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September 2009

How to know if you're wrong about fundraising

Here's the easy test that could save you a kajillion dollars (that's a one followed by a bazillion zeroes). I'm willing to share it with you because I like you.

If your belief, or theory, or intuition about fundraising is based on your own personal experience, you are wrong.

That's right: Your own experience, preference, and wishes always lead you astray. Same with your boss, your consultant, your spouse, and pretty much everyone else who has an opinion about how fundraising ought to be.

That's because your conscious opinions have nothing whatsoever to do with the way real people interact with your message. Add to that the fact that you are not your donor (you're probably very, very different from her) -- and you have a situation where not only are your guesses wrong, they're very often diametrically opposed to what happens in the real world.

Get used to it. Form your beliefs from testing and learning, not personal experience.

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The power of nice

Good post at Conversation Agent: Being Helpful is the New Black.

Seriously, being helpful always works. Never hurts. Be nice. Nicer than you have to be.

Is direct mail dying, or should we just kill it?

You hear it all the time: Direct mail fundraising is dying: HOORAY!

Read a recent example at the Sea Change Strategies blog: Direct Mail Isn't Dying -- But Sometimes I Wish It Would.

Starting with the belief that direct mail is "inauthentic," the post goes on to throw out some strong accusations about the way direct mail is, including:

  • Direct mail fundraisers spend much more time thinking about the color or size of the envelope than they do the content.
  • A huge proportion of direct mail includes mailing labels or other crap to make you feel guilty.
  • It's a little bit cheesy and dishonest.
  • The patois of direct mail is loaded with hyperbole and stilted language.

Every one of these is true. Sometimes.

Not always.

There's amazing, empowering, authentic stuff happening in snail-mail every day. Millions of pieces of it. And it's working. It's working a lot better than the crappy stuff.

It's a near-fatal error in your thinking when your starting point is direct mail is crappy and I wish it would go away. Think that way, and you'll make dumb decisions right and left.

If you want to make smart decisions, you must be medium-agnostic and look at facts, not your opinions, about the media. Like these ...

Facts:

  • Direct mail response rates have been slowly and steadily dropping for several years now. Until last year, a general increase in average gift more than made up for the lower volume, leading to net growth every year. In 2008, many mailers got hit be dropping response and average gift.
  • Email fundraising has been growing by double digits every year for several years.
  • Still, direct-mail revenue dwarfs online revenue, and it will for years to come.

NON-facts:

  • Direct mail by nature is cheesy.
  • Online marketing by nature is noble.

For sure, the facts tell us things are changing. And we'd better get on board with that change.

There are no facts telling us that any medium should be rejected or embraced because of its moral standards or its style.

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Seth zeros in on our third-worst problem

Seth says the big problem with nonprofit organizations is they resist change. I know I'm among the last to comment on The problem with non, but I beg to differ.

Fear of change is only our third worst problem.

Our #1 problem is hatred of fundraising and donors. Hardly any nonprofit was founded in order to raise funds. But most depend on fundraising to exist. This seems to fuel a sort of resentment of the craft and of donors that blocks effective, donor-focused communication. Organizations with this problem yearn for "better" donors that don't need the "demeaning" tactics of effective fundraising. They spend needless millions on this failed alchemy experiment.

The #2 problem is group-think. Nonprofit culture is so consensus-driven, that decisions can't be made until every possible stakeholder is satisfied. Which, of course, almost never happens.

(#4, if you're interested, is free and cheap services. See Stupid Nonprofit Ads.)

Yes, fear of change hobbles us. But it's entirely possible that some (maybe most) organizations shouldn't be using Twitter or whatever whiz-bang fad is amazing everyone. If you have the first two problems, you want get Twitter right anyway.

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Fun week: Award-winning stupid nonprofit ad raises eyebrows (but probably no money)

This is one stupid doozy.

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Done for the World Wildlife Foundation by DDB Brasil, this ad won a prestigious One Show award. WWF, to their credit, has denounced the work. One Show also stripped it of its honors.

(Read a good account of the fiasco in Fast Company: In Advertising, Stupidity Can Win You Awards.)

The real difference between this and all the other stupid nonprofit ads I present here is this: Everyone noticed. (Check out the blog buzz on Technorati.)

The ad is like so many others in its class: inept, abstract, and disengaged from reality. But it raised an uproar because of its shocking poor taste in the bizarre and illogical connection it draws between the 9/11 attacks and the Indian Ocean tsunami.

It also uncovered the agency award scam system: Agencies will approach nonprofits, offer to do free work for them. The work is specifically geared to win awards, not help the nonprofit. They actually place their ads so they're eligible for awards, but usually in out-of-the-way places. Then submit the work, and sometimes win awards for it.

So remember: Just say no to the agency award scam! I'll bet WWF is wishing they'd done that right now. Stupid nonprofit ads can do grave damage. But only if you allow it.

Just in case the print ad isn't horrifyingly stupid enough, there's also a TV version. Watch with care -- it's stomach-churning awful:

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Fun week: Postal Service shines in research

Ever get frustrated with the Post Office and their persnickety regulations? Maybe they're just a bit more flexible than they let on.

The very cool journal Improbable Research did some amazing postal delivery research, reported at Postal Experiments. Here are just a few of the items they sent through the US postal system:

  • Rose. Postage and address were attached to a card that was tied to the stem. Delivery at doorstep, 3 days, beat up but the rose bud was still attached.
  • Hammer. Card was strapped to hammer handle; extra-large amount of postage was attached. Never received.
  • Feather duster. The card with postage and address was attached by wire to the handle. Days to notice of delivery, 6.
  • Helium balloon. The balloon was attached to a weight. The address was written on the balloon with magic marker; no postage was affixed. The balloon was refused.
  • Coconut. Fresh green coconut containing juice, mailed in Hawaii. Delivery at doorstep, 10 days.
  • Lemon. Never received.
  • Deer tibia. 9 days.
  • Large wheel of cheese. The cheese was already extremely ripe (rancid) at the time of mailing. The cheese had oiled its way through the bottom of the cardboard box by the time of pickup, 8 days. The box had been placed in a plastic bag.

I'll never look at a pre-cancelled bulk-rate stamp the same way again.

Thanks to the Direct Creative Blog for the tip.

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Fun week: Stupid nonprofit ad and the transformation of the mud man

Here's a real winner from Oxfam Ireland:

Let's see if we can figure this one out: A man-shaped lump of dry mud is magically transformed into an actual man. While a desiccated landscape becomes a lush savannah. And that is supposed to awaken us to the fact that climate change is a bad thing.

Exactly how?

Forget the fact that the mud-to-man thing makes no sense, but why does it go from bad to good? Doesn't climate change go the other way?

What we have here is another case of message abstraction. Somebody that being unclear, un-literal, and completely conceptual would get the message across better than just saying what's up.

If you want people to face the impacts of climate change, why not show what it actually does? That's pretty horrifying: Babies die. The hopes and dreams of good people get destroyed. Beautiful things turn ugly. But no matter how severe climate change is, it doesn't turn dried mud into people. Or vice-versa.

Looks like ad agency work, though I don't know that for a fact.

If you don't want the tragedy of message abstraction to happen to you, don't let the ad people get to you.

Thanks to Osocio for the tip.

More Stupid nonprofit ads here.

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Fun week: New website is accurate, inept, or both?

Check the website of INEPD -- International Network for Enabling Poverty Development.

Their compelling goal: "Bringing poverty development to poor communities around the world."

Sad thing, this site is hardly different from dozens of real nonprofit websites. Amusing nonetheless.

Thanks to queer ideas for the tip.

It's time for a week of fun

I'll bet you could use a laugh or two. I know I could. So this week, it's all fun at the Donor Power Blog. No practical advice. No earnest sermons about taking donors seriously. No rants about bad fundraising -- well, actually there will be a couple of rants. I hope they're fun.

Let's start with a direct-mail fundraising joke. First posted here about three years ago:

Q: What's a passive-aggressive donor?

A: Someone who gives regularly, but always via white-mail.

If that makes you laugh, you are a serious fundraising nerd.

And for some further diversion, here's one of life's rarities, a public service annoucement that's truly funny and also effective. It's an anti-flu warning from the South Australia Department of Health.

Don't miss the rest of Fun Week!

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Elements of a Great Fundraising Offer

Logo_fs

Here's my column in this month's FundRaising Success magazine, Elements of a Great Fundraising Offer.

Teaser: What would galvanize you to a quicker and stronger action -- a toddler heading straight for a busy street or a whitepaper about the rate of childhood traffic injuries and fatalities?

Social media means listen, not just talking

I know you're all excited about what you might do with Facebook and other social media. But hold your horses. We need to get a few things straight about doing well in those worlds. Here are some good tips from Social Times, at Why You Need To Stop Talking And Start Listening:

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Remember that a man's Name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  3. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  4. Talk in the terms of the other man's interest.
  5. Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely.

Funny thing, this may be good advice for how to behave in social media, but it's how you should behave everywhere else too. Including real life.

Give it a try.

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Why trying to be cool is self-defeating

Three cheers to the Do More Ministry blog for telling it like it is at Offering envelopes aren't cool ... so what? Another blogger was complaining about offering envelopes that many churches use because they aren't cool (see The Uncool Offering Envelope):

... when I read the that the "cool factor" is a reason NOT to use offering envelopes ... I'm confused. When did "cool" become a requirement ... for anything ... in church? I don't care about COOL. I care about FUNDING!

Trying to be cool is uncool, because it means you're focusing on yourself. That's how you become dull and irrelevant. Trying to be cool makes you shape the way you raise funds to meet your own needs, not the people you raise funds from.

The need to be seen as cool (or smart, or modern, or anything else) causes nonprofits to make all kinds of stupid and self-destructive decisions. Like arbitrarily change they way they raise funds because the old way doesn't reflect well on them. That's a huge self-centered, and very common mistake.

I'm no expert on the effectiveness of church offering envelopes. And I agree they aren't exactly cutting-edge. But if they work, that's a good reason to use them. Cool or not. Same with everything else you do.

The real cool guys? They're the ones changing the world because they're raising enough funds with corny old envelopes. I'd rather hang out with them.

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Not perfect? That's okay

Good words from Too Busy To Fundraise about fundraisers who are stymied by Perfection. You probably know some: fundraisers who ...

... can't possibly fundraise yet because ... things aren't perfect, so we can't possibly ... ask anyone to help us move our mission forward.

Is that you?

Let me tell you a secret: I've worked with some of the largest and most advanced, trained, and with-it nonprofit organizations in the world, and not one of them is perfect. I could tell you tales that imperfection that would curl your toes. Yet these same organizations routinely raise millions of dollars for their causes.

You can always be better prepared than you are. You can always have a few more critical tools in your tool chest.

But you need to start somewhere. Where you are now is the best place to start.

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Experts display their lack of expertise over "exploitative" ad

Is this ad, for Médecins Sans Frontières UK, the British arm of Doctors Without Borders, exploitative? Effective?

The controversy is reported at Give and Take: Doctors Without Borders Ad Generates Debate.

Exploitation is in the eye of the beholder. It's not a verifiable fact. (Though I have to say, anyone who finds this ad exploitative is a seriously sensitive plant.)

Effective, on the other hand, is a fact. It's accomplishing its objectives, or it's not. You wouldn't know that from the quotes and comments in the Give and Take post. One expert is quoted with this opinion:

After watching this ad several times (I don't recommend you try this) ... I feel 1) deranged and 2) hopeless, as though nothing I could ever do, much less donate a few dollars to MSF, could possibly have any effect on the vast, incomprehensible suffering in the world.

An "expert" whose opinion consists of how something makes her feel is not an expert at all. Because that tells us nothing useful about how effective the ad might be.

Any schmuck can tell us how an ads effects him. And the schmuckier the person, the more likely he'll tell us.

An actual expert will never bother to mention their own reaction. They'll focus on facts.

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It could be worse

Are things rough at your nonprofit, with rivalries, silos, and lack of communication? I bet they're not as bad as at Feed the Children, where an investigator found that three offices there were bugged.

Read about it at NewsOK in Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City police look into wiretapping at Feed the Children.

The wiretaps are just the latest in a string of travails:

It is unclear whether the wiretapping is connected to the power struggle at the charity. During the strife there, [founder Larry] Jones was at odds with four key employees and most of the directors on the charity's board. 

Oh, things are ugly at Feed the Children.

So count your blessings. You are better off.

Branding is dead, more or less

Here's someone else saying branding is dead, this time at ClickZ: Branding Today: Why It's Ineffective, Irrelevant, Irritating, and Impotent. Here's the main point:

Branding that involves made-up claims and fanciful brand smells, colors, or auras has been rendered completely impotent by the habits and expectations of modern consumers. What should an advertiser do in this Darwinian new world of empowered consumers? First, make a kick-ass product. Second, make a kick-ass product. Third, repeat one and two ....

What's a kick-ass product if you're a nonprofit? It's changing the world in a specific way that your supporters understand, love, and tell everyone they know about. For some organizations, that's just a matter of packaging. For others, it would take fundamental organizational changes to achieve "kick-ass" status.

But all the identity standards in the world won't move anyone one bit closer to that.

If I had a limited budget (as I do, and so do you), I'd spend it on my product, not my identity standards. I might start thinking about identity standards after I'd nailed that part.

(It's worth noting that the Neuromarketing blog has an interesting counterpoint to the ClickZ article: Is Branding Dead? Our Brains Say No!)

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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.


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