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June 2007

Want online donations? Let donors lead web design

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported how the American Heart Association redesigned its website so it worked better as a donor giving channel: Better Design Nets Charity More Online Donations (subscription required for this article).

Before the changes, only 12% of would-be online donors completed the process. Now 70% do. Nice, huh?

They started by analyzing their site's traffic statistics. Then they asked users what they wanted via an online survey. Finally, when they started to design improvements, they made sure it worked with Web usability testing.

Discipline. They based what they did on donor behavior, not on somebody's opinion of what things ought to be like.

Christian A. Caldwell, who oversaw the changes, said, "It had a lot to do with changing the perspective from our financial department wanting to know how much the donation is to 'What is it you're here to do? Who is it you're here to honor?' ... Everybody came with their own ideas about why donors were going away. Instead of getting into that argument about what the donors' intentions were, I said, 'Let's just take it right to the donors, and try to get them to tell us.'"

That's how you do good work in fundraising: Pay attention to donors.

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The power of an emotional story

If you haven't seen this video about a British cell-phone salesman named Paul Potts, watch it right now. If you have, it's worth another look.

Link to the video on YouTube.

There's nothing new about this story: Ordinary guy has an unexpected talent. He overcomes the odds and experiences well-deserved triumph. He's likeable and endearing. Even the creepy arrogance of the judges adds to the power of the story. It certainly helps that the people who produced the four-minute clip masterfully handled the pacing. You can't watch this without being touched.

If your nonprofit works with people, I'll bet you have stories with emotional punch like this one.

Can you find them and share them with your donors?

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Dilbert's secrets to good writing

On his much-followed Dilbert Blog, Scott Adams talks about good writing in The Day You Became A Better Writer.

Writing a comic strip is tough (I know, because I used to write one, which, thankfully, was pre-Web and can't be found anywhere); Adams knows his stuff. Here are his rules:

  • Keep things simple.
  • Your first sentence needs to grab the reader.
  • Write short sentences.
  • Learn how brains organize ideas.

This, according to Adams, is 80% of the rules of good writing. (Meaning, in theory, there's just one more rule; I guess we're on our own for that one.) But these are good rules. Follow them, and you're writing will be stronger, more clear, and more effective.

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Love your donors

Fundraising is a service to donors.

It's easy to forget that as we struggle to meet budgets. In fact, it's an unpopular truth in nonprofits, which are founded to accomplish something other than fundraising.

But it's true. And if you keep that truth in your heart and mind, you'll serve your donors better. And raise more funds.

Larry James, President of Central Dallas Ministries, recently wrote about this in Texasnonprofits: Asking for money vs. caring for people. James (who also writes a blog that's worth a look, Larry James' Urban Daily) gets it:

I've noticed when I communicate to a wealthy donor that I care most about his story, her journey, his hopes and her mission, our conversations turn inward and go deeper. These conversations allow space for "safe reflection" and processing along a path of personal and community growth. I've come to a place where donations just aren't the point.... Loving wealthy people is all about understanding and listening and really caring. Just like loving poor people.

He's talking about face-to-face conversations with high-end donors, but the principle is the same no matter who your donors are or how you're talking with them.

Fundraising is about donors. When you help them care enough to give, you help them connect with who they are -- or who they aspire to be. You ennoble and empower them. You make their hearts sing. You even help improve their emotional, physical, and financial health!

I've known fundraisers who dislike donors. I've known even more who dislike asking for funds. Those were not successful fundraisers, because they never grasped the beauty and power of what they were doing. If you don't embrace that, your fundraising will always be stilted, off-point, and ineffective.

Love your donors. It's the best way to work. And it's more fun that way.

See also Your other good deeds.

Thanks to Gift Hub for the tip.

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The easy way to headline mastery

Here's a great tool you should use right now. It's a Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer at the Advanced Marketing Institute website.

All you do is enter a headline (20 words at most). The Analyzer looks for words with Emotional Marketing Value (EMV). A Higher score is better.

The headline to this post has a 50% EMV. Here are a few other possible headlines and their scores:

  • "Here's how you can write winning headlines" (my first draft): 14.29%
  • "You'll love this easy headline tool": 50%
  • "Influence your donors with great headlines": 16.67%
  • "Boost your headlines with the click of a mouse": 11.11%

Give it a try.

Thanks to Make Marketing History for the tip.

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Fundraising from older people, i.e., fundraising

Mark Rovner of Sea Change Strategies, writing at The Integrator, looks at the troubling attitudinal disparity between the Gen-Xers who work in fundraising and the Boomer donors they should be communicating with: Mind the Gap

Boomers and Xers have different worldviews, cultural touchstones, and senses of humor. Not surprising given Xers' tendency to define themselves primarily as "not Boomers." And, while Xers arguably dominate among non-profit fundraisers and marketers, Boomers are undeniably the primary target audience. It's just demographically the way it is right now.

As Mark concludes, communications "designed by Xers to engage other Xers ... miss the mark."

This is important. Though it's not a new problem; people doing nonprofit marketing and fundraising have usually been 20 to 50 years younger than their audiences for a very long time. It takes a real act of the imagination to get into the head of someone that much older. It's even harder when you're impressed with your own coolness and think the oldsters just don't get it.

So here's my advice anyone creating fundraising materials in any medium:

If you're "not old":
Remember every day who your donors are. Have a specific older person -- a typical donor -- when you communicate. Keep a photo of someone in their 60s or above at your desk. Remind yourself that if something you do feels extremely cutting edge and cool, there's a good chance it's missing your audience.

If you're "old":
Keep an eagle eye on your younger colleagues. Don't let them market to themselves. Keep the conversation going about what older people are like, what they appreciate and understand, what their life experiences have been. On the other hand, don't be complacent; anyone can lapse into coolness over effectiveness, and chances are your donors are older than you, too.

(See also this post -- which uses the same London Tube reference:Online or off, mind the generation gap.)

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How to use details to motivate

There's a great lesson on the Made to Stick blog (companion to the book of the same title, (reviewed here): The value of concrete details.

It's a look at some of the work of Claude Hopkins, a legendary copywriter from the 20s and 30s (and author of the classic book on ads, Scientific Advertising) when he got the Schlitz Beer account:

His ads told of the "crystal clear water from a special artesian well". They told of the one "mother" yeast cell that produced all the yeast for fermenting the beer. It was the result of over "1,500 experiments and produced a very distinct fresh, crisp taste". He told of how the bottles were "sterilized 12 times to ensure purity, so that nothing would interfere with the clean taste of the beer".

The Schlitz people hated it. They explained to Hopkins that this would never work. They told him, "All beer is made the same way." Hopkins calmly assured them that people would be fascinated with the "behind the scenes" look and, that no other beer maker had ever told the story.

Hopkins talked his client into doing the right thing, the ads ran, and Schlitz soon become the best-selling beer in America. That's the power of specificity. (Heaven knows, it wasn't the quality of the beer!)

Notice what Hopkins did with the details: He didn't just pour them on, hoping to "educate" beer drinkers into wanting Schlitz. He turned every detail into a benefit.

To do that, he had to know what a drinker wanted from beer. Then, every detail he gave, he tied directly to what his audience cared about.

Many nonprofits are pretty good at sharing the details of their programs. Where they usually fail is connecting those things with their donor's needs, wants, and aspirations. This is not easy to do, because you have to really know what your donors want. And what they want probably isn't exactly what you want.

To get this right, you have to humble yourself. You have to know -- with your mind and in your heart -- that the things that matter to you give you little guidance about what matters to your donors. You have to accept the truth that what motivates donors may be boring, annoying, simplistic, or hokey in your eyes.

Unless you're trying to persuade yourself to give, your own taste and preferences have no business in the drivers' seat.

Go to the details. And connect those details to your donors.

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It almost looks like we'll have too many donors

The dam has not broken! We do not face a collapse of the donor universe that will destroy all nonprofits.

PhilanthroMedia will back me up on that, as you can read at Generosity is Growing, Not Diminishing:

I've lived long enough to see a pattern. Each generation worries about succeeding generations and the loss of its own. Every time an elder donor passes away or a generous corporation leaves, their beneficiaries see an irreplaceable loss; a hole in the budget; a reason to ask how we can instill the values of giving in the younger generations and newer companies.

This non-alarmist view of the changing generations is correct. We are not, in fact, in trouble. Here are some facts:

  • Today's leading edge Boomers who are just entering their 60s have an average life expectancy of 83. They have a good 20 years of giving ahead of them.
  • And the Baby Boom birthrate kept increasing until it peaked in 1957. Folks born that year and since haven't even joined the charity party yet, but once they do they'll be donors for 20 or more years before they pass.
  • Remember, the Boomer generation has unprecedented wealth, and will benefit from the largest generational wealth transfer in history as their parents pass away.

We have something like 40 years of demographically fueled growth of ahead of us.

We aren't likely to see declining numbers of donors until some time in the 2040s or 2050s as the Boomers finally end their fascinating and illustrious career on Earth. At that point, the nonprofit sector, having grown fat on decades of unusual prosperity, may face a crisis.

But not just yet.

If you want to worry, here's what to worry about: Are you ready to raise fund from Boomers? They're going to be more demanding than previous generations.

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I say potato, you say pyrrhic

It's the kind of thing that ends up getting splashed all over the media: Study shows charities are wasting money; fundraising is a big joke, say researchers!

That's how an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Pyrrhic Fundraising starts:

It takes money to make money, the saying goes. But nonprofits actually lose money -- at least in the short term -- when they try to raise funds through direct marketing.... researchers show that over a one-year period, U.K. nonprofits earned just 39 cents in donations for each $1 they spent on direct mail. Altogether, fundraising through direct marketing, which includes direct mail, television and print advertisements, and face-to-face solicitation, generated just 44 cents for every $1 invested.

I'm thinking "Pyrrhic Fundraising" would be something like a Pyrrhic Victory, a victory that destroys you. Sounds like fundraising is a money-wasting disaster. No doubt that's an accurate characterization of some fundraising programs. But this article makes it sound like Pyrrhic Fundraising is the normal thing.

Let's look at the facts given in the paragraph above: It isn't clear exactly what programs these ROIs (.39:1 for direct mail and .44:1 for all direct marketing) come from. If it's for overall fundraising programs, they're pretty sorry indeed. "Pyrrhic Defeat" might be a good characterization of such a program. Few organizations last long with numbers like that.

More likely we're looking at donor acquisition programs, where an ROI of .39:1 isn't very good, in my experience. But it's not off-the-charts terrible, either -- and fundraisers in the UK face challenges beyond those in the US. But a half-way decent program will raise subsequent gifts and bring the ROI up to a 3:1 and beyond. Over time, a program will identify long-term supporters and high-end donors and end up with a very healthy stream of donor revenue.

We owe it to donors to raise funds successfully. They have every right know whether we're doing that. When an organization is failing (some nonprofits do suck), donors shouldn't give to that organization.

But if you say (or imply) in a public place that fundraising in general is a self-defeating activity, you're leading people astray, pretty much warning them not to respond to nonprofits' appeals for funds. It wouldn't take a lot of donors swearing off fundraising to have a disastrous impact on the good causes that raise funds.

I doubt that's the SSIR's intent.

To be fair, the article as a whole isn't as one-sided as its title and lead make it seem. There are balancing quotes from experts, including Mal Warwick and Senny Boone, executive director of the DMA Nonprofit Federation, that give the more complete picture of what it takes to raise funds in a responsible way. But we know how thorough the media are when they report "studies." What the first paragraph says is probably going to be the story, if there is one.

A little more care with what we say in public is in order. The last thing we need is a case of "Pyrrhic Study of Fundraising."

(Disclosure: I'm one of several people who post at the SSIR Opinion Blog.)

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Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants

The Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants for this week is up, at the Bamboo Project blog.

Activist donors demand more proof

A recent article in Forbes.com looks at The New Activist Givers. They are a new generation of high-powered philanthropists who are ...

... not only activist but also mindful of "return on investment." Imagine a 1960s flower-power protest organized by flinty-eyed hedge fund managers. They first showed up in numbers during the dot-com boom of the 1990s, and many of them believed their "venture philanthropy" or "social entrepreneurialism," were inventions of the "New Economy."

Be ready to start seeing this characteristic not only among the moneyed donors, but across the board: Donors who are not satisfied with merely writing a check, but want to influence the work, or at least have proof that their giving is accomplishing their goals.

As The Agitator says, commenting on this same article, don't whine! It won't do you any good.

Get a step ahead of these donors. Have donor-ready reports about your projects that connect donor involvement with success (or at least progress). You might also find that appeals that borrow from the conventions of the financial prospectus can work with them.

Be ready, because their demands are very different from the common donor of today.

(Thanks to AFP Blog: Recent News of Note for the tip.)

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The 60s: coolest decade ever?

What's with all the lame marketing to Boomers that's built on how cool the 60s were?

According to the Ageless Marketing blog, this marketing misses the mark: What Marketers Need to Know About Aging Boomers (part of a good series on the topic of reaching Boomers). As we age, it becomes our goal to find "a sense of oneness with all and reconcile the sweet and the bitter in life. The main life focus is reconciliation -- finding harmony and peace with ourselves, others and life in general."

You can see why older people are better donors than younger people.

And why appealing to the themes of their youth is just plain irrelevant to Boomers or anyone else:

Aging boomers should be marketed to in terms of where they are in life now, not where they were "back then," Yet, marketing often reflects the fantasy theme ... sometimes in hollow reverie ....

I haven't seen much fundraising that makes gratuitous use of Grateful Dead songs. But I have seen a fair amount of stylish retro use of 60s imagery and colors (yuck). Forget it. It's not getting you anywhere with the Boomers. Speak to them as the mature, fully shaped people they are now, not the groovy youngsters they once were.

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What your logo can do for you

If you've ever struggled to create a logo, you'll appreciate Seth's take on Logos:

If you're given the task of finding a logo for an organization ... find an abstract image that is clean and simple and carries very little meaning -- until your brand adds that meaning. It's not a popularity contest. Or a job for a committee. It's not something where you should run it by a focus group. It's just a placeholder, a label waiting to earn some meaning.

You can agonize all day and night about getting a logo just right, but you'll be barking up the wrong tree. Your logo will never bring a lot of meaning to the table. The best logo gets out of the way and lets reality do the work.

Instead, work on making your organization the best one around -- the one that everyone talks about, that people seek out to get involved with. Do that, and unless you really screwed up, your logo will be great. Because it stands for something great, not because it made you great.

And take some comfort: No matter how awful your logo accidentally ends up being, I'm pretty sure it won't be as bad as this one, which not only looks terrible and communicates nothing, but is reputed to trigger epileptic seizures, and was created at a cost of $796,000.

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Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants

The Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants is one year old this week. Check it out, because there's a list of all 93 blogs that have been featured in the Carnival in the past year. It's about as complete a blogroll of those covering the nonprofit beat as you'll find anywhere. Well worth exploring!

Return of stupid nonprofit ads

Why do we do it?

What's this urge in nonprofits to create really stupid ads? I have some theories, which I'll share later. Of course, my theories are probably about as useful as the ads themselves.

But first, let's enjoy a look at the latest round of stupid nonprofit tricks:

This is for Vitae, a homeless organization in Portugal (the apparently incorrect grammar isn't in the original; it's just a poor translation). It appears on the inside of garbage can lids. As if you've interrupted this scruffy guy while he's rooting through the garbage.

That's it. No call to action. Just a weird moment that more likely than not reminds you that the homeless sometimes make you feel uncomfortable. They must assume that the brief shock someone gets from this catalyzes all their pre-existing inner guilt, which leads them to write down the name of the organization, seek them out, and give some money.

This one is for Actionaid India. It's as if the reader hadn't noticed there are people living on the streets. The ad-industry jargon is the real kicker, though: Did you know that normal people don't call billboards "outdoor advertising"? The pun is lost on them. Not that a pun would motivate behavior in the first place ...

At least this one has something that almost resembles a call to action: "Support homeless people" and a URL. I bet uncounted hoards of people surfed right over and supported like crazy.

Nonprofits and bad marketing: It seems to go deeper than simple incompetence. My theories:

  • They're aspiring to be like "real" advertising, which often relies on mind puzzles and cleverness to get attention in lieu of actually thinking through people's inner motivations -- and eschews concrete calls to action. Of course, it doesn't work in advertising either.
  • They're trying to win awards, not actually motivate positive behavior. (More on this sore subject at Why advertising is so bad.)
  • It's the work of ad people doing pro bono work for nonprofits. These folks seem to view nonprofit marketing as a rule-free playground where they can do any old thing. (Often, interns and/or people on performance probation get these assignments as a way of building or redeeming their portfolios.)
  • It's nonprofit self-loathing. They hate to admit that they need help from others, so instead of asking, they twist their messages into pretzel-shapes in hopes that people will think about their issue and spontaneously start giving.

If you're interested in the stupid nonprofit advertising genre check out these posts:

Thanks to Adrants for finding these.

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It takes a village of brain cells to raise a donor

Fundraising is complicated. Because the things that move people to give funds are complicated. The Neuromarketing blog looks at this issue in The Joy of Giving vs. the Pain of Buying.

Short version: Two different parts of the brain are involved in decisions to give charitably: the anterior prefrontal cortex (which is involved in primal desires such as food and sex) and the posterior superior temporal cortex (which helps us perceive the intention of actions of others).

Make that two different parts of the brain that we know about so far. As Neuromarketing said:

... the fact that ... researchers found significant activity related to altruism in two different areas of the brain illustrates the challenges that face neuromarketing -- some have speculated about a "buy button" in the brain, and this work makes it clear there's no simple "give button."

Your donor is a complex package of firing neurons. And that's probably the most simplistic way of looking at them. They have opinions, experiences, memories, hearts, and souls -- all of which play a part in their decision to give.

We'll never stop learning about fundraising. But as long as we keep looking at donors, we'll keep making progress.

(See also What drives donors to do good deeds?)

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Death by committee


Read my column this month in FundRaising Success magazine, Death by Committee. It's about the damage done to fundraising by committees, something you may recognize as an occasional rant topic on this blog.

Fear of complaints is worse than complaints themselves

Advertising smart guy Roy H. Williams asks Are Your Ads Getting Enough Complaints?

It's something fundraisers should ask too. As Williams notes, the most effective ads also get the most complaints. That's because they make their point sharply, that have a clear and powerful perspective, and they're repetitive. All these things bug some people. And make ads work. Smart advertisers are unfazed by complaints.

There's also a strong correlation between complaints and success in fundraising messages. For exactly the same reasons. Plus one additional reason that pulls in the most complaints of all:

When you make the case for giving very strongly, you create a painful cognitive dissonance in nondonors. They know they should give, but they don't want to or can't. That really feels awful. To escape the discomfort, they can change their mind and give, wait for the feeling to pass, or blame the message for making them feel lousy.

Like the majority of ads that are written to avoid offending people and thus ineffective, most fundraising is carefully crafted to avoid complaints. That avoidance does incalculable damage.

As the man once said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Want your fundraising to be more effective? Remove fear of offending people from your list of requirements.

It's that simple (assuming you also do a good job of making the case). While the complaints trickle in, so will the revenue. Try it. It works.

(See also Donor complaints: often good news and How to Survive Donor Complaints in FundRaising Success magazine.)

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Children or professionals: who communicates better?

Yesterday I told you about the wonderful packet of letters I got from a group of kids thanking me for a donation I made through a very donor-powered organization called Donors Choose.

Among the cards was this drawing:


This is a picture of the microphone my donation made possible for their class. But it, ahem, looks just a bit like, well, something else. (I'm happy to report that I showed it around, and I'm not the only one who thinks so.)

Also, among the many thank-you cards, there were a fair number of misspellings, and a touch here and there of illegible handwriting.

I'm not complaining. In fact, the child-like realism of these cards is what makes them so wonderful. The loopiness of them signals sincerity and makes them precious.

I just can't help wondering: What would happen if these cards had gone through the usual approval process that donor communications go through at most nonprofits. Would a committee of rational and professional people have "censored" the drawing? Corrected the spelling? Fixed the handwriting?

It's easy to picture the meeting:

  • "This drawing could offend somebody."
  • "These misspellings reflect poorly on us."
  • "This sloppy handwriting fails to communicate clearly."
  • "This paper color isn't in our brand palette."

Cut, alter, muddle, censor. And that's before Legal weighs in.

That's why most nonprofit communications are insipid, un-memorable, and ineffective.

It's not that errors, sloppiness, and ambiguous images are themselves good.

But human contact -- in all its oddball energy and slightly out-of-control glory -- is better than brand-approved, super-professional, committee-approved material any day.

Let's hope Donors Choose never forgets that.

And that many other nonprofits rediscover it.

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40 thank-you notes = one grateful donor

A whole bunch of kids in South Carolina think I'm cool. And they don't even know I'm a glamorous B-list blogger!


These kids are impressed with me because I donated the money to buy a microphone for some music classes so they can record their singing. I did this through an organization called Donors Choose, which won a coveted Donor Power Award in March.

My gift was some weeks ago, so it wasn't much on my mind when I received a thick packet from Donors Choose: hand-drawn thank you cards from the kids. About 40 letters, most with drawings -- sweet, funny, heartfelt, real. (Logan hopes I didn't go bankrupt.)

They also pointed me to where on the web I can hear their recording of "Hot Cross Buns," made with "my" microphone. If you'd like to hear them too, click here.

In terms of emotional ROI, I'd say that gift was among the best charitable donations I've ever made.

We spend a lot effort "marketing" what we do. But all that fades to insignificance compared to the gratitude of 40 kids. That is the donor power revolution living out in full color!

Can you create a powerful experience like that for your donors?

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Billionaire has too much donor power

Billionaire and philanthropist T. Boone Pickens has caught the attention of a lot of nonprofits with two recent mega-gifts: $50 million each to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

These gifts came with strings attached. Strings? Maybe "steel cables" describes it better: They are not allowed to spend their $50 million until the fund has grown to $500 million. If the fund has not reached $500 million within 25 years, whatever is in the fund goes to Oklahoma State University for student scholarships.


The Charity Governance blog takes a good look at the issues these gifts raise at T. Boone Pickens should do what he wants, but what he did has some interesting implications:

He implicitly doesn't trust those who are running these institutions to make the right allocations with respect to capital.... If a prospective donor doesn't think the administrators are capable or the current mission is the wrong one, the donor should find another institution that more closely addresses the mission he is interested in funding or that, in his judgment, has more competent administrators.

He's yanking their chain! This is another case of too much donor power.

Is Pickens smarter about money than those hospitals? Almost certainly yes.

But is he smarter about running a hospital? I doubt it.

Is Pickens used to calling the shots? I imagine so.

He's using the size of his gifts to run the organization: He's made a fundamental decision -- maybe a good one, maybe not -- about their priorities. Not that they should turn him down: Most likely they'll have $500 million some time in the next 25 years (assuming something doesn't go badly sideways in the markets in the mean time).

But if the gift were $50, would they put up with guidelines like that?

When donors seize that much control, you have to ask if you're betraying your purpose. And to answer the question, you need a totally unclouded sense of your purpose -- one that would tell you when you're giving it up for a buck.

Be prepared for more situations like this as business-savvy donors believe (rightly or not) that they can run your organization better than you can.

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When it's okay to lie to donors

I got a telemarketing call the other day from a well regarded performing arts organization. They wanted me to become a member. I found the pitch compelling; the cause was good and so were the member benefits.

Let's pick up the conversation as it neared the "close":

Me: That sounds interesting. Could you send me this information by mail so I can make my decision?

Telemarketer: I can't do that. We want to sign people up by phone, because we can't afford to send letters.

Woops. That's not true. A phone call is more expensive than a mailing. Of course, most donors wouldn't know that.

Why did she lie to me? No doubt because she knew the chance of closing the deal with me was lower if we hung up without a commitment. So she told me a plausible and pretty much harmless lie.

But still a lie.

I'm not going to donate to that organization. Ever.

I'm sure lying to donors isn't their policy. It was probably just a zealous telemarketer on commission.

But lying isn't appropriate. Under any circumstances, even if the lie is "small" and expedient. It would have been better to tell me the truth, even if it feels funny: We prefer not to send you something in the mail, because in our experience when we do that, many people never get around to saying yes. Or better yet, just do what the donor asks you to do, even if you'd rather not.

It's too bad a lie had to separate me from a good cause. But if lying is endemic in the organization, that's the least of their worries.

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Do you want what your donors want?

Sometimes you wonder if nonprofits and their donors inhabit the same planet.

A recent study in the UK points out the perceptual gap.

Charities described themselves as passionate, caring, independent, inspiring, challenging, inclusive.

Where have I seen lists of those words before? Oh yes -- in nonprofits' brand guidelines!

Donors, asked to describe desirable qualities in charities, said trustworthy, honest, effective, helpful, friendly.

How boring! Old fashioned. Off-brand.

Read about the study here: Sector at odds with public over the 'ideal' charity (registration required).

The Whitewater blog skewers this in Death to 'Char-gon':

It says a lot that people in the charitable sector, who are entirely dependent on the public's goodwill for their livelihoods, would rather be seen as 'inclusive' than 'helpful' (which didn't even feature in their top ten.) This is a sector dangerously in love with its own cheesy charity jargon.... Charities! Stop yammering on about how dynamic, innovative and super-sexy you are and just talk like a human being. You'll be amazed how far it'll get you.

You may have noticed in life that the key to successful relationships is to be aware of the other person. It's true in fundraising also.

Look outward. Talk to donors. Think about them. Serve them. That's the key to success.

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Boomers are getting ready to help you

Get ready for an "involvement boom" in the coming years as Boomers (and like-minded) retire. That's what we can infer from recent research, reported in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Baby Boomers Seek a Purposeful Direction in Later Life, Study Finds (subscription required).

People aged 55 to 65 in the Denver metropolitan area were asked about their plans in the coming years. Here's what they said:

  • 70% said they would like to take classes for fun.
  • 51% would like to change to part-time or flexible work.
  • 39% would like to take a leadership role in a nonprofit group.
  • 35% would like to return to school.
  • 53% are currently doing volunteer work; 49% want to do so in the future.

What does this mean for fundraising? It's good news. Volunteers make good donors. They can also be demanding donors, leveraging their knowledge and involvement for more personal impact.

Many of the people in the study also said they think nonprofit groups need to improve the way they run their volunteer programs.

As usual, there's a perception gap between normal people and nonprofit organizations on:

  • 83% said they were motivated to engage boomer volunteers.
  • 78% that they matched individuals' interests and skills.
  • 61% that they have the infrastructure to support volunteers.

What all this means:

  • Be ready for a lot of people seeking volunteer opportunities.
  • Make sure you have your act together (not just that you believe you have it together).
  • Have plenty of ways for volunteers to interact meaningfully with you.
  • Create ways for volunteers to donate in ways they find compelling. They'll do 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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