What box am I thinking outside of?

You know how you click on a YouTube video and you’re forced to watch 6 seconds of an ad before you have the opportunity to SKIP it?

Did you ever think of that as a creative opportunity? I certainly didn’t!

But recently the creative team I work with was presenting ideas to me for an upcoming campaign which included YouTube ads as part of the tactics, and they had an idea for a cut of video where the SKIP button at 6 seconds actually has a relevance in the storytelling.


This moment reinforced to me that in order to think outside of the box, there has to be a box! Things like Skip buttons or character limits or postal service standards shouldn’t be seen as obstacles or barriers to creativity, but instead opportunities to surprise & delight.

So what’s in your way today? And how can you see it as a chance to try something new?


Written by Maeve Strathy

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

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

Year-End is Coming………

My colleague Mackenzie and I are responsible for Blakely‘s monthly internal campaigns. They’re internal marketing campaigns, really, meant to make our colleagues laugh, think, feel supported, or get inspired.

May’s internal campaign looks like this:

Year-End?! What?!?! It’s early May!!!

I hear you. We thought Christmas in July was crazy, but the truth is that if you’re planning on doing an integrated, year-end campaign that starts with your holiday mailing and ends with your final e-blast on December 31, it’s time to start thinking about it. Seriously.

Why does year-end matter so much? First and foremost, this is when donors think about charitable giving the most. They’re in the giving spirit thanks to the holiday time period — they’re thinking about family and time together, and maybe they’re feeling really grateful for what they have, and a little emotional about those in need.

And even though at the end of the day donors are not purely motivated by tax credits, it is an incentive to make your biggest impact when the calendar year is wrapping up.

What’s our role as fundraisers? Since we know where donors’ heads are at, it’s time for us to be out there — reaching the right audience at the right time with the right message. That’s becoming increasingly difficult to do; there are more charities than ever competing for donors’ attention. We used to be able to send a beautiful holiday mailing to donors and prospective donors and that was that. Now that mailing can’t stand on its own; your overarching message needs to be supported on different channels shared in different ways to different audiences. It needs to be big, strong, powerful, and integrated.

So what do you need to be thinking about? It’s still early days in terms of planning, but here are some of the things you want to start pondering:

  1. Organizational Activities: You’ve heard me talk about the gin & tonic approach before, I think. It’s about mixing all the different departments at your organization so that you’re working together — for your donors’ sakes. Too often your marketing department has something totally different going on than you at year-end. See what you can do about aligning efforts so that donors aren’t seeing messages that don’t look like they’re coming from the same place. And if you can’t get marketing on board, ask them what they’re planning and see if you can align with it — as long as it’s not sacrificing donor experience, fundraising best practices, etc.
  2. Fundraising Proposition: Start thinking about what area of funding you want to put in front of donors. What’s your greatest funding need right now? What will inspire donors the most when they’re thinking about you? Whatever it is, it needs to be able to be shared across a number of communications on different channels, so you’ll want to be able to talk about it – and bring it to life – in a few different ways over the course of the campaign.
  3. Story: What story/ies are you telling to bring that fundraising proposition to life? How can you put it into context? Whose story will you tell? What will tug at donors’ heartstrings? Like the fundraising proposition, this story needs to be big enough to tell a few times in a few different ways, so make sure you have a good one — and lots of content to support it (interviews, videos, photos, etc.).
  4. Channel Strategy: The above speaks more to the creative strategy, but you’ve got to be thinking about how you’re sharing your message — is it mail only? Mail and email? Mail, email & landing page? Mail, email, landing page, video, Facebook ads, Google ads, Search ads, and a TV spot? Whether you’re keeping it simple, or getting your message out everywhere, start figuring out what that looks like, for the sake of budgets, content planning, and donor experience.

That’s it for now! Not too painful, right? But if you start pondering the above, you’ll get yourself into the year-end fundraising game. Brace yourselves… but we’re all in it together!


Written by Maeve Strathy

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:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

5 things I’ve learned about fundraising – and myself.


How are you?

It’s been a while.

As some of you know, I’ve taken a long hiatus from this blog; around 6 months. It was starting to feel like a chore and the posts were feeling a bit uninspired, so I took a break – for 3 reasons.

  1. I didn’t want the blog to go to s*&t only for me to never return.
  2. I wanted to throw myself even more into the job for which I’m actually employed (at Blakely).
  3. I needed a break.

But recently – for the past month or so – I’ve had an itch. Incidentally – but not ironically – it is the busiest time of year for fundraisers…when it rains, it pours.

I think the itch was particularly itchy about a month ago when I celebrated my 2-year anniversary at Blakely. I can’t believe that the time has gone so fast; it feels like only yesterday I made this bold move for my career.

And yet I’ve learned and grown so much, and so I’m inspired to take a moment to reflect on…

5 things I’ve learned about fundraising – and myself.

CREATIVE COUNTS. Yes, you have to segment your data well and make the right ask to the right people. But without creative that catches the eye and stands out in the mailbox, inbox, Facebook newsfeed, etc., your organization doesn’t stand a chance. And this isn’t just about good design or nice stock for your OE (outer envelope), it’s about a compelling story, too. No matter what channel you’re telling your story on – mail, email, a few lines on a Facebook ad, video, etc. – it needs to be emotional, compelling, and motivating.

PROPOSITIONS PUSH. But those compelling stories? They need to tie back to the need. The need is expressed through the fundraising proposition: why do we need the donor’s support now? What’s the problem? What’s the solution? How can the donor be part of it? What’s their role in all of it? What will their impact be? How will they know they’ve made a difference? The story moves donors emotionally, but the proposition can trigger that rational part of the brain, which can be critical in the decision to give.

INTEGRATION INSPIRES. Direct mail isn’t dead, but it doesn’t stand alone. Our donors are engaging with us in many ways – they’re getting our mail and emails, maybe they’re seeing our videos on TV, YouTube, or Facebook, they’re searching us on Google, they’re going to our website… they’re everywhere! So we’ve gotta be everywhere, too. But we need to be integrated. If they’re seeing us everywhere, we want what they see to have a common thread; they saw our mail and forget about it. Then we came up on their Facebook feed and they scrolled on. Then, it’s nearly December 31st and they want to make their year-end gift, so they Google us. Is what they see connected to what they saw? Ideally it is so they feel seen and heard and what originally caught their attention is seen through to the end. Give thought to the full journey; it matters.

PASSION PERSEVERES. But none of these learnings matter if you don’t love what you do. I love my work and the company I work for, but things get crazy and stressful. I have weeks where I feel on the ball, and weeks where I feel like I’m dropping balls, and then I have days like a month ago when I was on a video shoot for a client and we interviewed a family impacted by the organization’s care and donors’ support. The gratitude was so palpable and I thought: “This. This is why I do this.”

CULTURE CUTS. Unfortunately passion doesn’t persevere through everything. I’ve worked in fundraising for almost 11 (!!!) years now. I’ve worked in super inspiring environments, and mediocre ones. My passion hasn’t been able to lift me out of the mediocre ones. Now I work for a company where culture is our competitive advantage. My booming voice is celebrated (mostly), not quieted. My habit of distracting all colleagues from 2:00-3:00 every day (my worst time for productivity) is tolerated, not discouraged. My ideas are always welcomed. My humour is encouraged. My stress is worked through. My hard times are comforted. I – as an individual – am fully valued. So on the hard days, I feel I am working with people who love me, and so I can always make it through.

It’s been an awesome 2 years at Blakely, and an amazing 11 years in fundraising, and I am ready to get back to this blog.

See you soon!


Written by Maeve Strathy

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:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

6 important things I’ve learned at my job

#1 - The importance of being reactive. (4)

Guess what?!

Today marks exactly ONE YEAR since I started my job at Blakely.

Wow… time flies when you’re having fun! And it has been fun! 365 days of getting out of my comfort zone, learning, being challenged, feeling intellectually stimulated, meeting new people, feeling inspired by new causes, travelling (40/365 days), laughing, stressing, and getting a whole lot of &*#! done!

If you’ve been reading my blog a while, you can probably guess how I’d like to celebrate this occasion.

With a list!

So here it is:

6 important things I’ve learned at my job

#1 - The importance of being reactive.

Gone are the days of leaving a meeting with an action item and getting to it eventually. The pace of work at Blakely means 9 times out of 10, when you have something to do, you have to do it NOW. It’s a great lesson in prioritizing, because when there’s 9 things to do NOW, which one do you start with? I still don’t know if I’m always making the right choices, but I’m learning and getting better. What else could you want from a job?

#1 - The importance of being reactive. (1)

Unfortunately for me (and the donors!), I’ve never worked somewhere where the creative aspect of fundraising is a big focus. Maybe the creative writing, but not the art. That is one of the most fun parts of Blakely: the creative. Part of my job when executing on a campaign for a client is to brief the creative team. I might tell them what we need out of an outer envelope, which packages have done really well in the past and my thoughts on why… and then the magic happens. The artists go off and a little while later come back and the strategy has come to life! It is so cool to see, and I find the process – and especially the output – so inspiring! The truth is, the thing we want donors to do is actually open the envelope. It takes good creative to do that.

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Another thing I’d never really been focused on before was the second gift. That is a HUGE part of our strategy at Blakely. Inspiring a donor to give is a start, but inspiring them to give again? That’s where the work really begins. You have to thank them – fast and furious. You have to give them a good sense of their impact right away. And when you do ask, it’s gotta be for the right thing in the right way at the right time. It’s an art, and I love learning about it.

#1 - The importance of being reactive. (3)

With the reactive nature of my job, it’s hard to find time to do anything, but it’s really hard to find time to think. I mean really think. I can get a slide deck together to present a campaign plan to a client, no problem! But how much thought has gone into it? How many colleagues have I spoken to in advance, to run ideas past them and ask them questions? How much time have I spent reviewing past campaigns? Looking at results? Figuring out what works, what doesn’t, what we might test this time? It’s critical to make time for this important thinking work. When done right, a campaign is stronger than ever!

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I’ve always enjoyed data and analysis, but it’s not my strength, so that’s been a big learning curve for me. Let’s say I’m populating a slide deck with some results… I can make some commentary on what happened, but my real role is to say why it happened. That’s not so easy. But I’ve learned to stop myself more often and ask why? Is it because the mailing went late this year? Was the creative too subtle for the donors? Was there not enough time between the last mailing and this one? It’s about really getting under the results, and it’s fascinating!

#1 - The importance of being reactive. (6)

It feels really good to be valued, and I feel valued at Blakely. The work I do with this blog is valued. It means I’m part of the online fundraising conversation; sharing ideas, connecting with guest bloggers, and constantly learning. My activity on Twitter is valued, really for the same reasons. I’m connecting with fundraisers worldwide; learning from them, and sharing my own thoughts. The networking I do is valued. I meet people and create relationships in this wonderful weird world of fundraisers. And my voice is valued. I am brought to the table to talk about things in my scope of work and far outside of it, just to offer my opinion. Sure, there’s lots of business benefits to all this, but it’s also about the value the company – and the people in it – place on learning, knowledge-sharing, collaborating, and more.

Needless to say, I’m a very happy fundraiser right now!


Sign up for my email list and get a FREE E-BOOK on mid-level donors!

Written by Maeve Strathy

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

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal

It may seem crazy sometimes, but mail continues to be the best way to engage donors or potential donors in our work.

Direct mail is both and art and a science… but it’s not rocket science.

Here are my 10 categories to consider in advance of your next DM appeal.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (1)

I know it’s boring and uninspiring, but let’s be realistic: the amount of money we have available to us drives what we do. If we think about what we’ve budgeted for before we get going on a campaign, we can allow the budget to guide us rather than limit us. It can help us determine how many people to mail, how many components to include in the mailing, what kind of paper to use, etc. If we realize that we need to increase the budget to achieve our goals, that’s fine, but think about the budget before anything else… and it won’t become our enemy.

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Next (somewhat driven by cost): Who are you mailing? Existing donors? Prospective donors? Females? Males? Both? How many people? Are they in your charity’s geographical area, or outside of it? Are they really engaged and generous donors? Donors who are long-lapsed? Your audience drives so much of what you’re going to do in any given mailing, so let this be your second consideration.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (3)

Obviously the main goal for any campaign is to raise money, but we also have the opportunity to get insights beyond the dollars we bring in. Before you start really planning for your mailing, determine whether you have the budget to do some testing. If you do, think about what you want to find out: will a more aggressive dollar amount ask generate more revenue or will it freak donors out? Does referencing your donors’ location in the world lift response, or does it make little difference? Think about it. The opportunities are endless, and it’s worth using some of your budget for.

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OK, onto creative. Creative is somewhat dependent on the story you decide to tell in your mailing, but it’s also determined by budget, audience, and testing opportunities. What do you have the money to do creatively? Can you use something more exciting than a #10 envelope? Can you include some full-colour photos in the letter, or an insert to expand on the ask? Or – let’s go crazy – can you create a video to accompany the mailing? The creative needs to be aligned to other things in the package, but it’s better to get a sense of your parameters early on.

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I know this seems crazy, but only now is it really key to determine what you’re asking for. You may know already; it may be unrestricted funds like it always is. Or you might have a really urgent ask to make. However your process works, it’s now time to finalize the key priority you want to inspire the donor with, and you also want to figure out the ask amounts and how they might be based on the segment the donor falls into, their past giving, etc.

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These things aren’t really in a critical order, but if you haven’t figured it out already, it’s time to determine your story. The more personal, the better. If you can tell an individual’s story, that’s ideal. This story should be determined by some of the decisions you’ve already made; maybe it’s based on the audience you’re mailing. Maybe it’s part of a test. Maybe it lends itself to some creative you want to work with. Or maybe it ties perfectly to the ask you want to make. Whatever it is, make it inspiring!

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Just like we have to think critically about who sits across from the donor in a 7-figure major gift ask, we have to think about who “signs” a fundraising appeal. Who’s appropriate? Who matters to the donor? Whose voice do we want to use? We know that people are more motivated to give when someone they know asks, so we have to think about that just as much in direct mail. Have you always used your CEO? Great! Could it be worth testing another signatory? Probably! Just make sure you’re thinking about it strategically. It matters.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (8)

OK time for a #donorlove break! Before you actually write this awesome and inspiring letter, think about the decisions you’ve made. Then think about the donor. Are they synced up, or is there some disconnect? If there’s a disconnect between the donors’ needs and the decisions you’ve made, then you need to stop and reconsider. Are you doing a test that could alienate donors? Be careful! Is the ask you’re making inspiring, or just an urgent need? Maybe you can do better! Is there truly a story in your letter, or is it organizational jargon? STOP. Think about the donor. If you need to make some changes, do. It needs to be about the donor.

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So the letter’s written, the creative’s created, and the package is nearly there. Time to consider variability (if not before this stage). Variability is your chance to speak to different donors within this larger group you’re mailing. Maybe you’re mailing regular donors and you want to acknowledge whether they gave recently, last year, a few years ago, or it’s… *cough*… been a while. Or maybe this is an acquisition mailing and those receiving it are made up of internal people (a.k.a. really inactive donors) AND external people (a.k.a. rental lists). You might want to acknowledge those groups differently. Make sure you consider this before you go any further; the more a donor – or potential donor – feels like you’re speaking to them, the more moved to give they will be.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (10)

And finally – YOU. No, not YOU… the donor YOU. This is the final step. Take out the package, take out your red pen, and “circle the you’s”. This mailing isn’t about us – the fundraiser or the organization. It’s about the donor. It’s meant to speak to them, inspire them, and move them. So review your package and make sure you’re seeing many more “YOU”‘s than “WE”‘s. If you’re not, be prepared to start again. It’s worth it.


So that’s it! 10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal.

If you’re excited about this post, you probably want a chance to win one of these beauties!

Untitled design (18)

That’s right! Your very own red pen, ready to circle the you’s in your next appeal (as per #10)!

How can you win one? In one of two ways:

  1. By subscribing to my newsletter! OR
  2. Sending me an email with a quick message about what you liked about this post.

Do that, and a pen is in the mail!

Thanks for reading!


Sign up for my email list and get a FREE E-BOOK on mid-level donors!

Written by Maeve Strathy

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