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.

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 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 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.”

 

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.

Unforgettable

 Nonprofit  Comments Off
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!

Dec 232013
 

When clients and potential clients ask me to help them with their social media, I often groan (silently) and wonder what I should say.

Social-Media-IconsYour social media tells a story about your organization. Are you telling the story of an active and dynamic organization that is mobilizing and engaging supporters in the passion of their mission? Or are you telling the story of an organization that would prefer your supporter hand over their money and let you get on with your work?

Social Media is not just another leg on your marketing stool. It’s a whole different seat at the table.

The problem most non-profit organizations and for-profit companies have with social media is the social part. This isn’t old-school, get-your-message-out promotion… Creating a successful social media presence requires you to actually interact with your customers, constituents and supporters.

Which is why I cringe when nonprofits ask me to bid on writing their social media content. I write my own tweets, Facebook posts and LinkedIn updates for my consulting practice, and I really believe it’s critical that you have an organizational insider conducting your social media.

It’s easy for a consultant to come in and say something like, “You should make sure you tweet your message XX times per day.” or “Engage your supporters in conversations on Facebook.”

But an outsider will have a much harder time creating engaging social media content and building authentic shaking handsrelationships than an insider will have.

Social media is another way of telling a story — the story of how your organization functions on a daily basis. How do you treat supporters and staff? How do you view your mission? How nimble are you when news breaks or a crisis rises up? Social media is a big plate-glass window into all of these areas.

And an outside consultant — even one specializing in social media — cannot deliver that authenticity you need. A consultant will never, for example, be able to walk out of an energizing meeting and tell your donors and supporters about the excitement in the air around the office.

When you have an actual social media professional leading your SM efforts, you’ll get

  • Someone with their finger on the pulse of the organization.
  • Someone who can seamlessly integrate the rest of your marketing, communications and fundraising plan into your social media.
  • Someone who can explain social media to those in your organization who might not understand what it can do…and what it can’t.
  • Someone who can be the “voice” of your organization on a ground level.

Better yet, make sure your social media person also has a working knowledge of donor-centered fundraising, so they can give your SM-savvy supporters a more personalized, high-touch experience.

Of course, social media isn’t (yet) a fundraising powerhouse. But like fundraising, social media is about creating and nurturing relationships. And investing in key relationships is something that all successful nonprofits are committed to.

Social media isn’t going away, and it is increasingly the way people are checking out the organizations they decide to support. What are you doing to make sure your social media plan is as engaging and authentic as it can be?

Dec 022013
 

smaller-crowd-rdc-color-mdOne of the most common refrains I hear from my friends and colleagues in the nonprofit arena is “I’m just not sure how to make my Board understand fundraising!” One executive director friend dreads his quarterly report to his Board — not because his organization isn’t meeting its fundraising goals, but because he feels like his Board holds him to impossibly high standards and is always disappointed.

I think every nonprofit should endeavor to recruit at least one fundraising professional onto their Board. Having that insider who can bridge the gap between the staff and the Board is so beneficial to both groups that I’ve always been surprised it isn’t standard practice.

But until that happens, there are several key ways you can engage your Board in fundraising and help them understand how to strengthen your organization and its fundraising efforts.

First, you need to understand where your Board Members are coming from. Who are they? What is their background? Why are they involved with your organization? What activities spark their interests and passion? What stories do they tell about their involvement with your nonprofit? Understanding your audience is key to persuading people to give to your organization, and it’s key to persuading your Board members to engage, as well.

Once you understand broadly and deeply who your Board is, then you can start to use their language, tap into their concerns and hopes, and create a culture of fundraising throughout your organization.

Cultivate that culture is by communicating openly and often with your Board members.

  • Use Storytelling to tell them about the impact they’re having in your community.
  • Set clear expectations — in other words, tell them what needs to be done and give them the tools to do that work.
  • Set aside time for one-on-one meetings with Board Members, and use that time to listen to their stories. Ask them what first excited them about your organization, and what their goals are for the next year.
  • Thank them often — and personally — for their commitment and participation. And ask them to personally thank your donors. This circle of gratitude makes everyone feel valued, needed and appreciated — and makes your mission possible.

I also love this handy info-graphic on increasing Board engagement, which outlines practical, achievable steps for both smaller and larger nonprofit organizations.shaking hands

Above all, it’s critical to remember that you’re all on the same side. You may come at the problem you’re trying to solve from different perspectives — and that’s great because it means you’ll cover all the bases — but you are all working for a common goal: the mission of your organization.

Nov 182013
 

IMG_1955This past weekend, my husband and I took our three kids up to Seattle for what we called a Tourist Weekend. Living so close to the city, we’ve often popped up there for ballgames or concerts, or just to spend a day or two in different surroundings. But we generally make it a point not to travel like tourists, preferring to ferret out the spots where locals go, the neighborhoods where people actually live.

So it had been years since we’d done any of the typical tourist things that visitors to Seattle often do.

We booked a hotel near the Seattle Center, visiting every tourist attraction we had time and energy for. I’d forgotten what a vibrant and fun city Seattle is for travelers, and how much history and knowledge there was for my kids — and me! — to soak up.

Our Tourism Experiment got me thinking, though, about how donors experience their interactions with the organizations they support.

Are they tourists, visiting the highlights on your website, giving to the flashiest campaigns?

Or are they travelers, enjoying the chance to feel like insiders in your cause, proud to support efforts that might not be popular, but are just as deserving?

And when was the last time YOU acted as a tourist to your own cause?

As we head into the last rush of year-end madness, it might be a good time to take a fresh look at how your donors experience your organization…and how you experience the organizations you support.

  • Log onto your website — or another organization’s — with a specific question and see how long it takes to find the answer.
  • Try giving a gift over the phone.
  • Ask a friend to read your newsletter and report what stands out to her — without coaching!
  • Browse through a few old blog posts and see how long it takes you to read them — and what you retain.
  • Respond to one piece of direct mail, taking time to note how easy or difficult it is to follow the instructions. Track how long it takes to receive an acknowledgement.

How does this Tourist Experiment make you feel? Excited about the cause you’re touring? Or exhausted and ready to curl up in your generic hotel room?

There is room in most organizations for both Tourists and Travelers, and the most successful organizations are adept at catering to both. And the easiest way to figure out how well you’re doing is to take a tour yourself.