4 Things I Know About Fundraising

Last week, I wrote about fundraising questions I couldn’t answer. While it wasn’t an exhaustive list, it was what was on my mind in recent weeks. This week, I want to talk about a few things I do know and how these things should impact our fundraising. Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but rather what I recently have been grappling with.

1. Your target audience is often at least 40 years old. Some nonprofits may attract a younger audience because of their spokespersons, their methods or some other unique factors. But for most of us, we’re talking to people who are at least 40 and quite possibly in their 50s or older. Why? Because those are people with disposable income. And donations are often made out of disposable income.

So, what does this mean to you? It means you need to forget what you like when it comes to the look of your online and offline fundraising appeals. Instead, you have to focus on what your likely donor can easily read. The sad truth is that if I want to read many things, I need to put on my $2 reading glasses. I’m not alone; Bausch + Lomb reported last September that “Almost half of women over the age of 40 admit to feeling embarrassed, frumpy or annoyed when reaching for reading glasses, but … 70 percent wear glasses or contact lenses and still have difficulty reading labels. In addition, more than half of the women surveyed (53 percent) struggle with reading text on their digital devices.”

Embarrassed, frumpy or annoyed people may not be inclined to make a donation. So why fight it? Make your font at least 12 point, and limit the use of reverse type. Trust me—it looks nice, but it’s just not worth the bother to read it.

2. Testing matters but may not be possible—or sensible.First, for those of you with small budgets and smaller mailing lists, I know stretching to do testing may not be financially feasible or valid in the case of a small donor base. Stop beating yourself up. Instead make decisions based on what you read and see in the mail or online. Who’s Mailing What!includes “grand controls”—these are mailings (electronic and paper-based) that have performed well enough to be mailed over and over. Its free newsletter often dissects one of these mailings so we can all learn from them. Your own mailbox or inbox can inform you, as well. If you see something in there often, you can draw one of two assumptions: It works, or someone is into career suicide. I prefer the former assumption.

Secondly, for those of you who aren’t sure what to test, ask yourself if it could possibly make a significant difference. Avoid testing things that are so minor that your donors probably don’t even pay attention to them or consider them when making a giving decision. Focus on what matters. Increasing the font by 1 point or using blue ink instead of black may fall into the “insignificant” category. A lead image may not. Focus on what you think is probably impacting results—like the outer envelope, the offer, the subject line in an e-appeal or the ease of using your donation page. Testing needs to have an impact, not just exist so you can say you tried.

3. A large percentage of your donors probably aren’t loyal to your organization. Donors tend to be fickle and can get hooked by a great offer, freemium, envelope design, e-appeal copy or any number of other things that your “competition” puts in front of them. If you’re feeling safe because, after all, your donors are different, ask yourself why you think that. What’s your attrition rate? How many first-time donors never give again? How many donors give for two or three years, then stop giving?

Our job as fundraisers is to keep donors interested. Some do this with premiums and freemiums. Others use celebrity endorsers or online videos. Others focus on telling compelling stories and sharing results. Whatever you do, keep your fundraising fresh and captivating. Bored donors are often former donors.

4. You have to spend money to raise money. Yes, I have said that before in this blog. I’m not forgetful; rather, I keep hearing and seeing examples from nonprofits of income disaster when cheap or (even better) free fundraising becomes the mainstay of the program. People aren’t waking up in the morning with thoughts of your nonprofit front and center in their minds and a desire to check out your website. As fundraisers, we have to constantly cultivate our donors, reminding them what we do, why we can do it so much better than anyone else and how hard we’ll work to use their contributions to make it happen.

If you aren’t telling your story to your donors on a regular basis, beware. Another nonprofit’s story may be filling the void that you have left in the name of “saving money.” Spend wisely, but never neglect your donors if you don’t want them to neglect you.

This old dog loves all the ways we have to fundraise in the 21stcentury. But they all come with a cost—both in terms of expense and in terms of lost income. Look at your donors’ behavior; that’s the best guide for your fundraising.

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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