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‘Pokemon Go’ and Your Nonprofit

July 14th, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising, Marketing, Social Media

Gotta catch ‘em all!

No, we’re not talking about Pokemon. We’re talking about all these new faces exploring your area in search of Pokemon.

Everyone and their moms are on “Pokemon Go.” (No, really—my mom has it, too.)

And the data backs that up.

According to data from SensorTower, the free, augmented reality game that lets users find various Pokémon out in the real world has been downloaded nearly 7.5 million times from Google Play and the iOS App Store in the U.S., TechCrunch reported.

That is a whole lot of people who are getting outside, discovering new areas and meeting new faces. So how can your nonprofit use this rocketing app to its benefit?

Follow your fellow nonprofits’ lead: Embrace the hype. Getting more people to stop by means you have that many more people to introduce your cause to.

Beth Kanter rounded up a great collection of how nonprofits have been using the game to their advantage. Here’s what we took away from their efforts.

1. Download the app and showcase the Pokémon near your location.

The hunt is on. Wannabe Pokémon Masters are looking for Pokémon wherever they go. Actually, they specifically are going places just to look for them. Posting a picture with Pokemon you’ve found on your own grounds will let gamers know they should stop by (and that you’re hip enough to have downloaded the app).

Who can you nab a selfie with on the National Mall? The Washington Monument has hosted singers like Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Odetta and now… ‪#‎Jigglypuff‬? Come out to sing your own song, catch ‘em all and ‪#‎FindYourPark‬. You never know who you’ll run into!
While you’re hunting Pokémon, we choose you… to take a selfie with your faves and post your pic here! Remember to be respectful of the memorials and other visitors, but share your Pokémon victories with a ‪#‎pokeselfie‬ at the ‪#‎nationalmall‬! Gotta catch them all? More like gotta catch the Mall!


All 92nd Street Y dance classes, art classes and May Center gym classes can safely resume. We captured the Rattata that was outside Buttenwieser Hall. ‪#‎PokemonGo‬

Seriously, don’t you want to visit the National Mall and the 92nd Street Y now? (We also want to go to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and hang out with Pikachu.)

2. If your location is a PokeStop, embrace it.

If your location has been designated a Pokestop, a place of interest where users can stock up on Pokeballs—and snacks and medicines for their captures, you probably already have seen an increase in traffic. Users naturally will want to visit your location. View this as an opportunity, not a nuisance.


The Art Institute of Chicago
Pokémon have invaded the Art Institute! Catch them if you can and find 14 PokéStops in and around the museum. ‪#‎PokemonGO‬
The Art Institute of Chicago's portrait.
The Art Institute of Chicago's portrait.
The Art Institute of Chicago's portrait.
The Art Institute of Chicago's portrait.

Not only are we the stop for all of your community philanthropy needs, but we’re also a Pokestop for all you ‪#‎PokemonGO‬ players out there! Come visit us and stock up!


For those organizations that want to draw extra attention and visitors to their locations—say, for instance, when their hosting charity events or special programs—there is the “Lure Module.” The in-game item is available for purchase and attracts additional Pokemon to the location for 30 minutes. And people go where the Pokemon go.

Not a Pokestop? According to Forbes, those locations were pre-determined by the developer, Niantic Labs, but with the huge, immediate success of the app, it may just be a matter of time before it becomes a new marketing opportunity.

3. Find creative ways to integrate your cause into the game.

Now, your organization probably isn’t Pokemon-centric, but, as you’ve seen, that doesn’t need to stop you from joining the fun.

One of the biggest benefits of the game is that it’s pushing people to be more active. After all, they have to go to the physical location to catch a Pokemon. (“Pokemon Go” players who also wear Fitbits love life right now.)

One Facebook user pointed out that this is the perfect opportunity to encourage gamers (and cause supporters) to download WoofTrax, an app that donates to animal shelters whenever its user walks with or without his or her dog, ATTN reported. While the apps aren’t related, they can be used at the same time—melding the exercise of hunting for Pokemon with giving back.

Two days ago, I received an email that shared a similar sentiment from Charity Miles, an app that let’s users earn money for various charities while on the move. In fact, the whole purpose of the email was to encourage the user to join the “Pokemon Go” Challenge. Through the challenge, not only are users earning money for charities, but when they take a screenshot of a Pokemon sighting on their walks, upload it to the app and share it on social media, they are entered to win a Charity Miles T-shirt.

Pokemon Go Charity Miles

The Durham Bulls, a Triple-A affiliate for the Tampa Bay Rays, also came up with a fun way to give back. Yesterday, they opened up their park for fans to search the stadium for Pokemon, CBS Sports reported. It cost $5 to enter—and all proceeds went to a pet adoption charity.

By Allison Ebner
NonProfit Pro magazine
July 14, 2016

You Are Not Ordinary—20 Attributes That Make You Great!

June 17th, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising, Major Gift

What is happening out there? I’m seeing too many major gift officers (MGOs) who play small, do enough just to get by, and seem to want to drift through their careers just long enough so they can retire and head to Florida.

How did this happen?

I just want to take these good people (and, yes, they are all good people), and shake them by the shoulders and tell them to wake up! You cannot be ordinary if you are an MGO. Choosing a profession that asks you to bring together donors and need is, in effect, an extraordinary thing to do. There is no ordinary in this profession.

Being an MGO is a vocation. This is not something that’s “just a job.” I believe being an MGO is a high calling, yet Richard and I are seeing many MGOs playing small. I refuse to say they are just ordinary MGOs. I seriously don’t believe that is possible, because the position itself demands too much and has such serious implications for donors and nonprofits that no one would choose the position if they thought of themselves as ordinary.

Yet, many MGOs are playing ordinary. Why are you doing this? Why have you lost your passion?

I believe our profession is in serious jeopardy. Not only is it incredibly hard to find great MGOs today, but it’s only going to get harder to fulfill future demand as nonprofits are finally waking up to the fact they need major-gift programs to be successful.

This is why if you are “playing ordinary” and you have lost your passion for this amazing work, we need you to regain that passion or consider another profession. The position and today’s nonprofits only deserve people who are absolutely passionate about being that bridge between a donor’s desire to change the world and the world’s greatest needs.

If you or someone you know only wants to “just get by” or “skate through” or “ride the job long enough to retire,” you are in the wrong profession. And, if you are new to this and that is your attitude, do not apply to be an MGO.

Being a professional MGO is one of the hardest, most demanding professions there is. It can be brutal, yet it’s also one of the most rewarding professions there is. That stands to reason, right? I mean, anything so rewarding has to equally be as difficult.

Those MGOs who I view as extraordinary are all:

  1. Passionate
  2. Inquisitive
  3. Tenacious
  4. Good-natured
  5. Accountable
  6. Focused
  7. Friendly
  8. Kind
  9. Intelligent
  10. Donor-focused
  11. Confident
  12. Compassionate
  13. Emotional
  14. Practical
  15. Loving
  16. Closers
  17. Spiritual
  18. Humble
  19. Risk-takers
  20. Humorous

Yes, every extraordinary MGO I’ve ever known possessed these 20 attributes. If you put all these together, there is no way you can be ordinary. No way.

If you are one of those MGOs who are playing ordinary, I ask you to look deep into your soul and figure out what is happening to you. At one time, you weren’t playing ordinary. What happened? Do you think you can get yourself back on track and be the extraordinary person you are again?

I think you can. I know you can. I’ve worked with MGOs who for one reason or another lost their passion and over time started to look at their work as just another job. But, through some coaching, management, focus and encouragement, they regained those extraordinary people that were inside of them again and became amazingly successful.

If you find yourself in that position of playing ordinary, I urge you to figure out what’s keeping you in that place. Then you have two choices: Regain that passion you once had or look for a new profession where you can find your real passion. Life is too short not to do that.

Donors deserve the best of you. Your nonprofit does too.


By Jeff Schreifels
May 9, 2016
NonProfit Pro magazine

The Math Behind not Segmenting or Personalizing Direct Mail

December 23rd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Fundraising

Dear Current Reader,

Sounds very inspiring doesn’t it. In fact, the research at Haines-Direct would show that personalization increases direct mail response rates by up to 10%. So instead of getting 50 people to read this article, I could’ve gotten 55 readers if your name was on it….shoot!

Since the only metric that matters with direct mail is ROI, let’s turn the 10% into a numbers game. Say you normally get 100 responses with no personalization. With personalization, the same letter can generate 110 responses. If your average gift per response is $40, then you just made $400 by putting a name on a solicitation.

The same math can be applied to direct mail segmentation. I’ve heard many organizations that send the same message to everybody, regardless of their relationship with the donor. Here’s the perception when receiving an un-segmented mail piece:

“Did they even realize my last gift?”

“Do they not notice that I donate at this time every year?”

According to research through hundreds of individual direct mail campaigns, Haines-Direct has experienced an average of an 8% increase in response when using segmentation.

If you normally send out 20,000 direct mail pieces, get a 2% response with an average gift of $40, then you would receive $16,000. With an 8% boost to response by adding segmentation, your response would move to 2.16%, thus increasing your total collections to $17,280.

Examples of segmentation would include:

  • Developing copy depending on when they last donated. For example, having the same introduction to donors who donated to the holiday appeal, but not the spring appeal
  • Adding additional copy thanking donors who have donated to the brick-a-thon, walk-a-thon, or phone-a-thon
  • Acknowledging where the donor made their last gift. Donors can donate through direct mail, through the phone, online, or in person.
  • Some donors want frequent communications from your organization, while others want an infrequent volume. Regardless of the frequency, all donors are valuable
  • There is a wealth of information in current research about generational giving trends. Most of this information provides strategies and tactics for targeting or segmenting your fundraising efforts toward these generational donors. The four main generations are: Matures, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y (or Millennials).

September 8, 2015
By Greg Palya
Haines Direct – Direct Marketing Solutions for NonProfits

Don’t sabotage your data science efforts with garbage

December 22nd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

The greatest data science team in the world can’t save you from bad source data. Learn five ways to make sure your data is not garbage.

The Kryptonite for any data scientist is low quality data. You could invent the cleverest algorithm the world has ever seen, but it would render useless when fed bad data. As they say, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

I’m currently working with a large oil and gas company to improve the safety of their refineries, by helping them adopt a more risk-based inspection strategy. The optimal application of risk would be purely quantitative — use historical inspection data to identify high-risk areas that require more attention. This approach is being challenged due to the confidence some people have with the existing, historical inspection data. It’s a valid challenge that’s commonly faced by data professionals. To defend your data science, you must have good data quality techniques.

1: Clean sources

It all starts with a clean source. Housecleaning is much easier when you’re starting with a relatively clean house — the same goes for data cleansing.

There are tough questions being asked at my oil and gas client about how the data is collected. For instance, you may see places where the thickness readings of a pipe are larger in 2015 than they were in 2012. I’m no physicist, but I’m pretty sure pipes can’t just grow in thickness over time. We haven’t done a thorough root cause analysis as to why we’re seeing such dubious data, though it’s worth investigating. I favor this approach 10 times over any sort of data cleansing mitigation.

2: Develop an answer key

Before you can claim high data quality, you must know what high data quality looks like. In some cases, this may not be possible. In my pipe measurement example, it’s impossible to know exactly how much thinner a pipe should be after three years — that’s why you inspect. However, in some cases you do know what high data quality looks like.

It’s best to have an answer key, especially if you’re applying statistical techniques to determine data quality; a simple one-sample t-test can tell you the quality of your data.

If you’re mining a company’s email server for employee sentiment, your algorithm should exclude any spam that made its way into the server. Spam in this context is pretty obvious, so the inverse (non-spam) should be as well, and this would be your answer key.

3: Remember integrity rules

Integrity rules are conditions in the data that must exist if your data is clean.

I worked with a large tech firm on the construction of a customer registry for their government sales. The customer registry served as customer master data for four or five data sources. To integrate each data source, we interviewed the product owners about the ACD (add, change, delete) nature of their data; then, we installed ACD audit logs on their tables to see what actually happens. In almost all cases, there were rows deleted from tables that should never be deleted, and rows added to tables that were supposed to be static.

Consider the logic rules in your data that should apply if there’s no data corruption, and build audit scripts to tell you when there’s a violation. For instance, if there’s a foreign key that points to a non-existent primary key, you have a problem.

4: Employ expert systems

If hands-off quantitative risk assessment doesn’t fly at my oil and gas client, we will interview experts to see if we can replicate the process they go through to clean the data before they analyze it. This is an expert system, which is a rule-based replication of how a human expert would determine good data quality. An expert system works well as long as: 1) you have actual experts (hint: check their results and ignore their title); 2) they can clearly explain what they do; and 3) what they do can be translated into clear-cut rules.

As with most things, the theory oversimplifies the pragmatics, so be careful. Your experts may have had unconscious competency for quite some time, and therefore find it difficult to explain what they do. Try explaining to a grade-schooler how you drive a car. It’s not that easy.

5: Include machine learning in your arsenal

As recursive as it sounds to use machine learning to cleanse the data you’ll use for machine learning, it actually works. There are two systems: one for cleansing and one for analyzing; you need to make sure to keep their solution spaces separate — two different problems. But there’s no reason why you can’t teach a computer to learn what clean data looks like, especially if you have the answer key.

It still makes me nervous to rely solely on a computer to cleanse input data using machine learning; you never really know how well the cleansing algorithm will work, even with today’s advances in machine learning. Amazon’s pretty great, but it still recommends movies I would never watch. Even still, it doesn’t hurt to include machine learning in your arsenal to combat poor data quality.


I’ve described five ways to make sure you don’t sabotage your data science efforts with garbage. Some of the tactics can be used right away, and some may take time to develop.

You should get serious about feeding only the highest quality data into your data science algorithms. Otherwise, you’ll quickly see the quality of your data science team erode.

By September 29, 2015

Laser-Focused Direct Mail With Personas

December 15th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Fundraising

The best way to increase your chances of great response is to mail to people who are interested in your product or service. There are many ways to do this, but one of the most effective is to create personas.

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. Many marketers are familiar with personas in their inbound or digital marketing, but for some reason have not applied them to their direct mail campaigns.

Benefits of Buyer Personas:

  1. Ability to target the right people for each message — send them only offers that they are interested in.
  2. Increase response — better offers equal a better response rate.
  3. Ability to find more prospects like your current customers — when you profile other people you can match them accurately to your current customers.

By creating buyer personas, you can identify who your ideal customers are, where they are and what they want. When you combine this with variable data direct mail you can laser focus your message to each individual based on that person’s persona while getting the benefits of postal discounts for mailing a larger quantity rather than doing a separate mailing for each persona.

We get asked many times, how can we create personas? Here are a few ways you can start researching:

  • Interview or survey current customers — create questions that answer what you need to know in order to build your personas.
  • Review LinkedIn profiles — try to find the common themes between each of your customers.
  • Ask questions on social media — this can give you a larger pool than just your customers, but be careful to fully vet each person responding before you add their input to your research.

After your research there are some best practices for building your personas:

  1. Focus on motives not behavior. Why are they doing what they are doing?
  2. Keep them fictional, but be as realistic as possible. Do not base them off of your most important customer, this can give you a skewed result.
  3. Choose one primary persona, this should be the group of people that will make you the most money.
  4. Create a story for each persona that is explained in five segments:
    • What is their job and demographics?
    • What does a day in their life look like?
    • What are their challenges or pain points?
    • How do they search for information?
    • What are their common objections to your product or service?

There are two big benefits to adding personas to your direct mail. The first is that you can save money on services and postage — and since direct mail’s biggest expense is postage, you can save a lot by not mailing to people who are not interested in what you are offering. The second is by getting more people to respond because they are interested in your offer. So, while you are saving money you are also making more money. It is a win-win situation!

Have you tried using personas in your direct mail? How has it worked for you?

Target Marketing magazine

The 3-Word Formula Guaranteed to Raise Money

December 14th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

I consider these three words the holy trinity of fundraising success.

They are simple.

They are easy to remember.

They really work.

Plus, if you wrap them up with some emotional color, you’ve got an offer that can’t be refused.

Let’s take a look.

Did you know that “you” is one of the five most powerful words in the English language?

Make philanthropy about your donor’s experience. Use “you” rather than “I” or “our” or “we” (unless it’s “we, together”). Cross out all the ego-centric stuff in your copy and rewrite.

As veteran communicator Tom Ahern says, “you is the glue.”

“You” grabs your donor’s attention.

“You” is “sticky.”

“You” helps to “tip” your donor toward seeing your request in a positive light.

“You” makes the story you tell about your donor.

Make fulfilling your organization’s mission about your donor’s actions. Make the values your organization enacts about your donor’s caring, generosity and good character.

Use “you” to make your donor the hero.

Show your donor how to be the very best version of themselves.

  • “You can do this.”
  • “You did this.”
  • “Your commitment will make this happen.”
  • “You are magic … powerful … extraordinary … unselfish … honorable … wise … far-seeing …”

Instead of “We cure cancer,” “Our organization cures cancer” or “They cure cancer,” substitute “we,” “our” and “they” with “you” and “your.”

Speak to your donor personally.

Be flattering.

Assume his or her best qualities.

Allow your donor to rise to the occasion.

I thought my mom was crazy when she said, “do this because I said so,” to me. Who knew there was method to her madness?

Guess what? Neuroscience studies show this magic word can make any statement more persuasive.

One of the most interesting studies, reported by Harvard Magazine, revealed that as a trigger for acquiescence, the word “because” increased the success rate by more than 30 percent.

I found this amazing when I learned it, and I’ve used it ever since.

It turns out that “because” is one of the persuasion principles that help explain the psychology of why people say “yes” without thinking. The human brain is wired to react when it hears “because.”

It is a magical word—an automatic trigger for compliance.

Sure, you can get a “yes” without using this little tip. You can get people to think and consider your appeal and still make a contribution. But if you can boost your chance by 30 percent, wouldn’t that be a very smart thing to do?

Here are some examples:

  • Instead of “Today I’m sharing Amelia’s story with you,” say, “Today I’m sharing Amelia’s story with you because she needs your help.”
  • Instead of “Yes, I want to give,” say, “Yes, I want to give because children need me.”
  • Instead of “Please consider a gift of $500,” say, “Please consider a gift of $500 because children need your help.”
  • Instead of “Provide a meal to a starving child,” say “Provide a meal because Miguel is starving.”

You can do this to almost any sentence.

It almost seems ridiculous, yet the research reveals that the way people respond is often somewhat mindless, based more upon the familiar framework within which a request is made than on the content.

Using the word “because” triggers that familiarity framework. It gives folks an explicitly expressed reason to do something, rather than an implied reason. This sets the stage that kicks in the psychology of unconscious social inference. The difference is subtle, but the impact is pronounced.

There is a magical power behind the word “thanks.” Simply put, it makes folks like you.

It’s considered good manners, and makes you look like a good and giving person.

It also puts people in a receptive mood.

Penelope Burk’s groundbreaking research on donor retention found that the three principle things donors want from charities all have to do with the thank you. They want it prompt, personal and reflective of the impact of their giving. The thank-you process will be the single biggest indicator of your donor’s likelihood to give again.

But you don’t just save the word “thanks” for your acknowledgement letters.

When you thank donors in your appeal letters for their past giving, it also reminds them they already made a decision to give to you. This triggers one of Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion—commitment and consistency. We tend to repeat decisions we’ve already made because doing so is congruent with our self-image.

When you thank prospects in your appeal letters for being caring people, it plays into the vision of the person they would like to see when they look into the mirror. It flatters them and plays to their egos.

“You,” “because” and “thanks.”

The holy trinity of fundraising writing!

This is your framework for success. Now let’s fill it in with …

And by the way, you add color with your words, too. No magic markers required.

Let’s look at an example I’m borrowing from Sean D’Souza of who writes about “How To Correctly Use Emotion To Create Drama.” Sean’s blog is not about fundraising per se, but his tagline is “Why Customers Buy (and Why They Don’t).”

Want your donors to “buy” what you’re selling? Then read on.

Take a look at the following sentences.

  • She saw the bowl of soup.
  • She saw the bowl of soup and her heart sank.
  • She saw the bowl of soup and it flooded her with happy childhood memories.
  • She saw the bowl of soup and was overcome with how hungry she felt.
  • She saw the bowl of soup, but a feeling of hesitancy crept into her being.
  • She saw the bowl of soup and immediately felt overwhelmed.

What’s the difference between the first sentence and those that follow?

If you’re telling a story, the “things”—like the bowl of soup—aren’t what your reader’s brain is searching for. The reader’s brain is searching for the expression on your protagonist’s face—and what that expression means. What’s her mood? What difficulties is she encountering? Is her situation causing her to feel anger? Despair? Nostalgia? Frustration? Exhaustion? Hopelessness? Depression?

Even if you have a great photo of a woman with a bowl of soup, your prospective donor needs to know what this signifies. Why is it important?

You add the emotional meaning through your words. They may be words in the photo caption. Or words that precede or follow your main statement.

Emotion sets the scene. Emotion leads the reader through the rest of the letter or article. Emotion helps the reader empathize with the situation. Because many people can eat soup.

But each reader will feel totally differently about the soup, depending upon how you color the situation.

Just like the holy trinity of “you,” “because” and “thanks,” emotional words add the color and spice that cause what is read and said to “stick.”

Use your key words and colors generously—and reap the generous rewards.

NonProfit PRO magazine

Don’t Overcomplicate Year-End Fundraising

December 11th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Annual Giving, Direct Mail, Fundraising

You’ve got a little less than a month left before the bells toll announcing the end of 2015. For most fundraisers, that’s a time for balancing efforts—to end the year strong in terms of income, to use up accrued vacation, to be cheerful at the company party and to keep up on work so 2016 fundraising doesn’t fizzle before Valentine’s Day.

Here are five ways to stay focused on what matters in these final days of 2015 while still having time for holiday cheer.

1. Set realistic goals for December. It’s better to do some things well than plan to do everything by Dec. 31—but never get anything executed. A good mailing on Dec. 11 beats a great mailing that never gets past the planning stage. Especially in a small shop, accept that you can’t do everything; instead, do something, but make sure it’s something that matters.

2. Review your year-end donor communications and make sure the focus is on the donor, not your organization. When I was being nosy, my dad used to say, “This isn’t to you, for you or about you.” Unfortunately, too much year-end fundraising isn’t to, for or about the donor. “We have had a good year. We did this and that. I am so proud of all we have accomplished.” Where’s the donor in that? The formula for success in fundraising is not “What we do + your money = success.” If the donor isn’t front and center in your fundraising messaging, rewrite it until he or she has the starring role.

3. Set aside anything that catches your eye—in the mail or online. You may not have time to digest these pieces now, but think of them as free training for later in 2016. These samples sometimes are called a “swap file” because you can swap ideas from them. Sometime in 2016 when you are creatively coming up dry, the subject line that you actually noticed in the midst of the holiday-email clutter or that envelope that stood out from the rest of the mail can trigger a great idea that gets your own creativity flowing. Two ideas for jump-starting or expanding your own swap file:

  • Donate to organizations you admire from a fundraising standpoint. Then watch what they are doing and when they are doing it. You can’t assume everything they do is “best practice,” but you can see how others treat and communicate with donors and learn from that.
  • Consider a holiday gift to yourself of a subscription to Who’s Mailing What!, the ultimate swap file, collected and categorized for you.

4. Call some large donors from earlier in the year who haven’t given in the last four to 11 months, thank them and give them a report on what their gifts did that made a difference. Don’t ask. Just thank and report. Then see if it makes a difference in their year-end giving. (Don’t wait until Dec. 30 to do this; you want to give them enough time to make a gift after they get over the shock of being thanked and receiving a verbal report on impact.)

5. Celebrate your success in 2015. Fundraising is a train that never ends (unless the organization goes out of business). You did some great things this year; I know you did! Don’t wait for someone else to point them out and thank you for your amazing efforts. Look back at your favorite mailing and the one that raised the most (not always the same). Pull up that great e-news or e-blast you sent. If you were a kid, what would you want posted on the refrigerator door for all to see? Create your own virtual refrigerator door and take time to say “Well done!” to yourself.

Dec. 31 will come, no matter what we do. And this old dog knows that you won’t get everything done that you (or your boss) would like to see accomplished. But stay focused on what matters—your donor and your mission—and forgive yourself if other things get neglected. Choosing that new computer system or printer can wait until 2016.

NonProfit PRO magazine


10 Reasons Nonprofit Appeals Tank

December 10th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Stop making me—and your readers—work.

If reading your appeal seems like hard work to me, then why should I bother? I work all day! If reading your appeal seems like a struggle for comprehension, then what’s the point? I struggle to understand stuff all day.

My brain needs a rest.

Even more, my brain would enjoy a treat. Something that lights up my pleasure centers and makes me feel good.

Does your appeal do that for your would-be donors? Or does it require them to put in great effort to get through it?

Reading may be a breeze for you. But it’s not for everybody. Lots and lots of folks suffer from a range of “reading processing disorders” that makes it difficult for them to plow through a bunch of dense text. My son is like this. He “gets” part A and part C, but he completely misses part B. This means the connection between A and C gets lost. (Ever have the experience of reading to the end of a page, only to realize you weren’t really paying any attention to the meaning? So you have to re-read?) The solution for my son was to organize things in outline form.

To some extent, everyone has a need for this type of organization. Our brains prefer content that can be scanned—short sentences, headlines, subheads, bullets, underlining, boldface, white space—to large blocks of text. Too much of the same thing—even if it’s a good thing—is too much.

If you’ve ever been to a Cirque du Soleil performance, you’ll know what I mean. There’s so much going on that it’s impossible to focus on any one thing. The overall takeaway is one of dazed amazement. It’s all good, but it’s hard to follow.

You have to organize and focus things for your reader so your communications are easy to follow. Otherwise, they’ll tank.

After all, your desired action response for your fundraising appeal is a gift—not dazed amazement at the extent of the problem you’re addressing. The same holds true for your e-newsletter, blog or any other type of communication. There’s a call to action there somewhere, and you don’t want your reader to miss it. If you just explode everything out there, then the brain will begin to malfunction. Details will be missed. Action won’t be taken.

So what do you do instead to attract and hold attention? Actually, it’s a lot easier than you may think.

It all boils down to writing less and styling your text so it’s easy to read.

Readers are impatient.

According to the seminal Nielsen Norman Group study from 1997, 79 percent of Web users scan rather than read website content.

To further explore the way in which people interact with Web content, it conducted a study involving five different versions of the same site. It asked participants to carry out the same tasks across the different websites to turn up usability insights.

The five variations were:

  • Promotional writing (control)
  • Concise text
  • Easy-to-scan layout
  • Objective language
  • Combined version

The results revealed that usability was high for both the concise (58 percent better) and easy-to-scan (47 percent better) versions. Combining the versions (concise, easy-to-scan and objective) rocketed usability off the charts (124 percent better usability than the control).

Write less and design more. Cut your nonprofit appeal copy in half.

In other words, think hard about your focus, and then cut to the chase.

The best way to avoid overly wordy content is to begin with an outline.

This forces you to figure out what you’re trying to say and put structure to your words so they don’t meander all over the page. If you feel you have too much to say to make it brief, then break it up into two letters or two e-appeals. Your solution never is to make it fit by squishing it down to 11-point type (unreadable) and/or eliminating all your photos and graphics (kills the emotion). So … cut it out!

One more thing before we get to some actionable tips …

Everybody’s readers scan. Yours are not different.

Accept that people scan your prose rather than read it in detail, and work with this reality. Don’t try to fight it. And forget much of what you learned in English composition class.

You only have about two seconds to capture people’s attention, so …

Begin with the most important thing you have to say.

If you bury your lead, your reader may never find it. So structure your paragraphs in the inverted-pyramid style. State your conclusion first (e.g., Johnny will go to bed hungry tonight, unless you help), then support it with the sentences that follow. This helps scanners decide where they’d like to dive in deeper, and takes them by the hand so they can move easily from point to point.

Want some more tips on how to take your reader by the hand?

10 Tips to Make Your Content Easy to Scan

1. Let it breathe.
Break up your text with white space. I call this “oxygen.” It’s essential to life and it’s essential to the life of your written communications. So look for logical places where you can insert space.

My No. 1 trick is to begin a fundraising appeal with one sentence. Then you can follow with a paragraph. But keep your paragraphs and sentences short. No more than 70 characters (with spaces) for lines and no more than five lines per paragraph. And break your paragraphs up with one-liners.

Another trick is to read your copy out loud. Wherever you feel like pausing, insert a space. This will help your reader’s eye flow throughout your copy.

2. Indent paragraphs.
Not only is this a friendlier style (something I learned in middle school typing class), it also invites the readers into your copy and gives their eyes another little rest. Our brains use indents in “pattern recognition.” Pattern recognition is important to keep reading speedy. And, remember, your reader has no time.

3. Break up content with compelling subheads.
When I create my outline, I like to create my headlines and subheads simultaneously. Your headline can be at the top of your letter (before the salutation) or it can be your first sentence. Wherever you place it, it should be enough for the reader to understand why you’re writing—even if they read nothing else. After all, this is what’s going to cause them to check you out in the first place! Then your subheads keep them engaged. Imagine that your reader just reads the headline and the subheads. Does this alone create a compelling call to action? It should.

4. Use bullets or numbered lists.
This is another way to break up text blocks and introduce some oxygen. Bullets give your readers a visible break. Plus, they enable you to present multiple points in an easy-to-scan format. And people love numbered lists; they make us want to be sure we don’t miss one! To assure your bullets/numbers do their intended job (i.e., cause your reader to read further), make sure you keep them short and follow these bullet-point basics.

5. Use appropriate fonts.
Serif fonts (e.g., Courier or Times Roman) are best for letter text; sans serif fonts (e.g., Calibri, Georgia or Arial) are best for headlines and subheads. A serif is the extra little stroke, those little curves, at the ends of letters. The serifs at the ends of letters makes them easier to identify and easier to read for print materials. For Web text, sans serif is best. They’re more legible and easier to read on small or coarse screens. Here’s a list of the 10 most popular Web fonts for 2014. And you can find 35 free Web fonts here.

6. Use large enough type.
It used to be accepted that most people could read 12-point text. No more. Baby Boomers are aging—and many are your major donors. The new recommended standard is 14 point. Yes, that means you can’t fit as much on a page. Turn the paper over and write on the back. People will applaud you for saving a tree. Resist the temptation to eschew editing in favor of squishing your font down to 11 point so you can fit everything in. Less is definitely more here.

7. Use story photos.
You’ve heard a photo is worth 1,000 words, right? What better way to cut down on your text than to substitute a paragraph or two with one photo? But not just any photo. A photo that tells a story.

8. Use photo captions.
Just in case your photo doesn’t 100 percent tell a story on its own, you can add a caption to assure it does its job. Studies have shown that image captions are consistently some of the most-read copy on a page—up to 300 percent more than the rest of your copy! The best captions are “deep”—two to three sentences long. That’s long enough to entice your readers to complete “their job” and read the rest of your brilliant prose. To use captions brilliantly, be sure you’re aware of best practices.

9. Add relevant links.
There’s no greater friend to you than including relevant links to copy that fleshes out what you’re writing about. This enables you to keep your copy short and sweet, while simultaneously allowing an interested reader to learn more should they choose to do so.

Keep your links internal to your own website when you’re writing a fundraising appeal or seeking an action on behalf of your nonprofit. You want to keep folks on your site, reading your own cornerstone content and becoming increasingly moved to take your desired action response.

For example, rather than write three paragraphs to tell a detailed story, write one paragraph and link to a page on your website that tells the full story. (Of course, if you’re simply sharing a blog post to demonstrate your expertise and trustworthiness, then external links can be helpful. They show you’re up to date on the newest developments and news in your field, and act as a “gift” of information for your readers they might not otherwise have found).

10. Boldface or underline important concepts.
Adding emphasis to your critical points helps your reader scan through and pick out the most important information at a glance. In print you can use both boldface and underline. Online you’ve only got boldface at your disposal, as we’re accustomed to thinking anything that’s underlined is a clickable link.

OK. Let’s assume you’ve followed all 10 rules above and you think you’ve got a great appeal. Now do one more thing.

Scan your letter for multiple paths of readability.

You’re much more likely to get me to read your appeal if you attempt to get me to read it through multiple pathways. This is one of my most favorite tricks! I like to consider my letters several letters within one letter. Go through your appeal and look only at the text to which you’ve called special attention. If the reader reads only the subheads, they should get the gist. If they read only the boldface, they should get the gist. If they read only what’s underlined, they should get the gist. And so forth. Since you don’t really know which part of the letter your donor will actually read, repetition is essential. You’ve got to hedge your bets and put your key messaging and ask in multiple places.

So … how did you do? Did your content pass the easy-to-scan test? If not, what can you do to fix it?

NonProfit Pro magazine

Donor retention made easy

December 8th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Most of us in the fundraising field have heard over the past few years that a major concern for nonprofits is the alarming rate of declining retention among their donors.

This probably grew out of the Great Recession where we were so concerned about raising money in very tight times that the emphasis on relating to our donors was overlooked. We could always get back to that later. But, less concern over communicating with our donors became the norm.

I have seen some nonprofits more concerned about the donor’s next gift without taking the very important steps to minister to the contributor’s needs.

Here are some very good time honored best practices to keep donor retention high and making the donors contribute more. Some suggestions are more applicable to the size of the gift. These can easily be displayed prominently on your desk or on your computer to do lists:

1. Thank them. This is probably a no-brainer but you may not be surprised that it is not high priority in some nonprofits. The common wisdom of thanking a donor 7 times within a year, which is a good rule of thumb. Thanking can be in these forms:

The gift recognition letter. A few big no-no’s are to make it a photo copied form with an electronic signature and to go more than 48 hours in sending it. The more personal the thank you, the better. A short handwritten message on the letter goes a long way to donor loyalty. If the gift is recurring, mention of how much you appreciate their number of years as a supporter.
–Public recognition. Unless otherwise specified, list them on your website, in your annual report and other publications. If you are speaking at a public event where the donor is present, thank them in front of the group. Know the names of donor spouses in case you run into them in public.

Recognition events. Host donor thank you luncheons and dinners, invite them to your events and host a VIP reception.

2. Report to them. Most donors want to see that their support has gone to great use. There are many ways to report:

Newsletters, post cards videos. The more personal and concise, the better. No one of us wants a long email to read from our favorite charity.

Phone calls. The personal message on the phone is more for larger gifts. It can also be used when a gift is made. Even if you can’t reach the donor, a voicemail is very much appreciated and remembered. Volunteers can also fill the role of making calls.

Personal visits. These can be structured, such as a lunch or meeting, or can be in the form of “elevator talk” when you run into a donor. Volunteers can also be coached to accomplish these tasks.

3. Listen. Donors increasingly like to be a participating partner in your nonprofit. You can certainly conduct surveys via email or snail mail and they are effective to some extent. During visits or encounters with donors at events or other public venues, make it a point of asking the donor what he/she thinks about your organization. Visiting with a donor or potential donor should be 25% you taking and 75% of the donor talking. Reporting back to a donor about a suggestion or even a complaint also goes a long way to retention and loyalty.

4. Involve them. Some donors only want to contribute money as their part of participation with your nonprofit. There is a large portion of the donor population that would love to be involved if asked. Donors can be involved in these ways:

Events. You always need more volunteers for events and they can be a great way to keep in touch with the donors.

Programs. Most nonprofits can fit a donor’s talents and interests into a leadership role with your programming.

Annual and Capital Campaigns. The donor has already bought into your fundraising plan, so recruit them to solicit others, especially their friends, colleagues and business associates.

Working on donor retention can be part of your year round emphasis in development. Longtime contributors are worth the effort.

November 30, 2015
by Lighthouse Counsel

IoF ban on data-selling will hurt charities that use direct mail, says head of agency DM Focus

December 7th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Fundraising

Adrian Williams tells Third Sector that the move ‘goes above and beyond’ the Data Protection Act and means there would be no grace period for charities to use data gathered more than six months before.

The Institute of Fundraising’s ban on charities selling supporters’ data and on sharing data without consent from donors within the six months before they do so is likely have a significant effect on the ability of smaller charities to use direct mail effectively, the head of the direct marketing agency DM Focus has said.

Adrian Williams, managing director of the agency, which helps charities to buy and share donor lists, told Third Sector today that the IoF’s recent announcement that it would change the Code of Fundraising Practice so that charities could no longer sell data or share it without valid consent had taken him by surprise.

“The way the IoF has gone about it is retrospective,” he said, referring to the IoF’s endorsement of the Information Commissioner’s direct marketing guidance on third-party consent. “I never thought that would happen. It never has before; they have stepped into a very dangerous position because this recommendation goes above and beyond the Data Protection Act.”

The ICO’s guidance says that if an organisation is making contact by phone, text or email for the first time, it should not rely on any indirect consent given more than six months ago.

Williams said this meant that there would be no grace period for charities in which they could use data they had gathered more than six months before.

“The selling and swapping of data has massive implications for the sector,” said Williams. “If this change goes through, it would have a massive impact on smaller charities that rely on purchasing charity data to get direct mail to work. Many charities are not too sure where to go.”

Williams, who also spoke to Third Sector before the IoF’s announcement earlier this month, had previously said that an IoF prohibition on the sharing of donor lists without express consent would have an insignificant impact on data-sharing compared with the EU data protection laws that are expected to come into force in the next 12 months.

But today he said: “I think that this has a much larger impact than the EU rules, which might change. Many charities purchase data, so this announcement will have big consequences for them.”

He said that reciprocal transactions – where charities swap lists using services such as the Reciprocate programme run by the list broker ResponseOne – would be “wiped off the agenda”.

Williams, who recognised direct mail distributed by his company in photographs of Olive Cooke surrounded by charity mailings in the Daily Mail, estimated that almost two-thirds of charities that fundraised by direct mail bought lists of potential donors, about 10 per cent exchanged their donor lists with other charities and about 3 per cent sold or rented these lists to third parties.

Speaking to Third Sector in early September, he said that the EU regulations – which at their most extreme could forbid organisations from contacting, profiling and tracking an individual’s cookies online without their consent – would have a significant detrimental effect on the number of lists available as well as on fundraising income, which could cause some charities to close down.

He said such rules could lead to unscrupulous practices if marketers felt the legislation was too restrictive. “Some rogue organisations could say: I’m going to mail from India and get some 12-year-old boy to write my copy,” he said.

Williams said that international development charities in particular would have good cause to post their direct mail from developing countries in order to circumvent EU or UK rules. “They wouldn’t need to worry about any legislation because they’re not writing from the UK,” he said. “Most charities would adhere to the rules but you might find some wouldn’t.

“We shouldn’t apologise for what we’re doing. We’re doing it because it works, because it makes money and because it allows us to offer the services that the government doesn’t put onto the market.”

He also questioned whether the public really found direct mail an irritation, saying they could just “chuck it on the fire” if they did not like it.

A spokesman for the IoF said that in order for fundraising to be successful and sustainable in the long-term all potential supporters needed to have confidence in how charities used their data.

“Moving towards sharing data where the individual has ‘opted in’ by giving informed consent will mean people feel more in control over the fundraising communications they receive,” he said.

He said the Code of Fundraising Practice set standards for fundraising that went beyond minimum legal requirements. “This is one area where we need to raise the bar to ensure that fundraising practice meets the expectations of the public,” he said. “We know that the Information Commissioner’s Office is to produce guidance on informed consent and the timescales of valid consent to help fundraisers understand how to manage data appropriately.”

28 September 2015
By Susannah Birkwood
Third Sector