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August 2008

How to see donors realistically

Sometimes it helps to make a promise to keep yourself on the right path. Well, here's a good one for you: Fundraising consultant Tom Ahern has created The Donor-Centric Pledge for fundraisers.

It's a long and comprehensive statement of beliefs for fundraisers. Here are just a few of them. Fundraisers should believe...

3. That no one "owes" us a gift just because our mission is worthy.

14. That donors want to make a difference in the world -- and that our mission is one of many means to that end.

17. That individual donors respond to our appeals for personal reasons we can only guess at.

19. That fundraising serves the donors' emotional needs as much as it serves the organization's financial needs.

20. That we are in the "feel good" business. Donors feel good when they help make the world a better place.

Go see the whole thing. It's a refreshing way to think about how we can do better work by serving donors better.

(See also the Donor Power Pledge (download PDF).

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Little stuff makes the difference in fundraising

Everyone wants some big new idea that changes everything. But is that the right thing to look for?

Ask direct doesn't think so, at The art of being 15 minutes ahead:

Don't waste your time searching for the one big idea that will transform your fundraising like a magic bullet. Instead, concentrate on just being that little bit better, quicker, smarter, more personal, more evocative, more attentive....

I love big, game-changing ideas. I've seen a few of them happen. But it's true: They don't come along very often. Big ideas turn out to be big failures more often than not.

Just getting stuff right may seem a little boring. Like getting receipts sent out quicker. It's not going to win you an award or a cover story in the industry press. But getting stuff right will make you better than almost everyone else.

And I can promise you that if you do the small stuff well, you'll be a lot more likely to get the big stuff right too. Greatness does not exist in a vacuum.

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How to survive a recession: the basics

Everyone's worried about how to hold things together in a down economy. The Chronicle of Philanthropy's Prospecting blog recently shared some Tips for Raising Money in a Recession that are worth taking a look at:

  • Communicate to donors how the charity changes people's lives.
  • Be open.
  • Offer donors more flexibility in making a gift.
  • Take very good care of donors.
  • Craft extra warm appeals, the kind that tug at the donor's heartstrings.

I hope you're saying, Those are things you should do all the time! Because they are. But in hard times, you can't afford not to do fundraising right.

Donors matter more than ever.

You can't afford to wish they were different, allowing you to market yourself in a way that would make you happier.

Reaching donors on their own terms goes from smart to mission-critical.

And when hard times pass, you'll see the real power of getting it right.

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More transparency than ever before

It used to be "transparency" for a nonprofit meant being willing to answer donors' questions about your finances and inner workings.

Now it means making that stuff publicly available.

The Nonprofit Consultant Blog explores this issue at Nonprofit Website Mistakes: Lack of Transparency. To be transparent on your website do these things:

  • Post your 990s
  • Post your audits
  • Post board activity
  • Start blogging
  • Post your contact Information

Not so long ago, you didn't need to worry much about being transparent: most donors never gave a thought to looking under the hood of the charities they gave to. Small print somewhere saying "Our annual report is available on request" was all the transparency you needed.

Now, transparency needs to be a clear and constant part of what you do and how you think, not just on your website, but everywhere.

More than ever before, people are skeptical about institutions, including nonprofits. At the same time, more donors are becoming web-savvy enough to find information on their own -- and willing to do so. This combination of skeptical, web-smart donors demand a radical sort of transparency -- online and off.

When you don't make information easily availab1le, you seem to be hiding something. Don't let that happen to you!

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How to avoid creating a boring blog

What is it about nonprofit blogs? So many of them are so incredibly boring. It' not like they're about boring things -- the problem is something else.

The Reuters AlertNet Blog noted this among the blogs of international relief organization in DEBATE: Are aid agencies ready for the blogosphere? Some of the problems:

Open and frank discussion is rare. Many blogs read more like press releases, crammed with acronyms and technical aid-speak. Others are just plain boring, or so thoroughly vetted by head office that all the juice has been squeezed dry.

I can hardly think of a more exciting venue than international relief. But they're right. Most of the blogs don't live up to their potential.

I'll go out on a limb and guess that the main problem is too much head-office involvement in making the blogs "brand compliant." Just a hunch.

The AlertNet post also includes material about an event that was held for relief bloggers, including this helpful report (PDF).

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Are your donors an "uncontacted tribe"?

Do you see your donors as a kind of "uncontacted tribe"? If you do, you're not alone.

Their lives are utterly strange to us. Their habits and culture are utterly mysterious. We can only vaguely guess how they think.

They're a strange combination of dangerous and fragile ...

When they see us spying into their world, they gesture threateningly and futilely try to shoot us down. If we went among them, they'd doubtless kill us. On the other hand, we're afraid we could destroy them if we accidentally introduce a disease or cultural artifact that they can't handle.

So we keep our distance. We study them as well as we can without endangering ourselves or them. We make our best guesses based on blurry photos and lame focus groups.

If you want better fundraising results, you can't think of donors this way.

The successful fundraiser doesn't buzz the donors' village in a helicopter. He lives in the village. Donors are his friends, his cousins, his elders, his mentors.

While he may study them, they're not just an academic subject to him. They're his source of wisdom, inspiration, and truth.

A real fundraiser is also a donor. Not a geek in a helicopter.

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Amaze your donors and they'll make it worth your trouble

Who's wowing their donors? Not very many of us, apparently. Recent research by Campbell Rinker found...

While most charities are doing a good job of meeting donors' expectations, few are actually exceeding them....

(Reported at the Prospecting blog: Few Charities Wow Donors During Process of Giving.)

Some of the numbers:

  • 83% of charitable donors consider the giving experience to be what they expect.
  • 13% say the charity they supported went beyond their expectations.
  • 66% said they occasionally recommend one of their favorite charities to a friend or family member.
  • 19% said they frequently do so.

If this tells you anything, it's this: Do something to amaze and surprise donors, and you'll stand out in the crowd.

It also tells us how important word-of-mouth is in the charity sector.

And these two things are very closely linked.

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The power of the obnoxious

Is this guy obnoxious, or what?

I can almost hear fundraisers around the world thundering, I will never do fundraising like that! But think twice, as the Direct Creative Blog points out at Kaboom! The selling magic of Billy Mays:

I think few would say they "like" to watch a Billy Mays commercial. He's considered obnoxious by many. But that's irrelevant. Just as people say they dislike catalogs while continuing to place orders, they say they don't like Mays' in-your-face style while emptying the store shelves of the products he pitches.

That's the funny thing about successful marketing. It's so often not likeable. I don't know how many time's I've sat behind the one-way window at a focus group and watched people vow that they would never respond to a certain piece of direct mail -- one that just happened to be an unbeatable control. That's how it goes.

If you want to raise funds, you have to learn to separate what works from what you like.

It's not a popularity contest.

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Fire Your Marketing Department

Here's my column in this month's FundRaising Success magazine, Useful Truths: Apply With Care.

Teaser: Maybe marketing used to be about fonts, color palettes and tightly defined messaging platforms. Today it's about conversation, collaboration and authenticity. Complex stuff. Hard to understand. Harder to put into practice. And nearly impossible when you have an isolated, out-of-context marketing department.

Donor-Centric Newsletters, Part 2: How to Make it Work


Now that you believe in producing a newsletter for donors, here are some of the little-known and seldom-done best practices for making your newsletter bring in net revenue even while it improves the health of your file.

To listen, click here to download the audio file or visit the Fundraising Is Beautiful page here, where you'll find several listening and subscription options.

Or subscribe with iTunes:

Shut up and make meetings better

Pretty much everyone hates meetings. That's because so many meetings are hateful. There are a lot of things that make them that way, and at the top of the list is people talk too much in meetings.

Right? Well here's something that'll give you pause: Maybe one of the motormouths who's making the meeting into a torture chamber is you.

It's worth considering, and a place to start is the Chief Happiness Officer blog post, Five simple ways to STFU in meetings. Those five ways are:

  1. Put your hand over your mouth -- literally. It'll help you stay quiet.
  2. Ask some great questions -- encourage others to talk.
  3. Keep track of how often you blab.
  4. Notice how you feel when you're quiet
  5. Ask yourself a simple question: "Is what I’m about to say something I need to say or something the other participants need to hear?"

Meetings go better when there's more listening than talking. That's something each of us can all help bring about.

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More donors are integrating the web with other media

Maybe it used to be okay to have a website that wasn't really aimed at donors, but that's changing. A recent survey by the NonProfit Times, Web Triggers Direct Mail Response, says:

...twice as many potential donors are heading online after receiving a fundraising solicitation by mail than they did just three years ago, and among those 65 and older, the increases were even more substantial.

When the survey was done three years ago, 25% of respondents said they check out potential charities on the web. This year 44% said so.

(I just have to include my standard disclaimer about survey research: It doesn't tell you how people behave; it tells you what they say about how they behave. Not the same thing.)

Even so, there's no surprise in the direction of these findings. More people are growing more accustomed to using the web. Every day, more donors are making the web a meaningful part of the way they interact with charities.

So you'd better make sure what they're getting in the mail and what they find online are in some way connected. Make sure you're answering the questions donors have -- not the ones you wish they'd have. Make it easy to give online. Look out for confusing thickets of links that lead away from what donors are looking for.

If your organization's site is a hodge-podge creating by competing and conflicting silos, it's going to cost you.

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Don't go out without your briefs

The number-one reason for lame, ill-conceived websites, I'm pretty sure, is lack of planning and poor alignment of goals. Lyris HQ would probably agree with me, and recommends Creative Briefs: Your Map to Message Success. A written brief helps you:

  1. Align the goals.
  2. Define the audience.
  3. Decide which features and benefits to promote.
  4. Choose a clear call to action.

The benefit of planning ahead and putting it in writing is huge. You will do better work if you approach it this way. And you'll save time, money, and frustration. I promise you it's true.

And that's just for online projects. It's always true.

The article above is a long and detailed, but if you aren't starting every job you do with a brief, it's worth learning how.

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Donor makes his own way to do good deeds

Interesting story about donor power in The Seattle Times: Filtering out a global problem.

It's about Leon McLaughlin, a 53-year-old Seattle shoeshine who supplies water filtration machines to impoverished communities. He basically conceived of the mission, researched it, figured out how to make it happen, and now pursues his mission with passion:

It's like you have a coffee shop on every corner, but instead you have clean water in every village," he said.

It's an inspiring story, but that's not why I'm pointing it out to you. There are two interesting things about it:

  1. I'd bet we're going to see more donors like this guy: Passionate, driven folks who zero in on some issue and take it upon themselves to do something about it. Previous generations might have been happy to hand over some dough and let the charities spend it. These new donors, they want to give a lot more than money. And they want more involvement. Are you ready for them?
  2. McLaughlin's partner for getting the water filtration machines to the field is World Vision. I don't know if it was an easy or difficult decision to work with him, but either way, my hat (were I wearing one) is off to them. A lot of nonprofits would shun that level of donor involvement at the project level. Their loss. Everybody's loss.

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Podcast: Donor-Centric Newsletters, Part 1: Why You Should Have One


Did you know that many donors ask for newsletters from the charities they support? A great newsletter can improve donor retention and upgrading and bring in revenue while it does it. Find out how you can benefit from the power of a donor-centric newsletter.

To listen, click here to download the audio file or visit the Fundraising Is Beautiful page here, where you'll find several listening and subscription options.

Or subscribe with iTunes:

Somebody else owns your homepage

All that work getting your nonprofit's homepage just right? It may be beside the point, according to Web Strategy by Jeremiah: Your Corporate Homepage is Really Google.com.

Why? Because nearly everyone who visits your site gets their via a search engine (mostly likely Google) -- and there's a very good chance they never see your beautiful homepage. So, says Jeremiah:

... be cognizant that your homepage isn't the website you own and manage, but actually Google Results. While you can shape that first few entries with search marketing techniques, but note that a influential blog can cause havoc or be a positive endorsement.

That doesn't mean ignore your homepage. It means pay attention to how you show up in Google searches. Do people seeking you or your cause find a sensible, non-confusing entrance?

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Ugly coupons boost fundraising response

Print designers hate coupons. They're ugly, blocky, inflexible, and they can violate more brand graphic standards than you can shake a stick at.

Fundraisers love them. Because they promote response.

Ted Grigg, in his Reflections about Direct Marketing blog, notes this at Avoid Coupons in Print Advertisements. True or False?

Creative teams who do not count their success based on quantifiable results despise coupons. And when they are forced to make one, they do everything they can to disguise it. The coupon becomes a wave or some other contorted design that looks good to the eye and draws as little attention to itself as possible.

Sorry, but it's true. An ugly box bordered with a thick black dashed line makes more people respond. Print ads with no coupons, or with "disguised" coupons, don't do very well.

If you want response, you have to let people know you want response. And a coupon is a powerful way to do that. Coupons boost response even in situations where there's little coupon response. I've tested a coupon on a page in a newsletter, and it boosted response -- even though there was already a reply coupon in the envelope, and the on-page coupon itself was virtually not sent in at all.

The lesson here, as it so often is in direct response, is this: Things we don't like often work. Your taste and aesthetic sense count for very little.

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Old news: People like "new"

In marketing, new is one of the best words available. (The other one is free.) Apparently that's because being attracted to newness is an innate feature of our brains, says a post at the Neuromarketing blog, The Power of "New".

Novelty activates the brain's reward center, causes us find new products (and even repackaged old products) attractive:

... making a product "new" in some way may give it a boost when compared with competing products. At the same time, marketers should be mindful of long-term brand attachments.... marketers need to steer a careful course -- emphasize the novelty of their offering while still using the power of long-term brand affinity.

Nonprofits seem to focus either on their long histories (lack of novelty) or their amazing new cutting edge-ness. Success lies in balancing those two things.

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Maybe this is what's wrong with your enewsletter

If you're unhappy with the performance of your email newsletter, you might want to read this post at Denise Cox's Email Matters Blog: Why do people like (and don’t like) email newsletters? Here are the reasons people don't like them. See if these things are familiar:

  • No useful content - nothing useful. No special offers. No new information.
  • Hard to read - maybe it's one big image that's blocked and appears to be an empty email. Maybe the design and layout of the text makes it hard to read and decipher.
  • Ignores permission - comes too frequently (or feels like it does) - or more frequently than promised.
  • Each newsletter gives the same feeling you would get if you walked into a shop and five sales people descended on you immediately to ask you if you are going to make a purchase. The newsletter is all sales, no information. All pressure, no enjoyment.

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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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