And that, folks, is how it’s done

Last night, I received an email from the Canadian Red Cross with the subject line:

An important update on your donation

I was dreading what I would find inside.  Not because I thought there would be some kind of awful update.  Or that I expect terribly poor communications from Red Cross.  It’s just my Pavlovian response to a lot of terrible ‘updates on my donations’ from so many charities.

Well, there was no reason for my click-cringe.

I had just received a very nice, succinct, personal and even a bit emotive email from the incredibly impressive Conrad Sauvé, President & CEO of the Canadian Red Cross.  It arrived a week after I made my donation online, which is fantastic, especially given the enormous pressure the entire Canadian Red Cross staff is under, dealing with the Fort McMurray fire and subsequent disaster response.

The beginning of the closing line was especially awesome: “From the bottom of my heart, I thank you…”

If you’re looking for a great template for an easy update for your donors after an important event, or even (knock-on-wood, it’s unnecessary) an emergency, click here to see this excellent example of donor communications.

Now, because, I’m me, I just can’t help but suggest 2 small improvements as you file it away for your template.  First, personalize the email with the donor name.  Second, offer just a little more information about the scope of Canadian support.

Of course, easy for me to comment from the comfort of my office chair, with the luxury of not having to attend to the incredible workload that the dedicated Red Cross staff and volunteers are currently faced with.

Do you have any comments or ideas on spectacular donor communications?  Share them here, or you can Email or call David (toll-free in North America on 1-800-991-3318 x101 or on our New Zealand freephone 0800 995 054). 


One Man’s Junk…

A few weeks back I had coffee with a former client.  She’s a great fundraiser that has a knack for connecting donors with their passions.

She’s one of my favourite people. Not the least because she always has a great story to share. This Friday morning coffee was no exception.

We only had a few minutes together before I had to head off to my next visit on my whirlwind trip through the Canadian prairies.  Once we caught each other up on some of the more mundane stuff, Cynthia* excitedly launched into a story about a donor.

She had gone to visit an elderly fella who had just moved into a long-term care facility.  He had just made a very significant gift of $50,000…in response to a direct mail letter.

He’s a loyal donor, giving for more than 10 years, but always less than $1000!  But if you can believe it, this is not my favourite part of the story.

The part that really got me sporting a wide smile happened when Cynthia went to visit the donor.

This gentleman had just gone through his over 80-years worth of accumulated possessions, leaving behind almost everything so he could squeeze into his very small long-term care quarters.

He had settled in by the time Cynthia arrived. She noticed that in the sparsely furnished and tidy small space he had brought only a few personal items.  But over in a neat stack on his little desk, was every single letter her charity had mailed him.

Of course I was happy to learn that many in that neat stack were packages my team and I had created.

But much more important is the perfect evidence about how critically meaningful good donor communications can be for those who receive it.

That put a wide goofy grin on my face for the rest of my whirlwind trip.


[*I’ve changed Cynthia’s name to respect her request for anonymity.]


Would you like to make your donors cherish every communication from your organisation?  Fundraising Pharmacy can help.  Email or call David (toll-free in North America on 1-800-991-3318 x101 or on our New Zealand freephone 0800 995 054) today for free, no obligation advice. 

Maximizing your #GivingTuesday investment.

The 25, 30 and 50 minute plans.

Is your inbox filling up with #GivingTuesday appeals today?

Yeah, mine too.

And I have mixed feelings.

On the positive side I recognize the opportunity to engage some of the general public that hear our message and move them to support charities.  That’s a good thing, for sure.

But I also am concerned….There are two negatives from where I sit.

First, a lot of (very limited) charity resources are often bet on these campaigns, hoping for magic beans.  And as usually is the case, at best, only regular beans are harvested.

Don’t get me wrong. All new donors are good.  But, the same resources used for #GivingTuesday campaigns can often be deployed more effectively.  Imagine the impact a well planned, executed and funded donor retention strategy would make at your organization…or a strategy for identifying and acquiring a targeted group of potentially passionate supporters.

This is the biggie for me.  So often we chase the shiny new thing at the expense of investing in the fundamentals of solid donor relationships.

The other drawback I see is a lack of planning to welcome our new friends and working to ‘convert’ #GivingTuesday donors into ongoing contributors.  And to me that adds up to a missed opportunity at best and a waste of precious resources at worst.

An optimistic curmudgeon

OK, so I may be a curmudgeon, but I’m an optimistic curmudgeon.

The good news is that no matter where your #GivingTuesday campaign is sitting right now, you can take a few simple steps to maximize your return on the time, energy and money invested in these campaigns.


The 25-minute plan

While your flawlessly executed #GivingTuesday campaign is rolling forward today, take 25 minutes and sketch out a plan for the donors your acquire.  Here are a few things you can do that have almost no cost and are easy to execute:

  1. Write a fantastic thank you email.  One that is genuine, personal and emotional.
  2. Find a colleague or volunteer that will help you do some thank you calls to every newly acquired #GivingTuesday donor.
  3. Grab a stash of your organizations’ generic thank you cards from the supply closet and go ask your CEO to start hand-singing them while also handwriting a simple “Thank you for joining our donor family” one line message.  Send these to every donor that responds to your #GivingTuesday campaign.

Add 5 more minutes

If you start to see a huge spike in donations (if you’re like me you’ll be obsessively checking the results every few minutes!), take an extra 5 minutes to find a board member or senior volunteer who can help with those handwritten thank yous.

The 50-minute plan

If you can spare 20 more minutes, sketch out your new donor’s journey through the first year.  Ask things like:

  1. What’s the next message they will receive from us?  Solicitation?  Or Stewardship?
  2. Can I segment my solicitation campaigns to include variable copy for this special group?
  3. Can I feature one of these new #GivingTuesday donors in my donor newsletter?
  4. What should I say to these donors leading up to #GivingTuesday 2016?

Every minute you can invest in building your relationship with your new #GivingTuesday donors will offer a big return on donor retention and lifetime value.  And, it can be a welcome distraction while you wait on the next #GivingTuesday results update.


Would you like to make all your new donors fall in love with your organization?  Fundraising Pharmacy can help you build and execute a plan that is guaranteed to create donor chemistry.  Email or call David (toll-free in North America on 1-800-991-3318 x101 or on our New Zealand freephone 0800 995 054) today for free, no obligation advice. 

Are you treating your Monthly Donors like cherished family members?

Monthly donors (aka regular givers) are incredibly valuable to your charity, so it’s critical to roll out the welcome mat and make them feel like cherished members of your family.  That starts with exceptional stewardship right from the beginning of the relationship.

Stewardship starts by having a rock-solid gift-fulfillment process.  By managing this pivotal detail, you show from day one that you care about the donor’s gift and are trustworthy and well-organised.

Next you should do everything in your power to make sure the donor is thanked as soon as possible, and in the most personal way.  A thank you telephone call within 48 hours of the gift is the gold standard.  It’s also a fantastic way to verify donor details.  (But this call shouldn’t replace a written thank you…you literally cannot say thank you too much or too often).

Then, within a week, send an emotionally engaging and personal New Donor Welcome Package (NDWP) by post (even for online donors).  While you should have an NDWP for all of your new donors, make sure the package for your monthly donors is a little more special.  You can start simply by investing time in a live signature and a handwritten note.

Finally, send an email follow-up a week or so after the first gift has been processed so you can check-in with your new monthly donor.  Ask them if they’ve received the NDWP and have any questions.  You’ll reinforce that you genuinely care and it’s also a nice way to lead them into your monthly donor communications schedule for the balance of the year.

The ultimate goal for your welcome process is to make your new donor feel like they’ve made a good investment with their commitment to a monthly gift for your organisation. 

Do you need some help creating chemistry with monthly donors?  Email or call David (toll-free in North America on 1-800-991-3318 x101 or on our New Zealand freephone 0800 995 054) today for free, no obligation advice. 

This is taking forever!

(and other online giving utterances)

Have you been waiting for the moment your charity’s online giving revenue will zoom past direct mail and all the other dinosaur fundraising tactics?

Please, for the sake of your health and your very survival, do not hold your breath.

I’ve been waiting the golden era of online giving for 15 years.  The fundraising equivalent to flying cars, robot maids and all inclusive vacations on Venus, à la the Jetsons.

A couple of weeks ago a person researching this question for a well-respected fundraising industry journal asked me why Online Giving is still such a small piece of the revenue pie for most charities and whether there were any solutions for charities to change this.

I must have scared her away with my answer because I never did her back from her.

I guess that’s because the more I thought about it, the more the premise concerned me…and, OK,  the crankier I became.  Also, the floodgates may have opened a little.

Give or take, here’s my response:

Donors aren’t ‘direct mail donors’ or ‘telephone donors’ or ‘street-fundraising donors’ or ‘digital/online donors’.  They’re just donors.  Reduced even further…they aren’t donors, they’re people.

We ascribe these labels to people based on a narrow set of behaviours.  That worked better (though I’d argue, still not that well) in the past when we were taking about limited communications channels being available to the vast majority of people who may choose to give to charity.  Right now, people are or rapidly becoming multi-channel.

My mom writes me letters, but also calls me every week and definitely wants to Skype if it’s been longer than a few weeks between visits.  My sister texts me most days, sends an email with links to the holiday rental she wants me to look at, calls me from her car (hands free of course) while running errands, will Facebook message my wife to ask about a new favourite recipe but mostly wants to get together in person to cook amazing food and drink good wine.  My uncle prefers this method of arranging family outings: I send him a text, he responds by calling me…OK, so maybe my family is a little (OK a lot) strange.

But the point here is we are seeing this behaviour with people who donate to charity.  Some recent shocking research showed GenX (my generation) donors were highly mail responsive.  I found this shocking, since it’s certainly not true for me personally (which is more than a little ironic) or anyone in my immediate circle of similar (middle, sadly) age.

The twist is the response was primarily through online giving (so bonus tip…keep mailing GenX and older donors and make sure you make it easy to respond online).

And we’ve seen this behaviour before, with strong integrated Annual Giving programs that used the phone to boost results of direct mail campaigns.  I did some extensive testing a little over 10 years ago to integrate email follow-ups to boost direct mail campaign results and still use these findings today (including regular re-testing to make sure it’s still working).

So, the first part of my answer is that we may not see online giving portals as the primary vehicle for gifts for some time.  But it has a very important role to support giving (and donor relationships) in general.  This is my feeling about social media, too.

Now there are some exceptions.  I think the use of online tools for peer-to-peer (especially mobile apps) fundraising events (like walks/runs/bike/challenge events) is really the standard for most organisations raising significant funds this way.  The same goes for Special event/silent auction type events.

Online will also continue to grow as we get better at digital acquisition, but the most effective digital acquisition campaigns still need telephone conversion calls for the final step.

We all WANT online to be IT right now, because it seems easy and inexpensive.  It’s our natural (though irrational) desire as a sector to always be looking for the magic bullet, our charitable version of the ‘get rich quick’ scheme.

The reality is that fundraising is most effective when a charity effective and genuinely communicates with people in a personal and emotive way, no matter the medium used to inspire the donor.

Charities do well when they connect to donors’ deeply held values and demonstrate that their gifts will/have an impact on the issues they care about most.  This is not easy to do.

In the annual giving world, we have had a lot of practice doing this with older media like print.  We’ve had two or three of generations of professional experience with this.  We’ve been able to take many lessons from for-profit sector marketing research and apply it to things like direct mail.

When it comes to digital media, we’re still figuring it out.  Let’s not forget that Google’s revenue (and the revenue that Facebook and Twitter and others are trying to capture) is still based on little ads, primarily text and some simple static images (and usually no image at all) that appear in a margin on a screen.

The lesson in that is humans that look at screens are not much different than humans that look at paper or at the TV or that speak on the phone.

The issue with online or digital fundraising is that we think the magic is in the medium, when really it’s the message that’s important (sorry, Marshall, old chap).

Compare a typical email solicitation to a typical direct mail letter.  Most emails I see are very short, have no emotional or personal content and are very organisation-focussed.  These sins are compounded by firing these emails out constantly to the same person in a year without much thought or strategy.  And when a person miraculously decides to act on these uninspired and rather clunky solicitations, they are often greeted with an unpleasant online donation process that feels just as warm and caring as ordering knock-off inkjet replacement cartridges.

And people who choose to give chiefly through online channels often receive very poor stewardship, usually much worse than that of a direct mail, face-to-face or telephone donor.

Maybe they get added to a (usually terrible) monthly eNewsletter that offers multiple photos of giant novelty-sized cheques handed over by local car dealership owners or announcements about the new board president that reads more like a CV than an explanation of why she/he is passionate about dedicating their precious personal time to the cause.

All of this is because the entire online giving program in many, many charities is too often the result a fundraiser’s boss (or a very enthusiastic board member) who decided ‘We should do online giving!’ without fixing what ails the other fundraising programs and/or devoting the appropriate planning, staff and resources.

So please:

1.  Get started.  Integrated giving is more important than ever to maximise revenue.

2.  Put relationships first.  Great communication creates great results, no matter the tool a donor eventually uses to to make their gift.  The corollary is that crap communications create crap results…yes, even if you have your very own mobile app!

3.  Be Persuasive. The secret to fantastic fundraising results? Inspire and people to give to a cause they care passionately about.  Then make it easy (read convenient) to make a donation.

4.  Be Patient.  Online/digital is rapidly growing and it will eventually become a much more significant piece of the fundraising pie.  It will just take time.


Do you need some help creating donor chemistry online?  Call David toll-free in North America on 1-800-991-3318 x101 (or on our New Zealand freephone 0800 995 054) today for free, no obligation advice.