer but intangible and emotional rewards. Most organizations are willing to do this with mega-donors -- if someone comes forward with a few million for your new building, you'll probably listen to him about his design preferences.

But what about the others? Why not try a few ways of letting donors guide you:

  • Survey their interests, and ask openly what kinds of programs they'd like to fund.
  • Invite donors to planning events.
  • Hold a "contest" for creating great programs.
  • Let your direct-response numbers guide you: If certain fundraising offers do much better than others, it's a sign that it's something people are more interested in funding. Maybe you should do more of that!
  • "Sell" programs in a catalog (like those used so effectively by Heifer International. This gives donors another chance to vote with their dollars.

This is the way the commercial world is going. We need to go there too!

(Thanks to Blue Sky Collaborative for the tip.)

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Nonprofit silos choke off conversations

Smart marketing is no longer one-way stream of information. It's a conversation. Same with smart fundraising. But that raises an interesting question, explored in an excellent post on the Consumer Generated Media blog: CGM Starts With Consumer Affairs.

In a nutshell, while marketers are all exciting about encouraging Consumer generated media, Consumer Affairs, the department that actually talks to consumers, has no interest whatsoever in it. In fact, the less the consumer generates, the better.

In the nonprofit world, Consumer Affairs is typically called Donor Relations. But the problem is the same: While you may want to nurture rich two-way conversations with your donors, the people who answer the phones, the emails, and the complaint letter in all likelihood would rather eat a cockroach that drowned in mop water than engage in conversations. And those folks are in a different department, where they're being measured for efficiency and other very non-conversation-like values.

So you have a Talking Department (Direct Marketing) and a Listening Department (Donor Relations) working in different silos, with different goals and often conflicting philosophies. Sounds like a mental illness, doesn't it?

Add to that the independently operating Marketing Department (which we'll call, for the sake of the metaphor, the Yelling at Random Strangers Department) and the Online Department (or the Navel-Gazing Department) ... if this nonprofit were a person, he'd be locked up!

Nonprofits that allow bureaucratic turf to get in the way of listening to and serving donors are not going to survive the coming revolution. When donors get a taste of the rich, respectful relationship they can have with a nonprofit that has its organization act together, they're going to drop those who can't make the change.

The time to explode your silos is now.

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Stupid nonprofit ads

Some people will buy anything. Especially nonprofits that want in on the glamorous world of advertising. Here are a couple of notably bad ads. (Sorry about the quality; I scanned them from Creativity magazine. To see the images online, you have to subscribe to Ad Critic.)


This magazine ad for the World Food Programme shows a clump of green grass growing on what looks like a dry lake bed, flanked by a knife and fork. Message? Um ... if you're really, really hungry, you'll eat anything, even grass, and ... um ... that's really sad, and, well ... it's sad and bad and stuff.


This one's even weirder. Part of an awareness campaign for the Campaign Against Landmines (New Zealand), it's a ketchup packet with a picture of a kids' legs. When you open the packet, you tear off the kid's right foot. And then it "bleeds" ketchup ... which you proceed to eat. Maybe. Message? Hey! Don't you even think of enjoying those fries, because kids are stepping on landmines, and it's really gross when that happens. Do you feel terrible enough yet? The creative director on the project is laughably quoted as saying, "I defy anyone who sees this communication not to be deeply moved." How about deeply revolted?

Why do some nonprofits insist on entering the world of "clever" (i.e., ineffective) advertising? It's like it's a drug. They just can't stay away from these confusing, off-point, no-action projects. Anyone with more than a few months in nonprofit fundraising could tell them that cleverness doesn't motivate giving. Clarity and emotion do.

But they're just so clever!

Both of these ads were produced by shops owned by Publicis, a large international ad conglomerate. So I'm guessing they were done pro bono for these nonprofits. If that's the case, then at least they aren't paying for this unmitigated crap.

But even if it's free, it's not worth it. Spend your marketing time and money actually speaking to donors! Just say no to pointless cleverness.

(See How to shock donors for more cleverness-victimized nonprofit advertising. And here, where you'll see a nutrition facts label placed on an Atlanta trashcan -- somehow meant to motivate people to help the homeless!)

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Your donors and the IRS agree: don't lose focus

It's hard to stay on task. A lot of urgent things are happening all around us. But really, the nonprofit world tends to have problems with focus. Missing in Action, a recent post at the Stanford Social Innovation Review Blog, is a good example:

Do you find it astounding that charities remained silent when Congress added $70 billion to the deficit last week by extending tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, further starving government programs?

Calm down ... take a deep breath ... and focus.

There's a good reason charities should remain silent on this issue: It's not their mission.

When you attained 501(c)(3) status, you committed to pursuing a specific mission. To throw your organizational weight behind something other than that mission is an abuse of your tax-exempt status.

Worse, to shift focus from your mission is a breach of trust with your donors. Guess what: they don't all agree with you on every issue. They're with you because of your mission, not because they follow whatever you do. You have no right to spend your donors' hard-earned gifts on anything other than the mission you motivated them to give to.

You may believe Congress' latest tax cut is an outrage (and I'd agree with you). But unless the issue falls within your organization's mission, you need to confine your involvement to personal. There are organizations like OMB Watch and United for a Fair Economy that are legitimately involved in this issue. Get involved with them. Give to them. But keep your own organization on focus.

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Fundraising is a "sacred trust"

FundRaising Success magazine recently interviewed National Catholic Development Conference President Sr. Georgette Lehmuth. Keeping the Faith provides a good look at the spiritual dimension of fundraising. Sr. Lehmuth said:

In the faith-based community, it is all about love of God and neighbor. What seems to work best is to clearly articulate the mission and demonstrate to the donor how that mission is realized in the lives of others.

For our members, giving is a process of engagement. It is about relationship. It is about the donor's need to participate in doing good for the love of God and neighbor. It is about the needs of those most vulnerable.... the role of the fundraiser is to nurture that relationship and reverence it as a sacred trust.

The faith-motivated fundraiser is always pointing in two directions: at the cause, and at the donor. The work benefits both.

Even if your organization is not faith-motivated, you are involved in this spiritual transaction -- the majority of donors to virtually all nonprofits are believers. (I wouldn't be much surprised to learn that American Atheists had a high percentage of religious donors!) What you do is a "sacred trust." Being aware of this dimension of your mission will help you do better work as a fundraiser.

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Note to the marketing world: It's the relevance, dummy!

I've never yet heard of a reputable nonprofit that tried to use sex to raise funds the way many advertisers do to sell products. It's only a matter of time, I suppose.

But some advertisers swear by that technique. Too bad for them. Because not only is it tasteless, stupid, and sexist -- it doesn't work!

A new study reported recently in the Denver Post says that the use of attractive models can undermine the credibility of a message. Sex! - now wanna buy the toaster? undermines the widely held belief that sex sells:

If customers want quality -- when buying a new computer laptop, for example -- an attractive model can hurt a product's credibility .... Beautiful people may attract attention, but advertising agencies who use them are just plain lazy ....

The issue is relevance. And while few fundraisers will ever be tempted to use sex as a cheap attention-getter, plenty of them use similarly irrelevant tactics that can grab attention but fail to close the circle and start a relationship. Like sweepstakes. Address labels. Other premiums that have nothing to do with the cause. Those things are the "sex" of nonprofit marketing. If someone suggests using them, just say no!

You owe your donors relevance. And irrelevance doesn't work all that well.

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Savvy donors know what they're looking for

Here's an article posted on the Charity Navigator site that's worth a look: Top 10 Best Practices of Savvy Donors. Here are the practices:

  1. Be Proactive In Your Giving
  2. Hang Up The Phone / Eliminate The Middleman
  3. Be Careful Of Imposters and Sound-Alike Names
  4. Confirm 501(c)(3) Status
  5. Check The Charity's Commitment To Donor's Rights
  6. Obtain Copies Of Its Financial Records
  7. Review Executive Compensation
  8. Start A Dialogue To Investigate Its Programmatic Results
  9. Concentrate Your Giving
  10. Share Your Intentions And Make A Long-Term Commitment

How would your organization do if all donors did these things? I doubt very many of your donors are -- but that's not the point. Some donors (and prospective donors) are, disproportionately the high-end folks. And donor attention to detail is likely to increase in the coming years as the Boomers populate the ranks of donors.

So check out the list. Make sure you look good by all accounts. Make sure it's easy for donors to check you out. It's becoming a part of doing business in fundraising. And -- oh yeah! -- it's the right thing to do.

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How donors empower themselves

Here's another way donors are seizing power: Giving Circles.

Find out more about them at this Giving Circle Starter Kit, which defines them this way:

A Giving Circle is a group of donors who place their charitable dollars into a pooled fund and decide as a group which nonprofits to support. Many Giving Circles encourage donors to also volunteer their time and expertise to enhance work of the nonprofits supported.... Giving Circles can focus on a specific issue or be organized around a specific nonprofit organization.

And here's more about giving circles at The Giving Blog.

Giving circles change giving from a private act to a community activity. It also gives donors more financial clout than they have individually. Just as publishers now market books to reading clubs, nonprofits will eventually be well-advised to take giving circles seriously.

What will endear a nonprofit to giving circles? Here are some guesses:

  • Two-way communication.
  • Deep and rich information about specific programs and people.
  • Clearly defined programs that demonstrate good cost/benefit ratios. (I'll also guess that these needn't -- or even shouldn't -- be as simple as the fundraising offers that work well in direct mail.)
  • Plenty of power and choice given to the circle, such as the ability to specifically designate their giving to projects.
  • The Wow Factor -- something that makes the work stand out as more exciting than others in the same sector.

It may be some time before giving circles become a significant force. But those organizations that learn to connect with them now will be in great shape when the phenomenon explodes. My advice: Start investing in reaching out to giving circles now.

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Donor-Powered writer needed

If you're a talented writer and you read this blog, this may be for you: We're looking for a copywriter for the Merkle|Domain Seattle office. This is a great place to work:

  • We're a growing company that serves the nonprofit market.
  • We respect our creative people and treat them well.
  • We're crowded with fun, smart, passionate people.
  • We have a disciplined, eyes-open approach to our work that makes our product the best in the marketplace.
  • Our clients are the most visionary nonprofits on the planet.
  • Superb location: Seattle is a wonderful place to live.
  • We believe in and practice donor-powered fundraising.

If you have 3-5 (or more) years experience writing in a variety of direct-response media, if you care a lot about making the world a better place, if you think work should be a lot of fun, if you believe fundraising is a high and noble calling, if you're funny, if you're smart, if you like to use your heart and your head in your work, if you understand and believe in Donor Power, if you can lift 50 pounds (okay, HR makes us include that one; I think it's negotiable) -- this just might be the job for you.

Want to talk? Go here and follow the directions.

We're also looking for an account coordinator, a production artist, and a proofreader, all at the Seattle office.

The secret of copy that works

That's right. The secret. There's only one secret to good copy in fundraising (or any other area). Ready?

It's Focus on your audience.

Everything else is details.

An article in the American Psychological Association's Monitor on Psychology looked at this issue in the context of email: E-mails and egos. And here's what they found: People can't write decent emails because they can't focus on their audience:

... people overestimate both their ability to convey their intended tone -- be it sarcastic, serious or funny -- when they send an e-mail, as well as their ability to correctly interpret the tone of messages others send to them.

The reason for this communication disconnect, the researchers find, is egocentrism -- the well-established social psychological phenomenon whereby people have a difficult time detaching themselves from their own perspectives and understanding how other people will interpret them.

This problem is not limited to email. It lives in the world of fundraising too.

So many organizations are hell-bent on expressing themselves to their donors, that they seriously miss talking to those donors. You've heard this one: "We need to educate our donors about the full scope of our work." That is the beginning of bad copy -- copy that misses the donor just like a lame-joke email.

If you want to motivate donors to give, you have to enter your donors' world. And you can't do that until you have a strong sympathy toward that world. And a humble sense that they don't care all that much about you and all your coolness.

Get into your donors' heads and hearts. Then you're a long way down the road to fundraising success.

(Thanks to Nonprofit Online News for the tip.)

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Find your one percent who do it all

Looking forward to the day when you have a beautiful online community where your donors participate with you and each other in a rich conversation about the cause?

Here's a reality check from the Church of the Customer Blog: The 1% Rule: Charting citizen participation. Bottom line, not all that many people actually participate, even in the most active online communities. Wikipedia, Amazon, Ebay, and other large sites with a lot of user participation, actually are built by a small minority of those who visit the site:

... we seem to have The 1% Rule: Roughly 1% of your site visitors will create content within a democratized community. ... some 10% of the total audience "synthesizes" the content, or interacts with it.

That gives pause. But it shouldn't discourage you. It means it will take longer for an online community to reach critical, self-sustaining mass. But these sites with a 99% "non-participation" rate are by no means failures.

It's true in all communities. A small group of activists and true believers run everything. The rest of us go along for the ride.

So find out who your 1% are. And get to work with them. Don't worry about the 99%. They like you too. They're just not going to spend the time building your site for you.

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How bad ideas get started, and how to stop them

Sometimes you have to wonder. Some of the dumbest ideas somehow get traction early on, and then there's no stopping them. It's not unique to the nonprofit world, of course, but we suffer terribly from the power of bad thinking. Our hunger for big ideas, and our yearning to move our mission to a higher level of effectiveness undermines our discipline.

The Beyond Madison Avenue blog takes a look at this phenomenon (in a corporate context) in Blather in the boardroom:

  • An important or charismatic person spouts off with the first idea in their head, and everyone else fawns all over it.
  • The people in the meeting have special knowledge and understanding they assume everyone else knows too.
  • It's taken as a given that everyone else will believe in their idea, just because they do.

Go ahead. Tell me you've seen it before.

Here's an almost fool-proof way to fight bad ideas in the nonprofit world:

Test ideas with donors. I don't mean focus groups. Focus groups are bogus. (Read Focus groups can kill you.) I'm talking disciplined direct-response testing. Find out how donors respond -- not what they say, but what they really do in when your idea hits their lives.

Donors will humble you, make you smarter, and hone your message in a way that can make you unstoppable. But you have to listen to them.

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Make your copy sound like a normal human being -- if you can

If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they'd punch you in the face.

- From gapingvoid, Hugh Macleod's “cartoons drawn on the back of business cards” blog.

Same is very often true in fundraising too. Here's an opening line from a letter pulled at random from the Donor Power Direct Mail Sample Vault:

Every time a hungry man or woman gratefully cups a bowl of hot soup in their hands and whispers, "Thank God for [Name of Charity]," I offer up a prayer of gratitude and say, Thank God for people like you."

That's not the worst you've ever seen. But really. If a guy walked up to you and said that sentence, you might not punch his face, but you would back away nervously. It's just not normal talk. Sounds like a novelist with a day-job in fundraising, helped along by a committee of non-writers. It's stilted. Unnatural. No wonder so many donors are skeptical about charities. Who can trust someone who talks that weird?

Here's to natural, colloquial voices that talk to donors like a normal person talking to another normal person. It's not easy to write that way; it takes real writing skill. But don't you think your donors deserve it?

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How to talk to the press

The Reuters Foundation AlertNet, a great source of information about humanitarian disasters around the world, offers a useful tip sheet for aid organizations that want to work well with the press: PR master class for aid agencies (PDF).

While this is aimed at workers in the developing world, these tips are useful for anyone who has a meaningful story and wants to get the press on board. There are tips for getting editors' attention, writing snappy headlines, and doing good PR. Among the tips:

  • Find ways to make your story human.... Tell the bigger story through the eyes of individuals.
  • On headlines: "There is only one immutable rule. A headline must make you read the story. Every other rule is made to be broken."
  • Keep spilling the message out over and over. When people get sick of hearing it, you know it's getting through.
  • Know your market. If you're dealing with local press, look for local angles.
  • Presentation matters. Don't underestimate the power of the packaging.

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Is business thinking the answer? Not according to this book

Book review: Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great by Jim Collins (2005)


This is a small book (under 40 pages), and it doesn't quite stand alone -- it really assumes you're familiar with the ideas in Collins' book Good to Great. (If you haven't read Good to Great, you should.) This monograph starts with a bold and fairly controversial premise:

We must reject the idea -- well-intentioned, but dead wrong -- that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become "more like a business."

Nonprofits are fundamentally different from businesses in some key ways. And since most businesses are mediocre (not great), the social-sector path of improvement is to understand and pursue greatness. Not business thinking. Collins then connects key concepts from Good to Great to the social sector.

The main difference between us and them is the role of money:

In business, money is both an input (a resource for achieving greatness) and an output (a measure of greatness). In the social sectors, money is only an input, and not a measure of greatness.

If you've read and benefited from Good to Great, you really must read this. If you haven't, consider reading it anyway. Clarity of thought is bracing. It can make you better even when you disagree.

Available at Amazon and at Powell's.

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Too much mail, or too little relevance?

Do you send too much mail? The New York Times might think you do. But don't panic.

A recent article titled Feeling Charitable and a Bit Badgered took a quick trip through the reporter's mailbox:

There are the regular bills, of course. And then there are the charities -- ones I've never given to and even more annoying, ones I have already sent a check that are hitting me up again. And again. And again.

It's hard to raise money. I know nonprofits need to go back to the people who have already shown an interest. But it seems like every few weeks, I receive an urgent plea from a charity asking if I can increase the amount I've already given by $10, $25 or $50. I'm beginning to feel, well, used.

The article goes on to complain about address-label mailings and other common direct-mail fundraising tactics, and consults with a number of experts. In the end, she more or less comes to peace with her mailbox:

Now that I understand the thought behind appeals, I'll probably be slightly more tolerant. Maybe I'll take the time to call or write and tell the charities that I promise to give more if they send me less.

Or maybe I'll just donate anonymously.

The articulate donor who complains about too much mail is the banshee that haunts many fundraisers. Because many of us have a sense that we're mailing too much and somehow damaging our relationships with donors. When someone tells us that's exactly what's happening -- well, we're just about ready to abandon ship.

Before you do that, let me suggest that the real problem may not be how much you're mailing, but how relevant your mailings are.

Relevant mail is always welcome. The problem with so much direct mail fundraising is that it's just darn irrelevant. It has this "out-of-the-blue" quality that makes donors ask, "Why am I getting this?" The inclusion of address labels or other freemiums tends to increase the irrelevancy factor. And that's what makes people cry "too much mail!" Because even one piece of irrelevant mail is "too much."

Relevant mail fits into the donor's world. It's about her. It talks about things she cares about. It's relational.

You can assuage your too-much-mail guilt two ways:

  1. You can mail a lot less. But that'll cost you a lot of revenue. And it probably won't solve the problem.
  2. Or you can massively increase your relevancy factor. That will work a lot better!

(See Five steps out of stupidity for more about relevance. See also "Stuffed mailbox" is a sign of a disempowered donor for more on the issue of "too much mail.")

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Your story builds donor relationships

Story is powerful. I'm not talking stories, but story (though stories are powerful too). Story is the big picture of who you are, told in an understandable and motivating way. Stories are helpful building blocks toward story.

The Copy Blogger recently talked about story in the context of blogging, in a useful post called Your Unique Story Proposition:

... we’re blogging ... to establish a relationship with readers and prospects that doesn’t rely on an all-or-nothing, one-off attempt to make a sale. You get to tell your story in small, manageable pieces, or even experiment with different ways of telling the same story, until one clearly resonates with your audience.

Blogging allows you to turn a unique “selling” proposition into a unique “story” proposition. A story that will not only sell, but provide room for your customers and clients to run with the story and grow your business for you.

That's true about blogging. It can (though often isn't) true about donor relationships in other media, like direct mail.

Like a good blog, a good direct mail stream should have:

  • A clear point of view.
  • A distinct voice.
  • A unified and clearly understandable topic.
  • A strong sympathy and awareness of the audience.

You may talk about a lot of different things, but it all needs to be part of one story. The person you're writing to should have a clear and steadily deepening emotional connection with you. She should be able to tell your story -- and that story should be largely about her.

You might say that story is a deeper, richer way of saying brand. While brand tends of focus on externals, like font, color palette and consistency, story is the real thing. The unifying element that actually matters.

Look at every piece of communication you do in that light: Is it all part of the story? Or is it an isolate, a confusing bit of noise that doesn't build the relationship.

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Fundraising's death by committee

What's the greatest enemy of effective fundraising?

Paper manufacturers? No.

The Post Office? Good guess, but not usually.

Donor fatigue? Give me a break!

Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)? Hardly.

The biggest enemy: Committees. Not just any committees, but the committees that are charged with making fundraising better. The bigger the committee, the more deadly its impact on fundraising.

If you're in fundraising, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Committees pool and concentrate the incompetence of the individual members. Each of us has areas of blindness and strongly held but poorly supported opinions. Most of us make up for this by being competent and useful in other areas. But on a committee, and each member's incompetence gets full hearing and weight:

  • On every fundraising committee, there's someone who says, "Too much copy. No one will read that much."
  • On every committee there's someone who says, "Too emotional. People won't respond. Make it rational."
  • On every committee there's someone who says, "You're talking down to the donors. They'll be insulted by this simplistic prose."
  • On every committee there's at least one "formalizer." You know the type: short words like "gift" get turned into long words like "donation," colloquial words like "kids" get turned into formal words like "children." And you can't start a sentence with a conjunction. Or use sentence fragments. Ever.
  • On almost every committee there's a Brand Shaman who wants to make everything conform to a narrow interpretation of the "brand."
  • Add the many individual eccentric biases against certain words, specific colors, and the fanatical adherents of various marketing and communication theories.

Any one of these little flashes of incompetence would only do minor harm to your fundraising piece. Put them together, and you've killed any chance you had for success.

Is it any wonder most fundraising efforts today are dull, lifeless, derivative, and ineffective? With a generational change about to sweep in a new crop of more demanding donors, this simply won't work for much longer. You need the best work, and you can't afford to have it strangled!

How to make things better

If you have the power and influence to do so: Dramatically reduce the sized of your committee. I'm talking two or three people who have real, specific, and relevant expertise. Or, if that's not doable, limit the power of committee members to their actual area of competence. In other words, just being on the committee needn't give anyone carte blanche to change things they don't understand.

Suppose you don't have the influence to make such sweeping change? Maybe you're part of a committee, and you want to make things better.

You could resign from the committee. On a raw numbers basis, that might be good. But the fact that you understand the problem (and you read this blog) shows that you are probably among the more valuable members of the committee. It might be better if you do three things:

  1. Limit your comments. Hold your tongue and suggest changes only when it seems absolutely necessary and you are squarely within your area of expertise and you have facts to back you up.
  2. Work to enlighten your fellow members. Bring in documentation from the experts. Build the case for doing things right.
  3. Advocate for restraint among others. Gently point out the value of expertise over opinion. You might be able to impact your committee's culture to make it less destructive. But, to be frank, it's in the very nature of committees to make things bad.

Every person in the world knows that committees can't do great work. Yet committees live on, doing their damage in nearly every organization. They are a powerful force.

But we can do better. And those of us who do will get the better results we need.

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The secret of creativity

Here's one of the all-time best descriptions of creativity:

“Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.”
- Charles Mingus, jazz bass great

(Unearthed -- along with many other quotations from jazz legends -- by Presentation Zen, a blog I recommend to anyone who ever makes presentation. And at Brand Autopsy they 've made the quote into a nice graphic that you should print and post someplace visible.)

Ask yourself with every project, "Am I making it simple or complicated?"

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Another useful website for nonprofits

Interesting site: Grassroots.org. It's a nonprofit site for nonprofits. The organization offers free web and legal services to nonprofits, and is packed with useful resources, including a newsy blog.

There's also a downloadable e-book titled Make Millions and Make Change. It's basically a guide on how to get rich by being an entrepreneur so you can give lots of money to charity and make the world a better place. Yep. Go for it.

There's a lot going on at Grassroots.org. Go see. It, along with roughly a zillion other blogs for and about nonprofit organizations, can be found at the Nonprofit Blog Exchange.

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Give donors control

"If we gave our donors the power to fund the programs of their choice, we wouldn't get enough fundraising and administrative funds."

That's one of the main fears that keeps nonprofits from making one of the most important steps into Donor Power: letting donors designate their giving. Most of us believe that donors will not be motivated to pay your electricity bills and postage if more exciting front-line opportunities are available. And if your only choices are between serving your donors and being able to operate your organization -- you'll have to choose the latter. Right?

There may be another way.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review reports on an innovative approach the United Way of Central New Mexico took to solve this problem. Read Giving Donors Control (PDF):

The Albuquerque charity entices area businesses to foot the bill for its annual administrative expenses. It can then tell individual donors that every penny of their donations goes directly to their chosen causes. The result is that contributions from both corporations and individuals have soared.

Maybe you can do something like this. You may have corporate, foundation, and individual donors who will gladly fund general expenses, leaving you free to empower other donors with strong and designated fundraising offers.

Note that by tackling the issue head on, UWCNM actually increased donations from both groups. That tells us that honesty really is the best policy. And there's no need to be afraid of your donors. Just find the right funders for the right programs. Everyone wins!

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Two ideas for better fundraising

Troy White's Word Wealth blog (highly recommended for copywriters) recently posted 7 ways to make your marketing and advertising believable It's in two parts: Part One, Part Two.

Two of his ideas are especially relevant for fundraising.

The guarantee

White notes, "... the better your guarantee (the longer it is and without any weasel-out clauses), the fewer refunds you will get." Now he's talking about the commercial world, but this holds true everywhere. Including nonprofit fundraising.

Few nonprofits offer guarantees to donors. The accountants are afraid. Yet the commercial world has found money-back guarantees to be a great marketing tool -- and extravagant, better-than-money-back guarantees to be even better. We can do it too! (See Nonprofit guarantee: I dare ya!.)

Real photos

Not model photos. White is insistent on this:

One of the most powerful forms of proof is great pictures of actual clients using your product or service. Always include a powerful caption below the picture.

This is important and often neglected -- even avoided -- by nonprofits, who want to avoid photos of their own clients, or just aren't prepared for the expense and hassle real photos. Yet stock photography, while technically good, lacks power. It's obviously not "real," so it conveys the message that the work is less real. Use real photos. It's worth it.

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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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