Year-end fundraising – what you should be doing now

To raise more money with your year-end appeal, one of the first things to do is to make sure you have a solid offer.

The fundraising offer is a statement of what the donor receives in return for giving. It’s the deal, the transaction, the quid pro quo. It’s how the donor and nonprofit connect.

The offer for your year-end appeal needs to convey:

  • Why you’re writing to the donor.
  • What you want your donor to do.
  • Why the donation is a good deal.
  • Why the donor should give now.
  • What the donor gets out of it (benefits of giving).
  • Why your donor’s support matters.

Getting these basics nailed down is the first step in building a strong year-end appeal. For help thinking through your offer and the other elements of your year-end appeal, check out this free informational guide: https://lnkd.in/ehxTgdV

 

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This can torpedo a fundraising appeal

There’s a structure that’s often used for fundraising appeals even though it’s not really all that good for getting donors to give. This post at the Better Fundraising Company blog shows us what this structure is, and it goes something like this:

  1. Thank you, Mrs. Donor, for your support in the past.
  2. Martha and her daughter, Vicki, have a safe place to live now because of your gifts.
  3. Please give so we can help someone else like them.

You see this structure again and again in appeals, even though results say it’s often not the best way to go.

The problem is that this structure fails to present a specific problem and a specific solution that the donor can latch onto. Because of that, it removes one of the most important reasons that donors give – the ability to make a real difference. In the case of Martha and Vicki, the problem has been solved. They’re not homeless anymore. So instead of telling the donor about a person who does need help, this appeal talks about the two people who don’t need help anymore.

What causes fundraisers to take this approach? It’s most likely the fear of asking. It can be hard to ask people for money. And because some fundraisers are uncomfortable about asking for money, they think that donors are uncomfortable being asked.

Even experienced fundraisers fall into this trap. As a result, they try to cushion the blow of asking for money by reinforcing the donor’s past gifts and telling a story that’s all good news.

Usually in these kinds of appeals, the copy goes on and on about how Martha and Vicki are doing so well at the homeless shelter because of the donor’s past support. And often there’s no mention of the struggles that brought Martha and Vicki to the homeless shelter in the first place – only the fact that mother and daughter are living transformed lives. And often in these kinds of appeals, there are few asks. In fact, it’s not unusual to see only one ask, often at the very end of the appeal. As if the charity were hesitant to ask at all.

Why do this?

The fact is, donors expect to be asked to give. They want to give. That’s why they opened the letter or email in the first place. They knew they were getting into a fundraising appeal, not a letter from their long-lost sister Matilda.

What they want and what they will respond to in an appeal is a problem to solve and a compelling way to solve it. Because then they can feel like they’re doing a good deed, instead of simply reinforcing a good deed that’s already been accomplished.

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Get fundraising emails opened

With all the articles and blog posts on email fundraising, it’s easy to get the impression that the subject line reigns supreme in the ongoing battle to get fundraising emails opened.

It’s not that the subject line doesn’t matter – it does. It’s crucial. But it’s not the only thing. And it’s probably not even the most important thing.

An email appeared in my inbox a few days ago from Pauline Hersher. Immediately I wondered: Who in the world is Pauline Hersher? Do I know a Pauline Hersher? Should I know who Pauline Hersher is? Why am I getting this? Wait – it’s probably spam or some kind of phishing email. I better not open it.

Admit it: you’ve gone through something like this yourself. And it’s because the first thing you look at when you get an email probably isn’t the subject line – it’s the from line. You want to see who it’s from before you open it.

It’s the same for your donors. They’re wary about opening emails from an unknown source and downloading some mega-virus that turns their laptop into a puff of white smoke.

After puzzling over the identity of Ms. Hersher (not the real name, by the way), I finally noticed the subject line and realized the email was from a foundation I support.

Why add all this noise into a fundraising email? It just makes emails less likely to get opened.

Instead, take some of the attention usually lavished on subject lines and turn it to the from line. You can test different from lines to see what will work best. In general, try to keep the from line on the shorter side, since many email programs will just cut off a long from line.

If you can’t keep the from line short, then try to front-load the information. If your from line is, say, “John Jasperson from Save the Whales Foundation.” Donors won’t see most of that in their email preview. So unless you’re positive that everyone knows who John Jasperson is, try something like “Save the Whales: John Jesperson” for your from line as a possible test. Or maybe simply “Save the Whales.” It’s worthwhile to experiment with a few options and see what works best.

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Another reason to send thank you letters to your donors

When it comes to thanking donors, this is a horror story: A donor writes a check for $50,000, sends it in to the charity, and waits and waits for days and then finally calls the charity to make sure it received the donation.

Obviously, something like that should never happen. It’s wildly irresponsible. But it points up a very practical reason for sending a thank you. In addition to thanking your donor for giving, naturally, one very important purpose of the thank you letter is simply to confirm for your donor that you did actually receive her gift.

Donors will wonder about this after they give. Think about it: In your personal or business life, how many times have you sent something to somebody and never received an acknowledgement that the other person received it? Drives you crazy, right? You just wanted a simple, “got it, thanks,” to put your concerns to rest.

It’s an often-overlooked reason why the thank you letter is so crucial. Of course, in your thank you letters, you’ll go beyond a simple confirmation, and that’s where fundraising expert Jerry Huntsinger comes in.

In his Eighty-six tutorials on creating fundraising letters and packages, he points out four reasons to send thank yous:

  1. Create a warm glow around your donor.
  2. Say thank you in a genuine and personal way.
  3. Educate your donors.
  4. Prompt another gift.

Wait – what’s that third one? Educate your donors? Isn’t it true in fundraising that if you’re trying to educate donors you’re losing them? Yes, but Jerry makes a valid point here.

When your donor gets a thank you letter, you pretty much have a captive audience. Chances are, your donor is going to read it top to bottom – which is certainly not true of most donor communications. So, “don’t hesitate,” as Jerry says, “to explain your organizational purpose and goals.”

This is the chance to reinforce for your donor why your charity’s work is important and why it matters. It’s surely a good idea to do this in the thank you letter for new donors, and even for long-term donors, it’s not a bad idea to reinforce why your charity’s work is needed.

What’s the takeaway here? It’s important to slather on the praise in your thank you letters. Even go overboard. No donor is going to say, “No, stop. You’re thanking me too much!” But recognize that it’s also important to underline and reinforce your charity’s core reason for being. Praise combined with relevance – that’s the kind of thing that makes a donor want to give again.

 

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When to use a plain envelope in fundraising

In Gulliver’s Travels, our intrepid explorer finds himself in Lilliput, where two factions of Lilliputians are in dispute. On one side are the Big-Endians, who break their boiled eggs at the big end, while on the other side are the Little-Endians, who break their eggs at the little end.

This is kind of like that. There’s a group of people in direct mail and fundraising who maintain that the best carrier, bar none, is the humble plain envelope. After all, they insist, getting the carrier open is half the battle, and who can resist the siren song of the plain envelope? Don’t prospects just have to know what’s inside?

And then there’s another group of people who maintain that teaser copy and images on the outside envelope are the way to entice donors and lure them in.

So who’s right? Luckily, we have some help, by way of a post on SOFII, from the esteemed Professor Siegfried Vogele, dean of direct mail and one of the field’s most original thinkers.

The good doctor explains envelope effectiveness in terms of filters and amplifiers. A filter impedes response, and an amplifier, well, amplifies it.

He further explains that the plain envelope is what we normally associate with personal correspondence (rare these days, thanks to email) or with business mail, like a letter from your insurance company. When you get that letter, open it, and find your expectations confirmed – yes, it IS a letter from Aunt Margie! – then that’s an amplifier for the recipient. In this case, the envelope has done its job by successfully setting the stage.

But if that plain envelope happens to contain an advertising circular, a sales letter, or a Dear-Friend fundraising appeal that you weren’t anticipating, then that can be a filter, depressing response – probably because, in this case, the envelope did not set the stage for the prospect. You got something completely different from what you’re conditioned to expect from a plain envelope.

So does this mean we should never use a plain envelope? Or that we should ways use teaser copy and images? As with all things direct mail, it depends.

If the contents are highly personal and highly targeted to the recipient, then a plain envelope could be the right way to go. That will set the stage for the recipient about what’s to come, and your donor will likely move smoothly from the outside envelope to the appeal inside to have their expectations confirmed.

But, if the contents are obviously a more mass-market kind of fundraising appeal, then it might be good to think about how to set the stage with teaser copy and images. No easy task. That could mean everything from a simple “R.S.V.P” on the outer envelope to an expression about the cause to the beginning of a story. There’s an infinite number of ways to do this, so picking the so-called right one is going to depend a lot on your list and your offer. Not to mention your ability to read your donors’ minds.

So, there we have it: the Big-Endians versus the Little-Endians. Which side is right? Well, both are, of course.

 

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What’s an offer in fundraising?

The offer is one of the most underutilized aspects of fundraising. Is that because of how we tend to think about it?

One definition of the fundraising offer is that it’s what the donor’s gift will accomplish. That’s true – that’s part of what the offer is, but it’s not the whole picture. That definition seems to be focusing on how the nonprofit’s beneficiaries will be impacted, while avoiding what the donor gets out of giving. Let’s look at the example of a donor who’s concerned about the planet and hates fracking. Hates it. Then she happens to get an appeal in the mail that says, “your gift of $25 will help fund the march on Washington to end fracking, and when you give, sign the petition enclosed for your congressman.”

Boom – she’s in. And while she’s writing her check, putting it in the reply envelope, and dropping it in the mailbox, she’s thinking, “Take that, you frackers!”

The fundraising piece said the money will fund the march, and it will. Strictly speaking, that’s what the gift will accomplish. But, judging from our donor’s reaction to sending in her gift, there’s more going on than simply what the mail piece says will happen. Our donor is getting a huge amount of personal satisfaction from taking action against fracking, righting a wrong done against the planet, getting back at those heartless corporations that pollute, standing up for what’s right, and much more. Plus, she even has the satisfaction of giving her congressman a piece of her mind in that signed petition. That’s what she gets out of it. What she has to do to get all that is to donate.

Which brings us to another definition of the offer. It’s what the donor gets and what she has to do to get it. This definition is a bit fuller since it shows that donating is more of a two-way street, more of a quid pro quo, more of a deal, and more of an exchange between nonprofit and donor. That’s important because in the offer we need to keep in mind not only how the nonprofit benefits and not only how the nonprofit’s beneficiaries are helped but also what the donor gets in exchange for giving.

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How to test smart for fundraising

The problem with the typical A/B test for a direct mail fundraising appeal or an email appeal is that it’s just too careful and conservative. That’s the point in this post from Seth’s blog. He says that we tend to test things that are too similar because, basically, we’re afraid to fail.

It’s true. When the question of testing comes up in a creative meeting for a fundraising appeal, lots of times the discussion will revolve around testing a closed face envelop versus a window envelope, or an appeal letter with a photo versus without the photo, or a handwritten margin note versus without the margin note, or an email appeal with a Give Now button versus a Donate Now button.

Tests like these are all but guaranteed to produce either a tie or a very, very slight win. In either case, we don’t learn much about the creative or the donors – which was the whole point of testing in the first place.

Does this mean you should always test some crazy new thing and swing for the fences? Not necessarily. Say you have a blockbuster control that’s blown everything else out of the water. Then it would probably make sense to test some minor things to generate incremental gains, provided you want to keep the control going instead of beating it.

Or say you want to see if you can reduce costs without hurting revenue. Then it would probably make sense to test the appeal, for example, with and without the insert. You may find it does just as well without the extra piece, which means cost goes down a little so overall revenue goes up a little.

But in a lot of cases, it’s more instructive to test, as Seth says, “radically different alternatives.” More panic-inducing too. But also more instructive.

 

 

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