[Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a three-part series on the session “30 Ideas in 60 Minutes: Your Hour of Creative Power” held on June 10 at Fund Raising Day in New York. Click here for part 1.]
At the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater New York Chapter’s Fund Raising Day in New York last Friday, three fundraising experts shared 30 ideas in one of the first sessions of the day. Here are ideas 11-20 that Joe Manes, senior vice president of A.B. Data, Bryan Terpstra, vice president of fundraising at LW Robbins, and fundraising and communications advisor Jennie Thompson offered attendees.
Brainstorm ideas for donor involvement opportunities
When possible, ask your donors to do something along with giving money, Manes said. For example, advocacy organizations boost response by having donors send postcards and petitions — but they don't have the monopoly on donor-involvement techniques. You can ask donors to send cards to beneficiaries, display posters and spread the word.
"We live in an era of two-way communications, and all organizations have opportunities to engage donors in two-way communications," Manes said. "Give donors the opportunity to write their own messages. Get them involved beyond giving money."
Capture more customer-service information
"If donors contact you, even with complaints, that's important," Terpstra said.
When a donor contacts you for any reason, it's an indicator of the donor's affinity and interest in your organization. Capture his or her contact information and code the donor. Donors who contact you may be major- and planned-giving prospects, can indicate areas that need your attention, and can help add new revenue streams if you capture their data — i.e., birthday cards for donors as acknowledgments that may lead to more gifts.
There is nothing more powerful in the world than the urge to change another person's copy
Beware of the grammarians and English majors within your organizations, Thompson warned, because over-editing your copy can convolute the message.
"You start out with this big idea of what to say, and slowly it becomes 'more correct' — and less authentic," Thompson said.
You want to make sure your copy has actionability and accountability. Know what works to inspire your donors, and don't over-edit the message to the point of losing that emotional appeal.
Start planning now for November and December
Year-end is prime time for fundraisers. As much as 30 percent to 40 percent of your yearly gross revenue (especially online) may come in December. That means it's never too early to start planning.
"As a colleague of mine is fond of saying, plan your mail and mail your plan," Manes said. "Fall mailings are so important. Look at the results in fall to see what works and what doesn't," and use your strongest appeals in December.
Don't take any chances or you risk being left out, he added.
Test new universes to spike prospecting response rates
"The charity donor universe for your prospecting is getting tapped out and tired. You may have to think outside the box for prospecting," Terpstra said.
Donor lists comprise just 15 percent of the total gross names available on the list market, he said, yet some nonprofits rely too heavily on donor lists for acquisition. Terpstra suggested opening the door to commercial list possibilities by using a regression model to tap into larger publishing or buyer databases. He also said fundraisers should try co-ops (like Abacus, Wiland, Target Analytics) because some of their prospect models have great response rates.
Find a reliable 'tone checker'
How you say something is just as important as what you say, so have a "tone checker" read your letters, phone scripts and e-mails before they go, Thompson said — it's more important than spell-checking.
"Everyone needs a 'tone checker.' If you don't get a lump in your throat from the message, cancel or edit it," she said. "Nonprofits connect supporters to their missions and beneficiaries. We're only linkers here, so we must make an authentic link between those two players."
Updated copy or Frankenstein copy?
There's a fine line between updating old copy with new information and creating "Frankenstein" copy that no longer maintains a unique voice or case for giving — thus creating a monster, Manes said.
You muse treat each letter as a new letter to avoid creating this monster, not just plug in updates. Manes cited a mailing he received that had multiple fonts and multiple sizes of fonts on the second page of the letter.
"It's so important to read the letter after updates are made and make sure it looks clean and flows in a natural way," he said.
The rise of "pre-approved copy" is a huge pet peeve of his as well. Manes said it only encourages Frankenstein copy and turns every appeal into a monotonous, unauthentic piece that is indistinguishable from the last.
Test a high-impact 'budget shortfall' mailing to loyal donors
Practically every organization goes through a period where it isn't in position to meet its fundraising goals. If you are not going to make your revenue goal, don't be shy about telling a select group of your donors about your predicament.
"Lots of organizations want to hide from donors that they didn't meet their goals," Terpstra said. "In certain situations, let them know you didn't meet your goals and explain the impact that has on your mission and beneficiaries — it could help you shore up that gap."
Terpstra provided the example of St. Labre Indian School. It came up short of its budget, but instead of hiding that fact, it admitted that to its loyal donors and mailed a budget-shortfall appeal to them. The opening read:
"This is one letter I had prayed that I wouldn't have to write. But you are one of St. Labre's most dedicated friends, and there is simply too much at stake for me not to share with you what is happening."
The letter laid out the situation in a truthful matter. That honesty with donors really helped St. Labre shore up the gap because the donors responded with gifts. They appreciated that St. Labre was honest with them and appreciated their loyalty, which in turn strengthened the relationship.
Use the most powerful words in the English language in your headlines/subheads when possible
Thompson said the 14 most powerful words in the English language are:
Of course, "you" is the one that fundraisers should use most often when communicating with donors.
Test teaser vs. non-teaser
Sometimes a teaser can help push a donor inside a direct mailer. Other times, a plain envelope works better because donors' curiosity urges them to open it up. The only way to find out is to test it.
"If a teaser doesn't immediately come to mind for you package, a teaser is probably not needed," Manes said. "Recent trends have shown that teasers aren't working as well anymore in some instances, but you should test it. Start by challenging your assumptions."
Check back for ideas 21-30.