More non-profit lessons from 2012 election

I plead guilty when people charge me with being a political junkie, which is why I can’t get my focus away from various election tidbits this week. On Election Day 2012, I blogged about my polling place and a few “ah-ha moments” I had while standing in line waiting to vote. The day after the election, I couldn’t help but indulge in the post-game analysis including fascinating data about the political fundraising landscape. There are definitely some lessons to be learned from those numbers.

Here are a few interesting articles and websites that caught my attention:

Here are just a few interesting observations:

  • OMG, did you see how much money was raised on both sides of the political divide? I really think that non-profits need to stop saying that no one is donating because of the economy. Wow!
  • Was anyone else surprised by where the political contributions came from when broken out state-by-state? I was shocked to learn that my home state of Illinois appears to be second only to California.
  • There was an interesting contrast between the two candidates around the issue of “source of funds” with Obama’s largest source of funding coming from individuals donating $200 or less compared to Romney’s strength emanating from people donating $2,000 or more.

What does this all mean for you and non-profit fundraising? Here are just a few casual observations:

Individual giving is the key to raising serious money!

Even with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, both campaigns kept their focus on raising money from individuals because just like with charitable giving individual giving dwarfs everything else. By some accounts, companies only accounted for 11% of the money raised by Super Pacs in this political cycle.


This isn’t much more significant than the 5% charitable giving number that companies contribute to non-profits every year.

Am I missing something?

Renewed debate over big guys vs little guys?

A few weeks ago a board member said to me, “Erik, all we need to do is find one Warren Buffet or Bill Gates to serve on the board and our financial issues will be a thing of the past.”

As I look at Romney’s fundraising numbers, I think: “Maybe that board member wasn’t totally off-base.” When I look at Obama’ fundraising numbers, I think: “Wow, a small gift strategy might just work.”

When I get beyond the numbers and start reading editorials and letters to the editor, I can’t tell you how many people openly questioned how much influence big donors might wield over their candidate if they make it to the White House.  All of that coverage got me thinking about the influence that big donors have over the non-profits they support.

I think this is a great boardroom discussion that should get translated into your agency’s annual resource development plan.

Staffing matters!

There was a lot of talk about “The Ground Game” on election night, and it showed up in the spending numbers. Did you notice the payroll number for each campaign? Here is the score: Obama $91.7 million to Romney $44.2 million. This wasn’t administrative dollars because that was broken out separately. This was money spent on something referred to “boots on the ground“.

Non-profit boards talk until they are blue in the face about the merits of paying for more fundraising staff or ponying up more salary to attract better staff.

Staffing and organizing field work made a difference in this election. Attracting top talent is a constant concern at for-profit corporations, and non-profit boards would be well-served to take a second look at these ideas.

What lessons learned did you walk away from Election 2012 for your non-profit agency? Did you have any “ah-ha moments” while watching news coverage or reading a news story? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts.

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

What’s in your mailbox? Part 1

I oftentimes get asked about direct mail as a fundraising vehicle by non-profit friends. My typical response is that direct mail is both an art and a science. I point them to experts like Mal Warwick and Tom Ahern, but they are always surprised when I point them to their own mailbox.

I have always said that the average American can become educated about what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to direct mail if they only pay attention to what is being sent to them, what they are opening (or not opening), and how and what they’re reading (or not reading). It is with this in mind that I’ve decided to focus this week’s blog posts on my personal mailbox.

As you can imagine, I get a lot of fundraising appeals — local non-profits, national charities, advocacy groups, and politicians. Today, we’re taking a closer look at my new BFF — Michelle Obama — who can’t seem to stop sending me mail.

Let’s open one of the three letters that my household recently received and see what we have:

It is a three page letter written on double-sided paper that looks like Michelle’s personal stationary (which it obviously isn’t).

I read the salutation first. “Dear Mr. Anderson”. I immediately frown and think to myself “why is she calling ‘mister’ when I am younger than her .” Nevertheless, I trudge on and keep reading.

I read the first paragraph. It is two sentences long and doesn’t capture my attention. It says something about doctor bills and mortgages and blah blah blah.

So, I start skimming and notice that she uses my name a lot throughout the body of letter. Here are a few examples:

  • “Erik, I’m writing to ask you to . . .”
  • “Erik, that is why he is challenging us to think . . .”
  • “Erik, that is what’s at stake in 2012.”
  • “And Erik, we’re also counting on you to . . .”

I also notice that there is a lot of emotion and values language laced throughout the letter. The following are just a few of the words and phrases that catch my attention as I skim:

  • persevere
  • struggles
  • fundamental American promise
  • my brother’s keeper
  • sustained by the relationships we build

Phew . . . that was a lot of skimming. In approximately three to five seconds, as I worked my way from the salutation to the signature, I was able to pick out those key words and phrases. I now see that Michelle (or should I say “Mrs. Obama” since we obviously have a formal relationship) has signed the letter.

Yes, it was a machine signature, but it isn’t a script font. It really looks like a signature. Thank goodness for autopen machine technology because nothing kills a nice, warm, emotional letter like a script font signature.

Just when I’m done and ready to shred the letter, Ron Popeil screams out from the bottom of the letter, “But wait, there’s more!”

That’s right. There is a postscript, and I find myself reading the whole thing. It contains two short paragraphs, and the sentences are super short. The verbiage is very emotional, and it is hard not get drawn in. Here is exactly what it said:

P.S. I’m not going to kid you. This journey is going to be long. And it’s going to be hard. But the truth is, that’s how change always happens in this country. We know in our hearts that if we keep fighting the good fight, doing what we know is right, then we eventually get there. Because we always do.

As Barack has said many times, “Ordinary people can do extraordinary things. That’s what our campaign is all about. Now the obstacles are even taller and the stakes are even higher — which is exactly why Barack and I need you more than ever. Thank you.

Sigh … the hook is set, and I turn back to page one. I start reading and stop skimming.

While there is a lot more to learn about direct mail (and we will talk about some of it over the next few days), we did learn the following valuable lessons from reading just one professionally written direct mail fundraising appeal:

  1. Many people skim direct mail.
  2. The first thing people read and pass judgement on is the salutation (isn’t that right, Mrs. Obama?)
  3. People will pick-up key words and phrases as they quickly work their way from salutation to signature.
  4. Good letters appear are very personal, emotional and focused on action and engagement. They are written in a first person voice, and passive voice language is avoided.
  5. A signature (even if scanned) is always better than a script font, but a real signature is the icing on the cake for any personal letter.
  6. The postscript can be the key to the entire letter. Everyone seems to read it, and a good one sucks the reader back in and can send them back to the beginning.

Tune in again tomorrow and we’ll do something similar with another piece of mail. In the meantime, I encourage you to go to your mailbox and go through this same exercise. In no time, you will feel much better about what you’re trying to do with your non-profit organization’s direct mail program.

How do you read junk mail . . . errrr, I mean . . . direct mail? Does your agency have a direct mail program? What does it look like? What have been your successes? What are your challenges? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and questions.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847