Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fundraising and Repetition

Jeff Brooks had a great post today on his blog Future Fundraising Now titled The power of repetition in fundraising. I believe the root cause of most poor fundraising response results is the insidious belief that donors will like us better, and as a result donate to us, if we refrain from communicating with them "too often" and make the same pitch over-and-over.

If I may quote Jeff, "Despite what many people think, simple repetition is one of the most powerful tools in your creative arsenal. The savviest fundraisers use it all the time to ratchet up emotion -- and results -- from their donors."

 Jeff goes on to relate a study of new direct-mail donors that found that these mail recipients had received a direct mail acquisition piece six times before they responded to it. Many charities that I am familiar with believe that it is sufficient to mail prospective donors once or twice a year! No wonder total acquisition numbers are declining precipitously.

Think that just is the nature of a dying direct mail field? Nope, electronic media such as email requires even more repetition.

Jeff also recommends that repetition within the letter or email is also critically important. He states the call to action should be repeated five, ten, or even more times. Clearly, once is not enough.

So, get over your reticence. Your organization is worthy, your mission is important. Those who want to give to you deserve your perseverance.

Friday, July 11, 2014

What Does the Donor Hear?

I loved cartoonist Gary Larson. It was a sad day when he retired in 1995. One of my favorite cartoon panels was "What we say to dogs". There we go. Barking out commands to our canine friend, fully expecting that he hears and understands every word. Even raising our voice to ensure we are understood. What hubris! What the dog hears is it's name. That's it.

Sasha Dichter of the Acumen Fund cleverly illustrated the parallel between "dog/human" and possible "non-profit/donor" communication.

As Sasha wrote, "I wonder if we could re-title this cartoon 'our needs', as in: every time we regale someone with 'what we need' we remember all they're hearing is 'blah blah blah blah.' But whenever we say their name, whenever we paint them into the picture, whenever we make them a part of the story, they hear us loud and clear.

If you agree with the notion, rather than thinking tactically how to make this shift by 'changing your pitch', you might instead ask yourself who's keeping you from actually seeing the person across the table as an integral part of the story...because she is."

Amen,  Sasha! The donor is more likely to hear you if the presentation or case is more about them. It's like hearing your own name. And everyone loves to hear their own name.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Other mistakes that undermine your web fundraising

Last time I wrote about the "beginner" mistakes that undermine your web fundraising. This time I will cover the more intermediate mistakes that cost you online donations.

1. No Benefit for the Donor
If your website is all about what a wonderful non-profit you are, all your achievements, all your programs, you sound just like most other mediocre websites, whether charitable or commercial. If, on the other hand, you communicate what your organization can do for the donor, you immediately separate yourself from the pack. As with successful direct mail text, use the words “you” and “your” often. Your website should not appear to be a snare to catch a gift, but a tool for the donor to achieve his or her philanthropic goals.

2. No Urgency
Make it clear why the donor must do something now. What are the implications if they delay? Perhaps even set a deadline. “We need to raise $xxxxx by xx date in order to ensure children are fed.”

3. Colors Blend In
Does your call to action stand out or are you enslaved by corporate brand guidelines? Fundraising is often about creating action out complacency. It is hard to do that if everything is subject to the tyranny of a non-intrusive color palette. Your “donate” button should be big, bold and assertive. Your call to action statements should stand out. Tell the snarky designers to apply their sacrosanct brand guidelines on a nondescript brochure. You need to make sure your case for giving literally vibrates on your web page.

4. No Credibility
Donors are not only concerned about ensuring that their gifts are well used but also that they appear to be savvy philanthropists.  They don’t want to look like fools to their peers. They want to give to organizations that are winners. Nothing cuts through the “Who are these people?” question better than donor profiles, complimentary quotes by supporters, or the logos of recognizable corporate sponsors. Use them.

5. Loaded with Jargon

Sometimes it’s fun to use big words that make you look smart, right? Maybe, but it is a terrible fundraising tactic. Few but your own employees will understand highly technical industry jargon. Simple words work best when trying to persuade someone to take action.

Apply these elements and see your website giving soar.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

7 "beginner" mistakes that undermine your web fundraising

A couple of years ago Jeff Brooks referenced on his blog, Future Fundraising Now, a post from  Copyblogger regarding unfortunate content mistakes that undermine website sales. Jeff noted how these same issues could easily be applied to fundraising websites. Here are the first seven "beginner mistakes":

1. No Call to Action
Optimizing, tweaking, beautifying your website is nearly fruitless (from a fundraising perspective) if you don't ask for a gift.

2. Below the Fold
Web visitors shouldn't have to scroll down to see your call to action. State your case and ask for the gift in the upper portion (above the fold) of the screen.

3. Not Authoritative
Tell your readers exactly what you want them to do, and do so with conviction.

4. Not Specific
Don't make it a guessing game. Spell out exactly what you want your visitors to do. Give, sign-up, share, like, etc. Make it easy, make it clear.

5. Too Much Self Proclaimed Hype
Tooting your own horn comes off as so much puffery and bloviating. A third party endorsement is much more effective.

6. Multiple Calls to Action
What's the most important thing you want your visitor to do on your website? This is often very difficult since we are tempted to provide the vast array of things we do as nonprofits and present all the things we want the visitor to do as a result. People are often stymied by choice and they end up doing nothing. Prioritize.

7. Puny Call to Action
As the Copyblogger author states, "I've never seen a website call to action that is too big."

In the next post I will share what Copyblogger regards to be the more "advanced mistakes". In the meantime, go back over your website and see if you have committed any of these rookie blunders.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Grants: Rejected! Done? Fini? Move on?

You've done your research. You found a great foundation that is a perfect fit for your organization. They have supported other organizations just like yours. You've even connected with the grants manager and they think you're wonderful. You have a fantastic program and write a bang-up proposal. Months go by and then you receive the following, dreaded response: "We receive requests from many worthy nonprofit organizations. We wish we could fund them all. Unfortunately, we cannot support your program at this time." Drat! All the planets seemed to be aligned. The heck with them! Next proposal...right? Wrong!

You need to find out why you were rejected. It may not be what you think. I found just such a foundation and the outcome was initially disappointing. But I called my contact and asked why we were rejected. I expected to hear something like this, "Although you are a great organization, ___________ (fill in the blank: "...your organization is not a fit, your program is not a priority, we are supporting XYZ organization that does the same thing, your proposal sucked, etc.")

What I heard was, "Your proposal was really great and it is something that we would really like to support. Unfortunately, we ran out of funds by the time we got to your proposal. Let's get together at the beginning of the next funding year and talk about it. I recommend you submit your proposal again just as it is. Don't change a thing."

If I had just moved on, reacted defensively, or just slinked off into the night with my tail between my legs, I would have never found out that it was still very viable. Now, not all calls reveal such great opportunities. Even candid, helpful, rejection feedback about NOT being a fit would be good for future proposals.

The point is ask, probe, follow-up.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Growing Philanthropy Part 3: Identifying New Audiences, Channels, and Forms of Giving with Strong Potential for Growth

Encourage the adoption of monthly giving. Monthly giving has so many benefits for charities and donors that I am always amazed at how few nonprofits promote this option. Per Sergeant and Shang, the lifetime value of supporters giving in this way is estimated to be 600 to 800 percent higher than "non-sustainer" donors. They note that younger donors prefer monthly giving because it is considered more convenient and environmentally friendly, requiring less renewal and reminder mailings. Donor retention is far higher for sustaining donors as well. It's a no brainer.

Improve the sector's engagement with young people. Promote giving at an early age and help develop a "giving habit". Utilize new digital media such as digital applications, virtual environments, gaming platforms, and social networking. Find ways to make it easy, affordable, and enticing to include them in the philanthropic process.

Encourage and promote best practices in social media. Traditional giving channels still significantly outperform online giving, and social media accounts for only just over 10 percent of that small portion. Nonetheless, social media has a huge potential to greatly increase a supporter's engagement, and engagement is the key to healthy giving. Social media also has the potential to build donor commitment, trust and loyalty. But it must be done well. This is a great opportunity for an astute nonprofit since so much social media based fundraising is done so poorly.

Encourage asset-based giving. 93 percent of American wealth is made up of stocks and non-cash assets such as real estate, business interests, and personal property. Charities are "missing the boat" if they are solely focused on chasing the 7 percent cash available. Provide easy means for donors to contribute asset-based resources.

Improve the quality of bequest fundraising. Although 80 percent of Americans will support the nonprofit sector during their lifetimes, only 8 percent will provide for charities in their estates. Sergeant and Shang believe part of the challenge is that charitable bequest solicitation has been relegated solely to the planned giving departments at nonprofits. They suggest that soliciting bequests should receive wider and broader communication and informational materials be accessible and employed by all staff.

Leveraging companies to promote philanthropy. Since many individuals spend most of their waking hours at work, provide opportunities in the workplace to educate employees about charity missions and outcomes. It must be more than simply a card table and brochures set up in a lobby. One nonprofit had launched a campaign to address obesity and set up a fajita bar at a local business to teach workers how to prepare healthy fare. They effectively hammered home their brand, their goals, and addressed latent objections such as proper dieting is no fun.

Although Sergeant and Shang's report included other recommendations, they concluded with this insightful statement, "Instead of viewing donors as a source of revenue and maximizing the value of that relationship, they (nonprofits) need to focus more on the individual and the articulation of that person's philanthropy. Only when we stop asking for money and instead ask for individuals to reflect on their own philanthropic identity will the needle truly be moved on giving."

Let's move the needle.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Growing Philanthropy Part 2: Developing Public Trust

The second finding that Sargeant and Shang suggested in their whitepaper, Growing Philanthropy in the United States, is the necessity to develop public trust and confidence in the fundraising sector. They state, “Organizations are the conduit by which donors fulfill their own aspirations. Donors don’t give to organizations but through organizations.” The disconnect that Sargeant and Shang see is that, as charities become more focused on removing financial risk, enhancing effectiveness, and employing more proven fundraising techniques, the process becomes more mechanistic. The donor can be viewed as, and feels like, a “piggy bank” rather than a partner in the cause. I believe some of this is the result of a rather corrosive, if initially well-meaning, emphasis by industry watchdog organizations on the percent of funds spent on program versus fundraising costs. I believe this puts undue pressure on nonprofits to squeeze as much revenue out of each transaction as possible.

Sargeant and Shang propose that nonprofits must see supporters as more than simply donors, but they should be regarded as “individuals with their own philanthropic aspirations and goals.” They suggest that donors may not even be aware of what their goals truly are and that it is the responsibility of the organization to “find new and creative ways through which individuals can discover and express their own philanthropic identity and thus experience the joy of giving.” They admit that this sort of identification on the charity’s part would require a greater degree of donor research and necessitate additional staff time, expertise and cost. All at a time when the aforementioned “program vs. fundraising” metric is being put forth as a litmus for what is a “good charity” worthy of donor investment.

Additional recommendations include:

Empower regulators to enforce 100 percent filing of Forms 990 and increase their utility.  Include more narrative that would focus on the outcomes achieved by the nonprofit thus shifting the emphasis from efficiency to effectiveness.

Blow the whistle on organizations claiming to have zero cost of fundraising. Recent research found that 59 percent of organizations did not claim any fundraising expenses. Come on! How can you believe anything a charity reports with this sort of blatant info manipulation?

Fund the development of a website in the United States to educate the public, boards, and other stakeholders. “There is gross misunderstanding in the public as to how nonprofits work. Many Americans still believe the sector is populated largely by volunteers, that managers are paid poorly (if at all), and that income can be generated at zero (or close to zero) cost.” It is critically important to communicate how nonprofits really work.

Encourage nonprofits to develop complaint schemes.  Many organizations are hesitant to create complaint schemes for fear of raising false expectations about their ability to resolve issues. Good complaint handling boosts loyalty. In fact, there is some indication that resolving a problem successfully creates greater loyalty than being problem free.

Fund the development of a website to facilitate peer-to-peer evaluations of nonprofits. Much like the comments and ranking sections on commercial online sites such as Amazon, providing a forum for donor commentary and evaluation may well inspire more people to give.

Develop new and more appropriate measures of performance. Watchdog groups such as Guidestar, Charity Navigator and Charity Watch place far too much emphasis on charities demonstrating what tends to be stifling efficiency standards rather than organizational effectiveness. Nonprofits need to be proactive and help define what is effective and better articulate the investment needed to achieve mission outcomes.

Develop the self-regulation of fundraising. The key concerns of the public appear to be:
  • A perception of an “excessive” volume of communication
  • The quality and tone of that communication
  • The use of enclosures in mail
  • The use of inappropriate or shocking imagery
  • Data errors in the communication
  • A sense of intrusion, created by the media employed for the message
Sargeant and Shang claim no one has yet addressed these issues properly. They recommend a greater focus on the development and promotion of professional standards or the creation of a body that would accredit good quality fundraising in a similar way that the Better Business Bureau accredits good business practices.

Wow! We have a lot of work to do. And we're not through all of Sargeant and Shang's recommendations or themes.

Next post I'll review their third theme, Identifying New Audiences, Channels, and Forms of Giving with Strong Potential for Growth.