Practical Advice for Modern Fundraisers

THOUGHT·FUL

adjective\ˈtht-fəl\

: serious and quiet because you are thinking: done or made after careful thinking   : done or made after careful thinking: showing concern for the needs or : showing concern for the needs of feelings of other people

Tips to taking control of your Year-End Appeal

Hopefully, you completed most of your donor mailing pieces last month. And your acquisition piece was finalized months ago right? Your internal lists were created, the mailing pieces were designed and the letters written weeks ago right? Don’t worry if you are behind there is still time to catch up and to do it thoughtfully.

The letters I’ve started receiving in the mail are the “general” kind that are written in the third person using generic terms to describe the organization’s work. The letters use phrases like “ your support will helps us to whatever for whoever that is in need of whatever.” You get the idea. That language is not very thoughtful, appealing or clear.

A good yearly appeal is a marketing piece, support piece, and a personal letter. It has to be more than a list of what you want from the donor and what you will give the donor. It has to explain why your organization is the best suited to do the work it does. It should be based off your vision of the world if the work of your organization is nolonger needed. That is the “why” a donor will support you. “Why” should be a thread that runs through all of your materials. Does your material live up to this standard? (If you have not seen Simon Sinek's TedTalk on "Why"- I highly recommend it - watch it here.)

We have gone off on a bit of a tangent so let’s get back to the nitty-gritty of end of year appeals.

Your Annual Appeal, Year End Appeal, or Holiday Appeal - it does not matter what you call it should be almost finished. What is left are the portions of the mailing that are personalized beyond just a name and address. Especially since some of the letters will need to be printed on-site and hand-signed – right?

Personally, I believe that the stronger a person’s connection is to your organization the less material the person needs to receive. Think of it this way-

Consistent donors

A personalized letter based on their activity with your organization and their previous gift level.

Lapsed donors

 

Need a reintroduction to your organization and to know they are missed and not just for the amount of their gift. Include a copy of your new brochure.

Major donors

 

A truly personal letter. A hand written note and every nice thing you can think of to say.

Irregular givers

 

A letter that tells them why they should give regularly to your organization.

Volunteers

 

A different letter should be written than the one for the non-volunteer donors. It should reference their volunteer activity and be even more effusive. Remember these donors know a lot about your organization - do not insult them by sending them general material.

It may seem like this is a lot of work and it is. But if you have a good CRM with clean data it shouldn’t be that hard to create the list you need. Don’t forget if you use a major CRM/Database program you are probably paying for customer support – USE IT!

Where many people get bogged down is the personalization piece. I always set myself realistic goals of how much I can actually do. I know from experience that 500 is the maximum number of letters I can sign the Executive Director’s name to before my eyes bug out and my hand permanently cramps.

I also have to know how many I can reasonably ask the Executive Director to sign personally. This will obviously vary by person but most max out at about 50. Though, I did work for an Executive Director who insisted on signing 350 letters. That only happened once!

So what to do if you are not at this point in your appeal process? Well, don’t panic – ok, panic just a bit. First, I would rank my appeals based on how many donations and what the average donation was from each appeal category last year. I can tell you that it should have been renewals. And just dive in and start writing. You will get it done. Just remember to tell your donors “why” and to be thoughtful.

P.S. Don’t go it alone.  Find a good printing company to help with the letters. They can do much of the general personalization for you. Leaving you just the hand cramps.

Part 2 - Tips for Thoughtful Videos - Hard, Soft, and Passive

Last time, we discussed the types of videos you might want to use to promote your cause and your fundraising campaign. Videos are powerful tools that can really help tell your story to prospective donors. They can also be embarrassing displays of hubris that will turn off - well anyone.   In this post, we are looking at the three basic types of videos you might create.  

 Some Specifics 

Hard Ask

The Hard Ask is the simplest. A spokesperson for the organization looks directly into the camera and says why they believe in the organization and ask the viewer to support the organization. If you decide to do this type you probably have a good deal riding on its success. First these are the shortest of the three types. It is ideally about two - three minutes long. If you can’t make an “ask” in that timeframe you might want to move to a different type. Also, make sure that the spokesperson you use has a strong voice and steady gaze. A display of confidence is key to the Hard Ask.

Soft Ask

The Soft Ask uses photos related to your cause and a voice over that tells a story and implies that more needs to be done. Five minutes is a good length for the "Soft Ask." This type of video needs intriguing story telling and must be visually appealing. Also, studies have shown that positive images tend to do better than negative images.

The one exception seems to be animal causes.  At least, it seems that way considering the number of late night and cable commercials for these causes that have slow motion video and distressed sounding voice overs.  Before you go in the sad/negative direction, I would strongly recommend that you think carefully about how your audience sees your organization and cause. The sad/negative video can backfire on you. A positive approach is much safer and is a proven effective approach.

Passive Ask 

The Passive Ask can use either of the two previous approaches there is just no “ask” built into the voiceover or personal pitch. The point is to connect on a “personal” level with the viewer usually using a combination of photos and video. It too needs a strong voiceover. So where is the “ask”? It should be the final image of the video. Usually, a stagnant slide with a call to action.  Something like - "To learn more and to show your support please visit us at - www.xxxxxxx.org."

There should always be a call to action at the end of the video. Ideally, the call to action will take the form of a web address or hyperlink built into your video that does directly to a donation page. It should be the final image of the video. Usually, a stagnant slide with a call to action.  Something like - "To learn more and to show your support please visit us at - www.xxxxxxx.org."

You might also create an annotation (or bubble) on your video that includes text and a link. These can be created with your video or through video sites like YouTube.

No matter the type of video there should always be a call to action at the end of the video. No matter how you do it just make sure the donation process is clear and easy to use.  If it isn't then you have wasted your time and that of your prospect.

 

If you want to see what might be considered embarrassing videos the best way is to search Youtube and Vimeo for non-profit videos. Also check out other organizations that are similar to yours and see what type of videos they are posting.  I would love to post the good, bad and the just plain ugly but that wouldn't be thoughtful. Besides I like having friends in the field - SMILE.

Reply to Reader Comments

I received lots of feedback and questions on the last post, but the main things readers wanted to know were about cost and quality.  At first, you might think these two issues are both the same. Well, they can be, obviously the easiest way to create a great video is to hire a video company to do your videos for you.  Now this option can have lots of pluses;  less of your time needed, greater quality, and advice from an expert.  Of course, the cost can be prohibitive, every iteration of your video will be a new investment, and turnaround can be slow.  

So what other option do you have?  Though I am not a fan of pro bono work, I have seen excellent work done by board members and volunteers. Also, there are a number of ways to make a great video using software that you probably already have on your computer.  PowerPoint and iMovie are your two best options. For a simple video made up of stagnant images, PowerPoint is great.  You can add transitions from image to image and an audio track.  A history video or yearly recap are good choices for this method.  You can also add a movie to your video.  Once you create the PowerPoint you can save it into multiple formats including ones that work great on YouTube and ones that can be embedded in your website. IMovie on the Apple platform is a more advanced program but one you can use to create a professional looking video.

Surprisingly, with a smartphone, a video editing program like IMovie and some patience you could create a pretty slick video. 

Also, there is always a question about how long a video ought to be. This article from the article share section of this site - The Optimal Length of Every Social Media Update and More. This a great article on hoe long just about everything in social media.

Please leave more comments and maybe we will do another post on videos.  If nothing else I will probably do a mini post on video hosting. You can find the mini post on the home page of this blog.

 

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Something simple like "To learn more and to show your support, please visit our website - www.charityofchoice.org."

Tips for Thoughtful Videos - Part 1

 

Do not get me wrong I am a firm believer that the best way to fundraise is through the act of telling a story. Telling your story and listening to your prospects story creates a relationship that will very likely lead to a gift.

Thank goodness the days of forcing VHS tapes and DVD’s on to donors and prospects have passed. I have always wondered if anyone ever actually sat down and watched them anyway. Today, we can use email, social media, and our websites to get our video in front of our intended audiences. In fact, you can search a sites like YouTube or Vimeo and find hundreds of fundraising video examples.  The easiest thing to do is to go to a video site and type in the name of your favorite charity (or one similar to yours ) and you will find a trove video examples. There are lots of great articles about video and social media, in fact, you can find a some of them in the Shared Articles section of this blog. This is a link to a favorite of mine. 

 So can a video be used to create a successful ASK – well maybe? Come to think of it maybe we are looking at this all wrong. Maybe the job of a video is not to actually solicit gifts but to create a different type of relationship between a prospect and a charity. Just maybe a good video, shall we say, primes the pump. The question then becomes what type of video you should be using and how do you get it out to your donors and prospects.

The first question is what type of video you should be producing. Typically, I find that there are three types of videos.       

Hard Ask

A short video that is principally a direct ask for support. 

 

Soft Ask

A longer video that typically includes a first person narrative.

Passive Ask

A long form video illustrating the organization's  history and mission.

So which of these form are of the most interest to you?  Leave a comment on which type you would want to learn about and in the next post on September 16, we will look focus on that type.  But don't worry we will go over all three. We will spend a little extra time on your choice, so please leave that comment

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Short Thoughtful Post

It Occurs To Me

September 5, 2017

What do you think? Will the deserved generosity being shown to victims of Harvey affect year-end giving to none hurricane related charities? My thoughtful opinion is that those who have supported your organization for a couple of years will still support your year-ens appeals. I do believe there will be weakening in the renewal rates of your newest acquisitions. As for this year's acquisitions, these will be soft. How soft is the question? Some of the softness may depend on how close to the affected area you are located. But I will certainly thoughtfully adjust my goals with all of this is mind.

August 1, 2017

August is a great time to review your stewardship program. We all know it is important to thank our donors but do you have a strategic stewardship program.  What I mean by "strategic" is one that thanks, donors appropriately based their donor level. It should also acknowledge things like a first gift, increased gifts, and multiple gifts. Does yours do this?  I also recommend handwritten notes and phone calls for donors at certain levels.  Here is a link to a post last year about thanking donors for your review.

June 5, 2017

Fundraising Day New York (FRDNY) is only a couple of weeks away and it looks like it will be another great day.  I will be blogging from the event. I anticipate writing about 4 sessions. The goal is to pick sessions that cover a few specific topics - cultivation, planning and, of course, technology.

This is always such a great conference and one of the great resources of the day is the exposition.  I always get great ideas and if a vendor you use is presenting at the conference it is a great time to meet them in person. Don't let this opportunity pass you buy.  If you are in the New York area I hope you get a chance to attend FRDNY.

May 18, 2017

 

It was great being a part of today's AFP Workshop on Direct Mail.  It is always a pleasure to share advice and ideas with other fundraisers. During the workshop, we talked about everything from acquisition to thank you letters. Yes, Thank you letters. Sometimes when we think of direct mail we only think of the "Ask, " but the "Thank-You" is just as important.  Don't ignore the second part of any ask the thank you.  You can not thank people too often or in too many ways. So take a few minutes today to review your thank you process.

April 14, 2017

 

We will be live blogging from the AFP International Conference in San Francisco. Last year, this was one of the most popular blogs so don't miss it. It should be a great conference there are a lot of great sessions. The first post will hit late on Sunday, April 30th. I'll be sending a reminder on Monday, May 1st so look out for the email.

 

February 17, 2017

How did your year-end appeal turn out?  What was your retention rate and attrition rate? These two rates are just as important as knowing how much money you raised. If you don't track these you might want to do so. You will be surprised by what you find.Or hopefully, you won't be surprised.

November 9, 2016

So the election is over. We have a winner and a loser. Putting basic politics aside will the results change your Year-End giving results? So far the markets are looking like they will stabilize and  millions of people are happy about the results. Well, millions are also scared.

I wonder if your results will depend on where your charity is located. I work in a very Blue part of my state and my charity only works in that area. What if you work in a very red part of the country. Will you do better or worse?

Also, will the election change average donors,mid-level donors or major donors more? What do you think? I don't have any answers myself and unfortunately, I won't know until January when the year-end result are tallied. Please click on the comments section of the site to leave your thoughts.

October 17, 2016

October is half over so I hope your Year-End Appeal is past the planning stages. By now you should have at least updated your base Acquisition Appeal materials and be well on the way with your renewal appeal. List should be have been chosen and the process of renting them should be underway.

If you are not this far along - no worries- take a deep breath and dive in. You'll get it all done but why not calendar out 2017 to give yourself more time to plan and write.

September 1, 2016

So you made it to September. I know it seems like August is the longest month in the year. It precedes what is the for all practical purposes the shortest two months - November and December. So much of our fundraising year depends on the out come of those two months. So Sepetember and October are all about prep work. In fact, I would say that September is the most important month because by the time October gets here all your year-end work needs to be complete. If those "Giving Tuesday", Year-End Appeals and follow-ups are going out on time your September is going to be quite busy. What do you think?

June 17, 2017

I'll be live blogging from FRDNY so tune in. As always, this is a great day.

May 16, 2016

The next blog is will be posted on 5/23 don't miss it.

March 9, 2016

We will be blogging from the AFP International Conference in Boston starting on March 20. The Thoughtfull Approach to... blog will be updated daily after the last session but we will be tweeting during the conference. Be sure to follow us at @thoughtfulappro and to check the main blog each day.

Just 11 days and counting until the fun begins.

2015 Notes

December 2, 2015

So you survived GIVING TUESDAY, now what? Well, it is not the time to start planning for next year. Nope, it is time to take a page from retail and follow up with people.

Let us assume you sent and email to all of your prospects, constituents and donors. If you used any of the primary email systems like Mail Chimp, Raiser’s Edge, Patron Mail et. al. you can pull a list of people who opened your email but did not click on the donate link.

I’d recommend emailing all of those people today to thoughtfully remind them that they can still make a gift to your organization. Rather like the "Your Carts Not Empty" emails some retailers send when you pick out times but do not complete a sale on their sites.

Try it you have nothing to loose. Just don’t be obvious about how you know they visited your site. Treat the email as a reminder ask. Sell the "why" of your organization.

Please leave a comment, thoughtfully.

 

October 2015

Well, the feed back on my two part series on videos has been great. I know that a lot of people were interested in the subject but I had no idea just how many. I look forward to hearing more from people who decided to add videos to there annual appeal and those who changed their mind.

But what about those annual appeals? Are you ready and where are you putting your emphasis on acquisition, renewal, lapsed or what exactly? I have decided that renewal should get the bulk of your time as for money acquisition always eats that up.

 

September 2015

So in a little more than two months your annual appeal will drop- right? We'll have you thought about how to use videos as a part of the overall appeal. The right video can be embedded in your website and tied to a Google ad, posted to your Facebook Page and on Twitter. You should even be able to add it right to your email appeal. Just about the only thing you can not do with it is mail it. Unless you create a QR code for the video and include that in your mailing. Just a thought.

But what qualifies as a successful video. I would say like many things in fundraising you won't know know if you have gotten right until the appeal is over and you look at the analytics and crunch some numbers. But you can see what like agencies are doing and take a chance pick up the phone and call a colleague. In fact, my thoughtful tip isn't really about videos it is when in doubt call a colleague. That and read my September post about best practices concerning videos.

 

August 2015

-How ready is your Annual Appeal? Yes, I know it is August but if you want them to drop before Thanksgiving you should have already gotten started. Remember acquisition, renewal, lapsed donor, major gift and e-solicitations need to all work seamlessly - don't you think?

Please leave a comment, thoughtfully.

-The shared articles section has gotten the second largest number of hits of any area on the site. Thank you. If you have article suggestions please leave it in a comment.

July 2015

I have gotten a lot of great feedback on the TedTalk video on pecking order. What were your thoughts?

Please leave a comment, thoughtfully.

 

 

 

 

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