Richelle

Dec 042014
 

Earlier this week, I talked about cultivating an Activist Attitude.DSC_0002

Now we’re going to get down to the nitty-gritty: what can you do in your fundraising to frame your organization in a more activist, we’re-changing-the-world way?

Here are 5 ways to fundraise like an activist:

1. Include an Involvement Device.

For more traditionally activist organizations, this is often a petition to a person in authority. They work. Not only do they inspire people to respond to your direct mail or your email solicitation, but they also show you who your most passionate and engaged supporters are.

But you don’t have to do a petition to involve your donors! Try a survey. Ask donors what they think about various aspects of your work or the issue you’re focused on. One client had such good results with the survey they used in Acquisition, that they included one in a renewal effort, as well.

Another great involvement device that doesn’t get used often enough is asking your donors to sign a Declaration of Support. This gets donors signing on to your mission, making them a key player in your work. And you can use these signed declarations in a variety of ways, from delivering them to a decision-maker or displaying them prominently in your headquarters as a Wall of Support.

2. Have an Urgent Call to Action. 

yell_out_56091You know urgency is key to fundraising, so pair it with a call to action. For many activist organizations, this is tied to a specific campaign, but if you’ve got your Activist Attitude turned on, you’ll see many ways to use it.

Your donors have full lives, so you need to give them a reason not to set that fundraising piece down on the “I’ll get to this later” pile.

Make your asks urgent. Tell your donors you need their help NOW. Better yet, give them a deadline by which to act. And make it sooner rather than later. Plaster that deadline on the outer envelope, on the reply form, in the letter and on the reply envelope. Explain to them why it’s so important that they act fast.

And give them specifics about what you’re asking them to do. Tell them how much you want them to give or what you want them to sign and what that action will do.

Instead of “You can feed the hungry this winter”, think: “Respond within 14 days to feed hungry families this month!” Or “Your gift of $XX will feed YY hungry families — give now!”

3. Find an Enemy. 

Your enemy doesn’t have to be a political leader, as it is for many activist organizations. An enemy can be abstract, like the weather. Or it can be systemic, a bureaucracy that your organization helps people navigate. Enemies are fundraising gold. Is someone trying to stop you from accomplishing what you need to accomplish? Is there a system standing between you and success?

People love rooting for the little guy. When you have powerful forces arrayed against you, your donors will want to help you.

Need a softer “enemy”? Think roadblocks or obstacles instead. Staff stretched too thin? Funding troubles? Lack of awareness about your organization or a particular program?

All of these roadblocks can be cast as enemies, forcing your audience to wonder how you can possibly overcome. (And of course, you’ll tell them that THEY are the key to solving any problem that comes your way!)

4. Empower Your Donors.

You already know you need to be donor-centric, right? Well, a really great way to be donor-centric is to tell them this truth: they are changing the world. Every time a donor makes a gift, volunteers, or takes an action on your behalf, they are saying, “Yes, I want to help your organization solve this problem!”

Activist organizations understand this inherently, and they let their donors know that their enthusiastic embrace of their missions makes a difference. They give them many opportunities to participate — from telephone town halls, to news updates via email and in the mail, to gatherings with organizational leadership, and social media engagement.

Your donors are your tribe, the heroes who make your work possible. Your donors wield a great deal of power to re-shape the world in the way you’re working to reshape it. Engage them in conversation, listen to their voices, and give them as many opportunities as you can to use their power!

5. Embrace Your Righteousness.

You believe your cause is important, right? You are passionate about the work you do and believe that it is critical to creating a better world for us all. Embrace that.

Successful activist organizations stick to their messages because they know without a doubt that they are right. They own it, and they don’t back down — they fight hard and don’t compromise their beliefs. And that righteousness breeds trust in those who share their vision.

Don’t be afraid to stand up for your mission. And don’t apologize for your passions. Yes, there may very well be causes that are more life-and-death than yours. But your donors are looking to you for leadership on your issue. And your work is right.

Above all, embrace your Activist Attitude!

With a little more activism injected into your fundraising, you just might see more energy among your staff, your supporters and your fundraising.

Dec 022014
 

If you work in the nonprofit industry, you want to change the world.

smaller-crowd-rdc-color-mdWhether you’re trying to find homes for abandoned animals, feeding hungry children, working to cure an incurable disease, or committed to bringing more art into your community, you’re out to create a different world than the one we have today.

The status quo isn’t good enough for you. You want the world to be better.

You are an activist.

Funny thing is, when I use this word with a potential client, I can tell right off if we’re a good fit by their reaction. Some fundraisers embrace their activism, understanding that whether or not they are petitioning Congress or staging demonstrations, activism is inherent in everything their organization does.

Other organizations shy away. They prefer to think of themselves in terms of social good, community benefit, outreach or education. Anything but activists.

Forget for a moment about what you think your organization does. What does your donor think? Does Verna give because you’re doing good work? Or does she give because you are changing the world?

After almost 20 years working with a broad spectrum of nonprofit clients, I’ve come to believe that if you want to raise more money and encourage more loyalty in your donors, cultivating an Activist Attitude is where it’s at.

A Case Study of Environmental Organizations

Let’s put this in real terms by talking about two different environmental groups.

Group A is a venerable institution in the environmental world, with a 40-year history and a host of achievements.

Group B is a newer organization with a fierce passion for their work.

Both are international in scope. Both stage protests and work collaboratively with other organizations. Both do a fair amount of cage rattling at the national and international level. Both have impressive track records in their areas.

Group A wants to be seen as on-the-ground activists, out to fight for our planet. Group B insists on presenting their work as education and community outreach. Even their protests and petitions to governments and governmental bodies is couched in terms of local empowerment, not activism.

Group A has doubled in size in the last two years. Group B has…not.

A Case Study from the Arts and Culture World

An acquaintance works for an arts organization that has always struggled to raise money. They can articulate why art is important, they believe in the critical importance of their work, but they were in danger of disappearing because they couldn’t get the funding they needed.

We discussed their problems, and I asked if she’d ever thought of making the case that the organization was addressing very real and persistent problems in the community — that it was changing the world through its work.

They tiptoed into a more activist tone in their next appeal, and it garnered the best response of the year.

Later this week, I’ll post more about how to fundraise like an activist organization. But for now, take some time to remember that you wouldn’t be doing the work you do if you didn’t think the world needed to change. Don your Activist Attitude!

You are an activist. And you can fundraise like one.

Jul 212014
 
photo 4-1

The coast at San Simeon, California.

Today, I’m over at ARC talking about my recent trip to Hearst Castle and what it taught me about the power of narrative.

How you tell your story — your own or your organization’s — matters. The right narrative can move and inspire, anger, or even harden your audience’s heart. So check out my post on the Hearst Castle narrative, and let me know what you think. What have you learned about your own narrative over the years? How has it changed? Are there any ways you could make it even more effective?

May 192014
 

Most of us are pretty passionate about “choice.” We prefer restaurants where we can choose from a variety of foods. We love department stores with a wide array of items. Parents like to be able to choose the best public school for their child, regardless of where they live. Much of the healthcare debate in this country has been framed as a discussion about “choice” — of your healthcare provider, your insurance company and the procedures you can have.

skeinsBut too much choice can be paralyzing. The other day, I visited the yarn shop intending to buy yarn for a new project. My choices were already limited — I needed a specific weight and fiber yarn for the project — so I thought it would be easy. I quickly found a yarn that would work…and then I was stumped.

The colors! There were so many (this photo shows only half of what was available!) that I could not decide. I stared at the yarn for several minutes and ended up leaving without buying anything.

Are your donors facing this same dilemma when they go to your website or receive a direct mail package?

The only choice you want your donors to make is how much to give. Now, of course, many people are going to choose not to give at all, but you don’t want to make that easy for them. Offering them too many choices can make even the most determined donors opt out of giving altogether.

I’ve seen reply forms and landing pages that ask donors to choose between a straight gift, a monthly gift, a tribute gift, and a bequest and a multi-year gift…and then go on to detail other choices they can make, such as submitting a matching gift form from their employer, signing up for a newsletter, or joining another giving circle.

If making a donation to your organization requires more paperwork than getting a bank loan, people won’t bother.

But we still love choice, right? Offering no choice at all makes people uncomfortable. Nobody likes to be told what to do, and most of us want to feel like we have some control over the transactions we make, even with our charities.

So do offer some choices. A gift string with a variety of amounts and a spot for a donor to write in their own amount is a great way to offer choice without turning a donor off.

Frame your Ask as a choice: Would you rather live in a world where children like Marcus have enough to eat? There’s only one answer to that question — YES, I want Marcus to get enough to eat! — but it still feels like a choice, and one we can feel good about making. After all, what kind of monster would say “no?”

And yes, I LOVE monthly giving programs and high-level giving circles and bequests and all the rest. But I don’t love throwing all those choices at your donor at once. Give them the space they need to consider these options by offering them one at a time.

Choice can be a powerful ally in fundraising, but it can easily become overwhelming. Take a look at your website and direct mail and make sure that at each stage, you’re offering your donors the one choice that matters: to give.

And if you have any suggestions on the color of yarn I should buy, please feel free to weigh in!

 

A Pep Talk

 Nonprofit  Comments Off
Apr 072014
 

When you’re reading blogs like this one, you often get complex information presented as easy-to-remember slogans and buzzwords: It’s all about relationships! Friendraising! Storytelling! Three simple ways to…

It all sounds so easy. I often find myself reading a few blog posts, attending a webinar or two and coming away believing I should be able to incorporate all my new knowledge without a hitch. It rarely goes so smoothly as I think it should.

It takes time and effort to perfect new techniques.

beach gazingI see a lot of organizations jump on a trend or try a new way of doing things, only to abandon it when it doesn’t pay off immediately. But how likely is it that you are able to stand up on your first attempt at surfing? Won’t you have to learn how to read the waves, move your body in relationship to the water and the board, and teach your muscles how to maintain a new kind of balance?

The same is true for fundraising tools. You may need to work on your new skills over many months and many mailings, tweaking and perfecting constantly, before you see your efforts bear fruit.

In other words: practice, practice, practice.

People who write blog posts with “easy” new tools have been working with those tools for years. Many of the writing tips and techniques I talk about are skills I’ve been honing for decades.

So if you try something you read on a blog or learned at a fundraising conference once and it didn’t work…give yourself a pat on the back for trying something new. And then try again.

Mar 312014
 

cherryblossThe calendar may say it’s spring, but across much of the country, we’re still waiting for evidence. But I know it’s coming. So as I sip hot tea and gaze out the window at the rain pouring down, I’m planning my garden — and thinking about the seeds I want to plant at work, too.

This week, I’m over at the ARC blog talking about some of the ideas I’m nurturing this spring — think better stories, improved donor relationships and finding new supporters. Check it out here…and let me know what you think!

Mar 172014
 

rockonIndependent musicians are often technological trailblazers. From their embrace of social media, to their march toward different ways of engaging fans and selling their music, a lot of indie bands have been on the cutting edge of the intersection of technology and commerce.

So I like to keep an eye on what they’re doing. This post caught my attention last week, and although it’s written specifically for indie bands, I think it has a lot of great lessons for nonprofits as they try to navigate high-tech waters and engage their donors — particularly the next generation of donors.

So here are my suggestions for nonprofits who want to make the leap to nonprofit rock star:

Rethink the Way You Build Your Donor Base

This isn’t going to happen overnight, but a lot of organizations are already starting to look at how they’re acquiring donors and how they can do it better. Direct mail is still a viable way to go, and the Web is certainly upping its numbers ever year. But what else could you do?

  • Deliver quality content. Too many organizations send out email blasts because they’re on the schedule, not because they have something important, interesting and actionable to say. Send emails your recipients want to open. Try surveys or petitions to get them involved. Link to articles you found interesting. Send a video greeting from your ED or a celebrity supporter. And please, resist the urge to bombard them with asks for money.
  • Be social on your social media. Engage with your followers. Start conversations, send good wishes, share cool information or funny videos. Don’t be so scripted and regulated that you sound like an institution — let your organization’s unique charm and personality shine through.
  • Give your donors the Thing they want. Why do people give to your organization? What do they hope to accomplish? Why YOU? Deliver that. Tell stories, stream video, thank them. Make them feel like a vital part of your work.

Find New Revenue Streams

This isn’t just for indie bands. Nonprofits need to get creative with their fundraising if they want to raise more money. And today, there are as many ways to do that as there are organizations.

Of course, there are the tried and true ways to expand your revenue stream. If you’re not already maintaining a Sustainer program, encouraging Planned Giving, and working on upgrading current members to higher giving levels, well…get on that!

But consider these other ideas, too.

  • Crowdfunding for specific campaigns, or for events like birthdays, weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and anniversaries.
  • A “store” that sells itemized portions of your work. $25 to feed a puppy for a month. $100 to save five acres of rainforest. You get the idea.
  • If your ED or board members travel, consider asking them to host members-only house parties or other events in the cities they visit. It’s a great opportunity for some face-to-face fundraising, and it makes your donors feel valued.

Stop Believing in the Magic Bullet

There is no magic bullet. There is no one fundraising solution that will work for now and for always. You’re going to have to continually reinvent your fundraising as new tools become available and as donors become more sophisticated. That doesn’t mean throwing out the tools that got you where you are today, though.

You need to have a whole catalog of songs, oldies and new releases, to play for your donors if you want to be a nonprofit rock star.

The Big Rush

 creativity  Comments Off
Feb 172014
 

imagesThis past week we did a lot of rushing in my family. From piano to birthday celebrations, from haircut to dinner to middle school tour, from futsal to more birthday celebrations…it was a whirlwind.

As we rushed from activity to activity, I also did some rushing in my work life. And it got me thinking about how compressed our schedules have become in the last few years. What used to be a six week process of strategy-research-outline-draft-refine-review-perfect-mail has, too often, become a mad dash from outline to draft to review to mail — with no time to strategize, thoroughly research, refine or perfect anything.

I see it all the time in news reporting. It’s almost impossible to read a news article today without finding at least one typo. Even larger news outlets have become so quick to publish that they do their fact-checking after the story’s out.

I am not a technophobe, and I don’t hate progress. I do not want to go back to the days of stinky blueline proofs and camera-ready copy. I love being able to type, copy and paste my way through drafting and editing.

But I do wonder if we’ve hit the limit of how fast we can go.

Now, I know computers can and will do things faster. They’ll continue to advance, and my children or grandchildren will likely wonder how we managed to get by with such clunky interfaces as keyboards and mice.

But true creativity and excellent, thoughtful work still take time.

Before I write a word, I like to take time to absorb the information and notice what bits and pieces stand out for me. If I do my research and then step away, my brain helps me out by sifting through things and organizing it all, so that when I do sit down to write, the words flow more easily.

And the same principle works once the copy’s written. My best direct mail letters need rest before they’re ready for the world. I have to step away for at least a day — ideally for three or four days — so that I can see clearly what needs work.

Yes, I can — and often do — turn things around on a dime. I’ve written, directed design and sent to the printer direct mail packages in the course of one business day. (With a lot of help from clients, graphic designers and printers!) And many of those packages were successful.

Some of them were not.

The truth is, my best, most enduring packages have been those that I was allowed to spend weeks on.

As you rush to meet deadlines, consider if there might be a value to slowing down. I’m a firm believer that done is better than perfect, but that doesn’t mean I don’t try to be as perfect as I can be — and sometimes that means taking an extra day or two.

Sometimes, the best way to beat the rush is to slow down and let it pass you by.

Feb 102014
 

The other day, I spied an interesting conversation on Twitter about author branding. And while the conversation revolved around those who write books for a living, I think many of the ideas apply to nonprofit organizations as well.

Don't get fooled by the fancy icing…it's the cake underneath that counts.

Don’t get fooled by the fancy icing…it’s the cake underneath that counts.

Here’s the tweet that started it from author Chuck WendigReferring to your “brand” is another way of saying “here’s the carefully constructed, safe, corporate lie I need you to believe about me.”

One of the things I love about writing for nonprofits is that, when I get it right, it can take all those meetings and reports and outreach that you do each and every day and make it all personal. The donors reading your direct mail — or, really, any marketing or fundraising copy you write — should be able to feel the conviction, passion and tireless effort behind what you do and get a sense of the personality behind your organization…not the brand.

So here’s my PSA for the day: Stop talking about branding!

It’s boring. It’s obnoxious. And your donors don’t care.

Instead, talk about who you are — your identity.

Your brand is an image. It’s helpful when you want people to recognize your organization at a glance. It’s great shorthand for marketing. But it’s not who you are.

Your identity is the soul and vision of your organization, what you hope to achieve, now and into the future. What does your organization care about? Why do you care? Why is it so important? What will be better in the world because you’re working on this issue?

That’s what your donors care about. Branding is just the fancy icing your marketing and communications team puts on the delicious cake that is your organization.

Don’t let the marcomm team tell you “That issue isn’t part of your brand.” That gets you stuck in a rut, and there’s no better way to stop caring about what you do than to make it so rote and routine that it ceases to matter — to you or to anyone else.

If you’re working on it, and you care about it and it will make the world better, it’s part of YOU.

Are you a scrappy band of rabble-rousers? Or a firmly established group making changes from the inside? You may be tempted to straddle the line or try to be all things to your donors, but if you want your identity to be authentic — and you do — you have to make a choice about who you are as an organization. And then stick to it in all your copy.

As Chuck Wendig said a bit later in the conversation, “Just be the best version of yourself. Let everyone else worry and talk about your brand.”

 

One of Those Days

 creativity  Comments Off
Feb 032014
 

poutLast week, I had one of those days. You know the ones. You do your best to get things done, reach for creative heights, and refrain from yelling at your family or snapping at the mom who just ran over your foot with her giant stroller. And nothing quite seems to work out.

I sometimes have a hard time keeping days like that in perspective. Rationally, I know that some days are just like that. But I often turn my frustration inward, sure that if I could just buckle down, I could move forward on that big project/be a more patient parent/write the heck out of that fundraising letter.

But last week, I had a bit of a breakthrough. I was complaining to my husband about my lack of forward momentum, and he reminded me that we’d had a sick child, strange school hours/off days, and an addition to our already crowded weekly schedule. From his perspective, it was no wonder I was off my game.

And that is when I realized that “those days” almost always happen when I’m out of my routine. My work may be creative, but that creativity relies on my devotion to my daily rhythms. And when those rhythms get thrown off, so does my ability to do my most effective work.

Of course, disruptions to routines are inevitable. Not only that, I’m starting to think they’re valuable.

“Those days” often can be precursors to a different kind of day: the days when everything I work on comes together almost magically.

My regular path might be narrow, but sometimes you see more by stepping off for a time.

My regular path might be narrow, but sometimes you see more by stepping off for a time.

By stepping off my usual path, I give myself the chance to look at the things I’m trying to accomplish from a new perspective. And I’m able to be fresh and more creative when I get back on track.

So next time I have one of “those days,” I’m going to try to look at it as a gift, rather than a curse.

Although I still might snap at the lady who runs over my foot with her giant stroller.