Because you know it's all about that list

A few years ago, Meghan Trainor released a song titled “All About That Bass,” and it immediately resonated with the world. For whatever reason, that song is rumbling through my head this morning as I think about your organization’s year-end fundraising efforts. Of course, I’m changing the lyrics to the song to make it more appropriate for fundraising professionals, and it is starting to sound a little bit like this:

Because you know I’m all about that list
‘Bout that list, no envelope
I’m all about that list
‘Bout that list, no response card
I’m all about that list
‘Bout that list, no letter
I’m all about that list
‘Bout that list … list … list … list

Just in case you have no idea what song I’m butchering, check out Meghan Trainor’s music video on YouTube.

You’re probably wondering what I mean when I say I’m not about the envelope, response card, letter, etc. in my silly, made-up song lyrics.
I don’t mean to imply those elements of your year-end holiday mail appeal aren’t important. Because, of course, they are. However, those things are considerations for you down the road.
In my opinion, your first order of business is pulling together a good mailing list.
the listWithout a good list of donors, your year-end mail appeal will fall very flat and likely not raise very much money. Some direct mail experts, such as the folks at zairmail, have said the quality of your list can account for up to 70% of your year-end fundraising success.
When I worked on my last year-end holiday mail campaign, here were some of the lists I pulled from to create my larger prospect list:

  • Donors who already gave once this calendar year
  • Donors who traditionally only give to year-end holiday appeals
  • Targeted prospects from various lists I had purchased from mail house throughout the years

Typically, I didn’t blanket this group of prospects with the same appeal letter. Instead, I would target different letters with different messages to each niche group of prospects, and then I’d track the response rates and evaluate what worked (or didn’t work) so I could make adjustments next year.
With more than half of 2015 gone, I’m encouraging you not to wait until October or November to start thinking about your year-end holiday appeal efforts.

Start today!

And don’t start working on issues like what the letter says or what the mail package looks like. Those things can be put on the back burner for a few more weeks, but thinking about your list is something you can be (and should be) working on today. After all, it is the one most important elements of your year-end appeal that will make or break you.
Here are a few things you might want to consider doing in the next 30 days:

  • Make a decision on who you plan to include on your year-end holiday appeal and start pulling those lists
  • Scan the list for donors with high giving capacity and make plans to call them and sit down with them before the end of the summer (not to solicit them . . . just a cultivation or stewardship visit)
  • Make plans to communicate with everyone people on this list at least two of three things before your send them a fundraising appeal in early November

The following is a short list of communication tactics you might want to consider:

  • Send everyone a “Christmas in July” holiday card (or if you want to keep it non-religious simply make it a mid-year holiday card)
  • Mail out a newsletter or e-newsletter
  • Develop and distribute a mid-year impact report
  • Create a targeted social media distribution list comprised of your year-end fundraising appeal prospects and start tweeting or posting semi-regularly about how your organization is getting ready for year-end programming with clients

In effect, you are warming your pool of prospects and donors, which should improve your response rate.
If you do this pre-holiday communication strategy correctly, you might even be able to reference something you said mid-year in your year-end appeal letter. Doing so, will be a gentle reminder to the donor that you’ve been talking to them about your case for support for a long time. Essentially, the ask won’t feel so sudden and abrupt.
The other reasons I like the idea of starting now rather than waiting is because:

  • It allows you to reach out mid-year LYBUNT/SYBUNT donors and gives you time to address issues they might have with your organization (which is likely what has kept them from renewing their support)
  • It also gives you an opportunity to be more personal and intentional with higher capacity donors who might make a smaller token contribution if asked via direct mail at the end of the year instead of an in-person solicitation

Where is your organization at with planning for its year-end fundraising efforts? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and activities in the comment box. Not only can we learn from each other, but we can inspire each other too.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Is your non-profit ready for the homestretch of 2013?

yearend5Don’t look now, but we are seven weeks away from drinking champagne and celebrating the end of 2013 and the start of a Happy New Year 2014. It is this time of the year when non-profit organizations are super busy. Many of you are closing out your fiscal year, and almost every non-profit with a pulse is executing its year-end giving strategy.
According to a survey by Charity Navigator, respondents reported that they expect to raise 40% of their annual revenue budget between Thanksgiving and New Years.
Holy Cow! Year-end giving is a big deal for many non-profit organizations, which is why I’m dedicating today’s post to just a few giving strategies I see being employed or talked about by my friends.
Traditional year-end appeals letter
There are many different “schools of thought” on how to craft the perfect year-end appeals letter. I’ve seen all of my favorite bloggers weigh-in on this subject. The funny thing is that each and every one of them have a slightly different take on the same subject.

  • Long letter vs. short letter
  • The importance of cross-channel promotion or not
  • Send the letter early or closer to Thanksgiving

mailboxesI just finished helping a client with their year-end mail appeal. The executive director called on Friday to report the letters were delivered to the post office and we both did a little happy dance. The next thing on his year-end fundraising task list is preparing for the phone-a-thon follow-up the week of Thanksgiving.
If you are like most non-profit organizations, you are doing something traditional like sending a letter. Hopefully, you’ve already sent it or are very close to doing so, but here are just a few thoughts of my own on this very popular subject:

  • The letter must be emotional and pull at heart-strings
  • The letter must tell a story about impact and not focus on your agency’s needs
  • A matching gift is a tremendous incentive that sets you apart from lots and lots of other appeals
  • Go light on the stats and data . . . let the story be the feature and sprinkle outcomes data into your story sparingly
  • Don’t be overly fixated on restricting your letter to one page . . . tell your story
  • Use lots of white space, pictures and graphics
  • Keep in mind how readers read . . . write your letter accordingly (e.g. personalized salutation, ask for a specific contribution in the first paragraph, influential signature, catchy post script)
  • You need to design a great outer envelope . . . entice people to open the envelope and read your request or your awesome letter is worthless (e.g. handwritten names and addresses on the outside envelope)
  • Follow-up . . . organize your board members in a phone-a-thon and send a follow-up postcard or another appeal before New Years Eve

If you don’t like my suggestions or are looking for more advice, here are a few additional links to bloggers who are amazing:

Amazon-Smile-300x300Holiday shopping appeals
Perhaps you didn’t notice, but there are lots and lots of people spending lots and lots of money on gifts for family and friends. Something about “’tis the season“.
With this is mind, there is a big year-end giving trend that has materialized over the last decade or so where non-profit organizations try to tie their year-end appeal to those shopping habits. It is typically rooted in cause-related marketing efforts as retails try to differentiate themselves from their competitors, seize the halo effect and drive foot traffic through their doors using charitable goodwill.
I can almost hear those cashiers asking, “Would you like to donate a dollar to . . .”
A good friend of mind and fellow blogger — Dani Robbins — just informed me via Google+ that has a new charitable giving program called AmazonSmile. In a nutshell, Amazon shoppers will be able to donate 0.5% of their purchase to a charity of their choosing (as long as that charity can be found on Guidestar AND is registered with Amazon).
Is your agency participating in AmazonSmile? Click here is you want to learn more.
giving tuesday#GivingTuesday
What?!? You haven’t heard of #GivingTuesday?
I guess you get a pass because last year was the first time the non-profit sector attempted to get this “national day of giving” off of the ground.
In a nutshell, there were 2,500 giving partners located in all 50 states. More than 50 million people worldwide helped promote this day by posting, tweeting and generally talking about it on social media. Both Blackbaud and DonorPerfect reported an increase in giving resulting from these efforts.
Will your non-profit organization participate in the second annual #GivingTuesday this year? If so, then . . .

  • Mark your calendars for Tuesday, December 3, 2013
  • Start developing your online giving strategies to promote this opportunity to your donors
  • Get registered as an official partner

For more info, click here to read the #GivingTuesday FAQ page.
You might also want to do a little research on #GivingTuesday best practices. Hubspot published a great post titled “12 Ways to Amplify Your Giving Tuesday Campaign” that you may want to check out.
What does the homestretch look like for your non-profit organization’s fundraising efforts? Please use the comment box below to share. Why? Because we can all learn from each other, and it is the season of giving, of course!  😉
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Did fundraising cause the recent government shutdown?

shutdown1In the weeks leading up to the government shutdown, I heard some rumblings via the news media that Senator Ted Cruz and those aligned with him were dragging things out in Congress to maximize their online and direct mail fundraising efforts. To be honest, I didn’t give much thought to those accusations. They sounded like sour grapes and something partisan opponents would say in the heat of the moment. And then . . . when the government actually shut down, I started receiving a flood of email from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). This is when my fundraising spidey-sense started to tingle, and I started paying attention because there must be lessons to be learned for non-profit organizations somewhere in this mess.

Here is what the most recent DCCC fundraising email said:

Dear Erik —

Boehner’s Tea Party majority is teetering on the edge:

A new poll shows that Democrats are leading SEVENTEEN Republican Congressmen after the Tea Party-inspired shutdown. Guess how many seats we need to win back a Democratic Majority? 17.

Voters are done putting up with the extreme Tea Party antics that have paralyzed the government. We have to act quickly to press our advantage in these crucial races. Will you help us raise $500,000 immediately to take on vulnerable House Republicans?

Donate $3 IMMEDIATELY to the Democratic Majority Rapid Response Fund.

This shutdown could spell the end of the Tea Party controlled Republican Majority.

But if we want that to happen, we have to act now.

DCCC Rapid Reponse

I purposely omitted the hyperlinks and website addresses because my intention is to evaluate language and strategy and not raise money for the DCCC.

So, let’s strip out the partisanship and set aside our personal political feelings. Let’s avoid the temptation to point fingers. Let’s just look at the circumstances, strategies and verbiage in the letter from a “Just the facts, ma’am” perspective.

What do you see? What do you sense?

shutdown3Here is what I’m seeing:

  • I see a misspelling in the signature block.
  • I see a case for support spelled out in five simple sentences.
  • I see emotionally charged words intended to poke and prod me into action (e.g. teetering, extreme, paralyzed, etc).
  • I see a fundraising goal clearly articulated (e.g. $500,000).
  • I see a specific ask (e.g. Donate $3.00 immediately).
  • I sense the strategy here is to set a very low barrier to entry to entice first time donors. In other words, they poke me, I get upset, and the solution is as simple as just giving $3.00 to make things right again.
  • I see an email with a small handful of carefully worded sentences fitting neatly on my computer screen. I don’t need to scroll down to continue reading.
  • I see short easy to read sentences. The longest sentence was 16 words long.

There is so much that you can learn if you just keep your eyes, ears and mind open. Professional fundraisers cram your mailbox and email inbox full of examples every day. Are you paying attention? Because with a little discipline you can teach yourself a lot in a short period of time.

Let’s circle back to the question I pose in the headline of this blog post:

Did fundraising cause the recent government shutdown?

I think a case can be made for the answer to this question being “YES”.

There is so much noise being made in our political arena on a daily basis that many people tune things out. I know that I am as guilty as others in this regard. So, when you have fundraising goals to hit, then your case for support needs to be very big and noisy in order to get people’s attention.

I believe the lesson to be learned here for non-profit organizations is that your case for support is powerful. It is the engine at the center of your resource development plan. It is the jet fuel for all of your fundraising appeals regardless of whether it is a direct mail appeal, email, social media, telephone solicitation, face-to-face pledge drive or special event.

shutdown2When crafting your case for support, this is what our friends in the political fundraising world seem to be telling their non-profit cousins:

  • Make it emotional
  • Focus on an issue that people care about
  • Choose an issue that donors and the media will talk about and magnify
  • Wrap marketing efforts around your fundraising efforts
  • Where possible, infuse advocacy into the appeal

For those of you who are skeptical and find yourself thinking at the end of this blog post that non-profit organizations can’t “manufacture” a crisis and weave it into a case for support like politicians, then let me suggest that you open your mind a little more.

I cannot tell you how many agencies I’ve seen neglect their buildings by minimally investing in maintenance and upkeep. In the final analysis, aren’t those agencies just slowly creating a powerful capital campaign case for support for down the road? Maybe it is purposeful and maybe it isn’t, but the fact that it is a manufactured crisis cannot be denied.

There are plenty of needs and gaps in our communities around which non-profit organizations can build a powerful case for support. We don’t need to manufacture crisis to raise money like our political counterparts, but it does happen more often than you think.

So, what are you waiting for?

It is the fourth quarter and year-end fundraising is one of the biggest shows on Earth. Start writing your case for support document today so you can transform it into an eloquent and powerful fundraising appeal in the next few weeks.

But whatever you do, please don’t “shutdown” your agency to make a buck or two. I suspect donors can only handle this strategy in small doses.  😉

And I am making a mental note to myself . . . perhaps, I need to stop tuning out politicians on a daily basis so they stop doing drastic things to get my attention.  😉   (Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.)

Here’s to your health!

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

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!/eanderson847