When “Donor as Hero” is wrong for fundraising

Lots of charities are telling their donors, “You’re a hero!” It’s become the go-to theme for fundraising of all kinds in a variety of sectors. But simply telling donors that they’re heroes falls way short of the goals of donor-centric fundraising. In fact, there are four main pitfalls to this approach:

  • It’s overused. When hero references are everywhere, they don’t mean much anymore.
  • It’s vague. Just stamping “Hero Campaign” on an appeal doesn’t really say anything that connects with donors.
  • It lacks believability. Telling donors they’re heroes isn’t a believable donor benefit.
  • It’s a metaphor not intended to be used literally. Donor-as-hero is often misinterpreted to mean that all you do is tell donors “You’re a hero!” and that makes the fundraising donor centric.

See more about this here. Good direct response fundraising means developing a powerful offer, along with solid donor benefits and realistic reasons to give, not simply adding a label that says, “You’re a hero!”  Click here for more.


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How too much collaboration ruins fundraising appeals

There’s this idea that people seem to accept without even thinking about it. It’s the idea that all work is teamwork … that nothing can happen without the involvement of anyone and everyone … that any kind of collaboration is always inherently good.

You see this all the time in environments where people do creative work like marketing and fundraising. Everyone from the proofreader to the receptionist to the account staff to a board member’s brother-in-law has a hand in the creative, making changes that are often based on little more than personal opinion.

There are comments like, “I don’t like this” or “Can we change this to something else?” or “Why is this in here?” And invariably, there’s this one: “Change that – the client won’t approve it.” Then someone goes ahead and incorporates the changes, often without regard to the tone, presentation, or strategy goals of the appeal. Hey, we’re a collaborative team, right? So, all input is implemented without question.

This might seem like collaboration since we’re involving everyone and being very egalitarian, but it isn’t collaboration. It’s creative by committee. It’s group think. It’s too many cooks in the kitchen.

This isn’t to say that collaboration is bad. Not at all. Collaboration is vital. But ideally it’s limited to those individuals familiar with the strategy of the appeal, the target audience, the concept, the offer, and so on. This group discusses the appeal and the strategy, and reviews it based on strategy — not personal opinion, ego, or office politics. That’s collaboration.

Creative by committee is something else entirely, and it’s deadly for fundraising. Because if we’re creating fundraising that a committee can approve, that doesn’t ruffle any feathers, that everyone can okay, then there’s a good chance it’s bland and boring. And that’s not going to excite donors.


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Is The Agitator wrong about the too-much-mail donor complaint?

The too-much-mail donor complaint (and how to handle it by mailing less) shows up in an interesting post in The Agitator. And it prompts a question: Is it a good idea to let donor complaints drive strategy when we may not fully understand the nature of the complaint?

First, consider a corollary. If you’d ask consumers if they receive too many advertising messages, they’d say absolutely yes. Now imagine a marketing consultant approaching Starbucks and saying, “Your customers are complaining about all those ads, but you can advertise less and still increase sales.” Now imagine Starbucks actually going for that and launching a campaign that tells its customers in their advertising, “We’re going to advertise less to you but we still expect you to buy as much or more, okay?” Even if that could work in the short term, what happens when the novelty of it quickly wears off and customer loyalty wanes? Could such a strategy be sustainable for a business or a nonprofit?

Maybe when donors say they’re getting too much mail, we’re mistakenly taking their complaint literally. Maybe they don’t mean the actual number of pieces of mail. Maybe what donors are really saying is that they’re getting too much mail that’s irrelevant to them, doesn’t convey realistic donor benefits, doesn’t convey a real impact, and doesn’t back up any of the promises with credible proof. You know, junk mail.

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The blank outside envelope – is it a good idea for your fundraising appeals?

People say that if you want to increase the open rates for direct mail fundraising, use a blank outside envelope. No teaser. No organization logo. Nothing to signal that it’s a fundraising letter or even whom it’s coming from.

Or, you use teasers and other markings (like “Time sensitive”) that are so vague they provide no indication about what might be inside.

The theory, of course, is that the mystery of the blank or the intentionally vague outside envelope will entice donors to rip it open to see what’s inside.

That theory is probably right. After all, who can resist the blank outer envelope? Not many of us! You just have to know what’s inside, don’t you?

But … what happens when you do open the envelope and realize it’s something you don’t want, don’t need, don’t care about, or don’t see the relevance of, and you simply toss the whole appeal? What have we really achieved? It’s the fundraising equivalent of ‘made you look!’

Another way to approach the whole outside-envelop thing is to take a piece of advice from DM guru George Duncan. He maintains that direct mail is theater in print. And the outside envelope is where we set the stage.

One of the most important parts of the outer envelope, George says, is the corner card, the return address in the upper left-hand corner. It’s one of the main things recipients look at. Is this from somebody I know or want to know? If you’ve effectively targeted your donor, the answer will be yes.

That’s part of the battle. Another part centers around three kinds of teasers:

  1. The offer teaser: Here you present donors with a specific proposition. An example would be something like, “Your gift multiplies 4X in impact to save starving children in Africa.” This kind of approach tends to work best when you know your donors and what they want.
  2. The benefit teaser: This approach is all about a promise or benefit for the reader. An example would be something like, “Celebrate the most joyous Thanksgiving ever by transforming the life of someone who’s homeless.” Just like the offer teaser, the benefit needs to be something that resonates with your donors.
  3. The curiosity teaser: Here we get a little oblique with the messaging. It could be something like, “Why Amina will thank you with tears in her eyes.” You want to tell just enough so that your donor sort of has a feeling about what the letter might be about but isn’t really sure. That’s what gives the curiosity teaser its power. But of the three it’s the riskiest.

Setting the stage with the outer envelope doesn’t always mean using a teaser. But in many cases, it will. The variations in envelope types and teasers are endless. A fancy, invitation-looking envelope with a simple “R.S.V.P” on the front might set the stage very well. So could a simple No. 10 envelop with a benefit teaser that connects. It all depends. What we’re aiming for is to stop our donor in her tracks when she sees the envelope and have it be so compelling and so relevant that she can’t wait to open it up, and then once she does, to have her expectations confirmed that this is in fact something that she’s very interested in. Setting the stage like that, you generate interest with the outer envelope and then sustain that interest with the content inside, making it easy for donors to get engaged with the mailing. And give.

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When donor centrism is at odds with your donors

Donor centrism means putting the donor at the center of the organization’s fundraising and, in fact, everything the organization does. It means, as fundraising expert Simone Joyaux says, building trust — trust that donors play a critical role in the charity’s success, trust that the charity does worthwhile things with donations, and trust that the charity operates efficiently.

It’s the ideal that charities aspire to, or should.

But what happens when the work your organization is committed to doing is suddenly at odds with what your donors want? This is what that the ACLU has grappled with after the events in Charlottesville, Va., in August.

You’ll recall that white supremacist groups marched in Charlottesville and were countered by anti-fascist protestors.

What’s less widely known is that city officials tried to revoke the permit to protest removal of the Gen. Robert E. Lee statue. The city wanted to move the protest out of the downtown location to an open area about a mile away for easier crowd control. The city was sued by the ACLU, and the judge ruled against the city. The protest took place in downtown Charlottesville as originally planned.

The ACLU was of course acting in accordance with its mission to defend the rights and liberties enshrined in the Constitution. But donors were outraged. A board member even resigned over it.

Further complicating the problem, the ACLU is one of the many charities that benefitted from the so-called Trump bump – a big increase in donations after the election of Donald Trump. The donors who gave probably did so as a form of protest against the kind of nationalism that the ACLU appeared to defend.

So where does that leave the ACLU? Have they broken trust with their donors? And does that mean they’re not donor centric?

For that matter, should any charity ever act in ways that differ from its donors’ wishes? Or does a charity have the obligation to pursue its mission and act on its ideals regardless of the consequences? And if so, should the charity expect its donors to come along with them and continue to give, or should the charity assume that some donors will fall away in cases like this, and just chalk it up to attrition?

These questions go to the core of what it means to be donor centric. Usually, when we talk about donor centrism, it centers around using “you” in fundraising copy, thanking donors properly, getting donor data right to avoid embarrassing mistakes, reporting back to donors about outcomes, and so on.

These are critical, no doubt about it. But as the episode with the ACLU shows, donor centrism goes straight to the charity’s core and its mission.

In situations like this, the charity has to determine its next steps wisely.

One thing’s for certain, though. An issue like the ACLU faces is not one to address in your fundraising, because that puts you in the position of explaining and educating.

That’s not a good position to be in because, first, it pulls you away from your main goal of generating funds. Second, it’s a low-involvement strategy, because donors don’t want to be educated by the charities they support. The response to this kind of approach will likely be dismal. And third, it gets donors to think, and fundraising works best when we can get donors to feel something about the cause or the need.

Some ways to counter bad press could include blog posts, Facebook posts, videos on YouTube, talking with reporters, and other PR strategies. Some of which the ACLU has done.

But more to the point, in an act of donor centrism, the ACLU has recently changed its policy. According to PBS, the ACLU will no longer represent supremacist groups that demonstrate with guns. And that, no doubt, will go a long way toward re-establishing trust with donors.

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The 10 Percent Solution in Fundraising. Or, Why Messaging Rules

The standard in direct marketing, whether it’s fundraising or for-profit marketing, is that the mailing list will account for 60 percent of your success or failure … the offer accounts for 30 percent … and the creative? Just 10 percent.

This is based on decades of marketing history, and it’s indisputable. But …

Even though creative may be a measly 10 percent’s worth of the overall effort, that doesn’t mean it’s insignificant. That doesn’t mean you focus all your time on the list and the offer and just wave your hand over the creative and consider it good enough.

No, weak creative — and especially, weak messaging — will doom a fundraising campaign.

Now, of course, if the list is bad, your mailing goes to all the wrong people. That’s not good. And if the offer is bad or, more likely, vague, then even if your appeal does go to the right people, they’ll be bored by it. But think of it this way.

What if your list and offer and good, but the messaging is off strategy? Response will suffer, guaranteed.

Example: consider Nike, the literal powerhouse in branding. You can bet that before they do anything, they research and research to make sure every step they take is the right one. Let’s say they’re developing a new campaign. They do tons of market research. They map out their media strategy. They pour millions and millions of dollars into ad buys.

And then, with all that as the backdrop, they introduce their new slogan, Just Try It. Wouldn’t THAT land with a thud? And all because the messaging was just a little bit … off.

Suddenly that 10 percent for creative doesn’t seem quite so insignificant. Truth is, you can have all the data, strategy, and analytics in the world, but if the messaging in your appeal is off — even by a little bit — then your whole fundraising campaign will be too.

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Isn’t it time for one-click online donating?

Amazon is the source for everything on the Internet. And according to NPR, it has held the patent on a process that has probably been largely responsible for its phenomenal growth. It’s one-click checkout.

If you’ve ordered anything on Amazon – and who hasn’t? – you’ve probably noticed how easy it is. You log onto the site, chose your item, and click the button to order it. Easy. So easy in fact that you can get the idea to order, say, some ink cartridges for your printer, find the ones you need on Amazon, and have them on their way to you in under two minutes.

Surprising as it seems, Amazon has held the patent on the process of one-click ordering since 1997 – back in the Wild West days of the Internet.

But now that patent has expired. Which means that Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and others can develop one-click checkout.

So, maybe now it’s time for charities to offer one-click donating. At this point, the options for online giving are a one-time gift or a monthly gift.

But let’s say I like to give to Save the Looney Bird Society whenever the mood strikes, and let’s say the mood strikes maybe three or four times a year. I’m not a one-time giver, and I’m not a monthly giver.

So, each time I feel a twinge of guilt about the plight of the Looney Bird, I have to fill in my name, street address, city, state, zip code, credit card number, expiration date, security code, and more.

Of course, it’s not all that difficult to type that stuff in, but still, wouldn’t it be nice just to log onto the Society’s website and just click ‘donate,’ and know that the precious Looney Birds will be safe for another few months?

Online donating is pretty easy. But it could be even easier. What do you say, online-fundraising developers?


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