Practical Advice for Modern Fundraisers

Design can affect your outcomes. Pretty -vs- Functional 

I am a visual person. I like clean and interesting graphics. During my career, I have prided myself on bringing great graphic looks to the pieces I helped create. How can you change years of middle of the road design on your pieces? Well, you don’t do it in one mailing. Recently, I had the experience of working with a new organization to help them update and energize their direct mail appeals.

The first thing I did was get copies of every appeal that had been mailed in the last three years and did a table top. By placing all the pieces side by side, you should see the visual story your direct mail tells. Are they similar, do they look like they come from the same organization? Do they represent your organization well? In this case, the pieces were all rather bland. There was a disconnect between the vitality of the organization and what was on the printed page.

You will notice I am not talking about the content of the letters. I was just interested in the first impression of the materials. What does a prospect of donor see with they are flipping through their mail?
I changed everything! The new package had a four-color envelope cleverly designed letterhead and was very modern looking.

We mailed the piece to current donors as the first mailing of the year. I was very pleased, and everyone thought it looked great. Everyone but the donors - they didn’t respond to it by sending donations. The appeal only did about 2/3 as well as the previous year's mailing did. So what happened?

After much soul searching and conversations with staff and consultants, the answer was pretty simple. My new pieces didn’t look like what donors expected from the organization. The appeal appeared to come from a different organization. So they didn’t respond.

This was a hard lesson to learn but an important one. "No style" is a style. If your donors are accustomed to getting pieces that have a certain look and you want to make changes to the way those pieces look - make them incrementally. Starting with the inside of the pieces after all you need them to open the mail. Then make small tweaks to the envelope. Take your time. You can freshen up and modernize your designs without alienating or confusing your donor

Take that fancy design and test it with your acquisition mailing. If it does well in the test, then make it your base piece for acquisition. These donors only know you from the piece with the new look. With these new donors in hand, you can slowly update your renewal pieces.

It is always worth reviewing your design esthetic, but my recommendation is to go slowly and test everything.


What makes up your CRM?

What data do you collect?  Well, I collect all kinds of data on my prospects, donors and the gifts we receive.  However, if I were starting a CRM from scratch what would a collect? First, I would decide what the primary data is I need for every entry.  The minimum I would collect on every person I was adding to the database is the following:


First Name

Last Name


Street Address







Addressee (Formal Name)

Connection to Charity (donor, prospect, volunteer, board member, etc.)

Besides the basic data fields, you might consider adding these fields. They will help with reporting, prospecting, and cultivation. The additional fields, I recommend, include:

Mailings Sent

Spouse information


Work Information

Giving Interest

Social Media Handles



Those are the fields I would collect whether the individual is a donor or a prospect. If the data comes from a donation, I would add the following gift fields. Gift fields should include the data that you need to thank donors and do basic financial reporting.



Receipt Amount (helpful with events)


Giving Vehicle (what was the gift in response to)

Gift fields have a few basics that you have to have simply to thank and to do the most basic reporting. To do more advanced reporting and to assist you in reconciling with your finance department you should add the following fields.

Financial codes (GL Accounts, or fund)

Acknowledgment coding (if thanked, date thanked)

Gift Type (Cash, Check, Credit Card)

With these fields, you can track donor interactions and gifts. You can also create reports for "Years Given, Cumulative Giving, Donor Locations, Response Rate, Attrition Rate, Giving by Date, LYBNTY, SYBNTY and Never Given and Giving by Connection to Charity - to name a few. You may not need all of these reports now, but it is better to have the data available than to try and go back and add it to your data.

Since most of us are not building CRM's from scratch how does this affect us? Well, it gives you an idea of what your CRM needs no matter whether it is custom built or out of the box. It is also a reminder that just because a CRM includes a field you do not have to use it.  Be thoughtful in your approach, and you will be gathering the data you need.

You can’t report on what you don’t collect.


TEDTALK | The danger of a single story | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Do you have an authentic voice for you non-profit?  Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice -- and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.


Did your appeals really make money and how much?

Cost Per Dollar Raised (CPDR) and Return On Investment (ROI) are the most important statistics you generate from your fundraising activities. We use these numbers constantly. Not just for each appeal that you produce but for your overall fundraising program.

I realize that meeting your income goal is the MOST important number you track but understanding how you got that number is vital. What it cost for each dollar raised, your overall cost to raise the money and how much each new donor cost. This last one is important since acquisition is expensive and we have to track those donors carefully. In fact, I am working on an upcoming blog all about acquisition.

To figure the ROI, you simply divide the income by the expenses. Example: You earned $2,000 and spent 500. (2,000/500 = 4) If the number is greater than one, you made money. In essence, you earned four times what you spent.

To figure CPDR, you do the opposite you divide the expenses by the income. Example: You depend $500 to raise $2,000. (500/2000= .25 or $.25) So it cost you a quarter for every dollar you raised. Not bad.

To figure this one out, you need to know a few things: the total cost of the mailing, the amount raised, and the number of new donors. This is a simple example of how to get the CPD.

$10,000 investment less $2,500 income = $7,500 loss divided by 250 donors = $30 cost per donor. You will want to use this information to track how long it takes for the acquisition to pay for itself. At a $30.00 CPD, this should only take a year or so depends on your overall renewal campaign.

So why are these important? They are important because they take into account expenses. Too many times we put all of our focus on gross revenue, and we feel great when we say we raised $800,000 or a million dollars. But too often if you look closely at your renewal mailings you find that the net income was far less. To me, your ROI must be greater than one, and your CPDR should be no more than $.50.

You have not doubt noticed that I am focusing on dollars not the number of donors. We will look at those statistics in a later post.


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