12 Tips for Bulking Up Your Offer
A strong offer can make all the difference in helping your organization raise more money from prospects.
In his session at the DMA Nonprofit Federation's 2009 New York Nonprofit Conference last week, Tom Gaffny, principal and founder of Tom Gaffny Consulting, examined fundraising offers to demonstrate what works and what doesn't.
Gaffny said the key with offers is to tell people what they want to hear — not what you want to say. People don't give because you have needs. They give because you meet needs. And the biggest need you meet is theirs.
He offered attendees the following 10 rules for constructing great offers:
Rule No. 1: Have one
Four questions you should ask about every appeal are:
- Is there an offer somewhere in this piece?
- Will my target audience care about it?
- Is it about "you" as much as "me"?
- Does it jump off the reply slip?
Rule No. 2: Give them a big promise
Gaffny showed an example of a mailing by Mercy Home for Boys and Girls’ "Legacy of Miracles Fund Challenge Grant." Just the name "Legacy of Miracles" brings home this point about giving donors a big promise.
Rule No 3: Take the "bumper sticker" test
Can your message be distilled into a few words? "We had a need to raise money for Covenant House so they could provide shelter and care for kids," Gaffny said. "We called it, simply, a Bed for Every Kid’s Head.
"Second, we wanted to create a monthly-giving program to feed kids at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls. We called it Daily Bread,” he shared. "In both instances, we were able to distill a complicated offer into just a few words."
Rule No. 4: Leverage "industry controls"
- Annual fund
- Supporter/member drive
- Challenge fund/matching gift
- Emergency fun
- Free! (premiums)
Rule No. 5: Keep it bite size
Focus on one thing — one amount that you’re trying to raise or you'd like donors to give. Focus on one person (tell a story).
"People love stories," Gaffny said. "We're nosey. We love to hear what other people are up to."
Rule No. 6: Romance it and dramatize it
Make it big, big, big, he said. Position your offer on your outer envelope so recipients can't miss it. Don't be shy about asking for a big gift. Give donors a place at the table, use odd gift amounts, and attach recognition to an amount. Gaffny also stressed giving the donor a deal, i.e., something that gives her incentive (something free, perhaps) to donate now. Let her visualize making a difference.
For one of its mailings, Covenant House shows a picture of a bed in a lift note to show donors what their donation provides for a child.
Rule No. 7: Package it to shine
Don't hide your offer inside. And don't forget to repeat it often. Use the P.S. (it's one of the most-read parts of a letter, Gaffny said). Use images to dramatize your point.
For example, Pine Street Inn, a Boston-based shelter, included in one of its direct mailings a photograph of a park bench, with adjoining copy that read, "To most people this is a bench, but to some it is a bed."
And use a format that reinforces your offer. When you need people to step up with big gifts, use a stunning format with a lot of high-end elements. When you’re looking for $10 and $15 gifts, mail something on the simpler side, employing things like faux handwriting or the brown paper bag mailing.
Rule No. 8: Make it about the donor
Your copy should be all about how great and needed the donor is — not about you.
Rule No. 9: Sell the psychological benefits a donor gets
- Feeling good about giving
- Thinking of herself as a compassionate person
- Helping to make the world a better place
From a Special Olympics letter: "Being deeply involved in Special Olympics, I think I can recognize real commitment when I see it. And I see it, Mrs. Sample, in you."
Rule No. 10: Be relevant and timely
Gaffny shared an example of a mailing the Lincoln Center sent to people who had just attended one of its events. The letter begins, "A few nights ago, you did something that made you the envy of tens of thousands of performing arts patrons around the world — you visited Lincoln Center … "
He threw in the following bonus rules, as well:
Rule No. 11: Donors want to fix a problem more than celebrate a solution
To test this, Girls Inc., an organization that promotes girls' rights to be themselves, did a split test of an acquisition mailing. One mailing featured "Girls Can't" on the outer envelope and then inside talked about all of the myths of what girls can't do, urging recipients to support the organization in its efforts to help fix these misconceptions.
The other mailing said "Girls Can" on the outer envelope and focused its messaging on all of the great things girls can do, asking recipients to support the organization so that it can encourage girls to do more great things.
The "Girls Can't" package won the test, garnering a 12 percent higher average gift.
Gaffny adds that this rule also explains why anniversary appeals often don't work so well.
Rule No. 12: Remember the "consequence of inaction"
Telling donors what will happen if you don't raise the necessary funds can push many over the edge to donate to your cause.
In closing, Gaffny urged attendees to continue going for $15, $20 and $25 gifts, but to construct opportunities for donors to give larger gifts as well.
While it might be impossible to follow all 12 rules in all mailings, all the time, Gaffny said the goal is to think about as many as you can when constructing your offer.