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CoronavirusDonor Love

5 Donor Love Must-Do’s for the COVID-19 Crisis

Think for a moment what it’s like to be a donor right now during this pandemic crisis…

  • You are afraid — for your own health, your economic future, for your family and loved ones, for the world.
  • You want to help.  After all, you are a donor, and that’s what you do!
  • You are getting a lot of emergency fundraising about the current situation — probably more than you could possibly respond to. At the same time, some of your favorite organizations have gone silent on you.
  • You want to do the right thing and donate where you can make a difference, but it’s hard to tell what’s your best choice.

How do we as fundraisers give our donors what they need most in these confusing and difficult times?

You show them the love.

You go all in on Donor Love.

Here are five things you can do that will boost your donors’ confidence and make them glad they give to your organization during this time of crisis. These things will not only make your donor feel better, but they’ll increase the chance that your donor will keep being your donor — through this crisis and long after.

  1. Say thank you every time you interact with donors

Thanking for a donation is obvious. But let me challenge you to take a look at your standard donation thank you letter (maybe you call it your receipt or acknowledgment letter), website donation auto response, and standard email donation acknowledgment. Do they use the words THANK YOU? Do they use the words THANK YOU more than once? You might be surprised. I know I am when I see how often the message meant to thank donors doesn’t actually say thank you!

This is the most important time ever to ramp up the thankfulness.

Even better, make sure those thank you letters are very specific to the impact your donor has had.

Now consider how you can say thank you even more. Thank you for calling. Thank you for your email. Thank you for your feedback (even when they give feedback you find challenging). Build this into phone scripts and email templates as standard.

Your donor needs to hear it. Again and again. Especially now — and what you do now will have outsized impact.

  1. Handwrite a note on their receipt / thank you letter

Show your donor that a real human acknowledges the wonderful thing they did. This really comes to life when you not only hand-sign thank you letters, but also add a smiley face or quick handwritten note.

  1. Call them to say thank you

This is another powerful way to show your donor that a real human acknowledges the wonderful thing they did. Thank you calls are really impactful. You can also simply set the task of trying to call and thank every donor, once in the year. It doesn’t have to be in response to a specific gift. Have an example of the impact they have had and call and thank them for being part of that impact and acknowledge how long they have been giving.

Check out Amnesty Australia’s brilliant all staff Thank You Day. I should warn you that this video may make you want to get everyone involved in thanking your donors, which is an incredible way to support fundraising within your organisation.

  1. Give them opportunities for feedback, questions and sharing

A Supporter Connection Survey is a great way to do this — and it has heaps of added benefits. (Find out more about this tool by reading Here’s One Easy Tool That Transforms Your Fundraising).

A donor care letter is another way to do this. (Read about how to do one of these at A Great Way to REALLY Thank Your Donors.)

Give them a way to communicate with you on your appeal response forms such as a comments or feedback box. Literally say, “I’d love to hear any feedback you have about how I communicate with you” or “If you have any questions about the impact you are having on X, please let me know below” or “I’d love to know why you chose to give to support X today, please let me know.”

And here’s something courageous leaders do: Give donors a way to get in touch personally – my favorite is providing your email address (not a generic one but your actual email address) and direct phone number in your next appeal letter. Don’t worry — you won’t have hundreds of donors calling you, but the few who do are engaged and worthy of your time.

  1. Implement an acknowledgment strategy

The following table is an example of how you can get started with an acknowledgment strategy. It starts with the key donor groups this charity has, ranked by priority. It assigns a person to be responsible for their piece of donor love. And it details the standard action to be taken by the person responsible when a donation is made.

This organisation uses multiple team members and multiple tactics to show the love. Most importantly, it is programmed so it happens.

Every interaction is captured in their database so it can be tracked. The Mid and Major Donor teams use the opportunity as part of their engagement and prospecting, the Bequest Manager uses the opportunity to stay in touch, the Fundraising Manager uses the opportunity to help their team engage with donors.

They also use a surprise and delight approach, which sees them gather together small gifts that are produced as part of their wider fundraising and communications activity (such as premiums from returned acquisition packs or appeals, leftover merchandise and gifts from events) as well as some purposely produced items they know donors love.

The team is given the opportunity to use their discretion to add these small gifts of thanks to thank you letters as a way of surprising and delighting donors in an appropriate and cost-effective way.

Donor Type

Discover how you can connect more with your donors, grow your fundraising income, and master your career — even when times are tough. Join The Fundraisingology Lab for extraordinary training, resources, cheat-sheets, and a worldwide community of fundraisers who will lift your spirits and transform your career.

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CreativityDirect MailDonor CareDonor LoveDonor PsychologyWriting

2 Truths Your Donors Wish You Understood about Direct Mail

I am a Gen Xer. I am not the core target market for direct mail. In my early twenties I had to learn two lessons quickly in order to do my job as a Fundraising Appeal Manager.

Lesson one: The people who respond to direct mail grew up with the post being THE main way people communicated outside of in person

The audience who loves and responds to direct mail the most are the Silent Generation born before 1945 (and we are talking about those born in the last 1920’s to 1945) and the older of the Boomers, so let’s say those born 1946 to the 1950’s.

If you’re younger than that, you no doubt see the mailbox as a container full of bills, catalogues, and other not-so-wanted things.

But a few decades ago, the average person could count on there being personal letters from people they knew in every post. Try to imagine how different it would be to approach the mail knowing you’d be connecting with friends and family — some of them people you haven’t seen in years. The post was a source of precious human connection. And even though it was possible to reach distant people by telephone, it was prohibitively expensive, used mainly for emergencies and very important news, if at all.

You and I approach the mail with little sense that there’s anything good in there, and rarely anything from a real person.

Not most of our donors. They expect good things to come in the mail.

This is why direct mail — which to my imagination seems so unlikely to be at all interesting — can work. And work very well in many cases.

Break free from your sense that the mail is almost entirely boring, annoying, and irrelevant.

Do your best to imagine what it’s like to think of the mail as magical, beautiful, and important.

That’s when you’ll start to succeed in direct mail fundraising.

Lesson two: Direct Mail donors want mail from causes they are connected to and care about

Our core direct mail audience range from their 60s to their 90s. Most don’t work the long hours you and I do. They don’t have the kids’ dinner to scramble together in the evening, along with the household chores, being nice to the significant other, and doing all those work/life balance things we know we should be doing. They have more time.

They also have more life experience. They saw more than any generation before due to their access to radio, TV, phones, print, and later the internet. They have lived through wars, famines, and revolutions. They saw the rise of AIDS. They fought for civil rights and lead the feminist movement.

Every generation tends to believe their own time is the most dramatic and important of all time, but think about it: people who are now older lived through more crisis, danger, and drama than you or I can imagine. They have a strong sense of connection with the world, which comes from their experience. It also comes with age, because changes in brain chemistry increase their sense of connection with the world.

They see and experience their world differently from you and me.

Direct mail may seem to us like irrelevant and unwanted “junk mail.” To a true direct mail donor, it is a chance to change the world!

That’s the reality you’re working in when you work in direct mail.

Learn more about the often-surprising ways we connect with donors by taking our most popular online course, Irresistible Communications for Great Nonprofits. It’s available for members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Check it out.

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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.

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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 MailDonor CareDonor Love

4 Ways to Secure That All-Important Second Gift

I met up with a fundraiser — let’s call him Brian — a couple of years ago to talk about the work my team had been doing for their donor acquisition program. The direct mail acquisition was doing really well. Great response, strong average gift, acceptable ROI, in a tough market … I was there to find out why they had decided to do less of it, not more.

Brian was late for the meeting. He had been with his team making welcome calls.

Every single new donor who had provided a phone number received a welcome call. They attempted to get through up to 12 times! They really wanted to connect on those calls.

Turns out the second gift rate of their new donors who were reached with a phone call was higher than those not reached. The value over 12 months was also higher. It wasn’t just the call making the impact, information gathered in the phone calls was impacting … more email addresses captured, giving a wider reach for their multi-channel communications and critically understanding the donors relationship to the cause (a major health issue / killer) was sought and used to personalise subsequent communications.

Brian was prioritising this donor care for new donors. If he recruited even higher volumes of donors, they would not be able to keep up with the calls and do all of their other work.

The best outcome would have been Brian being able to get more budget to staff the welcome calls so he could continue to invest in higher volume acquisition. He couldn’t. But he made the tough decision — and I think this was the right one … better retained and engaged donors for a longer life time over as many donors as possible.

As a follow up to my recent blog, The Most Important Gift from Your Donor – It’s the 2nd, Not the 1st!, I’ve got four evidence-based ideas you should plan to do, after your brilliant first gift acknowledgment (like Brian’s welcome calls), as part of your new donor engagement and second gift conversion strategy.

1. Ask again, quickly, and many times, giving the donor more opportunities to have even more impact.

I have seen many donor communications plans that do not prioritise asking again quickly … I think this comes from the unsubstantiated idea that we need to rest donors after they give. Analysis shows that those most likely to give again are those who have given the most recently. Testing I have run has demonstrated that the sooner you ask, the higher the second gift rate.

2. Focus on what they have demonstrated they care about … not EVERYTHING you do. Ask them to support the same thing they just gave to again.

What did you ask the donor to support? Tell her she supported it. Show her how the thing you are asking her to support now links to what she has shown she cares about. Even better — the best thing to ask for is the same thing she gave to in the first place. The idea that you have to ask the donor to support something different seems to come from an idea that donors need lots of options or that they might get bored with the same thing. The data DOES NOT support this. A donor is far more likely to give to the same thing again than something different.

Many donors work on a 12-month giving cycle … which can stretch out, particularly if the number of opportunities to give again from you is few. If after 12 months of opportunities to give you have not had a response, ask the donor to give to exactly the same thing they gave to in the first place … it works.

3. Offer Monthly Giving.

Monthly Givers are retained at much higher rates than one-off or occasional givers, and new one-off givers are great prospects for Monthly Giving, when asked correctly.

Asking soon, like within 6 to 8 weeks of their first gift, maximises response as the memory of giving and how great it made them feel is still fresh. And don’t give up! Some donors need more time experiencing supporting you to see the value in Monthly Giving.

4. Send them a survey.

A “new donor survey” can be a great engagement tool, and donors who respond are more likely to keep supporting you.

A version of your Supporter Connection Survey can be used for new donors really effectively. If you haven’t already taken our Supporter Connection Survey course, it’s available for members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Check it out.

Acquisition is hard. Make your life easier by planning to get that second gift and to keep those new donors giving from the outset.

Discover how you can connect more with your donors, grow your fundraising income, and master your career. Join The Fundraisingology Lab and you join the thousands of smart fundraisers who are becoming EXTRAORDINARY FUNDRAISERS. Check it out.

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Pop Art Woman Fail e1561504698194
Boards and Fundraising

My Worst Fundraising Fail, and What You Can Learn from It

When Jeff suggested this blog topic my immediate reaction was, Um, no, I’ll look silly. Reality is we all make mistakes … and my best fundraising learnings have come from my fails.

So here you go …

In my early fundraising agency career I worked with a wonderful fundraiser, let’s call him Alan. Alan came to me looking for some analysis to understand what was happening with the fundraising program he’d just taken over.

Like many in his position, he discovered an ageing database. Retention was okay, but income was declining as no new supporters had been sought for many years. There were some tactics we could employ to increase income, but not enough to halt the decline.

Investment in acquisition would be required to stablise income and help feed the bequest pipeline.

We looked at the options together and built a business case to get the required investment. Direct Mail single-gift acquisition was the immediate opportunity… great appeals program to go into, strong inbound supporter services and outbound supporter care program, amazing stories of need and impact from the field, and a plan to develop a monthly giving offer that would convert newly recruited donors.

Alan sent me the brief. It included a request to include a monthly giving ask in the acquisition packs and use a new monthly giving product his team had developed.

What? Where did this come from?

On the phone I went and Alan and I chatted … a lot.

A board member, who had a marketing business, had taken it upon herself to develop a monthly giving offer to compete with Child Sponsorship, as the board felt that was where they were missing out. But here’s the important part: They didn’t have child sponsorship.

The monthly giving offer was not great for three reasons:

  1. It was developed in the absence of any insight around donors’ values or motivations for supporting. It was trying to replicate Child Sponsorship without any of the elements that make Child Sponsorship work.
  2. It had an incredibly generic offer.
  3. The whole acquisition strategy was based around recruiting single givers (because in the market at that time that was the best potential return) not monthly givers.

I expressed my concerns about the monthly giving offer and the change to strategy. I used analysis as evidence against the inclusion of a monthly giving offer in the acquisition pack – my experience was, and remains, focus on a single offer and evidence it well, don’t dilute with multiple offers (like a single gift ask and a monthly giving ask).

This was all received and understood by Alan … but his boss and the board member knew better.

I presented a reforecast of expected returns. Lower returns. It fell on deaf ears.

Alan was under pressure to acquire new donors and this is what he had to work with.

So we pushed on, trying to mould what we had to the new request. It wasn’t coming off … the pack wasn’t working for me, it was trying to do too much, messages were confusing and we simply could not implement the key tactics we knew would bring success.

I should have stood firm. I did not, because at this point the boss’s desire to proceed with the board’s blessing overruled my concerns.

The campaign was a massive failure. It did not reach revised targets, let alone the original ones. Alan’s organisation had spent a good chunk of the available acquisition investment on a failure.

In fundraising, we have to take risks to try new things … calculated risks. This was not a calculated risk, this was ego. The evidence was there that the move was wrong. We knew why the campaign failed … and we didn’t even learn anything — we already knew it from the outset.

My learning wasn’t about what the right acquisition strategy was. It was about standing firm when your experience and evidence suggest there is an alternative with a higher chance of success.

I haven’t seen Alan in years, but my LinkedIn stalking tells me he survived, just as I did. He has continued as a professional fundraiser in some fantastic organisations with successful programs. And the organisation … well, they have continued to shrink. After that failure, they deemed all acquisition to be “too risky.” A big mistake that will hurt them for years to come!

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.

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Love your donors thank you
Donor Love

5 Tips and Tricks to Loving Your Donors

For many years I gave to an organisation that organised an annual fun day for children with disabilities. The kids and their caregivers were hosted at a day-long party with activities, games and entertainment accessible to all.

I have no idea how I first ended up giving. But I know that I gave every year, for five years. Each year, a fellow named Mark called me — at work because that was the number I’d provided. He would remind me who he was and where he was from. I always listened because Mark was polite, engaging and reminded me we had spoken before.

Mark would spark my memory by mentioning the details of an annual event for disabled children I had previously supported. Mark would ask if I remember my gift the previous year. And every year I said yes, because after I donated I received a thank you letter and receipt from Mark. This letter was always memorable.

The letter was remarkable in that it defied every single graphic design principal (my designer friends would have called it ugly) and was written exactly like Mark chatted. It was an actual letter from a human. And I loved it.

On the first two sides of the letter Mark recalled the event, how it sounded, what he remembers catching his eye and a description of one child and their caregivers’ experience at the event. Photos taken at the event were clipped randomly onto the final two pages with captions highlighting the joy being had in each and every shot.

Mark said thank you more times in the letter than you think was possible.

Mark would always note the date of our call, how much I had donated and how many children that equated to being able to attend the event.

The letter was memorable. Mark was memorable. The whole experience was memorable. Mark showed me the love. Mark helped me feel wonderful about myself. Mark’s letters always made me smile.

Each year, for five years, I made it possible for one, two or three kids and their carers to have an awesome day out, to have a fun, carefree time they otherwise would not have had. (The run ended at year six because I moved to a different job, and Mark couldn’t find me. I heard, though, that he managed to get my successor in the job to start supporting the event!)

I felt the love.

Mark nailed it. 

The following is for those who believe, like Mark, that showing your donors the love is the right thing to do and you are looking for some inspiration.

1. Say thank you every time you interact with donors

Thanking for a donation is obvious. But let me challenge you to take a look at your standard donation thank you letter (maybe you call it your receipt or acknowledgment letter), website donation auto response and standard email donation acknowledgment. Do they use the words THANK YOU? Do they use the word THANK YOU more than once? You might be surprised. I know I am when I see how often the message meant to thank donors doesn’t actually say thank you!

This is your immediate opportunity to ramp up the love.

Even better, be like Mark and make sure those thank you letters are very specific to the impact your donor has had.

Now consider how you can say thank you even more. Thank you for calling. Thank you for your email. Thank you for your feedback (even when they give feedback you find challenging). Build this into phone scripts and email templates as standard.

2. Handwrite a note on their receipt / thank you letter

Show your donor that a real human acknowledges the wonderful thing they did. Mark’s do-it-yourself approach felt authentic. He always hand signed his letters to me and on occasion there was a smiley face or quick note handwritten. Mark was hand signing hundreds of letters every year.

3. Call them to say thank you

This is another powerful way to show your donor that a real human acknowledges the wonderful thing they did. Thank you calls are really impactful. You can also simply set the task of trying to call and thank every donor, once in the year. It doesn’t have to be in response to a specific gift. Have an example of the impact they have had and call and thank them for being part of that impact and acknowledge how long they have been giving.

Check out Amnesty Australia’s brilliant all staff Thank You Day. I should warn you that this video may make you want to get everyone involved in thanking your donors, which is an incredible way to support fundraising within your organisation.

4. Give them opportunities to feedback, ask questions, and share

A Supporter Connection Survey is a great way to this — and it has heaps of added benefits. (Find out more about this tool by reading Here’s One Easy Tool That Transforms Your Fundraising).

A donor care letter is another way to do this. (Read about how to do one of these at A Great Way to REALLY Thank Your Donors.)

Give them a way to communicate with you on your appeal response forms such as a comments or feedback box. Literally say “I’d love to hear any feedback you have about how I communicate with you” or “If you have any questions about the impact you are having on X, please let me know below” or “I’d love to know why you chose to give to support X today, please let me know.”

Give donors a way to get in touch personally – my favourite is providing your email address (not a generic one but your actual email address) and direct phone number in your next appeal letter. Don’t worry — you won’t have hundreds of donors calling you, but the few who do are engaged and worthy of your time.

5. Implement an acknowledgment strategy

The following table is an example of how you can get started with an acknowledgment strategy. It starts with the key donor groups this charity has, ranked by priority. It assigns a person to be responsible for their piece of donor love. And it details the standard action to be taken, by the person responsible, when a donation is made by someone in that donor type or segment.

This organisation uses multiple team members and multiple tactics to show the love. Most importantly, it is programmed, so it happens. Each of the interactions detailed is captured in their database so it can be tracked. The Mid and Major Donor teams use the opportunity as part of their engagement and prospecting, the Bequest Manager uses the opportunity to stay in touch, the Fundraising Manager uses the opportunity to help their team engage with donors.

They also use a surprise and delight approach which sees them gather together small gifts that are produced as part of their wider fundraising and communications activity (such as premiums from returned acquisition packs or appeals, leftover merchandise and gifts from events) as well as some purposely produced items they know donors love. The team is given the opportunity to use their discretion to add these small gifts of thanks to thank you letters as a way of surprising and delighting donors in an appropriate and cost-effective way.

Donor Type

Thank you to Mark (wherever you are now) for teaching my younger self that authenticity, manners, and genuine passion are the foundation of great donor care. And thank you for being a wonderful example of how showing donors the love pays off.

Discover how you can connect more with your donors, grow your fundraising income, and master your career. Join The Fundraisingology Lab and you join the thousands of smart fundraisers who are becoming EXTRAORDINARY FUNDRAISERS. Check it out.

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Donor Love

5 Reasons You Must Invest in Donor Service

In the commercial world, there is no arguing that: 

  • Customer service has long been recognised as an incredibly important revenue driver. 
  • Excellent customer service vastly lowers churn rate (loss of customers). 
  • When complaints are handled well,  customers become more loyal than they were before the issue.

Why then, in the fundraising world, is donor service often the last thing we invest in? 

These things are just as true for donors as they are for customers. If you need empirical evidence check out Adrian Sargeant’s work. One of his major findings is that loyal donors give more and stay longer — and the quality of service and care you provide donors directly impact loyalty

I personally know this to be true. I started my working life in customer service, and I got my first job in the nonprofit space because of my customer service experience. I was the only person in that organisation at the time providing donor service.  

When I left five years later there were six staff dedicated to donor service and we had one of the highest retention rates in the industry. The people in the Donor Service team helped to retain donors, upgrade them, save them from cancelling, made them feel amazing about their giving, helped them understand the real impact they were having, dealt with their concerns, feedback and complaints. It was great donor care

For several years I was part of a major industry wide Mystery Shopping program in Australia and New Zealand. Over 100 charities mystery shopped, with service being one of the key things we were looking at benchmarking. 

Those that came out on top with great Donor Service also had the best retention.  

And I’ll be honest: I saw some appalling service. And there was some inspirational service. The really poor service came from organisations that had no investment in Donor Service. In fact, most of the really bad organisations did not even have a resource dedicated to Donor Service … It was database administrators answering the phones — not acceptable for good Donor Service.  

Getting the money to invest in Donor Service can be hard. Here are some reasons for investing in Donor Service that have helped many fundraisers make the business case for spending some budget on quality Donor Service: 

  1. Your Donor Service people are the face of your cause to many donors. They are the representation of your brand, your mission and your values. Are you putting your best foot forward here? 
  2. Your Donor Service people will speak to more donors than anyone else in your organisation. They are in the best position to listen to your donors – they can help you understand your donors’ needs. Have you worked with your Donor Service people to ensure that they are in a position to help build your body of understanding about your donors? 
  3. Your Donor Service can differentiate you from other causes your donors give to. When it comes to donors making the hard choices between who to keep supporting and who to stop supporting or who to consider including in their Will — poor service could be your downfall.  
  4. Your Donor Service people will save, retain, and upgrade donors. Trained Donor Service staff can save over 20% of inbound Monthly Giving cancellations. They can upgrade gift amounts to appeals. They can identify highly engaged higher value donors and provide critical insight into their motivations. They can help frustrated donors resolve their issues. All of this will happen as long as you consider the following point …  
  5. Donor Service is a skill that requires the right people, trained and supported under a clear mandate. Just like any other part of your fundraising you can assign an ROI (Return on Investment) to your Donor Service. And just like other parts of your fundraising you need a strategy, investment, and a way to monitor, measure and report back. Is Donor Service considered as important as your acquisition program?  

Related post: 6 Ways to Measure Your Fundraising to Understand Your Donors

If you are a small organisation or just starting out with fundraising, you can still invest in Donor Service. It may be part of someone’s job but ensuring it is considered as part of your Donor Care Strategy will give it visibility and help you to understand its value. So as you grow you can make evidenced cases for further investment.  

We can help you explore your Donor Service needs and opportunities through our one-to-one Coaching. To find out more and book a free call visit: www.moceanic.com/coaching-plus/ 

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Direct MailDonor CareDonor Love

The Most Important Gift from Your Donor – It’s the 2nd, Not the 1st!

I started my working life in customer service, selling women’s shoes. This had two major impacts on my life. 

  1. I have a shoe addiction that appears to be incurable. 
  2. I have always believed that understanding your customer leads to the best possible outcome for both of you.

In my shoes days, my chatty nature allowed for me to get to the heart of most ladies’ shoes desires fairly quickly — and resulted in solid sales for me and happy ladies with new shoes they loved. Over my seven years selling shoes I generated a small following of ladies who returned to me time and again for their shoe-indulging needs. If they came back a second time and sought me out, I knew I would very likely see them again and again and again.  

The same goes for donors, if they come back for a second time, they are much more likely to give again than those who have only done it once.  

One of my first jobs in fundraising was on the phones with an environmental charity taking inbound donation calls. I was blown away by the passion of the donors, how much they knew about the environment, threatened species, and climate change. I found myself learning as much as possible so I could join and understand their enthusiasm and concern. And I naturally found myself focusing on thanking them for their donations, their time, making the effort to call in, for supporting again for supporting for so long, for supporting for the first time.  

I didn’t know that this kind of thanking was not common. And like my shoe days, I ended up with a group of donors I spoke to, or who asked to speak to me, every time they gave. They appreciated my attempts to understand them and what they cared about and my thankful approach. I learnt quickly — because they told me — that lots of other organisations did not thank them in any way. That they weren’t always sure their giving was doing anything. 

These basics still hold true, but now I have the evidence beyond my own anecdotal experience to prove it.  

Thank and engage with a new donor and they are more likely to give again. And someone who gives for the second time is more likely to give again … the first gift is not a commitment, the second one is closer to an indication of ongoing potential. 

So how do we secure a second gift? 

I think it’s important we don’t assume a first gift is a commitment.  

When we solicit a first gift from a new donor, we rarely suggest it’s any form of commitment. In fact, strong first gift asks focus on a single focused offer (see Jeff’s blog on this: How to Make Fundraising Work: Nail the Offer), and as such the expectation we set with prospective new donors is to receive that gift and show the donor that their giving has achieved what we said it would. 

Sean explains this well in his blog: Sorry darling not everyone wants a relationship with you.

“You see, most donors don’t want relationships with you. They gave because they liked the pack/person who signed them up on the street/advert online/Facebook post/friend who did an event. The connection is slight. Casual. Hardly ‘engaged’.” 

Here’s my top tip for securing the second gift: 

Make sure your first-time donors know they have done something meaningful, that they have had the impact you offered them.

Your thank you acknowledgment for their first gift is your first moment of truth. Your first opportunity to engage and influence a potential second gift. Running at the first-time donor with expression of thanks for the “commitment” they’ve made to your organisation … or worse still, throwing a tonne of information about everything you do and welcoming them on board like they have committed to marriage, is not responding to where the first time giver is. 

If you aren’t even sending a thank you or acknowledgment, stop reading here and go address this. It’s the most important thing you will do to improve your donor experience and donor retention.  

Effectively thanking donors for the donations, they make is not a cost — it’s a necessity. It’s good manners, it’s common sense, and it will help you take a step towards being donor-centric (See Jeff’s blog 20 Donor-Centric Things You Can Do to Raise More Money — Now and for Years to Come  for some chat on what donor-centricity is and other things you can do to be more donor-centric).

I’ll put it out there: the majority of first gift acknowledgments are rubbish.  

Why? Because they are generic or purely administrative or not reflective of what the donors did (which was make a gift, in response to some trigger). None of these things make a first-time donor feel like their donation was valued. And even worse, they don’t give an emotional pay back … they don’t show your first-time donor that they have done something important in some specific way. 

An administrative or generic acknowledgment ticks the boxes of being organised and they are unlikely to upset anyone … but they certainly don’t provide compelling, emotional support for the outcome of giving. 

An over-the-top ‘Welcome to Us’ first gift response is likely just confusing and/or overwhelming. This is just information overload, with lots of organisational information unrelated to them, their donation, the impact of their donation, or their motivation for giving the donation. Lots of rational, factual, and organisationally focused information that I guess we create with the belief we are presenting our credibility. Often these packs ‘educate’ or introduce a first-time donor to everything we do. 

Welcome to Save the Snails Fiona, you have joined an organisation that is 45 years old, and doing X, Y and Z to save snails and we are so pleased to have you on board. 

And the donor is thinking, Hey wait a minute, I didn’t join anything. What is happening here?  

Even if you acknowledge what they gave for, this ‘too much, too soon’ approach can obscure the compelling, emotional support for the outcome of giving. 

A really great thank you / acknowledgment should: 

  1. Address the donor personally and correctly. 
  2. Tell her what impactful / life-changing thing she has achieved, personally, by making the donation. Be specific about the impact … this is different from what you are going to spend the money on. Make sure this impactful thing is the impactful thing you solicited the donation for. 
  3. Say thank you … the actual words Thank You. It’s surprising how much effort goes into writing thank you letters that do not say thank you.  
  4. Tell the donor a story or extend the story she responded to. A rescue helicopter charity thanked me for my first donation, made online and unsolicited, by telling me about a young child whose life was recently saved by the rescue helicopter team and thanked me for helping to ensure further missions like that will happen. I was given an emotional reason to feel good about myself for making a donation. I was given a compelling story I could re-tell myself or my family about the impact of my generosity. My giving was treated with the respect it deserved. 

Here are a few common first gift acknowledgments to check to make sure they’re working right: 

  • Website auto response – the response that confirms the donor has made a gift once she makes the final click on the donation form. These are hands-down the most non-personal and uninspiring administrative interactions most charities deliver. If you don’t have control over this part of your web journey, find out who does and engage them to help you. It might cost some money, but it is worth it. 
  • The donation destination on your website. Do the words Thank You appear at all? 
  • Inbound call to your office / supporters service team. Are they trained and supported to have the skills and feel they have the time to be delivering really heartfelt thank yous to everyone who makes a donation? 
  • Inbound call to a phone agency. Have you listened in on their thank yous?
  • Response to a direct mail pack. Are you pumping out a generic, two paragraph note on the combined thank you and receipt piece of paper your database produces? At the very least please make those two paragraphs meet the above criteria, and if they can’t, find a way to include an additional thank you letter with the administrative receipt. The cost and operational hassle are worth it. 

We can help you explore your Donor Service needs and opportunities through our one-to-one Coaching. To find out more and book a free call visit: www.moceanic.com/coaching-plus/ 

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Maths of Fundraising

6 Ways to Measure Your Fundraising to Understand Your Donors

I love data. Please don’t worry about me, I also like skiing, Star Wars, sneakers, dancing, and playing Lego with my daughter. I also really like people-watching. I can easily spend hours watching people and pondering why they are where they are, what they are thinking, why they are interacting the way they do. My Mum calls it nosey. I call it research.

My love of data is part of my nosiness. In fundraising, data represents people and the way they behave. And in some cases, it can help us understand not just the what they do but the why

Here are six critical things you should be watching carefully: 

1.Response Rate

The number of people who responded divided by the number you contacted.   

This will be a number under 1.0.

Example: If I mailed 1,000 people with my Spring Campaign and 245 respond with a donation my response rate is 245/1000 which is 0.245.

This can be expressed as 24.5%.

Number of responses / Number of people asked = Response rate.

There is no best practice response rate, whether we’re talking acquisition or donor cultivation, other than that cultivation response rate tends to be 5 to 10 times higher that acquisition rates. 

Take direct mail acquisition for example … if you have been doing this for many years your response rates will likely start declining as your exposure to available lists increases. If you are new to direct mail acquisition, mailing the same lists will likely get a higher response rate.

You should be able to find out the generally acceptable response rate by asking other fundraisers in your market though and use this as a benchmark. Most important is you compare your response rate to your recent past response rates to assess if things are on the up or down. 

2. Average Gift 

Income generated divided by the number of donations made. 

Example: If I raised $65,000 from 245 people their average gift is $65,000/245 = $265.31 

Average gift should be stable or growing, not declining. 

Compare like campaigns, such as Christmas last year compared to Christmas this year. If your average gift is decreasing over time, you may have an issue with your ask strategy and/or your targeting. If it’s staying the same, you likely have an opportunity to test upgrade ask strategies.  

New donors will pull your overall average gift down, so looking at average gift for new donors versus retained donors will ensure you aren’t making decisions for everyone that are influenced by a specific group, such as brand-new donors. 

3. Return on Investment (ROI) 

Revenue divided by expenses. 

Example: If it cost me $3,000 to mail my 1,000 targets then my ROI is the $65,000 / $3,000 = 21.6 — I brought in $21.60 for every dollar I spent. 

You should calculate ROI not only for a single project, but over time. Look at the return over 12 months, 3 years, even 5 years to get a better insight into the value and potential of that activity. Donor acquisition activity will rarely produce a positive result from the recruitment campaign alone, but will grow based on future giving. It’s also important for Monthly Giving programs, as the returns may be 12, 18, even 24+ months out from the initial recruitment.

BEWARE: ROI can be a blunt tool. Its two inputs are revenue and expenses. Reducing expenses can produce a better ROI, BUT reducing expenses in campaigns often leads to decreased revenue, leading to the same or even worse ROI. ROI does not tell you how much net income you generate for your cause. In fact, sometimes a low ROI will get you more income than a high ROI.  

Where I find the most ROI most important is when looking at acquisition campaigns. You can compare the ROI of different acquisition activity to help with your investment decisions and you can monitor a particular acquisition activity over time to assess if it remains viable. 

4. Second gift rate (usually measured within 12 months) 

Number of new donors who made a second gift, divide by the number of these donors who had made their first and only gift, within 12 months

Example: If I recruited 545 donors via my Christmas direct mail acquisition campaign in December and by the following December 263 of those donors had made at least one additional donation each then my second gift rate, over 12 months, would be 236/545 = 0.433 (43.3%). 

It is rare in most markets for second gift rates – except for monthly givers – to be more than 50%.

You might say that a donor who has given you only one gift isn’t quite a donor — yet. It’s kind of like that way a first date is not relationship. That happens over time. Or not. 

Second gift rate is usually measured over a set time frame, like 12 months. There are several factors that affect second gift rate. The main ones being the number of opportunities a new donor is presented with to give again, and how quickly they are asked again.  

(See this blog for more on how you can secure this critical second gift: The Most Important Gift from Your Donor – It’s the 2nd, Not the 1st!)

I recommend assessing second gift rates after 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months, 18 months, and 24 months, as each of these will give you insight into how effective your communications in each period have been at engaging your new donors to give again. In some cases, I have seen second gift rates double between 12 and 24 months. The cost to secure the second gift needs to be considered to understand where there is value in continuing to ask. 

5. Attrition rate 

Monthly giving attrition is a measure of the number of people who were giving last year but not this year.

Example: If I recruited 200 Monthly Givers in January and I have 120 still giving then I know that 80 stopped giving the next January, then my attrition rate is;

80/200 = 40%.

Attrition is a very good measure of success of a monthly program, but not that relevant for one off givers.

6. Income per donor 

Total income generated by a particular donor program divided by the number of donors who gave to that program. This gives you the average dollar amount generated per donor over 12 months. 

Example: If your appeals program generated $600,000 in total last year and 4,500 unique donors who gave one or more times, then your annual income per donor was $133.33.  

This measure tells me the relative value of your donors in your program and is even more helpful when benchmarked against the industry but it’s enough to start looking at your own levels over time. Income per donor should be increasing year over year. If it’s falling, there is a problem. If it is stagnant, you likely have some latent growth potential with your longer-term donors.

Acquisition usually drives down your overall income per donor (the average new donor gives less in a year than the average continuing donor), so it’s helpful to look at income per donor separately for new and continuing donors. 

Happy measuring. Please get in touch if you want to take a deeper dive into how to measure you campaigns, programs or donors. 

Related post: How to Use — or Misuse Donor Lifetime Value

We can help you explore your Donor Service needs and opportunities through our one-to-one Coaching. To find out more and book a free call visit: www.moceanic.com/coaching-plus/ 

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