I want a fundraising parrot for Christmas. What are you asking for?

A few weeks ago, a dear old friend of mine from Central Illinois came up to Chicago to visit. His name is Bill McGrath. He is a defense attorney whose heart bleeds more than most for the plight of people. We met downtown for Sunday brunch and talked about the good old days and caught up on where our lives are today. Not only is he still defending people who can hardly afford counsel, but he has fallen in love with his local non-profit homeless shelter and soup kitchen. It was in that conversation about his new-found non-profit passion that he helped me figure out what I am telling all of my friends and family what I want for Christmas.

In our brunch conversation Bill was picking my brain about fundraising issues. It was at this point that he shared with me his reluctance around asking other people for money. He recalled a funny story that he recently read in an online article at the Smithsonian’s website. The story is titled “Found: A Time Capsule at the National Zoo” and there is a section of that story that talks about Zoo Director William Man including a few quirky and interesting approaches to fundraising.

Here is an excerpt from that article that sticks in Bill’s brain as a funny fundraising story:

“Back when the Elephant House was built, Mann was famous for his grand collecting expeditions and offbeat fund-raising antics—he routinely brought animals to budget meetings with the Smithsonian regents and once trained a myna bird to keep asking, “How about the appropriation?” Along with his wife, Lucy, who wrote popular books and articles about their journeys, “Doc” Mann built the Zoo into one of international renown, expanding its collections and advancing standards of care for captive animals nationwide.”

Did you catch that? The zoo director trained a myna bird to assist him with asking other people for money. Wow! Now that is a visual, and I have been laughing about this story for weeks. (I encourage you to go back to the link in the previous paragraph and click-through to read the entire article.)

So, I’ve decided that if William Mann could train a myna bird to participate in fundraising solicitations, then there is nothing wrong with me asking for a “fundraising parrot” for Christmas. I could start legitimately calling myself a “fundraising pirate. LOL

OK OK OK . . . I’ve had my fun this morning, and hopefully I’ve helped some of you take a moment and smile. However, I do think this blog post raises a few very serious questions that you may want to consider heading into next year:

  1. What can you do (short of training myna birds and parrots) to provide better support to your fundraising volunteers heading into 2013?
  2. What “props” do your fundraising volunteers need and want to help them make more effective face-to-face solicitations of their social network?
  3. What mental picture do your volunteers have in their heads of the resource development – fundraising – philanthropic process? If it isn’t a very good picture, how can you help change that in 2013?

I also think this blog post raises some less serious questions such as “What kind of ‘fundraising present’ do you want this holiday season?” If not a fundraising parrot, maybe it could be a donor-centered fundraising dog or a pick-pocketing monkey?!?  LOL

Please take 60 seconds out of your very busy day and indulge in a little bit of fun. Scroll down and use the comment box to weigh-in on some of the silly questions. Or if you’re in a serious mood, then use the comment box to answer some of the serious questions that I pose above.

Here’s to your health!

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

BOOM . . . You have fundraising stereotypes to overcome!

A few months ago, when I was at the movie theater with friends, I saw the trailer promo for Kevin James’ new film “Here Comes the Boom“. While I haven’t seen the movie yet, I can honestly say that the promo reached out of the silver screen, grabbed me by my fundraising collar and shook me hard. The first time I saw it, my immediate first thought was “OMG . . . I bet this is exactly what most volunteers conjure up in their mind when I ask them to help me fundraise for a good cause.

Click here to see that short promotion:


If you didn’t pick it up from the video clip, here is how the film is described by its PR people:

“When cutbacks threaten to cancel the music program and lay off its teacher (Henry Winkler,) Scott begins to raise money by moonlighting as a mixed martial arts fighter. Everyone thinks Scott (Kevin James) is crazy — most of all the school nurse, Bella (Salma Hayek) — but in his quest, Scott gains something he never expected as he becomes a sensation that rallies the entire school.”

If I could re-write this description, it would sound something like this: “When cutbacks threaten to cancel the music program, supporters think of all kinds of crazy fundraising ideas first (ranging from cage fighting to bake sales) rather than the most obvious solution — flat-out asking their friends and fellow music program supporters to write a check.

Isn’t this the simple truth, too? It always surprises me that people will grasp at every other straw first during times of cutbacks almost as if they are saying: “I’ll do anything, but please don’t ask me to ask other people for a contribution to support something I know they want to support.”

Additionally, this movie trailer has me convinced that when many of us ask friends to join the annual campaign team to work a few pledge cards, their brain immediately pictures a cage match with them and a prospective donor gripped in a grudge match.

With annual campaign season right around the corner, I suspect many of us are starting to assemble our prospect lists of potential campaign volunteers. Kevin James’ movie provides me with a gentle reminder that volunteers have all sorts of stereotypes in their heads about fundraising, and it is my job to over come those obstacles.

The following are a few simple suggestions and best practices that can help you change the picture in your prospective campaign volunteer’s head on your next recruitment visit:

Setting expectations

Clarity is very important when recruiting volunteers for your annual campaign. Keep in mind that people don’t process as much through their ears as they do through their eyes. With this in mind, bring a written volunteer job description with you to the recruitment meeting. Explain verbally what you need them to do, and then leave the written volunteer description with them.

Providing something in writing does a few things:

  1. It gives them more information to process and reinforces everything that you told them verbally .
  2. It sends a strong signal that you are NOT “soft selling” them on what you need. (aka there is nothing up my sleeve and you can trust me not to pull the old fashion bait-n-switch)

Finally, when you get back to your office after the recruitment call, send a letter thanking them for their time and consideration. Use some of the space in that letter to reinforce what you asked them to do along with some of the important dates/times you asked them to mark off in their calendar. Repetition is the key to getting people to hear you.

Have you ever wondered why people agree to work pledge cards and then drag their feet on actually doing it? If so, go back and re-read this section because I am willing to bet that it is possible those volunteers didn’t have a clear understanding of what was being asked of them.


After securing a ‘YES’ from your prospective fundraising volunteer, you need to do everything possible to get them focused on your agency’s mission. Take them on a tour of your facilities. Introduce them to clients. Get them to understand your  ‘case for support’  inside out.

One of the biggest reasons people are afraid of asking others to join them in making a charitable contribution to your organization is because they can’t get it out of their head that they are not asking for themselves.

If you can help a volunteer understand in their heart that they are asking on behalf of your clients, then you’ve just cleared a major hurdle.

This is easier said than done and it won’t be accomplished by simply handing then your case statement.

Involve volunteers in cultivation

Too often, fundraising volunteers are fearful of making the ask because they think they’re asking friends to do something they don’t want to do. They haven’t been on all of the cultivation calls that you’ve been on, and they haven’t seen their friends and colleagues open their hearts to your mission like you have seen.

Simply involving your campaign volunteers in the cultivation or stewardship process before asking them to “get out there and ask for a contribution” will show them that they have permission to make the ask.

It will also go a long way in helping you change the stereotypical picture of what that fundraising call is likely going to look like.

What else have you done to help your fundraising volunteers change their mental picture? Please use the comment box below to share suggestions and best practices. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

What non-profits can learn from a homeless man in Indianapolis

A few weeks ago I attended Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Midwest Leadership Conference in Indianapolis as an exhibitor. I love conferences because they are great opportunities to learn and meet new people.

However, this time I walked away a little surprised at myself because the biggest takeaway for me didn’t come from any of the sessions or people I met, it was an ah-ha moment generated by a homeless person panhandling on the streets of downtown Indianapolis.

Meet Fred (or at least that was what I was told his name was).  Fred is homeless and needs money. His revenue generating strategy is to sit on the street and ask people to give him money.  From what I’ve seen, this is a fairly typical strategy employed by many homeless panhandlers.

However, Fred knows something that many non-profit organizations don’t understand and something that Seth Godin blogged about this morning:

The easiest way to get people to do what you want them to do… is to start with people who want what you want.

Please take a close look at the two pictures of Fred that I’ve included in this morning’s blog post.

Fred’s revenue strategy goes beyond the typical homeless person’s approach that I’ve seen, which includes tugging at my heart with a story about being stranded, cold, down on their luck, or hungry.

Fred figures that you already know the typical homeless person’s case for support, and he communicates that without having to say a word. However, he is trying to do something that makes him stand out from every other homeless person in downtown Indianapolis.

As you can see from these two pictures, he is flashing a simple message about the Presidential election to people who pass him on the street. If he sizes you up as a Republican, he flashes his anti-Obama sign. If he thinks you’re a Democrat, then he reaches for his anti-Romney sign.

Here are a few things that I think non-profit organizations can learn from Fred:

  • A picture is worth a thousand words. Your case for support can be effectively supplemented using a visual or picture.
  • Know your audience. Your case for support doesn’t change, but how you talk about it and present it can vary based upon your audience. Segmenting and targeting your audiences is critical to your fundraising success.
  • Grab their attention. Prospects and donors are bombarded every day (in fact every minute of every day) with information from other non-profits and for-profits. You need to figure out how to cut through that noise if you want consideration. (Note: I wouldn’t advise that you use Fred’s tactic, but whatever you decide to do, it should be equally effective)
  • Personalize your message. Fred’s approach of sizing people up by guessing their political affiliation base upon your appearance sends a powerful message of:   “Oh, he is talking to me“.   I’ve always believed that “general appeals, get generally ignored”.
  • A smile and good humor go far. OMG . . . everyone is so serious and uptight nowadays. Using humor (e.g. jokes) can be dangerous when talking about serious issues; however, smiling, good humor (e.g. mood, temper, state of feeling, etc), and having fun when cultivating, soliciting or stewarding prospects and donors will likely set you apart from others.

Again, Seth Godin summed it up best in his post this morning better and quicker than I can: “The easiest way to get people to do what you want them to do… is to start with people who want what you want.

Not only did I want Fred to get some food in his belly and get off of the street, but I wanted to laugh along and join in the joke that: 1) my small contribution can sway his vote in November and 2) this down on his luck gentleman was mocking Obama and Romney for their pandering to voters and donors. LOL   (Maybe I’m over-thinking this, but I think I’m close)

How have you targeted your prospects and donors? How have you adjusted your messaging to different audiences without changing your case for support? What appropriate visuals have you used to convey and supplement your case for support? How do you prepare and support your volunteers to have fun, smile and break through the noise with their network of friends with your case?

Please use the comment section below to share your thoughts and experiences. Not only can we all learn from each other, but we can learn from some unexpected and surprising people.  Please take a minute or two out of your busy day and share with your fellow non-profit professionals and volunteers.

Here’s to your health!

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

More lapsed donor best practices

For the last few days, we’ve been talking about lapsed donors. On Tuesday, the discussion started with a personal example of a LYBUNT letter from HRC. Yesterday, we talked about one lapsed donor reactivation strategy that Gail Perry at Fired-Up Fundraising talks a lot about. Today, I am circling back around to the HRC lapsed donor letter that started this entire discussion.

A few days ago, I was critical of the tone in HRC’s lapsed donor letter as well as their ineffective list segmenting efforts. Putting those criticisms aside, it is clear that the folks who constructed HRC’s LYBUNT letter were successful at employing a number of other best practices, such as:

  • They tried to be very personal and mentioned me by name a number of different times throughout the letter and response card.
  • They pointed to a number of their recent accomplishments in an effort to say that another investment from me would be well used by them.
  • They spoke of a few deadlines to create a sense of urgency.

The best practice that I liked the most was that they included a survey in the envelope and asked for feedback. The survey started off with this language:

“Erik, if you have decided not to renew your HRC membership, please let us know why by completing this brief survey and returning it right way in the envelope provided. Your input will help HRC understand the reasons for your decision and help HRC strengthen our grassroots support . . .”

I really like this language because it clearly communicates one simple message:

“We’re listening and what you have to say is important to us!”

The survey was short and sweet and to the point. They asked the following four questions:

  • Which HRC accomplishment are you most proud of helping make possible over the past year?
  • Why have you decided not to renew your HRC membership for 2012? (please check all that apply)
  • Which of the following statements best describes your view of HRC’s advocacy efforts?
  • Please rank the following HRC advocacy priorities in order of importance (1 = most important)

Obviously, these were multiple choice questions, and the entire survey takes no more than 30 seconds to complete before sliding it into a “business reply mail” envelope.

What best practices have you used to reactivate lapsed donors? What have you seen other non-profit organizations do that struck you as particularly effective? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other because no one has time nowadays to re-invent the wheel.

Here’s to your health!

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

Reactivating lapsed donors doesn’t have to be complicated

Yesterday, my blog post titled “Take great care when trying to reactivate your LYBUNT donors” focused on a direct mail story of mine that I thought contained some valuable lessons for all of us. Today, I will attempt to pivot and start a discussion about simple things you can do to reactivate lapsed donors at the end of the year.

Last week, I spent the entire week in Indianapolis at Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Midwest Leadership Conference as an exhibitor and trainer. When I saw one of my favorite bloggers — Gail Perry at Fired-Up Fundraising — as a general session speaker, I got very excited because she is a bundle of energy when it comes to fundraising.

As she dazzled the audience with her fundraising stories, she turned her attention for just a moment to the idea of reactivating lapsed donors. She talked about the boring, ineffective and sometimes upsetting LYBUNT letters (like the one I talked about in yesterday’s post) that too many non-profit organizations use at the end of the year to re-engage lapsed donors. While direct mail is probably a necessary re-engagement tool, Gail suggested that throwing a party for some of those donors might be a better strategy. She shared a story about such a party that she had themed:

“We love you, we miss you, we want you back!”

These 10 simple words got my mental wheels turning. I envisioned a Thanksgiving or holiday themed event with a room full of lapsed donors who didn’t pay a penny to attend. I pictured mission-focused activities and possibly even activities (e.g. focus groups) designed to solicit input on how to improve your fundraising and donor communication programs.

Hmmm . . . how does this strategy compare to the HRC letter strategy that I talked about in yesterday’s post? For me, it feels like night and day. I like Gail’s suggestion of throwing a party for the following reasons:

  1. It feels personal
  2. It is what we do with our family and friends (and aren’t donors part of our extended family and friends circle)
  3. It is fun and energetic
  4. It fits with the spirit of the season
  5. It sends a donor-centered message rather than a “me-me-me” message

For some non-profit agencies that have a large direct mail program and hundreds (or thousands) of lapsed donors, this strategy might be a little more difficult to implement. However, this problem is easily overcome by segmenting your LYBUNT report into two lists: 1) those who get invited to a party and solicited at the event or using a follow-up solicitation letter AND 2) those who just get a well-crafted, personal LYBUNT letter that doesn’t use “guilt” as the message.

There is literally a bushel basket full of good ideas and best practices when it comes to reactivating your lapsed donors at the end of the year. Throwing a party is just one of those ideas.

Would you please take 60 seconds out of your busy day and share one idea from your agency’s year-end LYBUNT strategy playbook? You can easily and quickly do this by using the comment box found at the bottom of this blog page. Please? After all, we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

What is your non-profit agency’s year-end giving strategy?

Facts are facts, and there is only one week left before non-profit organizations enter the fourth quarter of the year. The reality is that the fourth quarter is challenging for all companies because of the holidays, year-end evaluations, and a race to close budget gaps; however, the last three months of the year are especially important for many non-profit agencies.

According to a 2011 year-end survey conducted by Charity Navigator, the average respondent said they “. . . receive 41% of their annual contributions in the last few weeks of the year“.

The end of the year is even more critical for those non-profits whose revenue model contains ePhilanthropy strategies. The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Jessica Dickler reported last year that a study conducted by Network for Good estimates that “. . . one-third of all online giving for the year occurs in December . . .” She added that “. . . 22% [of online giving] happens in the last two days of the year“.

All of this explains why my inbox is getting bombarded with emails providing tips about year-end fundraising strategies.

With so many people wanting to give to charities during the holidays, a non-fundraising person might wonder what all of the fuss is about. After all, it kind of sounds like “shooting fish in a barrel”. Right?  But don’t fool yourself! The holiday season comes with special challenges that don’t exist at other times of the year. For example . . .

  • Time is at a premium (e.g. holiday parties, shopping, etc), and no one has any time to sit down with a volunteer solicitor with a pledge card.
  • There is lots of noise (e.g. lots of commercials, specials, sales, and initiatives), and it is hard to breakthrough with your messaging without a bazooka cannon.
  • There is lots of competition (e.g. every non-profit organization is asking) compared to earlier in the year when your annual campaign might only be up against a few other similar campaigns at the same time.

I suspect that these challenges are part of the reason why 60 corporations and non-profit organizations are attempting to launch a social media campaign the Tuesday after Thanksgiving called #GivingTuesday.

I won’t even try to use my remaining space to provide you with a “Top 10 list” of tips because there are so many great resources available. However, I will take this opportunity to implore you to be thoughtful and put a plan together on how your agency will navigate the fundraising seas during the fourth quarter of the year. (Pssst . . . and you should put that plan together quickly. Maybe by Friday of this week)

The following are just a few great online resources I suggest you check-out:

Is your agency gearing up for the fourth quarter? What fundraising strategies are in your year-end plans? Do you have any fun new donor segmenting ideas, email tactics or social media plans? Please scroll down and your thoughts in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Non-profit inside-the-box thinking: Sell-Sell-Sell ! ! !

As promised in last Friday’s post, I dedicated Tuesday, yesterday and today to challenging proponents of “outside-the-box thinking” and examining various “inside-the-box thinking” principles. This week’s posts were determined by DonorDreams blog subscribers who took the time to voice their opinions via a poll last Friday. Thank you to those of you who voted. Additionally, the foundation of these posts are rooted in Kirk Cheyfitz’s book “Thinking Insider The Box: The 12 Timeless Rules for Managing a Successful Business.” 

DonorDreams blog subscribers voted to hear more about chapter six of Cheyfitz’s book, which is titled “The Marketing Box: Unifying the Whole Business”.

I love how the author starts each chapter with a short sentence that serves as “food for thought”.  The following is how chapter six started:

You should be selling all the time.”

This is a complex chapter and a little mind-bending because the author contends that the average person’s idea about marketing is all wrong. Most people equate marketing with advertising, when in reality it is much bigger. He says in the book:

“Economists, academics, and marketing professionals have come to see marketing this way — as the single discipline that embraces and unites virtually every aspect of business activity. Marketing: Guides production . . . Governs distribution . . . Controls advertising, promotion and all marketing communications . . . Peter Drucker has written that business’s only purpose is “to create a customer,” and because of that, “marketing and innovation” are the two basic functions of business”.

Well . . . WOW! In a nutshell, Cheyfitz is saying:

Marketing is everything and

successful businesses do it all the time!

As I said in yesterday’s post, this concept is a little difficult to apply to non-profit corporations because the word “customer” usually conjures up images of clients and donors (or both) depending on which chair you sit in. Unlike yesterday, I won’t limit today’s blog to just talking about donors. I will attempt to GO GLOBAL.

I could probably write pages and pages on this topic because there is a lot of ground to cover. Instead, I will start a laundry list of examples and hand-off the baton to you so you can continue it in the comment section.

The following are just a few examples of  marketing (and you will see how it unifies everything we do):

  • How your program staff talks to and treats clients is marketing because it shapes the perceptions of your brand in the community among volunteers, donors, potential staff, prospective donors and future board members.
  • The decision to create a new program and write a big grant to get it off the ground is marketing. You are sending messages to people around you about what is important and what is a priority. These messages get picked up by volunteers, staff, clients, and donors. They in turn amplify these messages throughout the community. These actions and messages will even impact the long-term sustainability of your new program depending on donor perceptions.
  • Sticking with the creation of new programming from the last bullet point . . . talking with clients and prospective clients before making the decision to offer that new service is marketing. If your new program doesn’t fill a community need and your actual or potential clients, then it is your initiative will likely failure (which will likely have a ripple effect among donors, etc).
  • How and what the executive director says to or does with their staff is marketing. When they tell co-workers that the agency has challenges, it impacts staff turnover and in turn affects program quality and how the donor community’s perceptions of their investments.
  • Talking to volunteers and donors before developing another special event fundraiser is marketing. You need to determine if people will support this new idea before investing time and money into developing it.
  • What an executive director includes in the board packet and says in the boardroom is marketing. All of those messages get amplified by your community ambassadors (aka board volunteers) on the street when they’re networking.

Cheyfitz tells us that marketing happens pre-production, during production, and definitely after production. In non-profit terms, it happens before the donor writes the check, during the solicitation process, and in-between gifts for the duration of your relationship with that donor. More specifically, marketing happens during every waking moment of a non-profit professional’s life in their dealing with staff, volunteers, clients, board members, donors, and the community-at-large.

At the end of this chapter, Cheyfitz offers six different tips on how to build your organization’s box rather as opposed to thinking outside of it. I won’t ruin the surprise (because you should buy this book and read it), but I will share two of his tips to whet your appetite:

  1. Marketing (in other words everything you do) must unify every aspect of a business around one purpose: creating a customer.
  2. Every time a company touches a customer, there is an opportunity to win or lose that customer. These opportunities must be maximized, not avoided.

How does your organization see and approach “marketing”? Are you trying to thread the idea of marketing throughout everything you do? If so, can you share a few examples? How do you prepare others (e.g. staff, board members, etc) to communicate and demonstrate what your agency is all about? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

Non-profit “inside the box thinking” — Understanding change

As promised in last Friday’s post, I am dedicating today, tomorrow and Thursday to challenging proponents of “outside-the-box thinking” and examining various “inside-the-box thinking” principles. This week’s posts were determined by DonorDreams blog subscribers who took the time to voice their opinions via a poll last Friday. Thank you to those of you who voted. Additionally, the foundation of these posts are rooted in Kirk Cheyfitz’s book “Thinking Insider The Box: The 12 Timeless Rules for Managing a Successful Business.” 

DonorDreams blog subscribers voted to hear more about chapter one of Cheyfitz’s book, which is titled “The Basic Box: Some Things Never Change”.

I love how the author starts each chapter with a short sentence that serves as “food for thought”. The following is how chapter one was started:

Know the difference between what will change and what won’t, and pay attention to the former.”

Most of this chapter talks about how some economists and many pundits are flat wrong about what they see as a “new economy”. He points to the dot-com bust of 2001 and talks about how ignoring human behavior and the basic principles of capitalism will get you and your company in trouble all of the time.

This chapter got me thinking about Gail Perry’s recent post titled “Post Recession Donors Have Changed” over at her Fired Up Fundraising blog.

After reading Perry’s post about donors, I realized the following:

  • There will always be donors regardless of how good, bad or sluggish the economy is. This will never change.
  • The mindset of those donors and conditions upon which they will donate is always evolving. This is constantly changing.

Cheyfitz’s encourages us to pay attention to “what will change” because not focusing on the ever-changing landscape is what puts too many companies (both for-profit and non-profit) out-of-business.

Gail Perry tells us in her blog that post-recession donors . . .

  • trust non-profit agencies less than they used to,
  • crave more information about ROI,
  • want to see more transparency, and
  • want to contribute to fewer unrestricted fundraising campaigns.

Read Gail’s blog for a few great tips on how to use “inside-the-box thinking” to address these perceived trends in the donor community.

There are also many other interesting trends occurring in the donor community:

  • technology’s impact on giving,
  • technology’s impact of cultivation and stewardship activities, and
  • donor communications moving  from one-way to two-way communications.

Cheyfitz urges us to not focus on “the shiny object” (in this case it would be technology) and throw what works out the window for what we don’t understand (e.g. ePhilanthropy). However, he does not tell us to ignore the changes that are starting to happen. Instead, he point to the words that are chiseled above the entrance of the National Archives in Washington, D.C.:

“The past is prologue”

He ends the chapter by saying, “Paying attention to history, in short, can save a lot of time and pain and produce a lot of gain.”

The non-profit sector has seen this kind of change in communication technology before, right? I am thinking about the rise of “direct mail” and how that changed how we cultivate, solicit, and steward donors today.

I suspect that non-profits, who tossed their special events and peer-to-peer annual campaigns onto the trash heap and invested everything they had into direct mail, probably went out of business. Those who survived kept their eyes on the trend, engaged their donors in thoughtful discussions about their preferences with direct mail, and proceeded forward with caution and strategic focus.

Again . . . outside-the box thinking will sink you, and inside-the-box thinking will keep you afloat.

At the end of every chapter, Cheyfitz provides a few tips on how to “build your box” so that you can think inside of it. He offered four tips at the end of chapter one, but the last tip struck me as very appropriate for non-profit organizations during these challenging and changing times (read the word “customer” as “donor” to help with the non-profit translation):

“Use your time to focus on how your customers’ lives are changing and how you can serve their emerging needs with new products and services (delivered using the same old business models).”

Are your donors behaving different after the economic crash of 2008? What is your donor data telling showing? What are donors telling you? What kinds of “inside-the-box” best practices are you employing to thrive in this new economic climate? Please scroll down and use the comment box to share a thought or two with your fellow non-profit professionals this morning.

Here’s to your health!

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

How many of your non-profit donors are “lurkers”?

A few days ago, while vacationing in Michigan for the Labor Day weekend, I started reading “The Social Media Bible” by Lon Safko. As the pages turned and I read about marketing within a social media framework (including tactics, tools and strategies), I can’t tell you how many “ah-ha” and “hmmmm” fundraising moments that I experienced. Yesterday, the book inspired me to post about the costs associated with bad word of mouth and how this should evolve into a “generative question” around which to organize your board meetings. Today, the book has me looking at your donors very differently.

In the very early pages of this book (page 29), the author describes the various “phases in the membership life cycle” for social media users:

  • Lurkers — These users view content, but don’t participate.
  • Novices — These users view content, and periodically provide content.
  • Insiders — These users are regularly providing content, commenting, etc.
  • Leaders –These users are veterans and everyone watches what they do.
  • Elders — These users have left the network for any number of reasons.

After reading this page, I found myself thinking about donor database segmentation practices (because the social media content provider pyramid graphic reminded me so much of a tradition range of gifts chart donor pyramid).

In a white paper written by Roy Wollen and Bonnie Massa, they talk about five ways to segment a donor database (including why to do it). They describe various donor groups as follows:

  • Low dollar donors, volunteers, constituents, past & present employees
  • Buyers (e.g. those people who attended an event, bought something from you, subscribed to something, etc)
  • Lapsed donors
  • High dollar donors
  • Members, benefactors, patrons
  • Institutional givers

In the end, we segment people into groups because we understand that different groups have different dynamics and needs. Once this revelation hits us, we understand that “one-size-fits-all” fundraising solicitation strategies don’t work. Sending a letter to an institutional giver might get you a handful of dollars, but it will fall short of what they can and will donate to your cause. For this reason, a major gifts strategy is probably the right tool.

Conversely, employing a major gifts strategy is overkill and too expensive for the legion of low dollar donors that reside in your donor database.

Once you realize how important segmentation is to the success of your resource development program, a flood of new questions come down the pike, such as:

  • How many database records exist in each segment?
  • What characteristics and needs exist for each group? (e.g. what makes them tick)
  • Which solicitation tools in my fundraising toolbox work best for each group?
  • What stewardship activities do I need to employ with each group to maximize the odds of moving them from one group to the another?
  • Are there things I can do to increase each groups “frequency” of donation and “size” of contribution?
  • What is the ROI (e.g. the cost of raise one dollar) for each group? If I shift my attention ratio around, will I raise more money?
  • What metrics should I be tracking?

Ahhhhh, yes. It suddenly becomes a brave new world and your fundraising perspective changes quite quickly. Perhaps, that resource development audit or donor database review takes a different shape or level of importance now?  😉

Does your non-profit organization segment its donors? How do you do it? Into what categories do you use? What metrics are you tracking and how? Has your approach changed as a result? How many social media “lurkers” exist on your agency’s various social media platforms, and how many “lurkers” exist in your donor database?

Please scroll down and share your answers and thoughts using the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

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