Go On ... I Dare You
Do you have the guts? I have 10 ideas that might scare the daylights out of you. They're probably difficult, politically unpopular or against the rules of your organization. Furthermore, these ideas might not work for you. They could even be very, very bad for you. But I don't think so. These are good ideas that have worked for others who made them happen despite the difficulties. I dare you to try at least one.
1. Change 'About Us' to 'About You'
The typical "About Us" page on a nonprofit website is a waste of electrons. It's packed with committee-created, jargon-thick, we're-so-cool copy that wouldn't win donors' hearts and minds even if you could persuade them to wade through it. That's too bad. Studies tell us that many donors poke around your website before they give, even those who give offline. These are engaged, proactive, would-be donors. If they give to you, they're likely to be loyal, excellent donors. A successful "About Us" page is like a successful appeal: all about donors. You don't motivate them to give by bragging about yourself. You motivate them by showing that your mission aligns with their values and passions.
2. Make your homepage a giving page
If you'd like your website to raise funds, why hide the giving page so anyone who's thinking about giving has to hunt for it? Your "Donate Now" button is harder to find than you think. Put the form for giving up front.
3. Test something that makes everyone afraid
Fear keeps organizations from doing smart things.
- If you never raise funds by telephone because somebody's afraid of a backlash, give telemarketing a try.
- If you go silent on donors after they give because you're afraid they'll go away if you ask too soon — try asking a couple of weeks after a gift.
- If you never let donors designate your giving because you're afraid they'll bust your budget, let them give restricted gifts to the areas of their choice.
You don't have to make an irrevocable, wholesale commitment to a scary idea. Just test it in a limited, measurable situation. If it doesn't work, stop. You're off the hook. And the ideas above — they'll probably work.
4. Let your donors leave your list
Right now, you have some donors on your list who don't want to be there. Maybe they have to cut back on their giving. Or they don't care about your cause anymore. Or they shouldn't have been there in the first place. Every time you contact them, they get a little annoyed. And they never give. You're just throwing good money after bad prospects, over and over again.
It's not your fault they're there. You have no way of knowing they want out — unless they tell you, which most never will. So ask them. Periodically, give your donors some options about the relationship, including "Please remove me from your mailing list."
You won't get many takers, but those who leave will overwhelmingly be people who don't give anyway. Here's the even cooler part: When you give donors choices, they become better donors — even those who don't exercise any choice at all!
5. Use a hackneyed cliché
Clichés work. They work because they're peculiarly vivid. They tap in to shared ideas and emotions with just a few well-worn words. They do that more quickly and effectively than paragraphs of elegant copy that might have flown from the demigod-like pen of E.B. White.
6. Ban the committees
If you make fundraising decisions by committee, I guarantee you're making poor decisions. If committees are reviewing your fundraising messages, you are flushing revenue down the toilet. They kill so much that's strong, good or original. That's the nature of committees.
Instead, make your decisions and review with a small number of people — I'm talking two to four. Each of those people has a clearly defined area of expertise. Each of them has authority only over his or her area. No grandstanding, no showing off. Just the right decisions by the right people who are responsible for their individual decisions. Do it. Watch quality and income rise.
7. Ignore the watchdogs
Charity watchdogs are doing a lot of damage to nonprofits through their constant focus on financial efficiency. Trouble is, effectiveness isn't made up only of efficiency. Some causes are inherently less "efficient" than others. But the watchdog obsession with low administrative costs causes many organizations to badly distort their work to keep the percentages in line with watchdog preferences.
I talked recently with a development director at a large, well-respected nonprofit that has opted out of the ratings game. Its work, and the way the organization is run, puts it at the low end of watchdog ratings. It's extremely effective — a great investment for donors — but not by the watchdog system. Last year, when this organization gained nearly 100,000 new donors, a few hundred asked about its lack of watchdog ratings. Of those, fewer than 10 decided not to give as a result. The impact was virtually zero.
If you decide to ignore the watchdogs, that isn't carte blanche to be sloppy or conceal your financial details from donors. In fact, you should be at least as transparent as the watchdogs want you to be.
On the other hand, if you're fortunate enough to have a good watchdog rating, plaster it everywhere.
8. Get personal
Most donors feel more comfortable about giving to an organization if they feel they know someone there. Why, then, do so many nonprofits work hard to make their messaging sound like impersonal, bloodless business communications? It's utterly self-defeating. Make your communication personal, real — one person talking to another. Talk like you know your donors. Reveal things about your life. Be open about how you feel. A human talking like a human is refreshing these days.
9. Ask too much
If you're like a lot of fundraisers, you live in terror of soliciting your donors too much. You believe doing so will cause some kind of angry mass exodus. After all, you get the too-much-mail complaints, and half the experts warn you that you'll "fry the file" or otherwise cause deep damage. I've got news for you: I have yet to find a shred of evidence that more communication hurts — and I've searched for years. The only thing increased solicitation causes is increased revenue. Really.
10. Do something annoying
It's odd, but almost anything that's on your personal list of pet peeves has a good chance of being good for fundraising — such as:
- Sentence fragments. Good, readable writing.
- Corny, old-fashioned design. Almost always more effective than the edgy, modern style designers prefer.
- Knickknacks. Don't sneer. Done right, premiums and freemiums work fundraising magic.
- Emotionalism. It might get under your skin, but being emotional is the heart and soul of successful fundraising. FS