8 Fundraising Ninja Tricks
They say ninjas are people with such well-developed fighting skills that they appear to have supernatural abilities. The moment you notice that dark shape flitting along the ceiling … but before you can tell what it is … zip! A ninja has swooped down, stolen your wallet, taken off your shoes and replaced them with goofy clown shoes, and disappeared. Leaving a vague odor of incense.
You may not realize it, but there are fundraising ninjas too. They're a lot like regular ninjas but less buff and a lot slower-moving. Also, they are somewhat less terrifying.
But they do possess seemingly magical powers: Zing! Response rate is up 12 percent! Whoosh! Donor retention rates are in the top quartile for your charity sector! Zap! Your tired old address labels are now getting a great average gift! That's the awesome power of a fundraising ninja.
Here are eight tricks from fundraising ninja masters. I can't guarantee you'll attain full fundraising ninja status just from reading this column, but these ninja techniques just might give ordinary people the impression that you have special fundraising powers.
1. Have a newsletter
The newsletter is the throwing star of the fundraising ninja. It slices through donor retention problems — and often does so while raising superb net revenue.
To do its "magic," it has to be a donor-focused newsletter: That's where you complete the circle, proving to donors that their giving makes a difference.
You do this with dramatic stories about the great things that happen because donors give. Every story makes it clear that it was possible "because of your giving." It's a powerful way to encourage donor connection with your cause — they'll stay with you because they know they're making a difference.
It doesn't work if your newsletter is a brag-a-thon about how great your organization is. A newsletter like that is nothing like a throwing star; you might as well fling blobs of cookie dough at your foe.
2. Put it in writing
Ninja archers never miss. That's because they become the target. In a single flawless gesture, shooter, bow, arrow and target become a unity.
The fundraising ninja never misses either. He accomplishes this by putting the fundraising call to action in writing and doing so before the work starts.
The fundraising call to action — the specific action you want donors to take — often gets blurred, hidden or entirely lost. But when you put the call to action in writing first, you know without question whether it's there, and you know if it has been drained of its power.
If people need to argue about what exactly the call to action should be, the debate should happen before all the other work is done. The worst possible way to figure out what you want to say is to keep trying to say it until you think you've got it. That's how a fundraising rocket degenerates into a fundraising damp futon.
3. Everything is a story
Even the most clumsy non-ninja knows how important stories are in fundraising. The ninja knows a deeper truth: Everything is a story. That is, everything should be a story.
A typical fundraising story is one that illustrates in a human and emotional way the need for the donor's gift and the impact the gift will have. That's just one kind of story. There are others:
- A good deal (like matching funds) can be a great story if written like one.
- A looming deadline can be a gripping narrative in the hands of a strong writer.
- And then there's the best story of all: The donor's history of generosity.
All of these things can be emotional, powerful stories. You just have to write them that way.
4. Colored paper
I've heard that when regular ninjas create direct mail, they use all black paper and invisible ink that becomes legible only when boiled in dragon blood.
The fundraising ninja has a similar trick, but it's much easier on everyone (especially dragons): Use colored paper for the return envelope. This usually boosts response rate.
5. Don't use a photo
This trick requires the courage of a honey badger and the guile of a jackal. Because everyone knows that photos can be powerful motivators for charitable giving. They have the power to touch the heart directly in ways words can't.
But fundraising ninjas know that photos can also be significant demotivators when they fail to communicate the right message — which happens astoundingly often.
Photos often accidentally give the message "everything is just hunky-dory here" more loudly than the words that are desperately trying to say there's a problem that needs solving.
Sometimes, people in photos look like they have the wrong emotion for the situation. You mean to show need, but they look annoyed or even furious. Many photos are just messy and confusing, so viewers don't get any particular message.
No photo at all is much better than the wrong photo. Don't be afraid to let words do the work for you if you don't have the right photos. It's far better than letting the wrong image hijack your message.
6. Be old-fashioned
It's said that ninjas are so fast, they can slip back through time and hit you back before you've hit them in the first place.
Fundraising ninjas have a similar ability: They are always a few decades behind the times in their communications and design styles. This gives them power, because fundraising is aimed overwhelmingly at older people. That's who gives.
What looks corny and dated to young people like you and (ahem) me often looks comfortable and appropriate to donors. Design we like is often confusing and unattractive to donors.
People may snicker at your old-fashioned ways, but it works. While everyone else is laboring to get random people to "like" them on Facebook, the fundraising ninja is cranking out corny, old direct mail and raising a ton of money.
7. Your mantra: you
Every ninja is assigned a mystical word that calls forth strength and cunning. Fundraising ninjas all share the same mystical word: you. You is the word they intone over and over as they write fundraising materials. They use it to directly address the donor instead of create abstractions about the cause. They use it to put the donor in the middle of it all, because that's where the donor wants to be. They use it to remind the donor of her values and beliefs — the reasons she gives. The fundraising ninja makes every fundraising message into an exciting story that features the donor.
8. You are not the audience
This is the most powerful trick of the fundraising ninja, the one that truly makes you seem to have magical powers. When you master this one, you are a fundraising ninja.
You see, ordinary fundraisers judge the quality of their work with this principle: If I like it, it's good; if I don't like it, it's bad. It is a dungeon of their own making. Because what they like and dislike reveals almost nothing about effectiveness.
The people we are communicating with in fundraising are not us. We are different in key demographic, psychographic and attitudinal ways. Using your own taste to judge is like using a thermometer to learn if the soup has the right amount of salt in it.
Actually, fundraising ninjas have discovered one way our likes and dislikes can serve us: If we like it, it's probably not good. FS