Tim Burgess

Tim Burgess
What Matters Most

I remember the first direct-mail appeal letter I ever wrote. It was 1978. A massive flood had ravaged a village in the lowlands of Bangladesh, and I was assigned to write an appeal to current donors.

Twenty-eight years — and many appeal packages — later, I want to share what I’ve learned. You might find these thoughts helpful as you prepare for your next appeal.

Calling All Agents of Change

A few months ago in Tucson, Ariz., I got a shot of reality — and humility, I should add — as I listened to a group of colleagues discuss emerging challenges in nonprofit fundraising. There were several “a-ha” moments.

The DMA Nonprofit Federation brought together about 100 direct-response fundraising leaders and commercial partners to dialog about our industry at its Leadership Summit in early June. We heard keynote speakers from our country and the United Kingdom, and then reacted and brainstormed in small groups.

Take a Deep Breath

The summer slump — distractions, boredom, fleeting thoughts of a new job, donor inattention — is in full effect, isn’t it? Some are lucky enough to be reading this month’s column while lounging in the backyard or at the beach. Others are grinding away at the office worrying about meeting their revenue budget this month.

So, here are some thoughts to ponder as you meander through your summer.

Vetting for Value

The question was simple and direct: “What’s the best way to evaluate our fundraising programs for efficiency and effectiveness?”

The questioner was a nonprofit fundraising executive who had a wealth of experience and an impressive track record of success. Without a doubt, she knew her stuff. But despite her experience, she and her colleagues didn’t have a firm handle on what parts of their program were producing the best long-term results. They’re not alone.

Fundraising's Changing Face

There’s widespread agreement among direct-marketing professionals that the industry will continue to change dramatically over the next few years. Now, new research from Forrester Research Inc., an independent research firm, confirms it: Direct marketing is being transformed before our eyes.

The Forrester Trends report, titled “Five Predictions for the Future of Direct Marketing,” focuses on commercial direct marketers, but the findings easily can be applied to fundraising. Here’s an overview of the significant Forrester findings.

Honoring a Fundraising Pioneer

The nonprofit industry lost a true pioneer when Don Kuhn passed away last November. He was 83. I didn’t really know Don; I spoke with him a few times, usually at DMA Nonprofit Federation conferences. But I know his work and his legacy.

The "Up and Out" Fallacy

I’ve heard the explanation so many times now that I’m sick of it. It goes something like this: “When our direct-mail donors give more than $1,000 in a single year, we move them out of the regular mail program and over to the upper-level or even the major-donor program. They deserve special treatment.”

The dollar threshold might be different from organization to organization, but the underlying thinking is the same: Once donors reach a certain giving level, they need to be “protected” from the regular direct-mail appeal program.

Whither the Winds of Change

The fundraising world is changing rapidly, and those who aren’t prepared will be left behind. Are you ready for these changes? Are you, in fact, leading your organization to embrace these changes? If you’re not, or if you don’t like change, perhaps now is the time to think about a career change.

Here, from my perspective and experience, are some of the more significant changes happening right now. Perhaps you can grab hold of these opportunities, change your fundraising, and soar.

Why So Many New-donor Acquisition Efforts Stink

The failure to immediately obtain second gifts from new donors is a grave error. In fact, many new-donor acquisition efforts stink because of this failure.

As a fundraiser, one of your primary obligations is to acquire new donors so your organization’s revenue will increase. This means, of course, that you need to acquire more new donors each year than you lose to offset natural attrition.

The Fundraising Landscape, Circa 2005

You might be thinking that the new year will just bring more of the usual fundraising grind, slogging forward step by step, scratching for every dollar.Well, I have good news: It doesn’t have to be that way.

In fact, the smartest fundraisers are paying attention to what promises to be next in breakthrough fundraising trends, strategies and tactics that will revolutionize the way funds are raised in the years ahead. So get on board if you want to ride the coming surge of fundraising effectiveness.