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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Coronavirus fundraising – there’s a better way

Judging from what’s showing up in mailboxes and email inboxes, it looks like a lot of nonprofits are struggling with the messaging around the coronavirus crisis. But honestly, they’re making it much harder than it has to be.

Take this example from a prominent aid and relief charity. The first paragraph begins with the new president and CEO introducing himself and then acknowledging that he’s stepping into his new role at a challenging time. “We’re all facing the coronavirus pandemic,” he writes. Uh…no kidding.

So, apparently, this is a new-CEO letter, plus a coronavirus fundraising appeal. Generally, it’s not a great idea to try and do two things with one letter. It’s best when the letter has one purpose and one point.

The next paragraph talks about how COVID-19 threatens everyone, especially the elderly and people with health conditions. There’s no need to waste time saying this. People have gotten this information thousands of times by now.

In the third paragraph, the letter writer explains that he’s often asked if it’s difficult to be a CEO at this challenging time, and then assures us that the organization adapts to challenging times because of their strong teams. This comes off as way too self-serving, but beside that, it’s not good fundraising, because it’s about the organization not the donor.

The next paragraph congratulates the front line health workers for their commitment and the organization’s supporters for their commitment. This is an okay sentiment, of course, but it shouldn’t be here, four paragraphs in, before we’ve even come to an ask.

Paragraph five explains that all hands are needed on deck in this crisis, and asks, “Can you help us?”  Not “Can you help shut down the coronavirus?” But “Can you help US?” This is organization centric, not donor centric.

It’s not until the sixth paragraph that we get to the real point of the letter: a donation to provide personal protective equipment for health workers. Before we get to that, though, the letter explains that the organization has already shipped tons of PPE for health workers.

Hang on a minute – so the organization has already shipped tons of PPE and now they’re asking for a donation to ship PPE? That’s a strange way to present an ask. Why would you tell a donor, right before the ask, that you’ve already done the very same thing you’re asking the donor to do? Sort of takes the edge off of the urgency, doesn’t it?

There’s a far better way to structure this appeal, and it starts with the opening. Begin with the real and urgent need for PPE. This is something, given the wall-to-wall news coverage, that every donor will immediately get. Then show the donor how her gift fulfills that need, ideally with a specific and compelling offer. Something like: “Your gift of $XX sends XX pairs of gloves. Your gift of $XX sends XX masks.” And so on.

It’s one of the basic best practices of disaster fundraising. In many disasters, the news coverage provides the background, which means that donors mainly need to know how they can help and what their help will do. If it takes five or six paragraphs of blab to get to this point, most donors will be long gone.

There’s a basic framework for structuring disaster-fundraising appeals, and it doesn’t include talk about the commitment of your staff, your organization’s history, your organization’s flexibility, generalities about how much of a threat coronavirus is, and similar things. They’re just not relevant. They take the donor’s eye off the ball.

What disaster fundraising does require is a compelling expression of the need, a clear case for the urgency of the donor’s gift, and a strong offer that details what the donor’s gift will do. All focused around one core idea. Because when the appeal has one purpose and one point, there’s a far greater chance that it’s going to break through, connect with donors, and raise more money.

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How NOT to begin a fundraising appeal – and one way that almost always works

A fundraising appeal from a social services nonprofit opens with this:

“What would we do without you? How would we help local families like Michelle’s?”

That’s the opening paragraph, the first thing that donors will see, and for some, the only thing they’ll see. Because if the opening isn’t right, then most donors won’t go any further. And that generally means no donation.

What would WE do without you? How would WE help local families… That’s how this comes off to most donors. We, We, We. We’re the ones doing all the work, and all you do is give a few bucks every once in a while.

This opening manages to create the appearance of donor centricity without really being donor centric at all. It seems at first like it’s empowering the donor but then it stops short. It takes aim at the target audience – the donor – then goes just wide of the target.

Maybe the thinking behind this approach as an opening gambit is that it’s we, the organization, in partnership with you, the donor, working hand in hand to do good in the world. If that’s the case, a better approach might be something like this: “You and I are putting our hearts into this – together – to help local families like Michelle’s.” This way it’s more clear that donor and the person signing the letter are on equal footing in this arrangement.

But still, there’s another approach to opening a fundraising appeal that brings fewer problems with it and almost always sets the appeal on the right track. And it has the added advantage of being simple and direct.

It’s this: “I’m writing to you because …”  Most people in general and most donors in particular would appreciate receiving clear communication like this.

No BS, no warming up to the subject, no initial throat clearing, no hollow flattery about how “we” couldn’t do anything without the particular donor reading the letter. Instead, just getting straight to the point about the need. As far as openings go, it’s about as tried and true as they come.

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Coronavirus fundraising and what not to do

Fundraising for the coronavirus emergency is, well, unusual so far.

A soup kitchen sends an email with the subject line “A message from the president.” If you’re a donor scanning your email inbox, that could be just about anything.

Then when you open it, there’s still no indication. The headline says “A message from the president.” So you read the first line: “I want to keep you informed about our response to the growing coronavirus threat and the impact it’s having across the country.”

The following paragraphs talk about how the organization’s main priority is health and safety, working with local officials, taking the coronavirus threat seriously, taking necessary precautions, following CDC guidelines, and so on. The email goes on like this for five long paragraphs.

Only at the very end does it mention that costs for extra cleaning supplies and other measures have caused a budget shortfall. And only at the very end is there an ask for support.

In a similar vein, an email from an international aid and relief charity opens with an announcement that the WHO has officially declared the coronavirus to be a global pandemic. It goes on to talk about how the organization is taking steps to protect its staff and clients, how it has launched preparedness efforts, and how they’re dedicated to protecting the most vulnerable. There’s a link to a webpage that lays out the organization’s plan. There’s no ask in this email. It’s all informational.

Question is, Why is this emergency being treated differently from any other emergency that people and nonprofits would deal with … any other tornado, hurricane, flood, fire? Why the form-letter, corporate-sounding pronouncements from on high?

There’s no need for a charity to issue a formal public statement about the coronavirus. Donors know all about it. The news coverage has been wall-to-wall for weeks now.

The best practices for disaster fundraising are pretty well established. They could and should be put to use in this disaster too.

The email from the soup kitchen could open with a subject line and a headline that talk about helping to protect people from coronavirus.

It could go on to talk about how the homeless people, volunteers, and staff are facing serious risks, and how need for cleaning supplies, disinfectant, cleaning crews, and more is incredibly urgent.

Then it could have a specific and direct ask to fund the supplies and other actions needed.

That would be along the lines of a typical disaster fundraising appeal. Lots of charities will need additional funding in this coronavirus emergency just as aid and relief organizations need additional funding after a hurricane, and there are specific best practices for disaster fundraising that show how to secure that funding. We should use them.


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Ask yourself, “Would I donate to this?”

A direct mail appeal from an international aid and relief charity opens with:

“Five of Sayo’s children died because of dirty water. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?”

Okay, we have a statement of need that maybe the donor can do something about. But then, right after that, there’s this:

“After I shared her story last month, thousands of people responded generously in support of families like hers. Thank you!”

Hang on a sec – so, thousands of people responded? That’s great, so why do you need me to give? And what’s with the thank you? I didn’t give to that previous appeal, so what are you thanking me for?

Then, right after that, we get to the ask:

“Your generous gift of $25 can help save more lives.”

Which is fine (if a bit vague), BUT …

The part earlier about how people have already given undercuts the argument for donating to this appeal. The donor sees “thousands of people responded – thank you!” and naturally thinks, “Well, I guess we’re done here – no need to go any further.”

Of course there’s more to the letter than these few opening paragraphs, but the lead has to be right, because if it’s not, you’ll lose the reader that fast.

But, hey – who knows – maybe this appeal did great. Maybe this particular set of donors is unique in the way they respond. Maybe they’ve grown used to overlooking this kind of messaging from the charity. Maybe there’s some diabolically clever reverse psychology going on here – we’re getting you to give by telling you we don’t need your stinkin’ gift. Or maybe this appeal is part of a global master plan that’s playing out on a 3-D chessboard. Who knows?

What we do know is that this tactic of opening an appeal by thanking donors and telling them that everything’s great seems to persist. Even though it clearly fails to engage the reader – which you can prove to yourself:

“Dear Ms. Smith (pretend that’s you), our donors are giving like crazy, and things are just zooming along. Thank you!”

There – do you feel like your donation is needed? No? That’s why this kind of approach doesn’t make sense, and why it isn’t best practice for direct response.

The irony is that opening an appeal by talking about success and thanking the donor seems like a safe bet, but it’s really not. It doesn’t pull donors in the way it might seem like it should. In fact, it leaves donors out by telling them they’re not needed.

Usually, the most reliable way to engage donors is by presenting them with a believable problem that they can do something to solve. That’s what pulls donors in, and that’s the approach with a far better chance of moving them to give.

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