The 11 Commandments of Fundraising, Part 2

Last week, I proclaimed my first four “commandments” for fundraising success. These are:

  • Commandment No. 1: Thou shalt not “take time off.”
  • Commandment No. 2: Thou shalt not ignore all the options available to you.
  • Commandment No. 3: Thou shalt not bore.
  • Commandment No. 4: Thou shalt not pander to …

Following are the next three commandments that I have learned to follow over my years in fundraising.

Commandment No. 5: Thou shalt learn from others, but never assume
“Wow! Really Big Nonprofit is doing that, so it must work!” Have you ever thought that (or worse, heard your CEO or a board member say it)? It’s easy to assume that the biggest nonprofits or those that have been around “forever” only do things that are proven to be fantastically successful. And often, that’s true.

But sometimes they can afford to ignore a few best practices or do something simply because they think it’s interesting — even if they sacrifice some income in the process. After all, it’s not like they have to raise enough from this one mailing just to make payroll.

Definitely look at what others are doing. Attend seminars and be an active donor so you get other nonprofits’ mail and e-mail. But always run everything you hear and see — from large and small nonprofits — through the filter of what you know works best for your donor file and in your experience. Don’t blindly follow the lead of a huge nonprofit just because you figure it must know the best path to fundraising success.

Commandment No. 6: Thou shalt not muddle your ‘ask’
What do you want your donors to do? Figure that out; then tell them. Too often, we give donors a rabbit hole to escape down. Religious nonprofits do this by asking donors to give and pray. Others ask donors to sign a petition and donate. Sometimes we ask donors to “tell a friend” and send in a gift.

All that is very good and very important donor action. But we can inadvertently set ourselves up for income failure if we give the impression that it is an either/or proposition. Given the choice, donors often choose the easiest alternative — praying, signing or telling — and feel they adequately responded to your request without giving.

Make sure you make it clear that you need both (or all) actions from your donors. “Please sign the enclosed petition and return it with your gift of $25 or more” makes it clear that signing and giving go hand in hand. “As you send your donation to help us meet this need, please pray for the people we will be helping” is another way to show that giving is not an optional extra.

Make sure your donors know exactly what you want from them — and you’ll improve the likelihood that they will respond accordingly.

Commandment No. 7: Thou shalt write like people speak
Why is it that when people’s names go on a direct-mail letter or e-appeal, they want to sound like they studied in the school ofShakespearian speech? Why do some websites read like they were written by a committee? Long sentences, advanced vocabulary words, insider acronyms — what these all have in common is they get into our copy and can depress results. (The exception is direct mail to people who do speak like that — lawyers or English professors, for example. But for average people, heed this advice.)

Fundraising is all about talking to people, helping them see the need and getting them to understand how they can help meet that need. To make sure your copy communicates that message, always read it out loud before you consider it done. If you stumble in your reading, you can assume your reader will also stumble. Work on that section or sentence until it flows perfectly when you read it out loud again. (It is good practice to do this in the privacy of your office, not in the local coffee shop. You don’t want to be known as the neighborhood flake.)

If your letter signer insists on using language that isn’t conversational, try to explain the importance of making sure the letter is an easy read for your donors. If that fails, compromise on the changes that will do the least damage, but try not to give in on the first few paragraphs, the last few paragraphs and the P.S.

I’ll finish up with the last four commandments next week. And while I can’t promise success and fortune if you apply these commandments, they are strategies that I have seen improve response. What are the “rules” you never break?

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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