You have to move donors to get them to give

Connecting with donors, listening to donors, donor love, donor centrism, making the donor feel like a hero – these are all fine and useful concepts. They show how to think about fundraising. But we can’t escape the fact that at the end of the day the fundraising appeal we send has to move donors to take action and give.

That’s the challenge. And fortunately, Jerry Huntsinger in his Eighty-Six Tutorials on Creating Fundraising Letters and Packages has some insight.

Jerry says it’s necessary to have the courage to use trigger words like emergency, crisis, disaster threat, immediate, urgent, and so on, in our appeals.

Why? Because people give money to those charities that show they need it and show they need it now.

It’s the simple truth in fundraising – which shouldn’t be surprising. It’s the same in commercial marketing and in sales. I can still remember one of my old bosses telling me that the sale goes to the salesman who wants it more.

But why does Jerry say we have to have the courage to use those trigger words?

Because in fundraising, there are some people who are afraid of having a nonprofit act like it needs money. They say that an appeal is too pushy, too dramatic, too emotional, too over the top, even – horror of horrors – off-strategy or off-brand, and that it needs to be toned down. Nonsense.

A charity that needs money isn’t seen by donors as being desperate. It’s seen by donors as involved, taking charge, and being driven and motivated to do good. Those are all positive attributes for a nonprofit.

Bottom line, the sale goes to the salesperson who shows that he or she wants it more, and the donation goes to the charity that shows their cause needs it more.

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The easy way to boost fundraising response

It’s probably something you don’t give much attention to when you’re creating a fundraising appeal. Most of us don’t, I’d bet. That’s because it’s so simple that it gets overlooked. It’s this: making the date of the appeal a prominent feature. Doing this can make a difference in response.

So says Jerry Huntsinger in his Eighty-Six Tutorials on Creating Fundraising Letters and Packages. And he should know.

Most of the time, the date doesn’t get much attention. It seems like just a business-letter mandatory, and it’s usually tucked under a logo or address block where it can hide.

But putting the date in a conspicuous spot where donors can’t miss it says some important things to donors.

It says the appeal is timely, which is incredibly important. Because that makes it worthy of your donor’s attention. Even before your donor starts reading, you’ve established some credibility.

It says the appeal is intended for that donor. When it’s prominent, the date heightens the level of personalization, adding to the personalization of the address block and the salutation. These three things work together to tell your donor that this isn’t an anonymous circular they’re looking at. It’s a letter from you to them.

Sure, making the date prominent is a small tweak, but little tweaks to response add up. It certainly can’t hurt, and it will probably help.

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Is this the exception to the ‘no statistics in fundraising appeals’ rule?

Tell an emotional story about one person. That’s the guideline for creating donor-focused fundraising that connects with donors and motivates them to give.

An example from Claire Axelrad at Clarification blog drives this point home. One headline says “24,000 children die from hunger every day” with a photo of a mass of starving children, while the other one says “Abidemi is starving to death” with a photo of a sad little girl.

Which one is the most compelling? Most people would say the one that talks about Abidemi, the little girl. She’s the “Identifiable victim,” the face of the problem that donors can relate to.

But wait – why can’t we use both approaches? Why can’t we use the statistics – which are admittedly surprising in themselves – in combination with the one identifiable victim? Wouldn’t we be covering both bases and doing a more complete job in our messaging?  You know – speaking to the heart and the head?

Well, not according to the research. If donors are presented with statistical information plus the identifiable victim, donations fall.

The story about one person won’t overcome the rational thinking that statistics lead donors to. The more left-brain things your donors see, the less generous they are. But the more right-brain things your donors see, the more generous they are. It’s not because donors can’t understand statistics. It’s because donors want to know that they have a connection with the nonprofit’s work, that a problem is solvable, and that their gift matters. Speaking to the heart and not to the head does that.

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The best reason to ask your donors more often to give

Lots of charities are shy about asking for donations. They don’t want to mail or email too often out of fear of seeming too pushy. And even in their appeals themselves, it seems like they’re trying to work up the courage to ask, with all the hemming and hawing and beating around the bush before coming out and asking for a donation.

Why is that?

There’s no reason to feel that fundraising is manipulating or shaking down donors. The fact is that giving is good. It’s good for the person receiving the generosity, naturally, and it’s just as good for the giver. Both benefit.

Christianity says so. The Bible says “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). (link)

Judaism says so. Helping the poor is an obligation in Judaism known as “tzedakah” in Hebrew. In tzedakah, the gifts that are given to others eventually return to the giver. (link)

Islam says so. Believers are entreated to be generous. The Koran says “And whatever you spend in good, it will be repaid to you in full, and you shall not be wronged.” (link)

Buddhism says so. Generosity is one of the three tenants of Buddhism, stressing that the giver should feel a sense of joy before, during, and after the act of giving. (link)

Atheism says so. In fact, as this report explains, even without the heavenly reward for charitable acts that most religions promise, atheists are still generous givers. They say, “We don’t need God to do good,” pointing out that, even without belief, giving is personally rewarding. (link)

With apologies to any faith or group unintentionally omitted here, it looks like there’s one thing that people of every stripe can agree on, and it’s the foundational idea, as old as humanity, that’s it’s good to give. And if it’s good to give, then it has to be at least as good to ask.

So there’s no reason to shy away from the ask, whether it’s in a direct mail letter, an email appeal, or face to face.

Ask freely, ask enthusiastically, ask honestly, ask boldly, ask early, and ask often. Will you get a “too much mail” donor complaint here and there? Maybe. But you can’t let that dictate what you do for the far greater number of donors who welcome the opportunity to help. The larger issue is that giving is good for donors, good for your nonprofit, and good for your nonprofit’s beneficiaries. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s just plain good. And how many things can you say that about?

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What’s your fundraising war story?

When things go wrong with a fundraising appeal, it can seem like the end when it’s happening to you. But really, sometimes the lessons you learn in the school of hard knocks are the best ones – the ones you need to learn.

In this guest post at GuideStar blog, here are three lessons I learned the hard way:

  • Why cleverness is never a good substitute for genuine creativity in fundraising appeals.
  • What happens to an appeal when group-think takes over.
  • How the messaging in an appeal can get overshadowed and what that does to response.

Take a look at the full post here for the details. Hey, we’ve all been there. But that doesn’t mean we have to stay there. With every appeal, we learn more, and that’s part of what makes fundraising so fascinating. So, what’s your fundraising war story? Let me know.

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3 must-haves for a strong January renewal appeal

Now that your year end appeal is out the door, it’s time to relax with a few weeks off. HA! Kidding! Actually, it’s time for your January renewal appeal to be in the works.

Your January renewal can be one of the strongest appeals of the year. Those donors who didn’t give to your year-end appeal will probably be ready to open their wallets in January.

In addition, after the hustle and bustle of the holidays, donors have a bit more time on their hands, so they’ll probably be more receptive to your ask. And, donors often work out their plans for giving in January, and they may be thinking they’ll start off the year with a big, fat, generous gift. You’ll want to be there for that.

So, here are three things to do so that your renewal generates good results:

  1. Use a membership card. Does anybody actually take the membership card from the mailing and put it in their wallet? Probably not. But that’s okay. The membership card is a symbolic thing, obviously. Something tangible. And especially when it has the donor’s name on it, it works. Probably for the same reason that those donor-personalized Certificates of Appreciation work.
  2. Give solid reasons to renew. The call to action is, “Renew your support,” and that should be peppered throughout the appeal. Because of that, it’s important to provide some strong reasons why your donors would want to renew their support. These reasons will be based around the impact of your donors’ gifts. For a cancer center, say, it could be something like, “Your gift will fuel the world-class research that’s saving lives.” Three or four strong reasons are what you need to drive home the urgency and the impact around donating.
  3. Acknowledge your donor’s importance. The opening of your letter is probably a good place to make this point, and you’ll want to be somewhat effusive in thanking your donor. Still, you don’t want to dwell on this for paragraph after paragraph. Tell your donors how wonderful and important they sincerely are, and then move on to donor impact.

It’ll be a whole new year soon, with new challenges and new opportunities for your donors to be involved with your mission. Your January renewal is how you can give them that chance.

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Here’s the point if you want to raise funds

Red_push_pinGeneralities are okay in fundraising. But that’s the problem – they’re just okay. They don’t work as well as specifics to get donors inspired and motivated to give.

Specifics – that’s the point in this post at Future Fundraising Now. In it, there’s a comparison between two calls to action. One is a generality: let’s end poverty. The other is specific: help pull a refugee to safety.

Chances are that the second one, the specific one, will do a lot better to engage donors and win their support. First of all, ending poverty seems to donors to be too big of a problem to solve. Any donor knows that his or her gift won’t stop poverty.

Second, it’s simply human nature to respond to specifics. Specifics sell, and the lesson goes all the way back to 1923, when legendary copywriter Claude Hopkins wrote: “Platitudes and generalities roll off the human understanding like water from a duck.” It was one of his immutable truths of marketing, and it’s as relevant as ever in fundraising.

It’s tempting to reach for generalities like “make a difference,” “save the world,” “change the world,” “Stand with us,” “give hope,” or “be a hero” when we’re thinking through an appeal. In some cases, generalities like these are okay in a conversational sense to relate to donors, but generalities will never be as effective as specifics when we’re developing a fundraising offer.

Especially for the offer, specifics can increase the credibility of the message, letting donors conjure up a more vivid mental image of the impact they can have when they give.

As Hopkins wrote: “People recognize a certain license in selling talk as they do poetry.” You won’t ruin your case for giving if a few generalities creep into the letter copy, but when it comes to the offer and the moment of truth – actually giving a gift – focus relentlessly on the specifics to get the best response from your fundraising.

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