Making Gift Giving Easier

Last time, we looked at the importance of segmenting your data when creating a renewal mailing or acquisition. Now, let's jump to the most essential part of the direct mail package, and I am talking about something other than the letter. The crucial part is your reply device or devices. Yes, there are more than one reply device in your mailing, some virtual, but one is physical and tucked into the letter: your reply envelope. There are two types: complimentary envelopes and business reply envelopes.

The Complimentary envelope, typically a number 9 envelope, bears the organization's return address and requires a stamp for mailing.

The Business Reply envelope(BRE) is also a number 9 envelope, but it does not only have the return address but also does not need a stamp. 

I am a great proppnent of the BRE. Your appeal needs one  -  because how many postage stamps do you have readily available? We are already asking the donor to write a check or fill in their credit card info, and now we want them to find a postage stamp! Well, it just doesn't happen that much. Your appeal is put to the side until "I find a stamp." Acstamp that rarely appears.

As I see it, our direct mail job is to remove as many obstacles as possible between the donor and the gift. The large text means it can be read without glasses, and the prefilled name and address mean less for me to fill in. Finally, the donor can just put the envelope in the mail without looking for a stamp.

Some people will go to your website, and some will use the QR code, but a significant number will use the reply device and the enclosed envelope. Shouldn't the envelope help, not hurt, your return rate?

For the last few months, I have focused on what I consider significant issues we face as fundraisers. I am returning to some basic techniques for writing direct mail appeal letters.

There are genuinely some basics I like to follow: 

  1. Write a two-page letter. I have heard people suggest a four-page letter, but I think that is extreme. Also, the back page does not have to be completely filled.
  2. White space is your friend. A text-heavy letter, no matter how well written, will not be successful in most cases.
  3. The type should be no smaller than 14-points.  You can even use some 16-point or larger text for emphasis.
  4. Emphasis is your friend. Selectively use larger text,  bolding,  italics, and highlighting,  but be thoughtful about the use.  
  5. Finally, remember that the prospective donor does not know your organization as well as you do. So, write at a sixth or seventh-grade level. Tell a SINGLE story. Yes, your organization has a lot of cool stuff, but your reader only cares about some of the things you are doing. Pick a single story with a positive angle.

It is imperative that you solicit donors regularly with pieces that are similar in appearance.

Finally, your reply device should be the most important part of the mailing. It should include multiple ways for people to donate. I am a great believer in Business Reply Mail envelopes. This type does not require the donor to hunt around their home or briefcase for a postage stamp. They simply write a check or add their Credit card info and drop it in the mail. 

Also, the device should include a URL that takes donors directly to a donation page. This is not the time for them to browse your website. Lastly, QR codes have become very popular, and people of a certain generation use them regularly. 

If you use a curtest envelope, one that requires hunting for a stamp, consider putting a stamp on your most important donors. This will help them send you money. Isn't that the goal.?

Those are the basics. Next month, we will discuss what goes into writing the letter "ASK STRINGS," the importance of the outside envelope, and how to post the letter once it is complete.

 

Since the last post, there has been a good deal of responses and conversation concerning the previous blog. So, call me a dog with a bone, but it is hard to get past the number of conference sessions and webinars encouraging "LOVE" language to our donors. Again, we should respect, admire, and be grateful to everyone who donates, no matter the amount.

Fundraisers work hard for our supporters to know how much they mean to us with a robust stewardship program that includes letters, emails, phone calls, and handwritten notes. All depending on the level of their gift and our understanding of their ability to support the organization. But do we "LOVE" them? When it comes right down to it, we have a transactional relationship that includes not just a mug or canvas bag. Both the fundraiser and the organization have a connection to each and every donor. We try to understand why they give and what giving means to them. We must remain donor-centric.

We need to continue to look at our jobs through a trauma-informed lens. We have to ask if there is a chance of doing some harm either to ourselves or to the donor. Neither of us deserves that, especially when it is unnecessary to do our jobs successfully.

For more information on "LOVE" language, why it isn't necessary, and a mental health professional's view, see our last thoughtful post on trauma-informed fundraising. You can find it below below, or at www.thoughtfulfundraising.org.

This "bone" needs to continue to be shaken because fundraisers and donors deserve honest, thoughtful, and mentally healthy jobs and donor relationships. Let's continue to choose to prioritize authentic, thoughtful, mindfulness relationships with donors.

 

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It seems that we now have to "LOVE" our donors. Appreciating, honoring, and thanking them isn't enough. We have to show them "LOVE." After reading many articles and sitting through a bunch of webinars primarily by practitioners I genuinely respect, I am left to wonder precisely what kind of "LOVE" they mean. The love between a parent and a child, the love between two people, the love one has for a pet. Or the way one loves a piece of art or music. What kind of "LOVE" am I, as a fundraiser, required to give to the donors to the organization where I work to make my living? 

Let's assume I use "LOVE" language in my correspondence to garner donors, but we don't really mean it. We are just emotionally manipulating them to meet our income goals. Is that fair to them? Or what if they don't "LOVE" us in return? What if they don't make a donation or renew their gift? Did they reject our "LOVE." How should we feel?

It seems to me it is not entirely ethical to lead donors on with language that is emotionally beyond how we feel. This is true no matter whose name is on the letter. It might be even worse when the letter comes from senior leadership with no real relationship with most donors. 

I am fascinated by two things. First, if I truly "LOVE" my donors, isn't that putting a big responsibility on me emotionally? On the other hand, if it is just all talk, what does that say about me as a person and a fundraiser? In other words, I am faking it. 

This "LOVE" language approach may be fine and dandy while the money comes in, but what happens when we spill out our "LOVE" and the answer is no, or the mailing is unsuccessful? Was our love spurned? Are we not loved back anymore? Did we fail somehow? 

So I asked Lisa Temoshok, LMHC, what she thought from a clinical perspective. Could using "LOVE" language cause or trigger a traumatic reaction in a fundraiser or a donor? Can it confuse a mental health issue?

What I learned was both reaffirmed and challenging of my thesis. Here is what I learned. 

Love is a BIG word, and we use it to describe how we feel about our family (our "loved" ones") and our favorite ice cream flavor. As a therapist, I have come to think of love as a practice -- a moment by moment choice -- to offer clients "unconditional positive regard." Unconditional positive regard is a term humanist psychologist Carl Rogers used to describe his non-directive, client-centered therapy. 

"It means caring for the client, but not in a possessive way or in such a way as simply to satisfy the therapist's own needs," explained Rogers in a 1957 article published in the Journal of Consulting Psychology. "It means caring for the client as a separate person, with permission to have his own feelings, his own experiences."

When the foundation of our interactions with others, professionally and personally, is guided by a personal and organizational commitment to the practice of strengths-based, unconditional positive regard, we build safety, trust, and choice.  

Lisa encourages us to be present for the experience of asking and giving. Thinking carefully about the words and the emotions that we use is essential not just for the donor but for the fundraiser as well. We, as fundraisers, have a responsibility to ourselves and our donors. We should remember that being donor-centric does not mean manipulating language. It means honestly telling donors how their support helped accomplish your mission and how future donations will continue to create success. We do not have to "LOVE" them, and the donors do not "LOVE" us either - respect each other, yes; "LOVE," no. If we fall, we can do damage to ourselves emotionally, which is why we must always view our activities through a trauma-informed lens.

 

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