Friday, December 24, 2010

Thank you from MSF

Just received this from Médecins Sans Frontières Canada and was compelled to share it.

A wonderful way to say thank you, through the use of a remarkable story.

Why is it so good?

- It wasn't about MSF, it was about me. And my partnership as a monthly donor. In fact 11 times, I heard the words you/you're.

- The timing was great. Just as we are winding down for the Holiday season, a timely reminder of why I support MSF. How do you think I go into 2011 feeling about the work they do?

- A story. Yes, a wonderful, warm and moving story about a beautiful little girl called Mirlanda. Shared by video.

- The email did all the things it should, and easily. All the good stuff before the fold, was viewable as a landing page if not through your email platform and I could share it with a friend.

- It bought me really close. Not just through Mirlanda's story, but by showing me the sign made by the people of Haiti. Love it.

- I was thanked six times in the email. And genuinely.

Hats off to the MSF team for inspiring me, and hopefully many others at the end of 2010. Keep up the amazing work helping people like Mirlanda.

For more thank you tips, check out an earlier post here.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Fundraising resolutions: version 2011

Not a big one for forlorn new years promises, but thought it would be a bit of fun (and a good checklist to look back on) to pen some fundraising resolutions for 2011.

Here goes. My plan to become a better fundraiser next year.

- Increase my thirst for knowledge. Read more (blogs, articles, papers), absorb as much as I can from the thought leaders in our sector, be a bigger sponge for learning.

- Stop putting things off. As a wise school teacher once told me, 'procrastination is the thief of time'. Smart man he was. I need to just get on with things.

- Listen more. To those who I agree with, to those who think differently. Pause more often and simply hear what others have to say.

- Be tenacious about testing. Challenge conventional thinking, test more than ever.

- Look outside. Not just outside the walls of the agency, but outside the sector. Most of the new stuff I learnt in 2010 was from the commercial sector. Not because they're smarter, but because I looked more than I normally would outside our own world.

- Empower others to do even better. My job is about changing the mindset and actions of others as well as my own. Spend more time on changing behavior than I did in 2010.

- Get the balance right between learning from what worked and learning from what didn't. Not too much back slapping (the road to failure is paved with success), not too much castigating your own work.

When I think I've done what I said I would do, read the list again from start to finish.

What are your 2011 fundraising resolutions?



Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday giving online

Here's some data showing the spread of gifts given online through the months of November and December, last year. The data is from Australia.

Of course this is linked to when push activity is happening, as you will see from the period around the 10th of November, and the same time in December. When many charities send their first and second waves of their Holiday appeal.

What's more enlightening however are the spikes in the days immediately prior to December 25.

Added to that is the following piece of data which shows an even more stark upward trend post December 25th.

It's important to note this is data from North America, and there is definitely some end of year tax sentiment attached.

So what does all of this mean?

For me there are two things:

- It indicates the tremendous value in end of year e-pushes attached to your other channels. If you're not incorporating multi layered approaches, you should be.

- It isn't too late to appeal immediately prior December 25 and December 31. Don't assume the Holiday period ends when the Christmas calendar tells you.

A final health warning attached: apply the same principles to your digital activity at this time as you would any offline approach. Be relevant, clear, compelling, and make the decision to donate and the action attached really, really easy to complete.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Conferences and sugar rushes

It's time for a rant about conferences.

Last week I attended our Aussie teams staff conference. The usual stuff: sharing what's happening in our offices, trying to tick off a few of the problems we face on a day to day basis, talking about exciting stuff to test, some socializing mixed in along the way.

I must admit as much as I enjoyed it, there were some moments of frustration when I realized that some of the discussed topics and matters arising had been regular points of interest for the last 6 years. Why hadn't we sorted these things yet I thought?

At the same time many friends and colleagues attended the AFP Toronto Chapter's Congress on the other side of the globe. I watched with interest at a raft of titillating tweets and great blogs began to surface.

So as I sit here a few days after both events, I ask the question to my friends and colleagues...

How many of the items on the 'to do' list, that you got SO fired up about last week have you ticked off as of today?

Because if you haven't put a line through them within a week, don't bother.


Not really. Think about it. Going to conferences is like having an almighty sugar rush. You catch up with friends, get inspired by some rock star presenters, promise to change the world. And then...... well usually, nothing.

I once spoke at the opening of a large fundraising conference on behalf of Pareto as a sponsor, and implored delegates to isolate three things they would do as a result of what they learnt over the coming days. And do it within the next week. Otherwise forget it.

Because if the conference itself is the rush, the following days are the post sugar come down.

Back to your desk. Loads of emails. Firefighting problems. Vowing you should never have gone to the conference in the first place. Your notes, written in the cheesy notepad supplied by one of the sponsors, is gathering grime and dust at the bottom of your bag.

Sound all too familiar?

Enough ranting. The solution? Here's my blueprint for post conference success.

1 At the end of the conference, limit yourself to 3 tangible actions that you plan to follow through on from your list of learning's. I.e. "Test the inclusion of a high value lift in my next appeal.."

2 Book in 20 minutes on your first day back in the office to map out how you'll make this happen. I.e. send meeting request to Tim about upcoming appeal testing.

3 Commit to sharing your conference learning's (and your 3 actions) with your colleagues. I.e. Make 'conference learning's an item on next weeks team meeting.

These are easy things to do. They're also essential to ensure you get darn good value for the organization that has sent you along to these events.

But if they don't happen within a week, they won't happen at all.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Starting from scratch: the zero based approach

Today's been an interesting day. I'm a bit like a kid starting his first day at a new school.

After a month off traveling, today I started my new role with Pareto as Fundraising Development Director.

Exciting, because its new and fresh. Daunting, for the same reasons.

My job will be about working with clients around the world to enable them to try new things. Testing and innovating.

So as I was thinking about where to start, I stumbled across a great blog from Steve Scott called Let Zero Based Thinking Improve Your Life.

The concept is simple. It's about doing what's right and what you want to do, rather than what history has served you up. I touched on this earlier in year in zero based communications planning.

Steve is re-looking at his life and asking himself the following about key relationships/decisions in his life:

"If I had not made this decision, knowing what I now know, would I make it?"

The reason I love this is that it removes the shackles that we chokes ourselves with as direct marketers, and as fundraisers.

I'm not suggesting that we throw the baby out with the bathwater. A critical sin as direct response folks, as we should be constantly testing against what's worked.

But what it implores us to think about is making decisions because you believe they're right. Because you believe they'll create better outcomes for your benefactors.

Not because that's what you've done previously.


Friday, November 12, 2010

What makes you happy at work?

More of a philosophical, rather than practical post today.

Had lots of time to think whilst on holidays, and one of the things that's been occupying my mind is work happiness.

What is it and what for me are the most critical things to loving what I do?

For me the following are crucial. Note I exclude "the cause/s" that I work for, that's a given in this sector. Well, for most. I haven't met many folks who love their job because it's right near the subway or they have a great lunch room.

- My values are aligned with the organization I work for. That doesn't mean we fundamentally agree on everything. But we're headed in the same direction for the most part.

I reckon there's about an 18 month threshold for this. I've seen really resilient people try really hard to believe they are sold into the same things as those they work for. Eventually the differences in beliefs wear them down. And they move on.

- Love the actual work. Might sound a tad obvious, but the day to day functions of the job, for the most part, you need to love. You can believe in the same things as your colleagues, but if the stuff on your job description doesn't cut it, then it makes it harder to start the day raring to go. You need to love what it is you're paid to do.

- Really like the people around you. Perhaps love them, maybe not. But you need to work with people you'd go to the pub with or invite round to your place for dinner. For me great people that inspire me, make me laugh and are just good fun to be around garner a work atmosphere that gets the best results from me. It's a critical element in my work happiness factor.

- There needs to be a chance of change brewing. Could be just round the corner, might be a year off. It may be something really trivial and small, but I need to be able to see some change. Not change for change, but a shift that will make work life and the work I do even better. More effective. More enjoyable.

We don't always enjoy the actual process of change, but seeing something in the distance that's a little different keeps me fresh and inspired.

- Short term goals, big picture objectives. Little things to get by day by day, week by week. As well as an end goal. A big campaign, a year end target, a pioneering project.

Small, maybe even routine tasks to get me through the days. Bigger, more aspirational things to keep me there for the long haul.

These are just my take. These are the things that help me love what I do.

What makes you happy at work?


Friday, November 5, 2010

Inbound Marketing

Less than a week from finishing work, and in the midst of driving through some of the beautiful parts of the world I've ever seen, and yet here I am, as my wife puts it, reading a "work" book.

I can't help it. Partly because that's what I do (and love) and partly because I don't read fiction.

I'm reading a great book called Inbound Marketing. It's all about how the marketing paradigm has shifted and we're now in a world where pull beats push. As the writers put it, the rules of marketing have changed.

I agree, to some extent. Whilst they signal the death knell for traditional "outbound" forms of marketing, in the charitable world, and when it comes to attracting and retaining donors, outbound still wins. Hands down.

But they have a powerful message to tell, and it's an easy read with lots of terrific information, particularly for those wanting to get found on the Internet.

They talk about, amongst other things:

- How to create remarkable content and how critical that is to being found and being successful with inbound marketing

- How to get found in Google, with some really practical and solid search engine optimization tips to consider.

- How to harness other media (including social media tools) to "get found"

It's a great read, and even if you are on vacation and visiting some of the most serene places on earth, check it out.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Digital stuff: keeping it simple

Recently I got really excited about some cool digital stuff I'd seen at a conference and alluded to some interesting projects we were working on.

Well, we're live with those projects as we speak.

One of them we've worked on is has been with the wonderful folks at WWF-Canada.

We're using a mixture of paid online search and email marketing to individuals who have some (non-financial) relationship with WWF.

If you visit the micro site here, you'll see we present people with two simple options - fill in a short survey or make a monthly gift (in fact for the 'tepid' people we're contacting they are presented with just one option, fill in a survey).

We're less than two weeks, and whilst I can't right now share results, what I will share is what is working really well, and a few key reasons why.

What's working is the survey.


- The call to action throughout all of the media is very, very clear. Share your view with WWF, tell us what you think about environmental issues.

- It's simple. It takes less than 3 minutes to complete. The questions are easy to understand, and even easier to fill in. No barriers.

- There are no distractions. Remember the Ikea theory I talked about? In other words, keeping the website focused, keep people in one spot. Don't make it easy to get out. Much like a visit to Ikea.

- The language throughout is warm, endearing and inviting. People feel like they want to share.

- The site is clean. Easy on the eyes.

- We're asking people to do something really easy. Something small. And we've provided an incentive to do so.

The key overall is signing up new monthly donors. You'll notice we do have the option to sign up immediately on the site, but we know this is a tough sell. So we're in the main focused on survey completion.

Then it's all about the conversion process (phone and email) afterwards. Watch this space for more on that later.

Just remember, simplicity works. The mechanics and the back end may be complicated, but the key to getting people to 'do something', regardless of the channel, is make it so bloody easy they can't help but do what you're asking them to do.


Thursday, October 21, 2010


This is an acronym we use quite a lot in the office.

It isn't that hard to work out its meaning. I'll give you a clue. A rather well known sporting brand coined the term 'Just Do It'.

We simply added another word. Finish (ahem).

You get the drift.

Whilst I'd like to claim I always have a JFDI attitude, it's been my experience that whenever we really put our foot to the floor, on all cylinders - despite the pain, results follow.

Some of the most effective and successful campaigns I've been involved in have happened in the shortest time, with the least time for "planning".

12 weeks campaigns condensed into 7. Responding to emergencies in less than 24 hours. Turning a new idea into a live campaign in a month, when conventional wisdom says it should take 10 weeks.

One specific fundraising project I worked on trebled net income from the previous year, done in a month less than it would 'typically' take. Frankly, we didn't have that extra month.

Doing this usually means blood, sweat and often quite literally, tears. I was reminded of this in the last few days as we went live for one of the most exciting projects I've worked on. Exciting, yes. The cause of upheaval? Most definitely.

It's early days but I'm confident this particular campaign will be a 'stormer'.

Why is it that just getting it done so often really is the best way forward?

I think for two reasons:

1 There is no time to second guess yourself. You back your initial instincts and plough ahead

2 "Planning" time becomes doing time, and there is something to be said for working to a strict deadline. We're humans, we love deadlines (hence why they work so well in direct response).

I'm not suggesting every project you work on should be on a whim, involve staff meltdowns and escalating blood pressure, but in the right environment JFDI can be the way to go.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Silence is deafening

But whilst I haven't had anything to say here for a little while, I've managed to contribute some thoughts over at the blogs of some colleagues.

Phyllis Freedman asked me to share my 20 cents worth on the lack of planned giving innovation in our sector. Here's my take.

John Suart asked me to share my views on what's right when it comes to spending money on marketing/fundraising. Here's my take.

Thanks Phyllis and John for broaching such provoking, yet necessary topics for us as fundraisers. Helping us continue to raise the bar.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Ikea and charity websites

What should they share in common? No, it's not that they give guys (including me) cold sweats and a nauseous feeling. That's just Ikea.

Incredibly focused. Corridors. Hard to get out.

It's easy to get caught up in aesthetics and design when redeveloping your site. It isn't rocket science. Up to date news and stories, easy to navigate, not cluttered, coherent explanation of what you do, use of imagery and video.

Again, make it hard to get out. Keep me in there. Make it clear what you want me to do. You can take me off in another direction, but keep coming back to the same spot.

Remember the corridor. Remember Ikea.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Getting some end of year cash in the door

There have been some really good posts floating around the last few days focused on practical tips for your end of year push.

So, how do you get that cash in the door during the festive season? For many, the lifeblood of our organizations.

Rather than reinvent the wheel I'm going to re-hash an old post, ten copy tips for your next appeal.

However I'll add the following suggestions to give you the best chance to maximize cash gifts right now:

- Tell me the single most important thing (SMIT) that you need to tell me at this point in time. No superfluous information, no distractions. One thing, one thing now.

- Add some extra layers to your end of year push. Consider: pre appeal conference calls for a select group of donors, pre and post email "sandwiches", post appeal phone calls (a nice reminder that the end of the year is approaching and we have not reached our target).

- Promise to feedback post appeal as to the impact you've been able to impart. Then do it. Early January is a wonderful time to reflect on a year gone, and look ahead to the stuff that needs to happen this year.

- Don't sugar coat your appeal. Similar to point 5 in my earlier post, your job is to bring those who care (donors) closer to those in need (beneficiaries). We are not moral gatekeepers, we're fundraisers. Tell it as it is.

Good luck getting that all important cash in the door. And please, share your experiences.


Friday, September 17, 2010

What I wish I knew

A colleague tweeted the other day asking what as a fundraiser do I wish I'd known/done early in my career?

I'm not one for regrets, but racked my brains to think of some of the things that may have helped knowing when I stumbled into the fundraising world. Mainly:

- I wish I'd got my hands on the Tiny Books of Fundraising much, much earlier. They're called Tiny for a reason, but chock full of nuggets of information that are priceless and lay the foundations for what fundraising is all about.

These are a must read for any colleagues that work with me as part of their induction.

Likewise, Ken Burnett's Relationship Fundraising. A real gem.

- I wish I'd understood that what people say and do are two very different things. It didn't take me long to figure this one out, but knowing that "I won't read/respond to/give to that" doesn't necessarily correlate to response is a handy lesson to learn.

Ask yourself, how many statements do you make about things that you plan to do that you actually follow through on? Apply the same logic to fundraising. People simply respond to darn good fundraising, not just what they think they will.

- I wish I'd asked more people more tough questions. Show me some rubbish things you've done. Talk to me about the biggest screw up you've made. The worst performing campaign. There's lots of chest beating that happens, we're all guilty of it. But I'd rather work out how to avoid common pitfalls than simply look at muscle flexing and storming campaigns.

- I wish I'd realised how important it is to be disciplined with what you do, avoiding loads of distraction. I'm not suggesting stifling innovation, but I would encourage doing what works, and do it really well. Remember what pays the bills.

Ok, I'm starting to feel a little like a kid penning their Christmas wish list. I just wish I'd written this post a few years back.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Need v incompetence?

We really need the money. But we don't want to look like we are inept.

Thought about that before?

It's a valid concern.

In recent times I've had this conversation with several fundraisers. The discussion comes about when endeavoring to create more urgency to garner further support.

Naturally we think, how do we do that without looking incompetent? Even if you're bloody good at what you do, even the best in the world, this fear can arise.

My suggestions to counter this:

- Ask when you need the money, stop and feedback in between.
- Find the right times to show off your wares, announcing your successes.
- Do a terrific job explaining why you're unique and better than everyone else at least one thing.
- Ensure the execution of the ask is clear, concise and explains why you need help, right now.
- Get the balance right between asking (when there's a need) and non-asking (donor care).

Get these things sorted and the lifeblood of your organization, your supporters, won't question your work. They'll embrace it, and give time and time again.


Friday, September 3, 2010

The link between in memory and legacies?

When I attended the Institute of Fundraising Convention in July I listened to some interesting stuff about the link between gifts made in memory and legacies (bequests).

Makes sense.

People are making a gift in memory of someone they care about. They are in that head space.

So we've recently been doing some legacy prospecting with one of our clients. Generated a chunk of new confirmed legators through the advent of online/offline surveys (with some follow up activity).

And guess what? One quarter of them had an in memoriam relationship with us. No other financial history, simply made a gift in memory.

It's fair to say this at the heart of legacy approaches for many organizations. Take Cancer Research UK for example. Check out the placement of their legacy and in memoriam asks within their website.

Coincidence? I doubt it.

I'd suggest looking closely at those who have left you that lasting gift and those that have planned to.

In memoriam programs are often the poor cousin of the fundraising mix. Usually because we don't really know what to do with them.

All is not always what it seems. There may be more value there than you think.


Friday, August 27, 2010

PURL's of wisdom

One of the more counter intuitive things in direct response fundraising is limiting response to just one vehicle.

In other words asking donors to respond through the mail, and the mail only.

Surely giving more options (web, phone) can only increase response/income?

Not necessarily. The reason/s?

- DM donors are DM donors. They're habitual. They love responding through the mail.

- It's easy. There are no distractions (especially if you laser all of their details on the response form and include a postage paid reply envelope).

- There can be a disconnect between the response form/appeal and the person on the end of the call or the landing page on your website.

In other words, you ask for $100 in the letter, all the way through. Then you send me to your 1800 number. The rep on the phone tells me I can "give whatever I feel comfortable with". Huh? But you asked for me $100 in the letter?

Similarly you bounce through to our donation page. The default ask is $40. Huh? But you asked me for $100 in the letter?

See what's happening here.

Now let me say that we have seen instances of more channels open = more income. But it isn't a given. You need to test it on your file. Let the donors do the talking.

The goalposts have shifted recently however. With the advent over the last few years of PURL's: personalized URL's.

Put simply, that means you can send people/donors through to a page where their details are dropped into their own personal page. That $100 ask is still $100, not $40 or "whatever you feel comfortable with".

We're about to do some more testing around pushing people online versus keeping it focused through the mail. But the difference being we're using PURL's in the online group to see whether this increases the chance someone will respond (by pre populating their details) and ensuring we generate the same level of gift we would through the mail (by including the same ask level).

Technology can make our lives easier. And hopefully our fundraising more effective. Who would have thought.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Decision paralysis: harming good fundraising

I often get funny looks when talking about 'single focus works best'.

In other words, in any fundraising piece, talk about one thing, and one thing really bloody well. Don't stray from the original message. We've tested this over time and proven it to be the most effective way to maximize return.

For Torontonians you'll be familiar with the Steamwhistle beer brand, a local micro brewery that pledges to do one thing, really, really well. And yes, their Pilsner is damned good.

I blogged about this at the start of last year, in keeping it singularly focused for best results.

I'm reading a terrific book at the moment, Switch, by the Heath brothers, made famous by the brilliant business book, Made to Stick.

In it they talk about the notion of decision paralysis. In other words, when presented with lots of choices we often behave irrationally. But as humans.

Like the gourmet food store who set up a table where customers could sample jams for free. One day the table has 6 jams. The next day 24. More customers huddled round the table with 24 jams. But when it came time to buy, they're frozen. Can't make a call. Those who were presented with less options were 10 times more likely to buy.

Decision paralysis creeps in.

Back to fundraising.

You spend 3 pages in a DM piece reiterating the importance and need for ongoing monthly gifts. You build a brilliant case, explain the long term impact on your beneficiaries. You ask for a gift 5 times. You laser the personalized ask on the response form.

And then you pop a cash option on the reverse.

"Yikes, what the hell do you want me to do?"

Decision paralysis creeps in, again.

This isn't some two-bit theory. We've tested this and shown that single focus works best. It makes sense, remember like Steamwhistle, do one thing, really, really well.

Actually, I think it's time for a beer.


Friday, August 6, 2010

No love for Google?

I was checking out Sean Triner’s blog yesterday as he was blogging live from a digital integration session he was helping to facilitate with Ted Hart in Sydney.

Of the 30 odd organizations represented there, only two had applied for and were using their Google Grants. Staggering.

Google are giving away free advertising space (helped by volunteers) and charities just aren’t using it. Yes, there are some restrictions. Yes, it requires time to manage, but it’s worth it.

I’ve talked about this before in Google AdWords learning’s for charities, but I still find it disappointing that we aren’t taking advantage of a wonderful opportunity.

Take the Haiti disaster for example. Look at this screen shot below, I typed in Haiti Help and whilst there were paid searches, its obvious many organizations fundraising for Haiti aren't using this as a vehicle to drive traffic.

Regardless of whether AdWords drive donations (emergencies are one area where they can drive significant $), we need to be doing this. Here are three reasons why you must:

1 Provides great learning for proposition development. Here's what people are actually searching for, online.

2 Great for traffic (not donation) building. If you have a program in place that is focused on building a decent email file (with the intention to cultivate and ask), well thought through ads can rock this.

3 If you're not running campaigns, someone else is.

Of course, there are many things to think through, in particular ensuring you have someone responsible it.

Click here for some earlier learning's. We're running more campaigns now, so watch this space for further insights.


Saturday, July 31, 2010

Digital stuff that excites me

I just got back from the latest Bridge Conference in DC, which I have to say was top drawer stuff. Got some great value from this years event.

A must event for direct response fundraisers, so try and get along in 2011.

I was fortunate enough to speak there again, and talking about one of my fav topics, monthly giving.

My focus outside of this was definitely in the digital sessions and there were some enlightening sessions, particular from the folks on the commercial side sharing their wares.

I was most intrigued learning about intent data online, which is now second behind transactional data as seen by the most effective tool for digital marketers in driving sales.

I also learnt about Twitters plan to introduce sponsored tweets and about 're-targeting' (where you look for people who have visited your site previously in other spots once they've left your site).

All stuff that we're not paying enough attention to in the charity world.

Here are a few digital initiatives that I'm working with my brilliant clients on at the moment:

- An online survey aimed purely at retention of street recruited (younger) shortly after sign up, using the aid of a custom built micro site.

- A multi staged acquisition effort focused on driving traffic through digital means and using the phone as the primary conversion vehicle (to convert to monthly giving).

Prospecting will be geared initially around finding 'hand-raisers' (people who have previously done 'something') - and then moving them along to do something else, another action, before asking for a financial commitment. We'll also be trailing a series of other prospecting approaches including Google AdWords campaigns (where the CTA is based on action at first, followed by a donation request), and paid online advertising. We'll definitely be looking into the use of intent data to help us better place relevant ads.

- More website optimization efforts which will focus on more effective data capture, specifically looking at the best way to get people signed up to getting more information from you. Again looking at ways to solicit hand-raisers initially, testing ways to convert to a larger commitment thereafter.

Thats it for the week. Watch this space.


Friday, July 23, 2010

We don't know what we don't know

A fairly old adage and definitely applicable to individual giving.

Here are a few examples where this saying rings true. In other words, where people really don’t know what they don’t know.

- When it comes to communications preferences. On a response vehicle, how can we expect donors, and in many instances new donors, to know what “send me one communication a year” really means. Added to that, how do they know whether if they received 5, 8 or 12 communications that they wouldn’t be completely enamored and inspired by what you’ve spoken to them about? More so than if they got one communication each year. The point is we can’t assume. This communication preference can be incredibly destructive for your program, and ultimately the work you support.

- When we’re talking about types of legacies/bequests.
Did you know the difference between a residual bequest and a pecuniary bequest before you began working in fundraising? Unless you worked in the legal profession I doubt it. So why should we assume donors know this? It’s our duty to explain to them the difference, and in this particular example why residual bequests are worth on average anywhere from 5, 10 or even 30 times as much on average than a bequest left for a specific amount. Because it maintains its relative value over time (whereas a specific amount loses its relative value over time). See here for more on that.

- When we’re talking about the impact of other types of gifts, namely the way in which ongoing, monthly (regular) gifts can stretch the impact they can have on your beneficiaries in the long term.

Often we get so caught up in jargon and what we perceive as benefits (newsletters, trinkets, receiving less mail) that we neglect to talk about what this really means. What's in it for me (as a donor) and your beneficiaries? That includes a sense of satisfaction, perhaps even a feeling that we're insuring ourselves and our loved ones from whatever it is we're supporting, the threat of cancer or a killer disease.

That's what real benefits are about. But how can we assume people know?

It is an old adage, but a bloody good one worth thinking about.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Two words to say to you

Thank you.

Two of the easiest words to say, often the two most neglected.

Not the case in this wonderful example of donor care shared by Doug Nelson and his team at the BC Cancer Foundation, to those who helped them most last year. Their donors.

The format? A fantastic two minute video repeating those very impactful words over and over. From staff, from beneficiaries.

I love this for its simplicity, personal touch and pragmatism.

In Doug's words, "Normally at this time, we would produce an Annual Report and mail it out to all of our donors. This year, we’ve done something different".


I wish more organizations would adopt this philosophy. It's not to say the financial stuff isn't important (it's contained within the micro site), but it isn't the focus.

Enough from me. Check it out.

Well done Doug and team. Thank you for sharing.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Stuff from across the pond

As an Aussie, I'm not usually the first person to admit the Brits are teaching us a thing or two. Although to be fair that conversation usually pertains to sport.

But my week back in the UK for the Institute of Fundraising Convention has shown me once again that the Brits are really doing some good stuff, again showing they're not afraid to try things.

The two big things I took from this conference were that British charities are still at the forefront of testing (and not paralyzed by fear in doing things that may not work), and they they're in general further ahead in the digital space.

On the latter, I deliberately immersed myself in the digital fundraising stream and was impressed by the level of sophistication organizations are displaying. Like listening to Cancer Research UK talking about their hyper personalized approach to e-communications with event participants that includes up to 2,000 variations for sign up emails. As well as the significant levels of multivariate testing they've been conducting throughout their website, understanding the behaviour of individuals and using that to drive better conversion of those who visit their site.

Quite frankly we should all know which layout, format, colors, fonts and call to actions work most effectively on our site. But we don't. Thanks to CRUK for sharing and providing impetus for all of us to do better.

Some other tidbits I picked up included:

- Guide Dogs approach to in memoriam fundraising. Dispelling the myth that in mem is only for death related charities, Guide Dogs believe they've been successful here because it's about life, and positive experiences with their cause, not death. They also shared that they've seen a direct link between in memoriam gifts and legacies.

- In the panel I sat on called Response at any Price, looking at the role of incentives/premiums in DM, the British Red Cross shared the results of their 12 month cohort test. The upshot was that a years worth of testing of the use of premiums to attract new supporters, and then use them to continue to cultivate this group resulted in an additional £800,000 in net income for the organization to spend on the work they do abroad. Amazing stuff. Hard to argue with the data.

- Matt Goody from Shelter tackled the ongoing issue of attrition of face to face recruited regular givers. With average year 1 attrition in the UK of around 60%, Matt talked about the work Shelter had done to try and reach out to older donors, without impacting the volume of new supporters they were attracting (the biggest obstacle on focusing just on finding older donors). Whilst initially (through geo-demographic targeting) they were able to reduce overall attrition, this was offset by lower sign ups and much higher cost per donor to recruit. Over time however they have slowly addressed this balance and are now generating much more long term value by finding those all important 'older' donors (I.e. over 25) to feed into the acquisition mix.

Hats off to my friends across the pond, showing that even in tough times it's all about innovating, trying new things and undertaking proper, robust tests.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The next 'big' thing?

We're always looking for 'the next big thing', right?

It's a conversation that I've been having with lots of people over the last couple of months.

Fortunately, for us in North America, the biggest areas likely to impact our programs dramatically are staring us right in the face. Specifically:

1 Finding lots, lots more of those wonderful monthly donors. By doing the following:

- Spending more where you'll get the greatest return. Often to take a quantum leap we need to make a sizable investment. It's not the answer we may want to hear, but its often the reality. Refer to previous posts about looking and understanding the relative net value of different types of supporters.

- Finding hand raisers. In seeking out and attracting new people to support on an ongoing basis, this offers the potential to find serious numbers of new individuals.

The concept is simple: asking someone to do something really easy, really simple. "Would you sign this petition?" .... "Would you stand beside me and say no to....?"

Quickly followed by something else. Perhaps another simple action or campaigning piece. Then once this person has had the chance to know you a little better, we ask for a regular, monthly gift. It opens up a conversation for many you couldn't have has minus the two-three stepped approach. Bingo.

- The above ties into another question which I'm regularly asked: where do I find younger donors? The simple answer is on the street. There is no better mechanism for finding younger donors that face to face fundraising. Large volumes, and quickly. There are caveats as always and this blog has dedicated a lot of time in the past talking about street fundraising.

- The next best place is moving into the digital space. We know through benchmarking that the average value of online recruited monthly donor is between $900 and $1,000 after five years. The challenge is finding them. Needle in a hay stack. Volumes are tiny.

My suggestions here:

- Don't use any one vehicle in isolation. Banner ads, Google AdWords, cold eblasts. All great sources to 'push' people to do something. But very difficult to make them work on their own. Sheerly as a result of volume.

- Keep it really simple. Send prospects somewhere, preferably a custom built site. When they land there, make it hard for them to get out. Don't have lots of distractions. Keep the space really clean and simple.

- Get a phone number. Even if you need to incentivize people to provide it. The difference between success and lack of it, when it comes to multi staged approaches and conversion is the penetration level of telephone numbers.

- Put your personal feelings aside. If I had a dollar (actually maybe ten) for each meeting I've been in where someone has said "I would never do that", I wouldn't be blogging right now. I'd be off sailing in the Caribbean. Gut feeling and instincts are great, especially in direct response where you can test.

But data is critical. If Greenpeace had listened to what I'm sure the gut instincts of a lot of their staff were thinking in the early 90's, we likely wouldn't be writing about face to face. And the sector would be billions of dollars worse off.

2 Getting back to basics on bequests. By doing the following:

- Looking at your data. Our work through benchmarking uncovered recently that the things that intuitively make sense (yes, our "gut" instincts) in this instance are spot on. Loyalty is a driver in someones propensity to leave a bequest. Number of gifts, cumulative value and how recently someone has given a onetime cash donation are indicate how likely someone is to have confirmed you in their Will.

There is likely an element of targeting here, in other words we're asking these people more often, but it's mostly a reflection of the relationship.

- Repetition. Follow the logic of all fundraising: ask, ask and ask again. You're planting seeds here. Whilst we have seen supporter surveys as one of the biggest drivers of delivering prospects and those who have self identified as confirmed bequestors, those who have the most success are the gardeners who planed those seeds long before.

Once, twice a year we need to be telling people the enormous difference they're lasting legacy could make. And of course, not just educating, but asking.

- Not overcomplicating things. Ask for residual bequests. They're worth far, far more because they hold their relative value over a time. For some organizations 20, 30 or 50 times more than a specific amount.

And almost in all circumstances the large majority of planned giving income is from actual bequests left, that is not gifts of stock or securities. Yes there are always exceptions, but I've found these incredibly rare. Which means, keep it simple. Push for residuals, offer specific bequests as an option.

- Focusing on the why. A much more effective way to introduce, and quite frankly, sell bequests. The how needs to come afterwards.

- I mentioned getting back to basics. The mail, whilst helping spot those people with a greater likelihood of leaving a gift in their Will (older, loyal, long term donors) also happens to be one of the most effective ways to 'convert' supporters. In fact the mail plays an integral role through bequest packs, surveys and follow up conversion letters. However of course the best approach strategically uses the telephone and some face to face solicitation (including things like bequests events).

That's it for a Tuesday morning. The next big thing for us North American fundraisers just happens to be right here, on our doorstep. There's a hell of a lot of growth still to be driven from more effectively generating lots of new regular supporters, and helping people leave us their most significant, lasting gift.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Debunking the myth: 'mail less'

I was checking out Jeff Brook's article on Fundraising Success this morning, The Curse of Too Much Mail.

I've broached this a lot in the past, namely here at how often should I talk to my donors and more recently here when drawing a similar bow, specifically how often should I blog?

Jeff is absolutely spot on when he points out "Adding more impacts to your schedule increases revenue and improves donor retention".

And when qualifying that also hits the nail on the head by saying "The real problem isn't too much mail, but too little relevance. The wrong 
message sent to the wrong people at the wrong time."

Earlier in the year we looked at this as part of our benchmarking study in Canada.

And guess what we found?

Those that contact their donors the most often invariably deliver the most net income. You'll note I said contact, not mail. Yes a large portion of that contact is through the mail, and yes a large portion of that includes asking, but not always.

That includes asking, thanking, updating, feeding back. Some more asking. And then all over again.

That includes phone, mail, digital, personal contact.

That includes getting the balance right.

So when we looked at this in detail the upshot was that those organization's delivering the best retention and reactivation rates, and the most net value both in terms of cash income and monthly were those who made the most effort to reach out and get in touch.

So we really shouldn't mail less. We should mail/talk/connect with people when we have something to say.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Haiti response: 'mystery shopping' findings released

One of the things I'm passionate about in our sector is delivering brilliant levels of supporter care.

In fact much of what I've done over the few years is working with charities to find even better ways to reach out and look after those people who are the lifeblood of what we do: our donors.

You may have seen some earlier posts here about the mystery shopping work we've been conducting in different parts of the world. To understand how charities care for donors, and look at ways to do it even better.

So in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, I got together with my colleagues in Australia and our friends over at Pell & Bales in the UK, and The Fundraising Company in Spain to get a sense of how charities fundraising for Haiti were doing in the wash up.

I'll spend some more time over the coming weeks looking at some of the specific findings from this project, but in a nutshell here's what we did:

• Made an online gift around two weeks after the Haiti disaster. The gift made was for the equivalent of $25 USD, to 52 organizations in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and Spain. A full list of those organizations that we ‘mystery shopped’ can be found at the end of this document.

• Sat back and watched what happened after the donation was made. We monitored the organizations subsequent efforts for the next two months (up till the end of April).

• Analyzed the results, based on five key criteria:

1. Initial contact experience. What was the experience like as a donor making the donation? Did the charity actually take our money?

2. Response time. Did we hear back from the charity the same day the gift was made online?

3. Value of the ‘thank you’. Was it personal? Were we actually thanked ’? Was a story shared? Were we provided with links to up to date information?

4. How proactive the organization was. Was information shared about how our gift would make a difference? Was regular/monthly giving promoted initially and throughout the period?

5. The follow up. Was there ongoing feedback and updates? Were we asked for subsequent donations, and if so were we asked to consider a regular/monthly gift?

So what happened?

For the most part the initial response to our gifts was pretty good. Most responses were speedy, the level of thanking was good (mostly) and in the main our gifts were processed (except for 4 donations we attempted to make in Spain).

Immediately after our gift we began to be communicated with regularly. We were kept abreast of what was happening in the field. Certainly from an operational perspective. Our biggest observation was that there were a real lack of stories being shared, about people, real people, who were actually being helped. We were fed lots about the facts, not much about human stories.

Subsequently we wanted to see how many efforts were made to ask us for another gift/s. And in particular did these organizations each out and ask us for a regular/monthly gift? The take up on this was low, which was disappointing. We know that (perhaps bar the US, see my earlier post) all of the countries have seen explosive growth in this form of giving and we expected charities to ask us to 'convert'. And quickly. Some did (just 29% in the first 2 months), most didn't (some have done since).

As I said there will be more on this over the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, check out a summary of our findings and some observations and recommendations about what next.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Why hasn't monthly giving exploded in the US?

I've been canvassing opinion from some of the best American fundraisers of late about the $64m question: why has monthly/regular giving not really "taken off" like it has in other developed fundraising nations?

The views I've had back from some of the best in the business, including the likes of Mal Warwick, have been pretty universal.

Before I go on I should say, for clarification, by monthly gift I mean an auto deduct or automatic payment form someones credit card or bank account. I am not referring to monthly giving clubs that require organizations to send monthly reminders to people. These are two very different things.

Most cite the proliferation and unsophistication of the banking system. Cheques still play a huge role in the lives of people in the US, less so automatic payments, like us Aussies and Brits are used to. As a side note, the UK plans to go "cheque less" by 2018.

There were other consistent reasons given, like trust (both with banks, and from donors).

I feel all of these are excuses. Monthly giving really is the big idea, the next big thing in the US.

Of course there are some brilliant organizations with large monthly files. ASPCA, Amnesty International, Greenpeace. All I believe are riding the monthly giving wave. There are no doubt more. But not enough.

But for me, there are two very simple reasons why ongoing, regular gifts have not (yet) transformed the monthly giving landscape in the US.

1 US charities are a victim of their own success. Direct response, in particular direct mail, programs in the US quite simply, rock. The sheer volume, and on the back of it, levels of income organizations generate from these vehicles is astounding.

There's a part of me that thinks if I was Director of Development of a US charity I too would find the case for monthly tougher if I was bringing in tens of millions of dollars through the door this year with an intensive onetime cash driven program.

It's certainly an easier "sell" in Australia, Canada, the UK or New Zealand, where we are fishing from small pools comparatively.

That doesn't mean it isn't a case worth fighting for. For example, check out the slide below which shows the average 3 year net value for monthly gifts versus onetime cash gifts. This varies by method of recruitment, and of course varies depending on other factors, but gives you a sense of the difference over the long term of the power of monthly gifts.

When you put it like that, its a tougher proposition to ignore.

2 Poor execution. To be fair, this is not exclusive to the US. There are many cases of not getting the implementation right, and I've blogged about it lots, including back here.

However the point I want to make here is its easy to do something once, not get it right - reflected by poor results - and then be heard to say "we tried that and it didn't work". I also talked a little while back specifically about this topic, why poor execution can get in the way of a solid approach.

I hope this doesn't happen for lots of US organizations in the pursuit of serious fundraising transformation.

Monthly giving has changed the way we fundraise in the UK, Australia, Canada and many other countries.

The US is next.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The 'best' speakers at conferences

Fundraising conferences want the best speakers, the latest and most topical content, real case studies, insightful commentary, sharing results. Right?

If you answered yes to that question then why the hell do we care about whether the person facilitating the session works directly for a charity, or works indirectly for a charity (consultant/agency)?

Quite frankly we shouldn't and we need to stop our obsession with this.

My colleague Sean Triner wrote a piece earlier this week about the same issue. I won't steal his thunder too much, check out what he has to say.

I was speaking to a colleague a little while back who told me about a certain conference that had a mandate to have a certain % of their speakers (in fact almost exclusively) from charities.

This doesn't help anyone. Least of all the delegates. As I mentioned in the first line of this blog, surely we want the best, of everything? If we agree that's the case then it's irrelevant which organization the person at the front of the room is paid by.

Of course consultants have a vested interest in speaking. Noone will deny that. But again, if they present loads of really useful, practical case studies, share results and provide tons of brilliant ideas then that's the point. If they don't, then they don't get invited back. Simple. Same goes for charity folks.

I've been fortunate recently to help out the gang at AFP as part of the education committee for Congress 2010. By the way it's shaping up to be a terrific event.

As part of the education committee we're looking for the best of the best. From locally here in Ontario, throughout Canada and from around the world.

It's not a debate about 'charity v consultant'. Hence why Congress is one the leading fundraising get together's in the world.

Check out Sean's article as he looks in depth at the inherent problems with our obsession with consultants speaking.

But please. Please stop complaining about this. Put your hand up and contribute at conferences and understand the reasons why focusing on the best is more critical than focusing on charity speakers.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Surprise and delight

I had dinner at a lovely restaurant in Vancouver tonight.

As I sat waiting for my food, the waiter appeared with a dish 'compliments of the kitchen'. I think he was more taken aback by the look on my face than I was by the gesture.

I can't remember the last time this happened I'm thinking. In fact I don't think this has ever happened to me? It certainly took me by surprise, and delighted me no end.

The dish was small, but really nice. Yet the act significant. After that the food tasted better, the service seemed exceptional, and of course I left a decent tip. Well, big for an Aussie (we aren't great tippers).

I sat there wondering how often charities 'surprise' and 'delight' their donors? I racked my brains thinking of how charities can have this effect on their supporters.

How can you surprise?

- By showing, sending or talking about something we've never heard before.
- By saying thank you, or giving feedback, just because 'you can'. When I least expect it. And not attached to an ask.
- By asking me to 'do something' occasionally that doesn't involve opening my wallet.

So how can you delight?

- By reminding me why it's gifts like mine, however small, that have a cumulative effect. Again, when it wasn't expected.
- By using inclusive language that makes me feel part of a special group.
- By finding ways to genuinely bring me a step closer to the work I support.

It's fair to say I'll return to the scene of tonight's dinner.

Surprise and delight. A simple concept with significant impact.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Where do online donors go?

As part of our benchmarking study recently, we were asked to look at the subsequent behaviour of new onetime cash recruits.

In other words, of donors that are recruited online, where do they go once 'on board'? What about DM donors? Do they follow the same stream or veer off into other vehicles.

Here's what we found:

- DM recruited cash donors tended to keep doing what they did originally. 90% subsequently kept giving through the mail. No surprises there.

- The same mostly rang true for telephone recruits, 85% continuing to give via the phone and almost 15% through the mail.

- For online recruits, slightly more varying (and perhaps surprising) results. Around 75% continued giving through the method of recruitment, around 15% then gave through the mail, and the remainder through a combination of other channels. This is shown below.

What's the upshot of this?

Whilst some of this may appear on face value a little startling, all is not what is seems at first. In other words, the reason a large chunk of 'online' recruited donors moved across to donate offline is not necessarily indicating too much about their giving behaviour.

More about their giving requests and cultivation. The fact is many of us have much more sophisticated and coherent offline fundraising streams. Therefore if the numbers are small (ish) we tend to include donors in the bucket that allows the most flexibility, largest volumes, has the most frequent communications.

And often that's the mail.

I'm not suggesting it isn't noteworthy - it dispels somewhat the myth that online recruits won't give offline, but contextually I think it says more about programs than behaviour.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Insights vs. Analysis?

Data analysis and data insights.

Same thing, surely? Semantics?

Possibly, but I think there's a difference. In fact let me summarize with the 4 biggest differences:

1 Analysis is usually about results and performance. Insights are about turning opportunities into outcomes.

2 Analysis is mostly done using programs with fancy three and four letter acronyms. Insights uses fancy tools like Excel and Access to produce the data.

3 Insights are delivered in workshop style. The value is more in the conversations than the 'hard' data itself. Analysis typically looks something like this picture below. I've seen many analysis projects support really crooked desks and act as great door stops.

4 Insights provide context, analysis doesn't. For example knowing that a retention rate from one channel is half of that of other tells you nothing about why, how or what to do. It also may not provide any discussion or link to the relative value of those donors (with half the retention rate).

The point is data shouldn't just be about geeky stuff (although granted insights may be produced by geeky types). Data insights is about real actions and uncovering ways forward to grow (and make more money). It should be delivered by practitioners/fundraisers, not analysts.

I think the best way to measure the value of this is gauge the value driven from the discussion attached to any data project more so than the data itself.

Door stops can be handy, but insights much more useful to help you fundraise more effectively.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

'5 reasons for nonprofits to still use Direct Mail'

That was aptly named title of the webinar I presented with the folks over at Artez on Thursday.

Fair play to the gang there for inviting me to deliver on this topic, given that, for the most part their business is focused on the digital world.

On the back of the news I shared the other day, specifically what's really happening in Canada - it would be easy for the doomsayers to say; there's the proof, direct mail has had it.

Not so quickly.

You can click here to see the slides I walked through the other day. Let me summarize my argument 'for':

1 Still a large chunk of the pie.
Despite a drop in income in Canada in 2009, cash income from DM still accounts for 60% of all cash income, and 20% of all income from individuals. Hardly pocket change.

2 Delivering long term valuable monthly givers. We know monthly continues to play a bigger role (growing 9% last year). The average DM recruited monthly donor we are seeing at around $500-$600 net after 3 years. If you can get em' they really are your best friends.

3 Getting close to your donors. DM is the most effective way to get people, on a large scale, to open themselves up and tell you lots about themselves and their motivations. Surveys done to offline donors are around 10 times as effective as other channels. And we know, finding those emotional trigger points positively impacts retention, hence long term value.

4 Working with other channels. Some of the best digital campaigns I've seen have been driven on the back of offline learning's. Case in point was the successful online survey acquisition activity I shared (which recruited over 500 monthly/regular givers aided by insights from the offline world.

Online (and other channels) can also drive DM. A great example of this is the advent of search engine marketing and in particularly Google AdWords. Using online lessons around what people are looking for and responding to can help shape what you do in other media. See earlier post on learning's for charities here.

5 Fueling bequests. The mail plays an enormous role here. Not only in finding the right people that are prepared to 'put their hand up' but as the flow chart I shared displayed in the actual prospecting and conversion process. Huge. Don't lose sight of this.

Remember, the session was not the 5 reasons why nonprofits should just use direct mail. The most successful programs right now are those that ensure a connect between all channels, that talk to each other.

Thanks again to the Artez team.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

So what is really happening in Canada?

Did the bottom fall through the floor of charitable giving in 2009? Is DM dead and buried? Is online giving alive and kicking?

These are the issues that we've been able to answer through the data and insights (and conversations) shared as part of Pareto Fundraising's latest round of benchmarking, released two weeks ago.

Firstly I'd like to thank the 14 brilliant organizations who were involved in the latest study. You made this happen.

For those interested in the key findings, click here for the full media release.

However, let me give you a teaser:

- 2009 was a 'mixed bag'. Whilst we saw a dip in overall and individual income, we saw increases in some key areas of giving. The fall in individual income was attributable mostly to a fall in direct mail (house and prospect) income. However it should be noted that some of this was a result of less activity, not simply a drop off in results.

- Monthly giving continues to grow, up 9% from 2008 to $48m in annual income, at the height of the global financial crisis. On the current growth trajectory, regular automatic payments look set to topple cash giving as a source of income in 2010.

- Whilst income from planned gifts (bequests) grew last year to around $23m, this is an area of massive potential for Canadian organizations, with the average proportion of cash donors that have indicated they have left a bequest in their Will at around 0.2%. This is far below other countries we've looked at this, where we've seen this range from 1% up as high as 6%.

- Online giving continues to (not surprisingly) grow as a proportion of the 'pie', but it's still a small one, representing around 2% of all income from individuals.

- The average value of a mail recruited monthly donor is worth, on average, five times the value of a mail recruited cash donor, after five years ($800 vs. $135).

So what?

Some key takeaways/what this means for Canadian charities:

1 Recruiting low value cash donors is a waste of time*. Monthly giving is where growth is, it's reliable, resilient and recession proof. The caveat is if you are using low value cash donors to feed into a monthly giving conversion program, immediately.

2 It is not too late to jump on the monthly giving bandwagon. Those who have done so within the last two years are already reaping the rewards.

3 Bequests, bequests, bequests. Same point as above, it isn't too late. Strategically, its debatably the single most important area of investment. It is irrelevant that you may not see the fruits of your labor, the point is, your beneficiaries will. Refer here for an earlier post about how to effectively talk about bequests.

4 Direct mail is not growing. Online is. However before you revert your budget from offline to online, remember that mail programs feed into your monthly giving and planned giving efforts. Not to mention fueling prospects for major gifts. Don't lose sight of that. The performance of your traditional streams can't simply be measured on the level of cash they bring you, but also the impact on your other efforts.

5 Remember my post recently about the balance between volume and value. Those who are worth the most are traditionally the hardest to find, and often the most expensive. Think about what you want to achieve.

I'll be touching more on the insights delivered from this exercise over the coming weeks. Stay tuned.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What to do following Haiti?

In the days following the tragic circumstances in Haiti, many fundraisers posed the question, what should non-emergency charities do?

Should they continue to appeal to donors? Should they keep prospecting? Should they delay things till 'the dust settles'?

My colleague Ruthann and I discussed this. For about 12.8 seconds. And then realised, as I blogged about back them, that it was business as usual. Full steam ahead.

Ironically for us we were due to lodge an appeal for a client just two days after the Haiti earthquake. So when we got to work on the morning after and realized the enormity of the Haiti disaster, we braced ourselves for the obvious question that our client could reasonably ask...

Should we delay the appeal?

The brief chat with the client was just that, brief. They trusted our judgement and agreed wholeheartedly. The appeal was urgent. It needed to go out. We needed to raise the money.

And it did, it went out on time.

So what happened?

A little over 3 months since the first (of two) stages of the mailing was dropped and the appeal is rocking along nicely. Net income (that's taking into account all costs) is up around 25% on last year, and rising daily. Average gifts and response rates are both up from 2009.


Because the appeal did what it needed to do. Strong call to action, told a compelling story, used personal information, asked appropriately.

It really was, and still is, business as usual for non-disaster charities.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Volume vs. Value?

When I ask fundraisers which they'd prefer for their recruitment efforts - get more donors in the door (volume) versus get more money (value), not surprisingly the response usually starts and ends with 'both'.

On Tuesday I presented to 14 brilliant Canadian organization's who have pooled their data together as part of Pareto Fundraising's benchmarking cooperative. Brilliant because they have the foresight to see the tremendous insight provided by coming together to share for the greater good. Hats off to you guys.

I digress a little.

As we walked through the latest round of analysis, discussing the implications of the findings (more to be released shortly), questions and debate arose around certain fundraising methods/channels.

"Why would we do that? It seems a lot of work for little net return"

Good point indeed.

And herein lies one of the challenges we face. Do we want lots of new people or lots of income from new donors?

For example you have channel X which brings you $800 net on average after 5 years. Wonderful you think. But you can only find a few hundred of them a year.

On the flip side channel Y delivers just $350 after taking into account all costs in the same period. But you can recruits in the thousands each year.

What to do. What to do...

Here's my take on this:

- The decision should be made in light of what delivers the most long term income overall.

- There may be other factors dictating your ability to invest in channel X or Y. For example what's your comfort level with channel X which may ruffle some feathers both internally and to the general public?

- Linked to the above point, yours and your organizations attitudes to take risks are incredibly important.

- Consider the roll out potential of any method of recruitment. Pointless investing in something that offers little beyond any trial phase.

The short answer is you likely need a balance of both. Really solid drivers of growth in volume balanced with 'money in the bank', vehicles that deliver lots of net income.

For example, in countries like Canada and Australia if you want large volumes of monthly donors you invest in street recruitment. If you want long term, loyal and valuable supporters, digital and direct mail recruited donors are your meal ticket.

Consider the above points, and what you are setting out to achieve.

Whatever you decide, have the long term interests of those you exist to help, your benefactors, front of mind.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Securing Future Growth: 10 Point Plan

I just got back from the AFP International Conference in Baltimore.

The session I presented focused on securing future growth, looking at some critical lessons from the global financial meltdown and what charities can do to prepare themselves for ensuing tough times.

In reality however the session essentially talked about a blueprint for more effective fundraising.

You can find the presentation here. I've also included a summary of the 10 points that are covered in it:

1 Stop using ROI as key measure and focus on net income. An obsession with ROI can be destructive and stop you focusing on real growth. Worry more about increasing net income.

2 Don’t sacrifice long term for short term. Cuts you make in acquisition and planned gifts/bequests are difficult to make up. You're always playing catch up. See the forest from the trees.

3 Accept that donors are not cheap. Therefore spend time looking at those will deliver the most, long term net return.

4 Use data cleverly to make informed and strategic decisions. Data + Intelligence = Insights. Understand what the data is really telling you, all is not always what it seems.

5 Avoid distraction.
Spend more time doing what you know will make you lots of money, then on things that have the potential to make you some. That doesn't mean don't innovate - but remember, innovation isn't about doing new stuff that no one else is doing, it's about doing things you're not currently doing.

6 Look around at what others are doing: understand where growth is coming from. Scan environmentally. Benchmark. Mystery shop others. Look to see what others are doing: good, bad or indifferent.

7 Implement proper, well thought out supporter relationship management. Looking after donors means: proper thanking, giving and getting feedback, being personal, focusing on the 'honeymoon period' (first 30 days after someones first gift).

8 Get the fundraising tactics right.
Continue to ask, tell stories, ask for the right thing, give people deadlines.

9 Focus on monthly givers. Ongoing, automatic (monthly) giving has transformed the fundraising landscape*. It continues to grow (even in the recession where we saw growth of around 10%). It's the way to go. Caveat is in the US where fewer organization's have ridden the monthly giving wave, but this is changing.

10 Use multiple vehicles to find new supporters. Multi stage and multi channel recruitment programs are rocking right now. Simply relying on one acquisition vehicle is dangerous and blinkered.

The crux of the session focused on decisions we can control, not those we can't. The organizations that have/are coming through the financial crisis in healthy, and in sometimes 'better' shape are those that have adhered to the above blueprint.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Is your appeal urgent?

I've had a few philosophical discussions (and debates) about the use of the word urgent in fundraising appeals.

My take is simple. If you need the money and you're putting it to good use, it's difficult to argue it isn't urgent.

That being said, it can be tricky going back with the same message every single time you appeal to your supporters.

There are a number of ways you can display the need for funds in an urgent manner, without the use of the word emblazoned across every page of the appeal and the outer envelope, namely:

- The use of a deadline. "Will you please send your gift by the 30th of June so I can decide with my team whether we will be able to fund XYZ..."

- The tone and language used within the letter. No need to sensationalize, but linking the need to a real person helps bring home the gravity of the situation. And hence the need to drop everything and act. Now.

- The repetition of the ask, which reinforces the need, and implicitly it's urgency. As a rule, within a 4 page letter aim to have the ask repeated 5-6 times to maximize results.

And there is another way. Please note, this is merely a tactic and I wouldn't suggest using this more than once. See the diagram below of a pack we developed a few years back. Anything stand out?

If you guessed the express post envelope (with guaranteed next day delivery) then you were right.

This was sent to around 450 identified high value donors. The pack cost more than $10 a piece for this segment, but bought in well over $100k. Not bad.

Of course the success can't be solely attributed to the use of the express post envelope. The message within had to look and feel urgent. Which it did.

The envelope definitely helped. But remember, this was a tactic, and it hasn't been used for this group since.

Ask yourself, is my appeal really urgent? And if so look at ways you can display it's critical nature, besides the use of the dreaded 'U' word.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How often should I blog?

I find the most difficult thing as a blogger is actually blogging. Not thinking of things to talk about, but actually dedicating the time to put my fingers on the keypad.

But as per my post last week about having a thirst for knowledge, we all have time. We just have to decide how to use it.

The second hardest thing is thinking (and often over-thinking) how often I should blog. I wrestle with this a lot. Once a week isn't often enough. Three times will really tick people off.

So I usually settle for twice a week. In fact I looked back at the past two years and noticed I was blogging between 1.5 and 2 posts on average a week.

So what?

Well, just over a year ago I responded to a similar concern that many fundraisers have, how often should I talk to my donors?

We worry incessantly about this. And usually for no reason. The short answer is, you talk to donors when you have something to say. You'll notice I said talk, not ask. Deliberately.

You ask when you need the money. You thank, feedback and care in between. Get the balance right and you can say goodbye to those sleepless nights.

For me (and my blog) the proofs in the pudding. Guess what, when I blog regularly, assuming the posts are mildly useful and have some decent content, people come back.

Funny that. Keep your communications relevant, useful and tell some stories and look what happens.

To summarize:

- Ask, then thank, feedback and care. Repeat the cycle.

- Do what's right, not what is easiest. That means constantly reinventing your communications. There is an argument for simply repeating past communications if they've worked (I've seen this generate the same level of results from one year to the next). But are you taking people on a journey? Are you giving them the opportunity to learn something new about what you do and who you help?

- Understand what your data is telling you. Too often we feel obliged to 'mail less' because it feels right. Your gut tells you one thing, the evidence shows you another.

Thanks for visiting. If I practice what I preach then I have one more blog to write later this week.


Friday, March 26, 2010

I've got copy on my mind

Thinking lots about copy this week, as appeal drafts come across my desk, and the blogosphere seems to be a buzz with copywriting tips.

In fact I'd recommend two excellent posts worth checking out. There's Agent Jen Love's piece entitled Dear Mr Fancypants and Jeff Brooks' seven more ways to write better fundraising copy.

Really good 'cut through the clutter' stuff from Jen and Jeff.

Last year I gave my own take on simple, but effective copywriting tips here.

If you think about what you want people do when they read your letter:

1 You want them to nod their head in agreement as they read

2 You want them to get past the first page (best way to do this is getting them nodding, as per point 1. To do this, introduce a story really early in the copy, showing the impact their support could have illustrated with a real, human story).

3 You don't want to distract them. So avoid saying things like ' please refer to the enclosed brochure'. Keep them focused on the letter.

4 You don't want to treat them like they haven't read a letter before. I really don't think people need to see the words 'please turn over' at the bottom of the page. In fact break the sentences at the bottom of each page, enticing them to read on.

5 You want to compel them to stop doing whatever they were doing, finish the letter and so what you asked them to do (support financially, fill in a survey etc).

Simple, huh? It is, follow the ten steps in this earlier post and you're well on your way.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Are you thirsty?

Someone asked me recently, 'Is there a common thread in really successful people'?

Good question.

Yes there is. And for me it's simple. It's an insatiable thirst for improving ones self and learning more. Every single day.

One of my favorite quotes is from Drayton Bird, who believes firmly that the road to failure is paved with success, something I talked about sometime back.

In other words, never feeling as if you're quite there. Always lifting yourself out of your comfort zone.

The common rebuttal when I talk to people about their own personal development is "I don't have time".


We all 'have time'. In fact we all have the same amount of time. We just choose to use it in different ways. And going back to the original question posed to me, successful, brilliant and inspiring people make the time to get more from themselves.

So enough ranting Jonathon, how do I learn more?

Two thing's I'd suggest:

1 Surround yourself with 'thirsty' people. Gets you out of the 'I don't have time' destructive mentality, and

2 Make the time. Find the time in your schedule to reach out to those who you can absorb from. To read, listen and soak stuff up.

In this day and age, it doesn't necessarily mean days and days away from home at professional development events/conferences. But it does mean spending 20-30 minutes every single day checking out blogs, reading articles, talking to those who teach and inspire you.

And best of all, most done from the comfort of your desk.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Using post it notes to raise more money

The inclusion of post it notes in appeals increases response and net income. Simple.

Of course tactics like these work best when they are genuinely handwritten: for your high value donors, for people who have left you a gift in their Will, for your monthly/regular donors.

As you can see from the example above however, you can have these pre-printed. And they work. We've tested it and shown that even with the additional costs, it's worth the effort (increases net income).


Because it stands out. It takes a little extra time to show that your response is really important. Like a P.S, it's that additional reminder about why we're asking you to do what we want you to do. In the case above, fill in a survey.

Remember though, this is a tactic. It doesn't replace real personalization. Picking up the phone, actually talking to people, a little note at the bottom of someones thank you letter.