Pick your battles… but do battle!

 mar·ket·ing (märkədiNG)
the action or business of promoting and selling products or services
In oh so many ways, that’s what we do as fundraisers.
We share with (promote) donors and prospective donors the things (products or services) a charity is doing to better the world in some way, and inspire and motivate (sell) the donor to take action and give.
We’re lucky that the products or services we’re “selling” are more than running shoes or soap, but the concept really is similar.
And we face similar obstacles as marketers, too. Our stakeholders – programs people, communications colleagues, senior management – can have a very different idea of how to “promote and sell” (read: fundraise) than we – the professional fundraisers – do.
Or more specifically, when moving our fundraising communications up the chain of approval, our messages can become so diluted that they lose their ability to inspire, to motivate, to “sell”.
Case in point: a totally made-up sentence I’m writing off the top of my head:
  
Why? WHY?!?!?
No, but actually – why? The stakeholders are thinking of other stakeholders – staff and faculty. They’re acknowledging them, and being accountable to them, and trying to be proactive in not downplaying their part in doing better for students. I get it.
But see how it waters down the message? See how the donor is taken out of it? Or at least, there’s now an arm’s length between the donor and the beneficiary?
It’s also no longer about a student but instead students.
Straight up? It’s not as powerful.
And as fundraisers – as marketers – we know this. We know the emotion and directness of the first sentence is more powerful in promoting and selling what we do. But too often we cowtow to our stakeholders for their stakeholders.
And we lose our donors in the process.
I’m not telling you to get aggressive with your colleagues or the powers-that-be. But I am encouraging you to know when liberties in messaging are worth taking for the greater good. And I’m encouraging you – not to pick all battles – but to pick the right ones.
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 eleven years.
Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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Leading when you speak

Last week I talked about “that dirty ‘M’ word” (micromanagement) and the fact that we’re all leaders and need to acknowledge our accountability, and the responsibilities our colleagues have that impact that.

Today I want to go further and talk about one way we can assert ourselves as leaders:

In the way we speak.

I just finished reading “Speaking As a Leader” by Judith Humphrey. My dad (an amazing speaker!) lent it to me. It’s all about how no matter where you are – an elevator, an informal meeting, writing an email, presenting formally, etc. – or who you are (junior, experienced, CEO) – you can present yourself as a leader.

How? It’s about the way you speak. And I don’t mean the words you use or the voice you have (although the book touches on that, too), but the way you share your message.

It uses a simple approach. And I’ll summarize it here:

Introduction: Grabber, Subject, Message, Structure
Body
Conclusion: Restated Message, Call to Action

This approach is scalable, in that it can expand or contract depending on how much time you have, or what kind of format you’re speaking in.

Even in the week since I finished it, it’s been a game-changer. I used it immediately last week in a presentation I shared at an AFP Workshop in Toronto on the combined power of marketing and fundraising.

I don’t want to steal Judith Humphrey’s intellectual property – and I could never do the book justice – but in short it’s about grabbing your audience with something inspiring, powerful, personal, relevant, etc., stating your subject (what are you here to speak about?), stating your message (what’s your argument in regards to the subject?), and then explaining to the audience how you’re going to support that argument (the structure).

I can’t stress the importance of structure enough. You’ve been there: at a presentation and you may be genuinely interested, but you’re a bit bored or tired or distracted and struggling to pay attention.

As a presenter – or a leader – we need to help our audience follow along. We need to say: here’s my point, and here are the three ways I’m going to prove it to you.

They don’t talk about this in the book, but my dad expanded on this part for me; keep going back to that structure. Say, “So now I’m done with my first point, X, and now I’m going to share my second point, Y.” This does a lot to keep people engaged, and when you’re truly leading, it will hammer your points home.

The body of the presentation/talk/phone call/etc. is self-explanatory.

The conclusion is all about bringing people back to the message by restating it. But restating it isn’t enough; what do you want people to do? Finish with direction, action, a rallying cry!

It’s just like donors. Inspire them? Yes. But don’t leave them hanging. Inspire them to act.

I hope this helps you organize your next presentation, meeting, or whatever it might be. Approach it this way and you’ll be doing more than speaking; you’ll be leading.

~~

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’s with the charity rebrand trend?!

You may have noticed a bit of a trend lately of charities “rebranding”. Canadian Diabetes Association is now Diabetes Canada. Heart & Stroke changed its logo and freshened up its visual identity in November of last year. Sick Kids launched their “VS” campaign last year, too. Big charities are bringing new attention to themselves and the important work they do by making a creative splash in the marketplace.

Why? Well, if you’ve been working in fundraising for the last 10 years or longer, you’ve noticed how saturated the Canadian (or any, really) marketplace has become with charities and their messages to Canadians to GIVE! It’s a competitive landscape these days, and in order to stay relevant and reach new audiences and inspire new donors, sometimes a new way to express your “brand” is the way to cut through the noise.

But don’t just jump on the rebranding bandwagon! A new brand or campaign is usually the tip of the iceberg. It’s a big investment for any charity – large or small – to make a big change to its look and name, so you have to give it some serious thought.

Here’s a few things to think about:

Does your brand need a facelift? Heart & Stroke was concerned it was perceived as “your grandmother’s charity” and that it was old-fashioned and not relevant for younger generations. Part of its motivation to rebrand was to modernize its look to reach new audiences. If you’re successfully connecting with donors of all ages, a rebrand may not be for you.

Does your cause need new attention? Diabetes Canada rebranded as much to end the stigma around diabetes as it did to freshen up its look. You may want to rebrand to position the important work you do in a new way, but if you’re feeling good about the way your brand aligns with you’re mission, it may not be the right move.

If you’re trying to reach new audiences, who are they? I did a few interviews on the radio the other day on the topic of charity rebrands, and a lot of the interviewers thought charities were motivated to rebrand in order to get millennials involved in their causes. Fortunately none of them could see me roll my eyes. Remember: millennials are a nut to crack when it comes to fundraising and philanthropy, but they are probably NOT your target audience. It will be a decade at least before millennials make up a meaningful percentage of your donor base, so don’t change your look for them. Think about who you really want to inspire, and make sure any changes you make will speak to them.

What will your donors think? I think that most donors want to see your work funded, and if you can inspire new donors to give more through a rebrand, then your donors may fully support it. But if you run the risk of abandoning your donor base by trying to unnecessarily change your brand, forget it! Don’t let the excitement of a new logo cloud your judgment when it comes to keeping your best supporters close!

So don’t rush into the trend! Make sure you spend time thinking about whether rebranding is right for you. It could be the difference. Just know for sure before you take the plunge!

~~

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’s your 2017 donor journey?

HAPPY NEW YEAR, READERS!

I am back to the grind after a lovely Christmas with family and friends, and a lot of much-needed rest. I took a break from Twitter, email, and this blog, and it felt fantastic! I hope you took some time to yourself, too.

All that rest meant I went back to the office yesterday feeling rejuvenated. I was ready to go! And do you know what the first thing I did was?

Mapped out a 2017 donor journey for one of the organizations I work with.

You’ve heard me say this before: all too often, the needs of our organizations – administrative, financial, bureaucratic, etc. – trump the needs of our donors. Our boss thinks something is important so we spend a lot of time on it, and our donors come second. We have a revenue goal, and we’re so desperate to reach it (maybe our job depends on it), that we treat donors like philanthropic robots and throw ask after ask at them without any thought of how it might feel, or how it fits into their donor journey.

It happens. We all do it. We have real pressures and budgets and deadlines – and bosses – and the donor falls down the list of priorities.

Donor journey mapping can help us get a handle on it. 

And remember – don’t plan your donor journey at the start of your fiscal year. Start it at January 1st. (If that’s the start of your fiscal year, you’re a lucky duck!)

January is the start of a new year for everybody, so it’s also the start of a new – or continued – donor journey.

So with all this in mind, yesterday morning I sat down with a big sheet of 11 x 17 paper and wrote 20+ segments down the left side of the page – current mid-level donors, lapsing mid-level donors, mid-level prospects, online only donors, monthly donors, 3+ year consecutive donors, current donors, lapsed donors, inactive donors… and so on and so forth.

Then I wrote the months of the year across the top.

Then I thought of each group and what made sense for them throughout the calendar year – for example, most current mid-level donors would’ve given in December, so maybe more of them should get stewardship in January vs. a renewal ask.

3+ year consecutive donors are really loyal, so even though they’re usually treated the same way other current donors are, I’d like to test a monthly conversion ask in early Fall.

It’d be great to convert online only donors to give through the mail, but not in the year-end time period when there’s a flurry of online activity; I’ll exclude them from the year-end mailing we do in December.

And on and on I go.

It’s an awesome exercise that puts donors first, and ensures their needs – and the best fundraising strategies – are set up and ready to go before they can be trumped by something else.

Try it! Especially when your energy is fresh, and your donors are feeling the same way.

Good luck, and Happy New Year!

~~

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 ten years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

My problem with awareness campaigns

my-problem-with-awareness-campaigns

When I worked at the Canadian Cancer Society as a corporate fundraiser, I had a sign on my desk that read:

“You are here to:

(1) End cancer

or

(2) Raise money so we can end cancer”

It guided everything I did.

Could I work with a corporate partner who wanted help changing their workplace to a healthy one? Even if it didn’t raise money, it met the criteria for #1 so I’d happily pass them along to our cancer prevention team.

Could I help write a letter to go to all employees asking them to give during the staff campaign? It accomplished #2 so you bet!

But it also helped when a board member would suggest something like this: “Let’s get all the taxi companies in the city to put our logo on the side of their cabs” (real suggestion).

I’d run it through my test: does it accomplish #1? Nope. Does it accomplish #2? No. So it’s not worth my time. Because ultimately those “awareness” campaign ideas often came from someone’s ego, not an honest desire to give generous donors the opportunity to help people with cancer.

Because at the end of the day, the family who can’t pay their rent because mom had to quit her job to drive her daughter to chemotherapy… There’s not much she can do with “awareness”.

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Written by Rory Green

roryRory is a Senior Development Officer by day, and FundraiserGrrl by night. As a major gifts fundraiser, she connects donors with an opportunity to invest in a better future. FundraiserGrrrl is a blog about her cheeky observations about life in fundraising.

Connect with Rory via:
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The 4 habits of highly engaged donors

the 4 habits of highly engaged donors

When you think of the most engaged donor at your organization, what sets them apart?

Do they volunteer? Do they attend events? Do they donate a lot of money?

Those are fantastic indicators of engagement, but I’m here to tell you about four habits that some of your donors demonstrate that don’t immediately flag their deep level of engagement, but should.

#1 – The habit of RSVP’ing to events

Attending events is one thing, but RSVP’ing – even to say no – is an awesome indicator of engagement. If this donor cares enough about you to let you know they’re not coming – and they feel that YOU care to know? They love you. They really really love you.

#2 – The habit of providing multiple pieces of contact info

If this donor gives you their work phone, cell phone, home mailing address, business address, and more than one email? They want you to get in touch with them. If you can’t reach them at work, try their cell! They like when you reach out!

#3 – The (RARE!) habit of updating their contact info with you

Have you ever had a donor proactively update their mailing address with you because they moved? If you’re like me you’re probably chuckling to yourself because this so rarely happens. More often than not, we know a donor moved because our letter to them is returned to us. But I bet at least once in your fundraising career you’ve had this happen. And let me guess: that donor is one of your most engaged. I’m not surprised. A donor who does this is a donor who cares.

And finally… the least fun part of our jobs…

#4 – The habit of complaining

It happens to all of us. It’s no fun, but it’s a part of our jobs: when a donor calls in to complain. It’s hard to look at it this way sometimes, but the donor who calls in to complain is the most committed, caring, and loyal donor we have. Think of all the people out there who used to give to your organization but something frustrating happened to them and they stopped giving… and now they’re just a lapsed donor. We don’t know why they stopped, just that they did. However, when that “something frustrating” happens to a donor and they care enough to call in and tell you? We can work with that. Complaining means you hope for – and believe that there can be – a solution. That donor wants us to fix the situation. And when – not if – we do, they will continue to be the most loyal donor we have… if not more loyal than ever before.

What are your other unconventional flags for donor engagement? Share in the comments below! Or tweet me @fundraisermaeve.

Thanks for reading!

~~

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:
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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!

~~

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:
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Guest Post: 3 Ways to Use Stories to Provide Donors with Better Stewardship

3 Ways to Use Stories to Provide Donors with Better Stewardship

You’ve probably heard that donor stewardship is one of – if not the most – important parts of fundraising. Donor stewardship is the process of thanking and following up with donors after they have made a gift. It is also what helps increase the chances that they will stick around as donors for years to come.

There are many ways that you can steward donors. Thank you letters, special reports, newsletters, phone calls, and events are just a few of the options available. But what is more important than the option you choose is the content you use.

You see, not all donor stewardship content is created equal.

Just sending a thank you letter is not enough to improve donor relations and retention. If that were the case, our sector’s retention average would be significantly higher!

Donor stewardship content needs to inspire, demonstrate accountability, and show impact. Stories are the best way to accomplish these things.

Here are 3 ways that you can use stories to provide donors with better stewardship:

Idea #1 – Go beyond “your gift is making a difference” in thank you letters

I’m sure you’ve read your fair share of uninspiring thank you letters. I know I have. My biggest pet peeve with thank you letters is when there is a broad, general statement like, “your gift is making a difference,” or “you’re making an impact in the community.”

What’s the difference or the impact? Don’t just tell donors this. Tell them a story to give them deeper peek at their impact.

Here are a few tips for finding a story to tell in thank you letters.

Idea #2 – Refresh your thank you call script for volunteers

If volunteers or board members help your organization make thank you calls to donors, be sure to refresh their script at least twice a year. Specifically, you’ll want to make sure that they are telling current, interesting stories of impact.

Alternatively, you can also empower your volunteers to tell their own story during the call.

Idea #3 – Rethink your event program

Spring is when many non-profits start planning fall events. Rather than having the same old boring speeches at your donor appreciation event, think about how you can make the event experiential for donors. Maybe you can recreate a common experience your clients have, or you could have a client share their story. This is a great way to make a story literally come to life for donors in a way that deepens their connection to your organization.

What stewardship does your organization typically provide to donors? How can you incorporate storytelling into one of your touch points? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

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Do you like what Vanessa has to say? Then register for her upcoming #DonorLove webinar! Vanessa will show you how to seamlessly incorporate stories into your non-profit’s stewardship touch points. You’ll learn how to use stories in impact reports and thank you letters. This webinar will discuss key ideas for telling stories that delight donors and helps them feel more connected to the work.

Learning outcomes:

  • Why stories are essential content for great stewardship
  • 4 keys to telling a great story, plus the most important element every stewardship story must have
  • How to tell a story in a thank you letter
  • How to tell a story in an impact report

Steward Your Donors With Stories
With Vanessa Chase Lockshin
April 12th: 10:00 EST / 1:00 PST (You will also be sent the recording)
Recording Available April 23rd
$24.99

REGISTER TODAY!

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Written by Vanessa Chase

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Vanessa Chase is the President of The Storytelling Non-Profit – a consulting group that specializes in helping non-profits raise more money through communications. You can find out more about her and non-profit storytelling on her blog.

Giving Societies: The Field of Dreams Myth

giving societies- the field of dreams myth

“If you brand it… they will come.”

 

There is no magical key to donor engagement.

If you brand it, they won’t come.

Or, at least, it doesn’t guarantee that they will. Giving societies can be an amazing way to engage donors, to make them feel part of a community. There are some giving societies out there that are so strong and full of engaged donors, so it’s a great “tool” in fundraising.

However – it’s not always the right tool. And again, it’s not a magical key.

Let’s say you’re starting a mid-level giving program.

A lot of organizations start the process with a giving society. They create a name, a brand, letterhead, and a great brochure.

And then they sit back and wait for the donors to join the club!

And they wait… and wait… and wait…

And the donors don’t come.

Too often as fundraisers we’re motivated by what makes most sense to us internally. By what’s easiest administratively. By what seems like a quick, cheap strategy.

“We can’t feasibly call all our donors and find out what they want and need. But it’d be really convenient to have a name to refer to our mid-level donors as, so let’s call them the 1986 Society. The donors will identify with that!” 

This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes, written by a total heroine of mine: RuPaul Charles.

You can call me he. You can call me she. you can call me Regis and Kathie Lee; I don't care! Just as long as you call me.

That’s RuPaul’s attitude towards what pronouns you choose to refer to him with. The truth is that he doesn’t care! What he cares more about is that you call him! Acknowledge him!

Donors are the same! We spend too much time thinking about the “other stuff” – the giving societies, internal naming conventions, letterhead – and not nearly enough time acknowledging the donors themselves.

And maybe if we spent more time on that, we’d find out more about what the donors actually want.

Maybe they DO want a giving society, a group to be part of. A sense of being a VIP. Access to behind-the-scenes at your charity.

Or maybe they DON’T want a giving society. Maybe they won’t identify with a separate, special brand. Maybe they’d prefer you spent more time on the mailings they receive; add more content, give them more giving opportunities that inspire them.

The truth is we can’t know until we ask. And donors love to be asked!

Don’t look for the easy way out.

Give your donors the #donorlove they deserve!

Call a donor today to find out what they do and don’t want from you, and let me know what you find out!

~~

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:
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Guest Post: Do Your Donors a Favor — Stay Compliant    

do you donors a favour -- stay compliant

Everyone likes giving to a good cause. But how do you separate the “good” from the “not-so-good?”

Part of a donor’s decision to give comes from their positive intuition about your organization and its people. However, good vibes only get you so far!

One clear way to demonstrate your worth is to stay compliant. Compliance isn’t all that sexy, but it’ll help you secure donations and inspire confidence in your donors.

What is Compliance?

Nonprofits are highly regulated at the federal and state levels, and for good reason. Governments want to make sure the funds you raise actually go to the charitable mission you set out to do. At the same time, the state and IRS want to make sure the citizens you solicit funds from are protected from illegitimate or sketchy organizations.

Compliance is staying on the right side of state and IRS requirements by keeping good records and keeping current with required registrations.

Let’s take an example. Most donors are familiar with the term “501(c)(3).” If an organization has its 501(c)(3) status, generally, donors can make a gift and get a tax deduction at the end of the year.

Many nonprofit leaders think that being 501(c)(3) tax exempt is all there is to it. In reality, it’s not.

Forty-four states regulate charitable solicitation (a.k.a. fundraising) inside their borders. Forty-one of them require your nonprofit to file a separate registration before you even ask for a donation. Chances are, your charity operates and solicits in one or more of these states, and so you have to pay attention to applicable registration requirements.

Penalties for noncompliance, whether intentional or not, can be several thousand dollars in state fees, or you could lose your right to fundraise in a state altogether. If you solicit funds in a state, be sure you understand your state’s requirements.

Why is Compliance Important?

Besides avoiding state penalties, think of who really matters: your donors. Help them know that you’re one of the good guys.

Most states have a database where donors can search for your organization before they give. They can see if you have registered or not. If your charity is delinquent, your donors can see that too.

They may even ask you directly! Individual donors, corporations, and foundations (who give grant funding) very often ask for proof of registration with your state, along with your IRS Determination Letter. Without either, you’ll walk out of the room with your tail between your legs!

Compliant organizations make much of their program, financial, and leadership information public. As a donor, it is reassuring to know that the charity you wish to support plays by the rules, and as a charity, it’s good to show your supporters you have nothing to hide.

So, show some #donorlove – stay compliant. You’ll make their decision to give much easier.

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Written by James Gilmer

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James is a compliance specialist for Harbor Compliance, which establishes 501(c) nonprofits and helps them stay compliant. Harbor Compliance assists charities in every state and several countries abroad. James serves on the Board for two nonprofits in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Connect with James via:
Email | Twitter