Richelle

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.

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.”

 

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.

Jan 272014
 

Today, I’m over at ARC blogging about one of my favorite topics: overcoming obstacles.

From the mundane, to the profound, obstacles crop up in my work every day. I’ve learned a few tricks to help me move past them, and I’m sharing them here.

Thanks for checking it out!

Jan 202014
 

highquality_pictures_of_beautiful_red_carpet_07_170445A 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.

Jan 132014
 

People don’t remember me.

That's me, though I have shorter hair now.

That’s me, though I have shorter hair now.

It sounds like an insecurity complex, but I swear that it’s true. One example (of many): the wife of a former colleague of my husband’s spent two evenings sitting across from me at a restaurant, conversed with me at an office party and even invited me to her wedding. My husband and I later attended a party at her home, and when I saw her I walked right up and said, “Thanks so much for inviting us!”

She smiled, held out her hand and said, “Hi, I’m Tahnee. What’s your name?”

My neighbor — a really lovely woman — and I were talking the other day, and she mentioned that she suffers from the same forget-ability. It’s hard for me to understand how anyone could forget her, and I don’t think I’m flattering myself when I say that she seemed surprised that people would forget me. But it’s true. It happens more often than I’d like.

Not that I let it get to me, not too much, anyway. I really think it’s Tahnee’s loss that she can’t remember the very nice conversations we shared. But I’ll admit that her indifference made me loathe to spend any more time with her and her husband.

Now, imagine how your donor feels when you misspell her name…when you reference a gift amount he never gave…when you call, email or send mail when he expressly asked you not to…when you show that you have no idea who they are or why they gave to you in the first place.

Frankly, it’s insulting. And no one wants to spend time or money with someone who insults them.

Know your donors. Show them that you know who they are, that you understand why they give and that you share their passion for solving the problem your organization is trying to solve. Let them know that you rely on and appreciate their commitment to your cause.

Never let them feel forgettable.

How are you making your donors feel like you know who they are? How do you show them they’re valued? Share your ideas in the comment section!

Jan 062014
 

I may rarely end — or even get halfway through! — the year organized, but I like to start out with my thoughts marshaled, my supplies in their places, and my plans laid out. Here are four ways I’m getting organized in 2014:things-organized-neatly-clipboard

Less Paper. This is tough one, since I work in direct mail, which is a paper-based business. But just because the end product ends up on paper doesn’t mean I have to use it day to day. I’m learning to edit effectively on-screen, only opting to print pieces on the last pass. I have developed a pretty sophisticated virtual filing system that includes art, proofs and email communications from clients. I’m even learning to type my notes during a conference call, rather than jotting them into a notebook first — although I admit that’s a work in progress.

Eliminating as much paper as I can is great for the environment, of course. But it’s also great for my sanity and my time. No more filing, no more space taken up by bulging folders, and no more paper cuts!

Lists and more lists. I know some people aren’t list-makers, but I am. I love to make global lists of things I hope to accomplish this year, as well as the micro lists of daily and weekly tasks. But if you’re not into lists, try a spreadsheet or even a Venn diagram — my husband the former architect enjoys drawing his to-do tasks. The act of jotting down your goals will help you remember them and hold you accountable to achieving them.

calendarTaking Time for Me. I often short-change myself in my rush to complete all my tasks — and my house isn’t even that clean! I’m not sure what’s going to be pushed aside this year, but I am determined to take time each day to focus on myself and what I need. I’m confident that it will make me a better consultant, wife, parent, neighbor and friend. Even if it does mean the floor stays dirty.

Be Ready for (Almost) Anything. I often find myself needing to adjust my plans, and when I don’t have the right equipment, it slows me down — and sometimes keeps me from doing things altogether. When the car breaks down, I want to be ready to bike, so I’m getting my winter biking gear stowed together for easy transitions from four wheels to two. When a colleague calls me for lunch, I’m going to be ready to leave the house instead of scrambling to find a clean pair of pants or to brush my hair for the first time that day. And when working at home isn’t going so well, I want my laptop bag ready to roll, so I can hit the road without losing too much of my day.

What are you doing to get yourself organized in 2014? Any other tips for me? I could use them!