Donate charity.jpg.838x0 q67 crop smart e1521091559509
Digital FundraisingDirect MailDonor Psychology

Does It Really Matter If I DON’T Donate?

Fundraisers are doing incredibly important work.  You are connecting people who care with people (or environment/animals/causes) in need.

Most of us are active in fundraising because we want to change things from bad to good.  As Tom Ahern says, donors make bad good.  This is fundamental to all we do.

Save the Children UK’s homepage tells me I can make bad good.  I like this one because it is an example of Save the Children saying ‘save the children’ in their call to action.

Picture1 vHelp Save Childrens Lives at Sea 1

Save the Children USA’s site wants me to give because Somalia’s children are starving.

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When portraying need, we need to consider what impact the copy and images have on dignity and respect afforded to our beneficiaries.

But that doesn’t mean we have to hide harsh realities; in fact, it’s very important that we show people in need. In often terrible circumstances.

Whatever your ideological view on this, the facts show that demonstrating need works better in raising funds than showing happy outcomes.

This is well established.  Those who argue that portraying people in negative contexts is wrong, rarely argue that it doesn’t raise more money. Because it raises a lot more than the alternative.

Related Blog: How to Make Fundraising Work: Nail the Offer

We also know that focusing in on one individual, personifying the problem helps.  Emotional copy and imagery, not rational facts and data.

Related: Want to learn step-by-step how to write fundraising communications that will raise more money for your cause? Check out Jeff’s Irresistible Communications for Great Nonprofits course! You can get instant access to this and more when you join The Fundraisingology Lab.

Related blog: How to Write Like a Nonprofit Genius

Whoever put together Save the Children’s Swiss German website call to action about the 2017 East Africa food crisis missed this lesson.  This learning, ironically, is featured as a Save the Children case study in Peter Singer’s great book The Life You Can Save.

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Rough English translation: “Food Crisis.  1.4 million children are threatened by starvation in Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria.”

Save the Children in Australia are hitting hard.  “Children are dying from severe hunger,” they tell me.

A clear connection to their mission, their name.

2017 05 29 13 29 53

It is well known that using powerful images and copy showing need, and featuring one person rather than many is going to raise more money than using positive imagery and stats.

But less known is the impact of ‘the negative consequences of not giving’.

This stems from Loss Aversion.  According to Wikipedia:

 …loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains: it’s better to not lose $5 than to find $5.

The article goes on to say, “Some studies have suggested that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.”

In marketing terms, this manifests in offers like “Try it for 30 days, if you don’t like it, just cancel your subscription” or substituting “Earn $10 a month by switching to our new savings account” with “Lose $10 a month, every month you’re not with our new savings account”.

How does this apply to fundraising?  It is actually quite simple.  We make the potential supporter a key part of the solution.

The (in)famous “Donate now or the kitten dies” is much more motivating than “Donate now to save a kitten”.

Kitten Picture1

Now, you can’t really write that, but back in 1917 fundraisers were pressing the right buttons.

Ad Save the ChildrenPicture1

Great copy from 100 years ago*.

I have decided to donate to Save the Children, but they will lose out on $50 of that unless you come up with a winning ‘loss aversion’ approach to those calls to actions and post your reply below this blog.  Let’s see who comes up with the best idea!

Without your help, this article will be left hanging. Please post your reply below now!


*Thanks, Mark Phillips, for your awesome Pinterest collection of over 800 old charity ads!

PS: Can you use the theory of loss aversion to apply to the Save the Children headlines? If so, write your idea below, or I won’t donate $50 to Save the Children!

PPS: Jeff Brooks has an awesome course all about fundraising communications. In it he shows you step-by-step how to write fundraising communications that will raise more money for your cause! It is available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

CFRE Points:
pop art thank you speech bubble from dreamstime e1519964662597
Donor LoveDigital FundraisingMajor and Mid Value Donors

My Thank-You Message Raised Loads of Money! Why Is Sean Complaining?

I got this brilliant message from April Kelsey – a fundraising and communications specialist based in Hampton, VA, USA.

Hey, Sean! Today I made about $100k off ONE thank you email, applying techniques I’ve been learning from you and others in the fundraising communications field.

To set the stage: We had four high-dollar projects that had gone a little while without funding, and it was draining us in liability. (We commit to fund if approved.)

So…we put up some major donor money as a match and sent appeals in February and March. By February, we had raised enough to cover two of the projects. By end of March, we had enough money to approve all four, plus a fifth project.

There was a major related news event in the project area, and our consultant advised us to seize the moment.

So I drafted a thank you email to our main list, informing donors of our fundraising success and the new approved project, and thanking them profusely for their generosity.

Then I mentioned the related news event, assured them that they were standing with the affected people in that area, and threw in a convenience link in case they felt like giving again (in the final days of the match).

The consultant complained that my copy didn’t center the ask, took too long to get to the give link, and sounded a bit too final (past tense language, little expectation of additional gifts).

But it was too late.

The email was live by that point. Sean, you wouldn’t believe it. That might just be the most successful fundraising email we’ve ever sent. One major donor called in and pledged to send $75,000.

Others called in as well. Right now, at end of day one, it looks like this one THANK YOU email has raised $100k. And I haven’t even checked the online gifts yet!

Needless to say, my bosses have their jaws on the floor right now!

I have a reputation for being a lovely, thoughtful and caring person (ahem) so I congratulated April effusively:

Well done! Thank you for letting me know. I am a big fan of thanking properly.

But I also have a reputation for being a mathematician, with limited social skills (ahem). So I added a short warning.

However… I do agree with your consultant.

You made $75,000 from one lovely donor (awesome)…

Your thank you is undoubtedly the trigger for that donor, but it could be that whatever you sent would have done this.

Even if you ask them why they donated, they would post-rationalise an emotional decision; you can’t really use their response as fact!

The assumption, given the result of the campaign, that a thank you with a subtle ask is better than a more positive ask is actually very dangerous, but very appealing – especially to your bosses.

Even if you had tested 50/50 the lovely gorgeous super person who donated the $75,000 would have had to have been removed from the test results!

My experience is if the ask had been stronger, and you take the outlier out, you would have most likely made more than $25,000.

However, your approach in writing this as a thank you may have led to a better, more engaging story. This could be the reason it did better than previous, not because it was a thank you … Does that make sense?

Luckily April seems to forgive my slight balance on the weight of praise and theory… on the basis she let me share this exchange with you. Hopefully, she will write and tell me good news again. Her response was positive too:

Yes! And I absolutely understand what you are saying. I am usually a fan of direct, positive asks and have complained in the past about approaches that are too subtle (something the consultant has helped drive home to the execs). So, you’re right.

With the consultant’s suggestions, we might have pulled in more money. But I was so excited to see what a highly relevant thank you could pull in. I’ll definitely be making notes for the future. Thanks for your great work!

She finished with another question

Just a quick question, is there a golden ratio of asks to thank yous? [Tom] Ahern says you can ask 21 times per year, and we do about that amount. However, several donors complain that all it seems we do is ask for money. I now suspect we aren’t asking too much, it’s that we’re not thanking and reporting enough. What say the fundraising gods?

Super question. I don’t know what the gods think, but I’ll be conferring with a few fundraising friends and that will be the topic of a future post on this blog.

In the meantime… What do you think would be a golden ratio of asks to thank yous? Let us know what you think in the comments section.

Thanks, April, and thank you too – for reading and letting me know your thoughts.

Please comment below on this blog to share your thoughts.

CFRE Points:
OnlineGIving e1518671229440
Digital FundraisingTrends

Digital Fundraising Beyond Doggies and Dolphins

The Soi Dog Foundation and Australia for Dolphins have had enormous success in global fundraising using the digital ‘multi-step’ approach.

Although based in Thailand and Australia respectively, the two charities fundraised globally with shocking images, which helped them get traction.

soi dog foundation

But what about the rest of us charities? Well, we can learn from these superstars – they have both been very generous in sharing what they’ve learned.

In terms of ‘shareability’ mental health may at first feel like it sits at the other extreme – but Australian mental health agency Lifeline doesn’t hold back.

With the help of Pareto Fundraising they launched a campaign asking people to sign a petition, make a donation and become a monthly giver. I became a supporter too – they do a fantastic job and I used to work at a mental health charity.

Julie Kirby from Lifeline told me:

“The campaign has really resonated with the Australian public, and using Facebook and email to supporters has helped make two big achievements possible (our new phone support service Text4Good and new suicide prevention trial sites).

Working with Pareto Fundraising and Pareto Phone we were able to secure 1083 wonderful new regular givers and 827 new cash donors as well!”

Their latest great stewardship email is below.

email lifeline

A multi-step digital approach is a great option for many charities that need to find new monthly givers – with the added benefit of engaging lots of people beyond donations too.

If you are interested and needing a digital approach to find new donors and engaging lots of people beyond donations, then you need to watch this 9 min 30 sec video on Fast Tips for Fundraising on Facebook.

CFRE Points:
Pop Art Panda Bamboo e1549327934162
Digital Fundraising

Loving and Punning on Valentines Day

I got this lovely email from World Animal Protection (WAP).

It worked on me.  BUT generally, humour is risky in charity direct marketing.

I think this is for a few reasons:

  • Not everyone gets the joke!
  • Making light of your serious cause needs to be considered carefully: brand implications, offending the people you are trying to help
  • What you think is funny, often isn’t
  • Humour and laughing are not the emotional reactions known to encourage people to give.  A letter that makes someone cry is much more likely to elicit a reaction. Unfortunately, we charities have a lot of case studies that do that – including WAP.

I do think WAP will do well out of this. Clear offer, and nice ask and they likely know their donors.

Here is the intro…

Loving and Punning on Valentines Day 1

And the puns / offer…

Loving and Punning on Valentines Day 2 updated

Want to really master the art of nonprofit communications? Check out Jeff’s 4-session masterclass, Irresistible Communications for Great Nonprofits that’s available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

CFRE Points:
Digital FundraisingDonor Psychology

The Truth Well Told*

Many charities shy away from the ‘bad’ their organisation tries to fix.  This is not facing reality, not telling the truth and not giving people the opportunity to make bad good.

Here is a cracking example from Concern Worldwide of telling the truth, well.



Don’t let your beneficiaries down by not telling and showing the truth.  This kid needs your help – and you can see why.


* Inspired by the word wizard fundraising genius Tom Ahern who has a brilliant way with words. Sign up to his awesome newsletter here.

CFRE Points:
amnesty netherlands sign up e1515673149945
Digital FundraisingDonor Love

Welcoming e-News Subscribers

A friend just asked me about the best practice for welcoming people who sign up for e-news or updates through your website home page.

Well, as always, it depends.  Is the purpose of the newsletter, information, fundraising or service provision?  Each may require a different solution.

For fundraising, let’s start with some hypothetical numbers.  It is fine to adjust my numbers, just make sure you follow a similar logical process and measure reality against your projected numbers.

For example: Let’s say you have  500 new subscribers a month. Perhaps 300 will ever open another email, 150  might click on anything, and in the end, only 1-20 would ever donate.

Of those that donate perhaps 20-30% would ever donate again.  So, that means 500 new subscribers a month leads to just maybe 25 repeat donors.  There will be exceptions, but from my experience, that’s rare.

So, whatever you do, think it through carefully.  Be careful with how much time and effort you put into it.  If you put ANY effort into it then it essential you also include budget and time directing people to the e-news invitation in the first place.

With e-news we need to consider a few things:

  • What is the primary purpose of the e-news? I can only think of three:
    • Charitable purpose, e.g. for people with diabetes, you could be giving tips or useful information.
    • Fundraising (asking for donations, or thanking – with a view to getting more donations)
    • Getting volunteers.
  • Who is your target audience?
    • Depends on your primary purpose.
    • It is unlikely your e-news will excel if it were trying to do all three of my examples.
  • Do you have confidence that it will go out regularly?
  • It is written all about beneficiaries and donors, NOT the organisation?

Now if fundraising is the purpose of your e-news, you have about thirty days to get a phone number and/or donation! 

So you will need to work hard and fast.  After that, the chances of a donation are so low it was all a waste.

This is the honeymoon period where people are most likely to click, open and respond.  And one of the biggest drivers of one of those actions is the volume of emails.  Not a volume of rubbish emails, but a volume of quality, well thought through emails to your donors.

Also, if you are asking for a donation or monthly gift then your targeting is key.  You want people over 45 for best results.  Maybe a few 35-45-year-olds will be ok, but age is the most important targeting criteria for most such campaigns.  Older is better.

During this honeymoon phase, your emails need to be engaging, aim for a click or feedback every time and include surveys, asks, information, links to video and more.

If you are on top of your data, save the ask for towards the end of the thirty days so you can personalise depending on people’s clicks, links, shares, and feedback.  But this is pretty advanced stuff.

Including a survey in the mix is a good idea too…

A few surveys I have been sent recently – GetUp! was likely testing these subject headers, including one which was a joke about our recent Australian Census failure.

A few surveys I have been sent recently – GetUp! was likely testing these subject headers, including one which was a joke about our recent Australian Census failure.

In the survey, every question needs a purpose.  It should be one of these:

  • A question that makes people want to fill in the survey
  • A question that aids targeting (especially age, or age bracket)
  • A question that leads people to donate
  • A question that can and WILL be used in personalisation.  ‘As a mother of two children you understand…’ or ‘imagine if Bramble didn’t have the love of you and your family and was abandoned…’
  • A question that tries to get across the key proposition of the organisation.
  • Something that captures address or other details but most importantly, phone number.

It’s an easy statement that someone might make in a planning meeting: “Let’s have an e-newsletter and sign up on the homepage.”  It’s unlikely anyone will disagree, but you really need to plan this out properly and do the numbers before investing any time.

I’d love to hear from you – what works for you? What is your approach? What do you need to improve?


(P.S. Wanna learn how to deal with your newsletter subscribers the RIGHT way? Then check out our Supporter Connection Survey Course in The Fundraisingology Lab.)

CFRE Points:
Digital Fundraising

Nice Personalised Prompt Doesn’t Live Up to Expectations


I recently received the campaign above, so I thought I would share my thoughts on it.

First of all, the copy could be improved.  It is not inclusive and inviting – in fact it pushes you away. They don’t make me feel special as part of that 1%, and the task of getting everyone to donate is not something I, as a donor, can achieve.

However, the use of a highlighted personalised reminder of my previous gift was good.

Also, the buttons embedded into the email were clever – especially the renew button.

I clicked that button which took me to this landing page…


There wasn’t an affirmation – “Yes! I’d like to support Wikipedia…” and no thank you. Either would be good, and both would be better.

Because I donated before, they know how I donated (credit card, Amazon or Paypal).  The email click could have taken me straight to the donation details entry form.  Instead, I had to click ‘donate by credit card’.


This should have been the landing page from the first click I did in the email.  But with an affirmation or thank you added.

Unfortunately, despite Wikipedia being global, I couldn’t actually make the gift.  Only US states were available, so I couldn’t get past this.

Darn it.

Perhaps, they would argue, I could donate by PayPal but that is not a very donor-centric approach.

When you are putting all that effort into a campaign, using clever buttons and personalisation, it is worth the while going through the user experience from the donor’s point of view.  Make sure they can actually give.

Find out how you can avoid these common mistakes and learn how to effectively communicate with your (potential) donors by checking out our Mid-Value Donor Super Course. It’s available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.


CFRE Points:
Digital FundraisingBequests and LegaciesDirect MailMajor and Mid Value DonorsTrends

Is Fundraising Unique in Different Countries?

Learning and sharing across three continents!

This ‘winter’ I have headed North. Very north, in fact, starting in Alaska. I am writing this on the plane from Vancouver.

I put ‘winter’ in quotes because the big advantage of crossing the equator is the season reversal. (Though surprisingly, the temperature is the same at home in Australia as it is in Anchorage, Yorkshire, Amsterdam, and Dublin this week!)

If you are a charity or non-profit bod living in Anchorage (13 July – be quick!) Dublin (1-2 September), Amsterdam (6 or 7 Sep) or Vienna (19 or 20 Sep) I really hope that I may get chance to catch up with you there.

Across those cities, I will be presenting on one or two of the three topics that I think offer the most fundraising opportunity to charities worldwide in 2016.

Not that I think these should replace any fundraising activity that is already working for you, but all could help enhance your current program, or be a new ‘thing’ in your portfolio.

  • Legacies/bequests. By far and away the most important source of revenue per donor, and the area with the most potential from current databases of direct mail donors.
  • Mid and major donors. The fastest, easiest and cheapest way to make more from your current database, and extend the life of current donor acquisition methods. You may have already noticed my passion for this area with the fifteen or so emails/blogs or articles I have written on the topic recently!
  • Digital fundraising, especially using Facebook and looking globally.

Wherever you live, if you have a direct mail program, I bet you could do better with the first two legacies and mid/major donors.

Making digital fundraising work is a bit more challenging and is not for everyone. The three secrets to making digital work are:

  • A fantastic, strong, social offer
  • A message people would be willing to share with their friends AND take action.
  • “I need to do something about this” is the feeling you want, not “Someone needs to do something about this.”
  • The right audience. Older people give more. But getting a big enough volume of older donors is challenging. Facebook is the key, and the larger your reach (why not global?) the better chance of success.
  • Budget and knowledge. Strategic growth in digital fundraising is not free. Whether out-sourced or in-house, you need to pay for development, creative, media and integrate with a phone.

If you want to know more about these topics…
… and you are in Anchorage (13 July) or Dublin (1-2 August) click on the city to find out more.
… and you are in Amsterdam (6 or 7 Sep) or Vienna (19 or 20 September) click on the city to email your interest to the relevant people.
… but if you are not available in those places above, email me [email protected] and ask me any questions, or for help if need be!

See you soon!


CFRE Points:
Direct mail
Digital FundraisingDirect Mail

Using URLs in Direct Mail

Thanks to Mike Linnemann from the University of Minnesota Foundation, and Tom Ahern, donor communications expert whose recent Twitter conversation inspired this blog.

Direct mail is the largest source of new donors in most fundraising markets.

Yet, even with an average age of 70-80, depending on the country, many of these donors are online as well.

So, should we include convenient URLs for donors in our direct mail letters?


Sean triner blog pic 1


URL on a response coupon – in the ‘To Make a Gift’ section.

The answer seems obvious. Of course, we should! If we do, we see a big spike in online donations.

But is that the right answer?

A good few years ago we tested including URL on the donation form and in the PS of a direct mail letter.

Something like:

In this A v B test, half of letters (A) included the URL, half (B) didn’t.

Unsurprisingly, there were more donations made online from the A Group – people who were given the URL, than from the B Group.

Whenever you send direct mail, there is usually a spike in donations to the standard donation page on

However, with volumes usually being very small, it is hard to make valid conclusions.

The correct measure for the test, because this was a warm (house) mailing going to previous donors is: “Does adding a URL to my direct mail letter increase total net income from the group who got the URL?”

Any other measures, like how many donations were made online, average donation and response rates, are all variables contributing to that single question.

In the test the answer was….


Adding the URL reduced total income. Although the A group gave more online, their total giving (including off and online) was less than the B Group.

Adding a URL to my direct mail letter reduced total net income.

Why? What was going on?

My theory is simple.

A good direct mail letter is designed to trigger an emotional response and get the recipient to do something now.

With the standard letter, we asked them to fill in the form, right now, pop it into the enclosed postage-paid envelope and post today.

That’s probably what they have done before, which is why they are on our direct mail warm (house) file.

With the letter that included the URL, we added an extra option, such as, ‘Or you can make a donation online at…’.

What happened was that the 25% or so who had opened the letter and felt motivated enough to give either fill the form there and then (yay!) or put the letter aside with 100% intention to donate when they were online.

The problem is (or was) that they would then have to do stuff to log on – like turn on their computer.

Precious time would pass between their desire to donate and the actual act. And that time would eat into response rates.

Of course, these days with three or four times the mobile penetration than when we tested it (four years ago) many can indeed donate online straight away.

But remember, the average age of a direct mail donor? Hmmm, what proportion of people that age can donate straight away online?

The answer: I just don’t know. Please, someone, test it!

The first charity to send me the results of testing this properly:

A true A/B test looking at whether adding a URL to letter, PS and/or response form statistically increases net income will get a donation of US$150/AUD$150/ €150 from me if they let me post the results.


CFRE Points:
Green Peace lead the way
Digital FundraisingDonor LoveDonor Psychology

Greenpeace Lead the Way

We are working on a new thing here in Australia.  It doesn’t sound new, but it could have a profound impact on how charities use social media.

Visit Greenpeace Australia on Facebook and leave a comment on one of their posts.  Watch what happens.

So many people talk about social media being interactive, an opportunity for dialogue, but Greenpeace is actually doing it.

I made a comment about how Greenpeace is working with others to stop shark nets (bad) here in Australia.


The link they posted in their reply to my comment takes me to this petition:


Cracking stuff.  The response was not a bot, but a person.  Of course, once I have signed the petition, Greenpeace will give me an opportunity to become a monthly giver, and maybe call me if I give a phone number.

I spoke with Nicola Norris from Greenpeace and asked her if this was proving to be a good use of Greenpeace resources.

She told me:

“This is true to the grassroots nature of Greenpeace’s activism and fundraising.  And it is definitely worthwhile.  

Through our team of paid and volunteer staff in Greenpeace and an external agency, we engage with virtually everyone who comments on social media posts.  Through the dialogue and direct 3,000 – 4,000 supporters per month to various campaign petitions to help make a genuine social change.  

Also, of the 2,500 or so that give us their phone number every month around 16% of the people that we speak to on the phone are deciding to help even more with a monthly gift, usually just over $20 a month.  We think we are reaching a new and unique audience who really want to help preserve our planet for the future.”

We are calling this social media hyper-personalization but really, it is a just good old-fashioned dialogue between two people who care about the environment using modern technology.

Best wishes,


P.S. check out Nicola’s awesome Out of Office message.


If you want the link to the article it is here.


CFRE Points: