Columnist confesses: 'I Read the National Enquirer!'
December 1, 2008

Yes, I read the National Enquirer. And yes, I consider it required reading for fundraisers who are serious about motivating people to join in their good causes. I hope today to show you why. But first, let me clear the air: I know the National Enquirer is tacky. It’s low, sensationalistic and unattractive. But it’s a superb example of a publication that’s hell-bent on being read. That’s a quality every fundraiser should cultivate. I’ve spent a scarce amount of time studying the Enquirer, and I’ve found what I think are the keys to its power. Compelling headlines This is where the Enquirer’s writers

Easier Said Than Done: 6 Freakish Facts About Fundraising
November 1, 2008

Forget talking dogs and bearded ladies. Today we’re displaying some freaks and oddities from the fundraising world that will boggle your mind and make your knees weak from sheer wonder. Step right up! Blank carrier envelopes usually outperform envelopes with teasers. It’s sad. We work so hard to create teasers that will improve response. But a blank envelope beats one with a teaser about 75 percent of the time. You might conclude from this that saying nothing is better than saying anything at all. That would be a mistake. What we actually learn is that most teasers don’t do their jobs. Think of it

Focus, People! Focus!
October 1, 2008

Mad as hell, and not gonna take it anymore? Get in line. These are vexing times. There’s plenty to worry about and a lot of issues that need action. That’s probably why we keep hearing various nonprofit leaders telling us things like: It’s our duty as a sector to speak up about (insert issue here)! I hate to come out against activism, but it’s precisely not our duty as a sector to speak out on the outrage du jour. Our duty is to fulfill our missions. And that takes single-minded focus. Taking your eyes off your mission — even when something else is important

Fire Your Marketing Department
August 1, 2008

Your marketing department, if you have one, is destroying you. I realize that’s an extraordinary claim for me to make, given that I know nothing about your particular marketing department. It’s not the people in your marketing department. No doubt, they’re nice, sincere and hardworking. The problem is innate to marketing departments. As soon as marketing becomes a department, it becomes a destructive force. I’ve watched this slow-moving catastrophe befall more nonprofits than I want to think about. So today, I’m going to show you three ways marketing departments kill nonprofit organizations. Maybe I can help you save yourself! 1. A marketing department is

Useful Truths: Apply With Care
July 1, 2008

If you’re of a certain age, you might remember a film they showed us in school called “Our Friend the Atom.” A piece of pure propaganda — we were suckers for that stuff back then. Its message (as I remember it) was: Sure, nuclear holocaust is a scary possibility, but Our Friend the Atom can do lots of good, too! Apparently, everything has an upside and a downside. Including useful fundraising truths. Here, I’m going to show you how even a great idea can knock you for a loop when you don’t apply it right. The useful truth Here it is: The higher a

In Fundraising, Your English Teacher Gets an ‘F’
June 1, 2008

OK, I admit it: I used to be an English teacher. I’m not ashamed — maybe just a little sheepish. If I helped a few people enjoy language, think more clearly or discover the power of revising their own writing — well, then, I made the world an ever-so-slightly better place. The problem is, like every other English teacher, I spent a good deal of effort teaching my students some very artificial rules about writing. And now that I’m in the fundraising world, some of those rules come back to haunt me. Yes, there were many students who really paid attention to their

How to Lose Your Major Donors
May 1, 2008

Let’s pretend for a moment that you are the proud owner of five franchise fast-food restaurants around town. All five of your restaurants — let’s call them Uncle Jeff’s Greaseburgers — faithfully follow the famous Uncle Jeff’s formula. The menu, marketing and décor are exactly the same. For reasons you haven’t yet figured out, Uncle Jeff’s No. 3 generates twice the revenue of any of the others. Month in and month out, restaurant No. 3 is pouring revenue onto your bottom line. What does a smart franchisee do? One thing I’m sure you won’t do is make big changes to Uncle Jeff’s No. 3.

Leap of Faith
April 1, 2008

City of Hope realized it had a problem. In 2005, the now 95-year-old Los Angeles-based biomedical research, treatment and educational institution had been mailing an average of 11 annual appeals for about five years. But a changing of the guard that led to a fresh analysis of the development department’s overall effectiveness revealed no growth in net revenue from annual appeals since the program was first outsourced in 2000. It was a major red flag for Diana Keim, senior director of development at City of Hope, who was among the new leadership staff to come aboard in 2005. She concluded that the annual-giving

Six Bad Habits of Ineffective Fundraisers
April 1, 2008

When fundraisers are ineffective, it’s almost always because they are the victims of their own mental habits. These bad habits are more harmful than lack of resources, bad economic times or even stupidity. Conquer these habits, and you’ll raise a lot more money. Bad Habit No. 1: Being ashamed of fundraising It’s odd, but many professional fundraisers have an insidious belief that asking people for money is annoying, embarrassing or disrespectful. This puts them in confusing territory, where they need their donors to fund vital programs — but they don’t want to admit it. That bends their fundraising messages into pretzel shapes that

How Much Asking is Too Much?
March 1, 2008

To hear some fundraisers talk, you might think donors are so fragile they have to be handled with exaggerated care lest they disappear in a puff of acrid smoke. To avoid that, you walk around on tiptoes, not daring to speak to them too often (or too emphatically) because they might “burn out.”