What did Bernie Sanders do differently?

There are a lot of reasons why people give.

One of them that comes up a lot – especially in my FAVOURITE group of donors: mid-level – is this:

“I want to feel a part of something.” 

Donors don’t say this explicitly a lot, but their behaviour validates it. Here’s an example: Bernie Sanders’ election campaign.

I listened to a podcast recently that interviewed Mr. Sanders and I was fascinated when he spoke about fundraising.

These numbers might be slightly off, but he raised $137 million from 4.7 million supporters, which means an average gift of:

$29.15.

For those of us who work in annual giving or direct response fundraising, those numbers don’t necessarily make our jaws drop. However, when we think of American political fundraising, we think of the support coming from big insurance companies or the Koch brothers; groups or individuals that want to leverage their support for lobbying power.

If that’s the perception, then how could the average American – to my point earlier – ever feel a part of the process?

That’s what Bernie Sanders did differently.

In Canada, in national political fundraising, there is a cap on political contributions and donations to political parties can only be made by individuals (no corporations).

But in the absence of those rules in the US, Bernie Sanders created his own rules. The few fundraising events that he held had a maximum ticket price of $100 and he focused on individuals, thereby…

Making them feel a part of it.

So think about your organization. Is there a perception of who a donor to your organization is that excludes others? What do you need to do to make donors feel a part of your mission?

Food for thought this week.

~~

Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for eleven years.
Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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What stories have we been telling our mid-level donors?

what-stories-have-we-been-telling-our-mid-level-donors

In a few hours, I’m jumping on a plane to Chicago to speak at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference and I couldn’t be more excited!

This conference has had such a positive buzz about it since it started 3 years ago, and I can’t wait to be part of it.

What will I be talking about? Surprise, surprise: mid-level donors. You know they’re my favourite kind of donor, and I can’t wait to share some thoughts on them with the crowd.

My presentation is called “Telling mid-level donors the stories they want to hear”. I don’t want to give away all my secrets, but I will say this: if I’m saying that we need to tell mid-level donors the stories they want to hear, am I suggesting that we haven’t been?

The answer is yes.

So what stories have we been telling our mid-level donors that haven’t been working?

#1 – The brand story

I spoke about this in my post on “The Field of Dreams Myth”, as I call it. A lot of organizations have the instinct to brand their mid-level giving program – give it a name, a logo, and letterhead. This tactic is not off-base, but it’s not enough. (And all too often, it’s based on internal organizational needs vs. the needs of the donor.)

#2 – The variable paragraph story

Variable paragraphs are best practice in direct mail (and email, to a degree) and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. But, if we expect to inspire mid-level donors to step it up just because we call them “generous” in a variable paragraph, then we’re going to be sorely disappointed. We need to do more.

#3 – The closed envelope story

One of the most commonly used tactics is to send mid-level donors exactly what your regular donors get, but with a distinction – rather than a #10 envelope with your usual postage indicia, mid-level donors get their letter in a closed envelope with a real, live stamp on the front! Don’t get me wrong – it’s a classy touch, makes the package stand out in a pile of bills… but is this going to inspire donors to give at a new level? No.

#4 – An insert story (if they’re lucky)

Finally, the most we might do for mid-level donors to try to distinguish their experience from everyone else is to insert something extra into their package – maybe it’s a lift note from someone meaningful to them/the package, maybe it’s a small insert that expands on the funding priorities… And this comes from a great insight about mid-level donors wanting more from the organizations they support. More content! More behind-the-scenes info! More! An insert will take you part of the way, but on its own will it do enough? No.

The stories aren’t working. 

I promise you I’ll talk to you about what stories will work in a few weeks.

Until then – what are you seeing that doesn’t work? What does?

Let me know in the comments!

~~

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for ten years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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What I learned about fundraising from a terrifying experience

what-i-learned-about-fundraising-from-a-terrifying-experience

Something really scary happened to me last night…

I was driving home from a meeting around 7:30 pm, and rolled up to a very sketchy intersection in Toronto very close to my home. The stoplight was red, and there was one car between me and the intersection.

All of a sudden, a man darted across the street. He ran up to the car ahead of me and tried to open one of their back car doors. He couldn’t get in, so he headed over to my passenger door. I hurried to lock my door but I wasn’t able to do it in time, and suddenly the stranger was sitting in my passenger seat next to me.

What happened next felt like an out-of-body experience. I calmly told him to get out of my car. He begged me to drive him, as he’d just been “jumped” and needed to get out of the area. I – again, calmly – told him I was not driving anywhere and that he needed to get out of my car. He said he was being threatened by people on the street and needed me to take him away. I said that was not my responsibility and that I needed him to get out of my car.

“Get out of my car,” I said. “Please get out of my car. You need to get out of my car.”

I kept repeating myself until finally, he opened the door, got out of my car, and ran away.

I gathered myself and drove home. Although I’m still feeling shaken, I’m OK and I’m safe.

I recounted the story a few times afterwards – to my girlfriend, a friend, and two of my sisters. Everyone seemed impressed with my calmness in the situation.

The truth is, I’m impressed, too. I didn’t urge myself to be calm in the moment. I just was.

I simply requested that the stranger get out of my car. I was calm, I was assertive, and I was serious. I didn’t scream, cry, or get emotional. I didn’t make a spectacle of it. I simply told the man what I wanted and eventually he did just that.

I don’t want to trivialize the situation that I experienced. I genuinely was shaken by it,

But when I sit down to write my weekly post on Wednesdays, I draw from experience – sometimes very recent, and sometimes unpleasant – to inspire my posts.

And so, I can’t help but think – what could I learn about fundraising from my experience last night? 

We talk a lot about storytelling in fundraising. Inspiring donors through stories is such an important technique in what we do.

But sometimes a story isn’t necessary. Sometimes flowery language, emotion, and a spectacle isn’t required.

Maybe it’s because of the ask you’re making, or maybe it’s who you’re making the ask to.

But sometimes, the best ask is one that’s calm, assertive, and serious. Sometimes you have to make the ask a few times in order for the donor to really feel the impact of what you’re asking. Sometimes they need to know you’re really serious before they consider responding to your ask.

Have you had any experiences that have inspired your fundraising lately? Hopefully they didn’t shake you as much as mine did, but maybe you learned something nonetheless.

Share in the comments below!

~~

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for ten years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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What do you need for your mid-level giving program?

What do you need for your mid-level giving program-

If this is your first time on this blog, first of all – WELCOME!

Second of all, although I – and guest bloggers who join me – write about anything and everything related to fundraising and philanthropy, there’s one topic that’s my favourite.

Mid-level giving.

Yes, mid-level. That awkward middle child between the well-oiled machine called “annual giving” and the refined big sister called “major gifts”.

Many organizations have been playing in the mid-level sandbox for years now, but for many others it’s a new frontier.

If you’re one of those “many others”, I’ve got a piece of advice to get you started.

Just one thing, that’s simple to understand, but by no means easy to perfect.

Here it is:

To have a successful mid-level giving program, you must use a hybrid approach of direct response fundraising and personal solicitation.

Translation: You can’t just reach mid-level donors through the mail, and you can’t just try the major gift approach with them.

Why?

Well, we’ve conditioned most of our donors to be inspired to give via the mail, and so we can’t just take that away from them. Moreover, in my experience, a lot of mid-level donors just don’t want to meet with you. When I was running the mid-level giving program at Wilfrid Laurier University, I would reach out to donors and ask them to meet and they would be (a) very nervous about why I wanted to meet with them, and/or (b) appreciate the thought, but were very happy giving the way they always had.

Fair enough! So you have to keep up with the direct response approach. Although, the mail you send your mid-level donors can’t be the same ol’ appeal you send everyone else. But that’s a topic for another day.

But mail on its own isn’t enough. A lot of these donors are dying for more engagement with your organization, and reaching out to them personally, to meet with them one-on-one, is exactly what they need to stretch their giving to the next level.

This approach has worked wonders for major giving for years, and there’s a good reason. It’s personal, it’s intimate, and it gives you a chance to really understand your donor.

However, of course we can’t justify the resources it takes to travel to meet a donor, take them for lunch, etc. when they make a $1,000 gift at the end of it all. So, these face-to-face meetings have to be done a bit differently than they are with major gift donors/prospects. But that’s a topic for another day, too.

So that’s it, folks! The essential approach to start your mid-level giving program.

Let me know in the comments what you want to know more about.

And thanks for reading!

~~

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

Let your guard down & let your donors in!

Let your guard down & let your donors in!

What walls are you putting up between your organization and the donors who support you? 

You might be thinking, “None!” But I challenge you to really think about it.

I was lucky enough to be part of a session Derek Humphries did yesterday for the clients of the company I work for, Blakely. Derek talked about his background as an artist; he used to design books and they were on display at a gallery. The gallery staff wanted to put his books under glass, but Derek wanted people to actually be able to touch them, read them, interact with them.

The gallery staff were worried people would rip the pages. For Derek that wasn’t a problem! It meant deeper engagement; people could change the book, and therefore be part of the art themselves.

The compromise was people being provided with white gloves to flip through the book…

Derek was brilliantly using this analogy yesterday for our fundraising and the way we interact with donors.

So again, I challenge you to think about this: what do you put between your organization and your donors?

Do you make a point of keeping donors far away from the work that you do? Do you sanitize the problems you’re solving in the world so that donors don’t hear the dirty details?

Or do you offer opportunities for donors to get their hands dirty?

Do you invite donors to meet the people their gifts are impacting?

If your organization changes lives in other countries, are there ever opportunities for donors to travel there? To see the well their generous donation built?

Sometimes the walls we put up are more subtle. By now you know the importance of using the word “YOU” in your direct mail appeals. Any time I’m editing a solicitation letter, I’ve got Jen Love on one shoulder and Tom Ahern on the other encouraging me to make the donor the hero of the story.

That’s another great example of the walls we put up; why must we say “WE” so often? We accomplish this, we change that… Why can’t we say that the donor did it? Why do we have to put some sense of formality in our appeals? Something between the work and the donor.

Why can’t we give donors opportunities to feel more a part of our organization? To allow for deeper engagement… even if they get their hands dirty!

I’ll finish this post off with a story from when I was working as a mid-level gift officer at a school. As often as possible, we would try to create opportunities for bursary/scholarship donors to meet the recipient of their award. It was a great chance to let our guard down and really let the donor see the impact of their generosity.

However, it was also a risk. How could we be sure the student would act appropriately? Would they represent the university well? Would they be professional and courteous and grateful?

Well, I invited a donor to meet the recipient of his award over coffee on campus one day. This donor had had a few negative experiences with the school; having to reach out to find out who the award recipient was rather than the school telling him, feeling ignored, not stewarded well… the works! So I was determined to make him feel better about his giving, and make sure he knew how much it mattered to the school, and to the students.

So we were waiting in my office for the recipient… and we were waiting… and we were waiting… and then finally – a good 45 minutes late – the student arrived.

The donor didn’t seem too shaken, so we went to have coffee, had a great time, and then I walked him back to his car.

Let me also say what this award was. It was an award in honour of the donor’s son who had tragically committed suicide years before. His son had a passion for writing, so it was an award for a student with the best short story submission, judged by the English faculty. It meant a lot to the donor, understandably, and he loved meeting students who shared his son’s passion.

On the way back to his car, he said to me, with tears in his eyes, that his son would’ve been late for the meeting, too.

Letting your guard down is a risk… but the reward is deeper engagement, and that is well worth it!

~~

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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Why do donors give so little?

why do donors give so little-

I heard Mark Phillips talk about this once and I want to wax philosophical on it for a few minutes.

We seem to hear year after year from research like what Penelope Burk does that donors didn’t feel they gave as much to charity as they could the year before.

Why is this?

Put simply: We’re not asking enough of our donors.

We’re not asking them often enough. We’re not asking them for enough money. We’re not giving them enough ways to engage with us more deeply.

On the point of not asking donors for enough money, Mark has a great illustration of this.

category_dollar-a-day

Why do donors give so little? Because we ask them to.

Now don’t think for one second that I don’t think every gift is important, that every donor is important, or that every person who supports a cause with a dollar a day is stupid.

I value all donors.

But we have been part of this misconception that that’s what charity costs: a dollar a day. That’s all a donor needs to give to make a difference and feel engaged.

We have been doing ourselves – and donors! – a disservice by perpetuating this falsehood.

And when it comes to mid-level donors – or potential mid-level donors – who you know I love talking about, this is part of the reason why we have disengaged and uninspired donors in the middle: because we aren’t giving them a special enough opportunity to engage with us.

We aren’t inspiring them with a big problem for them to solve through a big investment.

Donors give us a lot and they are so amazing and we are so grateful.

However, donors seem to be telling us that they aren’t giving as much as they can.

So let’s find ways to inspire a new level of giving among our donors.

And then steward the hell out of ’em so they know how much they mean to us.

~~

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

Let’s inspire mid-level donors!

let's inspire mid-level donors

Last week I wrote about mid-level donors and what we’re doing wrong with them.

Mid-level donors are neglected, uninspired, and disengaged.

Why? Because we’re making assumptions about them.

We’re assuming they want to be treated like a major donor — in-person meetings, more targeted asks, and more information to inspire their giving, because they see their gift as an investment.

Or we’re assuming they want to be treated like an annual donor — they’ve been conditioned to give by mail, after all, so let’s just throw in a variable paragraph to distinguish them among our other donors, and maybe put their letter in a square envelope with a real, live stamp on it.

WRONG!

The mid-level donor is neither the major or the annual donor. They’re telling us they’re different, by the ways they behave and the ways they give. They’re saying, “I have capacity to give more, and I want to be more engaged in your organization.”

So how can we capitalize on that?

The mid-level donor is a hybrid, so we need a hybrid program.

Don’t pull the mid-level donor out of the mail. Instead, start to find ways to enhance the content we send them. If they see their gift as an investment, think of how they’d want to be asked. Would we give a corporate sponsor a traditional direct mail appeal? Or would we give them something that feels more customized, that feels more detailed and informative, that has more “behind the scenes” information and feels more exclusive? We’d give them the latter, so let’s do the same for mid-level donors. It doesn’t have to be a customized proposal; it just needs to feel like one.

But let’s also give the mid-level donor new ways to connect with us. Let’s try to arrange in-person meetings with our top mid-level donors. They might not want to meet us in person, or at least they might not want to meet with us every year, but they might jump at the opportunity for some one-on-one attention, so let’s give them that opportunity. What could we find out if we sat across the table from a mid-level donor? How could we inspire their giving in a new and enhanced way?

These are some important learnings on mid-level, but here’s the thing: you need to find out what works for YOU.

So here’s an action item: call a mid-level donor today!

Try calling 15 donors over the next two weeks. Ask them: what inspires you? What engages you? What are we doing to involve you in our organization that you love? What aren’t we doing?

And while you’re at it: THANK THEM. Make them feel how important they are to the organization.

They are.

And if they feel they’re important to you, you’ll continue to be important to them.

Thanks for reading!

~~

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

 

 

What are we doing wrong with mid-level donors?

what are we doing wrong with mid-level donors-

We haven’t been treating our mid-level donors right.

They are the neglected middle child among our donors.

We dedicate time and other resources to our major donors and we feel we understand them. After all, we get to know them individually, one-on-one.

And our annual giving programs are well-oiled machines. Maybe we could be doing better, but we’ve spent years reaching out to these donors in this way, and we generally know what we’re doing.

But what about mid-level? 

We’ve tried to fit them in both groups. We assign them to a major gift officer… and they fall to the bottom of the priority list. After all, we’re measuring our major gift officers on how much money they raise, so it’s in their best interest to chase after the 6-figure donors, not the $1,000 donors.

So we dump mid-level donors in our annual donor stream, with nothing but a variable paragraph to acknowledge their “leadership” or “generosity”, and maybe they get a closed face envelope with a real, live stamp on it!

Neither of these experiences speak to the mid-level donor. None of this inspires and engages this unique group of donors.

We’re doing it all wrong!

So – the question has to be: how do we do it right?

Well, I’m speaking about that at Cause Camp on Friday in Lincoln, Nebraska. Cause Camp is an annual 2-day “nonprofit extravaganza” hosted by Nonprofit Hub and the Lincoln American Marketing Association. I also spoke about this at the Women in Philanthropy Conference a few weeks ago, and I’ll be speaking on it again at AFP Fundraising Day in Toronto in June. It’s a topic I’m really passionate about, and I can’t wait to wave my arms on behalf of mid-level donors in front of groups of other passionate fundraisers.

With all that said, tune in next week to hear my thoughts on how to treat mid-level donors right!

~~

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

4 things I learned at #AFPFC

4 things I learned at #AFPFC

I’m back from AFPFC a.k.a. the Association of Fundraising Professionals International Fundraising Conference, and I’m ready to share with you my top learnings.

Take little bets.

Take little bets. What I loved about a lot of the sessions I went to was that the presenters looked at the small ways we can innovate, make change, and show #DonorLove. In Steven Shattuck‘s session The Art and Science of Retaining Digital Donors, he talked about 3 opportunities to thank, engage, and – as a result – retain digital donors.

  1. Through the “Thank You Page” a.k.a. the webpage donors land on after successfully making an online donation.
  2. Through the confirmation email a.k.a. the “receipt” we send donors after they make an online gift.
  3. Through the formal acknowledgement we send them later.

Mark Rovner also took this approach in his session called Why midlevel donors are sweeter than Christmas morning, which I sadly wasn’t able to attend since I had to head to the airport, but which I followed on Twitter. Mark shared 3 great tactics to show mid-level donors some #DonorLove.

  1. Put your business card in their donor welcome package.
  2. Pick up the phone [and call her/him].
  3. Send him/her a handwritten note.

Get donors to DO something.

Get donors to DO something. Steven Shattuck talked about this in his session, too. When donors land on your Thank You Page, for example, does it just have a nice (or not so nice) message they can read (or not read) before just clicking the “X” and forgetting about you? OR do you give them a way to further engage with you?

A company called Abila in their session Digging Deeper Into Donor Behavior & Preferences: 2016 Donor Engagement Study, shared some recommendations on how to do this:

  1. Through a short video (2 minutes max.).
  2. Through a short note or article.
  3. Through a short Facebook post.

(See a pattern? It must be short!)

-If you always do what you've always done, you'll always be who you've always been.-

Fundraising = Impact Investing. Fundraising as investing is not a new idea to me, or to any of you, I’m sure, but it was definitely discussed a lot at AFPFC. It was discussed quite a bit in the Tuesday general session, and it was a big chunk of Kay Sprinkel Grace‘s amazing session: Where is the Sector Headed?. Kay urged us all to be nimble and to take risks. People are sick of giving to charities when they could give through venture philanthropy and make a bigger, more direct impact faster. We’re seen as a sector focused on scarcity, and nobody wants to give to a desperate organization. They want to give to a winning organization! We need to make change if we want to “win”!

Don’t be a bad houseguest. After many years of admiring him from afar, I finally got to see Tom Ahern speak in real time/real life in his session titled “Loverizing”: The Lucrative Difference a Few Well-Chosen Words Will Make in Your Donor Communications. Tom inspired the audience in so many ways, but a quote that really resonated with me was:

-A lot of charities could be mistaken for egotistical maniacs.- - Tom Ahern

Tom asked us to think about it like we’re a guest in a donor’s home, even when we send them direct mail. Do we want to go to their house and talk about US – the charity – non-stop? We did this, we did that, we we weOR do we want to talk about them and how great they – the donor – are? I think the latter.

Thanks for reading!

~~

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

My most awkward fundraising moment EVER

My most awkward fundraising moment EVER! (1)

Let me set the stage for you.

I’m in a meeting with a mid-level donor. She had very positively responded to my meeting request, and actually invited me to visit her at her home!!!

So we’re in her house – her kitchen, to be exact – drinking tea together, and talking very comfortably. I’m getting to know her, learning about why she’s giving to my organization, finding out what she’s passionate about…

It’s the most perfect mid-level donor meeting ever!

Then it gets better.

I ask her for her continued support of the organization, and make a specific ask for a gift today.

She says yes! And decides to give more than I ask her for.

WOO HOO! I’m feeling really good now.

After thanking her profusely, we get into the specifics and I tell her I’m happy to bring a cheque back to the office, or I can take down her credit card number and process the donation when I get back.

But this is a modern woman, so she says, “No no, how about I just make the donation online while you’re here?”

I enthusiastically say, sure! She pulls out her iPad and I tell her the URL.

And that is when things go sour…

The online donation page is barely mobile/tablet-friendly.

There are SO MANY fields to fill in!

The designation drop-down box is so long and has so many designations, but it still doesn’t have the one this generous donor wants to support.

As she struggles through the overly complicated online giving form, I’m sitting next to her CRINGING! It’s taking so long, the process is clunky at best, and even though this donor is patient and gracious and says nothing about it, I am holding my breath next to her feeling as awkward as I ever have in a donor meeting.

We barely made it to the end of the process. Her gift was made, but it’s a miracle she got through all the obstacles our online giving process threw her way.

Looking back, I can’t help but think what would’ve happen if she’d tried to make her gift online without me there.

If I go to read an article online, one of the first things I do is scroll down to see how long the article is. I need to know if I have time to read it now because if not, “I’ll do it later.”

That’s what I would’ve done if I was this generous donor. I’d go to the online giving page, be totally overwhelmed by how long and clunky it is, and decide “I’ll do it later.”

Only to never do it later. Or at all.

Who are we turning off giving? Who is deciding to “do it later” but never does? 

An awesome and slick online giving page and process isn’t a nice-to-have anymore. It’s a must-have. And it’s not about just looking good; it’s about being donor-centric, and ensuring we put no obstacles in the way of their giving.

Don’t put yourself in my position and sit cringing behind your generous donor. I can tell you from experience that it’s very awkward.

~~

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Written by Maeve Strathy


Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over eight years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email