We'll take a look at the super-crowded last few hours of the year, when so much online giving happens. We'll give you practical tips for what to do before and during those magic hours to maximize revenue. Don't miss!
In honor of Halloween, when we seek that thrill of tiny fingers on the back of the neck, here are some things that should scare the heck out of fundraisers:
Data problems. Bad data can kill your fundraising in the most gruesome and terrifying ways. You can end up talking to the wrong people, not talking to the right people, saying the wrong things to people -- all kinds of nightmarish things. Make sure your files are clean, complete, and accurate -- and that you're pulling what you think you are every time.
Cuts to the acquisition budget. When times are hard, it's hard to keep spending money on acquisition. It's an area where most of us lose money even in good times. When response drops, good luck. Thing is, when you cut acquisition, you slash the future. You guarantee that the hard times will last. If you stop acquisition for long enough, you can send your organization into a death-spiral.
Branding experts. These guys are the marauding, brain-eating zombies of the fundraising world. If they show up at your door, slam it. If they get in, run away. They are going to devour your fundraising program with their grand abstractions and faddish design. After the branding experts have come and gone, many organizations are stuck with a drop of up to 50% in fundraising revenue.
The boss loves it. This is a subtle and well-disguised threat. Don't we want the boss to love our work? When the boss thinks you've really captured what she wants to say, you have almost certainly mucked it up for your donors. It may not be a tenable move, but if the boss loves it, you should probably go back to the drawing board.
From Roy Williams' excellent MondayMorningMemo, here's a piece about some new ways to think about how we motivate donors to act: What to Say.
Williams says, "New ideas are carried by new words." And he has a list of some of these new words and how they apply to marketing and advertising. They're all good, but I'd like to point out just a few that can especially apply to fundraising:
Authenticity: Being what you say you are.
Ad-speak: Clichés, empty phrases, unsubstantiated claims and hyperbole -- the language of yesterday's advertising.
Brandable chunks: Vivid, recurring phrases used by an advertiser to help position and define the brand. Slogans and taglines are out. Brandable chunks are in.
Black words: Empty words that fail to contribute to a colorful mental image. The objective of every good writer is to remove the black words so that the others shine more brightly.
Real is in. Fake is out. Even more so for fundraising than for advertising.
Before I go on though, I need to briefly do my standard rant about survey research: A survey tells you what people say. That's not necessarily what they actually do. Almost everybody overestimates their charitable giving. Most people think they're more tech-savvy than they actually are. Always take survey research with a grain of salt. It's directional at best, and totally misleading at worst.
This one's interesting nevertheless, and probably directional, giving us an idea what goes on. The most interesting findings, I think, are:
14% said a direct mail letter prompted them to give online.
6% who said an email prompted them to give an online gift.
37% who said they give online say that when they receive a direct mail appeal from a charity they use the charity’s website to give their donation.
If these figures are even close to correct (and they might be), we see a picture of a pretty significant portion of donors messing around with our media channels. What used to be neat and clean and trackable, may be getting a lot less so as donors respond where they choose to respond, not just where we ask them to.
It brings these thoughts to mind:
Some direct-mail gifts are migrating online. This could be a partial explanation for the general drop in direct-mail response rates over the last few years. We need to find ways to count those gifts that are being motivated by one channel but happening in another. And we should test ways to work with this behavior, not against it.
You might say direct mail is a more effective way to raise funds online than email. Weird, huh?
Integrated messaging matters. People appear to be engaging with both your mail and your website. Do you have the same messaging, look, and feel on both?
Here's a doozy, done for Amnesty International Poland by one of the all-time great purveyors of nonprofit stupidity, Leo Burnett (Warning: Out-of-control website that might make your brain implode.)
The ad industry relies on visual puns to communicate things. (You seldom win awards by just coming out and saying something.)
Given the assignment of getting people to care about human rights violations, a normal person might consider showing that happening, and what exactly fellow humans are going through at the hands of bad governments.
No. Too straightforward.
The brief must have said, "Make the viewer feel the pain of the victims." But rather than communicate that pain by vividly telling the truth, they had to find an indirect, abstract way to say it. Like when they're selling a product that's big, they show an elephant instead of a big product.
So they make us "feel the pain" with design that creates visual vibration, something most people dislike.
It's utterly fatuous to compare the suffering of the victims of human rights abuse to the mild discomfort we get from looking at this ad. But worse than that, the pun makes no sense. Close-set vertical bars don't actually hurt you. Being jailed, tortured, or killed for your beliefs can ruin your whole day. The comparison is even less apt than an elephant standing for the idea that something is big.
The viewer doesn't know -- rationally or emotionally -- one iota more about the world human rights situation.
The barely-visible face in this ad is jailed Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Ky. You may have known that, but I wouldn't count on one in ten regular people recognizing her by her image alone -- much less an image you can't stand to look at.
Burma is a repressive police state that uses torture, rape, slave labor, and many other kinds of violence to keep its people down. Rather than mention any of that or help us feel the pain -- this ad serves up a portrait of someone most people won't recognize in a design that pretty much forces you to quickly look away.
Wow. Could they have gone any farther away from actually communicating, much less motivating action?
Reality and truth are powerful. Seriously, you can use them to get people to care, give, or volunteer. Abstract visual puns? Not so much.
Here are some things not to do when sending marketing emails, according to the Lyris HQ blog, at 7 Deadly Sins of Email Marketing. They pretty much also apply to fundraising emails. Don't do these things:
Send email they didn't ask for.
Send unexpected email that's different from what they did ask for.
Send email that can't be deciphered on a smartphone cellphone.
Send an email full of broken links and images.
Foil unsubscribes with a complicated process.
Send re-engagement email messages when they're already engaged.
More processing is taking place in the right retrosplenial cortex when physical material is presented. This is involved in the processing of emotionally powerful stimuli and memory, which would suggest that the physical presentation may be generating more emotionally vivid memories.
Physical activity generates increased activity in the cerebellum, which is associated with spatial and emotional processing (as well as motor activity) and is likely to be further evidence of enhanced emotional processing.
This may help explain why e-appeals get such lower response rates the direct mail appeals. (Along with the overwhelming presence of spam crowding us out of many mailboxes.)
But the fact that digital communication evokes less emotion shouldn't defeat you. The other side of the coin is that digital messaging can do a lot of things paper can't do. We can use those capabilities to at least partially make up for the emotion deficit. Things like:
Timeliness. Online, you aren't stuck with the long production schedules and delivery times. You can get a message out in just a few hours. This is why most giving to last January's Haiti Quake happened online.
Rich media. Video and audio can go a long way to overcome the emotion deficit. Even something as simple as an animated GIF image can add action that's just not possible on paper.
Choice. With paper, you can't offer more than a small handful of choices before you have a cumbersome mess. Online, you can give donors an almost endless number of options, and it can stay uncomplicated.
Social proof. On paper you can say "Other people are doing this too" -- which provides that important social proof that motivates so much giving. Online, you can show it.
A great donor newsletter is filled with powerful stories that reveal the lives of real people. Too often, though, newsletters read like meeting notes from an advisory board luncheon.
Compelling stories that motivate donors don't just drop out of the sky. Landing an interview with someone who can talk about how they were helped is tough. Coaxing the right details from them is tougher still. You have to be part psychologist, part reporter, and always fully prepared.
Here are ten key tips for a better interview:
Do bring a list of open-ended questions so you don't get one-word answers.
Do create a comfortable environment. You don't have to sit at a giant table. Try taking your interview outside. Sit on the ground if the interview involves kids. Make it feel natural -- like you're just chatting.
Do make small talk first. It's a litmus test for determining their comfort level in even talking, much less revealing personal details.
Do ask pointed questions to get answers that will add color and dimension to your article. It's not so much leading the witness as framing your story.
Do keep the donor in mind. The story isn't just about how someone was helped -- but how someone was helped because of the donor. Without the donor, you wouldn't even be doing this interview in the first place.
Don't immediately bring out your camera and tape recorder. You'll get to that later, once your subject is more comfortable.
Don't have more people involved than needed. You and the subject are all that matters. The more people listening in, the more it becomes an uncomfortable group interview.
Don't forget to take as many interesting photos as possible. Someone looking over their mountain of bills, or a child getting licked by their therapy dog -- these are much more compelling than a standard head shot.
Don't overlook children. If you've gotten approval to talk to a child with their guardian present, ask questions kids will actually respond to. (Bad: Was it hard to go to school hungry? Good: If you could make it rain any food from the sky, what would it be?)
Don't forget the donor. Put yourself in the donor's shoes, and ask the questions they would about how their gift made a difference.
Then, write the most inspiring story you can so the donor won't think twice about continuing to make that 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 has been serving the nonprofit community for nearly 30 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 [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.
I'm a Fundraisingologist at Moceanic, the company that can help you transform the way you do fundraising through focused, experience-based online courses and one-on-one coaching. Find out what we can do for you and with you!
Writing for fundraisers
Admit it: Fundraising writing is weird.
So many people get thrown into the work of writing fundraising without ever being told about the weird they need to live with -- and master -- if they're going to succeed.
How to use rhyme to make your message more memorable and persuasive.
How to tell stories that motivate donors to give.
How to meet donors' emotional needs.
Whether you should use guilt as a motivator.
Whether you're working on your very first fundraising writing assignment or you're a seasoned veteran ... whether you want it for yourself or need to show someone else how the pros write fundraising -- or both -- this is a book you should order today.
Raise funds with your eyes open. Skip the guesswork. Show your boss what really works. This book takes you on a fact-filled and memorable journey through writing, design, strategy, and the mental game of effective fundraising.
Discover how to make branding improve your fundraising in The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand: Motivating Donors to Give, Give Happily, and Keep on Giving. It's easier -- and less expensive -- than you may think!
If your organization is even vaguely considering "branding work," you need to read The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand by Jeff Brooks. Read more here.