Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why donors give

I had my weekly meeting this afternoon with the folks who provide my communications interfaces and at the conclusion of the meeting, I asked them to spend 5 minutes brainstorming with me about my August direct mail appeal. I know when it will drop - third week in August, that it will mail non-profit rate and that I see considerably better results from a letter rather than creative mailing piece but wanted their help sharing creative ideas for something that we had not already tried integrated with the parts that we know have been effective. This is my second appeal of the upcoming FY2012 and I am actually a couple of weeks behind on getting it started but was not happy with any of my own ideas going into the conversation.

What struck me right away was that everyone in the room jumped immediately to freemium or premium based mailings. I do a mailing label mailing every other year and we did so 12 months ago so am not whatever against bribing donors but it did strike me that the innate tendency was to think in those terms. Ideas that were thrown out (feel free to use!) included soliciting corporate partners for back to school discounts, customized postcards, branded stamps or notepads or sunglasses.

My initial reaction was to discount each of these and as I was doing so, it occurred to me that we were all missing the question that we should be asking - why do donors give? Certainly some do give to get free stuff but is that the primary reason they give or does the free stuff just serve as a reminder? Maybe I am looking at it glass half full but I choose to believe that folks give when they get free stuff because the stuff servers as a reminder of the organization rather than as a direct cause and effect.

I am however very sure that donors give because they believe in a cause. Going back to our meeting, I suggested that we do 4 letters - one from a student in each class year presenting their view on the upcoming academic year - what they were planning and what they were looking forward to. It was suggested that we take that idea and use it in a reply card attached to a page split into 4 sections with a picture of each along with a shortened version of the above. This then left the issue of the letter - how do we tie it into that reply piece? The idea of doing it from an alumni parent came up and made sense - allows for the message to tie in and provides a voice from a unique audience with multiple connections.

Thus we reach the answer - donors give because they believe in what you provide, what you do and why you do it. Do your communications support that premise?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

video as a fundraising tool

Over the last decade video has gone from an optional item on the list of things we want to deal with to a standard portion of the fundraising toolkit.

Whats that? You are not yet using video you say? No worries. It can be done simply, easily and cheaply and with almost everyone in your audience on one of the forms of high speed internet.

The most cost effective option will be using a student or student group to create content. If you have a tv or video club/department they may be very supportive or willing to help you and will usually do so at cost (or maybe for the cost of a small prize - you would be amazed what will show up if you dangle an ipad 2 out there for the best piece.) The challenge with this approach is usually distribution - how do you get it out there and provide the marketing to support the video presentation. Tip - have the video created on campus and hire a marketing company to help get the word out about it.

A good alternate option is to take a look at what is already out there, create a youtube channel and then provide access to that existing content through that interface. You can then create a marketing campaign around that channel that uses the emails, postcards and letters to solicit and the youtube channel to provide the content/case. This is an easy, simple very cost effective approach but it does mean that you may need to be a little MacGyver and a little Sherlock Holmes to find the pieces that present the school in the light you are looking for.

While both of the above provide low cost offerings, this is often a "you get what you pay for" world and hiring a firm to plan, produce and film the video will pay dividends. Bringing in an external consultant who has expertise in this arena can be an important next step. Think American Idol - we watch the raw footage of the auditions and audition tapes and hear the talent but by the end of the show we can see the talent - makeup, hair, stylists etc can completely change how the performer appears. Look at your employer as the performer here - the right production and marketing team will polish the edges and shine the surfaces so you look your best.

No matter which way you choose to go here (and I am a strong advocate for all of the above) be sure that you have a plan to get an oar in the water next academic year - it is right around the corner and if you don't someone else (check out some of the other nonprofits you support to see what is out there from your competition) will get that 3 or 4 minutes of their time and eventually their support.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


If your division/department/office is anything like mine, you occasionally to consistently hear that we should have more online donors or we need a few more donors for this project or that project - send an email. More often than not, someone spends a lot of time and effort putting together an email solicitation, writing text, pulling images, putting together a nice looking appeal. The message goes out, a handful of gifts come back in and everyone remarks something along the lines of "that was less than I/we expected" or "those are kind of disappointing results. Then everyone goes back to their other projects and the whole cycle repeats a couple of months later for another dean or vp.

So why do we do it? We all know that fundraising is a conversation with give and take and the most successful efforts are those that start with it being the donors idea to support us. This knee jerk style reaction is not only not effective but harmful - it reduces the chances that those constituents who are engaged with us will actually open the next communication in our conversation with them.

So what to do? Track backwards and create some reports showing how this knee jerk reaction has worked in the past. Have them in hand for the next "emergency" conversation. Prepare a plan with multiple touch points to replace that approach. Have a template created for a letter or postcard, have a basic version of your phone script ready for editing, create a multiple contact email outline with communication components. Know what this will cost.

Keep expectations realistic. Keep communications as conversations. Keep fundraising.