Thursday, December 24, 2009

Eight ways to 'get more by getting it monthly'

Monthly giving rocks. You read about it in blogs, you hear about it at conferences. The data I look at for my clients shows me growth in countries like Canada and Australia and many other developed fundraising nations of 20% year on year. With no sign of stopping.

To put further credence to the argument, on average a monthly donor is usually worth four to six times as much over their lifetime as a 'onetime' cash supporter. Sometimes more.

But how do you get them, and how do you keep them?

Let's break it down.

Getting them

1 Developing the right proposition. What works to get onetime cash donors won't necessarily work to find monthly donors.

Soliciting cash gifts is about 'the now', the 'give me $50 or the dog gets it' kind of pitch.

Asking someone to become a monthly supporter is about partnership. It's about being in it for the long haul, together. It's about ongoing, committed support. It's about sustainability. It's about seeing the forest from the trees.

This isn't downplaying the importance of onetime gifts, it's about articulating the difference.

Attempts to secure monthly gifts fail usually because the messaging is wrong.

2 Google is your friend.

Use tools like Google Insights for Search to help shape your messaging.

Why? Because this shows you exactly what people (online) are searching for. It will give you some clues as to what people are really searching for and interested in, not what you think they are.

3 Don't lose sleep trying to 'be creative'. Sell benefits.

Calling your monthly program 'Wings of Hope' or 'Project Discovery' might sound really cool, but it won't grow your monthly file.

Tell people how they will help you change the world.

The benefit of supporting world class medical research is that I am helping to protect myself and my loved ones by ensuring leading research is conducted and able to find cures for killed diseases like cancer.

The benefit is not joining a club with a fancy name or the two glossy newsletters I get.

4 Break it down.

Firstly, break down the ask into daily amounts. Psychologically 30 cents a day doesn't sound like a hell of a lot. I can manage that.

Secondly, tell me about the one person (cat/dog/tree) I am going to help. I want to know about little Boys like Tommy, not the thousands of kids I could save. The gravity of the problem in the latter sounds far too big if not broken down.

Keeping them

5 Kill off cognitive dissonance. Really quickly.

You know that horrible feeling you have when you question a decision you have just made? That's how donors feel when they have just walked away from the canvasser on the street, or put down the phone from that telefundraiser.

Don't let this fester, attend to it immediately. Make the most of the 'honeymoon period'. The first month after sign up, when both parties should still be madly in love with each other.

That means brilliant welcome calls/packages that reinforce the original decision. It may be an SMS the day after I join, perhaps a video message from someone in the field, or a beneficiary just saying thank you.

The honeymoon period is about regular communications playing back how we're helping make a difference.

6 Talk to them differently.

A donor recruited on the street (younger, average age around 30) looks and behaves a lot different to a donor recruited in the mail (older, different life stage, average age 60+).

It's roughly the difference between my mother and I. We look at things differently and we certainly behave differently.

This is the way you should view your communications streams. Acknowledge that different recruitment vehicles will bring you unique constituents. Acknowledging this is the first step to ensuring you talk to them differently.

Don't put them in the same 'bucket'. Test different communications streams/cohorts and determine the best way to look after them, delivering the most value to your donors, and ultimately your beneficiaries.

7 Upgrade them.

Go back to new monthly donors shortly after sign up (between 4 and 9 months, test this to find the optimum time). Ask them to increase their monthly contribution.

Three reasons why you should do this:

- You will generate more income.
- This is an opportunity to speak to your donors, tell them a story
- You will increase retention, regardless of the outcome (provided its a great call)

8 Understand their real value

Work out the net value to date of all monthly donors recruited by channel and year. In other words, take into account what it cost you to recruit and cultivate each monthly giving group.

This allows you to say things like "My direct mail monthly donors are worth an average of $250 net after three years, whereas my TV recruits are worth $400".

I can tell you, this will change the conversation you have with your boss or board member when asked "Why do we do street fundraising" or "Why are we calling people at 8pm when they are in the bath"?

Having this level of information helps you to know the success of various initiatives, budget for the future and tells you where you should be focusing your efforts.

Ongoing, monthly support really is the way to go.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gotta love Google

I'm not just talking about their search function, of which they dominate the market with a 60% share.

Firstly, if your charity is not receiving Google Grants, then click here right now (after finishing this post), and apply.

For those who aren't aware Google Grants is a unique in-kind donation programme awarding free AdWords advertising to selected charitable organizations.

If you're not sure what AdWords is, it's the advertising that'll see on the top of and right hand side of your page when you perform a search on Google. For example if you search for cell phone you'll see ads for Blackberry, Sony Ericsson and so on.

If you're not using this, you should be.


- To drive traffic to your website. The key for you is driving relevant traffic, people who are genuinely interested in your cause.

- Understand what people are searching for. This helps you shape propositions and messaging when developing acquisition activities.

- To learn about the digital space and people's online behavior. You'll be amazed how much you can learn about what people are actually doing online. Not what you think they're doing.

If you're starting from scratch I suggest buying this book, AdWords for Dummies. Yes, I am a dummy and bought it. It's a great, very practical tool to guide you through the world of AdWords.

I'm learning loads about this right now, specifically about how relevancy is key to getting your Ads placed at the top of the Google page. That's the beauty about this tool, in that ad placement isn't driven by necessarily the biggest spenders. Relevancy to the keywords selected and the content on the page you send people through to play a big role.

Which means that, in theory, a local sporting retailer, can compete on a level playing field with Nike.

Two things I'd recommend:

1 You need to manage your AdWords campaigns regularly, and not let them run for extended periods of time. This could potentially cost you lots of money and deliver you poor quality leads to your website. I'm amazed at how many charities are not utilizing the power of this tool, either not using it at all or letting their interest lapse, hence limiting it's effectiveness.

2 If you apply for your Grants, great. But don't wait for the grant to come through to start using this as I believe they can take up to 6 months. Spend some money now and start trialing some campaigns.

At the same time check out another cool Google tool called Google Insights for Search. Essentially this allows you to look at what people are searching for through Google.

So when your colleague who runs an event says (in response to "how much did the event raise"), "Oh it didn't net much income but it raised loads of awareness", check out Google Insights for Search and see whether that really is the case.

It shows you relative traffic searches so you can see where and when people were searching for various words or terms. The caveat is of course that this just looks at online searches, but it still gives you a good sense of:

- What activities are driving spikes in search volumes (I.e. is it certain events, press releases, direct response fundraising initiatives, news stories)

- Which words are specifically driving traffic? This, combined with your AdWords campaigns really help give you a sense of what people are actually looking for (and can shape messaging)

It's staggering when I enter some key words that relate to popular causes and large organizations which result in nothing. Google a keyword like cancer, health charity or "insert cause of charity I would for" and see what happens.

So, get to it. Apply for your Grant today, get a copy of AdWords for Dummies and starting using Google Insights for Search.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Thank you

Thank, thank and thank again. A simple mantra to live and breathe.

Read a good post about thanking here where a fellow mystery shopper has gone searching for examples of great thanking and donor care. Which, as I know, can be hard to come across.

This, and Jeff Brooks' post about getting rid of annual reports and replacing them with gratitude reports prompted me to add a little more about the power of thanking.

So, here are 10 key things to play back to yourself when saying thank you:

1 Actually say the words thank you. "We appreciate your support" is all about you (the organization). "Thank you" is about your wonderful donors.

2 Thank for the actual gift, not the communication. "Thank you for contacting us the other day" is not about the wonderful decision someone made, but "thank you for your generous support" is.

3 Any thanking communication should 'play back' the story associated with the ask. "Your gift really will go towards helping young children like Tommy who I wrote to you about recently".

4 Do it quickly. But do it well. I'd argue the latter is more important, but both are critical. 3-5 business days from receiving a gift, no exceptions.

5 Make the thank you stand out. Don't copy and paste the thank you letter from last year, which has actually been in circulation since 1996. Most thank you's are quite mundane and dull. Ensure it's unique.

6 Be personal. Handwritten notes, postscripts etc rock. Take the time, clients of ours who do this see the long term benefits (through increased retention). It shows you care.

7 Be relevant. Thanking isn't just about responding to a specific gift. It's about frequent and relevant feedback and caring. If you know Mrs Jones likes the work you've doing in Sudan tell her regularly what's happening there in the field and referencing you know this is of interest to her. Most caring of donors is impersonal and not that interesting to supporters. Finding those links means your donors are genuinely engaged.

8 Be specific. What did my $50 help do? Tell me.

9 Don't be hindered by technology and processes. Yes you can spill a thank you letter onto a second page. Don't allow the attaching of the tax receipt to dictate how your thank you letter flows/looks.

10 Call it a thank you letter. Get out of the mindset of calling it a receipt. It's a thank you, that happens to include a receipt, not the other way around.

Thank you for reading this post.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Our duty as direct response fundraisers

Testing: hardly a new topic for this blog.

Last week at Congress I attended a session about copywriting for DM. A discussion began about 2nd gift strategies, and one of the delegates remarked they waited around six months to ask a new donor for a second gift.

I commented that we'd found through testing with clients 3-6 weeks was the best time to ask for a 2nd gift (always going for a monthly gift first), statistically.

Ooh's and ahhh's echoed the room as if I had committed a senseless crime. "Surely not". "That doesn't make sense". "I don't believe that".

And herein lies the beauty of direct response fundraising. Intuition aside.

Test your own 'gut feeling' by letting the data and subsequent evidence help you make informed decisions. It's your duty as a direct response fundraiser.


Friday, December 4, 2009

How social psychology can shape your fundraising

Brilliant session at Congress by Professor Adrian Sargeant.

He's done tons of testing around social psychology in fundraising. Particularly with large national public radio stations in the US, and the impact of various techniques on the response to inbound calls via radiothons.

They found:

1 Referring to a past callers donation amount increases average donation levels. "I just spoke to someone who gave $80, would you consider giving something like this.."

2 People (donors) who know others that support that station or even just listen to that station will give more. So qualifying questions around this are key.

3 Men are unmoved by the use of words suggesting morality, whereas women are moved and therefore likely to give around 20% more. I.e. using words such as generous, kind, caring etc before making the ask.

This is incredibly useful for helping us shape (by testing, of course) the way we frame asks within individual fundraising asks.

Keep the research coming Adrian.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Turn off. Share. Change.

Tomorrow's the beginning of AFP Toronto's Congress which I spoke about last week.

Here's a few pointers to make sure you go back to work after Congress (or any conference for that matter) ready to embrace change.

Turn off then turn on. Turn off the crackberry, turn on the focus. Your office, staff and your latest campaign will not spontaneously combust in your absence. Trust the people back at the office to keep the ship afloat and keep your mind on the job at hand, learning.

Work out the true cost to send you to Congress. That's the delegate rate + your time. Your time isn't cheap, particularly three days of it. If you think of it like this, it forces you to appreciate what it's costing your employer to send you and puts extra onus on you to bring back some brilliant ideas.

Swap and share. In every session swap a business card with at least one new face and commit to meeting up post Congress. You'll be amazed the opportunities these meetings uncover. Share as much as you can during, in between and after sessions. Those who give the most get the most back.

Change. Be prepared to go back to the office a changed fundraiser. That change may be as significant as a shift in strategy, it may be a change in mindset. But open your mind to change and during each session jot some action points down as a starting point.

Enjoy Congress folks.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Take a bow AFP Congress team

Hats off to the organizing team at the AFP Toronto Congress.

A week out from the event and they have nearly 900 delegates signed up for the three day event. That mean's Mark Hierlihy and his team look likely to have attracted more fundraisers to Congress than ever before. Great stuff!

Recession, re-schmession I bet they're saying.

Here's why I think the team has managed to engage fundraisers in a time when so many organization's have cut, even slashed professional development budgets:

Damn good marketing

The communications I've received about Congress have been frequent, but relevant. They've been fun and made me think Congress looks really cool. They have embraced new media, using Vismail video technology, video slideshows, facebook and twitter postings plus more traditional (but still interesting) e-blasts.

They've kept it fresh

Over 50% (39 out of 74) of the speakers are first speakers at Congress. You could argue that's risky, and perhaps it is. But we live (in the fundraising sector) in a risk averse world, so good on em' for having the willingness to give new people a go.

Added to that is the list of new speakers includes a bunch of well credentialed (and I know eager) people who are bloody good fundraisers. A nice international flavor too (says the Aussie whose home is now Canada).

The format invites itself to actually learning something

You may remember me posting a while back my views on how to make fundraising conferences genuinely useful.

One of the things I'm most critical of at the majority of conferences is that the vast majority of sessions are far too short, the breaks far too long.

At Congress we have seven educational sessions in three days. Yes! Perhaps next year we could move to just three sessions in three days? Full day sessions where you come out with real, practical solutions and even physically produced something, I.e. a DM pack?

Great work Mark and the Congress team. You've overcome the biggest barrier to conferences in a long time ("we have no professional development budget") and look like having your best event ever. Bravo.

The challenge is still upon us however. Organizers, speakers and delegates. To make Congress the best ever please come prepared to share, challenge, meet, absorb and inspire.

If you do this will be a remarkable event.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Last minute Christmas appeal tips

Whether you've just dropped your Seasonal or Christmas appeal - or whether you haven't even thought about it, spend 3 minutes here for some last minute tips.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

On their way to AFP Congress..

My colleague Ruthann Richardson and I got to make some really cool calls yesterday. We got to speak to the four people we'd chosen on behalf of Pareto Fundraising as recipients of passes to AFP Congress at the end of the month.

We received a large number of really good applications, which made our job harder. But there were four that really stood out for us.

So we were thrilled to award the four Congress passes to:

Pam Bastedo from Meal Exchange
Aileen Doyle from JHR (Journalists for Human Rights)
Elaine Scrivener from Mark Preece Family House
Mary Warner from the Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative

Each of these individuals shared with us what they were most excited about learning at Congress and how they would be able to use the knowledge and experience gained to further their organizations fundraising and make the world a better place.

Thank you to all who those who took the time to submit an application. And congratulations again to Pam, Aileen, Elaine and Mary. We think you rock! And we know you'll make the most of the three days.

We’re really looking forward to a great Congress.

I'm personally looking forward to bring inspired, challenged, taken out of my comfort zone and perhaps having some fun along the way.

See you there.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Time to stop our unhealthy obsession...

I read with interest this morning the latest philanthropic trends report delivered by KCI Ketchum, which you can read here. Thanks to KCI firstly for releasing this.

Actually, I read more with angst than interest. The fixation by our sector (not donors) on 'cost to raise a dollar' bugs me for four reasons:

1 We perpetuate the problem ourselves. Organization's claiming that they spend no money on fundraising and administration set unrealistic expectations for the rest of us.

2 It's a storm in a tea cup. When was the last time someone told you they don't or haven't supported you because you are not fiscally responsible? Or the last time a donor left you because they weren't happy with your ratios? Or the last time you asked a donor why they support you and they responded with "I am passionate about your low administration costs".

Give me a break.

Ron Dumouchelle, President & CEO, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation says, “however, in our experience, it is not an issue that is often brought to us directly by our donors.

3 We spend an exorbitant amount of time worrying about this. I'd argue time that could be spent more effectively, actually fundraising.

And finally, but probably most importantly..

4 Cost per dollar ratios are flawed.

As Innes van Nostrand, Vice Principal, Upper Canada College says in the KCI article, "..The way this ratio is positioned with the public leaves the impression that a low cost per dollar raised indicates good overall performance on the part of the organization..

..The problem is that the ratio doesn’t take into account other factors that are critical to how well an organization is performing – factors like the quality of services, the kind of fundraising being done, the longer term outcomes of programs or even whether donors gifts are being used as intended. As a result, for most charities, I don’t think it is wise for it to be the sole or primary indicator of a charity’s performance or worthiness for investment..”

Here, here Ingrid. Couldn't have said it better myself.

Let's stop the obsession with this and get on with doing what we do best. Fundraising.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Canadian charities rocking on monthly...

Amongst all the doom and gloom, there is some good news.

At Pareto Fundraising we recently released the latest findings from our ongoing benchmarking studies.

Firstly, a big thank you as always to the 10 amazing organization's who participated and who are raising the bar when it comes to leading edge fundraising. Not to mention their openness to sharing.

Quite simply, you rock.

Check out our media release here.

In short, the biggest message that came through this was: monthly givers are recession proof. This form of giving continues to strengthen, on every measure. They are resilient in every way. Frankly, they are just bloody brilliant people.

In addition to this latest evidence, if you need any more ammunition about why its such a fantastic way to engender support, I have loads of old posts here, including this one from last year entitled getting the most by getting it monthly.

There are some other really interesting insights uncovered in our latest findings, including our members collectively increasing individual income in 2008. Although in terms of sheer impact, none was more impactful than the reiteration of the power and magnitude of committed, monthly support.

So in case I didn't make myself clear enough: monthly, monthly, monthly, monthly, monthly....


Friday, November 6, 2009

Thinking ahead rather than looking behind

It's been a week of prognosticating and big thinking. Kicked off by Ken Burnett's future of fundraising vision, which I commented on here earlier.

Ironic actually as I'm in the midst of reading a great book on how bad we are in the world at decision making and creative thinking. Check out Edward De Bono's Think!: Before it's Too Late: Twenty Three Reasons Why World Thinking is So Poor

Ironic also because we do tend to spend a lot of time (guilty as charged) looking back. Talking about past successes and failures.

I remember hearing Bernard Ross talk about this at a session once, critical that all we do at fundraising conferences is regurgitate old stuff. A showcase of what's happened in the past, an almanac of fundraising campaigns, if you like.

So Bernard has done something about it and pulled together the aptly named fundraising scenarios site that's generating lots of interest right now.

I've used this forum to follow up my earlier post about where I see us needing to go as fundraisers moving forward. You can view my thoughts here.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Crystal ball gazing

I thought it would add my 20 cents worth on Ken Burnett's interesting piece about the Future of Fundraising.

Thanks to Ken and Bernard Ross for opening up this dialogue.

It's about 5 minutes long, enjoy.


PS - I'm going to follow up with some more detail on the 4 items I discuss over the coming week. Watch this space.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The acquisition hook

It's damn tough to find new supporters. It's even harder to keep them.

So if it's so hard to keep them, why don't we revisit the hook that got them to support us in the first place?

I think this is too often overlooked.

Your acquisition pack talks about Darfur. Or perhaps your street canvasser talks about land preservation.

We then get so excited at the lovely new person that comes on board that we forget about what made them tick in the first instance.

Get back to your (acquisition) roots. Make it normal practice to bring your new donors back to where they just were, just days or weeks ago. Use some variable copy in the next appeal or that subsequent phone call to remind them why they did what they did.

Remember, it was damn hard work finding them. If you play back why they made that decision to help you, you'll find it a little easier to hold onto them.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Keeping it fresh

When was the last time you took stock of every touchpoint you had with your supporters?

Sean Triner wrote a really good blog today about how in many ways not much has changed in fundraising over the past 120 years. Namely, long letters still work, much like they did for Dr Barnardo's in the 19th century.

That is true. And I'm very much an advocate of doing things that works. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

But what I do see too often is stale communications. Ask yourself, does this communication advance the relationship with your supporters? Does it cut through the clutter?

I ask because I see lots of stuff that is downright dull. Crusty and old.

So, enough of the ranting. Here is some 'meat to the bones'. I'd suggest you:

1 Make a habit of critiquing every piece of literature that reaches your supporters. By that I mean appeals, newsletters, telephone scripts, e-communications, thank you letters, welcome packs. By 'habit' I mean at least twice a year.

2 When you analyze each of these pieces, do the following:

- Read it aloud, preferably to someone else. Does it sound like something you would actually say or does it sound like an advert for health insurance?

- Get someone else (who isn't intimately involved in the fundraising program) to critique them. You'd be amazed at how much can creep into your materials that doesn't make any sense or just doesn't sound right. Health warning: you're not looking for someone to mess with your fundraising, like suggest you take out all asks. You're wanting someone to see if what you're saying makes sense.

3 Look around you. There are a vast array of really good and very relevant supporter communications out there. Specifically look at the way other organization's communicate with their donors (online, offline, via the phone). Look out for materials that are simplistic and easy to understand.

4 Strip out as many references to you . It isn't about you. It's about your wonderful donors and those people/animals/environment they generously support. Spend most of your time talking about the latter.

5 When you think you've done all of this, repeat steps 1 through 4 one more time.

This may not be the most fun or sexiest part of your job. But it helps to ensure:

- That you're not stale
- That you're communicating with donors, not at them
- That you care enough to tell it as it, right now


Monday, October 26, 2009

Inspiring action

A little over a year ago I moved into the blogosphere.

I've just worked out how to post videos. There's no stopping me now.

Check out my first video blog on how you can inspire action as well as solicit donations this Christmas.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Don't forget to actually talk to people

Tell me something I don't know, Jonathon. There is a point, bear with me.

I've been following some of the tweet action at the International Fundraising Congress, and noticed a few talking about website content and the like.

This got me thinking about my mystery shopping experiences over the past few years. Not just in Canada but early days in the UK and then later down under and in Asia. For a recap of the Canadian exercise conducted last year, check out my earlier post.

It got me thinking about this specifically because schmick websites were often the downfall of many organizations we contacted.


Because too often when we spoken to organization's (this applied in all countries we have done this) we were met with, "why don't you go check out our website, there is some great information posted there'.

Errr... because I rang you to actually speak to someone (a human being), so that's why I don't want to go to your website.

A brilliant, easily navigable, clear and succinct website is essential. But it's essential to support other media, to enable those who prefer to interact with you in this way to do so.

It isn't a replacement for real dialogue, real conversations.

And that's the point. Far too often when we rang a charity to make a donation, to make an enquiry or even to make a complaint, we were directed to the organization's lovely, very schmick (or sometimes not very schmick) site.

I firmly believe this to be one of the key reasons why do many charities failed to truly engage us and 'solve' our complaint, why many didn't take our donation or even answer our general enquiry. Because it was all too hard, and sending us to their site was all too easy.

In the age of digital enhancement and moving online, spare a thought for just having a chat to someone.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pareto Fundraising is giving away four passes to the AFP Congress in Toronto

One of the things we’re incredibly passionate about at Pareto Fundraising is professional development. I love the fact that we regularly provide free, quality training to fundraising professionals. It’s one of the parts of my job I love the most.

So I’m thrilled right now that we’ve got four passes to award to fundraising professionals who want to attend this year’s AFP Congress in Toronto. We’re giving this to people who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to attend Congress.

Click here to find out whether you're eligible and if so tell us in 500 words or less what you hope to learn from your attendance at Congress.

Applications close on Thursday, November 5, 2009.


"I really don't know..."

It would be nice to hear these four simple words more often than we do.

Working agency side, there is a perception, often correct, that consultants aren't prepared to mutter those words.

Ted Grigg posted a great blog about consultant credibility last week broaching this very topic.

Ted notes that "..competence is reflected by the easy manner in which such consultants readily admit that they do not have the answers to everything related to their field of expertise.."

Well said Ted.

People, in charities and even for-profits, hire agencies and consultants because they want access to an array of learning's and testing, because they want to have their ear close to the ground to ensure they are up to speed with latest sector developments and finally (although many won't admit this) because they want their lives made easier.

That's not to say that life is always easier working with a consultant, but that's the aim...

I'm digressing.

In addition to Ted's blog I was reminded of how important it is to throw your arms up sometimes and say "I really don't know, please help" when I was back in Australia recently. I was doing a workshop with the brilliant team at the Children's Medical Research Institute in Sydney.

One of the guys who had been part of the organization for 30 years at one point during the session put his hand up and said to his peers "Look, I've been here 30 years. That doesn't mean I know everything. If you think something is wrong or we could do it better, feel free to challenge me".

The point was recognizing that longevity in a role doesn't mean you're always right. Nor should you be expected to be.

Ask questions, challenge and do what's best. Not what is easiest.

If someone who has been in a fundraising team for 30 years is prepared to admit they don't have all the answers then that's good enough for me.

Consultants know far from everything, and the best ones readily acknowledge this.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Taking a break means really taking a break...

I'm back online after a few weeks in Australia including a short hiatus (to get married).

On the plane on the way back I had a lot of time (24 hours in fact) to reflect on my trip and what I'd learnt during my time back home.

The three things that stuck with me were:

1 When you go on holiday/vacation have a real break. That means no checking of emails, sneaky looks at your blackberry or the occasional check in phone call to the office.

It means complete and utter distancing of yourself from your work environment. Hard for many, some may say impossible. I used to think like that, but realize now that in order for me to be at my best, ooze passion and commitment when I am working, I need a real break. And even though this break was less than two weeks, I feel reenergized and craving my next challenge.

Linked to how well you can do this (have that 'real' break) is the next thing, which is...

2 Surround yourself with brilliant people.

Might sound bleedingly obvious but in order to switch off completely you want to have the confidence in your colleagues who take up the slack whilst you're away.

I went on vacation two weeks ago completely relaxed once I walked out the door as I knew my team around me would deliver what was needed (and more) whilst I was away. And they did.

3 Believe in yourself and what you do.

Again, hardly a revolutionary piece of advice, but I was reminded of how important this is whilst watching a documentary on the plane of David Ogilvy, known by many as 'the father of advertising' as we know it today.

His story is quite extraordinary, particularly when you consider that a former door to door salesman and a man who had just left living amongst an Amish community took on the big boys of the advertising world on Madison avenue, with no advertising experience. It really was David taking on Goliath at the time, but it's fair to say the Ogilvy Group is now the Goliath of the advertising world.

So what did David Ogilvy have that made him succeed? He had an ability to generate lots of big ideas for his clients, but fundamentally he could sell and believed in himself. If he didn't I'm certain he would have packed up his life and moved back to the UK, given that by his own admission he initially struggled to win clients.

Most remember David Ogilvy for his creative and advertising brilliance. I take my hat off to him for his entrepreneurial tenacity, drive and above all, belief.

The trip was a good reminder of the simple things that help keep me going on a daily basis, doing what I love.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Does your charity have a commander's intent?

I love the notion of a commander's intent, articulated so well by the Heath brothers in the must read, Made to Stick. Side note: if you haven't read this little gem, do it.

To quote the Heath's, “Commander’s Intent manages to align the behavior of soldiers at all levels without requiring play-by-play instructions from their leaders. When people know the desired destination, they’re free to improvise as needed in arriving there.”

Probably the most best example of this was the now famous quote from President Kennedy: "I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."

At the time of his statement, no American had even orbited the earth. In fact, the U.S. had sent the first American into space only 20 days earlier

Some challenge, huh?

The point wasn't about the detail, or the journey to get there, it was about the end goal.

This makes me think back to Jon Duschinsky's book, Philanthropy in a Flat World: Inspiration Through Globalization. I love the part in here about rationalization.

Jon talks about the fact that most charities fail to rationalize and rather being bloody good, in fact the best, at just one thing, they end up being average at lots of things.

And hence the reason why I believe many organization's don't have a commander's intent.

We try to be too many things to too many people. If we were focused on one overarching goal, you could argue the outcomes and impact delivered by charities would be far greater.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Do a better job before doing anything else

That's tip number 49 in Drayton Bird's 51 helpful DM ideas.

A simple, but powerful message, and to be honest transferrable to other areas of our job as fundraisers.

Think about that statement. "Do a better job before doing anything else"

It's a really good piece of advice to give to fundraisers who want to raise more money next year. Just do what you're currently doing but do it a little bit better.

I see too many instances of people obsessing with new stuff. Usually because they feel that's what they have to do.

"I'm looking for the next big thing".

"We're looking at ways to be innovative and leading edge".

All I hear is "blah blah blah"..

News alert: be the best you can be at something before moving on to try something else. Or at least spend most of your time being better and a little bit of time trying something new. If you do, you'll raise more money.

Thanks Drayton for reminding us that often doing what we're paid to do that little bit better really is better than trying to be 'creative' or 'innovative'.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Should charities work like a business?

I think in some ways yes, in other ways no.

Let me explain.

The argument for 'yes'

There are three areas where I feel charities can benefit substantially for behaving like (well run) businesses.

Preparedness to invest

If you look at the top 20, 50 fundraising charities in any market, there is usually one thing they all share. They have spent money on fundraising. There is the odd exception of organic growth, but they are the exception.

Interesting to note that one of the biggest success factors behind the Obama fundraising juggernaut was the willingness to spend money.

Preparedness to take informed and well thought through risks

Often that risk (or perceived risk) may in actual fact be the spending of money in fundraising. I'm a big believer in the need to fall, or even stumble along the way, to make serious inroads. That means failing, an often scary word in the world we operate.

But smart, growing and successful businesses take considered risks. They are prepared to slip up in order to grow significantly. Charities with big aspirations should follow suit.

Acceptance of short term sacrifice for long term growth

Did you know Amazon didn't make any profit in its first six years in operation?

The easiest analogy to make is planned giving. Far too often I see charities pull the rug from planned giving investment for fear of hurting the bottom line, right now.

The argument for 'no'

Not all business are smart, well run and profitable.

So why follow principles just because that's the way the commercial world operates? I say this because I've heard many a fundraiser utter words to the effect of 'this is what I did when I worked in the corporate world'.

Remember,tradition can be destructive. Do something because it is right, not just because you've always or someone else has done it that way.

Obsession with cost and ROI.

I accept there are certain parameters charities must work within. But a focus purely on cost and return on investment can be harmful.

Focus wherever you can on net income. I've seen many charities fail to grow (and ultimately help more beneficiaries) because they couldn't see how to put net return ahead of the cost to produce/return.

Like any scanning of the environment, 'for' or 'non' profit, take the good and forego the bad.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why poor execution can get in the way of a solid approach

I'll often get into a healthy debate with someone about my views on something specific, let's say direct response fundraising.

Case in point recently (this has happened several times) when chatting to various fundraisers about the best way to get your onetime (cash) donors to commence a monthly gift. For tips on this refer to an earlier post Getting the most by getting it monthly.

The conversation invariably includes several bemused looks, a lot of confusion and me being told my suggestion is contrary to the advice of most others. By the way my advice normally centres around a singular monthly focus, in a stand alone appeal, with no option to give a one time cash gift.

I normally hear, "but we tried that and it didn't work".

To which I ask to have a look at the efforts to adopt this approach.

Usually (and I'm being kind here) the execution is extremely poor. Mixed messages, no real explanation of why monthly giving is vital, and more about the mechanics of monthly giving than real benefits.

The point?

Just because you've tried something and it didn't work doesn't mean the approach is wrong.

Often you just did it poorly.

So what should I do about in situations like this?

Don't accept the execution was great, revisit your work and ask the tough questions. Don't be afraid to be self critical.

Continue to test varying approaches.

Look at what others have done and learn from it.

Give it another shot but make it better (based on learning, involving other people).


Friday, September 4, 2009

Who gives a toss about charity salaries?

Well, lots of people do.


Because they think that they should and that's what they've been told, taught or led to believe.

But frankly, who cares?

If someone hypothetically earns $300k a year, they should be judged on the value they bring to that organization? It is irrelevant if the entity is 'for' or 'non' profit.

I'd argue someone who turns a $10m organization into a $100m one can sleep pretty tightly earning a few hundred thousand dollars a year. Pretty simple logic.

I've mentioned in previous postings the brilliant work of Dan Pallotta and his ground breaking book Uncharitable.

If you haven't yet read it, do it. And get a copy for every one of your board members

In the meantime check out Dan talking about the book and why the hell we need to challenge the paradigm in the way we operate, including turning the attention away from costs, looking at the value someone or something delivers. Click here to view an interview with Dan.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Help me help Terry Fox...

Some of you will have read my post a couple weeks back about being inspired by the great Canadian, Terry Fox.

I mentioned that I would be participating in the Terry Fox Run in September. So this is a shameless request for any readers to consider digging into your pocket and helping me help Terry's wonderful Foundation support cancer research.

To sponsor me please visit my sponsoship page. My goal is to raise $2,000.

Thanks in advance.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Ten copy tips for your next appeal

Here are ten simple tips that will be useful when developing copy for your Christmas/Seasonal appeal.

1 Adopt the adage: tell em what you're going to tell em, tell em, and tell em what you just told em.

2 Get an ask in early. At least once in the first three paragraph's.

3 Make the ask specific, based on their previous giving levels. At Christmas ask for a little more than they've given historically and explain why. You need the money.

4 Repeat the ask several times, at least once per page. Make sure there is an ask at the end, and in the P.S.

5 Tell it as it is. But a word of warning. An interesting learning we had of late, if the subject is controversial and graphic in nature, test it. You run the risk of 'turning off' certain donors. Test the way you talk about a topic that is particularly sensitive. One version where you tell it like it is, the other version softened a little.

6 Refer to past support wherever possible. If you are talking about the work in Sudan, reference that Mrs. Smith has told you that's the area she's most passionate in or that she has supported before.

7 Make it warm and personal. Don't 'we' all over your copy. It ain't about the organization, it's about individuals.

8 Tell a really good story. Does it make you feel really uncomfortable, even cry? It should.

9 Make sure it easy to understand what you want the donor to do, by when and how.

10 Break sentences so they spill over the next page. It entices the donor to read on.

Use these as a checklist. The more you tick, the more money you'll generate.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

You Can't Manage What You Don't Measure.

This is a pretty old adage that most of us will be familiar with. Unfortunately this rings true when it comes to measuring the performance of supporter or donor care functions.

You may have read a post I wrote last year about the large mystery shopping exercise Pareto Fundraising ran here in Canada in 2008.

The findings were shocking to most. Not for me however, as I’ve been doing this in different parts of the world for many years now and see the same stuff over and over again. I've become somewhat numb to it.

Lack of response, poor or no follow up, communications all about the organization, rather than individuals and beneficiaries.

I could go on.

Anyway I’m often asked why charities are so damn bad (generally) at looking after donors, or members of the public.

I respond with a raft of reasons, invariably citing lack of importance placed on this area, difficulty obtaining evidence to show it makes a difference, distraction etc.

One of the other key reasons, I believe, is that very few charities around the globe actually measure service levels.

Do you think large commercial organization’s with inbound call centre’s don’t bother capturing data on how long it takes to answer a call or the number of people they convert to a sale? Of course they don’t.

So why should charities be exempt from setting themselves parameters like this?

They shouldn’t.

The message for today is start actually monitoring, measuring and then managing the performance of your supporter care or donor services team.

Consider looking at things like:

• Turnaround times on mail, telephone and email. I.e. “All mail enquiries must be responded to within 5 business days”.
• The proportion of ‘win-backs’ or ‘downgrades’ achieved I.e. “50% of all attempted cancellations should be downgraded rather than stopped”.
• The level of data capture obtained from supporters. I.e. “80% of all donor calls should result in the confirming or capturing of an email address/contact telephone number”.

These are just a few to begin with.

They key thing is measure them, and make sure you reward those who consistently achieve.

Once you’ve set some measures, or what I call SLA’s (service level agreements) then you’re on your way to being able to understand the impact that getting this right makes on the value of your file.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

'You' can all learn from Swedish trade unions...

Just over a year ago I posted a blog entitled, Its not you, it's me.

No prizes for guessing what it was about. The value of talking about your donors, and not you (your organization).

I was drawn to think about this today when I read some test results from a copy test conducted by a Swedish trade union on their website. Yes, you read that correctly. A Swedish trade union.

In short, the head to head test showed that bullet points with strong “you” oriented copy convinced 16% more visitors to apply for membership.

Click here for more detail including the results.

Wow, who would have thought, huh?

Remember the Aussie organization I talked about back in June that used the words 'I' and 'you' 50 times in a four page letter? No coincidence the letter doubled income from the previous year.

Alas, if a Swedish trade union knows it should talks to its members rather than talk at it's members, then I reckon you can all follow suit.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Stop focusing all your efforts on finding "younger" donors

If I had a dollar for every time a fundraiser said to me “We are trying to recruit younger donors”, I wouldn’t be blogging here right now.

My response to this is the same always: why?

Charities are always looking to recruit "younger" donors because they think that’s what they should be doing. Wrong.

Mostly because they hear, are told, or are in fact seeing that traditional recruitment methods (I.e. direct mail) don’t work as they once did.

So the obvious response is, we need to find channels that “younger” people responsd to.

In fact charities should also be spending time looking for better ways to recruit “older donors”.

Before I move on, I’m taking a pretty broad brush here. My definition of “younger” is pretty loose, let’s say under 35 years old. By “older” I’m talking 60 and upwards. Not a science but works for the point of this blog.


Because “older” donors give much, much more and are statistically more likely to stay with you. Fact.

Let me prove it to you.

I undertook some data analysis with a client recently, and looked at the key drivers of attrition across their file.

For every channel we looked at we were able to determine that “younger’ constituents were more likely, in some cases two to three times more likely to cancel their giving than “older” donors. And when you translate that into income, both long and short term that meant “older” donors were giving far, far more.

This is consistent with all of the work we have done with our clients at Pareto Fundraising, in each country we have looked at this in, across varying types of organizations.

The message is always the same.

“Younger” donors stay on for shorter periods of time and hence give less. The reasons are pretty simple, “younger” donors are at a different life stage. Less disposable income, more transient, more likely to have a mortgage, possibly with young children. Bottom line, less income to give away to charity.

So what?

Well, reaching out to find “younger” supporters isn’t necessarily the silver bullet. Finding better ways to attract and engage older constituents is. I’m not suggesting don’t recruit “younger” donors at all, far from it.

What I am saying is get the balance right. And when you do reach out to younger constituents, please, please, please talk to them differently. I’ll save that for another blog though.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Being inspired: Terry Fox

Most Canadian’s will know Terry Fox’s story.

I only became aware of Terry’s amazing life when I moved to Canada last year.

For those of you who don’t know, Terry was diagnosed with bone cancer when he was just 18, and forced to have his right leg amputated above the knee in 1977.

So moved by the suffering of other cancer patients whilst in hospital, Terry decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research.

Here is the mind blowing part.

Terry ran 42 kilometres (26 miles) a day through Canada's Atlantic provinces, Quebec and Ontario! A marathon a day. With a prosthetic leg. Simply incredible.

Unfortunately on September 1st, after 143 days and 5,373 kilometres (3,339 miles), Terry was forced to stop running outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario because cancer had appeared in his lungs. An entire nation was stunned and saddened. Terry passed away on June 28, 1981 at the age 22.

Terry’s legacy lives on through the work of his foundation and the cancer research that their support has funded, having raised close to half a billion dollars in the last 30 years.

I had the privilege today to go and present to the folks at the Terry Fox Foundation. Which was an incredibly humbling and inspiring experience.

Over lunch one of the guys was talking about how he’d been for a 30 minute run that morning. One of his colleagues remarked at how impressive that was getting up so early in the morning. His response: “Terry ran 143 marathons. 30 minutes is nothing”. He went on to say (remarkably) that the 89km he once ran in a day in South Africa was also “nothing” in comparison to Terry’s feats. It was all about “perspective” as he put it. How true. I sometimes need to get a bit of that perspective, we probably all do.

It’s hard not to love your job when you hear stuff like this and get to meet some wonderful people.

Thanks to the gang at the Terry Fox Foundation for having me in. You’re an amazing bunch of people continuing on Terry’s great work. Oh, and I look forward to the run in a few weeks! Stay posted for that one readers….


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tell me, tell me and for god's sake tell me again...

Occasionally I get fixated on certain products and services. For a while it was, and to be fair, still is Porter Airlines. They are brilliant. Torontonians, if you haven’t used them before you must.

Recently I stumbled across Priceline – a cool website that allows you to book cheap flights and accommodation.

A dime a dozen though, right?

Sort of. The great part about Priceline is that you can bid for stuff. So I can bid (as I did a couple of weeks ago) for a hotel, in the city I want to visit, in the area within the city and then nominate or bid what I want to pay.

Then within around 60 seconds I find out whether I have been successful.

Where it gets really smart is when I place my bid, or before I press the bid button it tells me if I have a low probability of getting the place I want. So that if the chances are low I can bump up my bid.

Basically it works. I’m currently staying in the Sheraton on 7th Avenue in Manhattan for $110USD a night. And for anyone whose stayed in NY recently, that’s unheard of.

So what the hell has this got to do with my fundraising program, Jonathon? Get on with it!

Well apart from the obvious analogies like being easy to use, what I love about Priceline is they are bloody persistent!

Last week I bid for a hotel in Vancouver and missed out on the price I suggested.

Every day since then I have received an email like you the one you will see attached, reminding me that I can bid again at the same price if I like. What I love about this is:

- They have remembered me. My name, my details, my bid.
- Just because I missed out the first time doesn’t mean I am not interested. I can either re-enter the same bid or make some revisions. They key is reminding me.
- They make it easy for me to go and bid again. I simply click the link and presto, I have re-bid.

Absolutely brilliant.

Remember these things in your direct response fundraising.

Tell me, tell me again and for gods’ sake tell me again! In a direct mail letter, we usually ask a donor around 5-6 times (within a 4 page letter). We know, as we have tested, that the repetition increases the response rate. Some simple rules to remember here, are:

- Always include an ask in the first 3 paragraphs
- Always include an ask on each page
- Always include an ask at the end of the letter
- Always include an ask in the P.S. and tell them everything you have just told me one more time

Great work Priceline. I reckon you’d make a good fundraiser.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Accept that donors are not cheap

Point number three of ten in my session yesterday, entitled the 10 point plan to recession proofing your fundraising.

In reality I could have scrubbed out the "recession proofing" your fundraising, and substituted it with "leading" because in reality the presentation and the messages within are timeless.

Anyway, back to point three.

If you think that you can make money straight away on acquisition (this comment excludes those in the US where you can make money upfront mainly as a result of the enormous volumes you can talk to) then frankly you are kidding yourself.

There are as always exceptions to the rule. But across the board acquiring new donors is bloody tough.

Depending on the channel you are recruiting by, it typically takes on average anywhere from 18 months to 4 years (and up) to make money.

The point is donors aren't cheap and we need to manage peoples, errrr... your bosses and boards, expectations about this.

Here are some key takeaways:

- The most effective charities on acquisition take a long term view. They don't throw the towel in after one campaign. They test, tweak and refine until they get it right. Messaging, lists, elements within a DM pack. They all need to be tested.

- It's rare to make your money back quickly. 18 months is the lower end (regardless of channel) to breakeven. But it's not uncommon for some channels to take 3 years and above. That doesn't mean its not worth doing if these recruits are bringing in substantial long term value, but you need to realistic.

- You must aim to recruit regular, monthly givers. Looking at some analysis today for a client showed that the long term net value of monthly donors (it differed by channel) is around ten times that of one-time cash donors. It isn't easy but you need to find a way, whether that is signing people up to monthly straight away or getting them in on cash and then converting them really quickly after they come on board.

All in all you need to stop just looking at response rates, average gift levels and the cost per acquisition.

You need to accept that donors are not cheap. But you also need to understand, what is a donor really worth over a period of time when you factor in how much they give over their lifetime, taking into account all costs to recruit and cultivate. That's what smart acquisition is about.


Friday, July 31, 2009

Who are we missing at fundraising conferences?

I read a great piece this morning in the latest edition of Canadian Fundraising & Philanthropy's e-newsletter about Canadian fundraising stars missing from conference stage.

Hot on the heels of my post about endeavoring to make conferences really useful, this caught my eye.

The author, John Webster Hochstadt goes into some detail about some of the inherent problems of fundraising conferences, like the domination of consultants speaking and lack of senior staff attending. Both true.

I talked about something similar last year when I called for sole fundraisers to start flying the flag, to come out from under their desks, beat their chest a little and start sharing.

As someone who does the conference rounds a lot, I too am constantly frustrated and let down at the lack of charity representation, particularly from 'small shops' (I love that term and my Aussie colleagues think it's hilarious).

I can sort of understand their absence. I'd ask myself if I was a fundraiser, from a small or big shop, why should I present, how can I possibly do it and when will I find the time?

Now each of these has a quick rebuttal, but the purpose of this blog is simply to put this back on the agenda and challenge fundraisers to knock us agency folks off our perch.

Frankly, I get sick of people whingeing to me about lack of charity speakers. My answer to anything like this is if you want to make change, create your own destiny and don't sit on your hands waiting for someone else to do it.

Thanks for brining this up John, I hear you wholeheartedly.

Let's share your story fundraising folks - you have something to tell, and we're waiting to hear it.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

9 steps to doubling your Christmas appeal income

I ran a workshop recently focused entirely on raising more, in fact doubling, income from upcoming Christmas appeals.

I know most of you are thinking: come on Jonathon it's only August! Alas, it's time to start preparing folks, it ain't that far away...

So with that, I thought I'd replay those 9 key ingredients for you. Put simply, they are:

1 Targeting the right people
2 Asking for the right thing
3 Getting the message right
4 Getting the letter right
5 Getting personal
6 Getting the execution right
7 Making it easy to respond
8 Getting the follow up right
9 Test, test and test again

But rather than do this a disservice, here is the presentation.

Feel free to drop me a line if you want clarification on any of the slides.

Oh, and don't forget Christmas doesn't end in December!


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Time to make conferences genuinely useful

Now, that may sound a tad harsh and that I'm just taking aim at all conferences or the people that organize them.

I am not.

This is not a personal dig at anyone, and if you read on you will see that I'm even prepared to back up my words with action.

I have to say I am critical in general at the value that conferences deliver and the lack of takeaways that delegates actually put into practice, as I talked about last year.

But what gets to me even more than what we actually do with the learning's we get is how fundraising conferences around the world are crafted. I got thinking about this over the last few days whilst attending and speaking at the DMAW Bridge Conference in Washington, DC.

Some of you may have read Sean Triner's article some time ago where he was (rightly) critical of the flawed scoring system at conferences. If you haven't read it, it's worth a look here.

I agree with Sean on this one, but I also believe we need to change the way we run these (very expensive) events to do the following:

1 Make the sessions longer.

As a speaker and delegate its nigh on impossible to learn anything in a 60 minute session. Many speakers travel internationally to present for an hour, or less, like I did this week. Crazy stuff.

But I'm not talking about making sessions 90 minutes or even 2 hours, but all day, even 2-3 day streams.

Sean recently ran a session at the IWRM conference in India where they phsyically helped delegates produce a direct mail over the course of 2 days. Brilliant stuff. Rather than just dazzle delegates with countless PowerPoint slides, the small group actually walked through the key ingredients of a direct marketing pack and then step by step were shown how to actually produce the pack.

And then they did it. Each developed a great pack ready to post. Fantastic. Now that's what I call real learning.

2 Don't just do what you did last year and the year before.

It's easy for conferences to rollout stuff that was done last year and every year since 1998. In other words, bringing back the same speakers 8 years in a row, using the same (useless) speaker evaluation forms - refer Sean's article on this - or having 2 hour 'networking' breaks that delegates end up using to check their emails.

We should do what we do because it's right, not because it's easy.

As a side note: conference evaluation forms are absolutely critical for the future success of a conference. Not making them do what they should do (accurately evaluate a speakers value and impact) means that we aren't using real data to drive the future direction of upcoming conferences.

I digress.

3 Ensure the speakers make the sessions 'sticky' to maximize learning.

If you don't know what I mean then go and get a copy of Made to Stick, one of the best books you can read, regardless what profession you work in. It will show you how to make your ideas stick so they resonate with your audience, whether that is donors, your colleagues or even your clients (for us agencies) etc.

There are some great tips in here that speakers should follow to ensure that their ideas stick with their audience. 'Stickier' ideas means better learning and more chance the ideas will actually result in change.

That's it for a Friday afternoon. The challenge is out to all conference organizers to ensure we deliver the most value for the investment (in time and $) that our delegates make.

Oh, and I've just been dobbed in to help on one of the conference committees next year, so I won't just rant, I'll be doing my best to make some of these ideas a reality.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

The power of data: using information on your donors to fuel growth in your program

Check out my latest article on using personal data which talks about focusing on past behaviour and finding emotional triggers to raise more money.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Stewardship: who bloody cares!

I hope that got your attention.

Of course, I care. Lots in fact about how we care for all those wonderful people who support our organizations.

But frankly, I am sick of the word stewardship/donor care, whatever you want to call it, being the buzz topic at conferences. This was the case last week at the IOF Convention and quite frankly it drove me a little bongkers.


Because we over analyze it.

Some of the sessions were actually debating whether we need different terms, what the definition of stewardship was/is. Blah blah blah .

Let’s be honest. Good donor care isn’t brain surgery. They don’t hand out Nobel Prizes for it. Just do it!

I’ve posted lots about this topic (so maybe I am being hypocritical here?), but my posts provide practical, real life examples of what it means to look after your donors: thank promptly and appropriately, feedback regularly, treat people like they are your friends, continue to ask, get personal, tell them how they are making a difference. Simple.

It’s almost as if we (the sector) feel we need to continually put it on the agenda. But my friends, we don’t. We just need to do it.

Remember, innovation isn’t about doing new stuff, it’s about doing things you’re not currently doing. Same goes for looking after your donors.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Why your world is about to get a whole lot smaller

Whether we like it or not, our world is about to get a whole lot smaller.

That’s the view of economist and author Jeff Rubin who recently released the fascinating but frightening book entitled “Why your world is about to get a whole lot smaller”.

I’d suggest all fundraisers read it, for it has connotations for all of us.

Now granted, this is one man’s opinion.

But there’s lots of evidence to back up Jeff’s words. In a nutshell Rubin talks about the worlds obsession with oil, and more importantly the relationship between the price of oil and the state of the global economy.

In regards to oil he says, “it will never be cheap again. Take away cheap oil, and the global economy is getting the shock of its life.”

The most alarming part, for a novice on this issue like me, is the rate at which we are running out of the commodity that we rely so heavily on.

Which means, hence the book title, the world is going to get a whole lot smaller.

If that is the case, and travel becomes exorbitantly expensive, what does this mean for the charitable sector? What does that mean for how far the charitable dollar reaches?

If this really is true, then the global downturn will look like a storm in a teacup in comparison. Let’s face it, charitable giving has only fallen a few % in the last year amidst what we keep defining as the word recession since the great depression, but even when it picks up again, can we be sure we can have the impact we really want/need to have on the world?

If the cost to transport relief from say the developed to the developing world is ten times more expensive, what will happen to those who need it most? Will it not get there or will be have to raise ten times as much in the first instance?

If there are fewer cars on the road, how will the local soup kitchen get their daily meals to those in far flung places?

And if it is more difficult to cross the country, or even the city you live in, how will you meet that potential major donor face to face to ask them for that $1m lead gift you need to build your new animal shelter?

Believe the evidence or have your doubts, but regardless, these are issues we will face, and in our lifetime.

I think it’s time charities starting planning for disasters, and I don’t just mean tsunamis. I mean financial downturns. I mean the warming of the planet. I mean the world running out of oil.

The latest downturn has shown us how exposed we can be. It’s time we start looking ten and twenty years ahead.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Please, please share!

I’m currently in London to speak at the Institute of Fundraising Convention.

I love this conference, hence why it’s my sixth time here.

If I have to be picky though, there’s one thing that I always walk away disappointed in however (like most conferences) and that’s a lack of sharing. And by sharing I mean results/evidence/case studies.

I’m not sure if it’s an unwillingness, nervousness or perhaps even fear?

But let’s be honest. Sharing for ‘the greater good’ is exactly that. Often the fear to share is from those who have moved to the ‘third sector’ from the commercial world. And I can understand that, it’s a different space to operate in, culturally at least.

Coke don’t share their recipes with Pepsi, and why would they?

But we’re not Coke and Pepsi here.

We should be about increasing the size of the pie, or getting more from those within it. It isn’t about getting a bigger chunk. Wrong attitude. Seriously, we don’t have anything to lose from sharing. Of course we need to respect confidentiality (certainly as agencies on behalf of clients) but discussing the good, bad and the ugly from our programs can only benefit the sector.

And that means helping more beneficiaries.

So I’m imploring those at the Convention to open up and tell us:

• What’s worked, what hasn’t and what are you trying that you’re just not sure about?
• About some monumental stuff ups. I’ll buy you a drink in the bar if you do.
• About your latest results.
• About the latest test learning’s
• About others you know who are doing some kick ass stuff

Please, please, share with us. We need it to get the most value from the conference.

I promise I will during my session entitled How to Look at What Others Are Doing to Raise More Money


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The power of benchmarking

Check out my recent SOFII article talking about the power of benchmarking in your fundraising program.



Saturday, June 27, 2009

Of course direct mail isn't dead

I don't often write about this topic, for not wanting to expose myself to the "oh yes, but his agency produces DM" argument. Sod it, today I'm throwing that care out the window...

I read a great blog, as usual, on the Agitator today which talked about a paper written by Chuck Pruitt of AB Data.

And as the Agitator post states, Chuck is mad! Mad with the direct mail doomsayers who bang on about the channel being dead and buried.

Chuck makes some really good points. And yes Chuck I agree with you wholeheartedly.

The message I give people is:

- Direct mail may not be growing, but it's a big chunk for many to protect

- The best use of other media like online/social media is to support other channels, including the mail

- Do direct mail better, not less

To illustrate the point that it's not the death knell for the mail, see the chart above from our Canadian benchmarking study at Pareto Fundraising in 2008. 25% of income from the charities that participated came the year prior from the mail.

A big source of income from some large Canadian organizations.

Oh and in case you're wondering, we're seeing the same trends all over the world.


PS - if you want to find out more about our 2009 Canadian benchmarking study email me to register for our webinar next Tuesday, the 30th of June.

Friday, June 26, 2009

What to learn from the Toronto garbage strike

I’m always fascinated by how people respond in a crisis. Or even when something unexpected happens.

So I’m particularly intrigued by people’s behavior in Toronto right now. To fill you in, there is a city workers strike at the moment which is affecting a range of services including childcare, but the most disturbing and obvious disruption is to garbage collection.

That’s right, garbage workers in the city have been on strike for 4 days. Not nice.

The picture above is a garbage can/bin at the subway near my house. It quite clearly says not to use it, but has that stopped people? No. All around the city this is a common sight, garbage stuffed into each and every part of these disposals.

So what?

Well, this and the way people in Toronto are trying to dispose of their waste (in some cases illegally) got me thinking about our behavior in unexpected situations. And in particular to the way some fundraisers have behaved in the wake of the global downturn.

Frankly, there are lots of parallels.

We panic.

We make rash decisions driven by emotion.

We don’t necessarily gather all the information we need before we act.

Like the resident who illegally dumps their trash in Lake Ontario, some fundraisers are acting like frightened turtles and pulling back on all acquisition. Crazy stuff. But it’s happening.

Why? Because we’re emotional creatures. Don’t get me wrong, fundraisers need emotion. We tell stories for a living, that’s our job.


I just hope like hell (I think sometimes forlornly) that people, and I mean fundraisers, think rationally, as well as emotionally.

“We’re stopping all acquisition this year”.

I’ve heard this over the last few months and honestly it’s just stupid decision making driven by someone/a group of people behaving emotionally. If you look at the evidence out there in the sector, there are loads of examples all over the world showing you can still recruit new donors, in some cases as well and better than ever.

So, Torontonians, don’t do stupid things with your garbage. And fundraisers, act in an informed way, not emotionally.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Debunking some common fundraising myths

The best part about working for a data driven (obsessive) agency is you get to either debunk or prove ‘common’ fundraising myths.

So I thought it would be useful, and a little fun, to debunk a few common ones. Here goes…

1. I need a product, like child sponsorship, to grow a successful monthly giving program

Garbage, rubbish, bollocks (insert whichever vernacular you like). Simply not true. Yes, organization’s that have child sponsorship “products” have an advantage. But only because they have created an emotional connection with someone. And that’s the key, finding your emotional triggers with your donors.

Refer my earlier post about getting the most by getting it monthly which talks about the fundamentals behind a successful program. Some of the most flourishing monthly programs I have seen (many which started from scratch) are built not on fancy product names but on explaining to donors why you need ongoing, monthly support.

Take the National Heart Foundation of Australia as an example. Four years ago they had a little over 1,000 monthly donors, today over 11,000. Mostly driven by solid direct marketing (phone and mail) and explaining to people how critical funding work like cardiovascular research is to saving lives. It can be done.

2. I should stop mailing donors who used to give one time cash gifts and now give monthly

Response rates to direct mail appeals (as an example) from this group I’ve seen range from 16% to 43%. In short they are for most organization’s I’ve worked with the best responders to further solicitations. Again it makes sense. They are your best donors. So treat them well and they will respond.

This works in the long term as well as the short term. This group (cash who ‘converted’ to monthly) on average deliver more value to date than most other groups of donors, including other types of monthly giving recruits.

3. No one reads long letters

If done properly, long will always beat short. Again, refer my previous post on this.

You can’t send a 6 page phone bill and expect to out pull a short letter, but a well crafted letter that tells a story, is backed up by data driven ask amounts repeated throughout the copy, an easy to complete response mechanism, is urgent and has a target amount will always rock. And will beat a shorter letter.

Why does it take 4 pages though? Who knows. Who cares. Actually that’s not true, I do care. But put simply it’s because it takes that long to do all the things you need to do to make it a brilliant letter. Every single test I have seen around this has proven that longer truly is better.

4. If you mail too much, you will fatigue donors and they will stop giving

The organizations with the best retention rates are those that mail/contact the most frequently. And by mail I don’t mean ask, I mean talk to someone which includes feeding back, caring and thanking.

I looked at an organizations data the other day that mails around 12 times a year, which includes up to 10 financial asks. They have a 2nd gift rate of around 50% (better than the 30% I have seen through benchmarking studies here in Canada) and an overall (year to year) renewal rate of around 70% for cash donors. I’d argue they’d be higher than that if their approach was more personal and engaged donors more effectively, but the point is they talk to donors often (and ask lots) and it works.

5. Street recruitment (face to face/direct dialogue) is bad for the brand and therefore harms income

I’m sure there are those that think recruiting on the street has damaged Greenpeace’s brand. I’d argue, as I’m sure Greenpeace would, that around $1b in income globally over the past decade and a half is pretty darn good. And no doubt outweighs any ‘brand damage’.

There are arguments all over the world, at fundraising conferences, between fundraisers and ‘watchdogs’ and in pubs about the value of this type of recruitment.

But let’s face it, it works. It works looking at volumes of people it brings in (saw a report last week that showed 680k donors signed up on the street in the UK last year, up 16%). It works looking at value over time, typically these types of recruits bring in between $500 and $600 (CAD) over 4-5 years.

Bottom line is it works.

The caveat is it has to be done properly, organizations need to understand how to treat these donors (typically who are younger) and there are all sorts of back end things to consider. But the brand argument doesn’t stack up. Unless you monumentally screw it up and have a PR disaster on your hand (I.e. a canvasser abuses someone on the street).

Have you got any common fundraising myths you’d like me to debunk or prove?


Friday, June 19, 2009

Busting attrition: eight simple steps

We’ve just finished some work with a large international organization, comparing key fundraising measures across 12 of their countries fundraising programs.

Yesterday during the presentation the subject of attrition cropped up several times, particulary around Year 1 attrition.

I reckon there are some absolute imperatives when it comes to keeping people on board in the first year and in particular the first three months. These tips are independant of which channel they were recruited by, what time of gift they gave (cash v monthly) etc.

Eight things to not only remember, but live and breathe to help you combat attrition:

1. Don’t accept stupidly long/sloppy response times when saying ‘thank you’. It cannot take 4 weeks to thank.

2. Don’t rollout with the same thank you letter or piece that you’ve been sending since 1983.

3. Don’t bung in an annual report (or like piece) to a welcome package, purely because you have twelve boxes left in the storeroom. Most annual reports are garbage (I say “most”, there are some great ones).

4. Do make sure you get the donor’s details right at point of recruitment. In our Canadian mystery shopping studies last year 47% of monthly gifts were not able to be set up, most because we never received a response to our letter/email but some because the details captured by the charity were wrong.

5. Do test phoning new donors to say thank you and tell them how they are going to make a difference. We’ve had clients test this and prove (statistically) that this increases the value of someone’s giving.

6. Do promise to feedback when you thank, and then follow through on that promise regularly.

7. Do where possible use imagery and dollar handles ('your $10 a month is going to pay for two malaria nets for someone live in Zambia') to reinforce the reasons for support.

8. Do use the right mechanisms to talk to people. My 80 year old grandmother may not be able or want to open a video message you’ve sent her, but my 19 year old brother will.

Make sure you tick these boxes regardless of the way you recruit and the types of donors and gifts you acquire. There are other things to factor into the mix to best look after those who have come on board, but this is a solid place to start.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

To premium or not to premium?

I know this is a question many organization’s often ask themselves and I’m not the first to blog about this. Nor will I be the last. By premiums I mean including things like labels, gift cards and even blankets (yes even blankets!) as gifts in DM packs.

My response is pretty simple. If it works keep doing it. BUT…

By ‘works’ I mean, does recruiting premium donors deliver more value in the long term (taking into account subsequent gifts, cost to cultivate and send ongoing premiums) as non premium recruits?

If the answer is yes then keep doing it.

Intuitively many fundraisers think that that this is just a tactic to get people in and the long term value is not as great. This is where data is great. Well actually, not just data, but data + intelligence, which equals insights.

And so recently with a Canadian client we looked at this very situation. The client has a very strong premium driven program, recruiting big volumes. But they also tried, like many organizations to “beat” their premium control pack with a non premium (or what many refer to as “mission based”) pack.

When we looked at the data, what we saw was no statistical difference over the lifetime of the two types of recruits, looking at response, average gift, income and the total value (again, taking into account all subsequent costs and income).

The key thing for this client however, and tipping them in the favor of continuing with their premium strategy was that the volume they were able to recruit with the use of premiums far outstripped the volume they could get using their mission pack.

It was a no brainer for them. Premiums it is.

However, one caveat. Where this client, and many others could do better is by using really solid, supporter focused, personal and authentic style warm/house mailings to develop these relationships further. Many have tried and failed with this (because of the “reliance” by premium recruited donors of receiving further premiums).

But I have to say that what I have seen by many trying this is frankly, garbage.

By supporter focused, personal letters I mean data driven (referring to past support, motivations etc), long letters, use of colloquial language throughout, telling brilliant and emotive stories. Really solid relationship management.

So what’s the message here?

Of course the answer is always test, test and keep testing to see what works best.

It may be premiums as the key tool in your recruitment strategy, it may not. It may be a hybrid to balance volume versus value. And of course, look at the data to see what happens long term, not just comparing response rates and average gift. Dig deeper.


Friday, June 12, 2009

"This is the most important letter I have ever written"

You won't beat this for the most powerful piece of copy you can write.

I've just read a pack that was produced for one of our Australian clients last month and this was the first line.

And guess what? It doubled income from the previous year.

Not just because of this line, but it helped. Why else did it work?

- It was honest. "..facing an unprecedented financial crisis which is forcing me and my team to make decisions I never imagined we would face just twelve months ago". It goes on to talk about what that means to beneficiaries.

- It was urgent. "I need your help right now".

- It was data driven. The asks were based on previous giving. Donors were asked for more than ever. "By making your most generous gift ever".

- It was personal. There were 30 uses of the word 'I' and 20 uses of the word 'you' in a four page letter.

- It told a story. A beautiful, compelling story about a child whose life had been touched by their work.

- It was easy to respond. The ask was clear, the vehicle to respond was simple.

Yes, it also mentioned the 'R' word. But there was a reason. They have been significantly hit by falling revenues and therefore in a position where services would be cut if a solution was not found. It was therefore relevant to mention this.

I was reminded about effective copy after reading the latest post on The Agitator this morning.

Writing effective, compelling and successful copy is not that difficult. It requires discipline, honesty and a great story.

Do you have to write the most important letter you have ever written?