Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Blank Page

Many times, the topic for this blog comes from the strangest places. It could be a long plane ride, or something I've read in the news lately or just from something that frustrates me. But each and every one starts with a blank page. When I was working on my first Master's degree I learned a lot about the "tabula rasa" or blank slate. 

And you know what? That's how we start with our donors. We have a blank slate, a opportunity to build an amazing relationship with them and to ensure that what we write has power and meaning to them. At times the blank page can become overwhelming. I always like to start when I'm writing for donors by typing the theme words or goals of what I'm trying to accomplish with my writing at the top of the page. It makes the page less lonely and keeps me focused on my theme and the important part. I also write at the top of the page the following, "It's not about you, it's about the donor." That really helps me keep things in perspective.

If all else fails and I'm really in a rut, I might try taking someone else's sample, that's why I started the writing swaps on my website years ago, and adapt it to my needs. I find that at times that blank slate can be completely intimidating and will overwhelm you. How do we convey such profound gratitude to others while making our message clear? How do we not get lost in jargon and telling someone all about us? We keep focused, we drive the message home that the donor is the hero and we are humbled by their generosity.

Also I like to model my writing from others who inspire me. I'm a voracious reader and find that the more I read, the better writer I become. I'm not flowery or poetic, I'm more a Hemingway kinda girl. Some people say my emails resemble tweets they're so short. I call them efficient. With our donors, remember that every second to them is precious and we need to respect that. Why tell them in two pages what two good paragraphs could have done? As you think about how we communicate and write for our donors what are the things you take into account? What are the behaviors that others have in their writing that you would like to imitate or that drive you bonkers? 

"If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter." - Blaise Pascal

Thursday, February 19, 2015

How Does Your Organization Stand Out to Donors?

According to multiple studies, those in our populations who are philanthropic do so with multiple organizations. Most people who give their wealth and resources do not do so with just one organization. This creates a competitive charitable environment. So what are you doing to allow your organization to stand out in the minds and hearts of these donors? How are you able to obtain a larger share of their philanthropic giving? What follows are just some of my tips to help you focus your efforts.

Demonstrate impact - One of the things that sets great organizations apart from good organizations is their consistent ability to show their donors where their money was spent and how it was spent and the impact of that investment on the organization. Might I say here that the other caveat is that these organizations make the donor the hero, and don't glamorize just the organization and leave the donor in the dust. It's not about you.

Don't waste their time- Most philanthropic people, heck, all people are busy. With work and life and family and activities and blizzards. Who has time to read a 4 page newsletter? Not the folks you're trying to reach. Remember the #1 way to access information about your organization is through the internet and the vast majority of information on the internet is accessed through mobile devices. If the donor has to scroll through more than three screens, you've lost them. Period. Average attention span of an adult is 7 seconds, a goldfish, 8 seconds. Need I say more?

Don't overwhelm with tons of info about you- Because this isn't about YOU. It's one thing to inform and educate, it's a totally different thing to shove your prefabricated mission and vision down people's throats. Give information in digestible forms. Become an expert at storytelling. If you tell a good story, they'll remember the facts. Use infographics and creative ways to express your data.

Be clever- If everyone else does it, why are you a lemming? Stand out and embrace creativity. Don't think outside the box, the box doesn't exist. Seriously if I receive one more solicitation that is 2 or more pages front and back in a windowed #10 envelope... grrr. What's wrong with taking a risk? Time to break free from the old standard and reinvent yourself. You'll attract new donors and impress the ones you already have.

Involve others to help you- I'm talking board members and volunteers here people. At MINIMUM your board has to have 100% participation in giving. With NO exceptions. If they don't give, why should I? If they don't like fundraising, great, have them thank donors instead. Everyone can have a role in helping your organization fundraise, it's not all about the ask. Peer to peer is the best. I've given to probably 40-50 organizations last year. Do you know how many phone calls or thank yous from board or volunteers I've received? ZERO. sigh.

What are your thoughts? How do you stand out from the crowd?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

And If Everyone Else Jumps off a Cliff?

I enjoy receiving emails from folks all over the world asking for advice. I do my best to answer them within 24 hours and ensure I give real life advice from my experiences and based on best and next practices. 

Here is an example of an email that suggests to me that sometimes we have a larger problem facing us. "My supervisor said that Nonprofit X is doing (insert horrible practice here) and that we should do it too". Le Sigh. Just because another organization does it or that it worked in one instance doesn't mean it's best practice or even a legal practice. 

Here are some of the examples I've read lately that make my stomach flip:
- putting a business reply envelope in with the receipt
- withholding scholarship money from a student because they didn't write a note to a donor
- giving an acrylic tchotcke/paperweight to a donor with their name inscribed on it for their deferred gift
- putting the link to the giving website on every single communication
- ignoring donor retention numbers and instead only focusing on alumni participation

Like your mother said growing up, just because Jimmy jumps off a cliff, are you going to do it too? I think that there are a few horrible reasons to do something in the nonprofit sector and here are my "hit list":
- We've always done it that way
- "So and So" does this
- One of our donors says they like it
- XX Vendor says it works for them at XX organization

How are you challenging assumptions? Are you using guiding principals to help you make decisions? When something doesn't "feel right" are you questioning it? I have to tell you that if you let data drive your efforts, some of these pitfalls are easy to avoid. Also your general counsel and others can help you stay out of a danger zone as well. We all want to do better for our organizations. If we didn't we wouldn't be in this industry. We care, about our mission, about our supporters, about our work. So why do we succumb to these pressures? Because we aren't always provided with wonderful alternatives. We have to be advocates for our donors and supporters. Remember, if it doesn't benefit the donor, we shouldn't be doing it.

Help me help you fight the good fight and question authority. It's perfectly acceptable to reason something out and use empirical evidence rather than anecdotal evidence. And if you need help, I'm only an email away.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the issue. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The ROI of Donor Relations

Having the opportunity to help organizations change their relationships with donors is a phenomenal privilege. Combine that with helping them realize a boost to their bottom line through donor relations and I'm in hog heaven!

Donor relations has a tangible return on investment, every time, in every way. And we can prove it. Throughout my travels I meet people who say to me, "If only you knew the thrill of being a fundraiser." After I give them a major side eye, and note their nametag for future reference, I tell them that not only have I been a fundraiser, I AM a fundraiser. Donor relations makes money for an organization, more importantly, it keeps money from leaving.

Here are some recent examples of ROI through donor relations: One of my clients just redesigned their endowment reports and sent them out with a survey asking donors how they did. Not only did they receive wonderful feedback on their process and new reports, they also received over $25,000 in unsolicited gifts in those surveys. Same thing for another client. They went through the same arduous process of revamping endowed fund stewardship, and while it was at times painful and frustrating, no one is mad at the over $75,000 they received unsolicited in the mail with their feedback surveys. That's $100,000 none of us would turn down if it showed up in our bank accounts.

Think about it in another way. If donor relations does their job well and becomes retention experts, then we can prove the ROI of retention on our first time donors and donors over time. My friends at the Agitator talk about donor retention all the time, and their facts are dead on. So how do we prove the ROI of donor relations? We MUST track it. We need to look at retention rates, donors who upgrade, donors who make unsolicited gifts, and we need to say, wow... look at all of the money coming in as a result of making the donation process a joyful one. Acquisition of new donors is easy to track, it's also 7 times more expensive to obtain a new donor than it is to keep the one you have. What would a decrease of 10% in the acquisition budget and moving it to donor relations mean in terms of ROI? I can tell you , it means a great deal. 

Why do these numbers matter? Because leadership needs and wants them. In order to advocate for more resources, donor relations has to show a tangible ROI of every effort we do, both large and small. When I quantify the impact of donor relations on an organization, heads begin to swivel, fundraisers begin to take notice and the importance of donor relations rises. After all, it's very hard to ask for money from a donor who left your organization after their first donation...

What are your thoughts? How do you prove ROI of donor relations at your organization?