Direct Response Fundraising



5 Fundraising Resolutions You Can Really Keep This Year

The start of a new year is a great time to weigh up your membership program’s strengths and challenges and set a course for new and improved direct response strategies.

But just like resolutions that people make, it’s all too easy for nonprofits to set unrealistic goals and, worse, neglect to build the necessary foundation for achieving those goals. It’s great to want to raise more money online, for example, but unfortunately good intentions alone aren’t enough. You need a plan.

When making resolutions for your new and improved direct response program, the key to success is choosing things that a) can really make a difference for your bottom line and b) you can implement. That means stay away from vague resolutions with unpredictable impact (e.g “let’s do something online that goes viral”). Focus instead on specific, implementable opportunities for building donor relationships and raising more funds for your organization’s important work.

Here are 5 practical resolutions that can help make a big difference in your program in 2013:

1. Ask for money less often relative to the number of times you communicate with your supporters. What? Ask for money less? Of course not. But DO communicate more. If you want to strengthen your fundraising program, you have to strengthen your communications program. Take a hard look at your fundraising to issue-based communications ratio and resolve to improve it in 2013. Ideally, for every one fundraising communication, you should be generating at least three to four issue-based communications. In addition to helping build stronger relationships with your constituents, more communications online will give your organization a bigger online footprint and drive more traffic to your organization’s website.

2. Build a better home page. Take a long, hard look at your home page. Is it a welcoming living room or a no-touch museum? If you want to build a better foundation for fundraising, resolve to renovate your home page this year to better welcome and engage your visitors. Among the many purposes your website should serve, signup and giving should be top priorities in the design of your home page. Be sure your home page offers clear and varied opportunities for visitors to sign up for your communications, give and get more information. And after you hone your communications and home page strategies over the next 11 months, be ready to leverage your increased web traffic in December with a lightbox and year-end ask on your home page, like this one on the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center‘s home page:



3. Make time in your calendar and budget for key fundraising conferences. For ideas, information and case studies for improving your direct response program in 2013, get up from your desk and get out to the conferences. I still think the best information and ideas can be found at the NTEN, Bridge and DMA conferences, and are well worth the time and budget. And if you are short on budget, the DMFA has just launched an excellent scholarship program that might be able to help offset or even completely cover your costs of attending these or other excellent educational opportunities.

4. Start a monthly giving program. In an era of higher new donor acquisition costs and shrinking donor prospecting universes, it’s important to tend your relationships with existing donors even more carefully. Monthly giving is one highly effective way of curbing attrition and increasing long-term value of donors – and an increasingly important component of a successful direct response membership program. For specifics on launching or improving your own monthly giving program, stop by Eliza Slone’s session at 3:45pm on February 7 at the DMA DC Nonprofit Conference. (And don’t worry if you can’t make it – check back here after the conference for a recap.)

5. Make data analysis a priority. To make meaningful strategic resolutions that will move the dial for your program, you first need to understand your donor file and trends. Roll up your sleeves and look closely at your data. Are you losing donors at a faster rate than you’re gaining them? Are fewer donors giving more or vice versa? Get a strong grasp on what’s going on with your file to set meaningful goals for how to improve results – and don’t forget to measure your results to see if your strategies worked.

No matter what your organization’s unique fundraising resolutions may be for 2013, keep them bottom-line oriented and realistic and you’ll be sure to make an impact. Here’s to your fundraising success in the year ahead!




Fall Fundraising Don’ts


If you’re on track with your year end calendar, it probably feels like November at your office – which means you are BUSY!

Here’s a quick list of common fundraising pitfalls to avoid in order to create stellar year end campaigns.

  1. Don’t focus an appeal on your organization’s anniversary, or your founder’s birthday. Talk about your mission, the people you help, and the people who make your work possible.
  2. Don’t be all me, me, me (or us, us, us). Your appeals should be about what your donor has accomplished and will accomplish with her support.
  3. Don’t write a one-page letter because your boss says she doesn’t read long letters. Don’t be afraid of a four-page letter (or longer, if you need it).
  4. Don’t write for yourself … or your Board.
  5. Don’t write by committee.
  6. Don’t say “Dear Friend” if you don’t have to.
  7. Don’t have dual signers (in most cases). Do have a consistent voice.
  8. Don’t ask again before saying “Thank you” for a previous gift. Remember that a receipt is not an acknowledgment.
  9. Don’t spend a lot on full color, fancy design or special printing. Do invest in elements likely to lift response, like more personalization and first class postage for your best donors.
  10. Don’t forget who your best donors are. Your current donors are your best ones – not your prospects. The donor who just gave to you is most likely to give again. Focus your resources here.
  11. Don’t be intimidated by writing your appeals. After all, it’s the thing you love – talking about the great work you’re doing to the people who already understand and support you.
  12. Don’t send your appeals late. Late appeals affect response. Remember, 90% perfect, 100% on time.
  13. Don’t sacrifice your fundraising to your brand. Your brand is about you. Fundraising is about your donors.
  14. Don’t worry about things that are not response-affecting. (You have enough to worry about already!)





20 Tips for Effective Direct Mail Fundraising

Online giving is the fastest growing direct marketing fundraising channel for nonprofits, but direct mail still accounts for the vast majority of funds raised. Of the nonprofits included in Target Analytics’ 2011 donorCentrics™ Internet and Multichannel Giving Benchmarking Report, direct mail comprised 79% of giving, while online accounted for just 10%.

And so as direct mail remains an essential part of good membership development, it’s important for nonprofits to know how to use this most powerful direct response fundraising tool well. Here are some proven tips for effective direct mail fundraising to keep in mind:

  1. Ask early and often. State your first ask on the first page of your letter, and reiterate it throughout your narrative.
  2. Write a long letter. Two pages should be your minimum, four is often better than two, and six or more can be even better. Never send a one-page letter.
  3. Include a reply device with a concise, compelling recap of your case for support and call to action.
  4. Personalize your gift ask based on the donor’s previous giving.
  5. Get your website in order before you mail. Studies continue to affirm the significant impact of direct mail in driving online donations. A recent study conducted on behalf of Dunham+Company by Campell Rinker showed that 17 percent of donors who gave on a charity website in 2011 said that a direct mail letter prompted their online gift. Moreover 50 percent of donors surveyed in 2012 said they prefer to give online when they receive a letter in the mail from a charity.
  6. Tell stories that demonstrate human impact and connect with the reader on an emotional level.
  7. Don’t be afraid to lose the teaser. In many cases, a teaser-free envelope will work better than an envelope with one, and it will always work better than an envelope with a forced (a.k.a. mediocre) teaser.
  8. Spend as little as possible on your direct mail.
  9. Make your fundraising message about the donor, not about yourself.
  10. Mail when everyone else is. It may be tempting to send your year-end appeal ahead of everyone else to avoid mailbox competition, but in reality it’s not an advantage to be in the mail when other organizations aren’t mailing. Your mail can get just as lost in an empty mailbox as it can in a stuffed one. Mail when your donors want to hear from you.
  11. Break your brand guidelines.
  12. Test for impact. Only test things that you think have the potential to make a real difference in your program. If you can’t think of a meaningful test, think harder.
  13. Include a P.S. in your letter that restates the ask and call to action.
  14. Keep your design simple. Direct mail isn’t advertising; it’s letters.
  15. Keep your direct mail under an ounce unless your audience dictates greater investment in postage.
  16. Check your instincts at the door. Good direct mail is counterintuitive; rely on known techniques and best practices to guide your strategy.
  17. Look critically at how often you are mailing to identify missed opportunities, and then consider mailing more. For example if your newsletter raises as much or more than your direct mail, then you’re probably not soliciting often enough by direct mail. Or if you are still netting revenue on the last notice of your membership renewal series, then you should add a notice.
  18. Target your messages. No matter how great your letter is, if you mail it to the wrong lists/segments, it will bomb.
  19. Above all else, get the mail out. 90% perfect and 100% on time is always better than 100% perfect and 90% on time.
  20. Give. You can’t fully appreciate the direct mail donor mindset unless you yourself are one. Plus it feels great helping nonprofits you care about!





Quiz: How Integrated is Your Organization’s Direct Response Fundraising?

Integrated direct response fundraising has long been the pursuit of forward-thinking membership and development directors. But integration remains an ongoing challenge for most organizations – almost always for the same two reasons regardless of an organization’s size, funding, or mission. The channels like to change and organizations … don’t.

Still, some organizations are much further down the path than others when it comes to un-siloing their programs. What is it about them? What are they doing differently? And are you one of them?

Consider these five questions – and characteristics of nonprofits with great integrated programs – to see how you rate:

1. Is your organization web-minded? When we talk about integration, for the most part we’re talking about direct mail-dominated programs figuring out how to communicate online. In this sense, the integration discussion today is really about established organizations adapting to the times. And so it’s no surprise that the organizations that tend to be more integrated also tend to be more “webby.” Their dynamic websites, email communications and social media presence are an integral part of their overall membership development mix.

2. Is your organization marketing and communications-minded? Organizations that are good at integration are media explorers – inherently open, flexible and opportunistic – because getting the message across is what matters the most. That means they’re pragmatic risk-takers and they’re ok with occasionally failing at something new. At last week’s New York DMFA luncheon, Paull Young, digital director at charity: water summed it up with this awesome advice: “Do it wrong quickly.”

3. Is your organization nimble? Seriously. Multichannel integration demands a streamlined decision-making and approval process. Organizations with well-integrated fundraising and communications programs are able to get online, on the phones, and in the mail just about as fast as they can develop and implement their creative and strategy. That’s because they aren’t held back by unwieldy approval protocols and departmental territorialism. They’re nimble. N.B.: the bigger the organization is, the harder this becomes. But big organizations with well-integrated programs know this, and they work on it.

4. Do your Development, Program, Marketing and Communications departments connect regularly, collaborate and coordinate? See #3.

5. Does your organization value and foster originality? There’s no absolute formula for channel integration, and what works one season may not the next. So having a well-integrated direct response program means being comfortable without a playbook and, better yet, enjoying writing and rewriting your own. It also means continually figuring out new ways of combining media, measuring results, wrangling production and technology, and creating pathways to engagement.

So how does your organization rate on the integration scale?

If you answered “yes” to 3-4 of the above then you’re doing great! Be sure to share your experiences with other organizations that could benefit from your advice and could even use it to overcome internal obstacles to integration that they may be facing.

If you answered “yes” to 2 of the above, you’re on your way. For most organizations integration requires a significant culture shift, and that takes time. Continue to involve your whole organization in your program’s evolution, share your successes with all departments, and keep building on your progress.

If you answered “yes” to 1 or 0. You have some work to do, but the good news is there’s a wealth of information available from nonprofits that have tackled and overcome all kinds of integration challenges. In fact, the best national conference on integrated fundraising – the Bridge Conference in Washington DC – is coming up this summer from August 7-9. It’s a great place to get new ideas for channel integration, meet other nonprofits and hear valuable case studies. If you can, I hope you’ll stop by my session on integrated communications (8:15 sharp Wednesday) with Chris Helfrich of the Nothing But Nets campaign of the United Nations Foundation and Dennis Lonergan of Eidolon Communications.

And if you answered “yes” to all 5 of the above then I’m pretty sure you’re a fictional organization … but I can’t wait to meet you in a few more years!




When Great Board Members Have Not-So-Great Fundraising Ideas

Board members are integral to nonprofits. Legally, of course, but more importantly, because of the incredible role they play in enabling nonprofits to run well and make an impact. They bring expertise, ideas, connections, funding and so much more to the organizations they serve. They are awesome.

But sometimes, between you and me, they have less-than-stellar fundraising ideas. They get direct mail and email, they’re on Facebook, they text, and so they think they understand direct response and online fundraising. The problem is, being a consumer of media doesn’t make one an expert in its implementation. It’s that false “oh, I could do that!” instinct that we’re all guilty of at times. But you know that just because you watch TV, it doesn’t mean you can write and produce CSI. (That episode idea you have is really excellent though.)

So how do you handle well-intentioned but not-so-hot fundraising ideas from your Board or Development Committee? With care and consideration for sure. But also with the power of data and a vast body of testing to validate why you might respectfully disagree and suggest a different direction. To help you respond to those occasional iffy ideas, here are the five most common ones you might encounter, and the facts and best practices to help inform your fundraising decisions:

1: “I don’t read long letters, so our fundraising letters should be short.” Boards are filled with busy business people who want you to get to the point quickly. It seems unfathomable to them that donors would actually read a 4 or 6 page letter. And they’re right because most donors don’t read your letters word-for-word. But it’s not about whether donors read your letters – it’s about whether they respond to them. And in head-to-head testing, longer letters almost always perform better than shorter ones.

2. “Our donors get too much email/mail from us and are starting to tune us out. If we send less, they’ll be more welcoming of our communications and will give more.” You are sending too much email and mail … to some of your donors. And you’re not sending enough to others. But sending less to everyone will almost surely mean raising less money overall and losing more donors to attrition because one size does not fit all in direct response fundraising. What you should really focus on is identifying the donors who are most likely to give or take action and communicating with them more, and in more targeted ways.

3. “Our major gifts program raises so much more than our membership program. We should shut down our membership program and just focus on major gifts.” Compared to major gifts, general membership programs often appear to take an inordinate amount of resources relative to the return. But that’s only if you evaluate membership in a vacuum, which you shouldn’t. A properly structured membership program is a vehicle for public education, a source of unrestricted revenue, and a lead-generator for your major gifts program. Your evaluation metrics for your membership program should always include the number of major donors who started out in the membership program, as well as their subsequent giving in the major gifts program. After all, you wouldn’t have them in the first place if you didn’t have a membership program. And if you find that your membership program isn’t yielding many major donors, then you’re probably missing important opportunities to cultivate and upgrade members and need to do more to optimize your membership program for major donor conversion.

4. “We need to do something ‘different.’” There’s good different and bad different in direct response fundraising. Good different is

… applying a known direct response principle or technique
… in an inventive way to your fundraising communications
… and testing it.

Bad different, on the other hand, is invention without basis, and not testing. Make sure any new ideas you try fall under the “good different” definition. And always, always, test especially if circumstances require you to test an idea that verges on “bad” different. Nothing clarifies strategy like hard testing data.

5. “Direct mail is so expensive and everyone gives online anyway. We should eliminate our direct mail program and fundraise online only.” According to Convio’s 2011 Online Marketing Nonprofit Benchmark Index™ Study, online giving is indeed the fastest growing fundraising channel for nonprofits. Direct mail still comprises the majority of giving however. Of the nonprofits included in Target Analytics’ 2011 donorCentrics™ Internet and Multichannel Giving Benchmarking Report, direct mail comprised 79% of giving and online just 10%. But it’s not a matter of choosing direct mail over online or vice versa. The report also affirms the complementary role that the channels play in acquiring, retaining and upgrading donors.

So, when you are occasionally presented with a questionable direct response idea, take advantage of the wealth of testing data and information that the industry has to offer. Then use it as a springboard for a good conversation with your Board or Development Committee about direct response strategy and how you can make your program even more successful.




11 Strategies For Extraordinary Fundraising in ‘11

Nonprofits have been soldiering through shaky fundraising territory for the past several years. With the addition of “fear index” and “double dip” to the mainstream economic crisis vocabulary in the past few days, we can probably expect those challenges to stay around for a while and maybe even intensify.

So what do we do?

First, recognize that a lousy economy calls on nonprofits to be more than merely competent; a lousy economy challenges nonprofits to be extraordinary.

And second, as you roll up your sleeves on your extremely important fall fundraising campaigns against an uncertain economic backdrop, do the one thing you can: Don’t settle for 10. Turn it up to 11.

To get you started, here are 11 ways your nonprofit can turn up your fundraising from great to extraordinary in 2011:

1. Write letters, not direct mail. It’s surprisingly easy to forget that direct mail is really just a letter from one person to another. Often, the best direct mail fundraising doesn’t look or feel like direct mail at all – like a closed face envelope with an un-designed return address and an actual postage stamp. Or a letter that begins “Dear Evelyn,” not “Dear Friend.” Or a message that is driven by substance, not appearance.

2. Write emails, not eblasts. A “blast” is like dropping flyers out of an airplane – not particularly targeted, respectful or effective. When was the last time you heard someone say, “Wow, that mass email advertisement I received really made me feel special and inspired me?” It’s easy to hide behind your email marketing tools and fundraising templates. Remember that a fundraising email you send to your donors and constituents should be just as relevant, personal and carefully considered as an email that you might send from your own computer to someone you know personally. In fact, why not send your next fundraising email in plain text from your Executive Director’s actual Outlook account?

3. Give your constituents options for involvement. It’s important to recognize, create and value ways people can get involved in advancing your organization’s mission. A person may care about your issues and want to take action, but not be able to contribute financially right now. Don’t exclude them. There are plenty of ways they can help – you just need to offer them. And when an involved constituent is ready and able to give financially, you better believe that they’re going to give to the nonprofit that gave them a place at the table when they didn’t have two nickels to rub together.

4. Give your donors options for giving. A commonly used direct response ask array is 100%, 150%, or 200% of the donor’s highest or last gift amount. It’s a good upgrade-oriented ask strategy, but if not targeted appropriately, it can also be brutishly response-suppressing. Target your ask strategies by donor segment (such as current, lapsed, multi, single), and develop your ask around what you want to have happen for each particular donor segment. For instance if you are communicating with active donors who have given multiple times, then the upgrade-oriented ask array would be appropriate. However, if you are communicating with deeply lapsed donors, your immediate goal should be reinstatement, not an upgrade, in which case you may want to offer downgrade options to lower barriers to participation. And for donors who just can’t make single gifts at previous levels, now is a time to consider offering installment options.

5. Focus like a laser on donor retention. An organization’s donors are its most valuable asset. At a time when it’s more difficult to acquire new donors, and existing donors are most likely to lapse, it’s critical to retain the donors your organization has. Because the single most significant driver of donor retention is solicitation frequency, start by examining the frequency and quality of your organization’s donor solicitations and communications. If you’re only communicating / soliciting a couple of times a year, your organization is unquestionably leaking donors. Pick up the quality and frequency of your communications to help guard against attrition.

6. Start a monthly giving program. Monthly giving programs are powerful tools for retention and upgrading. Let’s say your average active donor gives $60 a year. When they join your monthly giving program with a $10 per month pledge, they double their annual giving. And because their pledge is processed via credit card, they can remain active donors and valuable partners in your mission almost indefinitely. Monthly giving programs are a lot of work to set up and manage, and monthly donors require special stewardship – but it’s nothing your “11” nonprofit can’t handle.

7. Be brave. Are you making the same formulaic argument for support season after season? Now is not the time to blend safely into the crowd. Put yourself out there. Challenge yourself creatively and inject some standout passion, color and personality into your communications.

8. Connect, for real. Development and membership people are trained to make the case for support, to explain. But explaining to donors what your nonprofit does, why it’s important, and what you achieve can quickly turn into a one-way conversation. Instead of building your case for support around what you need from your donors, build it around your donors’ needs. Once you begin to look at your issues through your donors’ eyes you can create a foundation for genuine two-way conversation and connection. This in turn will help you build deeper more lasting relationships with your donors.

9. Get serious about multichannel and integration by getting the help you need. The statistics speak for themselves. Online giving is the fastest growing channel. (To learn more, read Convio‘s Online Marketing Nonprofit Benchmark Index Study.) The mobile web is predicted to be bigger than desktop internet use by 2015. According to analysis from Blackbaud, nonprofits that add social media communications to their constituent communications mix experience increased fundraising results. And so the advice that nonprofits hear over and over is this: if you’re not where your donors, and future donors, are then you may find yourself wondering where they all went a few years from now. But it’s not actually very helpful advice, because nonprofits already know this. The obstacle isn’t buy-in to multichannel; it’s lack of technical resources and mountains of logistical hurdles created by outdated databases and websites designed in 1997. If you have problems like getting interactive content on your website, designing, targeting and sending emails with your current system and resources, or maintaining a meaningful social media presence, then you need to solve them. A great place to begin is by joining NTEN (the Nonprofit Technology Network) which can help connect you with resources to take your nonprofit’s tech to the next level as well as a community of people who eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff – and are generous about sharing what they know.

10. Acknowledge donor anniversaries. We celebrate wedding anniversaries to affirm relationships. We celebrate birthdays to say “we’re glad you’re here.” Why not celebrate donor anniversaries – the anniversary of your donor’s first investment in your organization’s work – to send the same message? Donor anniversaries are a great opportunity to strengthen donor relationships, raise additional funds for your organization, and strengthen donor retention.

11. Think hugs not shrugs. It’s great if you were already a 10 on your donor stewardship. But in this economy you can’t give up – you’ve got to turn up the love to 11. Be positive. Share your gratitude. Say thank you in special ways. It doesn’t cost much if anything, but the rewards are great. Kudos to one near and dear organization who will, literally, be giving hugs (not mandatory!) to each and every contributor to their annual fund this year. That’s what I call 11 thinking.

At the end of the day, we can’t control extraordinary economic events, but we can be extraordinary. How is your organization turning it up to 11?

Thanks for reading and connecting!

P.S. Just for fun, identify the photo reference with this post correctly and then tell us your favorite nonprofit (and why, if you’d like) in the comments section. If you’re the first, The Nth Factor will be very happy to make a contribution to the nonprofit you name.




Best of Bridge 2011

The sixth annual Bridge Conference on integrated marketing and fundraising for nonprofits ended Friday, but the great content will stay with us long after.

Here are just a few words of wisdom from sessions I was lucky enough to attend at this year’s conference:

“I’ve never regretted taking the high road.” – Jocelyn Harmon, Care2 (on online etiquette). Good advice offline too.

“Write stronger; someone is going to weaken it.”– Barry Cox

“Blogging without responding to comments isn’t community building; it’s broadcasting.” – Sarah Durham, Big Duck

“Remember: monthly donors are future planned giving donors.” – Steve Kehrli, PETA

“50% of donors who have had a bad experience with a nonprofit don’t complain to the nonprofit … the problem is, they complain to others.”– Katya Andresen, Network for Good

“The message that matters most isn’t what your nonprofit is doing; it’s why it’s doing it.” – Barry Cox

Great stuff – but a woefully incomplete list! What were your favorite comments and advice from the conference? Post them here or email directly, and we’ll compile a complete “Best of Bridge” comments list. Looking forward to connecting!




Direct Response #*¢!ups – Let’s Hear Yours!

One of the best national conferences on integrated direct response fundraising is right around the corner. If you haven’t yet registered for the Bridge Conference, taking place July 21-22 in Washington DC, I hope you will. It’s chock-full of valuable sessions representing best practices and breakthroughs in multichannel direct marketing. And with early bird rates in effect through July 5, it’s also respectful of nonprofit budget realities.

But I hope you’ll attend for another reason too: I could use your help!

Along with Dolores McDonagh of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Evan Parker of The Nature Conservancy and Bonnie Catena of Amnesty International, I’ll be conducting a session that’s, well, a little different. Instead of sharing tips and case studies in how to do multichannel fundraising right, we’re going to be talking about how to recover – and even thrive – when you accidentally do it wrong.

Between the four of us, we have collected some amazing case studies in turning direct response snafus into successes. But we know there are more out there that we can all learn from … it’s just a matter of getting folks talking.

That’s where you come in. Have you found a way to make lemonade out of a direct response lemon? Then post your story here, or email it to If we can use your story in our presentation, we’ll credit you of course at the conference and here on The Nth Factor. And you, in turn, will enjoy the satisfaction of helping your peers and colleagues become better fundraisers by learning how to navigate the inevitable bumps on the road to fundraising success.

So send in your stories. And if you’re at Bridge, stop by our session – Direct Response #*¢!ups: A Survival Guide – and say hello. I hope to see you there!




Eight Ways to Jump Start Your Fundraising Creative

jumper-cables1It’s easy to develop a fundraising idea. The real challenge in donor development is coming up with fundraising ideas, continuously, so that you can present your contributors with a steady stream of varied giving and engagement opportunities.

Depending on the size of your organization, your healthy membership program may rely on you to develop anywhere from four to twelve to twenty (!) fundraising campaigns per year. Sure, you know your organization is awesome, but saying why and how up to twenty different ways in a single year – let’s face it – is not easy.

So when you’re out of ideas, which you occasionally will be, here are eight ways to jump start your creative thinking and get the ideas flowing again:

  1. Roll up your sleeves. Go to work – on the program side – for your organization for a day. Serve meals, put up drywall, go door-to-door. You’ll be inspired all over and will no doubt find new ways to convey that inspiration to your organization’s donors.
  2. Reverse the way you build your case for support. Most of us naturally take a funnel approach to building a case for support. That is, we start wide with the big picture of what our organization does and then we narrow in and substantiate with specifics on why our work is important and examples of the impact we have. But if you build your case the other way around instead, you’ll actually end up with a more effective case. Next time, start narrow – tell a single story conveying your impact on an individual level – and then expand to the larger discussion of what your organization is doing and why the donor’s support matters. For inspiration, check out The Girl Effect, a collaborative effort that manages to talk about and tackle global world poverty from a very simple starting point and perspective: that of a 12-year-old girl.
  3. Check your idea file. What, you don’t have one? Well get started right away! It can be hard copy, electronic, or both. Whichever, keep a folder of clippings, notes and samples from other organizations that you like. Individually, they’re just scraps but collectively they can be a valuable springboard for new ideas.
  4. Share with and learn from other nonprofits and colleagues. Make time in your calendar and budget to attend high-quality conferences. But don’t be a session hermit. As Seth Godin points out, it’s the engaged conversations you have in hallways that can often be of the greatest value. I’ll be headed to one of my favorite conferences later this week by the way – NTEN‘s Nonprofit Technology Conference – which kicks off on Thursday. If you’re not able to enjoy the opportunity to engage and learn in person, you can still attend online.
  5. Read up. What’s going on in the news about your issues? What are people saying? Are they saying good things or bad things about your issues? Are there any new studies or statistics that are relevant to your organization’s work? Spend an hour taking the external pulse on your issues and your reading will likely spark ideas for new ways and reasons to make your organization’s case for support.
  6. Remember that donors don’t want to hear about your programs; they want to know what you accomplish. Nonprofits usually organize their program areas in ways that make sense from an implementation perspective. Programs are things like: “Education,” “Research,” “Advocacy,” and “Community Outreach.” This is rarely compelling from a donor’s perspective however. Donors don’t give because you “do community outreach.” They give because of your organization’s impact, and at the most individual level possible. So instead of showcasing a program in your next appeal, think carefully about what you really do. I still think one of the best examples of this is the American Cancer Society‘s More Birthdays campaign. For all the organization’s many program areas and initiatives, this campaign distills the impact and goal of ACS into one simple thing: more birthdays.
  7. Spend an hour with your results. Data is one of the best places to look for messaging and campaign ideas. What approaches have your donors responded to the best? Which issue areas have your donors been most interested in? The least? Sometimes revisiting your results helps shape new ideas and approaches that you can test in your program.
  8. Take a walk. Seriously. An apple can’t hit you on the head if you don’t step outside. And by outside, I mean anywhere you’re not staring at a computer screen or mobile device. Your most inspired ideas – of any kind – are more likely to show up on those rare occasions when you’re unplugged and alone with your thoughts.

For fresh ideas and inspiration this week be sure to follow the Nonprofit Technology Conference on Twitter via hashtag #11NTC.




Direct Marketing Basics are the New Black. Report From #dcnpconf

The Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation‘s annual DC Conference kicked off today bringing together 700+ nonprofit marketers from all over the country.

The name of the conference this year is “Charting a New Course in Changing Times.” But with its focus on the fundamentals of direct marketing strategy – at all levels from beginner to advanced – the “new course,” it would seem, would be doing integrated direct response really, really well.

The “shock of the new” (the financial crisis, social media, even mobile giving …) has worn off a bit. There are no new darlings to fawn over, or financial upheavals to freak out about.

And so here we are: just us and the work.

How refreshing.

Follow the conference on Twitter via #dcnpconf and the DMA Nonprofit Federation @dmanf.