Pop Art Almonds

VIDEO: My Favorite Fundraising Appeal: The Power of Specificity

If you’re in or near Seattle, or you can manage to get to Seattle, you don’t want to miss the St. Demetrios Greek Festival every September.

The highlight of the Festival for me comes a few months before that, when the organizers send out the fundraising appeal for the community to support the Festival.

It is one of the most amazing super-specific fundraising appeals ever. It lists bulk items the Festival needs and their prices. Here it is:


This may not be right for every charitable cause, but the level of specificity can be powerful, and a great lesson for us all!

Learn more about how to craft powerful fundraising offers that will have your donors lining up to give. That’s just part of the training available for members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Check it out.

Here are some other posts on great fundraising offers:

CFRE Points:
Pop Art Piggy Bank e1561505269526

Matching Gift Appeals: How Many Is Too Many?

Be not afraid. That’s generally good advice, and it’s very good advice when it comes to matching gift offers.

Matching gift appeals are maybe the easiest and most dependable way to increase response to your fundraising.

It works any time of year, and in any medium.  Add a match to any offer, and you can expect increased revenue — mostly from higher response, but often also from higher average gifts.  And, if you push all the right match buttons, your increase can be anywhere from decent (10% lift) to dramatic (50% or more).

For more on how to use a matched gift in your fundraising, check out this related blog: How to Bulk Up Response to Any Fundraising Ask with Matching Funds

Once you experience that kind of fundraising power, you’ll want to do it again. And again.

And here’s where fear often kicks in: I frequently get asked at what point do match offers “turn bad” and become counterproductive. When do you stop?  Will your match appeals “wear out” and stop working, leaving you worse off than you were before you tried a match offer in the first place?

Short answer:  No. You can’t do too many match offers.

Let me be clear: There is no situation I’ve ever seen where a non-match offer works better than a match offer. So go ahead and keep adding match offers to your fundraising lineup. The only limitation is how much match money you can get in the first place.

Now let me give you the longer, more complicated answer to the question of too many matches …

The more match offers you have in your schedule, the less “special” they become. Instead of doing 50% better than a non-match appeal, numerous match appeals become just better than average. You’re still better off with them than without them.

And here’s the important thing: While adding more matches makes them less special, they don’t get weaker than non-match appeals — unless you do them wrong!

I’ve found that as match appeals proliferate, you want to do things to make them distinct from one another:

  • Give the match campaign a name.
  • Take different approaches for the reply device, like have several of them, each for a single amount; use a jumbo-sized reply device; add involvement devices, like stickers that donors use to dramatize the match.
  • And this one is a big winner: Use check-style reply devices (they work in places where people still write paper checks).
  • Use different matching ratios — sometimes offer to triple the donor’s gift. (But avoid matches that less than double it.)

I’ve worked with several organizations that kept adding more and more match offers to their line-up, turning non-match appeals into match appeals until all of the appeals had match offers. It’s a strong strategy that maximizes revenue … because donors love having their donations matched!

And that’s the important thing to keep in mind. When you discover something donors love to respond to, that is a good thing. And doing it more is usually more of a good thing.

Don’t be afraid to add match offers to your fundraising line-up!

Join the Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic to learn more about how to put powerful offers to work for your fundraising.

CFRE Points:
Pop Art Magician e1535425931329

How to Bulk Up Response to Any Fundraising Ask with Matching Funds

I don’t throw around terms like “magic” lightly, because there’s no such thing.

But matching funds come close to magic.

A match offer can cut through the clutter and encourage more donors to give. In fact, in my experience, a well-built match offer can bring in 10% to 50% more revenue than a similar message without a match.

And it does so by increasing response rates without depressing average gift. In fact, average gifts sometimes increase with match offers.

See why I’m almost willing to call it magic?

What is a match offer?

It’s a simple promise made to donors: Send us a donation, and we’ll double it. (Or more — a bit on that shortly!)

That doubling money can come from many different sources:

  • Your board (it’s a great way to get the board involved in fundraising).
  • A major donor (or several major donors pooled into a single fund).
  • Foundation, corporate, or government sources.

All the matcher has to do is agree to have you say their gift will “match” the donations of other donors. Sometimes that depends on some total amount being raised like Your gift will be matched if we raise a total of at least $25,000. More often there’s no minimum to raise, but instead a maximum: Your gift will be matched until we raise a total of $25,000. Both ways add urgency to the message. The donor either needs to act quickly to help raise enough or to make sure their gift gets matched.

Matches also often have a time deadline connected to them: Your gift will be matched if you give by December 31.

The most important element of a match offer is the multiplier. That is the ratio that the donors’ contributions will be matched. Most often, it’s 1:1, meaning the gift is doubled. But it can be more than that — the gift can be tripled, quadrupled, even multiplied by 10, 20, 50 times, or more. And here’s the surprising thing: the greater the multiplier, the stronger the response. So if you can swing a 2:1 match (“Your gift will be tripled by matching funds!”) do so!

If you can’t make that work, don’t let that discourage you. Do a match anyway.

The only multiplier that doesn’t work so well is when the donor’s gift is less than doubled: Every $1 you give will become $1.25. That doesn’t have the magic!

How to Execute Your Match Fundraising

There are a few best-practice approaches that really make the most of a match offer.

Outer envelope (or subject line)

Trumpet the match. That’s all you need to do. Use language like this:

  • Matching Funds will double your donation
  • Every $1 will become $2 (or, Every $50 will become $100)
  • Your Gift DOUBLED by matching funds
  • $1 = $2

Most of the time, “giving away” your fundraising offer on an outer envelope or subject line is a bad tactic that suppresses response. Not in this case!

Reply device (or landing page)

It’s important that you use this real estate to demonstrate the multiplying power of the match and how it increases the donor’s giving. Here’s how a typical gift array on a match reply might look:

  • [ ] $25 to become $50 with matching funds
  • [ ] $50 to become $100 with matching funds
  • [ ] $75 to become $150 with matching funds

Do that math for the donor. Even when it’s super-easy math!


Clarity, simplicity, repetition, and urgency are the keys, as they are in all fundraising. But with a match, your messaging should be almost entirely about the match.

Of course, you’re still raising the money to do something specific. Your call to action should be something like this:

  • Feed twice as many hungry children!
  • Double my gift to feed the children!
  • Match my hunger-fighting gift!

Here are some more phrases you can use in match fundraising:

  • Every dollar you give — up to a total of $100,000 — will be matched.
  • Your gift will be doubled by matching funds until March 15!
  • Your gift will help twice as many children!
  • Every dollar you give will become $2 worth of lifesaving help!

An easy (and common) mistake to make is using language that seems not to say the donor’s gift will be doubled, but that you’re asking the donor to give twice as much. Like: Double your gift today.

That obsessive focus on the match might strike you as simplistic and uninteresting. Let me assure you — it works.

Here’s the other thing about match fundraising: You make the match the story. Instead of the standard story about a problem or opportunity you want the donor’s help to solve when the offer is a match, you tell the exciting story about how the donor’s gift will make a bigger difference solving the problem or seizing the opportunity. It’s the story of a smart, compassionate donor who takes action at the right time and the right way to have maximum impact.

I’ve seen two easy-to-make errors that can make a match offer far less effective:

  1. Fail to make it 100% clear that the donor’s gift is multiplied.
    This sometimes happens when a fundraiser overthinks the match. From the fundraiser’s point of view, you aren’t getting twice the revenue, so you may feel there’s something bogus about the “doubling” language. But to the donor, the match means twice as much good happens. Smart fundraisers always speak into their donors’ reality. Not their own.
  2. Offer a multiplier that’s less than two.
    If you have a match ratio of less than one-to-one (doubling the donor’s gift) — such as 1:0.5, or “Every dollar you give will become $1.50” — you will not get the full power of a match.

We know from commercial marketing the power of a “good deal.” Everyone loves a bargain. A match is a bargain for donors.

That’s why it’s such a powerful tool in fundraising.

PS: Ready for more on-the-ground advice like this to help you raise more money through the mail? Take my online course, 7 Steps To Creating Record-Smashing Direct Mail (Without spending more time or money)! You can access this and more as a member of The Fundraisingology Lab. Members also get access to my special Matched Giving Magic workshop that walks you through the steps you need to create your own matched giving appeal. See you there!

CFRE Points:
Pop Art Two girls girlfriends talking

11 Ways to Beat the Odds and Raise a Lot of Money

Fundraising is just hard.

Not only are you trying to persuade strangers to give you money for almost nothing in return — but you’re asking all that of people who are being asked by dozens of other fundraisers at the same time.  While they’re also being solicited by literally hundreds of commercial marketers, most of them quite good at getting attention.

You really only stand a chance if your organization is in some way what Seth Godin calls a Purple Cow — something you don’t see every day, something that makes you take notice and remark, “Hey, there’s a purple cow!”

It’s all the harder if your organization isn’t particularly remarkable:

  • If what you do doesn’t make people say “wow!” your organization isn’t remarkable.
  • If there aren’t outstanding heart and head reasons for folks to give to you, organization isn’t remarkable.
  • If you’re just like other organizations, organization isn’t remarkable.
  • If only an insiders or experts can understand the difference between your organization and others, then organization isn’t remarkable.
  • If your fundraisers are working in isolation from your front-line programs, you aren’t remarkable.

It used to be you could get away with a less than remarkable organization. Donors gave out of a sense of duty, so it was easier motivate them to give. And they had fewer choices for charitable giving than they do today.

These days, donors have easy access to all kinds of amazing causes. And Boomers, who dominate the ranks of donors, demand greatness. These hard-driving, change-the-world addicts have an attitude like this: Why should I get involved with any cause that’s less than outstanding, exciting and flat-out cool?

To meet this challenge, what you say matters less than what you do. You need to create a superior reality, not just superior marketing. And that can only happen when the entire organization — from the board on down — is in complete alignment with the goal of being remarkable.

Here are the steps your organization can take to beat the odds … be a purple cow … and raise a lot of money:

  1. Have programs that not only accomplish the mission, but also make sense to donors, put their values into action, and fill donors with a sense of connection and purpose.
  2. It’s everyone’s job to articulate the mission in a way that donors, prospective donors and third parties (like the press) can understand and love.
  3. Be demonstrably more effective than other organizations.
  4. Leverage donors’ giving in amazing ways.
  5. Connect donors to the cause. Let them see, hear and feel the difference they’re making.
  6. Know your donors. Know who they are and what they care about. And remember — they aren’t you.
  7. Find exciting and concrete ways of describing your work. Connect dollars to action. Make it clear to donors that they are changing the world through you.
  8. Keep it simple. Even if it’s complicated.
  9. Find the emotional core of your work — and don’t ever forget it. In the most human and tangible sense, what does your work accomplish?
  10. Talk to donors. Know their language, their hopes, their dreams. Be one of them.
  11. Have amazing spokespeople — famous or not, living or dead — who perfectly embody who you are and what you do.

A great fundraising organization must be great and look great to donors. That’s how you overcome the long odds that make fundraising so hard.

CFRE Points:
How to Make Fundraising Work: Nail the Offer

How to Make Fundraising Work: Nail the Offer

Lynne Boardman, Managing Director at Harvey McKinnon Associates, and Jeff Brooks, Fundraisingologist at Moceanic, discuss the one thing that makes all the difference in fundraising: The offer — also called the call to action or the proposition. Nail this truth, and your fundraising will always do better!

To learn more about fundraising offers, don’t miss Jeff’s 4-session masterclass, Irresistible Communications for Great Nonprofits. You will get instant access when you join The Fundraisingology Lab.

These action-packed sessions will help you be a master communicator – with lots of real-life examples that will inspire and motivate you. You can even get CFRE credit!

Join now and lift your career to a new level!

CFRE Points:
Do long letters in fundraising still work?
Direct MailDonor PsychologyMajor and Mid Value Donors

The Weird Power of Long Fundraising Letters

Long letters work better.

But don’t just take it from me.

Dr Barnardo wrote a four-page appeal letter in London in the 1880s using classic direct mail techniques: Underlining, urgency, dollar handles, specific ask and a clear reference to what YOU could do to help. The winter had been ‘the severest and most arduous, so far as work among the children of the poor is concerned.’ So the good doctor needed to raise £100 a day for food.  He told readers ‘unceasing demands upon our resources’ were having an unprecedented impact on his charity.

The four-page Dr Barnardo letter from the late 19th century.

Dr Banardos Long Fundraising Letter - it was very long!

Years later, another children’s charity, Starlight, had a rough year and they had decided to go public about their shortfall. Unceasing demands upon their resources were tough too. They asked for funds but also had a refreshing degree of honesty. The donor learned that part of the shortfall was because Starlight funding strategy relied too much on events and companies. After reading the press stories about their plight I pulled together an ’emergency’ appeal to their donors and met up with them. The emergency appeal was only developed to show how I work, but they decided to mail it immediately anyway.

Starlight Crises Letter

The opening paragraphs of the Starlight letter

It would never win awards for graphic design beauty. But the appeal raised over target. It more than doubled the amount raised from the same donors the previous year.

At the heart of the appeal was a four-page appeal letter.

Despite the rise of other media, direct mail is still the biggest source of new one-off donors.  So it is important we maximise revenue from mail donors.  And longer letters will tend to do that for you.

I really don’t like long letters, by the way. They are a pain in the butt to write, check copy, get client approval, print and mail-merge. And someone important in most of our (Pareto’s) clients doesn’t like them. And they don’t look great in my portfolio. Though the results do.

In focus groups, donors say they dislike long letters too. In Hong Kong, one client ran focus groups which all concluded that donors would be more likely to respond to a pack with a two-sided letter and tear off coupon than a four-page pack (actually eight pages – English and Chinese) with lots of additional information. The two pager raised HK$1.5m (AUD$220k) – the big pack raised over HK$7.5m (about $1.1m).

Long letters work.  As you can see from the test results below.  These are from a revolutionary pack National Heart Foundation did more than a decade ago.

I know longer letters tend to work better, but not because they are long. I think it is because, to tell a good story with a beginning, middle and end and ensure the right fundraising tactics, it simply takes more words.

These tactics include target, what the target is for, deadline, establishing need, demonstrating the solution, demonstrating why that charity is best placed to solve etc.

A dreadful four-pager is worse than a good two-pager: If a story can be told more quickly then tell it. As Mal Warwick says ‘A fundraising letter should be as long as it needs to be…’

Long letters tend to work better with mid-value donors too. Maybe it is just about respect – good donor care to take the time to explain why the donor’s support is so important.

Ready to learn more about how to get the most from your mid-value donors? Check out my Mid Value Donor Super Course. It’s available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

CFRE Points:
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Direct MailDonor LoveMaths of Fundraising

How To Ask Every Donor The Right Amount

Or: How to Avoid Looking Like You Don’t Know Your Donors

In this blog, I refer to the gift ask chart. You can get your own gift ask chart to download as an excel file. Just click here.

What’s worse than asking a $25 donor for $1,000?

Probably asking a $1,000 donor for $25.

Either one basically tells the donor — in flickering red neon 10-foot-tall letters:


And really, it’s almost as bad if you’re off less dramatically, like asking a $50 donor for $250. The message is still We don’t know you.

So how do you ask the right amount of each donor?

When I first started in fundraising, I worked at a shop where we’d create three versions of every appeal:

  • A Donors: Those whose last gift was more than $500.
  • B Donors: Those whose last gift was between $100 and $500.
  • C Donors: Those whose last gift was under $100.

In theory, the three versions had related but different offers. A Donors might be asked to feed everyone in the project for a month, B Donors for a week, and C Donors for a meal at a time.

You could then write to the giving scale of each donor group.  It was cumbersome. And the bands were, I thought at the time, awkwardly wide. And writing three almost-but-not-quite-the-same letters was surprisingly taxing.

There’s a better way — in fact, a couple of better ways — to ask every donor the right amount.

Here’s one. The Gift Ask Chart:

askchart V2

This simple Excel spreadsheet is based on an offer in which $20 will “help” one child. (Please excuse the vagueness of this offer; it’s just an example! You can get your own gift ask chart here.)

The first column groups the donors by the amount of their last gift to the organization.  Sometimes the amount is their largest gift, their largest give in the last 12 months, or some other way of segmenting them.

The first row with amounts is for faulty records in the data. After that, it’s simple amount ranges. It’s worth noting that typically in each range, the donors are clustered at the low amount.

For a donor whose last gift was at least $50, but under $100, this chart would yield an ask array like this:

$40 to help 2 children

$80 to help 4 children

$100 to help 5 children

You can also work it into the copy, so that same donor might find a paragraph like this in her letter:

Would you be willing to help 2 children today for a gift of $40? Or maybe you can help 4 children by donating $80. And if you really want to make a difference, your gift of $100 will help 5 children.

One advantage to the gift ask chart is you can see all the possible ask for donors at every level.  You can give it the “smell test” — do the amounts feel right?

(Note that in the spreadsheet, there are no specific ask amounts for donors above $1,000. It’s pretty common to have open asks only for donors above a certain level, suggested amounts are as likely to downgrade what they will give as it is to guide them.)

This spreadsheet is available for download  here.  You can then modify it for your currency, your donor levels, offer, etc.

There’s another way to get almost the same thing: Use Calculations.  This is how that looks:

$[donor’s last gift, rounded to nearest $20] to help [ask amount/20] children

$[donor’s last gift * 1.5, rounded to nearest $20] to help [ask amount/20] children

$[donor’s last gift * 2, rounded to nearest $20] to help [ask amount/20] children

The downside of this method is you can’t see the actual numbers it will produce. Use this method only if you have super-smart data people who can make sure it won’t produce nonsense, like three all-the-same ask amounts.

It’s great to ask donors appropriate amounts, and these are two ways to do that.  But it isn’t magic!  You still have to have a compelling offer — something they’re thrilled to do with their donations.

You can get your own gift ask chart to download as an excel file. Just click here.

Please share your experience with asking donors the right amounts by leaving a reply below. We’d love to learn from your experience. And you can post any questions you have about the gift ask chart here too.

CFRE Points:
Donor LoveDonor Psychology

Why Do You Do What You Do?

As I was working on some articles about story-telling, copywriting for your website and making your direct mail great I found I had to come back to the absolute fundamentals about why we in charities write anything at all.

It is important that everything we write – in fact, anything we do – has a clear purpose with a fundamental outcome linked to our mission. And it needs to be measurable too.

Ninety percent of my work is in fundraising and marketing – which is often easier to measure.  Do x instead of y.  Measure: did x raise more net income than y (whether immediate or long-term).  For fundraising that is always the ultimate measure.

Where it gets tricky is in the charitable outcome.  The purpose of our charity.  The impact. Unfortunately, that is not my area of expertise.  It can stretch from quite objective outcomes such as saving the Tasmanian devil from extinction over the next twenty years to big and subjective outcomes like reducing poverty in Africa.

Despite the challenge of measuring charitable purpose, we do need to make ongoing, measured assessments of why we do things.  Often things we do are done because they always were.

I think absolutely everything we do in charities comes down to: how does this demonstrably help us achieve our charitable purpose/mission?

That can then be broken down into:

  • Demonstrate how this is implementing our charitable purpose or mission, better than a different, known use of time or money that is not being done.
  • Demonstrate how this will raise more funds to be able to implement our charitable purpose and mission better than a different, known potential use of time or money that is not being done.

Every activity costs the charity money or time.  Even volunteer work is work done by volunteers who could be doing something else.  Unless your mission is to help your volunteers themselves, your volunteers’ work must contribute demonstrably to purpose and mission.

Otherwise, you are probably wasting your charities’ resources.  We know, as charity workers or volunteers, that these resources are not actually the charity.  They are resources we hold in trust on behalf of our donors to help our beneficiaries, that is, delivering our mission.

So when we write or produce anything, we have a serious responsibility to make that time and effort either directly help us achieve our charitable purpose or indirectly, for example through fundraising.

Our Mid-Value Donor Super Course will teach you that perfect formula to get the most out of your charities’ time and money. It’s available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

CFRE Points:
Two Doves Christian images Sean Triner blog e1515396409974
Direct MailDonor LoveMajor and Mid Value Donors

The Odd Line From the Bible Increases Response Rate From Christians, But What About Non-Christians?

I have read many a post, article or heard words of wisdom that people who partake in religious activities tend to be slightly more generous than those that don’t.  It is hard to get concrete data to back that up in Australia, but a quick look at any big picture giving data from the USA (like Giving USA) certainly backs up this theory.

In Australia, the USA, UK, and Canada by far and away the largest majority of donors who worship are Christians. But those countries have all got substantial non-Christian communities as well – atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and more.

The odd line of scripture or quote from the Bible is said to increase response rate from Christians, but how do you do that without putting off non-Christians?

One approach is to look at some of the Bible lines or sayings (or interpretations of sayings) that have come into everyday use.  Many Christians will relate to the sayings, but non-Christians are unlikely to recognise the saying as a quote from the Bible.  Provided it is a good quote, in context, and helps the appeal it is therefore likely to have a net positive impact.

I have never seen this tested but it all makes sense.

Here are ten such sayings that you should be able to weave into copy without causing problems.  Note, they are not all direct quotes – some are alluded to.

“It is like the blind leading the blind!” (Matthew 15:14).

“Going the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41).

“Wash my hands of it” (Reference to Pontius Pilate at Jesus’ trial. Matthew 27:24).

“Salt of the earth” (Jesus’ words at Matthew 5:13).

“Written in stone” (Moses and the stone tablets – the 10 commandments at Exodus 31:18).

“Turn the other cheek” (Jesus’ words. Matthew 5:39).

“It is better to give than receive” (Jesus’ words recorded at Acts 20:35).

“It’s like feeding the 5000!” (Reference to the miracle of Jesus at Matthew 14:13-21).

“Nothing but skin and bones” (Job 19:19-20).

“United we stand, divided we fall” (Matthew 12:25).

For more Bible sayings that could be useful click here.

Find out how you can communicate effectively with any type of donor, whether they are Christian or non-Christian, by checking out our Supporter Connection Survey Course. It’s available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

CFRE Points:
A Great Way to Boost Donations in Your Next Appeal
Direct MailMajor and Mid Value Donors

A Great Way to Boost Donations in Your Next Appeal…

…And Build Awesome Relationships With Major Donors

I have a little story about Jason Smith, a quiet and unassuming Quebecois guy living in Melbourne, Australia.  In 2016 he worked as the fundraising manager at Burnet Institute.

The Institute is a charity dedicated to researching diseases that cause harm to people in less developed countries.  It is one of my favourite charities, partly because Jason works there and is an easy guy to get behind and support, but also because of it’s unique mission.

However, the Institute’s fundraising is relatively small with a database of just around 7,000 people who donated in the past year or so.

For their mid-year appeal, Jason and his colleague Asther Creo ran a classic direct mail appeal to their donors.

Shortly after the appeal had been mailed Jason met with a ‘mid value’ donor – someone who had, with their partner, donated $4,000 in 2015.  I’ll call the donor Bernadette because of it kind of works with the charity name.

Bernadette told him she was keen on ‘stretching’ her (and her partner’s) donation to have more impact.  So Jason and Bernadette agreed that a special communication would go out to donors.

The message was simple ‘One of our supporters has offered to match your gift up to $50,000.’

With time short, the campaign was run as part of the second ‘wave’ of mid-year appeal.  Basically , follow up letter to the original appeal.

Jason told me; “the matched gift offer boosted results and the campaign raised an extraordinary $326,000 (including the $50,000 donation).  About $150,000 came in after we went out with the offer – it definitely got a lot of traction out there.”

Although the matched offer would have done better as a letter earlier, this is still a great study of delivering what a mid value donor wanted – and lifting them into the major donor zone.

Because Jason is so nice he is also happy for me to share the full copy of the direct mail letter, second wave/reminder (with the matched gift ask) and response coupon.

Just click here for the PDF in un-merged format, showing you all those personalisations.

If you are struggling to find an offer for your mid value donors, but want to try and lift them up then this is always something available to you, and very attractive to many donors.

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 in The Fundraisingology Lab

BurnetInstituteDM SeanTriner

CFRE Points: