One way to really screw up your fundraising is to make bad assumptions about your donors. The most common way we do this is to assume donors are (or should be) exactly like us.
Another common way we make incorrect assumptions about donors is to think all of them are just like the small number of donors we interact with personally. This error is outlined at PhilanTopic, at Blinded By the ‘Sophisticated Donor’?
The donors you most likely talk with face-to-face are major donors and institutional donors. What they know, and what they want, are very different from the large mass of more typical donors:
Not everyone is a “sophisticated” donor. Not everyone is a professional fundraiser or works for a foundation or corporate giving program. In fact, very few people do. And people … seldom give to a charitable cause or organization because they’re looking to achieve impact or based on a chart of performance metrics; they give because it makes them feel good, or because it’s a worthy cause, or because, like me, they want to help a friend.
I’ve rarely seen a fundraising message that failed because it was too simple.
I’ve seen hundreds of fundraising messages that failed because they were too complicated.
We are constantly tempted to fundraising from ourselves or our friends — or those atypical donors we know and like best. Complexity and sophistication do not translate well to normal donors.
Here’s a question more people should ask, from the Good Agency blog: Pro bono. Where’s the bono?
… it’s not pro bono if there is no bono — no actual good. No new donors, campaigners or volunteers. No new services funded or vulnerable people reached. No research paid for or hungry mouths fed.
Ad agencies and marketing companies like to do pro-bono work for nonprofits. It’s a chance to bulk up their portfolios. (And who knows, maybe some of them just want to do good deeds.)
It turns out free work is worth about what it costs you: nothing.
If someone does a really cool project that makes you say ooh but lays an egg in the donor marketplace, you’ve taken a bigger hit than you might think…
The most common and uncounted cost is opportunity cost — hours spent managing a dealing with a pro bono project that could have been spent doing something productive.
Then there’s damage that can be done to your brand by heedless work that’s driven by creative whim.
Just take a run through this shop of horrors and you’ll see how badly things can go awry. And that free doesn’t necessarily mean good. Or even free.
by guest blogger Lisa Sargent, fundraising copywriter, donor communications specialist, and rabid defender of direct mail.
Before you shoot your copywriter because he or she hasn’t been the creative cash cow you hoped, I strongly suggest you consider this acronym for direct mail success — in order of priority, according to website SOFII …
Put another way (hat tip to the late Bob Stone, direct marketing legend), 60% of the success hinges on the List, 30% on the Offer, and 10% on Creative.
You may have heard 40/30/30, or 40/40/20. Or some other variation.
The point is this: List (aka Audience) always has more impact on success in fundraising than Creative.
So, for example, if your house list contains a bunch of names of people who haven’t given to you for 4, or 5, or more, years … if you lump your one-time event participants in with your loyal donors … and you spend good money mailing these people, over and over, in the exact same way that you communicate with your repeat givers …
Your direct mail will never perform the way you expect, no matter what kind of creative geniuses you hire. List matters more than creative, every time.
Think you’re smart? Good for you. Just be aware that smarts alone may not get you where you want to go in fundraising. You also need knowledge.
Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog tackles One Big Myth about Direct Mail Appeal Letters:
We all like to think our instincts can guide us through our fundraising. But sometimes your gut instinct is just wrong and that’s when you need to turn to the experts … who have proven their methods work over and over again.
The big myth they’re talking about here is that one-page fundraising messages are somehow better than longer ones. This is totally wrong; experience tells us that longer letters are better than short ones.
That’s one big myth, where almost everyone’s instinct or common sense will lead them astray. There are others:
- Common sense says that a short message will work better because nobody has time to read a long message. Common sense is wrong.
- Common sense says it’s a mistake to ask someone for a gift soon after they’ve given. Common sense is wrong.
- Common sense says being funny, intellectual, modern, etc. is a great way to connect with donors. Common sense is wrong.
There are more. A lot more.
This is why you can’t count on what “seems right” to guide your fundraising. Get professional help. And if you are the professional doing it, make sure you’re getting educated about what really works.