New Year’s Fundraising Resolution: Connect with your mid-level donors

You probably hear a lot about mid-level donors, and that’s for good reason. For most nonprofits, these donors represent the single largest opportunity for short-term and long-term growth. Cultivating mid-level donors increases their giving but also cultivates donors who can move into major giving, generates leads for planned giving, and increases overall donor retention, since donors who give at higher levels tend to remain more loyal. All of which can add up to game-changing growth.

So first things first, you have to define who your mid-level donors are. There are three main ways to do it, according to Pursuant. The first is the top 5 percent of your direct mail donors. The second is donors giving an annual cumulative total of $1,000 up to major-donor level. And the third is this formula: 3x average gift x 12 months. Defining mid-level donors will vary for different organizations, of course. But in general, for many nonprofits, mid-level donors are those who give about $1,000 to $9,000 a year.

Now, how do you reach these donors? It’s vital to create a unique donor experience for them that makes them feel valued as individuals and yet part of a community of supporters.

Generally, this is going to be a multichannel approach that could include telemarketing, surveys, in-person visits and more. But direct mail is going to be a key part as well. It’s a different kind of direct mail appeal, though.

Mid-level donors are less transactional and far more relational in their giving than most annual fund donors. This is why standard direct mail won’t work for them. But specialized direct mail can and will.

These donors need to be approached in a unique way that demonstrates the impact, stewardship, and engagement they expect. In general, they respond best when there’s a specific program or initiative for them to fund, when they receive plenty of information (much more than you’d provide for annual fund donors), and when they’re recognized as being part of a group of select supporters. A specialized direct mail appeal can do all these things.

There’s a lot of data analysis and strategy that have to go on before you uncover your mid-level donors, but it will all come to nothing unless the approach to communicating with these donors is the right one. Specialized direct mail is the cornerstone of the program that will engage mid-level donors for greater revenue and retention.


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New Year’s Fundraising Resolution: Reconnect with lapsed donors

One way to start 2020 off right is to reactivate lapsed donors. They’re not a lost cause. But you have to be strategic about winning them back.

First, realize that they’re not sitting around thinking, “Wow, I haven’t given to Save the Gooney Bird League in a while. I should do that.” You have to keep in touch.

But don’t just keep them in your regular mail stream, and don’t mail them your newsletters. That’s too expensive.

Second, not all lapsed donors are worth reactivating. Not much point in going after a donor who gave $5 a year and a half ago. The lifetime value isn’t there. Sometimes you just have to let them go and focus on the higher-dollar supporters with a higher lifetime value.

Once you’ve determined which lapsed donors to contact, one approach is simply to version a successful appeal with wording like “We miss you” and “We need you back.”

If that seems to work, another approach is to go even further with the lapsed language. Make a big deal about how much their last gift did, and make an even bigger deal about what their returning gift will do. Go overboard talking about how much you want them back.

Yet another way to go is to try a different format altogether. Maybe a handwritten card with a personal-sounding note about losing touch and how much their support is needed. Including the amount of their last gift can help, too.

Problem is, though, that many donors who haven’t given in the past 12 months might not think of themselves as lapsed. And all your “we miss you” talk might rub them the wrong way. Maybe they just haven’t gotten around to giving but still thinking of themselves as supporters. Imagine their surprise when you accuse them of cutting things off.

The reality is that you can’t know why donors have lapsed. Maybe they’ve moved on to other causes. Maybe they didn’t feel their gift did any good. Maybe their situation changed and they’re not donating anymore. Maybe they were acquired with a freeium or a premium and are waiting for another free gift to give again.

So, yes, it’s a bit of a guessing game. But considering the cost of acquisition, it’s almost always  a good idea to try to reclaim lapsed donors. The subsequent support will likely make it worthwhile. They’ve given before, so they’re more likely to give again. If they’re asked the right way.

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When not to thank your donors

How to begin a fundraising appeal – that’s a tough one. You win or lose donors in those first few seconds. So the opening has to be spot on, and that’s not easy.

Which is probably why so many appeals default to opening with a thank you to the donor for their support. It seems like a solid approach. Donors like to be thanked, right? But as this post from the Better Fundraising Company points out, it’s not a solid approach at all.

The reason it’s not a good approach, they say, is that most donors will read the first line thanking them for their support and go no further, assuming that nothing is being asked of them. No doubt that’s true.

And yet … the drive to open an appeal by thanking donors is incredibly strong. Many nonprofits can’t resist. Some, in fact, have it written into their list of fundamentals that every appeal shall begin with a thank you to the donor. Yes, that actually happens.

Luckily, most nonprofits probably aren’t this extreme. Yet this opening-with-a-donor-thank-you thing persists.

If it’s an absolute imperative to open with a thank you, then at least don’t let the thank you stand alone. Donors will assume nothing is being asked of them, as the Better Fundraising people say. Which means that the rest of appeal will probably go unread … and not acted upon.

Instead, at least key the thank you to an offer, so that donors realize that they can do some good. It could be something like this: “Because your last gift of $15 made such a huge difference – thank you! – I writing to you about another powerful way to save someone who’s going hungry.”

Better yet, keep the thank-you stuff for acknowledgement letters and newsletters, and use appeals to focus on the problem that donors can solve.

It’s a shame for a nonprofit to restrict itself to one kind of opening for an appeal when there are so many clever gambits that we could use – openings that would grab donors’ attention, draw them into the appeal, and get them to donate. It’s a choice between raising more money and raising less.

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Your year-end appeal: last-minute help, free

It’s time to get your year-end appeal (online and offline) set up, nailed down, and ready to go. If you’ve been putting it off … or if you already have an appeal prepared and want a gut-check before you launch, here’s help.

This free guide covers everything from offers to formats to messaging, and more to ensure that your year-end appeal this year is one of your strongest. Get your copy of this free guide here:

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Are you shouting at your donors without realizing it?

Yes, most donors are Baby Boomers. They’re in their 60s or later. And they don’t like to be shouted at.

Are you doing that in your mail appeals? You might be if you’ve bought into the idea that the bigger the font, the better. You might think you’re being helpful to your Baby Boomer donors because of what you assume to be their poor eyesight. But they might not take it that way.

If your appeal letters look like a page out of a large-print book, consider the words of Claude Hopkins, the father of modern advertising. He said: “Some advocate large type and big headlines. Yet they do not admire salesmen who talk in loud voices.”

You see appeal letters that do look like a page out of a large-print book, with fonts that look to be 14 point or even larger. It’s the typographical equivalent of an obnoxious, back-slapping salesman – or fundraiser – who’s loud, booming voice bounces off the walls.

That’s not necessary. And it’s not effective. You don’t want to be that fundraiser. Huge type is annoying.

Hopkins goes on to explain: “People read all they care to read in 8-point type. Our magazines and newspapers are printed in that type. Folks are accustomed to it. Anything louder is like loud conversation.”

8-point type? Not so sure about that, but lots of newspapers and magazines today are printed in 10-point type. That’s about the average. And “folks” would be used to that. So there’s no real reason to go crazy big in the font for appeals.

On the other hand, don’t go to the other extreme, either. You don’t want the font to be so small that it’s like you’re whispering. That’s also annoying.

So, do what any good face-to-face salesperson or fundraiser would do. Talk in a normal voice.

A normal voice, for most appeals, would be something like 12 point Times New Roman. There are lots of other similar fonts, but Times is a good bet. It’s a serif font. That’s important. A serif font is way more readable than sans serif.

And no matter which font you use, don’t put it over graphics. Don’t put it over a color. And don’t use a reverse (with the type in white on a color background). And even though your graphic designer will want to do all those things because it seems trendy, they all hamper readability.

And readability is key. So in most cases, that means a font that’s not too big and not too small, that’s in black on a white background, and that doesn’t have to compete with a lot of extraneous graphics. For most donors, this simple approach – based on centuries of typographical history – says “read me.” And in fundraising, that translates to “donate now.”









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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:


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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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