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June 2006

Quality matters more than you might realize

In direct response media, there's a penalty to doing bad work: poor results. But that's not all. Bad work is pollution -- it can damage the entire medium it's in, causing it not to work even for those who do it well.

Example: broadcast voice mail -- often known by the delightful acronym BVM. They are pre-recorded calls that are meant to go straight to voice mail. You can quickly send tons of them at pennies apiece as a way to touch donors. And it works -- boosts response to other impacts every time I've seen it used. But you have to do it right, or you're going to kill it.

BVM in action #1. A co-worker who doesn't work on a certain client, but is a donor, recently got a BVM from that client's president thanking him for a gift. He was thrilled. He forwarded the message all over the office, telling everyone how great and personal and powerful it was.

BVM in action #2.Roy Young, blogging over on the Marketing Profs Daily Fix Blog recently encountered some BVMs and called them Spam Phone Calls: "Just this morning, I had two come in to my business phone. First was a pre-recorded 'courtesy call'; second was a pre-recorded broadcast demanding 'attention business owners.' How aggravating."

Two experiences with the same messaging medium. Two completely difference reactions. Why? The calls Roy Young got suck. Attention business owners? Does someone seriously think that's not going to annoy people?

It's not going to take very many more "attention business owners" BVMs to render the medium useless, an automatic annoyance that people hate before they even engage with what they have to say. Because of no-good, irrelevant writing, BVMS are well on their way to spamhood -- and completely ineffective, no matter how well you write them.

So please -- do good work. Keep those channels open and welcome. If nothing else, do it out of respect for your donors.

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Donor advised funds: even more power to the donor

Here's another way the New Donor is seizing control: Donor advised funds. Run by investment companies, community foundations, and other types of organizations, donor advised funds allow donors to give large lump sums into the fund for the tax advantages, and then distribute them at their leisure.

There's a lot in it for a donor: Tax breaks, real ease of giving, and it gives them power. They give on their schedule, not the charities'. They can designate their giving to projects of their choosing. The Funds often vet organizations, so the donors needn't worry about efficiency, effectiveness, or the possibility of fraud.

Just the kind of power the New Donor loves to have. Here's investment columnist Knight Kiplinger praising donor advised funds in Philanthropy Made Easy.

They're not for everybody. For one thing, you typically need an initial gift of at least $10,000 to get into one. But with Boomers getting the avalanche of bequests from their dying parents, there are soon to be a large crop of people with some money to give away.

Are you ready? Two things you need to do:

  1. Market to donor advised funds. If the fund manager knows and trusts you, they'll steer donors your way. Marketing to them will not be much like fundraising!
  2. Respond properly to gifts coming from funds. When you get a gift through a fund, the check isn't from the donor -- but the gift is really from the donor. Do your data entry folks (or caging facility) know what to do with these gifts? I heard a horror story recently of someone who was a long-time high-end donor to a certain organization (one that's large enough to know better), who then gave a substantial gift through a fund -- and never got any acknowledgement. Do you want to do that to your best donors? If you're not prepared, you just might.

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Are you a campaign, or a movement?

I know of a few nonprofits that like to think of themselves as "movements" -- but very few of them actually are. The Brains on Fire Blog takes a nice look at the difference in Campaigns vs. Movements:

Campaigns have a beginning and an end. Movements go on as long as kindred spirits are involved. Campaigns are part of the war vocabulary. Movements are part of the evangelist vocabulary. Campaigns are dry and emotionally detached. Movements are organic and rooted in passion. . . . Campaigns are you talking about yourself. Movements are others talking about you. Campaigns add to awareness. Movements add to credibility. Campaigns are "you vs. us." Movements are "let's do this together."

Movements are a little bit "out of control." But they're a lot more exciting than campaigns, and they can accomplish a lot more.

Never mind the difficult fact that getting a real movement started is something you can't just pull out of your hat like a piece of direct mail. First, ask yourself: Would I be willing to give enough power to my donors to become a movement? Because I can almost guarantee that where fully empowered movement-driven donors will take you isn't exactly where you think you're going now. It's someplace better, but that's beside the point.

Until you're ready to give up control, you'll never be a movement.

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Click here for your daily dose of guilt

Ain't the web great? Take a look at Poverty Ticker.

Actually, before you go, let me describe it to you: It's a single-page website that keeps track of how many people are dying of poverty, in real time. Yes, it's a large number that ticks upward as you watch, at a rate of about one every two seconds. As the number changes, so do stark, black-and-white photos of Africans.

That's it. You can't do anything about it. Just sit there and feel sick to your stomach. There's no call to action. No indication of whose message this is. Oh -- you can download your very own Poverty Ticker or screen saver. I guess that way you can feel terrible about poverty deaths without the added guilt about using up bandwidth.

The facts about poverty are truly a nightmare. And some guilt is probably in order for those of us in the prosperous parts of the world. But really -- what's the point of a poverty-death ticker? Where does it take us?

I smell a Stupid Nonprofit Trick. Somebody figures if we can just disseminate enough guilt, donations will pour in.

Guilt is motivator for charitable giving, but not a very good one. Most donors give out of hope. They see the bad situation, they see an opportunity to make things better, and they give.

If you want that poverty ticker to slow down, give more people more reasons to join the fight against poverty. Just telling them how bad we're losing won't get us there.

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Playing at the Carnival next week: fundraising

Next week I'll be hosting the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants, a weekly gathering of the best blog posts offering advice to the nonprofit world.

To find out more about this exciting venture and find past editions, visit the Carnival home page.

Next week's topic will be fundraising. I'll be choosing the seven best posts from the entire blogosphere on that noble topic (I'm not allowed any more than that!)

Here's how to be considered for next week's edition: Choose your best post of this week on fundraising and send me its URL by Friday, June 30 at 8:00 pm ET to npc.carnival AT yahoo.com.

And don't miss this week's edition, on Advice for New Executive Directors.

Fundraising's dirty little secret

A recent post on his Warriors, Workers, Whiners and Weasels Blog, Tim O'Leary takes ad folks to task for ads that are something other than ads -- and therefore fail to do their jobs. Advertising's Dirty Little Secret says:

Many advertising professionals don't want to work in advertising. They want to be filmmakers or fashion designers, and they hijacked advertising to use it as a bridge to their desired careers.

Many fundraisers have a similar "secret" -- they don't want to be fundraisers. (Funny thing is, a lot of them seem to want to be in advertising -- go figure.) So, not liking or respecting their work, they hijack it, trying to make it something else. You know: Fundraising appeals that don't quite get around to asking for anything. Donor communications that read like academic treatises. Massively expensive initiatives to recruit "younger donors" (i.e. cool people like me).

Fundraising may not be a glamour profession. But in terms of meaning, adventure, and adrenaline, it beats nearly everything I can think of. (Opera star probably comes in higher.) So embrace your privileged position as a fundraiser. Thank your deity of preference every time you remember that you could have easily ended up doing something else.

And then do fundraising right.

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Finally -- a nonprofit guarantee!

This makes me smile. The Smile Train, an organization that does corrective surgery on children with cleft palate in the developing world, has stepped out and offered donors a money-back guarantee. I first saw it in this newspaper print ad:

Here's how the guarantee is described:

"Send us a donation of any amount, and we'll use 100% of it to help children born with clefts in developing countries. The free cleft surgery we provide for poor children who can't afford it, costs as little as $250 per surgery, and takes as little as 45 minutes. We'll show you how we used your donation to give a desperate child not just a new smile -- but a new life. If you're not smiling too, we'll send you your money back."

(Emphasis added because it's so wonderful.)

As far as I know, this is indeed the first use of an up-front guarantee in fundraising. And for that, the Donor Power Blog is happy to award The Smile Train with the first ever Donor Power Award (soon to be called a Deepy) for donor-respecting innovation in service to a nonprofit.

Now that someone's done it, you can do it too. Maybe you want to wait a few months a see if The Smile Train flies off the rails as a result of this risky maneuver. But they won't. They'll prosper, and more kids while get the surgery they need. Now it's your turn.

(More about the nonprofit guarantee at Nonprofit guarantee: I dare ya!)

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Your other good deeds

Advice to a new executive director of a nonprofit

I don't get to talk to executive directors that much. My gig is mostly with the development people. So I'm glad I caught you now -- just as you start out in your new job, all passionate, optimistic, and ready to take on the world and do your mission better than anyone has ever done.

Here's a secret -- a beautiful secret -- that maybe no one's told you yet: Your organization is doing two sets of good deeds: Your mission and fundraising.

I know a lot of folks in the nonprofit world hate fundraising. They'd do almost anything to avoid it. They're missing something huge: Motivating people to give you money does them tremendous good. Here's some of what giving does for donors:

  • Makes them more fully human. People who never give are less evolved, less involved, missing out on key parts of their emotional lives. Part of what it is to be human is to freely give away some of what you have. All major faith traditions agree that giving is a central and required act for human beings.
  • Connects them to important things. When you give to something, you care more about it. And that leads to other kinds of involvement -- like volunteering, advocacy, passing on the values to children, and more. If you give to support the arts, you'll appreciate the arts more. It's the same with every sector. Giving is a massively consciousness-raising act.
  • Makes them more knowledgeable. People pay more attention to the causes and issues they give to. They become more receptive to information about those things -- even seek it out. Their giving to you helps transform them into the kind of people you wish there were more of.
  • Makes them happier. Rigorous psychological studies show this to be true. Giving makes you happy.
  • Improves their health. Yep. Giving also improves your health.
  • Improves their finances. The return-on-investment of charitable giving is estimated to be a stunning 3.75:1. The positive impact of charitable giving on the economy as a whole is even more dramatic.

How many donors could your organization have? How many people could you do all those good things for? Think about how much better every community and nation can be with more donors.

In fact, let me make a wild and unsubstantiable claim: Depending on how successful you are at fundraising, it might be that your positive impact on the world through encouraging people to give rivals your impact through your primary mission.

So as you launch into your new job, keep this in mind. Don't resent fundraising, celebrate it. Good luck to you!

(More on this topic at Your two-headed mission and at Do your donors a big favor: ask them to give.)

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Vote for Donor Power

Okay, that's an embarrassingly misleading headline. What I want you to do is vote for the Donor Power Blog.

We're up for the 2006 MarketingSherpa Reader's Choice Blog & Podcasting Awards. If you enjoy this blog and benefit from it, I'd really appreciate it if you'd vote here.

Funny thing is, I could apparently just go there and vote for myself over and over again. But that's not cricket. So please vote. Just once will do. It's not too much of a stretch to claim that a vote for this blog is a vote for the nonprofit discipline -- is it?

Surprise your donors

Great post in the always-wonderful Creating Passionate Users Blog, titled User delight and the guy-from-the-train phenomenon. It's about those "delightful out-of-context surprises" that really please customers by shocking them with something nice and unexpected -- even if it's small. The classic example is the bud vase in the new VW Bug: There's nothing terribly special about a bud vase -- you see them everywhere. But in a car -- out of its normal context -- it's truly delightful.

Read the post -- it has tons of great examples of "delightful out-of-context surprises," along with these ideas for creating them:

  • Take an attribute that's normal and expected in one domain, and use it where it would not be expected.
  • Take an attribute in your domain that's expected, and do the opposite.
  • Do something completely out of character.

  • Combine two things that nobody would think to combine.

  • Blow a stereotype.
  • Add "meaning" where it's not usually expected.

  • Care about detail in the smallest of ways, and without using it as a marketing tool!

  • "Sex it up" by adding beauty and/or sex appeal where it's not expected.

For fundraising, the most obvious delightful out-of-context surprise would be to contact a donor for some reason other than asking for money. Things like:

  • Birthday card or other milestone-recognizing touch.
  • Report on the success of a project the donor gave to.
  • An appropriate thank-you gift -- flowers, a book or CD, anything with high symbolic value.
  • Gift certificate. Find a corporate partner that shares your values and get them to supply discounts or better for your donors.
  • Insider news. Something important happening that's not generally known? Tell donors.

Another whole area of out-of-context surprises might be getting personal with donors. Find ways to make your executive director (or whoever is your organization's public face) human and real. Act like a friend. Share life events and feelings.

You needn't (and shouldn't) do these kinds of things with every donor on your file. But it's a great investment with those who give at the middle to higher levels.

A pleasant surprise is a great way to stand out in a donor's mind. Go for it.

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Branding: the snake-oil of our time?

A strong brand is something everyone should want. And there are Brand Shamans out there who will happily sell one to you. Trouble is, they can't. A piece in Fast Company compares the branding craze to questionable "self-help" fads that promise a lot but can never deliver because they don't address the real issue: Obsessive Branding Disorder points out the obvious, but too-often-lost truth that "branding is not what you say but what you do." To go through some kind of special branding process is pointless:

To brand, in a corporate sense, is no more a verb than "to gorgeous." A brand is a result, not a tactic. One cannot go about branding an organization or a product or a service; the organization, product, or service is what creates the brand. In a brilliant twist, the experts have bottled an end and sold it as a means.

So next time a Brand Shaman tells you he can create a brand for you (usually in the form of a small book that contains lists of vague descriptive words, a font or two that you must never depart from (usually sans-serif), a color pallette, and some surreal rules about logo usage), tell him you already have one, thank you.

If your brand isn't good, or strong, or motivating to your donors, the solution is to work on the things you do, not how you appear. You may need to change what you do. Or focus more. Or make sure what you do is agreed-upon across the organization. That's the hard work it takes to make a strong brand. It can't be imposed by a snake-oil-peddling consultant.

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Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants

There's a new edition of the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants out today. It's worth a look.

Fundraisers: steal these ideas

Book review: Robin Hood Marketing by Katya Andresen (2006)


You might call this book Marketing 101, translated for nonprofits. The idea is that we in the nonprofit world can steal smart ideas from the corporate world and use them in our own marketing situations. (I have one quibble with that premise: most of the corporate world is failing to use these marketing approaches. Maybe they need to read the book at steal these ideas back.)

This is a very practical book, full of real-life examples and ideas. It's built around ten "Robin Hood Rules" -- common-sense principles that will help you do better work in fundraising or any other kind of marketing. Here they are:

Robin Hood Rules

  1. Go beyond the big-picture mission and focus on getting people to take specific action.
  2. The most important values are those of our audiences, not our own.
  3. Recognize and react to the forces at work in the marketplace.
  4. Stake a strong competitive position in the minds of the audience.
  5. Build partnerships around mutual benefits or you won't be partnering at all.
  6. Case first, cause second.
  7. Messages establish a Connection, promise a Reward, inspire Action, and stick in Memory. (CRAM)
  8. To get to audiences, go to where they are.
  9. Approach the media as a target market, not as a mouthpiece for the message.
  10. Good marketing campaigns focus on spurring one audience to a single action.

If I had to pick just one of these rules to live by, it would be number two: The most important values are those of our audiences, not our own. If you can do this, you are going to do almost everything right. But don't let me oversimplify this book. Read it. It's worth it.

Available at Amazon (where there's a nice touch -- a product blog where you can discuss the book and its concepts) and at Powells.

Passive-aggressive fundraising -- just stop it!

Do you need your donors?



It's yes or no. There's no maybe, no degrees of agreement. You need them, or you don't.

If you answered no, you should stop reading. You're pretty much wasting your time at this blog.

If you said yes, here's a second question: Do your donors know you need them?



Again, there's no room for ambiguity. It's yes or no.

If you answered yes to the first question and no to the second, it's largely because of what you've said -- or more likely, not said.

Too many nonprofits live in a shadowy land where they need their donors to fund vital programs -- but they don't want to admit it. So their fundraising offers go something like this:

Maybe you'd be interested in giving. But don't worry if you don't give. We're a very well-run organization, and if you can't give, we have many other sources of funding. You're a small fish anyway, to be honest.

I'm exaggerating, but only a little bit. These organizations are practicing passive-aggressive fundraising. It tiptoes around the issue of need. It hints at asking. It expects donors to read between the lines and understand what they're unwilling to come out and say. In my experience, this comes from two related fears:

  1. If we admit need, it may appear that we are not a well-run organization, and people will think giving to us is not a good investment.
  2. If we admit need often, we'll be the boy who cried "wolf," and people won't take our need seriously.

#2 has some validity. You can overdo "emergency mode" and lose credibility, like that car alarm in your neighborhood that's constantly going off. But if you're truly in need, tell the truth, Your sense of what's "too often" is certainly more sensitive than a donor's. I've seen emergency funding shortfall appeals do well more times than I can count. And I've never seen repercussions to such appeals.

Because donors want to be wanted and need to be needed. So if you need your donors, go ahead and tell them. Let them know the urgency and the stakes. Be direct, strong, and clear. Don't hide behind a passive-aggressive smokescreen.

It works, it's respectful of donors, and (assuming you're telling the truth) it's the right thing to do.

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Enough with the meaningless words

The Adcouver Blog has a satisfying little rant called Meaningless Words:

What you offer your customer is way better than everyone else's, isn't it? So why not describe it like it is?
Don't be fluffy. Don't be vague. Tell me something that makes you stand out and causes me to realize that.
Use words like quality, service, and value on their own, and you'll just be another crappy ad.

It's not just crappy ads that suffer from meaningless words. They creep into fundraising all the time. "Quality" is one you'll often find, floating like a smelly algae on the fundraising pond.

Here are some more meaningless phrases that weaken fundraising copy in an envelope near you:

  • Make a difference. A difference only describes a change. Could be good, could be bad. If you must use this phrase, make sure it's clearly and specifically a positive difference.
  • Cutting edge. Puffery. If you have to say so, you aren't.
  • Answers. Unless it's specific answers to actual questions, answers doesn't mean anything.
  • Partner (used as a verb). Another sanctimonious way to avoid content.

All these meaningless words and phrases are used to avoid specificity. Don't do that. If you don't know what you're writing about, find out. If there's really nothing to say -- go make something better. Your donors deserve no less!

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Is it time for a brain transplant?

Do you have what it takes to communicate with the New Donor? The Logic+Emotion Blog takes an interesting look at the kind of mind it will take:

With consumer behavior evolving toward a more empowered status -- the definition of creativity has shifted from one-dimensional skills to a four-dimensional type of creativity that blends logical thinking with creative problem solving. Individuals possessing this "New Creative Mindset" blend Analytical, Expressive, Curious and Sensual qualities into their thinking process. The result is a holistic approach to creativity ....

Download the nifty PDF of the New Creative Mind here.

It's never been easy to put yourself in your donors' shoes and motivate behavior. And it's just getting harder as consumers (donors) grow more demanding, more skeptical, more media-savvy, and more hungry for relevance.

Better get to work!

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Come to the carnival


Don't miss the inaugural Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants. A blog carnival is a nifty way for similar blogs to gather and display their best stuff. And it's a good way for blog readers to find good materials and good blogs.

Founded (and hosted this week) by Kivi Leroux Miller of the Nonprofit Communications Blog, the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants will have a new post every Monday. This week's posts are on a variety of topics, and they're well worth reading. Don't miss it.

If you're a blogger and want to participate in the Carnival, visit Carnival home page.

The power of listening to donors

You know listening is a good relationship skill. It's also a good business skill. A recent white paper, What Companies Gain From Listening (PDF; registration required), reveals some of the power of businesses listening to their customers:

Current research suggests that engaged customers are loyal, natural advocates, emotionally attached and committed to a brand or company.... Furthermore, in a recent Roper report, listening -- not social status or relevant experience -- was found to be the most important quality for creating influence (and building trust and value).... companies wanting to engage customers must learn to be good listeners and good relationship partners.... However, while effective listening seems straightforward, it is, in fact, a real competency that companies, as well as individuals, must strive to develop.

Are you listening to donors?

Not just the complainers, but everyone -- including the huge majority who aren't saying anything (other than writing checks).

The funny thing about listening is the greater part of it seems to be willingness to listen. Here are some says you can listen:

  • Send a mailing that allows donors to take control of the ways you communicate with them.
  • Invite donors to phone conferences or meetings where your work will be discussed.
  • Allow donors to designate (or un-designate) their giving.

The majority of donors will not take advantage of these and similar overtures. But they will reward you. Trust me, I've seen the test numbers: When you show donors you're willing to listen to them, they give more, give more often, and stay longer -- even though most don't take advantage of the opportunity you offer.

Listening works.

(Thanks to the Church of the Customer Blog for the tip.)

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How -- and why -- to test fundraising offers

One of the many ways the nonprofit sector kicks the commercial world's butt is our reliance on direct marketing rather than the squishy, money-wasting "discipline" of advertising. Not many nonprofits are flailing about trying to measure "impressions" or "noted" scores. We have response rates, ROI, and net revenue to tell us if we're connecting with our audiences.

And we can test our work to find out for sure if one approach is better than another. Wanna see someone's head explode? Ask a brand-advertising person to test something.

Inside Direct Mail recently featured an article on testing offers. Price and Prejudice: Using Logic to Guide Offer Tests:

Most marketers spend too little [time] on lists and even less [effort] on the testing of offers. They plunge into expensive, new creative, convinced that a fresh look or tone will increase their ROI. They've been proven wrong a thousand times. There are no shortcuts to direct marketing results ... thoughtful, solid and constant offer testing is the only way to get there ....

Spiffy new creative is exciting and fun. (Heck, I'm a creative director -- that's what I like best!) But the real leverage is farther upstream with the offer, or, in fundraising terms, the call to action. You can get quick and inexpensive improvements to a well-performing direct mail appeal by testing:

  • The ask array. Try starting with lower ask amounts, or (more likely) going higher. Try more amounts than the standard three. Play with the order or look at emphasizing one. You can probably find a good sweet spot between response and average gift by testing this.
  • The handle. If you're asking for round amounts ($25, $50, $75), try odd amounts ($23.91, $48.72, $76.20).
  • Adding an interactive or bounce-back device. Includes something in the package for the donor to sign and return that symbolically emphasizes the importance of her gift.
  • Adding leverage. Matching funds or other things that multiply the donor's gift. This is as near to a sure-fire winner as you can get.
  • Being more specific. If what you're asking the donor to do is clear and motivating, more specificity is better. But not automatically.

Testing is a powerful tool for understanding donor behavior. Use it, and watch your results improve.

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Sad news: You won't know it when you see it

In his blog, Seth Godin takes a look at what he called "marketing potholes" -- those nagging, common problems that slow us down and screw us up. Here's an especially deep pothole: I'll know it when I see it.

Lots of marketers ... like to say, "I'll know it when I see it."

That's why they want to see three or five or twenty executions of an ad.... That's why marketers put their staff and their freelancers and their agencies through an infinite loop of versioning.

"I'll know it when I see it."

Actually, you won't.

Maybe you've been jerked around by I'll know it when I see it. Maybe you've said it. I'll know it when I see it is an illusion. It's created by the fact that you see successful, proven things all the time; you know what they look like -- so you must know good when you see it, right? Wrong. All you know is what other people's successful work looks like. That's the wrong yardstick for your as-to-be-created work.

We don't know what success looks like before it happens. We can only apply the wisdom, principles, and experience we have -- brought together by our own creative spark. The one thing I can guarantee you about your next big success -- it won't look just like something you've seen before.

Here are the ingredients for the real successes -- the ones you haven't seen before, the ones that break through:

  • High expectations.
  • Crystal-clear goals.
  • Lots of experience.
  • Passion and commitment.
  • Willingness to take risks.
  • Top-notch skills.
  • A little bit of magic.

These things will bring you spectacular successes -- and failures. And they won't give you things you were expecting to see.

Seth's Pothole #3 is similar, and just as good: What will the boss think. It's about the weird ways we censor ourselves because of the power we imagine others have over us:

Great marketing pleases everyone on the team, sooner or later. But at the beginning, great marketing pleases almost no one. At the beginning, great marketing is counter-intuitive, non-obvious, challenging and apparently risky.

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Indonesia earthquake: what's wrong?

The May 27 earthquake in Java seems not to have created much of a fundraising ripple. Compared to Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami, it really didn't amount to much. An article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy takes a look at the issue: Charities Win Mixed Results From Appeals to Help Indonesian Earthquake Victims.

What's the problem? Donor fatigue? Timing (Memorial Day weekend)? Unsympathetic victims? Distance?

None of those things. The problem (if you can forgive me for calling this a problem) is a relatively low death toll.

It's a sad thing, but what drives U.S. media coverage of disasters around the world is death toll. And media coverage is what drives strong donor response to these things. Yes, that's just plain ugly. But it's the world we live in.

If you're in international relief fundraising, and wondering if you should spend a lot on raising funds for a given disaster, monitor the death toll. Or monitor the amount of mainstream media coverage. The geopolitical importance of the event, the depth of need, even the moral righteousness of standing with the victims -- those things don't drive attention to a disaster. It's all about death -- the more death, the more media attention.

(For more factors that drive donor response to disasters, see What makes donors respond to disasters?)

On the other hand, the Chronicle article shows that a number of organizations have been able to quickly raise funds for the Indonesia quake online. This is where the internet really does its job: It's fast, and can be in people's inboxes while the story is still hot. So a disaster that may be "too small" for a response through traditional media may still work well for online response.

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Private language in public places

He works every day at the corner of 6th and Pine in downtown Seattle. He's been there for years. He holds a sign that says (in part; it's a full paragraph long):


He doesn't interact with the people that swarm around him on the sidewalk, but he shouts at cars as they pass. His voice is deep, gravelly, loud, and unintelligible.

6th and Pine Man has something very important to say, and he's absolutely dedicated to saying it. Trouble is, he's speaking his own private language. He's going to have a lot of trouble attracting supporters to his cause.

Here's another Seattle sign that's working to gain some traction for an important issue:


This is a yard sign you'll see often in my neighborhood. The organization behind it is Queen Anne Neighbors for Responsible Growth. A locally owned and much-loved grocery store faces being bought, torn down, and replaced by a national chain supermarket of the worst, most characterless kind.

You wouldn't know that from this yard sign, would you?

That's because like 6th and Pine Man, QANRG has chosen to speak a private language in public. In their case, they're trumpeting the philosophical underpinnings of the argument against the Big Ugly Supermarket. That's very sophisticated, but it's going to cost them support. Because the real issue is No Big Ugly Supermarket in our Nice Neighborhood! Even if you whole-heartedly agree with what the sign says (assuming you understand it) -- it doesn't lead you to any specific call to action that might galvanize opposition to the new supermarket. And that's too bad. Because it's a worthy cause.

Any time you're talking in public, take a moment for a reality check. Are you talking to those you're targeting? Or are you talking to yourself?

Bulk mail: reports of its death are premature

Put away those "death of direct mail" tarot cards. It's not dead yet; it's not ready to go on the cart. More evidence in Bulk mail is bouncing back:

Instead of fading away like the horse-drawn carriage, "snail mail" is growing. And it has advantages that those in the industry are quick to point out.

We're seeing postal automation options that lowers cost. And flexibility (for a premium) that allows odd-shaped pieces, notes attached to the carrier envelope, and other touches that can help a piece stand out in a cluttered mailbox.

We're so far from direct mail fading away, we're actually in a kind of direct mail arms race -- where mailers deal with maxed-out universes and rising costs by souping up their creative and trying new things.

For nonprofits, this is good and bad news: Our direct mail life-line is intact. But the competition for attention is fiercer than ever. Here's how to survive:

  • Be bold, take risks, try new things in the mail.
  • Test, test, test.
  • Stay in touch with new lettershop technology that can both save money and open new doors.

(Thanks to the AFP Blog for the tip.)

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Donor complaints: often good news

Some fundraisers live in mortal fear of getting complaints from their donors. This isn't unique to the nonprofit world. The Freaking Marketing Blog paints a vivid picture of the baleful power complainers can wield in File This Under "You Can't Please Everyone". A marketing effort is underway. Results are pouring in. Then ...

... out of the blue, the dark clouds suddenly roll in. The boss does a 180-degree turn and is now absolutely bummed. A festival of finger-pointing begins. Why?

Someone saw the ad and wrote a letter of complaint.

Sound familiar?

I've seen campaigns that had motivated many thousands of people to write checks in support of a good cause scrapped because a handful of people complained. Here's one area where talk is not cheap! A handful of talkers have more pull than a whole army of people writing checks!

It seems the good opinion of a few cranky strangers is more important that accomplishing the mission. That's a lack of leadership. A confident, well-lead organization knows what it's doing is right -- because they examine their marketing and other efforts all the time. That should give them the ammo they need to answer the complainers. And keep doing what's right.

Another reason you shouldn't worry too much about complaints: They frequently signal that you're doing something right. Again and again, I've seen a real correlation between complaints about a direct-marketing impact and its success.

Why? If your stuff is boring, you won't get complaints. You won't get much response either. But if your stuff grabs people by the collar and forces them to pay attention, you'll get response. And you'll make some of them uncomfortable -- and some will complain.

Practicing Donor Power does not mean you never get complaints. It means you talk to your donors with passion, honesty, and power. And you know how to answer those who complain.

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Spam triggers -- look out!

This is just depressing. A recent article in Direct Magazine revealed some Not-So-Obvious Words Trigger Spam Filters. Turns out the words that can get your email routed into the spam file aren't all body parts and prescriptions medications. They include:

  • Acceptance
  • Accordingly
  • Beneficiary
  • Beverage
  • Certified
  • Dainty
  • Diagnostics
  • Dormant
  • Maintained
  • Medium
  • Organization
  • Paste
  • Percent
  • Perpetual
  • Presently
  • Reciprocal
  • Sincerely
  • Somebody
  • Statements
  • Urgent

It's hard to imagine how some of those words are spam triggers. But they are. And it's likely to get worse before it gets better. If you're sending mass emails, you need to make sure it's being screened for inadvertent spam triggers.

But more important, make sure your email is spot-on relevant. Because when it's not, it will be perceived as spam.

There's a lot of email being sent by nonprofits that follows the rules, that's not spam -- but might as well be, because it's so out-of-the-blue and so little focused on donors. If your emails are littered with in-house jargon, if you're trying to "educate" your donors, if your messages are more about you than they are about the people you're emailing, you are part of the spam problem. You are filling up in-boxes with unwanted trash. And that's helping create the demand for ever-stricter spam filtering.

So do yourself (and the entire internet) a favor. Focus on donors. Be relevant.

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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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