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Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

June 30th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Fundraising

Gratitude is powerful.

We’ve always known this intuitively, but now we have proof from experiments in behavioral psychology as well.

Business school professors Adam Grant and Francesca Gino performed simple experiments involving gratitude. They found that when a student who sent a resume to a fictitious employer got an acknowledgement that included a simple “thank you,” the student’s self esteem went up. And he or she was more likely to help another student who later asked for help with a cover letter.

In Adam Grant’s book, “Give and Take,” he recounts how exhausted health care workers, who worked in isolation from the people they helped, became energized again after meeting one of those people. Grant says, “When people know how their work makes a difference, they feel energized to contribute more.”

The same is true of donors. When they are thanked and shown how their gift made a difference, they are more likely to give again. Thank you letters and notes are at their best when they make donors feel appreciated and let them know how and who they helped.

How can you make your thank you letters mean more than just words on the page?

Tell stories. Particularly the story of one person, child, or animal whose life was made better through the donor’s help.

Here are some examples:

Dear Deborah,Thanks to you, Michael and his sister, Janet, celebrated Michael’s 9th birthday with cake and balloons in a safe and loving place. They are no longer scared and love having their very own rooms.

Thank you for your recent generous gift of $100 to Children’s Residential Services of Greater Boston. Your willingness to help displaced children in our community weather the crises in their lives makes all the difference for children just like Michael and Janet.

Thanks to you, we have provided 250 children just this year with a place to live, learn, and feel safe.

Your donation will help purchase new computers for our kids over the next six months. The children are eager for the new computers so that they can do their homework and communicate with friends and family.

The computers are part of our Excellence in Service Campaign that will make our home even nicer for Michael, Janet, and their new friends. You and other people like you have brought us closer to our goal of $50,000 for that campaign.

We would love to give you a tour so you can meet some of the 15 staff and 50 children who are now with us. We love to show off our comfy home, and the children enjoy meeting visitors. One or two might even show you what they can do with their new computers.

Janet Teebs, our development director, is always available to set up a visit for you, or to answer any questions you may have. Don’t hesitate to call her at 520-446-0912, or email her at

We would love to keep you in the loop with our emails and newsletter. You can sign up for those at our site,

Again, thank you for all you do for our kids. You are a part of their lives too.


Malcolm Wexter
Executive Director

P.S. We depend on volunteers to help us. If you would like to share your time, just let Janet know, and she will ask our volunteer coordinator to get in touch. We have frequent introductions to our work for volunteers. We would be delighted to see you there.

If one story is good, are more better? Well, not better but just as good, as this example of a thank you letter shows.

Dear James,

First, let me just say, thank you!

Your recent donation of $150 means that you understand just how important riding a horse can be to a child with cognitive or physical challenges.

But let me tell you what our services at Therapeutic Riding of Atlanta mean to some of the children who come to our classes.

  • One little boy with severe cerebral palsy leaned how to sit up tall on his horse. His mother was so proud and said, “I never thought he’d be able to so so well. If he can do this, what else can he do?”
  • A young girl who had never said a word suddenly said “go” to her horse.
  • Because she built her confidence by riding, one little girl is no longer afraid to be on the playground swings.
  • A child who had trouble walking by himself started doing so after only a few times on a horse.
  • A young girl was able to speak louder in her classroom because she had become stronger and her respiration better from riding her horse.

Although these victories may seem small to the average person, you know that they are not. That’s why you gave, and why we and the kids we serve are full of gratitude for your generosity.

Donors like you help make our therapeutic riding possible, ensure that our horses are well fed, housed, and trained, and guarantee that we can offer scholarships to children and their families who could not, otherwise, afford these life-enhancing activities.

We want you to be an active member of our community too. Please visit our website at to sign up for our emails and newsletters. And do watch for invitations to our events such as Horsin’ Around, Hearts & Horses, and the special tours we offer all year round.

We are volunteer intense and would love for you to experience the joy of helping a child ride a horse. Just indicate your interest at our website or call volunteer coordinator, Sandy Converse, at xxx-xxxx. Volunteers get to wear some great t-shirts too!

Again, thank you! We love your support.

Best always,


Lilly Anderson
Executive Director

P.S. As a special thanks, we will be adding you to our special circle of friends and listing your name in our annual report and in our newsletter. Please stop by our ranch soon so we can say thanks in person.

Thank you letters to donors create a lasting bond that will bring in funds year after year. Reconnect the donor with your mission, mention your specific programs, and restate the need. Let the donor know just what his or her donation did, the results it made possible.

Dear Frank and Louise,This week, thanks to your help, we moved Tom and Francis, a senior couple in their 80s, into a bright, well-furnished apartment in a community devoted to the health and happiness of our older citizens.

No longer isolated in a hard-to-reach walkup in a high-rise building, Tom and Francis now have easy access to the services they need. Plus, they will receive two meals a day and participate in healthy and fun activities ranging from exercise classes to community field trips.

Thank you for your thoughtful donation of $250 to the Wildthorne County Agency on Aging. Your donation will make sure that older people in our county, such as Tom and Francis, thrive.

As you know, more than 30 percent of our seniors live on small, fixed incomes. The Agency on Aging provides meals, rent subsidies, counseling, recreation, and health care for many of them.

Because of you we can keep helping older people in distress. Donations from caring people like you help us make up for cuts in our state and local government funding.

Frankly, we could not do this without you. We, and those we serve, deeply appreciate your generosity.



Merry Baker
Development Director

P.S. Please call me at any time at xxxxx if you have questions, would like an update on what we’re doing, or wish to volunteer at one of our sites. We would love to meet you in person so we can say thanks face-to-face.

My most delightful thank you experience happened when I got a year-end thank you from Best Friends Animal Society for mymonthly donations.

The letter was great in and of itself, but then I popped the enclosed DVD into my computer and spent several minutes delighted by the animals, their antics, and their stories of survival thanks to Best Friends. I was smiling through my tears.

The letter summarized my monthly donations at the top (easy for tax purposes), and featured a full color photo of one of the dogs, Rhubarb, whose story is told in the DVD.

The letter’s envelope couldn’t be missed with a photo on the back, announcement of the DVD, and a banner that said “Important Year-End Documents Enclosed.” The package also included a reply envelope and an invitation to give again.

What a complete thank you and appeal. And you know I didn’t mind the ask bundled with the thank you.

I can’t show you the DVD, but here is the letter.

Dear Joanne,

Thanks to you, 2011 may have been the most exciting year on record for homeless animals!

It certainly was for Rhubarb, a very special dog whose medical needs were so great he was a long shot for adoption. But lo and behold, he made the trip to his forever home in California! Then after months of behavioral rehabilitation Carmello the cat found a home too! And for former “Vicktory” dog Georgia, it was an amazing year as well. She passed a behavior test to make it possible for her to be adopted!

Your support also changed the lives of animals across the country…

  • 400 community cats of Tangier Island can now live their natural lives, without multiplying, thanks to a massive spay/neuter program
  • Pit bull terriers in five cities found loving homes through Best Friends’ Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls program
  • Around 1,500 dogs moved across the country to find homes through Pup My Ride

Your gifts for 2011 totaled $______. For your convenience we’ve listed your individual gifts above.

These successes are yours, and they are just the tip of the iceberg. The enclosed DVD will introduce some more of the most memorable highlights from 2011.

Thank you for working with Best Friends to bring about the time when there are No More Homeless Pets. Here’s to making 2012 magical for even more animals!

Best wishes,

Gregory Castle
Best Friends Animal Society

P.S. Thank you so much for being a true friend of the animals! Every story on the enclosed DVD was made possible because of you. Please use the enclosed envelope for any questions, comments or suggestions, or to get a head start on your gifts for 2012.

Results can be communicated in many ways. This letter from Ben’s Bells in Tucson uses statistics rather than a story while celebrating its 10th anniversary. The letter was hand signed and included a handwritten note too.  That note said, “Your support means so much to so many – Thank you Joanne!”

Dear Joanne,

You are helping to build a kinder world!

Thank you so much for your generous donation.  We appreciate your support and your gifts will be put to great use supporting our mission to spread kindness.

This year we are excited to be celebrating our 10thanniversary, and we are celebrating you too!  Because of your thoughtful support, and other kind people like you, we are able to celebrate many community wide successes of spreading kindness.

  • This school year, our Kindness Education programs in grades K-12 are being implemented in over 160 schools and are reaching the lives of over 83,000 students!
  • 36 Kindness-themed mosaics have been created throughout the Tucson area to date
  • More than 27,000 individuals annually volunteer their time to help create Ben’s Bells and Kindness Coins
  • Over 33,000 Ben’s Bells have been distributed among our communities

We are so grateful for your support – you are making the vision of a kind world much more possible. Thank you for believing in the power of kindness!

With Gratitude,

Jodi VanderPloeg
Director of Development

Your generous gifts were received as follows:


As a 501c3 charity, tax laws require us to notify you that this letter is the official acknowledgement of your gift. Also, we are required to certify that you received no goods or services in consideration of this contribution; therefore, the full amount of your gift is tax deductible. Thank you!

Week of March 10, 2014

US high schools begin to push back start times to accommodate teen sleep clocks

June 29th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education

Jilly Dos Santos really did try to get to school on time. She set three successive alarms on her phone. Skipped breakfast. Hastily applied makeup while her fuming father drove. But last year she rarely made it into the frantic scrum at the doors of Rock Bridge High School here by the first bell, at 7:50 a.m.

Then she heard that the school board was about to make the day start even earlier, at 7:20 a.m.

“I thought, if that happens, I will die,” recalled Jilly, 17. “I will drop out of school!”

That was when the sleep-deprived teenager turned into a sleep activist. She was determined to convince the board of a truth she knew in the core of her tired, lanky body: Teenagers are developmentally driven to be late to bed, late to rise. Could the board realign the first bell with that biological reality?

The sputtering, nearly 20-year movement to start high schools later has recently gained momentum in communities like this one, as hundreds of schools in dozens of districts across the country have bowed to the accumulating research on the adolescent body clock.

In just the last two years, high schools in Long Beach, Calif.; Stillwater, Okla.; Decatur, Ga.;, and Glens Falls, N.Y., have pushed back their first bells, joining early adopters in Connecticut, North Carolina, Kentucky and Minnesota. The Seattle school board will vote this month on whether to pursue the issue. The superintendent of Montgomery County, Md., supports the shift, and the school board for Fairfax County, Va., is working with consultants to develop options for starts after 8 a.m.

New evidence suggests that later high school starts have widespread benefits. Researchers at the University of Minnesota, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studied eight high schools in three states before and after they moved to later start times in recent years. In results released Wednesday they found that the later a school’s start time, the better off the students were on many measures, including mental health, car crash rates, attendance and, in some schools, grades and standardized test scores.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller, chief of adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in the research, noted that the study was not a randomized controlled trial, which would have compared schools that had changed times with similar schools that had not. But she said its methods were pragmatic and its findings promising.

“Even schools with limited resources can make this one policy change with what appears to be benefits for their students,” Dr. Miller said.

Researchers have found that during adolescence, as hormones surge and the brain develops, teenagers who regularly sleep eight to nine hours a night learn better and are less likely to be tardy, get in fights or sustain athletic injuries. Sleeping well can also help moderate their tendency toward impulsive or risky decision-making.

During puberty, teenagers have a later release of the “sleep” hormone melatonin, which means they tend not to feel drowsy until around 11 p.m. That inclination can be further delayed by the stimulating blue light from electronic devices, which tricks the brain into sensing wakeful daylight, slowing the release of melatonin and the onset of sleep. The Minnesota study noted that 88 percent of the students kept a cellphone in their bedroom.

But many parents, and some students, object to shifting the start of the day later. They say doing so makes sports practices end late, jeopardizes student jobs, bites into time for homework and extracurricular activities, and upsets the morning routine for working parents and younger children.

At heart, though, experts say, the resistance is driven by skepticism about the primacy of sleep.

“It’s still a badge of honor to get five hours of sleep,” said Dr. Judith Owens, a sleep expert at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington. “It supposedly means you’re working harder, and that’s a good thing. So there has to be a cultural shift around sleep.”

Last January, Jilly decided she would try to make that change happen in the Columbia school district, which sprawls across 300 square miles of flatland, with 18,000 students and 458 bus routes. But before she could make the case for a later bell, she had to show why an earlier one just would not do.

She got the idea in her team-taught Advanced Placement world history class, which explores the role of leadership. Students were urged to find a contemporary topic that ignited their passion. One morning, the teachers mentioned that a school board committee had recommended an earlier start time to solve logistical problems in scheduling bus routes. The issue would be discussed at a school board hearing in five days. If you do not like it, the teachers said, do something.

Jilly did the ugly math: A first bell at 7:20 a.m. meant she would have to wake up at 6 a.m.

She had found her passion.

She seemed an unlikely choice to halt what was almost a done deal. She was just a sophomore, and did not particularly relish conflict. But Jilly, the youngest of seven children, had learned to be independent early on: Her mother died when she was 9.

And she is energetic and forthright. That year, she had interned on a voter turnout drive for Missouri Democrats, volunteered in a French-immersion prekindergarten class, written for the student newspaper, worked at a fast-food pizza restaurant and maintained an A average in French, Spanish and Latin.

“It’s about time management,” she explained one recent afternoon, curled up in an armchair at home.

That Wednesday, she pulled an all-nighter. She created a Facebook page and set up a Twitter account, alerting hundreds of students about the school board meeting: “Be there to have a say in your school district’s decisions on school start times!”

She then got in touch with Start School Later, a nonprofit group that provided her with scientific ammunition. She recruited friends and divided up sleep-research topics. With a blast of emails, she tried to enlist the help of every high school teacher in the district. She started an online petition.

The students she organized made hundreds of posters and fliers, and posted advice on Twitter: “If you are going to be attending the board meeting tomorrow we recommend that you dress up!”

The testy school board meeting that Monday was packed. Jilly, wearing a demure, ruffled white blouse and skirt, addressed the board, blinking owl-like. The dignitaries’ faces were a blur to her because while nervously rubbing her eyes, she had removed her contact lenses. But she spoke coolly about the adolescent sleep cycle: “You know, kids don’t want to get up,” she said. “I know I don’t. Biologically, we’ve looked into that.”

The board heatedly debated the issue and decided against the earlier start time.

The next day Jilly turned to campaigning for a later start time, joining a movement that has been gaining support. A 2011 report by the Brookings Institution recommended later start times for high schools, and last summer Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, posted his endorsement of the idea on Twitter.

The University of Minnesota study tracked 9,000 high school students in five districts in Colorado, Wyoming and Minnesota before and after schools shifted start times. In those that originally started at 7:30 a.m., only a third of students said they were able to get eight or more hours of sleep. Students who got less than that reported significantly more symptoms of depression, and greater use of caffeine, alcohol and illegal drugs than better-rested peers.

“It’s biological — the mental health outcomes were identical from inner-city kids and affluent kids,” said Kyla Wahlstrom, a professor of educational research at the University of Minnesota and the lead author of the study.

In schools that now start at 8:35 a.m., nearly 60 percent of students reported getting eight hours of sleep nightly.

In 2012, the high school in Jackson, Wyo., moved the first bell to 8:55 a.m. from 7:35 a.m. During that academic year, car crashes by drivers 16 to 18 years old dropped to seven from 23 the year before. Academic results improved, though not across the board.

After high schools in the South Washington County district, outside Minneapolis, switched to an 8:35 a.m. start, grades in some first- and third-period classes rose between half a point and a full grade point. And the study found that composite scores on national tests such as the ACT rose significantly in two of the five districts.

Many researchers say that quality sleep directly affects learning because people store new facts during deep-sleep cycles. During the rapid-eye-movement phases, the brain is wildly active, sorting and categorizing the day’s data. The more sleep a teenager gets, the better the information is absorbed.

“Without enough sleep,” said Jessica Payne, a sleep researcher and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, “teenagers are losing the ability not only to solidify information but to transform and restructure it, extracting inferences and insights into problems.”

Last February, the school board in Columbia met to consider later start times. “It is really reassuring to know that students can have a say in the matter,” Jilly told them. “So thank you, guys, for that.”

The moment of decision arrived at the board’s next meeting in March. Jilly sat in the front row, posting on Twitter, and addressed the board one last time. “I know it’s not the most conventional thing and it’s going to get some pushback,” she said, referring to the later time. “But it is the right decision.”

The board voted, 6 to 1, to push back the high school start time to 9 a.m. “Jilly kicked it over the edge for us,” said Chris Belcher, the superintendent.

It is now seven months into the new normal. At Rock Bridge High School, the later end to the day, at 4:05 p.m., is problematic for some, including athletes who often miss the last period to make their away games.

“After doing homework, it gets to be 11:30 p.m. pretty quickly,” said Brayden Parker, a senior varsity football player. “I would prefer to get home by dark and have more time to chill out.”

The high schools in the district have tried to adjust, for example by adding Wi-Fi access to buses so athletes can do homework on the road. Some classes meet only one or two days a week, and are supplemented with online instruction. More sports practices and clubs convene before school.

Some parents and first-period teachers are seeing a payoff in students who are more rested and alert.

At 7:45 a.m. on a recent school day, Rock Bridge High, a long, one-story building with skylights and wide hallways, was sun-drenched and almost silent.

Then, like an orchestra tuning up, students gradually started arriving, some for debate club and choir, others to meet in the cafeteria for breakfast and gossip. Laughter crackled across the lobby, as buses dropped off more students, and others drifted in from the parking lots. The growing crowds could almost be described as civilized.

At 8:53 a.m., Jilly burst through the north entrance door, long hair uncombed and flyaway, wearing no makeup, lugging her backpack.

“Even when I am late to school now,” she said, dashing down a corridor to make that 8:55 bell, “it’s only by three or four minutes.”

MARCH 13, 2014
The New York Times 

Old Fundraising Ways, New Fundraising Ways

June 28th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

If you look back 20, 30 — OK, even two — years, you may see some fundraising practices that seem silly now that we have the perspective of time and experience on our side. That’s the fun of working in a field that isn’t just science; there’s plenty of “art” mixed in too. The challenge is knowing what’s what so we aren’t just running after every neat new thing or refusing to try anything new. A mistake either way can hurt our income, and therefore our mission fulfillment.

So how do you identify what old methods are worth keeping alive and what new methods can have a positive bottom-line impact? Or in other words, how do you avoid staying with what’s comfortable even when it’s on life support or chasing what’s new just because it looks fun?

A good place to start is by asking yourself these questions.

Who is my target audience? 
Yeah, I know I bring this up a lot, but I keep hearing and seeing evidence that says someone out there isn’t listening. I hate to tell you, but the target isn’t you — so you have to figure out who it is. That audience helps determine what you say, when you say it and what tool you say it in.

Personally, one of the hardest things is to stop thinking it’s all about me. But the reality is, it’s about the donor or potential donor. Until we believe that, we run the risk of leaving donors behind.

The question for every fundraiser and colleague who reviews copy and design isn’t, “Do I like it?” As long as it is honest and ethical, the real question is, “Will our donors connect with the message and be compelled to respond?” When you talk your donors’ love language, you have a far better chance of getting them to take the desired action.

What’s the ONE purpose of this communication? 
Always start by determining what is the real purpose of the communication — the one thing you want to accomplish through it — before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

That one purpose doesn’t have any “ands” in it. If you want to raise money, that’s the sole focus of your message. If you want to tell donors about an upcoming event, that’s the message.

Newsletters (print and online) may have multiple messages, and you can give prominence to some by where you place the article. But if you want to raise money, talk about what the donor’s gift will do. Help donors “see” the project through your words. Make it exciting, life-saving, urgent or whatever — but don’t make it buried in with other purposes.

What is working for other people? 
Although I am a great fan of emails and letters other fundraisers send, I usually have no idea if what I am looking at is the biggest fundraising breakthrough since the mass mailing or if it’s a colossal dud that made a lot of employees feel good but did nothing to increase income and donor loyalty.

So you need to dig deeper and see what’s being mailed or sent electronically again and again (we have to assume that most nonprofits don’t resend failures). Some articles take a hard look at particular campaigns, and those are worth studying. Workshops and seminars often do the same.

You should also check out Who’s Mailing What!Opens in a new window if you haven’t done so already. “Borrowing” from a failed fundraising campaign is just too expensive of a mistake to make, so looking at what’s working for others — in your vertical or not — can be a worthwhile shortcut.

What’s the proof my target audience needs?
Your donor or prospect may not need the same level of evidence the government or a foundation board needs. People, of course, want to know that their investment is going to make a difference. Your job is to demonstrate that without leaving them staggering under the weight of the “proof” you provide.

In 2012, Grey Matter ResearchOpens in a new window found that nearly six in 10 non-donors believed that any gift they made to a nonprofit would be consumed in such an extent for overhead that it would not have a real impact on mission fulfillment. How can you show them (not just tell them) how a gift to your nonprofit will change things for the better?

We are fortunate fundraisers today because we have many great tools to help us get out our message. We aren’t just at the mercy of the post office or a telephone that doesn’t travel with our donors. But take it from this old dog; that doesn’t relieve us of the challenge to make every fundraising communication motivate our target audience to be part of the success story we are writing every single day as we make our missions happen.

April 10, 2014
By Pamela Barden

Young people should be at the forefront of charity campaigns

June 27th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Charities can learn a lot from the FGM campaign, which has been successfully fronted by a young person, says Leon Ward.

People are often surprised when I tell them I’m a trustee of a global children’s charity. They either think I’m a rather youthful-looking forty-something or, more often, assume I’m only on the board as a token gesture.

I’m pleased to say that neither is true. I’m 22, have been on a board of trustees for over four years and my views have helped to shape the charity’s direction and campaigning in the UK and worldwide.

I’m less pleased to say that this is unusual, especially in large charities. Many charities champion the role of young people in their campaigns. But while a one-click tweet or petition signature is an easy sell, putting youth opinions and ideas at the heart of campaigning is harder (and braver).

That’s why it was so pleasing to see Fahma Mohamed lead the campaign, supported by the Guardian and, to have Michael Gove write to schools about FGM.

Like Malala Yousafzai before her, Fahma’s eloquence and force of character brought results quickly. I’d wager that Gove was much quicker to act than if the campaign had been fronted by someone older or just by a faceless brand.

Why is this? The third sector can learn a lot from this approach about how we can bring young people into our campaigning in a more meaningful way.

First, young people bring fresh, innovative approaches to campaigning which as charities we shouldn’t be afraid of adopting. There are many examples; the phenomenal success of Martha Payne’s NeverSecondsblog and Jonny Benjamin’s recent #findmike campaign spring to mind.

What these examples share is an organic, stripped-down feel that gets to the emotional and practical heart of the matter. Big-budget, brand-focused charities can’t always replicate this authenticity. But it would be wise, when designing campaigns, to consult with young people from the outset, not just towards the end as a “rubber stamp”.

Second, young people are frank, undiplomatic, even blunt, giving them media and political appeal that few adults can replicate. Take a joke made by Fahma’s colleague from Integrate Bristol, Muna Hassan, at arecent panel discussion on FGM and early and forced marriage. There would be an outcry, Muna said, if the practice of chopping off half a man’s penis was as rife as its equivalent, FGM.

Delivered in that no-holds-barred way often unique to young people, this was among the most talked-about moments of the event. The same directness meant Gove had no choice but to react positively to Fahma’s campaign.

The lesson here seems blindingly obvious, but all too often it is forgotten. As Muna herself pointed out, if you give young people the space and confidence in which to speak, they’ll do so in a way that is infinitely more powerful than their elders could manage.

There’s a moral duty here, too; many organisations readily act on behalf of certain groups but often fail to give those same people meaningful opportunities to speak for themselves. So, it makes sense that our campaigning should focus on creating an enabling environment, before letting young people take the lead.

Finally, look beyond the campaign – and beyond the campaign’s team – and consider the potential pool of lifetime supporters. Campaigning can be the “soft” or “fun” entry point to a lifetime of support; young campaigners become donors and sometimes even staff. Giving young people a sense of empowerment at an early age can create a great sense of loyalty.

In youth engagement as in life, then, you reap what you sow. A little more effort to make engagement meaningful can bring huge rewards. So let young people into your campaigns. Give them a platform, mentor them, teach them and help them grow. They might just give you something back you couldn’t have done yourself.

If you work in the charity sector, please join our free network for charity professionals.

Monday 7 April 2014
Leon Ward
Leon Ward is a trustee at Plan International UK and an ambassador atYoung Charity Trustees. He tweets at @LeonJWard.

Starbucks to help pay for employees’ educations at ASU

June 27th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education, In The Spotlight

Starbucks has announced plans to help pay for the cost of an education at Arizona State University Online for its employees. The Starbucks College Achievement Plan will be available to 135,000 employees who work at least 20 hours a week and who enrol as full-time students at the junior or senior level (third or fourth year). Participants will be reimbursed upon the successful completion of 21 credits. They will also have access to an enrollment counselor. Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz said there will be “no strings attached”: employees will not be required to stay with the company after graduation and will be free to choose from any of ASU Online’s more than 40 online bachelor’s programs. Students will have to apply for any available federal funding before they will be eligible for the program. A Starbucks spokesperson told CBC that Starbucks already offers its  benefits-eligible Canadian employees a tuition reimbursement program worth between $500 and $1000 per year.

Emailing Canadians? Read This First.

June 26th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Email, Marketing

Recently, we talked about some important points you should know about when the new Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL for short) takes effect on July 1, 2014. Today, I am going to go into more detail about one of the potentially most confusing aspects of the act, transactional messaging. In my last article, I discussed putting an unsubscribe link in transactional messages. This rightly generated a lot of discussion and questions, so let’s drill down into some specifics.

Explicit vs. implicit permission

First, let’s review the specifics around permission as they apply to CASL. There are two types of permission under the law, explicit permission and implicit permission.

  • Explicit permission is given when someone specifically enters their email address in a form that clearly states it is for an email sign-up, they click a link in a confirmed opt-in message, or they check a box that states they want to receive messaging. Explicit permission is good until it is revoked by the recipient with an unsubscribe.
  • Implicit permission can be a little bit more confusing, and it relates to our transaction topic today. Implicit permission means that you have an existing business relationship, and can therefore reach out and communicate with that customer.

The difference in implicit and explicit permission is that implicit permission has a limited life. You are allowed to communicate with those people for 24 months before you must either prove another purchase to continue the business relationship, or have the recipient grant explicit permission.

In my last post, I suggested that putting an unsubscribe link in transactional messages was necessary. That’s not the letter of the law, but a little more detail is necessary to explain that recommendation. Transactional messaging is one of the most misunderstood areas in email marketing. Here’s a helpful definition of a transactional message.

What is a transactional message?

A transaction message is one that if your customer does not receive it, there is a high likelihood that they will call or contact you to find out that information. It should be customer generated, even if it isn’t real-time. I subscribe to a magazine with yearly auto-bill. I expect a notification shortly before my credit card is charged. If the user doesn’t expect it, it probably isn’t transactional.

So what about transactional messaging and CASL?

You are allowed to send transactional messages without any kind of opt-in under CASL. The caveat is this means only transactional messaging in the truest sense. You are not allowed ANY promotional content in these messages, or they must be qualified as promotional. You want to send an order confirmation to someone who has opted-out or promotional content? That’s fine, but the confirmation email can only include details about the specific transaction.

This is so different from today’s marketing mentality that I find it’s potentially dangerous to talk about not including an unsubscribe in a “transactional” message. If the “extra” content has a purpose of garnering more commerce/profit, the message is now considered commercial and essentially must be sent as a promotional campaign.

A friendly reminder: We’re only a few days away from CASL implementation. If you haven’t yet worked out any potential impact, time is running short. Have those review meetings. You don’t want to be in violation of CASL. The tide of permission marketing is evolving. Permission is important—and gaining momentum every month. Clarity in communication, respect of privacy, and relevance are key in future marketing campaigns.

RETENTION-How to hang on to your donors: Successful donor retention strategies

June 26th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

If you’ve talk to any fundraiser recently, you will notice that one of their biggest complaints is donor retention.

At the AFP international conference in San Antonio, Amnesty International’s Rosemary Oliver and I focused on the best solution to this problem. That being: building your monthly giving program.

With new donor renewal rates ranging from single digits for most member and event donors, and even many new online donors—to a high of 40 per cent for some direct mail programs—many fundraisers are wringing their hands with worry.

But a strong monthly giving program can give you annual renewal rates of up to about 90 per cent. In my decades of building monthly giving programs I’ve seen a lot of data, and the core factor that affects retention is the channel of acquisition. A direct mail monthly donor, or a direct mail donor who is later converted to monthly giving by phone, will be a long-time monthly donor. In fact, almost the only reason these wonderful donors drop off a program is because they pass away, develop serious health problems, or have cash problems in their retirement.

They are intensely loyal individuals.

And while those that are recruited face-to-face have the highest attrition rates amongst monthly donors, their retention is still usually better than single-gift donors. And, of course, with face-to-face acquisition you can grow a program quickly if you have enough money to invest.

Variety in your recruitment channels

One of my new clients in the US took five years (or 60 months) to acquire just 304 monthly donors. In just 40 days of building a program for them, their monthly donor base had tripled. By the end of 2015, I predict that they will have 40,000 active monthly donors. They will reach this target by investing in a variety of recruitment and conversion channels—a wise decision for them since their breakeven time will be less than a year, and it’s virtually pure profit for decades after that.

When you grow your monthly program, you need to use every channel and opportunity to convert people to monthly giving. In addition to giving you more money per year than most single-gift donors, your monthly donors will give for many more years. And they will likely give a value that is 10 times that of your average donor.

The other core factor in reducing retention of single or monthly gift donors is to make your new donors feel valued. Really, everything you do for the monthly donor you should do for your single-gift donor as well.


Once you create a robust program, it’s also important to segment your donors.

You should create a communication strategy and plan for your new monthlies, your long-term monthlies and your high-value monthlies. And, of course, a key component of your communication strategy is to reactivate lapsed monthly donors.

Ultimately, your monthly giving fundraising strategy has three components: recruitment, retention, reactivating.

This is by far the best way to keep your donors giving to you, for their entire life.

publication date: Apr 9, 2014
author/source: Harvey McKinnon
President of Harvey McKinnon Associates, an integrated fundraising company

If Your Donor Data Isn’t Getting Better, It’s Getting Worse

June 25th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Sounds like chaos theory, doesn’t it? Well, unfortunately, it’s true.

As with every other industry today, nonprofits are dependent on good data to be successful. And donor data is at the top of the critical care list. The problem that every nonprofit faces, however, is that data degrades, and donor data degrades faster than most.

So what’s going on?

The term “data degradation” refers to the worsening of data quality over time. Degradation is unavoidable because of the many negative influences acting on your data. For example:

  • Technologies and tools used to capture and manage data change, get upgraded, get replaced. With change comes the potential for error.
  • Within a nonprofit organization, many data inputs are often manual. Manual data entry is always prone to errors, and non-staff resources will create more errors than staff.
  • Then there’s the obvious problem of the donors themselves. Lives change, people move, workers find new jobs, new interests emerge, families form, kids go to college … all sorts of life events that nonprofits (hopefully) record as part of our donor profiles require that we manage our donor data aggressively.

C-3PO vs. DataWhat about cleaning?

Yes, we need to practice the art of data cleaning … or cleansing … or hygiene … pick a term. It is important to remember, however, that cleaning cannot be a one-time or occasional event. The typical nonprofit that we talk with cleans data reactively, once problems are discovered or direct mail pieces are returned to the office.

We need to practice good data management, and that means that we clean and enrich (more on that in a minute) data regularly and proactively.

Your CRM system should have data quality tools built into it, and some of these tools help you manage data quality via tasks like checking for duplicate records. But nearly all of these tools work one record at a time, at the point of data entry. And that doesn’t help us with over all degradation across the database.

Managing data quality will require you to get the data out of the confines of the CRM database and into an environment where it can be analyzed, problems identified, and repairs or clean-up scripts applied.

What about data enrichment – isn’t that helping my data quality improve?

Yes it is. Data enrichment is the practice of refining or enhancing the quality of your information assets, especially your donor database. Think of enrichment processes as including not just cleaning, but also adding to existing records with better information about your donors.

Do you ask donors how they want to be communicated with? Do you track their event participation at your organization? Do you ask them about interests or in what ways your mission inspires them? Do you sync up survey responses to their profiles in your database?

The best way to enrich your donor data is to reach out to your donors and engage them. Establish a better relationship. Communicate and learn.

That said, even with good data enrichment practices in place, your data quality is still getting worse. Frustrated? Don’t be. Instead, be proactive.

What you can do now

Taking action will generate benefits quickly. For starters, you need to know the extent of the problem, and you need to develop a data management plan that is consistent with your fundraising strategy.

In other words, you need a map and a plan. Map first.

  1. Get a data quality assessment of your donor data. This will determine the extent of your immediate data quality problems.
  2. Document your data needs. What data is required to execute your fundraising strategy? This becomes particularly important when you start addressing market segmentation and targeted messaging of your donors and prospects.
  3. Determine your data gaps. What data do you need, but are not collecting?

Now you need a plan.

  1. What is your schedule for communications and fundraising appeals? Now, stop trying to update or clean your donor data in response to that schedule. It’s important to know it, but your data management plan must be proactive, not reactive.
  2. Create a new schedule for data management. Does your organization need monthly data refreshes? Quarterly? This is the skeleton for your data management plan. You are going to follow this plan independent of fundraising or event schedules.
  3. Identify your data quality problems and build them into your plan. Identify a solution or process to address each point of vulnerability. Do your data input resources need training? Are your contact addresses stale? Not enough emails? Duplicates? Data normalization problems?
  4. Prioritize the data gaps that you want to close and identify a solution or process to obtain the necessary data. Do you need a survey tool on your website? Do you want to add Facebook as a registration option? Will you start a new outreach program to engage donors on topics of interest? Does your CRM database need new fields!!
  5. Determine your data quality standards. How old is too old for a lapsed donor? How many old addresses will you store? What determines the ‘completeness’ of a record? Some experts will tell you to start with your data standards first … and that’s solid advice, too. I usually prefer to address standards late in the process of planning, because wrestling with the other questions and priorities will help us develop a better, more practical set of standards for each nonprofit.
  6. Assign responsibilities for data management and data quality, and budget for it. If no one is held accountable, it won’t get done.

With a map and plan you are ready. Data quality won’t improve because we want it to. It takes some hard work, but the work gets easier with time. Managing to plan is always the best way to ensure success.

And remember, when it comes to data, if it isn’t getting better, it really is getting worse.

Gary Carr
Founder & President at Third Sector Labs

Canada needs to expand trades training opportunities

June 24th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Canada, Education

After years in the wilderness, a lot of federal and provincial time has been spent this year debating Canada’s track record on workplace training. With $2.5-billion alone going from the federal coffers to training — mostly from the Employment Insurance premiums we all pay — getting results is important. And with 300,000 jobs in small and medium-sized businesses sitting vacant, success becomes critical.

Employment Minister Jason Kenney and his provincial counterparts have finally reached an agreement on the Canada Jobs Grant. This new approach will change a small part of Canada’s training system, involving employers more directly in choosing the type of training that works for them.

While the federal-provincial battle over the Canada Job Grant wasn’t easy, the really hard part begins now. Each province will work to design programs to implement the new approach. With any luck, provinces will soften their attachment to the status quo and borrow from experience elsewhere to build a training culture in Canada.

Last month, I was very fortunate to be included in a study tour of the German dual-system of education and training led by Minister Kenney. He invited CFIB and several other provincial, business and union officials to look at Germany’s successes in vocational training and to determine if there are any lessons for Canada.

To be fair, it would be difficult to bring much of Germany’s system to Canada. For one, it is based on centuries of the “guild” system, with careful control over hundreds of specific trades. In addition, Canadians would likely brace at the German approach to stream children as young as 11 or 12 into schools suited to their skill set.

However, after several days in Stuttgart, Dusseldorf and Berlin, it is clear there are several areas from which we can learn. For one, there is a deep reverence for a very broad number of skilled trades in Germany, where as many Canadians look down upon such positions. Canadian parents and educators need to understand trades positions can be terrific long-term careers for young people.


Also, while streaming late-elementary school age children may be outside Canadians comfort zone, could we not agree that rebuilding a solid system of vocational training in our high schools makes sense? Many German youth spend a good part of their high school days in a combination of classroom and workplace environments. I was impressed by both the degree of participation of businesses in the programs and by the up-to-date trade skills of the teachers in the classrooms we visited. Ensuring schools have teachers from various disciplines, not just professional educators, seemed very important to making this work.

The trip gave me greater confidence that a properly designed Canada Job Grant — with its enhanced employer control over the type of training offered — has potential for success. Some, including several in government – suggest that Canadian employers invest too little in training their employees. I’m not so sure. International measurements of training exclude most types of informal, on-the-job training, particularly if not part of an apprenticeship program.

A CFIB report, Canada’s Training Ground, found that small and medium-sized businesses spend $1,958 for each employee on average on informal training, and $746 on formal training. For new employees with no experience, smaller employers spend double that. Overall, it costs the sector more than $18-billion to train employees every year – and $12.7-billion of that is spent on informal training. A properly designed Canada Job Grant would recognize both formal and informal training, as both are important.

As a parent, I struggle with the idea that an education system would determine a young person’s path so early. Also, aren’t high schools and universities supposed to do more than simply prepare someone for the job they’ll have for the rest of their lives? Having witnessed Germany’s system firsthand, it is hard to deny its success with a youth unemployment rate almost half of that in Canada. Also, because skilled trades seem to cover most areas of the economy, it appears the education system better prepares young people for jobs that actually exist, creating fewer instances where someone leaves school with a mountain of debt, but no job in their field. A new Statistics Canada report found one third of 25 to 34 year olds with a university degree in humanities were employed in occupations requiring high school education or less.

Our German hosts were generous with their time, and quick to point out that much of the system may not export well, given the importance of their history and culture. But there were many obvious starting points, such as expanding trades training for our youth. English Canada can likely take some notes from Quebec too, where CEGEPs and employer-centric training play important roles.

I’m glad there were some provincial officials on this trip. Now that the debate over the Canada Job Grant is over, the really hard work of designing proper workplace training programs starts.

Dan Kelly | April 7, 2014

5 Data Hygiene Tips You Should Be Using for Fundraising

June 23rd, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

A 2013 eNonprofit benchmark study found that fundraising email response rates dropped 21 percent, while list churn rates were up 23 percent from 2012. Keeping a clean donor email list can help you reduce bounce rates and spam responses—leading to higher response rates and lower list churn. What’s more, a clean list ensures you’re engaging with the constituents most likely to support your cause.

Nonprofit software provider Blackbaud’s Vice President of Product Development, Mary Beth Westmoreland, forecasts data hygiene to be a key technology trend for the nonprofit sector in 2014: “It enables [nonprofits] to collect more donations and be more successful in their membership drives,” she says. “Because the data is [reliable], they’re able to email clients and fundraise more effectively.”

Whether your donor list is 5,000 or 500,000 records, practicing good data hygiene is worth the effort. Here are five key tips to help you get your list clean—and keep it that way.

Tools You’ll Need

There are a variety of free and paid software options and services, such as and, that can handle your list-cleaning process. Additionally, many email marketing services and constituent relationship management applications, such as Salesforce and DonorPerfect, can automate much of this process—which will make the next step a lot easier for you.

If you have a small number of records to maintain, it’s possible to perform cleanup manually, but keep in mind that more records means more work. The larger your email list, the more important it is to use an application built to handle email marketing and list management.

Step 1: Record Current Metrics

Before cleaning, you’ll want to record a few metrics so that after cleaning, you can compare the numbers to see how much your list performance improved. There are dozens of email metrics that can be collected, but the following are meaningful for most organizations:

  • Bounce rate. The bounce rate is the percentage of emails sent that are returned as undeliverable. (Read more about bounce rates in Step 3.)
  • Unsubscribe rate. This is the number of recipients who have opted-out of receiving future emails. Depending on your industry, an unsubscribe rate of .5 percent or less is considered good. An unsubscribe rate higher than this indicates that your list, email content quality or both could use attention.
  • Open rate. The open rate is the percentage of people who viewed or opened one of your emails.
  • Click-through rate. This metric indicates the percentage of recipients who clicked on links and landed on the desired Web page.
  • Conversion rate. This rate reflects the number of recipients who did what you wanted them to do, such as make a donation or sign up to volunteer.

Most email marketing services (e.g. Constant Contact and MailChimp) will track and calculate these rates automatically. If you send emails and manage your list manually, or your email marketing service doesn’t track this data, then you’ll need to collect the data by hand. With this method, your insights will likely be limited to bounce and unsubscribe rates unless you are well-versed in analytics.

Step 2: Validate Addresses and Compile Bounce Records

When you know your baseline metrics, you can start cleaning up. This requires assessing flagged records and making careful decisions about whether they should be purged or updated.

Using your list-cleaning software or manual bounce records, find the addresses that bounced. Here are five common types of email bounces you might see:

  1. Undeliverable. This means that the receiving email server is not found. It could be temporarily unavailable (for example, down for maintenance), or the result of a permanent failure.
  2. Invalid address. When an address is flagged as invalid, it means it doesn’t exist. This may be because there is a typo in the address, the donor gave you a fake address or the address no longer exists.
  3. Auto-responders. An email will bounce when the recipient has set up an auto-responder. People often use these when they go on vacation to alert senders that they are unavailable.
  4. Blocked. Your IP address is likely blacklisted or greylisted, and is being blocked on the receiving server. The bounce notification will give you helpful information about the reason your address is blocked.
  5. Inbox full. The recipient’s email inbox is full and can’t accept more communications until it’s cleared. The email service provider will continue to attempt delivery for up to 72 hours.

Bounces are referred to as “hard” when there is a permanent delivery failure, as in the case of an invalid address. They’re called “soft” when delivery failure is temporary, as in the case of server downtime or when a recipient’s mailbox is full.

Step 3: Purge and Update Records

Most of the time, hard bounces can be purged, but it’s a good practice to look records over first to see if you can identify why they bounced.

Ross Hendrickson, chief operating officer of fundraising software vendorBloomerang, says to start with the obvious when selecting records to purge. “Purge records of donors who haven’t donated in the last three years. Then look at the records of people on your list that have never donated and purge those older than two years,” he says.

Kelly Flint, Constant Contact’s area director for the western U.S., advises fundraisers to “keep in mind that you should purge or [update] the contacts thatbounce, not those who don’t open your email. What if that contact is reading your email, but viewing your email from an old device, or they chose not to enable images? This would show up as unopened, even though they are in fact engaging.”

Flint says, “No one knows your donors better than you, and this knowledge is crucial when cleaning your list. For example, say you notice one of your best donors showed up as a bounce: in this situation, it would be worth your time to follow up with a quick call to see if they changed their email address. This way, you’re not losing out on a valuable touch-point, and are keeping your list updated.”

If the hard bounce is an invalid address, it could simply be a typo. For example, you might notice bounced back as invalid because the domain,, was spelled incorrectly. In this case, fix the typo and test the email through the validation software again. If it doesn’t bounce, the record is good.

If you’re unsure of what to do with a record, it’s a good idea to send a final appeal before purging a contact from the list. If a recipient doesn’t respond, then it’s probably safe to remove them. Flint says, “It takes seven touches on average before a person is ready to donate. Some contacts on your list may need a year or longer before they’re ready to give to or volunteer with you, so don’t be too quick to remove these less-engaged contacts.”

Also, make sure to remove duplicate records so recipients receive only one email from you. Most clean-up software will locate and remove duplicates automatically, though you can still perform this task manually by filtering for duplicate recordsusing a spreadsheet.

Finally, remove anyone who unsubscribed from your list. Most list management software handles this step for you. To handle this manually, compare your list to your unsubscribe records to make sure everyone who opted out of your email list was removed.

Step 4: Enhance Records

Once you’ve purged unnecessary records, consider enhancing the remaining records with other donor information. Flint suggests dividing up your list based on donor interests or engagement level. Fundraising and donor management software makes this easy by allowing you to create tags to segment donors by criteria that’s most useful to your email fundraising strategy.

By segmenting your list, you can sharpen your campaign messages based on what donors have shown interest in or how they’ve supported your organization in the past. “For example, if someone has given to the scholarship fund, send them content that explains the effectiveness the scholarships are having on your mission,” says Hendrickson.

Targeted email campaigns that speak to a donor’s interests will improve click-through and conversion rates. You can pinpoint donor interest by contacting donors and asking for the information; by reviewing past interactions to glean what their interests and preferences might be; or by checking analytics data to see where donors clicked-through and converted on previous campaigns.

This step requires some legwork, but it results in highly-optimized fundraising campaigns.

Step 5: Keep it Clean

Your donor email list is clean. Now, keep it that way!

Using email marketing software is one way to do it. This software automates some clean-up tasks, helps you manage bounces and streamlines email marketing processes. But having this software in place doesn’t mean you can forget about list management.

Practicing regular data hygiene procedures can help you keep your list clean going forward. Hendrickson gives three examples of such procedures:

  1. When you receive a donation check, match the name on the check to their donor record to confirm accuracy.
  2. Use a list management system that can distinguish between an individual, a household (couple) and an organization to avoid sending multiple requests.
  3. Update your records with each donor response. If you mail something out to Robert, but the response comes back signed “Bob,” update his salutation to match.

Furthermore, it’s good practice to ask contacts to update their profiles periodically—either through their online profile, if available, or by filling out information cards sent through the mail. That way, most of your records will remain up-to-date with the most accurate contact information.

Finally, continue to monitor your list metrics and look for signs that it’s time to clean up again.

“It’s definitely time to perform list cleanup when you have a high number of bounces and spam complaints, or notice a drop-off in open rates or engagement with your emails,” Flint says. “A rule of thumb is to take a look at your bounces at the end of each quarter: this is a great time to clean up, wrap up and create a fresh start for the new quarter.”


Donor email list cleanup is a practice every fundraiser serious about optimizing campaigns should be doing. By monitoring list metrics, practicing good data hygiene and segmenting donors according to their interests, you are better able to send the right message to the right donors.

According to Hendrickson, “average revenue per donor… should increase simply because the number of invalid donor records decreases.” But by following these tips, you can expect to see campaign improvements at every level.

April 1, 2014 by