1 Email to Steal, 1 Email to Learn From for Fundraisers

As did you, I suspect, I awoke this morning to an email-box full of … well, emails. Everything from toenail fungus removal to a business proposal awaited me. And, as I do every morning, I quickly sorted the wheat from the chaff and winnowed the contents of my mailbox down to what mattered (to me).

It’s no secret that whatever is in the inbox when your nonprofit’s email arrives is a competitor. No, removing toenail fungus for 50 percent off has nothing to do with feeding a hungry child or saving the ocean, but we all have limited time and limited capacity to absorb. In our efforts to filter down the contents of our inboxes to a manageable amount (whatever that is for each individual), we may toss the email from the well-meaning nonprofit even if we support it and believe in its mission.

But two recent emails caught my attention. The first came from eBay. (First photo.)

Now you may have missed the significance of Aug. 12, but eBay didn’t. In fact, eBay emailed me to remind me it was my 12-year eBay anniversary and to tell me how much the company valued having me as part of the eBay community. It also attached a PDF of a certificate (sadly, not personalized) that I should “display proudly.” (Second photo.)

I admit it — I was surprised (pleasantly); I had no idea it had been 12 years since I don’t bother to keep track of those things. And yes, I felt pretty good that eBay took the time to acknowledge and thank me. Yes, I know it’s all automated and no human woke up that morning and said, “Hey! It’s Pamela Barden’s eBay anniversary! Let’s send her an email to say ‘thanks!'” But my non-rational side — the side that decides where to invest my disposable income, be it on eBay for a much-needed trinket to add to my crowded curio cabinet or in response to your direct-mail appeal — felt pretty positive about eBay that day.

The second email came from the issuer of my small business credit card. (Third photo.)

Did I mention I am a small business? You know — I keep the books, buy the ink for the printer, reset the network when it goes wonky and even get to do some fundraising from time to time. Apparently my opinions are important to the folks at the credit card company, and they wanted me to complete a survey to share those all-important opinions with them and a research company.

But then I read on … and found out that it would take me 25 minutes to complete this survey. Did I mention that I am asmall business? For me, 25 minutes is a big chunk of time. And it’s a chunk I really can’t afford just to give my opinions to a gigantic bank and credit card issuer that I really doubt cares about my opinions all that much.

Where did they go wrong (in my opinion)? Asking me to spend 25 minutes to complete a survey was an imposition. It implied (to me) that I had lots of time on my hands. If they had asked me to take just five minutes once a week for five weeks to complete a series of surveys, I would have done it. Five minutes at one time is “waste-able” — 25 minutes is not.

Your donors may invest the 25 minutes. But at a minimum, try options; different donors respond differently so don’t fall into the “one size fits all” trap.

So what are the nonprofit takeaways from these two commercial emails?

  1. Surprise your donors. Acknowledge their milestones — giving to you for three consecutive years, total giving since their first gift totals $1,000, enough donated to feed 250 people, or whatever giving highlight makes sense to recognize. Save the Children once sent me a certificate to honor my first year of partnership; what a nice touch — that I still remember because it was the one and only I have received from any nonprofit. These kinds of emails are relatively inexpensive but can be invaluable in deepening a relationship.
  2. Make it easy for your donors to provide information, make a gift, read your material, peruse your website or whatever else it is you want them to do. Unlike you, supporting your organization is not their full-time job. We love involved donors, so make it simple to get involved by providing lots of “baby steps” along with the serious leaps of commitment. Don’t let the tail wag the dog — for example, your forms be driven by data-processing policies, not ease for donor completion — or you risk frustrating donors.

This old dog digs through an inbox full of mail every morning looking for buried bones … uh, I mean buried treasure. Make sure your emails are counted among those few that survive the first and drastic purge of the day. Surprise me, involve me in a way that makes sense — and watch me grow into a donor who sticks with you. After all, retention is not a statistic, it’s a relationship.

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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