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Monthly Giving

Monthly Giving: It’s Not Rocket Science

A few months ago, I taught the “Recurring Revolution” training for members of The Fundraisingology Lab, by Moceanic. It was a lot of fun. Several members responded to a question about how best to keep their monthly donors.

One of those members was Natalie Lanoville from Jewish Family Services  in Vancouver, Canada. I was impressed with her response. I talked with her some more so I can share some of her great experiences and approach.

Natalie joined Jewish Family Services in Vancouver in April 2018. JFS does a lot of direct and indirect work, including providing food through a food bank, housing assistance, and supporting Holocaust survivors with different services.

When Natalie came to JFS, she noticed that the organization had a nice number of recurring donors, but that the program was on a slow decline due to an obvious reason: Many were giving by credit card and their payments had stopped. Only 50% of the monthly donors in the Raiser’s Edge database were still active at the time.

The average monthly gift was $36, understandable because many monthly donors give a multiple of $18, a significant number in the Jewish faith.

Many of the monthly donors had been acquired using a monthly donor tick box on the annual appeals. At the time when Natalie started working on the program, none of the monthly donors were giving via Pre-authorized Debits (PADs as they call them in Canada, also known as EFT/ACH/Direct debits/automatic bank withdrawals).

Natalie saw the opportunity and took action right away. With the help of a database expert, Natalie sifted through the database, and implemented standardized rules and best practices to better track and grow their monthly donors and improve stewardship to them — and all donors for that matter!

While they were working on this, Natalie picked up the phone, making some two calls a day. And she simply wouldn’t (and still doesn’t) give up. If at first, donors didn’t respond, she’d call them back the next month and then the next, until she had spoken with all recurring donors who had lapsed.

Through this process, Natalie not only reactivated monthly donors, but she was able to implement Pre-authorized Debits. Now 10% of all JFS monthly donors are giving that way. This is great, because there are no more expiring credit cards.

Because JFS does not have an automatic credit card updater system in place, Natalie started calling monthly donors before their credit cards expire to remind them to update. This too was very successful.

Natalie also implemented a survey of existing monthly donors, that generated a 35% to 40% response rate, generating new information, quotes and donor appreciation.

Natalie never gives up on lapsing monthly donors.

If a donor’s payment doesn’t come in, she immediately calls. Then she sends an email including a form to switch to PAD. She makes several phone calls and she sends a letter, everything needed to get the donors to respond and provide an update.

The results are astounding: Over the past 18 months since she started, no monthly donors have lapsed because of an expiring or declining credit card. Some may have indicated they couldn’t continue at the level they were giving before, but the keep rate of the monthly donors was tremendous.

The annualized value of Natalie’s monthly donor program grew from $60,000 to $86,000 with only re-activation phone calls, diligent follow-up of missed donations, a newsletter article about a monthly donor, and some tweaking of their annual appeal messaging.

Never give up on monthly donors!

But wait, you may say: ‘I’m way too busy to do all of this’. The reality is that Natalie doesn’t just work on monthly donors. Like many fundraisers in small shops, she is busy, and she wears many hats.

But Natalie knows that if she doesn’t take action, these recurring givers will lapse. She’s determined that doesn’t happen on her watch!

Natalie has simply made the commitment to call a few people a day. If they say no, she records their response. If their circumstances have changed, she makes a note in the database.

She has created six different kinds of emails and letters for different circumstances, and they go out right away.

She uses social proof of other monthly donor’s support and uses that when she talks to monthly donors.

On monthly donors’ anniversaries, she calls them to say thank you for their continued monthly support. This often results in an upgrade.

Natalie says: “Keeping monthly donors is not rocket science. You just have to do the work. You have to look at the details. You have to love people and love data. Monthly donors don’t take up a lot of time, but if you realize that they have twice the lifetime value of other donors, it helps. Simple things can help prevent things from going by the waste side.”

I give Natalie the highest praise. She’s holding the Recurring Revolution torch high and the results for her organization show. You can do it too!

Natalie is a member of The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. Find out how you can join her and other smart fundraisers who are transforming their organizations!

Related posts:

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Direct MailDonor Psychology

What Your Direct Mail is Like for Real People

I’ve spent a good decade and a half defending direct mail. Mostly in response to anxious nonprofit insiders saying things like “I’d hate to get all the mail we send.”

I won’t pretend everyone you mail wants it. And I won’t pretend everyone who gets your mail even reads it.

But many of them want your mail.

And many of them love your mail.

I’d like to take you on a walk-through of the ways real people consume direct mail.

What follows I believe to be true, or as close to true as 15 years in the trenches gets me. My hope is you find some tips and tactics you may not have considered or maybe just a good check-list for you to use.

First of all, let’s admit it: No matter what you send, no matter how you present it, some people will simply not give your (or any) mail pack any attention at all. My reading of the scant research on this suggests as many as eight, and as low as four, out of 10 people you mail simply dump your mail into the bin with barely a glance.

Those who remain are willing to grant you around 15 or 20 seconds of their attention. First the envelope and then whatever comes out first — if they open it.

They scan at headlines, pictures, captions, and the elements you’ve highlighted in some way. But they’re not reading. They’re just scanning to see if your mail is interesting or relevant or valuable. And about half quickly conclude that it’s not.

Into the bin.

So how can you make it through the first cut — the throw it out without even looking cut? And then the second cut — the throw it out unless something grabs their attention?

  1. Accept you aren’t the audience and put your personal opinions aside.
  2. Respond to the way people who do consume direct mail do it.

Let’s focus on the group that gives their mail some attention. What do they look for?

Their name. Spelt correctly. This is the first reason to not thrown it in the bin.

Maybe your logo. I’ve tested outer envelopes a lot. Of the tests that did deliver statistically significant results the outcomes varied by charity. For some a plain, unbranded, no message outer works best. For me this is the element of surprise – What is inside? Who is it from? For others the logo being present works better. Very rarely did a teaser message win. The main time a designed outer envelope has won was with animal welfare and children’s charities where compelling, emotive images of puppies, kittens or children beat the no design versions.

So you got them to open the pack. What do they do then? Consider you need to cater to three types of readers.

1. Sally Scanner. She starts skimming to get some details. My hope is your pack insertion order means the first thing Sally sees is the letter (and if you’ve never considered your pack insertion order please do, it’s your first moment of truth). So, assuming Sally comes across the letter first this is what she does.

  1. Is it addressed to me?
  2. What does the Johnson Box say?
  3. Who is it from?
  4. What does the PS say?
  5. What jumps out at me?
  6. Is it easy to read?
  7. Is it about me?
  8. Is it easy to respond / do what I’m being asked to do?

2. Dutiful Deb. Deb dives in a bit more than Sally. She’s probably a seasoned charity giver. She probably got several appeals at the same time as yours. She’s scanning a bit more deeply because it’s the right thing to. And Deb is looking for something to trigger her interest, something to entertain her, to engage her, to respond to values she shares with your cause.

3. Excited Elaine. Elaine expects your mail. She likes it. She sits down and reads the letter, the response form and the other pieces you’ve included. She is going beginning to end.

Your direct mail letter is a one-to-one conversation between the letter’s signer and Sally, Deb or Elaine, and nothing assures them that your message is intended for them better than seeing their name at the beginning of the letter. People love to see their name, and today’s technology makes it cost-effective to personalise your mailing. The marginal cost saving of not personalising is not worth the drop in response.

Before moving from the salutation to the signature, most readers will take a fraction of a second to scan whatever is visually obvious at the top of the letter … the material often called the Johnson Box.

Knowing this, you can use a Johnson Box, along with underlining, highlighting, bolding, and notes written in the margin to call attention to your call to action, and to pull the reader’s eyes across and down the page.

When we work with direct mail, we can get bored of a standard letter format. But a standard letter format is what works. If it didn’t, the format would have changed. We would have stopped writing letters home to mum this way and done something different.

After scanning the letter and perhaps reading the Johnson Box and/or opening paragraph, the reader will typically look to see who signed the letter.

It helps to print the signatory’s name and title under the signature and avoid “creative” signatures. Scribbled signatures don’t build trust, and eye-flow studies show that readers respond negatively to a signature they can’t read.

Once readers see who signed the letter, many will read the P.S. before moving back to the top of the letter. Not using a P.S. is simply a missed opportunity.

Keep the P.S. to three to four lines and use it to restate your call to action and tell the donor exactly how they can respond.

If you can personalise the P.S., do it. Inclusion of the recipient’s name at the beginning of the postscript draws even more attention to this recap of your call to action — and this call to action should include your ask, using a personalised ask amount derived from each donors previous giving level.

How you choose to format your letter (and any other elements of your pack) will impact its readability. FACT: Pretty does not necessarily equal readable.

To make your letter visually inviting, keep your paragraphs short, left justify your lines and provide plenty of space for your left and right margins.

Indent your paragraphs—they “catch” the reader’s eyes and help lead them down the page—double space between paragraphs. 12 point font is the absolute minimum, but I’d rather you use 14 point. I know you want to save costs and keep letter length to two pages … well all you are doing by sending out a 10 point font letter is turning away your audience. Too small = too hard. 

For enhanced readability, use a serif font—Courier, Times New Roman and Georgia are examples—for the letter. Practically every book, newspaper or magazine printed in the Western world uses serif type because it enhances reading flow and reduces eyestrain. If you want it read, use a serif font.

And don’t end a page with a complete sentence. Look at your newspaper. To finish practically any article, you must turn the page, and that’s exactly what you want your readers to do – keep turning pages until they reach the call to action.

I love a long word, especially when it’s the perfect word for a nuanced sentence. But that’s me and that’s 2% of the time. What I like more is being understood. And the research shows that writing at a lower reading level will hit the mark with the widest audience. Aiming above that will lose you readers. Simple, clear language is not dumbing down. Far from it, it is showing an understanding of your audience, it is showing your audience respect and it will force you to take the often complex situations we are working to address and make them accessible.

My favourite words to open a letter are “You” and “Your,” quickly followed by text that shows Sally, Deb or Elaine how awesome she is.

This isn’t a letter from an organisation to a prospect or customer. Your letter is a one-to-one conversation between the letter’s signatory and the donor. The more ‘we’ you use in the letter the less they’ll feel the signer is talking to them.

Write in a conversational style as if you were speaking face-to-face with the donor. Use your words to create an image for them. If the donor can see herself in the situation you create, she’ll take an interest and read on. A great story will win the day. A bunch of stats will not. A bunch of chat about how great an organisation you are will not.

Is responding super easy?

Response forms should be something you put some brain power into, not an afterthought. Your donor may engage more with the response form than the letter.

If the donor has to squint to read the information or the boxes are so tiny they struggle to make their credit card numbers fit, they’re more likely to give up. Make it easy!

Tailor the response form to the letter call to action. You will have told me a great story in the letter so follow through and repeat the messaging on the response form. Or consider Sally and Deb — they may only look at the response form … does the start of it present your specific call to action or is it generic? Consider how much more powerful your response form could be if you consider it to be another mini ask vehicle.

Want to know what really works in direct mail fundraising? Take our online course, 7 Steps to Creating Record-Smashing Direct Mail. It’s your hands-on workshop in what works, how to do it, and how to apply these truths to your cause! It’s available for members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Check it out.

Want to learn more? Check out these related posts:

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Direct Mail

3 Last-Minute Tweaks for Your End-of-Year Campaign

Tweak: a fine adjustment to a mechanism or system

Here are some fine adjustments you can do that can meaningfully improve your upcoming year-end campaign.

Tweak One

Make a direct ask. As in “Fiona, will you please make a donation today to help train more lifesaving paramedics?”

A lot of fundraising hints at giving, hoping donors “catch your drift.”

They don’t know what you need them to do unless you tell them! And we don’t receive unless we ask. I have tested this many times — not asking in an appeal letter simply means you will raise less money.

The more specific and direct the ask. The better. As in “Fiona, will you please make a donation of $125 today to help me train more lifesaving paramedics?”

This is even better. That $125 is based on my previous giving. Donors respond best when you suggest what they do, and suggesting they give a gift that’s around the size of their previous giving is your best bet.

Tweak Two

If you have direct mail donors who have also provided their email address, use email to support your campaign.

One email is not enough. It’s hardly worthwhile unless you send around seven emails. That way you’ll get far more people opening at least one of them.

Tweak Three

Call your top donors and ask them for a gift. Sean has done an awesome video to talk you through this and you can find that here: How to Boost Your Direct Mail Campaign After it Has Gone Out.

Now here’s the hard part: These three tweaks will make little difference if you are not basing your appeal on an emotional and engaging story that helps the reader feel the problem and see how they can be part of the impactful solution.

Want to really sharpen your fundraising skills? Take our online course, 7 Steps to Creating Record-Smashing Direct Mail. It’s your hands-on workshop in what works, how to do it, and how to apply these truths to your cause! It’s available for members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Check it out.

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Direct Mail

Great Fundraising: It’s Not Just for Big Charities — You Can Do It Too!

You don’t have to be a huge organization to get your fundraising right.

Case in point: Two direct mail pieces that came to me in the final weeks of December.  I’ll just show you the outer envelopes of both packs, but what we see there is repeated inside.

First, this piece from Seattle Goodwill Industries:

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This is a donor acquisition piece, as I am not a donor to this organization. I think they got my name by one of three ways:

  • Renting a list of donors to other charities.
  • Renting a list of buyers or subscribers that have shown a likelihood of donating.
  • Mailing to households in a ZIP code that already contains a concentration of their donors.

So how do they address this person who has never donated to them?  By displaying what I assume is a brand positioning statement.  Thanking me for believing in something.

That’s quite an assumption.  And while Goodwill has a very strong brand and most donors are likely to have heard of them, it’s not a fundraising proposition.  It’s not putting action in my hands.

While I have no inside knowledge about how this piece has done, I’ll make a guess:  It could have done better. “Big brand” organizations like Goodwill often “get away” with fundraising that would be a disastrous failure for the rest of us. But they too do better when they speak to the donor about the donor’s chance to take action that makes the world a better place.

What donor focus looks like

By contrast, look at this envelope from The Kehillah Jewish Education Fund, a funder of a group of private schools in the Chicago area. They are also a member of The Fundraisingology Lab here at Moceanic.

I am a donor to this organization, so it is addressing people who have shown their interest before.  And it addresses me with action.

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It’s not a fancy envelope — it’s not going to win any design awards (though the yellow stock is a very smart move). The important thing it does is address the donor in two ways: Announces the chance to double their gift, and makes sure there’s an urgency.

Nothing about the brand. No assumptions about the donor, other than they like to leverage their giving, which is a very safe assumption to make about virtually all donors.

Here’s the point: You don’t have to be a top-10 nonprofit brand to do smart fundraising. You can be a small local group with a one-or-two-person fundraising team and do better than much bigger organizations.  Just remember this:

Make your fundraising message about the donor. Not about your organization.  Donors don’t give because you are a great organisation. They give because they are great people who share your values.

Anyone can work with that assumption.

It’s too bad so many fundraisers never do!

Want to know what really works in direct mail fundraising? Take our online course, 7 Steps to Creating Record-Smashing Direct Mail. It’s your hands-on workshop in what works, how to do it, and how to apply these truths to your cause! It’s available for members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Check it out.

More examples of good fundraising:

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VIDEO: 6 Big Tips for Big Campaigns

Want to make an important direct mail campaign stronger?

Sean and I have six big tips that can really super-charge response:

  1. Mail in a stand-out envelope — bigger, more colourful, not the usual!
  2. Use a matching gift offer.
  3. Enhance the pack in as many ways as possible: Longer letter, bigger reply device, as many lift pieces as you can think of!
  4. Call your donors before they get the mail — or after.
  5. Use email and mail together, make it into an “event.”
  6. Repetition! Send several emails. Send a follow-up direct mail. Maybe even send the original pack again!

Want to learn more about what really works in direct mail? Uncover all of the amazing best practices of direct mail fundraising in our course 7 Steps To Creating Record-Smashing Direct Mail. It’s available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

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Controversial non-Controversy
Direct Mail

The Most Controversial Non-Controversy in the Fundraising World

Want to stir up a group of professionals? Want to see them sweat and wave their arms and cuss?

There’s one issue that will do it every time. I’m not talking about “poverty porn,” and it’s not the overhead controversy.

The big deal that really stirs people up is the odd truth that in fundraising, long messages almost always work better than short ones.

It’s not true 100% of the time, but it’s one of the most dependable truths in direct marketing — fundraising and otherwise. Want better results? Increase the length of the message.

Whenever I say this in public, a forest of hands goes up. How could that possibly be true? It must be an isolated incident! No way!

But don’t believe just me. Ask anyone with experience — especially testing experience — and they’ll confirm it. Long messages do better than short ones. Most of the time, as in about 80% of tests.

In The Fundraisingology Lab (an awesome private group just for members), a member recently posted this:

Director of PR just emailed me about my next letter draft (not even two full pages), she suggested it should never be longer than a page/one side. She suggested editing it down before sending it to the President.

It’s a distressingly common situation: Someone with no experience in fundraising just takes it as a given that a short message is absolutely a better bet than a long one. Why? Because their gut reaction is more trustworthy than decades of training and experience by hundreds of people our in profession?

Apparently so.

But a longer message is a better bet almost every time. There is zero controversy about this among knowledgeable fundraisers.

There are exceptions, where a short message does better:

  • A short but well-executed message will usually do better than a long but sloppily prepared message with no clear call to action. (Though most of the really amateurish fundraising out there is also short, in addition to its other problems.)
  • A short message about a major disaster or another news event that everyone is being exposed to frequently does very well, and I’ve seen the short version do better than a long version in this situation.
  • An organization with a very strong brand can sometimes do well with a very short message. (See example below.)
  • Now and then a short message does better, and we just can’t see why. This is extremely rare, but it does happen!

Part of the problem is that we don’t know why it’s this way. In fact, it would be almost impossible to discover why a longer message works better. All we know is how people respond, not what was going on in their conscious or subconscious minds. You can’t just ask them; they don’t know the answer. (Most people, when asked, will tell you they’re confident they’d be more likely to respond to a shorter message!)

But here are some theories that might explain the longer-is-better phenomenon:

  • It’s nearly impossible to cram everything that needs to be said into a very short message. Most short messages are simply omitting critical contents.
  • Most readers will read about 10% of whatever you put in front of them. When the message is long, they get what they need.
  • Whether they read the whole message or not, the very fact that it is long, helps persuade some readers that it’s important.
  • Most donors are older people; older people are readers; they reward you for giving them something to read.
  • Most people read so inattentively that they simply miss the point of a short message because it appears only once!

But all of these are just theories. They may all be true or partially true. Or they could all be complete balderdash.

But this we know: You will almost certainly raise more money with a longer message than with a shorter one!

Here is an exception to the longer-is-better rule. I don’t have any inside knowledge about this pack, but I’m pretty sure it’s a champion in new donor acquisition. Because I keep getting it!


(This is just the message/reply coupon. But there isn’t really more. It comes in a small envelope. And the only other piece is the very small return envelope.)

Note that the sender, The Salvation Army, is a super-brand. An organization with top-5 recognition in the US — that is top five among all brands, not just nonprofit brands. That might explain why the short message works. It also breaks a handful of other fundraising principles that would likely sink most fundraising packs.

But unless you are with The Salvation Army … a short message is risky and less likely to accomplish your fundraising goals!

See also:
Why Your Boss Is Wrong – Long Letters Do Work Better In Fundraising 
The Weird Power of Long Fundraising Letters

Want to learn more about what really works in direct mail? Uncover all of the amazing best practices of direct mail fundraising by taking our 7 Steps To Creating Record-Smashing Direct Mail online course. It’s available for members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

CFRE Points:
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Donor LoveNewsletters

A Great Way to REALLY Thank Your Donors

I want to show you one of the best examples of donor care that I’ve ever seen.

I got it more than 10 years ago, from the Children’s Cancer Institute in Australia. To read the whole thing, click here.

We typically think of a donor newsletter as the best kind of donor care. This letter shows a different — and very effective — way to show donors they matter.

In a personalised, four-page letter, here’s what it does:

  • Specifically thanks the donor for his giving. 
  • Reminds the donor about Anna, a cancer survivor whose story was told in a letter previously sent to the donor.
  • Shares an inspiring quote from a fellow donor.
  • Reminds the donor how important the work he supports is.
  • Describes some interesting recent research projects and thanks the donor for making them possible.
  • Talks about some recent appeals that the donor gave to and thanks him for it, and updates the stories that were in the appeals.
  • Tells the donor about an upcoming change in leadership.

This same content could have been expressed in a very good donor newsletter. It would be a strong newsletter indeed. But there are some advantages to putting all that good material into a letter.

  • It’s much easier and less expensive to produce than a typical newsletter. If you have limited resources (who doesn’t?), this might be a much more realistic project!
  • It’s more flexible than a newsletter. It can be longer or shorter as needed.
  • In a way, it feels more personal than a newsletter. After all, a newsletter is a “publication.” A donor reading it is aware that many others also got the same thing. But a letter is for one person — even if the same number of people get it!
  • When a letter like this is tested against a more traditional newsletter, it performs just as well, and sometimes better.

Telling donors you appreciate them and showing them that their giving matters is a key to successful fundraising. Try this way of doing that!

To discover how you can form a meaningful connection with your donors and transform your fundraising check out our workshop, Donor Love Made Practical. It’s available for members of The Fundraisingology LabThe Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic will supply you with high-quality training, expert advice, and an amazing community to take your fundraising to a whole new level.

Ready to get started? Click here to learn more.

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Direct Mail

VIDEO: How To Boost Your Direct Mail Campaign After It Has Gone Out

In this short video I’m going to show you something amazing:  A way to dramatically improve the performance of a direct mail appeal — after you’ve mailed it. When it’s too late to change it!

And it doesn’t involve inventing a time machine.

This really works. I’ve seen organisations do this again and again:

  • It boosts revenue (often by a lot!)
  • It improves your relationships with some of your best donors.
  • It’s surprisingly fun!
  • And it’s very, very easy to do. (The fact that I can explain it in less than seven minutes tells you that.)

Really, I’m not going to show you how to cast a magic spell. But it will seem like that!

Good luck!

Want to know more about how you can dramatically increase revenue and transform relationships with your mid and major donors? I cover this important topic in my Mid-Value Donor Super Course. You can find out more when you join The Fundraisingology Lab

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Direct Mail

Should You Call Your Direct Mail Appeal an “Annual Fund”?

From his new comfy chair, Fundraisingologist Jeff looks into the often-used but puzzling phrase “Annual Fund” that’s so often seen in direct mail fundraising.

Does it work?

Find out. (And witness the strange drama of the comfy chair.)

Have you had success with “Annual Fund”?  Or not?  Please share your experience by leaving your reply below. We’d love to learn from your experience.

CFRE Points:
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Donor Love

VIDEO: Stupid Fundraising Sometimes Works

Jeff dons his “mean teacher” costume to tell the smart fundraisers a secret about how to think about fundraising in a way that will keep you clear-headed, realistic, and open-minded.

Don’t miss this important mini-lecture. It might be on the test!

Please share your thoughts by leaving your reply below. We’d love to learn from your experience.

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