Is social media fundraising worth it?

With all the controversy about Facebook and selling user data and undermining user trust, it’s a good time to think about how and why we’re using social media for fundraising.

It might not seem like it at first, but there’s a lesson for nonprofits and fundraisers in Sport Rider magazine. This popular motorcycling magazine went out of business a little while ago, even though they had 2.4 million Facebook followers — 2.4 million!

Looking at 2.4 million followers, anyone could be forgiven for thinking, “Our readers love us! What could possibly go wrong?”

But as vintage-motorcycle esthete Paul d’Orleans soberly observed, “A ‘like’ isn’t a dollar.” So true. In the cold light of day, those social-media vanity metrics aren’t really worth much.

How many charities and fundraisers will learn this same, hard lesson about social media?

How many ‘likes’ does your nonprofit get? How many followers do you have? Thousands? Millions? Chances are, all that means very little.

Shareable content – that’s the key to social media, we’re told. Think about how much time and effort you’re spending to come up with clever videos, catchy photos, and other shareable content for social media all in order to chase likes and followers. What is it really achieving?

Sure, the social media proponents say that Facebook and Instagram and the like are supporting and bolstering email response rates. And that may be true. After all, we know that email helps drive up direct mail response rates, so, yes, there may be some cross-channel benefit. But the problem is that when you use Facebook and other social media, they’re the ones in control of the platform, not you.

As fundraising expert John Hayden explains, an over-reliance on social media is risky, and as an online strategy, instead of putting too much emphasis on social media, it’s smarter to focus more on email, which you can control and which actually produces fundraising results.

For the fundraisers chasing vanity metrics like the number of followers, likes, impressions, and even more vague measures like awareness, it’s probably time to take a hard look at social media and then at actual donations.


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Donor retention keeps falling – what to do about it

Donor retention was down again last year. It’s part of a steady downward trend that’s been going on for the past decade. What’s going on? There are four possible reasons for donors’ increasing lack of loyalty:

  1. Completing the story in fundraising appeals – which leaves the donor out.
  2. Using safe, euphemistic language that doesn’t inspire anybody.
  3. Pairing a dire headline with a smiling face, sending mixed signals to donors.
  4. Sending out boring thank you letters.

See more about each of each of these problems – and their solutions – in my guest post for Guidestar blog.

Each of these can be addressed in the communications that donors receive. When retention drops, charities are forced to spend more on acquisition. And because it costs much more to acquire a donor than to retain one, charities end up spending more and more just to keep a sustainable donor base. It’s unfortunate, because donors want to give and will give if the opportunity is presented to them in the right way. See more here.

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5 ways to build rapport with donors

If we want to engage donors, it’s important to reach out to them on their terms and in ways that avoid being seen as too pushy or too salesy.

So, we want to build a friendly rapport with donors and show them that we’re on the same wavelength as they are. You can see more about it here, but there are five easy ways to do this:

  • Use logic, specifically the if-then statement to establish common ground.
  • Acknowledge your donor’s commitment, especially with donors who’ve given before.
  • Create a situation that your donor can identify with.
  • Make a confession that will create a bond with donors
  • Add a photo, so that donors can put a face with the signature on the appeal.

Not surprisingly, donors don’t like to feel like someone’s twisting their arm in order to get them to give a gift. It’s not necessary to do that or even effective for fundraising. We can create a rapport with them instead. See more about this here.


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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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