Marketing revolution

No words necessary

I came across a picture the other night on Facebook that I promptly shared.  It had no explanation, no tag, no link, no credit, no nothing.  Just a 4-word phrase, “Worth a Thousand Words”.  The phrase was true.  As you can see, a generous man is taking the very shoes off of his feet and donating them to a child in need. The child is obviously emotional about his gift.  Wherever they are, there seems to be some industrialization, but yet he/she is still struggling and in need of very basic necessities. 

See how I interpreted that?  I crafted my own story from this picture.

  NWN image1v2

Storytelling is one of the most recommended communication tactics in marketing and fundraising today. 

“Tell your brand’s story and connect deeper with your donors”

“People relate to people”

“Stories evoke emotions that drive action”

The advice goes on and on.  But have you ever thought about telling your story without words? How about just pictures?  Graphics that display exactly what your organization does.  An illustration of the end recipient benefiting from all those donations.  A simple statement without actually stating anything.  Sounds straightforward, I know.  But very few organizations seem to do it.  We always want to reiterate our point in case the reader didn’t get it the first 3 emails of the month.  It’s time to adapt to the new age of communication. 

We’re in the days of digital, ladies and gentleman - of texting instead of talking, avatars instead of real appearances, emails instead of addressing, and pictures instead of words.  The internet is slowly replacing the need for human interaction.  The idea of using pictures to send messages actually seems to put that human element back into contact.

Why do you think social networks like Pinterest, Instagram and Cowbird are getting so much traction?  They’re visually-driven and Americans don’t read!  (At least, not like we used to.)  I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about these networks recently and the truth is they’re the hottest things in social right now.  But if you can’t justify the investment with the limited resources you already have, it’s not the end of the world. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a way to repurpose the group activity and philosophy behind these popular networks into your everyday fundraising and marketing efforts … through graphical storytelling.

Forming an opinion or thought by viewing a picture is the new normal.  It’s quick, easy, and can be extremely powerful, more than text on a page (or in an email). 

Pictures are shareable on just about any social network and can grant your organization viral spread to the n’th degree in a matter of minutes – for virtually free.  When you design your next email, direct mail piece, or web page, think about what visuals would best represent your mission.  And I’m not talking about your logo.  Sum up the very reason for your existence in something powerful that warrants no written explanation (except maybe a call to action) - sort of like these:

  Holiday Wish List

The Salvation Army, Sierra del Mar

Charity Waterv2

Charity Water


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

National Multiple Sclerosis Society - Michael, Diagnosed in 2004

A few images and just one sentence can help you appeal to your constituents in a deeper way than any copy-written paragraph.  

Have examples where you’ve tried this?  Share with us in the comments below!

-Amber Bonner

Amber is the Digital Project Manager in Merkle’s nonprofit vertical.  She chooses to Do What Matters because “it’d be too easy not to.  Challenge is good.”

Digital-Mobile Sphere Rallies Around Japan Relief Efforts

Last week, I wrote here about how social gaming platforms were helping raise money for the Japan earthquake-tsunami relief efforts. As the news grew increasingly more worrying, I started to take note of a rallying of effort across the digital and mobile sphere, echoing relief efforts from Haiti, but pushing channels to a new level of engagement. 

I've rounded up some of the interesting examples I've seen in the last week. Yes, most have the Red Cross as the charity that benefits from the donations, but this is also a testament to the work the Red Cross has done in optimizing new and developing channels as fundraising channels in times of disaster. So, in no particular order:

Living Social:

Last Thursday, Groupon-like site Living Social sent out an offer: Give $5 to the Red Cross, and we'll match it to make it $10. Doesn't seem that huge right? With 15 hours still left to go in the deal, over $750,000 had been raised!


iTUNES gets into the game:

It started some time last week and can still be seen on the iTUNES homepage today--amidst promos of artists, movies, and whatever else, now comes a promo to help Japan relief efforts. Donation goes to Red Cross, your iTunes account is billed. No news that I could find on how much has been raised, but millions of eyes have been exposed to the offer.





Do you HULU?

Just this past week at the annual NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference, discussion abounded about using Hulu's free service for nonprofits to run in-video ads. And what do I see pop up this past Sunday while catching up on some TV viewing time?   A special ad just for Japan relief that was visible during the entire show and had in-video spots.





Travel a lot for business and pleasure? I sure do, and I make it a point to try to stay at the same hotel family to collect points.  I am sure many others do too. Instead of redeeming them for night stays, I can now donate them to disaster relief (well, at least if I'm collecting Hilton points). They also did this during Haiti, but rolled out much quicker with the offer this time around.


Mobile keeps evolving:

The role of mobile in disaster relief efforts certainly proved itself with the Haiti earthquake. since then, some of us have been pondering important questions like: do I want the $10 donor?  What do I do with them after? How do I convert/upgrade them? How do I even find out who they are? 

Having donated $10 to the Red Cross, I see them trying something interesting in the upgrading department: a text back telling me that if I'd like to donate more $$, to call this number...(Can't wait to find out from the Red Cross folks how well this worked!)


Have you seen other great examples of fundraising for Japan disaster relief?  We'd love to share them with our readers!

-Miriam Kagan

Fundraising Challenge: Acquisition -- Evolutionary vs. Revolutionary Thinking

Recently in one of our meetings, or perhaps in the daily back-and-forth strategic debates, dialogues, and brainstorming “events” that we engage in with Greg Fox, our Chief Strategy Officer here at Merkle, he challenged us to be curious and think differently, out of which a few interesting points of view rose to the surface.  

So I figured I would, perhaps on a monthly basis, post one of them for you, gentle readers, to consider, poke holes in, and generally comment back about.  To be clear, there are no right or wrong answers here, which is the beauty of such an academic exercise as this, and admittedly our strategic team is not absolute in our opinions on most of these items one way or the other – so you won’t be hurting anyone’s feelings. 

The Challenge –  What is the “Real" Cost to Acquire 

So, to get back on point, the premise around this topic, in simple terms, is that we all know how we calculate the cost to acquire or the cost per dollar raised on our acquisition campaigns, at the campaign level.   We also all know that the single biggest challenge facing our industry is our ability to acquire new donors in a cost-effective way. 

So what are we doing about?  What are you doing about it gentle readers?  What dramatically new, innovative, earth-shattering progress has been made?  Greg would say, with regards to acquisition, none.  We still approach acquisition the same way today, as we did 5 years, even 20 years, ago as an industry. 

The thinking around this is as follow:

If I have a $0.30 cost per piece

DPB - 2

And a 1.00% Response Rate, 

DPB - 3 

I have a $30 cost to acquire. 

But are we really exposing “all” of the cost for these new donors?  All of the investment? 

This is where the incremental cost to acquire debate begins.  

If a prospect is on a “great” list, a list you maybe mail every month, and have mailed every month for several years, the very real possibility exists that this prospect has been touched 12, 24, 36, maybe even 48 times over the last few years.  Each touch, assume again $0.30 cost per piece, adds up in the absence of a response.  So this new donor you just acquired last month in your acquisition campaign may have $3.60, or more, “incremental acquisition cost” associated with them. All your previous efforts are now sunk costs in this individual name.  

So are all new donors equal then?  The data would suggest no.  Furthermore, are there donors on list sources that are probably not making the cut for your acquisition mail plan who, when incremental cost to acquire is factored in, might be far more advantageous for your organization to pursue from a Net Investment and LTV perspective?  Almost undoubtedly.

DPB - Pic

If Donor A was touched once lifetime in Acquisition, $0.30 cost per piece, and responded with a gift of $15, that new donor is going to be roughly a $15.00 investment.   If Donor B was touched 48 times over 5 years before responding and responds with a gift of $15, you are already starting in the hole with $14.40 of sunk cost..  In this case it becomes a $29.40 investment in this individual. 

The trajectory of Donor B’s LTV is almost decided in advance of your first cultivation touch, as now you need to get at least 3 more gifts from this donor to get to net positive, because they were twice the investment of Donor A.  To make matters worse, on the surface, you never might have realized that fact.  Doesn’t it just make you wonder if there isn’t a smarter way you could be doing things? 

The net revenue chase is on.  

 -Stephen Ferrando

Stephen is a Strategy Director at Merkle with a combined 12 years of expertise in both commercial  and nonprofit marketing, strategy, and analytics.  In his free time Stephen is working on becoming a ninja, as well as focusing on his life-long dream of completing the last side on his Rubix Cube.

My hot chocolate is saving the rainforest!

A few weeks ago, there was a mix up at my doctor's office and turned out my appointment was an hour after I had turned up. So I decided to pass the time at a nearby Starbucks.

As I stood in line waiting to order my hot chocolate, I was, as most people anywhere near my age do, checking my Facebook account from my phone.  Facebook has recently added the "places" functionality (in addition to the millions of other changes it has gone through in the last year), and I thought I'd try it out.

I was about to "check-in" when I noticed that there was an "offer" associated with this check-in.  If I checked-in at that specific Starbucks, $1 would be donated to help protect the rainforests. Now, I am sure that Starbucks did not know about my obsession with saving the planet, but boy oh boy was I excited! My doing something so mundane--buying a hot chocolate--something I was planning on doing ANYWAY, was also resulting in something good! Granted, $1 isn't going to save the forests, but, what if everyone who was there did the same thing?  Just imagine the acres and acres that could be protected! My mind was spinning with excitement.

Of course, I "shared" my check in with my Facebook community: maybe my friends who were visiting other Starbucks would see the deal and check-in too.

A few weeks later, I found myself at REI with a friend who was looking for a new winter coat. "Hmm," I thought to myself, "REI is a company known for its 'do-gooding', I wonder if they have a deal similar to Starbucks?" Well, lo and behold, (and maybe because it was Black Friday), REI did have a deal going: by checking-in, $10 was donated for clean up of waterways.

The moral of the story: prior to the historic hot chocolate day, I had reservations about using geolocation services that are increasingly ubiquitous on social platforms. Concerns over privacy, people knowing where I was, safety, all seemed not worth it.

But now, checking-in almost seems like a part of my civic duty. If I am going to be somewhere or doing something and by checking-in I have the opportunity to do something good, how can I not do it? 

I am going to start keeping an eye on businesses and brands that have do-gooding offers.  I am going to keep an eye out for announcements from my favorite charities to see whether they might be the beneficieries of any such offers. Because, who knows, one day, my addiction to hot chocolate COULD save the rainforest! (Hint: is YOUR organization taking advantage of the hot chocolate-drinking masses?) 

-Miriam Kagan

Strategy Director (follow Miriam on Twitter, @MiriamKagan)


If you pay attention to only 1 thing digital this week...

Make sure to keep an eye on what is planned on Twitter for World AIDS Day on Wednesday, December 1.

Led by Alicia Keys, a slew of celebrities, with millions of followers, are going 'silent' on Twitter on Wednesday for World AIDS Day. The celebrities plan to stay 'silent' until $1 million has been raised for AIDS efforts.

According to the AP, "[f]or the campaign — which also includes Jennifer Hudson, Ryan Seacrest, Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Elijah Wood, Serena Williams, Janelle Monae and Keys' husband, Swizz Beatz — celebrities have filmed 'last tweet and testament' videos and will appear in ads showing them lying in coffins to represent what the campaign calls their digital deaths."

We already know the impact celebrities can have on influencing high volume donations--witness the Haiti relief efforts and Keys' appearance on American Idol last year. How long celebrities may have to stay silent (and will they be able to refrainfrom sharing their every move with the world in the name of do-gooding)?  We are eager to find out on Wednesday.

Follow all the tweets (or lack of them) on Twitter under the following hashtags: #BUYLIFE, #WAD, #AIDS, #HIV, #WorldAIDSDay and some of the participating celebrities.

(can't see this video? check it out here.) 

VIDEO: Melinda Gates on what nonprofits can learn from Coca-Cola

If you have not yet heard of TED, which describes itself as a "small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading," this is an organization worthy of familiarizing oneself with.  In addition to the exclusive "thought" conferences that bring together the brightest minds out there, TED has a robust library of TED talks that are available for viewing on its website.

One of the talks featured today on TED's Facebook page, and one we thought was very appropriate to share with our readers, is a talk given by Melinda Gates on what nonprofits can learn about the way Coca-Cola operates around the world, and in particular, how it has become successful in developing markets.  In the 16 minutes talk (well worth the time), Mrs. Gates also provides examples of how the successful Coca-Cola tactics are already being used by governments and nonprofits around the world to improve reach, efficiency, and success of their own efforts aimed at improving lives.

If you cannot view the video below, you may view it here on TED's website.


 -Donor Power Blog


My Favorite Tweets

Does your organization Tweet? Maybe, maybe not, but I’d be willing to bet this whole “tweeting thing” has been at least discussed in marketing, fundraising, and perhaps, even board meetings.  Many organization that are already Tweeting (and there are many, just search #Nonprofit on Twitter), have a good handle on the “basic” best practices of Twitter, like building a following, best ways to fit useful information into 140 characters, and how to use the discussion and list functions. In this post, I wanted to call attention to a couple of really innovative ways Twitter has been used in the past few years that got on my radar (the “wow, this is unusual even in this fast-evolving medium” radar).

Account settings promote freedom and democracy:

My favorite use of Twitter to date, that many organizations with a large advocacy component should pay close attention to, is what was utilized during the protested Iranian election in 2009.  Because of state censorship, many protesters were expressing their dissatisfaction with their government via Twitter, as well as organizing protests and providing protest locations. The Iranian government began to crack down on these protesters, by blocking Twitter accounts and servers hosting Twitter accounts in Iran, as well as attempting to locate the protesters themselves via Twitter.

To counteract the authorities, a call went out to the Twitter universe for everyone to switch their location to “Tehran, Iran” in their Twitter account settings.  Why would this help? Well, the more people that are listed as being in one location, the more difficult it becomes for the authorities to sort through the tweets coming from that “location” and find the specific accounts they were looking for, and therefore disrupt the protesters.  Now, I can’t tell you how many of us non-Iranian followed through and switched the account settings, but if this was not an innovative way to engage the global community to support democracy and freedom of speech, I don’t know what is!   Twitter went beyond a link to a petition, or counting the number of tweets about something and equating them to a corporate sponsorship, to using the actual account settings for activism.

When you’re smiling:

Last year, Operation Smile* launched an integrated, fully branded, and entirely Twitter platform-focused “140 Smiles” campaign.  This was, and to this day remains, one of the most forward-thinking Twitter-based fundraising campaigns ever executed. The reason I love this campaign is it included all the best practices one would think of when referring to Twitter:

· Used Twitter list building, reTweeting, and Tweet trending to spread the word

· Provided regular and timely updates

· Created a microsite to engage the Twitter community specifically including videos, the ability to log in and donate using Twitter accounts, see who else had donated, as well as displaying a running counter

As I am sure those of you who visit the site will note, the goal—140 smiles—was not reached, but in terms of building an integrated, fully-thought through campaign, this has to be my favorite.

A day for charity:

If you or your organization is on Twitter, what conversations do you follow? If you don’t already check out #charitytuesday on a regular basis, you should.  According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, back in 2009, “The #charitytuesday tag was created as a way to help nonprofit groups spread the word about their causes on Twitter and to help charities better understand how to use the site.”  Why is this tag so neat?  You can see, hear, and find out about all sorts of interesting things going on in the charity universe—including across the globe.  24/7.

These are just three of the many innovative ways organizations are using Twitter. What are some of your favorite examples? We’d love to hear from you.

-Miriam Kagan

(contact Miriam: [email protected], @MiriamKagan)


 (P.S. Just a few additional tags Miriam follows regularly to keep abreast of the nonprofit Twitterverse: #beatcancer, #nonprofit, #socialgood)

*Full disclosure—Operation Smile uses Merkle’s services for gift caging.


Facebook Giving: How one donor got recruited

As social media increasingly becomes a part of the nonprofit marketers’ toolkit, many nonprofit fundraisers are wondering whether the big mama of all social networks—Facebook—is really worth the effort and investment from a fundraising perspective.

Sure, we all know we can get people to like our page, maybe post some comments, watch some videos, but, stories abound about the lack of success in terms of turning Facebook followers into donors.  Sure, there is Facebook Causes, and socially branded efforts by commercial marketers (check out the Chase Giving campaign for a great example), but can Facebook actually cultivate the kind of donor relationship that results in “real” donations?

Based on personal experience, I have to say yes.  As a fundraising professional, I get A LOT of solicitations—DM, online, TM, you name it.  And I read most of them, and every once in a while I get moved to give.

Below is the story of one organization that regularly receives donations from me, and my relationship with them exists entirely because of, and continues to be cultivated by, their Facebook presence.

I first became familiar with the Wildlife Friends of Thailand (WFFT) because a friend “recommended” it to me on Facebook. I am an animal lover, so I was eager to learn about what these folks were doing to help animals in Thailand.

Before you knew it, I was giving on their website 3-4 times a year. Why? Because the WFFT follows some very basic best practices that we all apply in our marketing programs every day, and is successfully using them on Facebook.

We all know the age-old truth that a compelling story of an individual will in most cases beat statistics and generalized calls to do “something” for “everyone.”  So, instead of telling me about the plight of animals in Thailand and making me feel helpless about the magnitude of the problem, WFFT’s posts are frequently focused on a specific need:

· We need money to help transport Jane the elephant to our facilities. Here is how we found Jane the elephant, her condition, and why we need to help her.

They also do a great job of providing updates and showing my money at work:

· Hey remember Jane the elephant that you helped us rescue? Well, here are photos of Jane, us treating her, and here is how she is doing.

They make me feel like my contribution is really accomplishing something on a regular basis (it does not disappear in some giant hole of “helping animals.”)

· Here are 7 monkeys who’ve lived with us and we’ve helped support for 6 years. See them play in their new enclosure.

They regularly thank the community for its support:

· It was hard for us to struggle through the political tensions in Thailand. Some of our largest volunteer groups cancelled. But, because of your support, we were able to continue on.

What WFFT is doing on Facebook is no different in its essence from the best practices of direct fundraising:

· Make the ask relevant and compelling

· Provide updates and feedback of donor’s money at work

· Engage donors as part of your cause and mission—turn them into constituents, not just wallets

· Create a  two-way discussion (make donors feel a part of your mission every day)


The moral of our story: sure Facebook is a great way to cultivate a community, spread your brand, but, tell people about your need in the right way, and it IS possible to get people, well at least some of us, to open our wallets.


So, ask yourself this:

· Who in your organization owns your Facebook presence and what do she/he/they believe its ultimate value prop is for the organization?

· How thorough is your Facebook post follow-up?

· How frequently do you measure the impact of calls to action (if there are any)?

· Has your organization truly developed a strategic approach to Facebook fundraising that is able to measure the long-term impact to organizational revenue from Facebook donor cultivation efforts?

 -Miriam Kagan

(Miriam is a strategy director with Merkle's nonprofit group. She is obsessed with everything Social Media and Do-Gooding.  Find her @MiriamKagan on Twitter.)

(WFFT is not a client or associated with Merkle)

Fundraising Evolution – Weathering the Storm: Reporting versus Analytics

As the fundraising industry continues to grow towards a digital future from its analog roots, the need for us as fundraisers to adopt and accept a more evolved way of assessing our business becomes imperative.   The era of informed, analytics-driven decisions and strategies is upon us.


Gone are the days where creative thinking and “gut feelings” alone were enough to produce success.  In today’s fundraising landscape of fragmented media, contact saturated audiences, and increasing marketing costs, finding the safest and most effective way to our donors is less like finding our way home while avoiding one storm cloud, and more like having to escape a hurricane to get there.


For many organizations, and many client serving agencies out there, the true value of analytics is often ignored or misrepresented because of some other mis- words like misconception and misunderstanding. 


That is to say, in many cases the “creative thinkers” have wrongly attributed the title of “analytics” to what is in fact “reporting”.  These reports are often times cloaked in the guise of “analytics”, but are truly only useful to us if we enjoy looking backwards and not forwards.


So what is the real difference between Analytics and Reporting? Or in this case “Analytics” versus True Analytics?


On the most basic level, the difference between reporting and analytics is the difference between reading the newspaper today to hear about what happened yesterday, versus writing today the news of tomorrow.



"...It rained yesterday..."














"...It will rain tomorrow..." 

To explain it another way, reporting is really the assessment of lagging metrics in established layouts to easily see “what” happened and “when” on a historical basis. 


While analytics, true analytics, is the utilization of data (perhaps even some from the land of reporting) in combination with other dependent and independent variables, mathematically and scientifically proven techniques, and robust subject matter expertise, to produce that which reveals and quantifies everything from challenges to opportunities, and facilitate truly fact-based actionable outcomes – outcomes that when strategically deployed have a very real and measurable impact on a business or organization.


Analytics is where the future success of fundraisers will be found, identifying deficiencies, opportunities, and optimizations ahead of popular trends.  Analytics is where a better experience for the faithful and dedicated donors will be found, putting the most relevant and desired information in front of them when they want to see it.


Because for today’s fundraisers - knowing the location of a past storm, the “what” and “when”, will never be as valuable as knowing the predicted path, causes, and ways to avoid the future storms, the “where”, “why”, and “how”.



What most mislabel as "Analytics"



Predictive Analytics:

Real-time decision-making power



Stephen Ferrando

Strategy Director






What can we learn from TV’s most popular curmudgeon?

I am referring to Gregory House, the brilliant medical diagnostician who is the poster-child for unconventional thinking.  


Season 4 introduced a group of Fellowship candidates that had to compete to make the final team of three.  In Guardian Angels (episode 404 if you are interested), House axes the oldest candidate because the candidate thinks too much like House (ignore the fake doctor part). House needs alternatives. His professional relationship with his colleague Wilson is similar. He often says that Wilson’s thinking is nonlinear and sloppy, but it takes House down roads he normally wouldn't go.


How does this apply to fundraisers?  Well, in case you hadn't noticed, most of us are working in mature media or in mature organizations; now add in the effects of the “Great Recession”. We have to think seriously about what we do, how to grow, what to do better, faster and more effectively, and what new things to try.


We need to challenge ourselves and that means we have to look at things differently. So, while it is comfortable to develop a sounding-board of people who finish your sentences, look for a few who don't. Develop a cadre of people where you often have to explain, argue and resist. It will make you a better thinker and that will make you a better fundraiser.


-Becky Graninger


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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How to innovate

Here's Guy Kawasaki on innovation. This 8-minute video is worth watching:

(You can also see it here on YouTube.

Here are Guy's points:

  • Make meaning
  • Make a mantra (not a mission statement)
  • Jump to the next curve
  • Roll the dice
  • Don't worry, be crappy
  • Let 100 flowers blossom
  • Polarize people
  • Churn, baby, churn
  • Niche thyself
  • Follow the 10-20-30 rule
  • Don't let the bozos get you down

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No-hype fundraising

Here's a useful comparison from the Church of the Customer Blog: Hype vs. excitement.

Marketers often depend on hype to get attention. It works less well every day. Partly because there's so much hype about everything all the time that you simply can't raise your voice above the din. But mostly because most people have seen hype proven so many times to be empty that they simply dismiss it out of hand.

Hype hardly works any more. But you can create similar buzz and success instead with genuine excitement. Here are some of the differences between the two:

Hype is:
Excitement is:
An impossible promise
A realistic promise
Exclamation points
Cause for mistrust
Cause for belief
Overuse of adverbs
Bike Friday
Fuel for the future

Hype is something marketers do, while excitement is something that happens in the minds of customers.

If you think this doesn't apply to nonprofit fundraising, you haven't been paying attention. Frankly, a lot of nonprofits seem to be allergic to both hype and excitement. Others are enthusiastic participants in the careening hype bandwagon: basing their fundraising and marketing on high-flown claims and noise rather than solid, real, remarkable, exciting programs that people will support and spread around.

Creating excitement is a lot harder than creating hype. But it's becoming a normal cost of doing business. In business as well as in fundraising.

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Why you need to raise restricted funds

If you're like most fundraisers, most of the funds you raise must be unrestricted, undesignated, unearmarked. Meaning your organization, usually your financial people, have sole control over where donors' dollars end up.

The lower the dollar value of your donors, the less control or say they have on this subject. Money from government or foundation sources is often highly designated. Major donors and top benefactors can tell you what they want you to do with their money. But everyday donors -- people whose checks have four digits are less -- well, they just have to trust your wisdom and be okay with the way you allocate their unrestricted gifts.

I hope you're asking why, as the Queer Ideas blog is: Why does it always have to be un-earmarked?

... with organisations like Kiva growing at a fantastic rate by offering choice over how money is allocated and what percentage is added to cover administrative costs, it might not be too long before charities have to start changing the way they work....

Donors are already getting increasing amounts of choice in how they give to the causes they care about. And it's those charities that respond most effectively to the changing environment that are going to succeed.

We all understand the value and importance of unrestricted funds. But are we balancing that with the power of offering restricted funds?

The time when we could count on regular donors to quietly and happily provide no-questions-asked unrestricted funds is coming to an end. The "Have It Your Way" generation is entering its donor years, and they want to fund what they want to fund. And organizations like Kiva, DonorsChoose, and Global Giving are offering hyper-designated giving -- just what they want.

It's time for your money folks to step up and help you figure out how to deal with restricted funds. If they don't, you may find yourself with fewer and fewer funds -- restricted or unrestricted -- to work with.

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What does Gates have that you don't have?

Here's a problem more of us could do with: Last year the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation raised $10.4 million dollars without asking for anything. They didn't even really want it. (See the Chronicle of Philanthropy report: Gates Foundation Raises $10-Million in Unsolicited Gifts.)

Why would so many people give to an organization that doesn't want them to give, offers no easy way to give, and will, in fact, just turn around and give their money to organizations they could have given to themselves in the first place?

They've heard of the Gates Foundation. Or at least they've heard of Gates. A lot of visibility comes with being the world's wealthiest person.

They think Bill Gates is smart. (Anyone who would use live mosquitoes as a visual aid, in a speech is smart in my book.) Donors must figure he's going to make better use of their giving than they can themselves. That may or may not be true -- but it's clearly a perception.

Other smart people have given to the Gates Foundation. Well, one other: Warren Buffett, who's given billions and says he plans to give more. (Buffett dollars are not among the $10.4 million given last year.) That's one heck of an endorsement.

Most of us have a long way to do to get that Gates Foundation magic. But here are some things that can point you in the right direction:

  • Do something nobody else does. If your distinctive can only be grasped by professionals, it's not a real distinctive. You have to make regular people say Wow!
  • Be really good at it. So good that anyone can see what a difference you're making.
  • Help your donors tell your story. They can be your "celebrities" if you give them the tools and something great to talk about.

(Another take at Tactical Philanthropy: Would You Donate to the Gates Foundation?)

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Why you should be yourself

A lot of organizations (and not just nonprofits) struggle with who they are. Sometimes it's weak leadership that fails to set a clear direction. Sometimes it's because they're constantly in thrall of the latest fad. Or a consensus-driven culture that never quite gels into unity.

Being unsure and inconsistent about who you are may feel like "flexibility." But there's a downside: Confusion, lack of direction, needless conflict.

The Brains on Fire blog takes a good look at this issue at Being True to Who You Are:

When you stay true to who you are, all the gray is taken out of the world. It's black and white. You put a stake in the ground and stand firm in the knowledge of what you do really well, and what you refuse to do. It becomes so easy to connect with those that have the same beliefs. And you rest easy in those relationships. Because of the trust that is shared.

Being something, rather than being anything, makes life easier, and makes everything you do better. And it's a more authentic mode than blowing in the wind.

Authenticity is attractive. Your donors, at least the best ones, will notice.

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What's your weird green liquor?

Here's some news: Virgin America Airline now offers absinthe in-flight. Since when is an airline adding a particular beverage to its menu news?

In this case it kind of is. In case you hadn't heard, absinthe (also called wormwood and the Green Fairy) has a reputation. It's seen as mysterious, dangerous, mind-altering. It was a banned substance around the world until recently. It only became legal in the US in 2007.


So for Virgin -- which cultivates an edgy, decadent image -- to offer absinthe not only seems mention-worthy, it also fits. It would be downright ghastly if United followed suit. Sort of like Pat Boone singing heavy metal. (Wait; that actually happened, didn't it?)

Here's the important point: They're actually doing something. They had to come up with the idea. They had to go out and get some absinthe.

Too many nonprofits (and businesses) want to skip that doing something part. They want to proclaim what they're like with their brand standards and leave it at that. As if you can go about business as usual, but everyone will think more highly of you. Which is about as effective as if Virgin went around saying Oooh! Absinthe! We're so cool! -- without coming up with some actual absinthe.

Forget the puffery. Nobody is fooled any more. If you want to get people's attention, you need more than a brand image. You've got to do something. And it had better stand out.

Thanks to Donor Engagement blog for the tip.

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What it takes to make your message viral

Everyone's clamoring to have their story "go viral." Wouldn't it be great to many millions of people seeing what you do and eagerly passing it along to their friends?

A recent column in Fast Company by Dan Heath and Chip Heath, Three Secrets to Make a Message Go Viral, suggestions three elements a story must have in order to go viral:

  1. It's emotional
  2. When someone shares it, they feel like they're doing a public service.
  3. A "trigger" -- an environmental reminder to talk about it.

Their example is that old (and false) story that there's a gang initiation where members drive around at night with their headlights off, then kill any other driver who flashes their lights at them. It's emotional (raises the possibility of sudden random violence), if you tell someone else, you think you may be saving their life, and it has a trigger -- every once in a while you see a car driving at night with its headlights off. All the elements for a viral.

Getting all that in one package is a tall order. You can't just churn that out like a press release. Some observers believe it's impossible to create a real viral message, that only a magic and rare combination of the right elements and the zeitgeist of the moment have to come together on their own.

I don't think it's impossible. But do think it's so tough it's the next closest thing to impossible.

So if you're thinking of creating a viral message, think hard. You've got a tough assignment ahead of you.

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The little lie in marketing and how to avoid it

Want to know why most advertising is so ineffective? Check out these photos from the West Virginia Surf Report, at Fast Food: Ads vs. Reality:

Here's the Arby's Beef 'n' Cheddar Sandwich as depicted in marketing ... and how it really looks. (Go see the rest; there are a bunch of them.)

Beefcheddar Beefcheddar1

I don't know about you, but my first reaction (after a slight gag reflex) was so what? I don't expect the real thing to match the idealized version, and I don't think anybody does.

But isn't that the whole problem with marketing? Isn't that why hardly anyone believes marketing any more?

Most marketers are utterly trapped in a world of fakery. There's no way they could hire a food photographer who wouldn't doll up the food in a way that's miles removed from reality. It simply can't happen.

The honorable thing would be to change the processes in the fast food restaurants to their food bore some resemblance of the marketing. But that would cost too much. At least that's the excuse.

So they tell the white lie to their customers, and nobody cares because nobody believes the lie. In fact hardly anybody can imagine a world where the lie isn't the only thing being said.

When something authentic and true comes along, that's where the customers will go. Imagine seeing a food ad that not only looks yummy, but also looks real. Imagine a fast-food experience that wasn't a total disconnect form the one you saw in the ads.

Nonprofit marketing is less tempted to play along with the lie, partly because our truth is pretty cool to begin with, partly because we can't really afford to pay for it. But with the lie so pervasive, and with ad agencies eager to get some nonprofit branding work in their portfolio, we're all at risk.

If your brand message -- or any other marketing you do -- is built on an idealized unreality, you're not only unethical, you're ineffective.

Print out these two pictures, the real and the phony, and use it to remind yourself not to fall into that trap.

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Fundraising for donors

Here's a provocative challenge from Greg Verdino's blog: May I market for you?. Greg says anyone who works in marketing should fill the blank in the sentence I work in marketing for _________ with the word "customers."

Not for the company. The customers. Here's why:

... if you still think in terms of delivering your services for the benefit of your company rather than for the benefit of your customer (or prospective customer), you're missing the point. Smart marketers look at the transaction not as the thing itself, but as the by-product of the thing -- as the benefit gained as the result of a well-built win/win relationship.

If that's how commercial marketers should think, how much more should fundraisers approach their work that way? If you see donors as an unwelcome and painful part of what it takes to get your organization's mission accomplished, your fundraising is dead in the water in these challenging times.

Can you say "I work in fundraising for our donors"?

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Donors may be helping you -- or hurting you -- more than you think

From the Church of the Customer Blog, here's a chart on customer value taken from the cell phone industry:


See Wominomics.

("Wom" is short for word-of-mouth, the always-powerful force in marketing that has become super-charged by the web and by the fact that so many people don't trust advertising any more as a useful source of information.)

We tend to look at donors as if they're all in that middle column: The only action they take is writing checks. But clearly, there are some in the two outer columns: They're talking you up and helping motivate people around them to become donors. Or they're unhappy with you and they're helping chase away prospects.

It's easy to see what the cell phone companies should do: they should be super-nice to the people in the left column. Discounts, free upgrades, happy surprises. They can afford to invest in that group. And their customers on the right? They should "fire" them. Every day they keep those customers, they lose more money. Either that or start treating them right so they have less to complain about. (Ha ha. That last suggestion was just a joke.)

What should nonprofits do? Pretty much the same thing. Happy, well-treated donors are a lot more likely to be your best advocates. Annoyed, mistreated ones can torpedo you in the marketplace.

Knowing that, I'd bend over backward to have flawless service for donors, and to create a communication program aimed not just at harvesting donations, but at pleasing and rewarding donors.

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The no-receipt scandal

Here's some really terrible news that I'd like to see a lot more of: A lot of nonprofits are not doing their jobs.

That's how I'm looking at an experiment at Kivi's Nonprofit Communications Blog: The Dismal Results of My Online Giving Experiment.

Kivi converted some credit card miles into $25 donations for charities through Network for Good and only got thank-you messages from 33% of them.

Shame. But not surprising.

We at Merkle occasionally do this experiment too. We get slightly better results (we give "real money," and do it through the mail), but our rate of acknowledgement usually doesn't go much above 50%.

There's no excuse for ignoring a donor's gift. It's impolite -- something along the lines of spitting on the donor's shoes. You may think the gift is small, or donated in a way that's less convenient to you, or at a bad time of year. But you have to assume it's a real good-faith gift, a heart-felt vote of confidence and support of your mission.

And ignoring gifts can catastrophically damage your fundraising results.

A $25 donor, if properly cultivated, is worth somewhere around $250 over the long haul. Not acknowledging that first gift is not how you properly cultivate a donor. Your chance of getting the rest of that $250 shrinks to Lilliputian size.

Now I have a hunch that most readers of this blog (and of Kivi's blog) are among the responsible organizations that correctly and promptly acknowledge their donors. So my little lecture is a bit misplaced. The apathetic, poorly run donor-spitting organizations that don't bother to receipt are not taking part in the conversation about treating donors right.

And that's why I hope to see more reports like Kivi's and that they will name names, publicly shaming this shameful behavior. I'd like it to be that nonprofits that chronically have this problem become generally known for having it.

Maybe that will help shame some otherwise decent organizations into getting their act together. Or (and I'm going to sound like a heartless capitalist here), maybe it'll help hasten the demise of organizations that need to get out of the way of those who can and will get it right.

I think it's only a matter of time before donors do routinely rat out those organizations. We should behave as if that time is already here.

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How to fake authenticity

A recent email from a small and well-run nonprofit (which will remain anonymous) opens like this:

There is a saying in Central America: "If you impact a man you have transformed an individual. If you impact a woman, you have transformed generations to come."

C'mon! Does anybody in Central America (or anywhere else) walk around uttering anything as clunky as that? What on earth would cause you to claim that they do?

I doubt it's an outright lie. It sounds more like a bad translation: PC-speak, combined with nonprofit-speak and bureaucratese, rendered something people actually say into a mouthful of jargon.

Real sayings as uttered by real people are short, easy to remember, and punchy. Like Waste not, want not or Measure twice, cut once.

When you write something, you have to do a "gut check." Does that sound real? Because when it doesn't, you've all but put a big sign around your neck that says FAKE.

These days, people are so over-assailed by marketing messages, they're learning to tune out and ignore the stuff that's not real. If you don't seem real, you get the same penalty as those who aren't real: You get ignored.

I was thinking I'd paraphrase that saying like this: Teach a man to fish, and he'll hang out in the woods every weekend. Teach a woman to fish, and it's seafood for everyone.

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The best marketing isn't all positive

Here's a fun unauthorized commercial for Trader Joe's. It's cool, catchy, and filmed on a cell phone.

(Watch it at YouTube.)

Most people would say this is a superb piece of marketing for Trader Joe's; it's memorable, endearing, and communicates the spirit of the place. Most people would also agree that no ad agency or marketing department would ever create it.

Why? Because among all the happy stuff, it includes complaints about some of the annoying things about Trader Joe's. I'm pretty sure the Trader Joe's messaging guidelines don't include complaints about the parking lots or the stuff you want that's not in stock.

But that's precisely why this is such a great video.

It's not marketing. It's relationship.

Relationships are multi-dimensional. They include positives and negatives. In a good relationship, the positives outweigh the negatives.

The only places where no negatives exist are the fake worlds of advertising, marketing, and branding.

And nobody believes them any more.

I'm not sure this all leads us toward creating fundraising messages that include a copy point about the downside of supporting our organization. But it might tell us not to be afraid of what donors and supporters say about us in public, even if they complain.

See Logic+Emotion, The Best Little Ad Trader Joe's Never Made for more on the video.

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Mr. Fundraiser, tear down those walls!

One of the reasons its hard to connect with donors is we build walls between ourselves and our donors. The commercial world has the same problem, as noted in the Logic+Emotion blog at Walls of Separation.


There are nonprofit versions of every one of these walls. And each of these walls diminishes the fundraising effectiveness of those nonprofits.

I can think of a couple more walls that many nonprofits put up:

  1. Unrestricted funds. Many are so hell-bent on raising only unrestricted funds from their donors that they can't even think clearly about connecting with donors about how donors can and should and want to make the world a better place. Fundraising becomes an exercise in evasion.
  2. Silo mentality. Too many organizations can't align their direct mail, their online marketing, their public relations campaigns, their events -- because those all happen in different (often mutually suspicious or even hostile) departments. That guarantees a confusing experience for the many donors you have that cross your departmental lines.

Tear 'em down!

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How to handle gifts through donor advised funds

I've recently become the proud owner of a donor-advised fund. It's a nifty "product," managed by a financial services company, that allows you to park your giving in one place (one check, one receipt), then parcel it out the to causes you support at your leisure.

Speaking as a donor, let me tell you: It's darn cool, and hugely satisfying.

Your organization should be taking this kind of giving seriously.

There's a lot of money flowing through donor-advised funds. The Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund is the third-largest US nonprofit, right behind United Way and The Salvation Army. The fund run by Schwab comes in at #9 and Vanguard is at #16, and others are sprinkled throughout the Philanthropy 400 list of the largest of the largest nonprofits. Community and other foundations are a nonprofit version; there are hundreds of these, the largest of which is the National Christian Foundation.

Point is, more and more donors are choosing to give this way. Here are some things you should do about it:

Make it easy to give

  • Is your organization's "real" name the same as the name people know you by? I've been thoroughly surprised by how often an organization I know and support is registered by a different name. That makes the organization hard to find. It also makes you wonder what the heck is going on with it.
  • Make sure your tax ID number is easy to find. The donor needs it in order to make the gift.
  • I'd put a page on the website called something like How to donate through a donor-advised fund or community foundation and make it easy to find.

Acknowledge donors correctly

  • Anonymous giving is an easy option with donor-advised funds, so when gifts aren't anonymous, the donor expects to be acknowledged.
  • Don't send a receipt. The donor was receipted when they deposited their money in the fund.
  • Do send a nice letter. If the gift was large enough, assign a rep, or do whatever you do for large gifts.
  • Offer the donor some choices: Does she want to be on your mailing list (if she isn't already)? Give communications choices, like how much and what type of contact you'll have with her. Don't assume the donor wants no contact -- but don't assume she wants contact either.

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Who will tell your story?

Here's something to think about:

Great marketers of the future will not be measured by how well they tell stories to their audience, but rather by how well their audience tells stories about them.

(From a presentation by Tim Smith, posted here.)

Want to jump over this recession and start growing like crazy? Do something so cool, so show-stopping and exciting that people can't help but talk about it.

Thanks to Andy Sernovitz for the tip.

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It's not about the "perfect shot" any more

posted by Andrew Rogers

The Wall Street Journal's inauguration-day edition has an interesting article about Emmett Beliveau, executive director of President Obama's inaugural committee and a former campaign advance man. Almost in passing, the piece makes a vital point:

Working on another Democrat's Senate campaign in the fall of 2006, he met Mr. Obama, and their collaboration began. Both men eschewed the standard campaign mantra begun with Ronald Reagan to go for the "perfect shot" at a big event. With Mr. Beliveau's roots as a field operative and Mr. Obama's as a community organizer, the pair focused more on the attendees. "Starting in Iowa, we wanted everyone to leave feeling good about Barack Obama," Mr. Beliveau. "It was never about playing to the camera but to the people," says his advance deputy, David Cusack.

That says a lot about the changing nature of American politics, but it says even more about the Obama campaign's insight into the changes in our media. With today's decentralized news sources and the rise of bloggers, social-networkers (Twitter's "tweets-per-second" count was five times the normal rate as Obama was being inaugurated), and "citizen journalists," the days when Michael Deaver could carefully stage the precise image that showed up on the TV news that night are long gone.

Your brand is no longer the image you lovingly create in your "perfect shot."

The people talking about you -- in the media, on blogs, or in their own homes -- may not recognize your perfect shot and almost certainly don't care about it. They're driven by how you make them feel. Are you "playing to the camera," or focused on making sure everyone leaves feeling good about what they're achieving by interacting with you.

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Do donors want to do anything specific?

Want to know one problem with fundraising? Quick spin through today's mail here at the Donor Power Fortress of Charity will show you. Here are the calls to action from several pieces of direct-mail fundraising. All are from legitimate, reputable nonprofits. Note the common theme:

Yes, I want to help [ORGANIZATION] bring medical humanitarian relief around the world. I am making a tax-deductible gift of:

Yes, I care about the world's children! To help continue lifesaving programs supported by [ORGANIZATION], I have enclosed a tax-deductible, year-end gift of:

Yes, I want to support excellence and quality at [UNIVERSITY] with a gift of:

YES! I want to help fund medical breakthroughs and fight [DISEASE]. Enclosed is my check for:

Yes! I care about kids in [LOCAL AREA] and want them to enjoy their school days. Enclosed is my gift of:

The common theme is nothing. That's what these organizations are asking people to do. They're asking donors to shell out their hard-earned money on nothing specific.

Suppose you got a piece of direct mail from a book seller, and on the reply coupon it said:

Yes! Send me a very special book!

Why is non-specific fundraising so common?

Maybe because nonprofits need to raise unrestricted funds from general donors -- their larger institutional donors grab all the specific goodies.

Maybe because they're afraid they can't share that much power with donors -- donors might not fund the "right" stuff.

It's entirely possible that in direct-response testing, a less-specific statement performed better. That happens sometimes. In that case, they should periodically re-test the idea -- and make sure the specific and restricted call to action is no less emotional than the general one.

Donors are going to be less and less interested in the nonspecific offer. Now is the time to learn how to give them what they want.

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How to serve your donors

How do nonprofits serve donors? There's a good picture of it at Carol Weisman's Blog On Fundraising, Philanthropy and Governance: What Great Donor Customer Service Looks Like.

A donor gave a memorial gift in honor of an acquaintance's mother. An alert employee at the nonprofit had looked up the obituary and seen that it was in fact the acquaintance's father who had died -- and corrected the gift attribution.

Big deal? Not really. But you can imagine how the donor feels: Special, served, helped, appreciated. How likely is she to give again?

There isn't a lot to the service basics: Thank people promptly. Get their data right. Quickly and accurately comply with their wishes. All important, but not exactly the kind of stuff that will delight donors.

You don't have your customers over a barrel like the cell phone companies or airlines do. There's not a lot you can do in the course of normal life to either antagonize or delight them.

So these unexpected extra-mile actions may be your best avenue of service. Do your front-line donor service people have the attitude and empowerment to do that?

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Perks can tighten your relationship with donors

Here's a trend from the commercial world, uncovered by, that's worth a look: They call it "Perkonomics," and define it like this:

A new breed of perks and privileges, added to brands' regular offerings, is satisfying consumers' ever-growing desire for novel forms of status and/or convenience, across all industries. The benefits for brands are equally promising: from escaping commoditization, to showing empathy in turbulent times.
In most situations, donors don't give in order to get perks. In fact, if they perceive that you're spending their donations on things other than the Cause, perks can backfire. But if you give them the right kind of perks, they can cement the relationship. Things like:

  • Information. Insider stuff. Proof that their giving matters. Knowledge that's not easily found otherwise.
  • Access. Let them tour your project sites. Give them backstage passes. Time with your most interesting people. Stuff that will give them bragging rights with their friends.
  • Gifts from corporate partners -- things that clearly aren't costing you anything, like coupons or discounts from appropriate businesses.
It's worth trying. It's an easy way to reward donors and make them feel all the more connected to your cause.

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Making your story about your donors

If you know only one thing about fundraising, you should know this: Fundraising is about donors, not about fundraisers.

That's the point at A Beautiful Experience: Egonomics 101 - it's all about THEM -- and the good news is, we have new ways to make it about them:

Old: send messages out to consumers.

New: engage your customers and get them to tell their story.

Do you have a story that people want to tell? (Is it something real people really want to tell, or is that just wishful thinking on your part?)

Have you found a way for your donors to tell their part of that story?

Is your website compelling, easy to use, and interactive?

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Great service keeps donors from leaving you

The commercial world is waking up to the harsh news that customers are less tolerant of poor service than ever before. Things they used to get away with are now costing them customers. (This is very good news to all us customers.)

The Think Customers blog looks at this trend at Wake Up People--Customers Demand Great Service, noting recent survey results that say 87% of consumers say they've stopped doing business with a company after getting poor service (that's up from 80% in 2007 and 68% in 2006):

... organizations that provide a positive customer experience will not only see brand loyalty and return on their investment, they'll likely weather this economic storm.

The same applies to nonprofits. Service matters more than ever.

Great service from a nonprofit? It's not as tough to provide as it is for an airline or cellphone provider. It comes down to doing just a handful of things:

  • Spell their name right. (Get all the data right.)
  • Send receipts out quickly.
  • Act on all requests and questions quickly.
  • Report back on the impact of their giving.

That doesn't sound too difficult. But nonprofits routinely fail to serve their donors in even these simple ways. You used to get away with it. Not for long. Donors are bringing their service-hungry expectations to the table. If you can't meet them, they'll go elsewhere, just as they are in the commercial world.

See also Poor service? You're busted.

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To get people talking, do something amazing

This is just cool. Studio Brussels (Belgium) called attention to its campaign to raise funds for clean water in the developing world with a crazy guerrilla tactic. Check it out:

The campaign raised nearly $5 million dollars -- that's from Belgium, a country with only 10 million people.

Such an odd, edgy idea. How many nonprofits would authorize a kid invading TV studios while they're on the air? Isn't the a bit risky? Won't people be offended?

If you want unusual results, you have to take unusual steps.

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Irrelevant charities, or extra-relevant donors?

Interesting post at The Chronicle of Philanthropy's Prospecting blog: Fund-Raising Lessons: Are Charities About to Become Irrelevant?

Web sites like and, which enable donors to give directly to needy people and then get updates about their progress, are part of a trend that is making nonprofit organizations increasingly irrelevant.... With Kiva, you don't get telemarketing calls and e-mails. The donor controls the relationship.... It's much more fun to give to Kiva than the Red Cross.

I'm not sure it's a question of charities becoming irrelevant. It's a question of charities letting donors become more relevant. You can look at these new-fangled, donor-empowering organizations two ways:

  1. A nonprofit can become a virtually invisible pass-through for donor generosity.
  2. A nonprofit can become a highly visible source of vision, information, and shaping for donor generosity.

I think both can work as fundraising models. But #2 is the one that does more good in the world. That's where I'd rather be involved.

Donors are great people. But most of them are not experts in the causes they support. They're looking to you to be expert, to apply their generosity for maximum impact. Or even to invent some new better way to change the world that they'd never dreamed of.

The best nonprofits bring vision and expertise to the table, then set donors free to help them make good things happen.

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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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How to create a good donor experience

What's it like to be one of your donors? Do they have to fight their way through voicemail hell to talk? Do you screw everything up like a plumber? Are you casually cruel like an airline?

You don't have to be a sadist to create experiences like those (though I'm sure it helps). Bad experience comes from companies not caring about what their customers go through.

If you don't care about it, I can almost guarantee you're creating unpleasant experiences for your donors.

A few smart companies are starting to figure this out. And a blog they're reading is Customer Experience Matters, which recently posted Introducing The 6 Laws Of Customer Experience:

  1. Every interaction creates a personal reaction.
  2. People are instinctively self-centered.
  3. Customer familiarity breeds alignment.
  4. Unengaged employees don't create engaged customers.
  5. Employees do what is measured, incented, and celebrated.
  6. You can't fake it.

This list is not aimed at the nonprofit sector. Nevertheless, it would be smart to pay attention these things. Because donor experience really does matter.

We don't typically have a lot of front-line interactions with donors the way retailers and service companies do, but that's no excuse to ignore the one-to-one touches we have with donors. Do the people who take calls from donors really get it? Do they understand your cause well enough to answer questions? Do they love donors? Do they have the authority and access to comply with donor requests?

Pay attention to these things. They matter as much as doing your fundraising and marketing right.

See also How poor service destroys your reputation.

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How nonprofits can go viral in one easy lesson

Here's how not to "go viral": Try to go viral.

That's pretty much what contrarian ad-guy Joseph Jaffe says in his Adweek column, Conversation Killers: Why most viral marketing amounts to lazy, clueless chatter.

Don't try to go viral; do something that's worth spreading. (Then make it easy to spread.) As Jaffe says:

... all content has the ability to be wildly viral, that is, embraced, internalized, evangelized and disseminated. Rather than plan with the end in mind, might I suggest instead that we focus on the idea itself and the means to achieve that end. In other words, getting back to basics to generate compelling, relevant and engaging content and then liberating it to be embedded, hacked, mashed and showcased accordingly.

People love to share cool stuff. It's that simple. Don't set out to create something "viral." Just do something cool. It's that easy. And that difficult.

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The growing power of word-of-mouth marketing

You've probably heard about a "new" marketing discipline: word of mouth.

It's actually the oldest marketing tactic of all, but some smart marketers are rediscovering its power -- now supercharged by the Web -- and bringing a strong theoretical framework to it.

That's a very good thing, assuming what you have to sell (or raise funds for) is worth mentioning. In fact, it's just exciting. Or, as you'll see in Andy Sernovitz's Damn, I Wish I'd Thought of That! -- Word of mouth marketing is still awesome.

According to Andy, word of mouth (shortened to WOM by those who talk about it a lot) is awesome because:

  1. It's is the only kind of marketing based on earning love and respect.
  2. WOM only works for great companies that make great stuff and provide great service.
  3. WOM only works for good marketers. Traditional advertising continues as long as you pay for it, even if it sucks. WOM only spreads if it's genuinely fantastic.
  4. WOM is honest and true. Word of mouth holds you to the highest ethical standards. Liars and cheaters always get busted.
  5. The good guys win. Word of mouth rewards those who deserve it.

Really, here's a kind of marketing you can't fake. You can't make something seem better than it is. You can't bludgeon your way to success with raw advertising dollars. A book of "brand standards" is even more meaningless than ever.

If your work is boring, mediocre, and unremarkable, you aren't going to get WOM. No matter how hard you try.

The scary part: WOM is becoming more important than all the other marketing disciplines. Consumers are taking control, and donors will follow. If you want to be ready for the awesome change that's going to be, the place to concentrate is how remarkable your work is.

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How nonprofits can join the marketing revolution

A while back Seth Godin took part in a live chat session at The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

It was good. You can read the transcript at Marketing Nonprofit Causes. Here are three Seth-quotes I thought especially worth a second look:

On the biggest mistakes nonprofits make in their marketing:

The biggest mistake nonprofits make is that they're so busy not making mistakes they end up being boring. Boring and selfish and self-absorbed, all while they're working so hard to make the world better.

On nonprofits and marketing:

All you do is marketing. You market to the people you serve.... You market to the people who fund you. And you market to the people you need to hire or get approvals from. In fact, if you were great at marketing, everything in your organization would change. Once nonprofits realize that they are marketers, not bureaucrats or truck drivers or procurement agencies, everything changes.

On marketing causes that "aren't particularly sexy":

Make them sexy! Why on earth would someone support something that they think is boring when something that interests/excites them more is available? They won't. I think making a road sexy isn't so hard. Or a library. The key is to focus on the BENEFIT, not the tool.

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Donors will be looking for something cool to do -- how about you?

This will blow your mind. Watch this video, then ask yourself: What does this "cognitive surplus" mean for nonprofits? I think we should get out the champagne and celebrate. But it's a little bit scary too. You'll see what I mean.

Thanks to Steven Screen and Lifehacker for the tip.

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Another way advertising can hurt you

Get your head around this trippy inference, expressed at The Power of Influence: Coming soon - Advertising damages your brand. Here's how it goes:

Brands that need to use traditional advertising are not getting (enough) personal recommendation to succeed.... Brands that have to rely on traditional advertising are not as good as ones that succeed through word of mouth.... Advertising will actually damage a brand's reputation

Not as weird as it might sound. You may have noticed the impulse in people around you: Folks sometimes distrust brands that seem "over-marketed." They search for better, more obscure, the recommended-by-someone-cool.

A generation ago, advertising helped "validate" brands. Not so much any more.

What does this mean to nonprofits? We seldom have the budgets to overexpose ourselves and saturate television with spots. But do we ever "try too hard" and create the impression that we don't really have much to offer?

If we get our cues from the advertising world, we probably make the same mistakes they make. But more imortant -- and more likely -- we should be asking ourselves if we're offering donors something truly remarkable to do. Something that would actually spread through word-of-mouth, making advertising unnecessary.

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Poor service: the global warming of fundraising

The connection between carbon emissions and climate change aren't obvious. One day you're happily spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The next, polar bears are dying, and it takes rigorous science to show that there's a connection.

Donor service is the "global warming" of fundraising. You could be getting it wrong in a big way and have no sense at all that there's a problem. Then one day your donorfile starts to crash, and there's no good explanation.

It seems obvious that customers who have good experiences with a company are more likely to return to that company. Now there's a study from Forrester Research that shows it to be true. (Reported at the Customer Experience Matters blog, The Holy Grail: A Link Between Customer Experience And Loyalty.)

The study didn't look at the service and loyalty at nonprofits, but it's reasonable to assume that there's a similar link between the service donors experience and their retention.

Sadly, service is often the invisible factor at many nonprofits. There are many that have dynamite, world-changing programs, top-notch marketing, effective fundraising -- and sucky, screwed up service. They're virtually chasing donors away, and they don't even know it.

What's bad service from a nonprofit? It's messy data (misspelled names, duplicate records, errors in posting donations). It's not following donor instructions, or taking weeks to get it right. It's not answering the phone. Or having a website that's to hard to use.

It's not easy to focus on an invisible problem. Your organization might even have its own "Rush Limbaughs" who strenuously argue that there's nothing to worry about and no need to change.

But if you want to make a difference, pay attention to service.

You can download the Forrester study here, though it's going to cost you.

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The power small ideas

When you're anxious to come up with big ideas, sometimes you miss the power of little ideas. The Damn, I Wish I'd Thought of That! points out, "It only takes one little thing to generate massive word of mouth." See One little thing:

Don't over-think your word of mouth. Don't let your marketing committee complicate it.... Find one, great, simple idea why people should talk about you. Then tell everyone.

One little thing, like the bud vase in the new VW Beetle.

What one surprising, amazing, cool detail could inspire donors to talk about you?

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How not to have a boring blog

What do most nonprofits blog about when they have blogs? Well, they talk about their cool programs. If that's you, take a look at this post on Note to self: stop promoting, start thinking again (or "Scoble's Law")...

...people are really engaging me in discussions about what I'm writing, traffic is spiking, and so are inbound links.... Based on this I'm formulating the "Scoble's Law" which is currently stated as: The less you talk about yourself, the more folks will talk about you.

(For the non-geeks among us, Robert Scoble writes Scobleizer, a mind-bendingly popular blog on tech issues.)

That's advice many nonprofits could use -- and not just for blogging. Stop talking about yourself. It's boring. Talk about the world your donors live in. That's interesting. That's how you inspire donors to support you.

Thanks to JournaMarketing for the tip.

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Should you let donors vote for board members?

Interesting discussion over at Tactical Philanthropy: Donors and Proxy Voting.

The question is whether it might not make sense to give donors the chance to vote for board members, much as stockholders do for corporations:

"... if donors were given voting rights, that they would be more engaged and likely to give more money over time."

I think it's a dynamite idea, even though the choice of board members is not likely to be very exciting to most donors. Really, on what basis would the average donor choose one board member over another?

Even so, I've never yet seen giving donors power of any kind not work. My guess is very few donors would exercise their proxy vote. But that they'd appreciate the chance, and that would lead to more giving, higher gift amounts, and better retention. That's what happens pretty much every time you show donors that you respect them.

Commentary at Tactical Philanthropy seems to be running against the idea, because of the assumption that given the chance, donors are going to do something stupid. Like elect a moron to the board. Or force the nonprofit to betray its own mission.

Worst-case scenario thinking always takes you to such bogus places.

If I ran a nonprofit, I'd look for every way possible to involve donors. I'd want more than their money. I'd want their ideas, their hearts, their thinking.

If you're afraid your donors are going to screw you, you're in trouble. While you're protecting yourself from your donors' predations, they'll be flocking to the smart organizations that respect them.

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Trend: breakthrough products that everyone wants

An interesting article in the current on the "Expectation Economy which is described as:

... well-informed consumers ... who have a long list of high expectations that they apply to each and every good, service and experience on offer. [They] expect not just basic standards of quality, but the 'best of the best.'

It's cool companies, often doing things nobody's thought up yet, and doing a very good job at it. (Here's one I discovered through this paper: DailyLit, a site that sells books in a spiffy new way.)

As far as I know, no nonprofits have entered the rarified level of expectation organizations, though a few are close. Those that grab that territory first are going to take off.

Here's how I think you can get there if you're willing:

  1. Do something nobody else does -- but be sure it's something donors actually care to be involved in. Sure, you could be the first to initiate a kumquat exchange between inner-city American kids and untouchable farmworkers in rural Bangladesh -- is that something donors want to do?
  2. Or, if you're doing something that's like what others do, do it with a twist -- either be far more effective than anyone else, or put donors in control in a cool way.
  3. Either way, build your program about things donors understand, love, and care about.
  4. And great design helps. A lot. advises this way to find your greatness:

Find competitors and non-competitors, big and small, who are setting consumer expectations much higher than you've ever been able to. They're more fun. They have better design. Their stuff tastes, looks, feels better. Their customer service actually responds to emails. They're cheaper. Then compile what you think are now the global standards for whatever it is you do, and from there start thinking about new goods, services and experiences that at least incorporate those standards, and preferably outdo them.

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Compassion harnesses the power of blogs

A brilliant move by Compassion, the child-sponsorship organization: They made February "Compassion Blog Month." (I'm sorry I didn't find out about it until it's over!)

Here's what Compassion did: They sent 15 Christian bloggers to Uganda, where they blogged live -- and, no doubt, they'll keep talking about for a good long while.

It's not cheap to send 15 people from North America to Africa. And those bloggers, being bloggers, might not toe the Compassion line. (Did I say "might not"? How about "will not"?)

Looked at with old economy eyes, Compassion is taking a huge risk, letting go of its marketing to 15 different near-strangers who might do anything. Looked at with modern eyes, Compassion is smart: willing to give up control in favor of being talked about by real people.

Child sponsorship organizations know exactly how much it should cost to acquire a sponsor. So you know they're going to be tracking this effort closely. If they do it again next year, that's a sign it worked.

They also offered free stuff to other bloggers who talked about their "Compassion experience." They even launched a blog of their own. All around, it's a pioneering effort for a nonprofit, and I wish them luck.

Thanks to Church Marketing Sucks for the tip.

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Do donors want to provide nonprofit operating costs?

If you don't follow the comments here at the Donor Power Blog, you might want to, because we get some good ones. Commenting on my recent post on Kiva's too-much-money problem, my former colleague Jeff Schreifels challenges my assertion that Kiva has too much money because their marketing is so good.

Jeff says, rather, that the problem is Kiva has failed to raise enough operating funds to keep the organization running optimally. That is, if they would spend a little more of what they raise on administering their programs, they'd be able to keep up with the funds they're raising:

We have been so brainwashed by organizations like GuideStar and Charity Navigator who tell us effective organizations are those that have ... low fundraising to cost ratios. But is that really the true measure? I believe the true measure is in the effectiveness of the project or work of the non-profit. I believe people understand that their gifts have to also go to overhead to MAKE their gifts work.

It's true that GuideStar and Charity Navigator, the most popular charity evaluation sites, emphasize efficiency, sometimes at the expense of ignoring effectiveness. Are they "brainwashing" donors, or simply following donors demands?

The questions this raises for Kiva (and all nonprofits, really) are these:

  • Would Kiva accomplish more good in the world if they spent more on administration?
  • Would donors rather see Kiva accomplish more, or would they rather maximize the efficiency of their giving?

My guess: Given the choice, Kiva's donors would gladly fund more administration costs if they knew that would lead to more good work happening.

One organization that handles this well is DonorsChoose. They add an optional "fulfillment fee" of 15-25% to donors' gifts, which donors can pay or not. As their How It Works page says:

Donors' inclusion of the fulfillment fee is essential to the existence and success of Thankfully, 90% of our contributors choose to include it, and income thus earned allows us to continue our work.

The magic that Kiva is missing out on here is giving donors the power. You just might be amazed at how open-minded, helpful, and flexible donors will be when you put the reins in their hands.

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Is everybody talking about you yet?

The mysterious Don't Tell The Donor blogger has a column now in The NonProfit Times, the first of which asks an interesting question: Our Donors Are Talking -- What Are We Afraid Of?

How would you feel if you discovered that 500 of your donors had created a group on a social networking Web site like Facebook to publicly discuss their experiences donating to your organization?

"A Fundraiser" thinks you'd freak. I hope you'd throw a party. The point is, sooner or later, this is going to happen. And it won't be on your terms. People will just start talking about you -- and their topics will be the things that matter to them, not what your brand guidelines mandate as the talking points.

So here's what to start doing now:

  • Do something worth talking about. Something good, not a scandal.
  • Serve donors flawlessly. No mistakes. No long delays. Get everything right.
  • Respect donors. Treat 'em like they're your Mom.

Then get out of the way and let them talk. You'll have little to fear and a lot to gain.

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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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