Writing to Humans

an OTG guest post by Sheena Greer

Ever read something and think “was this written by aliens? Or robots? Or robot aliens?”

I feel this way a lot.

Especially when I comb over fundraising appeals that arrive in my mailbox. Certainly, I’m more critical than your average person, but my guess is that if an appeal fills me with disappointment, it’s having a much more devastating effect on the broader audience.

Apathy.

Apathy is the social sector’s biggest enemy. There are many reasons why people are apathetic, but the root cause is very fixable.

In his TedTalk “Redefining Apathy”, Dave Meslin suggests that people want to do great things, but we live in a world that actively discourages engagement.

How so? Poor communication. On purpose. Or accidentally.

Instead of engaging humans in their own language, we engage them with the language of a machine.

Organisations are machines. Not unlike robots.

I hope your organisation is a well-oiled machine (as opposed to a rusted-out old boat.) Imagine this. Your board is fantastic. Your ED is superb. Your staff is delivering the best possible programs to the community you serve. And the community is way better for it.

Wonderful!

The only problem? You’re severely under-funded.

The machine needs fuel. It needs the hearts and minds (and dollars!) of humans to keep it moving.

“Our programs are so awesome! Why aren’t people giving?” This is something I hear quite a bit from people working on the front lines. “Our mission so important…our work is improving and saving lives!”

The problem is that the language we use when speaking with donors and others in the community is far too similar to the language we use internally.  The effect of this ‘loss in translation’?  Apathy.

So how do we write for humans? It isn’t too hard, but there are some basic concepts you need to keep in mind.

1)     Know your audience. And “general public” isn’t an acceptable answer. There are individuals in the world who are going to care deeply about your cause, and there are individuals who simply won’t.

You need to get to know the former and cut your losses on the latter.

We often view “preaching to the choir” as negative. But the choir is your audience, along with the parishioners, and even people straggling in the foyer.  These iare the people you need to focus on activating and keeping activated. The passersby on the street likely won’t be converting anytime soon.

2)     Kill the royal we.  One of the biggest mistakes an organisation can make is to talk too much about itself.  And too much is usually a lot less than many of us think.  So, how do you inform and show impact without doing this?

Make it about the royal you.  Tell donors that the wonderful things you are accomplishing is all because of them.  You will connect to their hearts.  Invite them to share their dreams for change.  They will commit to make them come true.

“Because of you, Samantha was able to finish school.”

“You can imagine how incredible it feels to be told you are cancer-free.”

“You made all of this possible.”

3)     Use plain language. Plain language isn’t “dumbing things down.” It communicates your message in a simple and powerful way.

No jargon.  No rambling.  No bullshit.

“It has come to the attention of management that an excess in ultra contemporary diminutive humanoid garments for lower body extremities has unfortunately resulted in increased pressure to downsize due to inadequate performance.”

No!

Plain language gets to the point and, as my old creative writing prof used to say, “goes for the jugular!”

“For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”

4)     Don’t be afraid of emotion.  Embrace it and don’t let it go!  The work we’re doing is emotional! We see the darkest parts of humanity. We also witness miracles.

It isn’t just about joy and pain. What about humour? Curiosity? Surprise? Sorrow? Frustration? Courage?

Go ahead.  Stir up emotions in your audience. Humans feel. And when humans feel deeply, change is made.

5)     Ask and be clear. All too often, we can forget to include a call to action. We can’t be afraid to ask people directly for what we want – whether it’s a fundraising appeal asking for dollars or a Facebook post requesting volunteers for an event. Using vague statements like “we need your support” is meaningless.

6)     Communication is best when it’s one-on-one. We can’t always sit face to face with our donors, but we need to mimic this in our communications. No “Dear friends” or even “Dear Supporter.” No “Sincerely, The entire board of this organisation” signatories.

Think of a wonderful personal letter (or email) you’ve received.

Sheena,
I love you and I’m your number one fan. Your mom and I are so proud of you!
Love ya Beans,
Dad

OR

Dear child,
We appreciate you and your continued efforts towards excellence.
Respectfully,
Management of the Miller Family.

Which note do you think made me tear up when I read it?

7)     Tell a story. Humans have evolved to tell stories. We haven’t evolved to comb through statistics and facts and dry, boring reports. Robots LOVE numbers and statistics.  So send those to your robot overlords.

Stories are for humans. Their brains are hard-wired for them.  Tell your stories to your humans!

8)     Say what you need to say – no more, no less. Likely, we could go on and on about our organisations. We think that much of what happens in the day to day of it all is important. And it is – internally.

Here’s a surefire formula for success.  Choose your topic well, tell a great story filled with emotion, use plain language and clearly ask for a donation.  That’s it, you’re done.  Don’t force it.  Cramming too much into a 2 page letter, or trying to fill the dead space of a not-quite 4 page letter will end in heartache – for you, and your reader.

This is a first of several guest blog posts from some of our very favourite fundraisers and people-who-work-with fundraisers.  Sheena Greer from colludo.ca is an ass-kicking do-gooder and committed charity communications professional.  You can reach her directly by email or phone (306-230-1951).

And if you enjoy this post, just imagine how much donor chemistry a colludo/FundraisingPharmacy mashup could create for your charity.  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. 


One simple step to create healthy donor relationships.

 

None of Your Business - image for blog
 
Does your charity direct donors to call a toll-free or auto-attendant line instead of a real person who can help?  Or do you invite donors to email info@charitymeh.com on your Planned Giving webpages?  If so, this is what you are really saying to donors desperately trying to connect to a human being at your organization.
 

 

There is one powerfully simple way you can instantly begin creating healthy, effective and rewarding long-term donor relationships:

Ensure your donors can easily find the name, phone number and email address of a real live person that can help them with an inquiry, complaint, compliment or even a donation.  Then invite them to use this information.  Invite them to call, email or pop by.  For any reason.

Next, make sure this information is everywhere your donors’ eyes are…thank you letters, direct mail reply/donation forms, annual report, newsletter, brochures and on every single page of your website.

Why?

  • Donors won’t just figure it out.
  • It speaks volumes that your organization is thoughtful and takes donor relationships seriously.
  • Most donors will never call, email or pop in, but there’s a comfort and trust factor knowing that they can.
  • You will create a culture shift to focus on donor needs and service.
  • You will build loyalty and loyal donors are incredibly valuable (monthly, midmost and bequest donors usually start as loyal donors).

The simplicity of this gesture belies its power.

It can deliver millions to your organization long term.

Take a few minutes now and find the places you can make this change quickly and easily. Then take a few more minutes tomorrow to make sure it happens.  You’ll be prepared to really maximize that massive effort you’re putting into your fundraising this busy holiday season.

It’s an incredibly effective way you can show your donors the respect and love they deserve.

Do you need some more ideas on creating donor chemistry?  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 post was originally prepared for the AFP Toronto Congress 2014 blog and can also be viewed by clicking here.

Donor stewardship tips from a 12-year old boy

I remember the first time I had to ask my son to pick up the phone and call his grandparents to say thank you for a gift he had received.  You would have thought I was asking him to enter into the scariest of haunted houses all on his own – he was terrified!

I couldn’t figure it out.

It’s not like he was calling strangers.  And he was grateful.  But he couldn’t do it.  He was afraid of the phone.

When we talked about it, I realized that his fear of picking up the phone had to do with feeling awkward and just not knowing what to say…

Your donors are not strangers.  You should not feel awkward about picking up the phone and letting them know how much your organization appreciates their commitment to your cause.  They care and they need to know that you care too.

So pick up that phone and say thanks!  Let your donors know just how important they really are.  Here are 3 ideas to help alleviate that awkward feeling:

1. Have a plan.  A simple plan that allows you to set aside a small chunk of time each week to pick up the phone and say thank you to your donors will help you to develop a routine, and create good habits when it comes to engaging and retaining your donors.  You may be fortunate and have a list that seems impossible to get through, so prioritize.

Try this order:

  • All first time donors must get a call — regardless of gift size.
  • After that, call anyone who increases their gift over what they gave last time.
  • Next, call those who are giving their second (or third or fourth) gift that year.
  • Then, decide on a cut-off point based on a dollar amount for the rest.
  • Don’t forget your recurring donors who give quarterly or monthly. They could use a “thank you” call at least once/year, after all they are probably some of your most loyal supporters!

2. Get your Board members to pick up the phones to say thanks. It’s a great way to engage the Board in fundraising, especially if they are hesitant about asking for money.  Having a Board member reach out to your donors helps organizations connect with their donors without asking for a cent.  You may even learn a bit more about why your donors support your organization.  And as an added bonus, studies show that after a thank you call, the donor gift increases in size!

Penelope Burk, author of Donor Centered Fundraising, is constantly conducting research to find out what donors want and what you need to do to keep your donors loyal.  In one study, board members called to thank donors within 24 hours of making a gift.  The results were amazing: Donors who were called gave 39% more the next time they were solicited.

3. Not sure what to say? Be sincere.  Tell them who you are and that you are not calling to ask them for money, rather you just want to thank them for the gift they made.  Maybe you can tell them what the money was used for – let them know how they directly made an impact.  If they ask you questions, answer them – if you don’t know the answer, tell them you will find out and get back to them.  It’s that simple.

And if they have more time to spend with you, ask them why they chose to give to your organization.  Let them know just how integral they are to your organization.

Fundraising is about building relationships.  It takes time and care.  But a phone call is the simplest, most direct way to reach your donors, and to ensure that they know they are valued.

My son now loves to pick up the phone and chat. So do his sisters. Thank goodness my cell phone is my own (most days)!

Would you like to build long-term and rewarding relationships with more of your donors?  Do you need some help with your stewardship plan? Call Andrea toll-free 1-800-991-3318 x103 today for a free, no obligations chat. 

One is the loneliest number.

When it comes to direct mail fundraising, it’s also the most unrewarding.

One of the questions I get asked most frequently when speaking at conferences or Fundraising Pharmacy training sessions is why I always recommend multiple mailings in a year.  It’s not just people I meet who are new to direct mail or fundraising who ask.  It’s a question that many seasoned fundraisers ask, too.

Effectively their queries boil down to this:

“Why not just send one highly effective and efficient appeal each year and be done with it?”

Seems like a great idea at first blush.  We’d save staff time, mailing costs (and those pesky project consulting fees).

But years of testing and data analysis tell us that the most effective approach is more involved.  Why?  Well, when it comes right down to it, it’s because we are working with humans.

It’s difficult to get people’s attention, even loyal donors.

This is both good news and bad news.

First, the bad news…donors aren’t always paying attention to what we send them in the mail.  And not every appeal theme or issue appeals to all donors.  This is the “Right Ask at the right time” mantra that direct marketers live by.  We have to send multiple appeals with multiple offers in order to capture as many people’s interest as possible.

And as Liz Rejman at Museum London also emphasized in a recent discussion on this very topic, “sometimes when we ask, it may not be a good time for a donor to make a gift or they may intend to donate and forget.”

Liz is bang on.  Like a lot of things in life, timing is key!  And since we can’t possibly time a single appeal to work for every single donor, sending multiple appeals is the best way to maximise your revenue and (even more important) maximise the number of donors that will stay current.

Now here’s the good news…

It’s actually a good thing that the one-perfect-mail-piece doesn’t exist.  Because what we’ve learned over the years is that many donors will make more than one gift in a year.  It stands to reason.  They are passionate about the work you do…you share multiple ways their gifts can make a difference… some donors will decide to help more than once.

In fact, most organisations with mature direct marketing programs see an average of 1.3 gifts/donor/year.

This is very good, not just for the extra revenue from those 0.3 gifts, but also because the donors that send more than one gift in a year are a very valuable segment.  They tend to be more loyal, more receptive to upgrading their giving, more likely to become monthly donors and much more likely to name your charity in their will.

Like so many things with direct mail and direct marketing fundraising, what at first appears to be inefficiency is actually an investment in the overall donor relationship and the attendant increase in fundraising revenue over the lifetime of your donors.

You can rest assured that sending multiple direct mail solicitations every year will help you raise the most funds in both the short and long term.  Just make sure you add at least one or two stewardship pieces to keep donors informed and in love.  And also put processes in place to ensure donor preferences can be honoured (IE: for donors who wish to receive only one solicitation mailing per year).

What’s your optimum direct mail appeal number?  Are you boosting the effectiveness of each mail appeal with email, social media, the telephone and personal visits?  Call David toll-free 1-800-991-3318 x101 today for a free assessment. 

From idiot to trusted friend in 13 sentences.

Recently our team was working with a client that had some issues with their database and accuracy of their records.

Sound familiar?

There were a group of contacts that only had business information and addresses, but no contact name information.  Many of these donors had given 5 and even 6 figure gifts.

Together, we decided that waiting until the data was perfect or avoiding a solicitation of these donors was not an acceptable solution.  We put our heads together and came up with an idea:

Why not just be up front about the deficiencies in the records and ask donors to help us fix it?

This is the kind of stuff that people love to help with.

So, together we wrote a very simple, direct and honest letter that explained that we were rather embarrassed to be missing key information about such a loyal and generous donor.  Next, we asked the donor to share 3 pieces of information (name, phone number and email) at the bottom of the page and pop it in the postage paid return envelope along with their kind gift.

The client printed the letter themselves, along with the simple update form, all on a single sheet of letterhead (at a cost of less than a penny per note) and added it into the unsealed packages we had returned after processing at the mailhouse.

Easy, inexpensive and personal.

I almost wish we had more records with missing information, so we could make more use of this highly engaging approach.

I know we worry about looking unprofessional or *gurk* incompetent in front of donors.  But the reality is these kinds of errors exist and most people understand, especially if you are upfront and honest about it.

Try this approach next time you run into a mistake.  I guarantee this is one donor engagement idea that will make Mom proud!


A Stewardship Booster Shot

You’re working hard on your Thanksgiving and Holiday solicitations, right?

Perfect!  After all, you are about to head into the busiest fundraising season for virtually every charity in Canada.  And this is the best time to bring in money for your organization through the mail, phone, online and with personal asks.

But hang on for just a second.

I want you to promise me one thing… You see, in such a whirlwind season, a normally healthy donor relationship can start to feel unwell.

So, promise me you will take the time to get a stewardship booster shot!

Here are three quick, affordable and easy ways you can make sure you inoculate your fundraising program against donor fatigue and burnout.

  1.  Send a donor newsletter in the fall. – it’s not too late.  Aim to drop it in mid-October, in between your Thanksgiving appeal and your holiday solicitation.  A short simple, single sheet of 8.5×11 with 2 to 3 short articles and a few pictures will do the trick.  Pop it in the mail, take it on a visit, send it by email.  Make sure your donor has a quick update on what’s going on at your organization and tell them how their gifts are making that work possible.
  2. Polish up your thank you letter.  Write a fresh and personal thank you for all the gifts you receive in the fall.   Make sure your donors feel well-thanked before heading into an intense solicitation cycle.  Your well-crafted and sincere thank you will make you stand out in the crowded holiday asking season
  3. Send a “We Love You” email in early December.  Have your Executive Director/CEO (or another respected leader at your charity) send a warm email at the beginning of December.  It should be very short, with a simple message thanking the donor for their generosity throughout 2012.  It should gush a little (but make sure it is genuine) but still be short. No ask, just love.

No matter how you do it, please set aside some time to find opportunities to inject stewardship into your busy schedule.

It’s a good way to keep your donor relationships healthy.  And healthy donor relationships always mean you could have the holiday best fundraising season ever!

 

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5 Step Formula to Meaningful Thank You Letters

A few days ago I actually typed these words in an email to a former colleague:

“I get downright preachy about effective thank you letters.”

Hmmm…upon reflection, I realized there were a couple of serious issues with this:

·        I was pitching a luncheon presentation and ‘preachy’ is probably not a great descriptive for a positive and entertaining learning experience.

·        It’s been a long time since I wrote a rant about Thank You letters.

OK…so I can’t do much about the first point.  But I can pull out my soapbox and get back on it…

Here’s a Fundraising Pharmacy formula for effective thank you letters:

1.    Choose a great signatory – The best signatory may not be the Board Chair or President.  It may even be you!  The signatory should convey their passion for the work that your charity does and be able to speak about how the donor’s gift will impact that work.  And this letter must only be signed by one person (no co-signing or generic signatures like ‘the Board’).

2.    Write it how you  would say it – It always amazes me that people who are so warm and genuine in person feel the need to be formal and stiff in their writing.  I find it very helpful to imagine I was meeting the donor at an event and then jot down what I would say to them face-to-face.  It always surprises me how much material this gets me!

3.    Keep it personal – Throw in a micro-anecdote to draw your donor into the world of the signatory.  Did the person signing the thank you letter just walk past a room where program staff are busy helping people?  Maybe they walk past a photo of the founder every day?  Build a thank you around that experience and their feelings.

4.    Don’t wait for the Annual Report – The number one thing donors want from you is to know how their gifts make a difference.  So, make sure you update them in the thank you letter. You just have to find a success you can report that relates to the campaign/appeal the donor gave to.  EG:  the equipment you raised funds for has been purchased and will arrive in a few weeks; you are set to begin renovations to the program space that needed improvements.

5.    Give them your digits – If you want to see this donor again, you are going to have to give them your phone number.  Email, too.  Don’t try to shuffle them off to the switchboard, general reception line or info@ email address.  Give them the signatory’s direct line and actual email address.  Invite them to call anytime for any reason.  If your signatory is not comfortable with this, choose another signatory.  A few donors may call, but it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll receive more than a few calls over the course of a year.  But extending the invitation will help build trust.

Here’s your chance to seize the opportunity to transform an obligatory task into a powerful and personal connection with your donors!  And this formula should get you well on your way to healthier donor relationships.

 

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