Sorry darling
Donor LoveMajor and Mid Value DonorsMaths of FundraisingMonthly Giving

Sorry Darling, Not Everyone Wants a Relationship With You

It’s a question that many fundraisers ask me about mid-value donors. And it’s one of the key things that came up at my webinar All About Mid-Value Donors yesterday:

How can I identify those donors ‘worth’ an extra investment in time and money?

Go to any conference, read any fundraising blog and you will likely be told how important it is to ‘build relationships’ with your donors. Maybe it is couched as ‘engagement’.

You may see headlines like ‘Research shows that donors are more likely to donate if they are engaged’.

We believe this. After all it makes sense, doesn’t it? More engaged donors will give more.

Of course, people who give more are more, ahem, engaged too.

Chicken or egg?

At the same time we read about rising costs of acquisition and development, and are constantly reminded about this by our own budgets and results.

So, on one hand we need to build relationships –- which costs money –- and on the other hand keep costs down.

What to do? Luckily, you don’t need to invest lots into everyone.

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’.

If you have ever done any qualitative or quantitative donor research, you’ll find most of your donors don’t even know the name of your organisation. They often don’t know how much they gave. Or when. Or what for.

Also, about 80% of your future income is going to come from just 20% of your supporters. And, interestingly, about half of all your future income is going to come from a tiny number of donors – perhaps as low as 5% of them!

Combining these facts, you can quickly begin to prioritise those donors ‘worth’ an extra investment in time and money.

There are some nearly free ways we can improve how we communicate with all donors.

These boil down to:

  • Donor-centric language. Thank them, not you. Praise them, not you. Demonstrate outcomes from a recipient’s point of view, not yours. Make all your communications about them. Not you.
  • Personalising letters and response coupons in mail. Modern technology allows for personalised ask amounts in letter copy very easily.
  • Using the phone to thank and to ask for monthly giving.

These things will also lead to you raising more money straight away.

There is more we can do, but it will cost you.

And that’s what my recent free webinar was about: spending more to get more from the donors who can give more. It’s part of what makes the difference between a fundraising program that floats along, gathering revenue at a poor return-on-investment, growing slowly if at all … and a program that really grows by leaps and bounds.

Which one would you rather be?

I’d love your thoughts – please comment on the blog below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it was too late.

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

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

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

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

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

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

However… I do agree with your consultant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She finished with another question

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

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

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

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

Please comment below on this blog to share your thoughts.

CFRE Points:
Amnesty International
Direct MailDonor LoveMajor and Mid Value Donors

Great Donor Care from Amnesty International

You know how we all worry about overheads? Well, Josh O’Rourke, a relationship fundraiser from Amnesty International Australia had a good approach with one of his mid-value donors.

Having met up with a mid-value donor who had ‘only’ ever given $2,000, Josh found out the donor was keen to multiply her donation. The donor asked to be anonymous, but let’s call her Janine after Josh’s mum.

There is lots of evidence that ‘multiplying gift appeals’ increases average donation and/or response rate. The offer is something like ‘Donate by 30 June and our sponsor will match your gift…’

Janine had obviously liked that offer previously.

Chatting with his colleagues in direct marketing, Josh found out there were no matching gift campaigns that she could contribute to at that time. So he turned it on its head and asked Janine to be the ‘sponsor’ who would be matching other people’s gifts!

It turned out she was keen and interested in Amnesty’s campaign on the back of their work with indigenous children. She gave $30,000. Josh was chuffed, as were his colleagues in digital direct marketing. They usually have such a campaign around this time of year and hadn’t got a sponsor. They emailed it today.

Within ninety minutes of the email going out, they had raised $20,000, and will definitely whizz past the $30,000. Janine’s donation will be worth at least $60,000 to Amnesty’s important work.
Amnesty was making sure Janine felt like a VIP.

I hope this Amnesty YouTube video gives you some inspiration!

CFRE Points:
TheMostPowerfulToolinFundraising SeanTriner
Bequests and LegaciesDirect MailDonor LoveMajor and Mid Value Donors

The Most Powerful Fundraising Tool in the World

Understanding Donors

The most important asset a fundraising organisation has is its database of supporters. But only if it is actually recording useful information.

Luckily, most organisations record main contact details plus transactions. In other words, you know where someone lives, hopefully, you have their phone number and email address and you know how much they donated and when.

Basic analysis of this data can help you predict how likely people are to donate to you and how much. If communications that have been sent are also analysed you can even work out what donors are most likely to respond to, too.

This basic data is crucial for making a basic direct marketing program work. But to make charity direct marketing fly we need to build relationships, and we do that through respecting our donors and their wishes. And we do that by using the most powerful fundraising tool ever – the Supporter Connection Survey.

Achieving Many Goals

This multi-function device, used well, will also help corporate, major donors, events, donor retention, and bequests. It can even be used for PR purposes, and it usually makes a profit on its own.

These are real surveys, getting really useful information, they are not scientific research and shouldn’t pretend to be. Even so, be honest with the donor – you want their opinion and to be able to communicate better with them, but you can also share their views with the public.

Short-term Benefits

Our tests have shown that despite running a survey to get data including a direct ask does not suppress response. In other words, using the survey as an actual fundraising appeal subject works.

You should aim to break even but what we have found is that when a survey is sent to donors who have responded to a previous appeal through the post, the survey actually makes a profit.

The Australian Conservation Foundation has been using surveys as an integral part of its donor communications strategy for some time now. Their first survey was mailed to over 25,000 donors and nearly one in four responded – half with a gift. They not only received a ton of useful information but made a $50K ‘profit’ as well.

Information taken from the surveys is then reflected back to the donors in future communications. For example, if a donor is motivated and interested in climate change, but an appeal is about forests then the letter should be personalised to connect the donors’ concerns with the subject of the appeal.

Important Note: The sort of surveys I am talking about tell us how to communicate better with individual donors. They are NOT quantitative research tools!

Medium Term

Appeal results and retention can be improved by clever use of survey information, and their completed survey is The Perfect Aide Memoir to take with you with when meeting a major donor. It pretty much tells you what to ask for!

But most charities who use the survey wisely get medium-term returns on their regular giving. For example, The Lost Dogs’ Home uses surveys to gather pet names. It has found that this is crucial for building relationships. They include personalisation in appeal letters mentioning the donors’ pet name:

“Thank you so much Sean, and please give Bilbo an extra cuddle from all of us at The Lost Dogs’ Home!”

But they also use it in phone conversations with donors. When asking donors to increase their monthly gifts, known as ‘upgrade calls’ our caller asks after the health of the donor’s pet.

The Pareto Phone team compared the upgrade success rate of donors we spoke with where we knew pet name against those where we had no pet name. The results are extraordinary:


Knowing Bilbo – a great way to see the value of listening to donors and reflecting back what you heard in future communications.

And the Long Term 

Already surveys have proven their worth. You can see how using them for donor care, appeals and upgrades can work really well, and make them a useful part of the mix. But the biggest return comes from bequests. Specifically using surveys to generate bequest (legacy) leads.

The best measure a bequest fundraiser has to monitor their performance is a count of people who have mentioned the charity in their Will. We call these ‘confirmed bequestors.’
By asking the right questions, we can identify these and also bequest ‘prospects’ – i.e. those most likely to become confirmed bequestors.

A well thought through approach ‘burying’ the bequest question in a survey obliterates any other method of bequest marketing I have ever seen.

For example, Australian National Heart Foundation had seven full-time equivalent bequest officers working traditional bequest marketing techniques for seven years to get around 1,500 confirmed bequests. A brilliant achievement and potentially worth $75m, producing a huge return on investment.

But a year of surveys with follow up mail and phone acquired another 1,500. The charity now uses a combination of both techniques to drive more bequests.

And the surveys keep working. The Lost Dogs’ Home now has about fifteen (!) percent of key financial supporters who have put the charity in their will.

A Word of Warning 

Don’t rush out and do surveys without ensuring you can follow them up, record the results and actually use the data in communications with your donors.

It is not as easy as just writing a survey – a good survey needs a great cover letter, it asks questions that help you understand what motivates your donors (avoid questions like ‘how many times they like to be mailed?’), a bequest conversion pack and trained people to follow up leads. And remember, a bequest lead from a survey is only ‘hot’ for a few weeks with conversion success dropping off dramatically the longer you leave it.

Learn all how you can create those perfect surveys for your donors by checking out our Supporter Connection Survey Course. It’s available for all members in The Fundraisingology Lab.


CFRE Points:
Donor care
Direct MailDonor Love

Fantastic Donor Care

Everyone talks about stewardship and donor care, but great examples are actually pretty rare.

But it is actually not that hard to ‘do’ great donor care. Nor is it that expensive.

Looked at in another way, NOT doing donor care is expensive.

One of my favourite pieces of great donor care is a letter I received from the Children’s Cancer Institute nearly ten years ago. Click here and have a read.

All the coloured text is actually personalised based on my previous transactions. I hope you enjoy reading it.


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

Greenpeace Lead the Way

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

She told me:

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,


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


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


CFRE Points:
Soi Dog Foundation
Digital FundraisingDonor Love

Superb Customer Care: I am Great!

Well, according to Soi Dog Foundation I am – and so are all their other donors.

I got this email (click to enlarge) thanking me for my support; it has a lovely video and great copy.


And then when I shared it on Facebook, it switched to an involvement device and asked my friends to ‘Click Here To Find Out How I Helped Save Thunder’s Life’.

Yes I did it!  Clicking will take you to the letter I received.  At first I thought it was a shame it doesn’t say ‘your friend did this’ and then ask my friend to support them.  But then I forgot how clever Soi Dog are.  I know they will be tracking that cookie and ensuring my friend gets plenty of opportunities to support Soi Dog.

Great stuff Soi Dog. And you too can see the full text of the letter.  Just Click Here To Find Out How I Helped Save Thunder’s Life.

CFRE Points: