DON’T do this in fundraising appeals, and get better results

In fundraising appeals, you should always thank your donors for their support, right? Wrong!

You can see why in this example. The direct mail appeal from a farm-advocacy nonprofit begins like this:

“Let me express my personal thanks for your generous support in this difficult year. Because of you, [charity] could work vigorously in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to protect America’s precious farmland and ranchland and keep family farmers and ranchers on the land.”

The tone of this copy is all corporate memo. It’s not personal. It’s not conversational. But that’s not the real problem. The main thing that’s hurting this appeal is the opening that thanks donors for their support.

You see this kind of opening again and again in fundraising appeals, and it’s hard to understand why. As an opening gambit, it’s just weak.

First of all, a donor getting this might well assume that it’s a thank you letter for past support and simply stop reading.

Second, a donor who gives to your nonprofit should be acknowledged for their gift in the thank you letters you send, in the newsletters you send, and in other communications. Not in appeals. Your appeal mailing is where you want to engage a donor with an exciting opportunity to make a difference.

The headline, the subhead, and the lead paragraphs are your chance – consisting of only a few seconds – to attract your donor’s attention and keep her reading. You don’t do that by acknowledging a fact that your donor is likely already well aware of – that she gives to your organization. You do it, in most cases, by opening with a compelling offer.

The second paragraph of this appeal goes like this:

“All of us at [charity] are deeply aware of the growing threats to America’s farms and ranches and the urgent need to protect as much agricultural land as possible. The personal and economic impacts of the coronavirus have added new layers of pain and hardship onto countless families, which makes us especially grateful for your generosity right now.”

Again, more corporate-memo copy. But that’s still not the real problem. The problem is that we’re well into this appeal and still there’s not even a whiff of an offer, not even a hint at something that would engage the donor in making a difference.

In fact, it’s not until you get to the fifth paragraph that you see the offer – a matching grant.

It’s hard to know why this idea of opening an appeal with a donor thank you persists, but it’s virtually always a bad idea.

If you’re responsible for your organization’s fundraising, and your in-house team is giving you this, you should probably look outside of your four walls for creative strategy. Or if your agency is giving you this, you should look elsewhere for help. Or if you believe that appeals should start with a thank you, it’s time to challenge that assumption.

So, bottom line, considering all of the above, how did this appeal perform? No idea. But it’s a pretty fair bet that it underperformed. However much money it raised, it could have raised more – probably a lot more – with the right creative strategy and the right structure for the appeal. And that’s a key point. Given how much time and money it takes to produce and send an appeal, it just makes sense to optimize everything. And that goes double for the messaging. Getting that right is essential to raising the funds your nonprofit needs.

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Try this to increase fundraising response

One of the best ways to boost the response of your direct mail fundraising appeal isn’t what you might think. It’s to send an email.

Mail and email complement each other, creating better response than either would separately. That’s one of the messages in new research from Virtuous and NextAfter on multichannel fundraising.

The research shows that offline donors who receive an email are more likely to give a gift offline and to give again. The email also makes them more likely to give online.

Clearly, the two channels – online and offline – work together. That’s important. Because, as the research shows, multichannel donors are worth three times more than either online-only or offline-only donors.

So, the next time you do a mail appeal, take the next step and produce an email to go along with it. This is pretty easy to do. You’re simply creating a companion email that’s based on the content of your mail appeal, so most of the work has already been done. It’s mainly a matter of adjusting the messaging for email, formatting, and then distributing the email.

Your fundraising will stand out because the research also shows that very few organizations are communicating with offline and online donors in multiple channels. Not sure exactly why this is. Maybe it’s the ‘multiple’ that’s scaring nonprofits off. Maybe they think you have to use every channel that exists. You don’t.

But you do need to use mail and email. Not one or the other. Both, at the same time. And not just one online channel like social media. During a conversation about fundraising around the holidays, one nonprofit explained that the staff decided they would use social media – alone – for their Christmas fundraising. Good luck with that.

Mail and email. That’s the way to go. That’s multichannel enough for now. And even that safe step forward will make a big difference in your fundraising.

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Easy way to tell if your nonprofit will survive and succeed

Here’s an easy way to find out whether your nonprofit is operating in a way that’s helping to ensure your current and future success.

Not only is it easy, it takes nothing more than a few minutes of your time. And what you discover could really be eye-opening for you and your fundraising team. 

This is what you do: You pretend you’re a donor who has just received one of your fundraising appeals in the mail, and you have a question. Now you simply pick up the phone and dial the phone number for your organization that’s on your fundraising. Then you sit back and see what happens.

If your organization is like most, your call does not connect you with an actual living human being. No, that would be too easy. Instead it goes into the pit of despair known as the automated phone attendant.

Okay, fine. There you are in the pit. But you realize that it happens to everyone at some point. So you stay positive, despite the despair, as you listen attentively to the computer voice explaining your options, meaning possible ways out of the pit and back into the sunshine.

If you’re unlucky, the computer voice tells you to key in the extension of the person you want. But you don’t know anyone personally at the nonprofit. You just have a question about this appeal that you received. So you wait, hoping that you’ll be connected to a receptionist – which may or may not happen. Spoiler alert: there’s no receptionist, just the computer voice telling you that you can repeat the menu options. Oh boy!

But let’s say you’re lucky. The computer voice rattles off a list of departments, and you hear “administrative office.” Your mood suddenly brightens. Yes, maybe that’s it – the administrative office. Do you dare to hope? You press the button, and miracle of miracles, the line is ringing.

But do you hear a cheerful “hello” on the other end? No, that would be too easy. Instead, it’s voice mail, the second pit of despair that’s only slightly less demoralizing than the first.

You hang up. It’s not worth the trouble. Defeated, you shake your head, thinking, “I just had a simple question: I want to give $100,000 – who do I talk to about that?”

How many times has this happened and to how many charities? It’s impossible to know. What we do know is that most nonprofits can and should do more when it comes to basic donor service.

Be accessible to your donors. If they call, make sure somebody answers the phone. If they email, make sure somebody replies. If they request information offered in an appeal, make sure they receive it. Spell their names right on their appeals. Keep track of how long they’ve been donors, and let them know that you know by acknowledging their giving anniversaries. Things like that – the basics.

With all the high-minded talk about donor centricity and donor love and so on, it’s easy to get caught up in all the philosophical hand-waving that these topics tend to inspire. But as with most things, it’s often best to focus on the fundamentals, and you can’t get much more fundamental than this: Provide your donors with the basic service that they deserve and expect. It’ll pay off.

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5 emotional triggers for fundraising

How do you create a strong connection with your donors? One way is to use emotional triggers in appeals. Let’s take a look at some, discussed in my guest post, that you’ll want to know about:

  1. Altruism. Altruism is concern for others, and it’s pretty much hard-wired into humans. One way to tap into it is with a compelling story about a beneficiary who’s suffering – a story that tugs on the heartstrings to elicit concern and sympathy. Other ways include adding photos that show need, reminding donors of past giving (acts of altruism), and coming out and saying, “You’re a good person. The fact that you’re reading this letter tells me you care about people who are hurting.”
  2. Outrage. Donors are inclined to take action when there’s a wrong that needs to be righted. Like altruism, it’s hard-wired. It goes to the very core of our sense of fair play, and when that’s violated, donors get riled up. “Look at what fracking does. It fouls the air we breathe. It pollutes the water we drink. It speeds up climate change. It’s destroying our planet. I’m not going to stand for it. Are you?”
  3. Guilt. This emotional trigger is one of the most powerful. Everyone has experienced it, and it’s part of almost any cause. When you contrast the donor’s relatively comfortable life with that of someone who’s homeless, say, or living in abject poverty in a developing country, the result is likely to invoke a feeling of guilt. “As I watched little Amina lying in that bed in the clinic, barely breathing, beyond hope, drifting away, I kept asking myself, ‘Why do we have so much when this innocent child in Ghana is starving to death?’”
  4. Fear. Judging from its use in commercial marketing, fear may be the single most powerful motivator. Don’t avoid it in fundraising. Use it to get donors involved. “When drug addiction increases, so does the crime that goes with it. What will happen in our neighborhoods? What will we do when burglaries and muggings skyrocket? How will we keep our homes secure? How will we protect our children?” To stir a powerful reaction from donors is to use fear as a motivator.
  5. Exclusivity. You want the donor reading your appeal to think she’s the most important person in the world in that moment. “Your generosity really sets you apart as a truly committed and beloved supporter. You’re at the heart of this work to end homelessness.” Exclusivity as a motivator is also a natural for sustainer appeals that invite donors to become monthly supporters. “You’re invited to join this select group of supporters who believe in putting a stop to child abuse.” Exclusivity is also an effective motivator in appeals to higher-dollar donors. “The extraordinary generosity you’ve demonstrated puts you way out front as a leading advocate in the pro-life movement.”

You can use these in all kinds of ways in appeals, and it’s good to use as many as possible. They create a stronger connection between your donor and your cause – a connection that’s going to bring your donors closer to your nonprofit and motivate them to give.

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3 Reasons Why Your Non-Profit Should Add a Blog to Your Website

by guest blogger Joe Garecht, President of Garecht Fundraising Associates.

Every non-profit wants to raise more money online.  But most non-profits struggle to get traction raising money on their websites.  One of the reasons why organizations struggle online is because they simply don’t have enough people visiting their websites… and if people aren’t visiting your website, they’re not going to donate on it.

In my experience, one of the best ways to get more people to visit your site… and to keep them coming back again and again… is to add a blog to your website.  Adding a blog to your non-profit’s site is easy to do and will provide huge rewards to your organization down the line.

How is a Blog Different from a Website?

The first question we need to answer is what we mean when we say “blog.”  A blog is different from a simple, static website – or rather, it is an addition to your traditional non-profit website.

Your non-profit does need a traditional website where people can learn more about your non-profit and your programs, connect with your staff, sign-up to volunteer, and donate to your organization.  You need a good old-fashioned website with all of these things, the types of information that stays fairly constant.  This part of your website will be updated, but not every day or every week… those pages will stay pretty static, with only periodic updates made to them.

Your non-profit’s blog is an add-on to your website.  It is one section of your website where you are constantly adding new things.  A blog is fluid and updated often.  You can be a little less formal on your blog, and you should be adding new things at least once or twice per month, though adding new information weekly is a better goal.

How Can Adding a Blog Help Your Non-Profit?

I believe that every non-profit that has at least one full time fundraiser or one full time communications staff member should maintain an active blog on their website.  There are 3 important ways that a blog can help your gain more traction with your website:

#1: A Blog Gives Your Supporters a Reason to Regularly Visit Your Website

If you want to grow traffic to your website, then your non-profit’s website needs to be more than just a brochure.  Your goal as a non-profit fundraiser is to get your donors to see your website as a resource – a place they want to visit regularly for updates about your organization.

The only way your donors will want to visit your website often is if you are regularly updating your site, meaning that you are consistently posting new information that is interesting, informative, or entertaining.  The single best way to do this is by having a regularly updated blog on your website, where you post something new each week.  You can post an article, pictures, a video or any combination of the three, so long as you are doing it consistently.  Whatever is easiest and most appropriate for your non-profit.

#2: A Blog Provides SEO Power That Brings New Donors and Supporters to Your Website

It’s not just your current donors and supporters that you are trying to attract to your website.  You also want to make sure that new donors, new volunteers, new supporters, and others interested in your work can find your website and learn about your programs.  A good way for new supporters to connect with you is by finding your website when they use a search engine like Google.  One way to put your non-profit in a great position to get found in Google is by harnessing the power of SEO.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.  This is the process of putting content on your website in such a way so that when people search in Google for words and phrases related to your non-profit, Google gives them a link to your site.  Search engine optimization also includes getting other websites to link to your site, so that Google and other search engines know that your content is worth sharing.  One of the best ways to get people to link to your site is to post content that people want to share with others.

The process of search engine optimization is complex and beyond the scope of this article, but you should know that having a blog is helpful for SEO because you are posting lots of new content that can be found by search engines and that people might want to link to.  This means that having a regularly updated blog will almost certainly increase traffic to your website.  The increase won’t happen right away, but as you add new articles or other content every week or every other week, your traffic will slowly build.   After a year of weekly blogging, you will likely see a significant jump in your web traffic year over year.

#3: A Blog Shows That Your Non-Profit is Active and Engaged

Having a regularly updated blog will show your donors, volunteers, and the community at large that your non-profit is active and engaged.  When someone comes to your website, they will see that you posted a new informative article last week, or maybe the week before that.  They will know that your non-profit is working hard and will be able to see what the latest news is from the frontlines of your programs.  This will help support your fundraising efforts, your PR efforts, and your volunteer recruitment efforts.

What Type of Content Should You Put on Your Non-Profit’s Blog?

When planning out your blog content, it is important that you not overthink it.  Don’t stress out about your blog content.  Instead, commit to putting up either a short article of at least 300-400 words, or a short video of 1 minute or more, or some pictures with an explanation, and doing it each and every week.  Consistency matters far more than perfection. Your posts can be informal  so long as they are still professional, meaning no typos and no outrageous grammatical errors.  But they don’t need to be perfect.

As for the exact types of content that you can create for your blog, you should be posting the same types of information you are putting in your newsletters, such as updates on your programs, updates on your events, profiles of your clients, staff, and donors, important updates on your mission field, etc.

In fact, many non-profits double dip with their content by posting blog articles and then using them as content in their newsletters… putting a summary of the article or the first paragraph of the article in their newsletter, with a link that says “Click here to read more.”  This way, all of your e-mail newsletter subscribers will stay updated with what you are posting on your blog, and you don’t have to write twice as many articles by doing one for your blog and a separate one for your e-mail newsletter.

Adding a blog to your non-profit’s website will help you grow your website’s traffic, raise more money, and increase awareness of your organization.  It’s easy and effective.

About the Author
Joe Garecht is the President of Garecht Fundraising Associates.  He has twenty years’ experience as a Development Director, Executive Director, and fundraising consultant to hundreds of non-profits.

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Tell a better story for fundraising

Is this the way to make the story in your fundraising appeal more memorable and more impactful?

Tell it in the present tense.

Most of the time, stories are in the past tense. This happened, then that happened, then this happened. But there’s research to suggest that stories in the present tense pack a lot of punch and leave an impression on the listener. And that’s because researchers found neural coupling between the storyteller and the listener in a story that’s told in the present tense.

Granted, this research involved verbal communication, so it may not be directly applicable to written words. But still, it is interesting.

The researchers wired up the brains of the storyteller and the listener. And when the story was told in the present tense, similar parts of both brains were lighting up. This could mean that the storyteller and the listener are more in sync.

Partially this could be because a story in the present tense is more likely to be judged by the brain receiving it as an emotionally charged event. Which means that the person hearing the story gets a shot of the brain chemical dopamine. Which makes the whole experience for the listener more impactful and more memorable.

That’s the theory, anyway, and when you think about it, it does make sense. A story seems more immediate in the present tense. Which means that you’re listener is going to be more, well, present and more likely to stay with you for the whole story and what follows. Like the call to action.

Naturally, nothing has been conclusively proven in this research. Communication is far too complex for almost anything to be conclusively proven. But it is something that could be worth trying and testing.

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How to raise more funds with storytelling

There’s a lot of talk about storytelling in fundraising, and it’s easy to get the idea that all you have to do is throw in a story about a beneficiary to create an appeal that does gangbusters.

It’s not that simple, of course. The storytelling in an appeal is of a specific type with certain requirements and restrictions. On the other hand, storytelling for a newsletter tends to follow what we would usually think of as a typical narrative, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

And that’s where this post about improving your storytelling with playwriting techniques can come in handy.

The first thing to consider is the basic structure of a plot.

  • The beginning, where we meet the characters and hopefully being to feel a connection with them.
  • The middle, where a problem or challenge is encountered.
  • The end, where the problem or challenge is overcome, and the protagonist is changed in some way. And the donor is given the credit.

The next thing to consider is how to flesh out the characters in the story:

  • What does each character want?
    What are the conflicts involved?
  • What are the obstacles?
  • What are the consequences to a particular character’s actions?

Naturally, for a newsletter story it’s not necessary to answer all of these questions, but they do provide a starting point for thinking about the characters who make up your story and how to add more depth to them in order to bring them to life for readers.

One more thing to consider is the quotations you use in your story. You can think of the quotations as a character speaking directly with the reader in a sort-of dialogue. So it’s better when the quotations reveal something about the character and his or her motivations, rather than just reinforcing the previous point in the story. This too can add more depth to the story.

These are some of the basics, but there’s lots more to good storytelling. Still, storytelling isn’t a panacea for ineffective fundraising, but it is a powerful part of connecting with donors on an emotional level. Let your donors feel what the beneficiaries of your nonprofit feel. Let your donors relate to their lives, instead of thinking of them as somehow separate. Let your donors into their world. That’s what will engage your donors, and a heartfelt story is one of the best ways to do it.


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Positioning for your nonprofit

Donors want to know that they’re making a difference with their gifts. That’s always been the case, and it’s even more true now with the current recession going on.

So that’s why it’s important to take a look at your donor communications with a healthy dose of skepticism, as Pamela Barden suggests in her blog post.

Here are the four questions she recommends that fundraisers should ask themselves as a kind of self-test, a check to see if we’re on the right track:

  • So what? You should be clear about why your organization exists, the impact it’s having, and the outcomes it’s producing. By asking So what? you keep the focus on what matters to your donor.
  • Who’s doing it better? You need to know what other similar nonprofits are doing and what they’re saying about what they do. It’s important to know how your organization is different.
  • What’s our unique selling proposition? You’ve probably heard this marketing term before, but it still applies. It’s all about conveying a specific benefit to your donor that she can’t get anywhere else.
  • What’s the best story to show this specialness? This is where you connect emotionally with donors and do it in a way that shows how what your organization does matters – and deserves your donor’s support.

Great questions, all. But really, when you think about it, these questions are aiming at basically one thing – positioning. The positioning of your nonprofit. And that basically comes down to the one thing or couple of things that make your nonprofit different from the others.

So, it’ll be helpful to think about the answers to these four questions, and use them to come up with a positioning statement for your nonprofit.

A positioning statement, not a mission statement. They’re vastly different. A mission statement is more aspirational, more pie-in-the-sky. Mission statements for most nonprofits are generally pretty vague and not all that useful for fundraising.

A positioning statement, on the other hand, is useful for fundraising, because it captures what your organization does and what it does that’s different.

There’s a lot of information out there on positioning statements, and there are lots of templates to use in creating one.  A basic template, though, for a positioning statement is this:  For <target audience>, <organization> is a <type of nonprofit> that <differentiator>.

Let’s look at an example. Say the nonprofit is a homeless shelter that’s open all day, every day and allows people who are homeless to stay as long as they need to in order to get their lives back on track, achieving the goal of permanent housing.

So for this nonprofit, we might have a positioning statement like:

For donors who want to help people who are homeless, Hope Shelter is the social services nonprofit that provides the short-term or long-term stability a homeless person needs to overcome their challenges, secure permanent housing, and return to society.

This is one out of many possibilities, of course. There isn’t necessarily one right answer when it comes to a positioning statement, and it may change over time as your nonprofit changes. But like any positioning statement, it can be a helpful measure to see whether your fundraising communications are on-strategy.

But there’s an even simpler way. There have been tons of books, articles, webinars, and more on the topic of positioning and branding. The more you read about it, the more dizzyingly complex it becomes. But there’s a far simpler – and many would say – better way to approach it.

The branding and positioning for most of the world’s biggest brands can often be reduced to one adjective or at least one word.

Volvos are safe. Porsches are fast. Apple computers are intuitive. Nike is aspirational. You get the idea. One word that signals a difference, a direction. Sure, it’s simple, but in marketing and fundraising, simple is powerful. And it’s easy to keep in mind when you’re creating appeals.

So what’s the word for your nonprofit? In the example for the shelter above, the word might be “stability.”

Stability in the sense that the shelter is an oasis in the chaos and uncertainty of living out on the street … that the shelter is always open, 24/7, to help someone who’s homeless … that someone who’s homeless can stay as long as needed to turn their life around … that the ultimate goal is for the person to find permanent housing … that addressing homelessness creates a stronger, better community for everyone, including the donor, and so on.

Once you have a clear positioning for your nonprofit, you can check your donor communications against it, and that means, instead of seat-of-the-pants, you’re operating from a strategy – a much better way to go.




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Make your fundraising appeal stronger with the right teaser

An appeal from a religious nonprofit has this teaser on the outside envelope:

“It is necessary to be strong, in order to become great; that is our duty. Life is a struggle which we cannot avoid. We must triumph!”

It’s a quote from Padre Pio, and while it’s certainly inspirational, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher as a teaser for a direct mail appeal.

The reverse side of the envelope has another quote from Padre Pio that’s also about struggle and strength in adversity.

The envelope has a four-color illustration of Padre Pio, along with some graphic elements. Obviously, some attention went into this. Which makes the teaser even more puzzling.

The outside envelope of a direct mail appeal is prime real estate. There should be lots of thought about what to say on that envelope and what to show, because that’s what determines whether your appeal gets opened or gets tossed in the trash. And getting the envelope opened is the number one, overarching goal.

The problem is that there’s a dizzying array of options when it comes to teasers. Including not having a teaser at all and simply mailing a plain envelope.

But the main point is that the teaser has to tease – it has to make the donor want to see what’s inside.

Sure, a quotation might do that, but usually you have to put a little more into it.

Basically there are three kinds of teasers: the offer teaser, the benefit teaser, and the curiosity teaser. You can see more about that here.

So instead of a quotation on this outside envelope, we might think about a benefit teaser or a curiosity teaser and come up with something like:

  • Let Padre Pio inspire you with new strength in these troubling time – inside
  • Why does Padre Pio say, “Do not fear adversities”?
  • See Padre Pio’s prayer for you in these tough times – inside
  • Unsure? Frightened? Pray with Padre Pio now. See how, inside
  • Pray THIS prayer (inside) with Padre Pio for strength in these trying times.
  • Why we need Padre Pio now more than ever in these uncertain times

These are just a few possibilities for a teaser that could motivate donors to look inside. Another way to go would be an offer teaser.

The offer presented to donors in this appeal is to join in a special birthday mass for Padre Pio in gratitude for his guidance and intercession. When the donor gives, she can also include her own story about what Padre Pio means to her, along with her prayer intention.

So, an offer teaser could be something like, “Special Birthday Mass for Padre Pio – join us and draw on his strength in these trying times. Prayer card enclosed.”

This is of course just one possibility out of many.

Point is, the teaser is one of the most important parts of a direct mail appeal. But for some reason, it’s often treated as an afterthought. Lots of times, only once the appeal letter is created does attention turn to the outside envelope and the teaser. In reality, it should be the other way around. It’s vital to entice donors on the outside envelope, and get them wanting to see what’s inside. That’s the first step in moving them to give.

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Your fundraising will fail if you get this one thing wrong

There’s one thing that every successful fundraiser knows for sure … and every struggling fundraiser has yet to find out.

It’s this simple fact.

Aside from the people who actually give you money – your donors – the offer you present in your fundraising appeal is the single most crucial part of your entire fundraising effort. By far. No question.

It’s hard to grasp how important this is unless you’ve seen the results from testing various appeals.

Your offer spells the difference between getting a random spattering of donations from an appeal you send out or a flood of responses that will fuel your mission for months to come. The offer is the one thing that makes the biggest difference.

It’s not the story you use in your appeal. It’s not the font or the graphics. It’s not how long or how short the appeal is. It’s not whether the button in your email says “Give now” or “Donate now.”  It’s not your nonprofit’s brand. It’s not whether this is your organization’s 25th anniversary. It’s not your nonprofit’s programs. It’s not your internal teams, no matter how good they are. It’s not your Charity Navigator rating. It’s not whether the copy “sounds like” the executive director who signs the letter.

It’s none of those things. Sure, they’re important … to varying degrees. But none of them makes as much of a difference to your fundraising results as the offer.

Your nonprofit could have great donor service. You answer donors’ questions promptly, always get their name and address right, even send thank you letters. Your fundraising staff could have years of experience. You could always be talking in your internal meetings about donor love, donor-centricity, and donor focus. It doesn’t matter.

If you have a weak offer, you’ll have weak fundraising results. There’s no way around it.

The magic is in knowing what an offer is and what it isn’t, and how to come up with a compelling one. You can find out more about that in my article here.

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