What You ‘Think’ in Fundraising Can Kill You

Sometimes we forget. We forget that the whole world isn’t just like us. We forget that fundraising efforts are often appreciated by our donors. They care about our work and are glad when they are able to help us accomplish more.
And sometimes we forget that what we think may not be reality. We let our opinions and personal preferences influence our fundraising. That’s not always bad, but there are at least five circumstances where what we think can hurt our fundraising success.

Fatal thought No. 1: Long letters are bad
I hear this often from students in the fundraising classes I teach. “No one wants to read a letter that is more than a page long.” Unfortunately for all you short-letter proponents, that’s not what tests have shown.

Granted, there are always exceptions, but consider this wisdom from a colleague who is a very successful fundraising copywriter. He wrote copy for a three-way test: four pages, six pages and eight pages. “The eight won on all metrics. The six was second, and the four last. For some nonprofits, the more you tell, the more you sell.”

Need further proof? This same copywriter had a two-page acquisition control letter for a national charity. Nothing was beating that control. So, he increased the font size to 13.5, widened the margins and added some subheads to lengthen the letter to four pages. Finally, he beat the control.

Fatal thought No. 2: Baby boomers won’t respond to digital fundraising
Contrary to popular belief among some millennials, baby boomers are pretty tech savvy. There were 76 million people born between 1946 and 1964 (currently age 48 to 66). Three in four use the Internet, and their Facebook use increased nearly 60 percent in just one year (2010 to 2011).

Need further proof? The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that while baby boomers — especially the older half — have less technology than younger Americans, 86 percent of younger boomers and 84 percent of older ones own cell phones; 65 percent/64 percent own desktop computers; 49 percent/43 percent own laptop computers; and 4 percent/3 percent own tablets (compared to just 5 percent of millennials. Come on, baby boomers, with just a little work, we can beat them!!).

Important lesson for nonprofits: Baby boomers are reading your direct mail and following your online presence. Make sure your messages on both are consistent.

Fatal thought No. 3: Who needs direct mail?
It’s not a mystery: E-mail is a lot less expensive to send than postal mail. Interesting e-newsletters and e-appeals that give donors opportunities to respond quickly to needs belong in your marketing mix.

But so does direct mail. It’s still the heavyweight champ in terms of pulling in new donors and ongoing contributions. Let’s accept reality: It’s not one or the other — nonprofits need both.

Fatal thought No. 4: We don’t want to wear out our donors
Sometimes we think that we are talking to our donors too much. They’re going to get tired of us. We need to give them “time off for good behavior.”

I’m not a proponent of asking for money every few days (or even weeks). But I am a strong believer (based on results) of a consistent communication program that combines asking for support with reporting on successes.

If your donors aren’t hearing from you, they probably aren’t thinking about you. It’s your job to build and maintain a relationship. That’s hard to do when you only reach out every few months.

Fatal thought No. 5: Let’s talk about success, not that icky need stuff
We can get a bit squeamish. After all, our donors know that people are hungry, animals are being abused and the environment is under attack. Let’s talk about our successes, and donors will celebrate them with us and give more! Right?

Wrong! Generally, donors give to need. (I say generally because I am sure someone has done a test that will prove me wrong.) They like to fix problems, so give them the opportunity by telling them what big difference will occur if they donate to you. Tell them about success in newsletters, annual reports and the like — but don’t neglect selling them on helping you by sharing the need.

Bottom line (if you agree with me on the above or not): Never make fundraising decisions based solely on what you think. Test, read about others’ test results and learn what’s working in the fundraising industry. Our opinions are interesting — but the proof is in the results.

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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