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?
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.
But 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!
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.
I 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.
The 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!
Independent 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.
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.
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.
Here’s the tweet that started it from author Chuck Wendig: Referring 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.”
Last 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.
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.
A lot of organizations I’ve worked with are fortunate to have celebrity supporters and allies, so I’ve spent my fair share of time discussing how best to leverage that kind of high-profile support. It’s not always clear or easy to take advantage of a big name on your donor roll, so I wanted to share some of my thoughts.
First, a “celebrity” isn’t just a famous actor or musician. It can be anyone related to your specific community who has name recognition and credibility. For a health-related nonprofit, that might be a super-star physician, for a science advocacy group, a former astronaut or Nobel Prize-winner. For fundraising purposes, a “celebrity” is anyone your supporters will recognize and relate to.
So, you’ve noticed a prominent person has started giving to your organization. Or you’ve got a famous board member. Or a celebrity tweeted their admiration for your mission to their 600,000 followers. How can you use their support to generate even more love for your cause?
Five Ways to Use Your Celebrity Supporters
- Ask them to be the Chair (or Honorary Chair) of a specific Membership group, probably a high-dollar giving group. This can involve anything from simply signing fundraising materials directed at the group, to taking a more active role, depending on their interests, time and level of commitment.
- Ask them to sign a Prospecting Letter or a Lift Letter in your Acquisition package. NRDC and Friends of the Earth both use celebrity signers — actors known for their environmental passions — in their acquisition packages to great success.
- Ask them to make a video expressing why they support your organization and asking others to do the same. You can post this on the Web or send it in your e-mail newsletter as an extra endorsement for what you do.
- Ask them to host (even in an honorary capacity) a major special event. A good name will draw more people to your event, and their participation can lend a “stamp of approval” that inspires others to give.
- Present them with an award at a major special event. An alternative to asking them to host, this technique can also up attendance at your event. And it could be a first step to a more fruitful relationship with that celebrity, ensuring they help you more in the future.
There are, of course, some sticky issues with using celebrity supporters to assist in your fundraising. If your celebrity becomes embroiled in a scandal, for example, your association with them could hurt your organization more than help. Alternatively, if their notoriety doesn’t add credibility to your cause with your donors, then it might not be the best fit. And obviously, you should always treat these supporters with respect and gratitude. Don’t push them to do more than they’re comfortable doing, and don’t take them for granted.
But if you have a loyal celebrity supporter or two who is willing to use their acclaim to call attention to your cause, and you target that attention in one of the ways listed above, you can give your fundraising a boost.