Can’t Scan it? Ban it! 10 Reasons Nonprofit Appeals Tank

10 placards 300x300 Can’t Scan it? Ban it! 10 Reasons Nonprofit Appeals Tank

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Stop Making Me — and Your Readers — Work

If reading your appeal seems like hard work to me, than why should I bother? I work all day! If reading your appeal seems like a struggle for comprehension, then what’s the point? I struggle to understand stuff all day.

My brain needs a rest.

Even more, my brain would enjoy a treat. Something that lights up my pleasure centers and makes me feel good.

Does your appeal do that for your would-be donors? Or does it require them to put in great effort to get through it?

Reading may be a breeze for you. But it’s not for everybody. Lots and lots of folks suffer from a range of “reading processing disorders” that make it difficult for them to plow through a bunch of dense text.Continue Reading

How One Little Word Gets Donors to Give to Your Nonprofit

you 300x199 How One Little Word Gets Donors to Give to Your Nonprofit

“Will YOU be our friend”? Never forget who your appeal is about.

In a recent Clairification post I told you I collect fundraising appeals. I suggested you do so as well. When you’ve got a nice little bunch, get together with your team and evaluate them. Figure out together what makes them work.

There are some neat little tricks I’ve learned over my 30+ year career that can really give your appeal a leg up. In the previous post we looked at the power of the word “because.” Today we’re going to look at the power of another simple word.

That word is YOU.

Did you know that “you” is one of the five most powerful words in the English language?

Does your appeal use YOU?

You can prevent the unhappy ending. Yes, “you!” Your letter should be written to compel your reader; not to talk about how great your organization is. “We,” “I” and “Our” have no place in your fundraising appeal.

Why? This is personal. Your donor is the hero. Your job is to let your donor know she can do something, personally, about the problem.

You can send a kid to college.

You can prevent a child from sleeping on the streets.

Never forget your job: to invite people to join you in something amazing… essential… critical… inspiring. It’s about the experience. The outcome. The impact. And who makes that possible? Your donor!

And when you’re writing to your donor, what does this mean?


You fed children last year.” Not “we fed children last year.”

You stepped up.” Not “Our nonprofit stepped up.”

Don’t make your appeals about you. Make it about your donor’s experience. Use “you” rather than “I” or “we” or “our.” Cross out all the ego-centric stuff and rewrite. As veteran communicator Tom Ahern says:

“You” is glue. Every time you use it (especially in headlines) the reader pays slightly more attention…involuntarily. Readers can’t help it! They’re hard-wired to respond to “you”! It’s the best cheap trick I know.”

People listen for the word YOU in a sentence to see when the conversation will come back around to them.

Guess what else people listen for?

Their own name.

The point of using “you” or “Claire” (assuming that’s your reader’s name) is that it’s reader-centric.  In fact, few things light people up as much as seeing their own name in print.

Call your donor by name (no “Dear Friend”) and show them how they – not you/your organization — can save the day.

Do this not only with the salutation in your letter, but also in the subject line of your email appeal. And think about other ways you might personalize your appeal, such as using something particularly descriptive of your reader such as geographic location (“Special for all Peninsula donors”), relationship with your organization (“Dear awesome monthly giving club donor”) or age/status (“Especially for Moms”).

Simply by using these connecting words you make your appeal relevant to the reader. The more relevant, the more likely your prospect will remain engaged. The more engaged, the more likely your prospect will take the next step. Voila! You’ve got your gift.

It’s December 1st. You’ve still got time to review your follow-up letters, email appeals and website copy. Stuff in the good “you” word wherever you can.

year end5 150x150 How One Little Word Gets Donors to Give to Your Nonprofit

How to maximize your chances, and not miss a trick!

Anatomy of an Appeal + Template 150x150 How One Little Word Gets Donors to Give to Your Nonprofit

How to make a fundraising offer your donor can’t refuse.

Year-End Fundraising “Cheat Sheets”

Get some quick tips using my Year-End Fundraising To-Do’s and Checklists e-Book to review a few things that can mean a big difference in your results. For a simple, step-by-step guide to crafting a killer appeal letter get my Anatomy of a Fundraising Appeal + Sample Template. I promise you’ll more than make up the $17 bucks you spend on either Guide — or I’ll make a donation to your nonprofit to assure that you do! Grab the To-Do’s and Checklists here and the Appeal Template here. Tell me what happens!

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How “Because I Said So” Gets Donors to Give to Your Nonprofit

Father threatening son 300x199 How “Because I Said So” Gets Donors to Give to Your Nonprofit

Do it because I said so!

I’m a collector. I collect red and white kitchen memorabilia, flour sifters, tablecloths and fundraising appeals. I also tell my clients to become collectors (but just of the last item on my list!). I ask them to collect only appeals that demand their attention and cause them to give. After all, isn’t that the true measure of a fundraising appeal’s effectiveness?

I encourage them to ask everyone in their organization (other staff, board members, volunteers) to share winning appeals with them. Then I ask them to share the successful appeals with their team and endeavor to tease out what it is about these appeals the recipients find so irresistible.

Figure out what works; then copy it! After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

This is a great exercise for you and your team, and over the next several posts I’m going to suggest some things I find common to the most successful fundraising appeals. Ask these questions of the successful appeals you’re reviewing. Let’s begin!Continue Reading

3 Secrets to Boost Fundraising Response: Help Donors Stretch Their Dollars + More

stretching your dollar 3 Secrets to Boost Fundraising Response: Help Donors Stretch Their Dollars + More

What kind of leverage can you offer your donor so your year-end appeal is an offer they can’t refuse?

Your year-end appeal is less likely to fall on deaf ears than at any other time of year. Why? It’s the time of year when people are naturally inclined towards counting their blessings and feeling both grateful and giving. Some nonprofits raise as much as 40% or more of their annual giving total during the last few months of the year. And 33% of December gifts are made on December 31st. It would be a shame to miss out on this!

In essence, you’ve got people where you want them in November and December. This being the case, don’t you want to put your best foot forward?

SECRET 150x150 3 Secrets to Boost Fundraising Response: Help Donors Stretch Their Dollars + More

I’m going to let you in on a little secret…
Continue Reading

Can I Sizzle You a Story? 2 Things Caught My Attention This Week

Sizzle 300x96 Can I Sizzle You a Story? 2 Things Caught My Attention This WeekI know you’ve got a nice juicy steak. And you think that’s amazing.  And it is. But it’s not enough to make me buy it.

Why not? I’ll tell you why not.

You’ve got to sizzle it!

Two articles caught my attention this week, and each provides the answer to how nonprofits can share what they do in a manner that inspires passionate philanthropic investment.Continue Reading

Hue Are You? What Color Can Mean for Your Marketing Strategy


Color Emotion Guide 300x189 Hue Are You? What Color Can Mean for Your Marketing Strategy

What emotions align with your nonprofit’s mission and brand identity?

 I adore color.  I’m definitely not someone who wears only black!  I thought it would be interesting to think about how we use color in our donor communications, and happened on several great infographics, including The Psychology of Color in Design and Color Psychology and Marketing. They offer a terrific overview of the meaning of colors in the western hemisphere. What you’ll learn is eye opening.Continue Reading

5 Secrets of Psychologists: How to Get Donors to Say “Yes”

Freud model 5 Secrets of Psychologists: How to Get Donors to Say “Yes”

You might miss out! How do you feel about that?

In 1984 Robert Cialdini wrote a groundbreaking book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, outlining principles of influence that affect human behaviors. A new infographic visually makes the point that, while technology advances, human triggers remain constant.

Even someone inclined to support your cause may not give unless you push the right buttons. Here are five triggers with a few suggested strategies (I’m sure you can come up with more) to use these principles in your offline and online relationship building with prospective supporters:Continue Reading

4 Secrets to Inspiring Philanthropy through Storytelling

Storytelling hands 4 Secrets to Inspiring Philanthropy through Storytelling

People. Purpose. Passion. Plan

Philanthropy; Not Fundraising

People. Purpose. Passion. Plan.  Four “P”s in a row. I know… you’re thinking, cute. Yawn. But wait. Before your eyes glaze over, stop a moment and think about these 4 “P”s.

They’re  central to your success in inspiring philanthropy.  Because even though I’ve written, and truly believe, that there are fundamental ways fundraising has changed significantly over the past five years, there are also things that haven’t changed at all. You simply must translate these fundamentals to the digital world:

  1. People love a good story.
  2. One with a purpose. 
  3. One told with passion. 
  4. One that has an order or plan. 

It’s human nature to love to listen to – and tell – a story.  So let’s figure out how to make that happen for your organization – and for your donors.Continue Reading

Purely Practical SMIT for November/December: 6 Fundamental truths about fundraising and nonprofit marketing

Here comes this month’s *SMIT (Single Most Important Thing I have to tell you):  The foundation of all fundraising and nonprofit marketing is relationships. Thanks to Katya Andreson for great inspiration in

. I told her I was going to post these fundamentals above my computer – and so should you!

163255555211661225 Rqs4xb26 b Purely Practical SMIT for November/December: 6 Fundamental truths about fundraising and nonprofit marketing
Basic: donors deserve a warm hug
I LOVE this post!  I agree with every one of these six fundamentals, and they are great reminders for us all. Distilled to their essence, they are:
1.  Happiness.
2.  Audience.
3.  Heartfelt.
4.  Stories, stories, stories.
5.  Messengers.
6.  Generosity.
Let’s take a closer look.

 HAPPINESS:  We’re in the happiness business. Giving makes people feel joy – the act of contributing to charity activates the pleasure centers of people’s brains. Remember: we’re not in the business of taking away money, we’re in the business of giving joy.  What a great job we have.
Katya is correct!  There’s been a lot of research into the psychology of giving and it all boils down to this:  we’re wired to be empathic. Our donors want to love others; similarly, they want to feel good about their gift of love. Psychologist John Marshall Roberts, speaking at Tedx New Zealand, goes so far as to say: Empathy is perhaps the foremost survival skill of the current age.We can nurture donors’ empathic instincts and give them this gift of love – which is at the heart of philanthropy.
AUDIENCE:  It’s not about us, it’s about our audience. This insight may be marketing 101, but it’s also gold.
Gold it is! Truly, the gold standard is the old “WIIFM” (What’s In It For Me?). Take a look at your last fundraising appeal… your e-newsletter… your annual report.  How many times do you use the words “I” and “we” and “our” instead of “you” and “your”?  Would it be clear to the reader what’s in it for them?  Or does it just seem like they’ll be helping you to reach a fundraising goal or balance your budget? Donor-centered fundraising is not about money or product features. You aren’t selling soap or anything else that’s tangible.  So you’ve got to offer an inspiringemotional/psychological kick-back.
HEARTFELT:  Feeling first, facts later.  There are no exceptions to the rule that we must awaken the heart to arouse the mind.
People give from the heart! When we’re in the emotional/psychological kick-back space it’s all about tugging at heartstrings.  And this isn’t manipulative; it’s about giving people what they want. It’s when we try to persuade people about something they don’twant that we enter manipulation territory (you know, trying to scare someone into buying tickets to the fireman’s ball because they fear their house may otherwise burn down).
STORIES, STORIES, STORIES:  Nothing beats a good story about one person.
No exceptions! We’re all story people. In 1980, Richard Nisbett and two fellow psychologists conducted a study  to see if a single, vivid story (i.e., a very small sample) would more powerfully affect test subjects than authoritative data on the same topic. As Paul Slovic and his colleagues would find two decades later, in a famous experiment about “the identifiable victim effect,” narrative beat the numbers every time. In that study, those who received a fact-based appeal from Save the Children donated $1.14. Those who read a story about an individual child in need donated an average of $2.38, more than twice as much.
MESSENGERS: We can have a stellar message, but if you have the wrong messenger, it won’t matter.  We’re in an era where faith in traditional spokespeople and marketers is at a historic low, and so people are turning to trusted friends, family, independent authorities and peers for their recommendations.  That means we’re best off with messengers other than ourselves. 
Use your influencers!  Too often we wait until the last minute to decide who’ll sign our fundraising appeal or from whom our e-appeal will come.  These things should not be afterthoughts.  New research shows just how much the messenger matters.  Peer-to-peer fundraising works because the askers are not paid to ask. Letters from clients are more influential than letters from you. I know you know these things. Act on your knowledge.
GENEROSITY: Generosity inspires generosity…  It’s not what I need, it’s what I provide. I’m in the business of giving, not extracting… I’ll care about relationships, not transactions.
Give at the office! All of us, and that means your donor, yearn for that one moment when we’re bigger and better than ourselves. Where we soar.  Where we step outside our daily, mundane lives and exceed our wildest expectations.   Our job as fundraisers and nonprofit professionals is to help our donors see the way to greatness. We have to be partners with our donors. It may sound nutty to some, but our responsibility as development professionals is to care about our donors and be generous with them. We’ve got to put them first. That’s the only way to build genuine relationships.  We can’t be detached. If it’s just a job to you, maybe you’re in the wrong place.
What is the most fundamental of all these truths? Were you to add one additional fundamental about fundraising and nonprofit marketing, what would it be?

Games Board Members Must Play: How Your Nonprofit Leaders Can Help or Harm You

FollowTheLeader WHT original Games Board Members Must Play: How Your Nonprofit Leaders Can Help or Harm You

The absolutely most important game a board member must play is ‘follow the leader.’ In my last post series on “The 3 Ways We Go Wrong Asking Nonprofit Boards to Help Raise Funds” I spoke of the unique job board members have as role models. A growing body of research shows that human beings are, first and foremost, social creatures.  We use the brains of others to think for us and as storage space for our knowledge about the world. In considering whether and how to get involved with any nonprofit, people will look first to the board for guidance.

We ignore this at our peril.

We develop and learn about the world around us through the filter of other people. Board members are the filter through which others in our community will view us. The New York Times columnist David Brooks, author of “The Social Animal,” notes that we are not separate individuals but “emerge out of relationships” and are deeply formed and shaped by them. He states that “people learn from people they love.”
herd mentality Games Board Members Must Play: How Your Nonprofit Leaders Can Help or Harm You

If we really want to change things we need to understand how people behave. It was Aristotle himself who first described humans as “social animals,” and indeed his observation from 350 B.C. has been borne out by the field of evolutionary anthropology. According to the authors of I’ll Have What She’s Having: Mapping Social Behavior, we are a ‘we’ species, not a ‘me’ species. People tend not to think for themselves; they follow the lead of others whom they respect and admire. We are products of a herd mentality. 

The positive thing about us social animals is that we are hard wired to coalesce in groups. Today modern psychology and neuroscience reveal that the human species has just as much of a capacity for empathy and altruism as they do for selfishness and greed.  Frans deWaal writes of this in The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, and Darwin talked of survival of the most empathic when speaking of communities. Significant work by the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, led by Dacher Keltner, also supports this notion. Work in the field of developmental psychology reveals we possess a neural capacity for empathy that guides us from the day we are born. As babies, we cry at the sound of another baby crying. We are attuned to each other’s emotional needs. We want to help one another.
At the same time, we’ve a tendency to pay tribute to the alpha male (or female) within the group. We look for guidance… power… strength… authority… leadership. And, if you will, the board represents the alpha males in your group/organization/community.
Simply put, what the board does matters. It matters a lot.  Foundations and businesses will ask what the board is doing before they commit.  Potential individual donors will decide how much to give based on the size of gifts committed by the board. New board members will decide whether they can abstain from fundraising based on the level of involvement in which they see existing board members engaged. And so on. We want to follow the leader.
Without a board that leads by example it will be extremely difficult for any social benefit organization to survive and thrive. You see, it’s not what we say that really matters.  It’s what we do.  People won’t magically fall in line behind us just because we have a good case for support.  Lots of organizations have a good case for support.  People will line up behind a leader way before they’ll step up to the line on their own.
influencer1 Games Board Members Must Play: How Your Nonprofit Leaders Can Help or Harm You

It turns out that influencers have tremendous power and clout. Authors like Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, Duncan Watts in a series of publications on social networks, Nicholas Christakis in Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, and Stanley Milgram who developed the notion of “Six Degrees of Separation” (though he did not use that phrase himself) teach us that networks matter, and that some folks within networks are more influential than others.  These are the folks we want to bring onto our boards.  And these are the folks we want to be sure will use their influence on our behalf.

Influencers influencing; this is the most important role board members can play for our organization.

Do you have a good way to help your board members step up to their role as influencers?
Other posts to help your board members embrace their leadership role in fundraising/financing: