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:
TrendsBrandingDemographicsDirect MailDonor Love

Thank You For ‘Hanging Out’ With Me

By reading my articles, I guess you care about making the world a better place and raising more money for the causes you care about.

I am chuffed by the feedback I get from my updates (please send more – just nice ones before Christmas) and I hope they are directly useful.  Thank you for reading.

I subscribe to dozens of such updates, and it is hard to decide which ones to allow into your inbox.

Maybe it will help you if I share some of the fundraising updates I find most useful, and why.

Today, I’ll start with the one I read the most.  Partly because it is the most frequent, partly because the updates are short, but mainly because each update cuts to the chase and is based on real data and evidence.


Jeff Brooks

Subscribe to that, and you have a decent Christmas present from me. And if you already subscribe, you know you’re getting a gift from Jeff in your email inbox almost every day.


CFRE Points:
amnesty netherlands sign up e1515673149945
Digital FundraisingDonor Love

Welcoming e-News Subscribers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

CFRE Points:
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:
Pop art letter with quill
Bequests and LegaciesDirect MailDonor Love

How to Write a Thank You Letter

First question: should you even bother? The anecdotal evidence for thank you letters is huge – many donors say they like them. Lots of opinion research shows that donors are more likely to give if ‘they know what their money was spent on’.

However, there is little data that we have access to that demonstrates that general thank you letters actually increase net lifetime value. Few charities have tested sending thank you letters to half their donors versus no thank yous for others – especially since it needs to be followed through for a minimum of 18 months, but preferably longer.

Without solid data, most charities make the decision based on policy or gut instinct. We know that gut instinct is often wrong though. For example, gut instinct (and donor feedback) contradicts the fact that generally, longer letters beat shorter and more mailings = better lifetime value.

We know that bequest income for many charities can raise more than direct mail donations, and a big influence on bequests is the relationship with the donor. So maybe being nice, despite a lack of evidence, is not a bad thing. Even though we can’t prove that our lovely thank you letters helped secure some of those bequests.

On balance, despite working at a data-led organisation, and despite the evidence, I reckon writing thank you letters is a good thing to do.

So let’s be nice to donors.

Hang on! Don’t rush and write thank you letters yet…

What I am not convinced about is whether there should never be an ask in a thank you letter. Lots of fundraising book authors say there should be no ask – but the evidence they present is what donors say they want, and not what actually has been proven to increase lifetime value.

I think, in an emergency, there definitely should be another ask for example, following a fire, flood, earthquake disaster).

But other than that I am not sure.

Despite all these warnings… if you are going to write a thank you letter – write a good one!

So, assuming we are writing a thank you letter that just thanks and does not ask, then these are the key ingredients for such a letter.

The letter should be correct. Get the name and details right. For higher value donors, if there is any doubt, call and check the details.

The letter should be personal – mailmerged, and extra personal touches where possible. Never “Dear Friend”. Apply the Pareto principle, more personalised for higher value donors.

Personalised data should be:

1. Amount donated (“Thank you for your donation of $50 in response…”).

2. Acknowledgement of recent gifts (“I note that have supported before this year – your ongoing commitment is really appreciated…”).

3. Acknowledge other types of support (not necessarily them all, but certainly most recent). “This donation, along with you telling me that you have mentioned in your will tells me that you have a special place in your heart for”.

4. Other information, even if used before. “Thanks also for completing the survey earlier this year – I remember that you ticked that you first supported because of. I just wanted to make sure you knew that your donation will go straight to our work in that area…”.

5. Anything else personal that you know for top donors. “I look forward to seeing you at the – I have just been told that you are attending”.

6. The letter should actually say “Thank you for donating…”. Unless in response to unsolicited donations, the letter should be tailored to the campaign the person responded to. “Thank you for your donation in response to my letter about Jane, who is recovering after a horrific car accident on Christmas Day”.

7. The letter should be interesting (!) Update on the story that was in the campaign, have a quote from the case study or give some feedback on what others have said or done. “You will be pleased to know that, thanks to the support of you and loving and caring Australians, Jane has now made an amazing recovery. In October she walked to her local café for the first time since the accident…”.

8. Should be personal (as well as personalised). The above line would be improved with more personality: “Since I sent my letter to you in September, I caught up with Jane again, along with her physiotherapist, Philip, who is funded by your donations. I was brought to tears when the pair of them were telling me how, in early October, she managed to walk to her local café. She wanted me to share her thanks with you…”.

Of course, writing this much will likely take you to more than one page. Ho hum, if you are going to do it – do it properly.

And of course, nothing wrong with testing the rules above against no thank you letter against thank you letters with asks in them… For at least 18 months!

If you want to learn more about about fundraising communications and how to get the best results from your direct mail program, check out our online course 7 Steps To Creating Record-Smashing Direct Mail. It’s available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

CFRE Points: