Why Didn’t I Think of That?

One of the greatest resources for a direct-response fundraiser is a mailbox (or inbox) full of appeals from other nonprofits. A few $25 donations a year and you’ll have plenty of ideas to spur your own creativity.

“Borrowing” ideas from other nonprofits has resulted in some big fundraising breakthroughs. The secret, however, to successful borrowing hinges on these few unbreakable rules.

Rule 1: Just because a large and successful nonprofit mailed it doesn’t mean it is good fundraising. When the next payroll doesn’t depend on the outcome of a mailing, fundraisers have more latitude to try new approaches or even break a few rules to appease a board member. Don’t be so dazzled by the sexy new approach or the mailer’s budget that you forget what you know works.

Rule 2: Make sure the idea you’re considering adapting fits your mission. For example, nonprofits that feed the hungry used a brown paper lunch bag as an envelope. Several other nonprofits copied this idea, even though their missions had nothing to do with hunger relief. Some good ideas work because they mesh with a mission — and they can fail outside that context.

Rule 3: Consider how the idea will work with your target audience. (And never forget you are not the target audience.) Don’t borrow a graphic look that won’t communicate well with your market, and skip over great subject lines or teasers that don’t fit your audience. Learn from these examples, but remember to whom you are writing.

Rule 4: Mailings that you see repeatedly are great packages to study. (For example, the Smile Train acquisition that teases, “Make one gift now and we’ll never ask for another donation again.”) Analyzing its techniques is a great way to learn and stir your own creative juices.

Rule 5: Be a regular donor to the nonprofits from whose mail and e-mail you get your best inspiration. A few gifts a year let you look at how they cultivate and thank donors. You’ll learn more from your mailbox if you invest in “ongoing research” as a donor (not just as an acquisition prospect).

I confess I loved World Wildlife Fund’s receipt so much — there’s a full-color photo on the back that stretches the full 14 inches — that I gave a second gift just to see if it had printed receipts with a variety of photos. (Sorry, you’ll have to give yourself to find out the answer.) Besides, dissecting its mailings is a great training program.

And sometimes I have to ask, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”


Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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