Ugly is in the eyes of the beholder. And it doesn't drive away donors. If your website is confusing, dysfunctional, or missing key ingredients -- fix those things. Otherwise, don't change it just because you feel it's ugly.
The expert was telling the audience of fundraisers that they should not tell the most exciting stories about their work, but their most "average" stories. Reason: the exciting stories are "outliers" -- not real representations of what you do.
And ... well ... donors don't respond to outliers? He never quite made it clear what the downside of the exciting stories really is, other than that they're less common than the average stories.
That expert has never had to raise a dollar for charity.
If he had, he wouldn't be giving such terrible advice. Advice that makes complete sense in the world of his area of expertise. But it's destructive balderdash in the world of fundraising.
... before you change your strategy because of something you read or watch online, ask about the credentials of the "advisor." Are they talking from the perspective of having worked passionately to raise money -- and learned something in the process that was worth sharing? Or are they just talking theoretically about what would work in a world in which our donors actually started behaving like the "experts" say they should?
I've had my share of theories that looked good on paper but didn't stand up to the real world of asking real donors to give real money. I hope I'll never start pushing my theories before they've been vetted by the Real World. Unfortunately, there's no shortage of experts selling ideas that haven't been field-tested.
There's nothing wrong with trying something new. That's how you innovate. But you should know it's new, that it's untried, and that the chances of failure are high. That way, you can limit the risk and fail smart. Or succeed even smarter.
It was one of those "if you give now, we'll never ask again" pieces, this one from CARE. (A number of organizations use the tactic.)
Steve calls this extortion, and he has some very strong arguments against it:
... CARE is making the tragic, but common, mistake of not making this acquisition kit about how I can help a person. No story of the kind of person whose life is changed. No personal connection with someone I could feed. No names. No details. Only extortion and org-centric thinking.
CARE's made it about me not getting any more direct mail ... not changing a real person's life.
No matter what you think of this tactic, it works. It's the winner of disciplined direct response testing. They aren't doing it blindly or stupidly. If CARE or any of the other organizations using it were my client (none of them are), I'd have a hard time recommending that they use some other less-successful tactic. Even though I dislike this one. They are obligated to be as successful as they can be.
That said, I agree with Steve. The tactic is ugly.
It's a tactic of desperation. It's for organizations that can't or won't go to donors and prospects with meaningful, specific, compelling fundraising offers. And since they don't go to donors with the opportunity to make the world a better place in some specific way, they have to go to the donor with something they care about -- and all they have to offer is "I'll annoy you less." Hey, it meets a felt need!
But at what cost?
I can imagine circumstances where I'd recommend a client of mine test "we'll never ask again" fundraising. It would be a sad day, a day when we realized we had nothing positive to offer, nothing that thrilled people any more than an infinitesimally less-full mailbox.
I hope this never happens to you either. If you're using the tactic, I hope you'll keep searching for a better way.
The main change is that direct mail now works with other channels. Donors glide easily between different channels, doing what works for them:
The physical impact of a piece of addressed mail, if it is relevant and compelling, can be even greater in a world where mail is becoming a rarer and more specialised channel. But it won't work in isolation, it will need to sit as part of a series of supporting messages across a range of media. A donor might see a mail piece and respond online. Or see a TV ad and respond by mail. Or follow a route where they see messages on several different channels before responding on another.
Build your different channels so they work together, and you'll skate through these changes with little difficulty.
We were asking for $15, $25, $35, $50, and $100. We were getting on average $18. At that average, it was taking too long for the fundraising program to start producing net revenue.
The development director had a brilliant idea: Ask for more. He told us to change our array of ask amounts to $30, $50, $75, $100, and $150.
What happened? Two things:
Response fell off the table. Not surprising. When you raise the bar, fewer people jump over it. Sometimes, that's okay -- you lose volume, but gain enough in value that it's worth the lower numbers. Two $75 donors are worth more than five $25 donors. Sadly for us, something else happened...
Average gift dropped to $16. That's right, by asking more, you can actually push down average gift.
The error the development director made was thinking donors will change behavior because we need them to.
It doesn't work that way. What we need is irrelevant.
If you double the "price" of your offer, you may end up destroying your value proposition to donors.
In this case, donors found the offer to be "worth" $18 (on average). When we said, "Now it's $30," many donors just walked away. Of those who responded, a lot chopped our $30 ask in half.
If you want donors to give more, you have to offer them more.
It's up to us to figure out the more that donors will pay more for.
Increasing the average gift of first-time donors is a great thing to do. It can have long-term positive impact on your entire fundraising program. But you can't get there just by wanting donors to give higher amounts.
That's right. In a survey, 23% of respondents were "interested now" in "making a gift to charity in my will." Only 12% were "interested now" in "making a bequest gift to charity."
Why? Because "bequest" is what we call it. Not what they call it. It's our internal jargon, so often used that many of us have no inkling that it's not the word normal people use.
Jargon is harmless, even good, when you and your donors use it. It can signal that you're both in the same group.
But don't assume that because a word is useful to you that it's meaningful to them. A good fundraising writer does a jargon reality check, thinking carefully about words -- and choosing the most common word almost every time.
If you like to motivate people to take action, like donate or leave you in their will, use their language, not yours.
Once again, a self-appointed millennial tells us how we're doing everything wrong, this time using the valuable space of The Agitator: 'Millennial' Rants.
Don't pay too much attention to any self-appointed spokesperson (of any age) who wants to tell you everything you're doing wrong and thus failing to reach his generation.
The typical spokesperson message goes like this: Everything about fundraising is wrong, and it needs to be changed. If stop being wrong about everything, millennials will suddenly become great donors. It wont' matter that in doing so we lose the current generation of faithful elderly donors -- because you'll replace your corny old people with cool young people.
The Millennial Rant is empty.
If you're spending a lot of time worried about how you're going to get millennial donors, you're wasting your time.
It's true, most fundraisers aren't doing what it takes to attract millennials. And that's okay, because people in their 20s and 30s are just not very good prospects. Hard (expensive) to get on board, even harder to keep there.
Don't worry: they'll start showing up in a few decades.
Until then, what we should be sweating is how to get Boomers to give. The Boomer era of fundraising has started, and we don't have them figured out yet.
Rather than getting all wrapped up in What the Millennials Want, I'd allocate my mindshare per generation like this:
40% Silent Generation (born before 1946). They are still our stars, the engine of philanthropy. It is far from time to walk away from them!
50% Boomers (born 1946-1964) They are already here, and we haven't fully figured out how to connect with them.
8% Gen X (born 1965-1980) With the leading edge of the generation turning 50 next year, they are going to start showing up soon.
2% Millennials (born 1981-2000). By the time they start becoming meaningful donors, technology and media usage won't be at all like it is now. Almost anything you learn about millennials today is going to be out of date by the time it starts to matter.
In a logical world, the bigger the problem is, the more donors would give to solve it.
But people aren't logical. That's part of what makes us so much fun!
You've probably heard about the identifiable-victim effect. It tells us that donors will give more to help a single victim than to help many victims.
The typical explanation is that statistics blunted the emotional impact of the story.
What's really at work, according to recent research, is donors' feeling about how much their gifts will do.
In one test, the first group of donors got a photo and story of a poor child. The second group got photos and stories of two poor children and told they could give only to help one child or the other, not both.
Those who got two stories gave less.
The conclusion? When donors get information about more than one person needing help -- whether it's two, seven, or statistics about millions of people -- that information discourages them from giving. Donors consider the people who won't be helped, feel less good about giving, and conclude that their gifts won't matter. So they don't give.
What to do? Here are two approaches.
Focus on the human drama, not the scope. It's a natural reaction to want to make the problem seem big by citing statistics, referring to others in need, showing images of people in crisis, and so on. But that doesn't work. It doesn't even work in disaster fundraising.
Present the right offer. The offer you present has to be calibrated to donors' sense of proportion. If possible, be specific. Say $XX does a specific thing, and make sure that the specific thing is reasonable to your audience. You can't expect a donor to solve world hunger. But you can expect a donor to help one hungry child when the gift will make a clear, defined difference.
What this blog is about
The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It's not about any technology, medium, or technique. It's about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It's already here. More.
About the blogger
Jeff Brooks, creative director at TrueSense Marketing, has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 20 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you'll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff.brooks [at] truesense [dot] com. More.
Instead of talking at donors, TrueSense is proving it's smarter to listen. Asking donors how they prefer to give. Because we’re about creating relationships and building trust and communicating honestly and powerfully. One to one. Want to talk fundraising? Drop me a line.
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