The 10 Commandments for Optimizing Fundraising Success, Part 1
[Editor's note: This is part 1 of a three-part series on the session, "The 10 Commandments: 10 Ageless, Irrefutable, Non-Negotiable Keys to Optimizing Your Fundraising Success," at the DMA Nonprofit Federation's 2011 New York Nonprofit Conference held last month.]
Nowadays, it's easy and very tempting to dive in to all the news technologies and techniques that pop up seemingly every day in the fundraising sector. As important as it is to keep up with advances and evolution in the industry, it's foolish for throw out the baby with the bathwater.
With that in mind, veteran fundraising consultant Tom Gaffny provided 10 timeless keys to fundraising success that he's crafted over the past two decades during his session, "The 10 Commandments: 10 Ageless, Irrefutable, Non-Negotiable Keys to Optimizing Your Fundraising Success," at the DMA Nonprofit Federation's 2011 New York Nonprofit Conference held last month.
Here are commandments 1-3
1. It's not about you
Gaffny called this the "most boring, depressing … and most important" commandment.
"There is not one person here who owns a donor base because the donor base doesn't belong to you … it belongs to the donor," he added.
In reality, you have little control over the fundraising dialogue. The only thing the fundraiser sending the appeal has control over is what she sends, when she sends it and through which channel she sends it. Meanwhile, the donor who receives the message controls whether to open it, when to open it, whether to read it, whether to respond to it, when to respond, how much to give and which channel to use.
Accepting that reality, Gaffny shared these three absolute truths about your fundraising appeals:
- 99.9 percent of your audience is not waiting by the door all day for your package to arrive.
- Unless you do something that interests donors, provokes them or connects with them, you've lost before you even started.
- Reread truths 1 and 2.
"People don't give to you because you have needs," Gaffny said. "They give to you because you meet needs, including theirs."
2. It's all about donors … and the context at that moment
According to Gaffny, this is the most underrated and ignored commandment. You need to understand that people act and respond differently at different moments. For instance, would you exhibit the same behavior at church as you would at a bachelor/bachelorette party? Of course not. Likewise, donors do not react to every appeal at every moment the same way.
That makes context vital. Context decides how we talk, how we dress and how we act.
Gaffny suggested that you think about sending a letter to your mom when you needed money when crafting your appeals. You would tug at mom's heartstrings and express your need at those moments. That's exactly how you should craft your fundraising messages.
Basically, forget about the donor pyramid for a while, and instead look at what Gaffny called the passion pyramid. High-passion donors exhibit loyalty. They have knowledge about your organization, interest in you, concern about you. They are donors who pay attention to you, seek information about you, and give you second and third gifts. Low-passion donors are more likely to not care all that much about your organization, don't want much info about you and give you one chance for their gifts … maybe.
Your high-passion donors will respond to branded appeals with a lot of information. But there are far more low-passion donors than high-passion ones, so you must understand the context in which they respond. More often than not, they don't care about your brand or all the statistics. They need something different to get inside your appeal and respond.
That may be why the three greatest fundraising appeals Gaffny has come across in his two decades in the industry were sent in plain white envelopes with nothing more than the address of the recipients.
One was mailed to 500,000 people and raised $23 million. Another was mailed to 8,234 people and raised $6.3 million. And the third was mailed to 489 people and raised $57,400.
Think about it: When you get mail branded by a bank or organization of little interest to you, you toss it in the recycling bin, right? But if you get an envelope with nothing but your handwritten address, you're intrigued as to whom it's from and open it.
Once inside, it's all about resonating with the donor. Again, context plays a vital role. You can send a seven-page letter or a one-page letter as long as it's in the right context.
The keys to context, according to Gaffny, are to speak to the recipient on his or her terms and speak to the moment in a compelling way.
3. You have five seconds to be successful — maybe
"If your outer envelope doesn't drive the person inside, you're screwed. And the same goes for your subject line," Gaffny said.
Pay attention to the "A" pile theory of direct marketing — when people go through their mail, they have three piles:
- A pile — I must open it.
- B pile — I might open it.
- C pile — Where's the waste basket?
You must do everything you can to get to the A pile. So ask yourself, "If your life depends on your package being opened, what would you send?" Gaffny asked.
For him, it's a no-brainer: a plain white envelope with a handwritten address, stamp and no return address. When you don't know who it's from, you open it. It reaches the A pile — you have to open it to find out who it's from.
However, context again comes into play depending on if you are trying to appeal to high-passion donors or low-passion donors. To make the A pile for high-passion donors, show the brand on your OE, but hide the brand for low-passion donors. Give high-passion donors treats, like premiums or membership offers, and low-passion donors tricks, like a card with their names on it.
If you have a great offer, though, don't hide it from either segment. Everyone loves a great offer, Gaffny said. Put it right on the outer envelope or in the subject line. Gaffny provided some good examples of organizations sharing their great offers right on the outer or in the subject line:
- Paralyzed Veterans of America: "CD ENCLOSED, HANDLE WITH CARE" "Your Fourth of July Favorites are Enclosed!" "Look Inside for Your FREE Patriotic Notepad Our gift to you! … Bonus gifts matching set of magnets and pencil enclosed!" "Join the Heroes Circle and get a Tote Bag"
- Food for the Poor: "Your Free 2009/2010 Wall Calendar Is Enclosed" "Multiply your gift 88x" "Every dollar you give delivers $62.50 worth of lifesaving aid" "Your donation of just $5 can feed 100 hungry children"
- Save the Children: "Exciting Matching Grant Opportunity: Multiply the Power of your donation to help children in need!" "Extraordinary opportunity to see your donation quadrupled!"
- Smile Train: "Make one gift now and we'll never ask for another donation again!"
- Operation Smile: "See how a 45-minute surgery can change a child's life forever." Uses an involvement device of lifting an image of a child with a cleft palate to see what she looks like after the surgery. And on the back of the same package is another great offer — "Your gift has 13X the power to ship medicines and supplies — and change young lives FOREVER."
Of course, you could always just freak everyone out with your package as well, Gaffny said, with unconventional things like mailing a plastic bottle with "HELP!" written on it or using a "WARNING" label.
The bottom line is, you must find a way to make sure your message goes in the A pile and gets opened to even stand a chance at receiving a gift.
Check back for commandments 4-10.