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

Hi.

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!

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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 eleven years.
Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

Best Practice is Test Practice

Let me set the scene: You’ve just attended a conference and your head is buzzing with new ideas. But there’s one in particular that you have to try! You know your organization’s donors will love it and really respond to it. So you go to your decision-maker and put the idea in front of her. She immediately shuts it down. “Our donors won’t respond to that!”, she says. You, deflated, go back to doing the same old, same old.

Here’s another scene: You just got an email from your favourite charity (but not the one you work at). It has a lot of copy, yet you’re captivated the whole time you read it. You get to the end and can’t help but make a gift. But there was so much copy! That’s not best practice! And yet… you gave. So you start thinking about the charity where you work. You only write short copy emails there; it’s “best practice”, after all. You consider making your next email a bit longer, but the digital experts in your office might say no. And what if it sacrifices revenue?

If you’re like most fundraisers, one or both of these situations is familiar to you. Revenue is precious, and if it’s coming in, then there’s not a revenue problem. If there’s no problem, there’s nothing to fix. If there’s nothing to fix, why try something new?! New ideas have no place in your charity.

But there is a problem! Status quo is a problem. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point things will plateau if they haven’t already.

And chances are, the most senior people at your charity don’t want to see revenue go flat. They want to see it go up.

But how?

We use a quote from Albert Einstein a lot in our office to shake us out of status quo:

So how do you stop being insane? How do you challenge your known best practice without sacrificing (too much) revenue?

You test.

In my opinion, we don’t do nearly enough testing in fundraising. We’re so risk-averse – and understandably so. We don’t have money to just play around with, and for most charities it would be irresponsible to “play” with our money anyway.

But there’s so much to learn by trying new things!

Testing is the way. Testing is the way to convince your organization’s decision-maker to try something new. You go status quo with one group of donors – maybe send them the year-end package you always have. And then with another group of donors – send them the new package! Or the long-copy email you’ve been wanting to try!

6 Tips for Testing:

  1. Test ONE thing. To have a true test, you have to be able to identify the one thing that made one “package” more successful than the other.
  2. You don’t have to do a 50/50 test, you can do 75/25 or whatever you want! But – for the test to be conclusive, you want to have a minimum of 100 responses.
  3. Don’t just test for testing’s sake. If the element that you’re testing “wins”, the assumption is that you’ll roll out that element in future efforts, so it needs to have value.
  4. Digital testing is the same as testing through mail. You’re still testing one thing.
  5. You can test more than just creative/copy elements. You can also test data elements. What would happen if you mailed 50% of your inactive donors a totally different letter than other donors? Would they perform better? Or what if you tested your usual ask grid ($50 $100 $250) against something a bit more aggressive? Would that result in a higher average gift?
  6. Sometimes – even without testing it – it’s time for your longstanding control package to go. (Note: Your “control” is the package that keeps on winning against test packages.) Just because it’s “winning” doesn’t mean it should still go out in the mail. Sometimes it’s time for something new, with or without testing.

(Shout-outs to my awesome colleagues Laura & Sara for sharing their best testing tips!)

Good luck, and happy testing!

~~

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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:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

What does your charity have in common with Louis Vuitton?

What does your charity have in common with Louis Vuitton-

Imagine this: it’s pay day.

You pay your bills, you set aside money for groceries, you put a little money away in savings, and you generally make sure all your needs are met.

If you’re fortunate enough to be able to do that, and even more fortunate that you have money leftover, then you might think to yourself: what else can I do with my money?

Maybe there’s some work to do on your house. Maybe you want to go out for a really nice dinner. Maybe you love purses and you’ve been saving up for a designer bag.

Or maybe… maybe could you consider giving to a charity?

This is the noise we’re trying to cut through, folks!

This post was inspired by a client the other day, who compared charities to luxury brands. Obviously people have many views about charities and the importance of giving, but my client was right; for many, giving to charity is a “nice to have”. It’s one of the potential ways you can spend that extra money that you’re lucky enough to have.

But there’s a lot of noise! There are flashy, highly-produced car commercials. There are glossy pages in magazines with beautiful people holding beautiful bags. There are a lot of temptations, and charities can’t afford to get their ads everywhere that a luxury brand is advertised.

Now I know this isn’t the way we need to think of all donors, especially current ones. Obviously the work we do is more important than the noise we make, and a lot of donors are so committed to us, our mission matters to them, that a Louis Vuitton bag couldn’t tempt them away from us.

But when we think of the world beyond that, and the people that might be interested in giving to our cause that aren’t right now, we need to think about what “the market” is saturated with. Not only are we competing against luxury brands, but we’re competing against other charities, and the competition can be fierce.

Let this be the reason you take a risk. Let this move you to try something you’ve been wanting to but haven’t made a strong enough business case to your boss yet. Think about a digital media buy. Think about a more creative envelope with your next acquisition mailing. Think about trying something new!

Because the charity next door is doing it… and Louis Vuitton definitely is.

~~

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

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

5 direct response best practices (and 1 busted myth)

5 direct response best practices(and 1 busted

In my nearly 9 years in fundraising, I’ve been hearing this myth. Maybe you’ve heard it, too. It’s this intangible thing… this concept… this idea…

Best practice.

“Best practice” is defined by Wikipedia as “a method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark”.

Have you heard this myth, too? It’s a myth because we hear about it so much, but we rarely see it in actual practice. Why? Budget, time, other resources? There are myriad reasons why, but it seems a shame, because all of the “best practice” ideas sound so great.

Guess what I’ve learned in the 5.5 weeks in my new job? Best practice is not a myth!

I always wondered, what can an agency do that a charity can’t do internally? Now that I’m on the agency side, I realize: A LOT. Hiring an agency to do your direct mail, for example, is a big investment, but the return is huge.

Why? Best practice.

You put in the resources – at least financial – and the agency takes your time (mostly) out of the equation. The agency does the work, and since that’s their sole business, they have the time and resources to make sure the output follows best practices.

What are best practices? Let me share my five favourites – that I’ve learned so far – with you!

#1: STORIES — Donors don’t want to hear much about you. You, the fundraiser, and you, the organization. They want to hear stories. They want to hear about people; people their generous donations supported. Was someone only able to attend your university because of donor support? Did someone survive – literally – because of donor-funded medical equipment? Donors want to hear about that.

#2: MULTI-CHANNEL APPROACH — Every medium you use to fundraise is great, but it’s stronger when it’s accompanied by a number of other channels. People need to be reminded a few times before they take action, so pairing your direct mail piece with an e-blast or your DRTV spot with digital display ads means a stronger campaign. Plus, the more channels a donor gives through, the longer – and more generously – they’ll give.

#3: BEAUTIFUL DESIGN — Inspiring stories and a variety of channels are all well and good. But if all of this goes out in a #10 envelope that looks like your Internet bill, what’s the point? There needs to be design elements in your direct response activities. It doesn’t have to be complex – in fact, it’s often better if it’s not – but it needs to be considered. The paper you use, the size of the envelope, the number of package components… it needs to be well thought out.

#4: VARIABLES — You need to acknowledge each donor along their journey. Is this a new donor? A mid-level donor? A lapsed donor? A donor who gives every September but hasn’t yet and you want to make sure they do? Whoever they are, you need to acknowledge them. It’s good for #donorlove, and it’s good for revenue!

#5: DATA — THE MOST IMPORTANT BEST PRACTICE OF ALL! The power of data cannot be denied or underplayed. You have to know how donors are responding to different pieces/packages/asks/etc. You need to test different premiums and find out what works! You need to split donors by their type and address them – and solicit them – differently. I could go on and on… DATA IS KING.

That’s it from me!

What’s your favourite best practice??? Share in the comments!

~~

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

 

Guest Post: The #1 Mistake Online Fundraisers Make

There is nothing more frustrating than not hitting a goal you’ve set. Especially when it comes to fundraising.

You start dreaming big and thinking of all the things you’ll do with the hundreds of thousands of dollars you’ll raise.

Then when you miss that goal, you feel like you’ve failed. Worse yet, you feel like you’ve let down the folks who actually did donate.

That’s not a good feeling.

Many times, missing a goal comes down to one thing: setting unrealistic goals.

What’s Realistic?

The most successful online fundraisers have two things going for them: strong online assets, and a plan to promote their campaign using those assets.

Through my job at WeDidIt, I’ve been able to look at the lots of successful crowdfunding pages and their traffic statistics.

I learned that a campaign’s performance is predictable. I can look at a page’s traffic and give you an idea of where each of those visitors came from (email, Facebook, Google, your organization’s website, etc).

Better yet: I can tell you how much money it probably raised.

It’s a great party trick. If the party you’re at is full of nonprofit people…

How I Do It

It’s all about averages.

By taking the total amount raised and dividing that by the total traffic a page received, we can get a dollars per visit value (how much, on average, each page visit is worth). This figure works out to $9/visit (it’s actually more, but I round down to be conservative).

We can reverse engineer this to figure out how much traffic your page needs to generate to raise a specific amount.

Want to raise $1000?

$1000 / $9 = 111 visits to the page. You’ll need at least that much to make it happen.

On average, here’s where that traffic comes from:

  • Email: 56%
  • Facebook: 25%
  • Your website: 10%
  • Search: 5%
  • Twitter: 3%
  • Other: 1%

Right away, you can see email is the biggest driver of traffic.

It makes sense then to set your goal based on how healthy your email list is.

If your email list is small or has a low open/click rate, setting a huge crowdfunding goal is not realistic.

For example:

If you want to raise $15,000, you’ll need about 1670 visits. 56% of those have to come from your email list, or 935. That means 935 people on your email list have to open the email and click the link to the page.

If your email list is 10,000 addresses strong, you’re in good shape!

If it’s 500 addresses…you get the idea.

Just as you would run a 5K before taking on an IronMan race, setting realistic crowdfunding goals helps you experience more success and have something to build on.

If you’re interested in those crowdfunding stats, I put together a handy little tool I call the Crowdfunding Calculator. It allows you to plug in how much you want to raise, then breaks down how much traffic you’ll need, where it needs to come from, and gives you an idea of whether your online assets are strong enough to support that goal.

I offer it for free to the nonprofit community, all I ask for in return is that you tell me what your biggest fundraising headache is (so I can get ideas for a my next tool to make!). Click here to check it out!

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Written by Andrew Littlefield

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Andrew is a marketer and nonprofit fan for WeDidIt, a startup based in Brooklyn, New York dedicated to helping nonprofits raise more money and reach new donors.

Connect with Andrew via:
Twitter |  WeDidIt Blog