Practical Advice for Modern Fundraisers



: 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

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.


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