Thursday, December 7, 2017

Writing Considerations to Make it Fabulous!

As a follow-up to Lynne’s recent post in support of brevity in your writing, here are some other things to take in to consideration in your writing: 

1.     Know your audience.
Are they close to you? Can you skip the boilerplate?  The tone of writing of my colleague in gift planning is very differently than that of the annual fund gift officer soliciting young alumni.
2.     Make it about them.
No doubt you’re familiar with the acronym BOY:  Because Of You.  A great letter is not “here’s what we did last year” but “because of your support we were able to…”  Run your communication through a word counter.  How often do you use the words I and We in contrast to You.  Consider the difference between these two phrases:  “We fed 5.4M children last year” versus “With your help, we fed 5.4M children last year.”
3.     Be conversational.
I advocate using contractions in acknowledgements and solicitations.  You’re writing to a friend, ideally a true believer to your cause.  Resist the urge to fall into academic-speak!
4.     Be unique.
I cringe at the letters that begin “Fall is here, the leaves are changing, and students have returned to campus.”  I think it’s safe to say that sentiment is true of every educational institution north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  What is unique about your institution? Try instead something more like this:  Dust off your ga-ga ball and pick out your Shabbat outfit, because spring is in the air, and for us at Camp Young Judaea that can only mean one thing: it’s time to great ready for CAMP!
5.     Be direct.
You don’t have a lot of time to connect with your reader.  Supposedly you have 20 seconds to grab your reader, and that includes the eight seconds it takes to open the envelope.  If you’re making an ask, make it at least twice, once at the beginning (but not necessarily the opening paragraph) and again at the end. 
6.     Tell a story.
I call this putting a face on philanthropy.  People give to people or causes, not for the simple reason that you need money.  The best example of this is the well-known Charity: Water story of Helen Apio. 

In four short paragraphs the reader learns that Helen doesn’t have water in her village, and she must make the long walk each day to fetch water.  Once she has it, she faces the difficult decision of whether to drink it, clean clothes, or water her garden.  But thanks to your gift to Charity: Water, you’ve changed Helen’s life for the better.  Charity: Water has composed a mini-Shakespearean tragedy albeit with a happy ending.  Problem, struggle, reader empathy, happy outcome.
7.     Show impact.
Be specific about how their support will make a difference.  At Skidmore we often use the statistic that last year we provided 20 full-need scholarships from the collective impact of gifts of less than $100. 
8.     Have a call to action.
There’s a reason why late night infomercials insist you call within the next 15 minutes.  Give your reader a task and a timeline:  Make your Presidents Society gift by May 31!
9.     Rest and edit.

Once you’re written your solicitation or acknowledgement, put it aside.  Good writing, like good wine, benefits from an opportunity to breath.  Then edit the heck out of it! 

What principles do you follow in your advancement writing?

Thank you to Mary Solomons for her fantastic addition to the donor relations Guru blog this week!


Thursday, November 30, 2017

2017 #GivingTuesday Secret Shopper Review

It's giving season again! For the 5th consecutive year, I spent Giving Tuesday in generosity, giving to organizations near and far. I wish I had better news for the nonprofit community after giving 47 gifts on Tuesday, but I'm afraid I'm a bit of a broken record. The donor experience matters, from the FIRST CLICK! But many nonprofits are still ignoring the experience for online donors. Here is the spreadsheet of this year's giving and their reviews. Out of 30 gifts documented on the spreadsheet only 9 of them allowed me to share my gift on social media- really? And two of them asked me to share my gift but when I did the share button was not even configured!

Other details were also overlooked that affect the donor experience-the response emails were underwhelming at best from many nonprofits here are some of those:

And some had some weird form requirements and suggestions-

Also- the WORST, one organization after I had given for the first time that morning, emailed me two more times that day to ask me for additional gifts, and one organization demanded a $10 minimum donation. SIGH

But let's focus on the positive, the two organizations that did the best Tuesday were The Halo Trust and FIT- check out some of their images

Here are some other highlights- from giving amounts that tie to common sense support to wonderful thank yous!!

You see there are folks out there who get it! FOlks who break free from the shackles of convention and boring confirmations that are organization centered and understand that giving is an experience, not just a transaction! We have a ways to go but we can get there together! Take one of these ideas and take a look at your online giving experience for your donors and fix it today before the year end avalanche begins!

Where did you give? What was your experience? How have you changed? I would love to hear it!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

6 Ways Donor Relations Can Impact Major Gifts

I hope you enjoy this brilliant guest post by my friend and fellow fundraising professional, Colton Withers.
Donor relations professionals are loyal, passionate about their work, and ardent advocates for all donors, be they annual fund donors or major gift donors. That said, in my experience as a donor relations professional turned major gift fundraiser, I've learned they are not always the best at making a case for their incredibly vital work.
In asking donor relations professionals “why do we have a donor relations program?” or “why should we invest in additional FTE donor relations staff?”, you’ll likely hear “because it’s the right thing to do,” “our donors deserve the very best,”or maybe “loyal and happy donors today are major gift donors tomorrow.”  All of which are true…but not very compelling in today’s increasingly metrics-driven fundraising landscape.
For those of you who don’t carry a portfolio and/or have senior management who have forgotten what it’s like to work in the trenches, listed below are some ways in which donor relations work directly influences major gift work. Instead of citing incredibly true but idealistic rationale for building your donor relations program, try some of these instead:
1.   Donors will ALWAYS ask me about their endowment reports. Nothing derails a well-scripted major gift ask faster than questions like “Why is there a balance left in the support account?” and “If you aren’t spending the money I’ve given you, why do you need more?” How much is that endowment report worth?  The next major gift being asked of that donor.
2.  If they’re on a board, they probably know the ask is coming, but they expect and deserve a rich, impactful experience. Nobody gave a major gift solely because they sat on a board. Conversely, resentment can build with donors who feel like the only reason they are on a board is their checkbook. Make sure you keep these folks engaged and feeling useful, no matter how hard and professionally trying that can be at times.
3.  They will let me know about the time that their gift was improperly allocated. Even if it was 10 years ago. Major gift fundraisers hear about these errors when a six-figure proposal is on the table. To re-tool a well-known idiom, “the ‘yes’ is in the details.”  Donor relations professionals are the keepers of these fine details. Is it John, Johnny, or Jack?  See below.
4.  They will call me fuming about their mis-spelled name or their improperly addressed letter. FUMING. Or worse yet, throw away a beautiful, carefully articulated solicitation without reading it. No gift made at all. Database friends, you are our only hope *cue Princess Leia/General Organa meme*. Your work may be the most vital in any fundraising shop. We hear you, we see you, and we love you.
5.  They want and deserve a personalized donor experience. If they don’t have to fill out their name and address on a yearly solicitation, they’ll have more time to think about increasing their gift, right?!  Maybe, maybe not. But donors who feel “known and loved” by your organization will feel more like part of your family, which definitely plays a role in major gift success. Pre-populated forms, personalized URLs (PURLS), coding preferences (of all kind) into the database, and addressing them as their closest friends address them all bring the donor deeper into the fold and increases the chances of a major gift proposal being accepted.
6.   They are going to feel donor fatigue more acutely and sooner than I think. As Lynne points out, donors need to be thanked SEVEN times for making a gift. Seven displays of gratitude before another ask can be made successfully. A major gift in this campaign (in a world where you are either in a campaign or preparing for the next one) is dependent upon the stewardship of the last campaign gift. Donor relations professionals are purveyors of gratitude and can stop donor fatigue dead in its tracks.
Donor relations is a value-adding mindset that impacts absolutely every part of your fundraising operation. It’s an investment that will pay the highest dividends. You’re the fixer. The keeper of little details that add up. When speaking about your work, be proud in knowing that you are adding value to your organization and not “just writing thank you notes” for the sake of writing them. Major gift fundraisers should love, honor, and appreciate your work. Tell them I told you so!
With gratitude,
Colton Withers, CFRE
Director of Development
Purdue Foundation