Storytelling without stories

I recently found out I’m attending the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference this year – arguably the most fun conference I’ve been to – and it’s got me thinking about storytelling.

I don’t have to tell any of you that storytelling is critical to fundraising. But it’s one thing to say it and another thing to put it into action.

I’m fortunate enough to work with a number of clients ranging in size, scope, “industry”, who / what / how they serve, etc. They also range as it relates to their access to content a.k.a. stories.

For hospital foundations I work with, it’s arguably easier – they have a clear process for identifying patients with stories that will be compelling for fundraising purposes, and as long as they have consent, a good interview, and photos, we’ve got ourselves a story.

For healthcare organizations that aren’t hospitals, for example research organizations, they’re more removed from the patients they serve (organization –> researcher –> patient) and therefore it’s a bit harder.

Then there are organizations who have lots of content and stories, but their “voice”, so to speak, doesn’t lend itself to the traditional, tear-jerker, heartstrings-pulling direct marketing we know and love as fundraisers.

Now you could say, “Well they should change their voice!” And in some cases that may be the right thing or an option at all. But for some organizations, that voice – the voice that doesn’t lend itself to the usual DM storytelling – is authentic and right, so we have to tell stories another way.

It was in working with a colleague on a direct mail letter recently that got me thinking about this conundrum. So I asked myself, What’s at the core of storytelling in fundraising?

It’s about connection. The problems that charities are solving are compelling in and of themselves, but it takes a real story to bring it home, and really motivate most people to take action. How can we connect people with the cause in a deeper way?

So how can we do that without your standard patient/beneficiary story? How can we connect the donor/prospective donor to the problem, solution, and their role in it? We have to be creative!

Can we talk about sights, sounds, or smells? Approach it from a sensory perspective to bring the donor in?

What have you tried? What’s worked? What hasn’t? What conundrums are you facing? Share with me in the comments or on Twitter! I can’t wait to hear.

~~

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:
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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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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

4 tips to survive the year-end fundraising extravaganza

pace yourself. (6)

OK – Why am I talking about year-end? It’s August!

Well because that’s how our weird world of fundraising works… at least for direct response.

I started presenting holiday campaign ideas to my clients back in July.

Literally Christmas in July. 

That’s what makes the world of direct response marketing agencies extra weird. Because of the lead time needed to do our work, we are generally thinking about campaigns three months in advance of when they drop.

Disadvantage for you, the fundraiser? I may be talking about it to you too early. Fair enough.

Advantage for you? Since I’m already in it, I can share some tips with you on how to survive it.

Here they are:

pace yourself.#1 – PACE YOURSELF — Don’t look at your solicitation schedule for September to December and start pulling your hair out! Take it one campaign at a time. Lay out your critical paths. Get the important approval dates in your calendar. This time of year is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t lose your mind in one go, and don’t forget to hydrate.

pace yourself. (1)

#2 – THINK ABOUT THE DONOR — Don’t lose sight of #donorlove when there are dollar signs in your eyes (because let’s face it – this is the time of year when the revenue pours in more than any other). When you’re looking at the potential creative for your holiday campaign, remind yourself “I am not my donors”. Think about what donors have responded to in the past. What’s inspired them? What’s filled them with the warm, fuzzy feelings of the giving season and moved them to impact your organization when there are so many other non-profits clamouring for their attention? Deliver that. I’m not saying don’t be innovative or try something new, but don’t do it for your sake. Do it for the donors.

pace yourself. (2)

#3 – SELF-CARE — I know we all give the idea of self-care lip service, but seriously. It’s August and I’m already feeling the first bit of burn-out. You need to check in with yourself and make sure you’re giving yourself what you need. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you putting good stuff into your body (and I don’t mean wine and coffee, although there’s a time and place for that, too). Are you finding time to be active? A 30-minute walk (ideally outside) would do you a lot of good. Are you taking time to do things that bring you joy? Cooking? Reading? A favourite TV show? A bath! I know we can’t spare as much time as usual for ourselves amidst all the work, but maybe carve out… an hour a day? Two hours? For you! Because if you aren’t happy and healthy, it’s going to be a much longer season.

pace yourself. (3)

#4 – KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE PRIZE — #DonorLove is absolutely crucial to what we do. But let’s admit it: to allow our amazing organizations to do their amazing work, we need funding. And the year-end time period brings in the majority of our funding for the year, so that’s a huge driver of why we work so hard and have so much output at this time. When you’re tearing your hair out and wondering why you do this, look at last year’s results from September-December. Calculate what percentage of the total year’s revenue it was. Write that percentage or dollar amount on a post-it and let it motivate you when the sheer love of the work doesn’t do it. That impact is worth hustling for.

Good luck!

~~

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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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DIRECT MAIL IS NOT DEAD…

Direct Mail

It just doesn’t stand alone anymore.

 

When I tell people what I do – direct response marketing for non-profits – the easiest reference point to use is direct mail.

“You know those letters you get from charities that ask you for money? I put those together.”

The reaction I often get is shock that there’s still a business for that.

“People still give through the mail?!” people say, incredulous.

But those of us in fundraising know (I hope!) that direct mail continues to be the base of our Annual Giving programs.

Is it dead? Definitely not. Is it dying? Nope. BUT, it cannot stand alone.

So what does that mean?

It means that successful direct response fundraising programs are multi-channel and integrated. You communicate with your donors – and prospective donors – by mail, email, and phone. You invest in media buys, engaging donors on Facebook and Google. You create inspiring video content. You develop sophisticated landing pages.

The list goes on…

Look, I know your budgets are limited. But, direct mail will definitely seem to be dying if you’re relying on it as your only channel. You need to go where your donors are… and they’re everywhere.

So that’s multi-channel. But don’t think if you’re using different messages across different channels that you’re gonna have major success! It needs to be integrated.

You know what happens when it is? You know what happens when you use consistent creative and messaging across all channels?

You drive more giving.

If somebody sends your organization a cheque in the mail, it could be because your appeal was emotional and inspiring.

AND/OR it could be because they saw your video content before a YouTube video.

AND/OR they saw an ad on Facebook and it reminded them about that envelope from there favourite charity on their desk.

Integrated multi-channel fundraising.

HA! No, direct mail is definitely not dead.

~~

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

Enter email subject here

I just received an email in which the subject line was “Enter email subject here”. It seemed a funny subject, but then I thought, “Silly me! It must be about email subject lines and what is and isn’t effective.”

…it turns out that the email wasn’t about that at all. It must’ve been a slip-up, but either way it inspired me and helped me to conceive of today’s topic:

Email Subject Lines.

We’re all bombarded non-stop, all-day with emails. Emails from friends, family, co-workers, companies, groupons, airlines, etc. These emails are personal, commercial, and work-related. If I had to reply to every single email that I got at either of my email addresses (1 work, 1 personal), I wouldn’t have enough hours in the day. We have to prioritize: is this urgent? Who’s this from? What does the subject line say???

If a subject line says “urgent”, I’m more likely to open it faster. If I know who it’s from and they’re important to me, I’m more likely to open it faster. If the sender is not important to me and the subject suggests it isn’t urgent, then what other factors would get me to open it?

An exciting subject line.

But that brings me to my main question: What makes an email subject exciting??? How do we “Lift our message above the torrent” in order to break through the inbox? Is it customization? If our subject is specific to the person receiving the email, are they more likely to open it? And sooner?

“Mike — you’re going to want to be at this event!”
Will that do it?

Is it conciseness? Is short & sweet the key? On top of that, does excitement come from hyperbole or flashiness?

“The Best Event of the Year!”
Is that the trick?

The truth is, I don’t know the answer. My personal strategy is usually clarity over anything else; I want to know that the person receiving the email knows what it’s about before they even open it. But I’m no subject guru; I try different approaches with different emails, but haven’t really come to find something that always works.

In fundraising, we send out a lot of emails – solicitations, invitations, newsletters… the list goes on. Can we get someone to make a gift with a flashy subject line? I think we can, I just don’t yet know how.

What do you think??? Share your tips & tricks when it comes to email subject lines by commenting below.


Written by Maeve Strathy

Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising since 2007.

Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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