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Newsletters
2014
14.10: The Ugly Truth
Is "prettiness" cost effective?
14.11: Competent on purpose -- PART 1
What every fundraiser should know about donor comms, IMHO
14.12: Competent on purpose -- PART 2
What every fundraiser should know about donor comms, IMHO
14.13: Competent on purpose -- PART 3
What every fundraiser should know about donor comms, IMHO
14.14: "Dear Numbskull Robot...." My name's Tom, not Thomas
How MoveOn.org stupidly and avoidably lost me as a donor
14.15: Online giving soars to almost nothing
There was a massive amount of little to report for another year; why print won't die
14.16: "You know what a newsletter is really great for?" Measuring your donors' true mood
Not trying to raise money with your newsletter? Think again: it's a "donor happiness meter."
14.17: Could the Feds be any clearer, folks? "If your nonprofit does not aggressively promote charitable bequests, then your nonprofit is by definition an irresponsible loser."
High-ranking agency official: "I can't believe people are still on the sidelines about this. It's like being on the sidelines about cigarette smoking."
14.18: The Evil Robot Haunting Your Donor Communications and Making Good Things Turn Out Bad
How Splash.org, a fast-growing international charity with a great reputation, lost my eager monthly gift
14.19: Name the #1 distraction in fundraising? Bosses, bless their hearts
Which approach raises the most funds: (1) a well-argued appeal that explains the problem and offers statistical proof; or (2) an emotional appeal that tells a sad story? In short, which is better: stories or statistics?
14.4: Part 1 - Dr. Adrian Sargeant's 7 principles of donor loyalty
Charities that get straight A's in 7 things reap the rich rewards of contented donors.
14.5: Part 2 - Dr. Adrian Sargeant's 7 principles of donor loyalty
Charities that get straight A's in 7 things reap the rich rewards of contented donors.
14.6: Part 3 - Dr. Adrian Sargeant's 7 principles of donor loyalty
Charities that get straight A's in 7 things reap the rich rewards of contented donors.
14.7: Part 4 - Dr. Adrian Sargeant's 7 principles of donor loyalty
Charities that get straight A's in 7 things reap the rich rewards of contented donors.
14.8: Part 5 - Dr. Adrian Sargeant's 7 principles of donor loyalty
Charities that get straight A's in 7 things reap the rich rewards of contented donors.
14.9: Will good grammar save us?
Your 10th-grade English teacher was right ... about nothing related to sales.
2013
13.01: Composing a satisfying thanks: Wikipedia did
One way to build trust is by answering questions before they're asked.
13.02: Know thy customer ... Who's buying you?
Customer satisfaction. Customer knowledge. Serious marketers obsess over them. But not fundraisers.
13.03: Want to deepen your "culture of philanthropy"? That requires adding so-called "social information" to your messaging stew.
Social Information = Donor Growth Hormone
13.04: Bequests -- The other white meat?
"Planned giving" might well be a major marketing misstep....
13.05: What things make me generous? Confessions of a donor.
Speaking from the heart.... Why I give
13.06: Confessions of a donor ... part 2!
"Donors spotted near deep-ocean hydrothermal vent..." What do we really know about them?
13.07: The charity newsletter: Friend or foe?
Getting past your unprofitable fears
13.08: We're looking at advertising the wrong way
Proposed: A new set of messages for nonprofits
13.09: Major gifts or more gifts: Which is better?
When "tomorrow comes" will your nonprofit still be in the same uncertain financial shape? That depends.
13.10: "Poverty Porn": they know not what they say
"Idiot savants." Minus the savants.
13.11: "Trust me, kid. This is worth its weight in gold."
6 true things
13.12: Sean Triner on Direct Mail
The room stilled. Sean picked up the microphone....
13.13: Maybe it's the desert air....
Selling the unspeakable
13.14: In defense of the endangered indent
The special "decline of Western civilization" edition....
13.15: As "giving season" thuds our way ....
One small resolution...
13.16: Workers of the nonprofit world, unite! Pretty please?
Revolution ouch?
14.1: Fundraising is about money. And the moon's a hunk of stinky green cheese.
Breaking news from Bratislava...
14.2: Do you retain or do you renew?
14.3: What I learned in 2013
2012
12.01: Following in the footsteps of your promise
They chose your charity for a reason, when they gave that first time. Your donor newsletter should reflect, not neglect, that reason.
12.02: Charity newsletters
Extraordinary experiences ... for the rest of us.
12.03: The brain according to me
Neuroscience is the most important force at work in fundraising today. Or it should be.
12.04: Cheryl and Kathy ask good grassroots questions
About donor newsletters & more
12.05: Why we put a lot of charity in our will
The secret life of donors
12.06: Are thanks really necessary?
Some experts say, "No."
12.07: Readers of this newsletter rise in defense of thanking the heck out of donors. Trinkets get the boot.
No thanks? "No, thanks!"
12.08: "Dear Thomas..." or "Dear Tom..."
How would you like to be addressed? Does your favorite charity's database know the difference? Probably not.
12.09: What role do e-newsletters play in fundraising?
They're lousy at bringing in donations, a veteran copywriter observes.
12.10: Now entering the fundraising arena: the next big generation of donors. In the US, they will be ages 55-75.
Rise of the baby boomers -- again?
12.11: So, there!
Email newsletters don't get results? Some highly indignant email fans beg to powerfully differ.
12.12: The person signing your appeal might wonder...
Why does good direct mail sound so weird?
12.13: It's the wrong answer to a great question. So let's do something else.
Elevator speech? Ride to nowhere.
12.14: Tell little stories all over the place. The human mind laps that stuff up.
Notes from neuroscience
12.15: "Non-profit?"
Donors have no idea what you do with their money. And frankly? They suspect the worst!!!
12.16: Meet Jane
Your "One size fits all ages" appeals ignore a juicy fact: a 70-something is way different than a 50-something.
12.17: Look, your newsletter is in fact a "customer service experience"
And the content donors like to read? It's what charities so rarely say.
12.18: The Warren Buffett lesson
A printed annual report is a different experience than an online annual report, for a couple of reasons.
2011
11.01: The nuts and guts of a successful bequest-sales strategy
Proper bequest marketing, per Radcliffe, part 2
11.02: A troubled mind walks into a bar
A few things I want to get off my fat-flated chest, as 2011 ignites.
11.03: The 5 Realizations Approach
Finding the Path to Donor Nirvana
11.04: Most donor communications do not achieve anything like the desired results, thanks to an error as common as salt in sea water
The Hidden Killer - A Simple Misunderstanding
11.05: B4 u do yr annual report
Repeat after me: "I am a marketer!" And consider a few donor-friendly models, for inspiration.
11.06: "Dear donors: We're happy to say, we have switched to a digital annual report."
Happy? R U really so sure?
11.07: How a $1,000 gift was born
Does your staff know what to say to strangers, should the occasion arise?
11.08: Which is your next priority, younger donors or boomers?
An infatuation with younger donors can distract you from the real work at hand: cultivating boomers as they start their bell lap.
11.09: Is that your future calling?
Lately, my crystal ball is waking me up ... with unnerving predictions
11.10: Playing to lose
What happens when know-nothings are allowed to outvote the fundraiser? A sure-fire recipe for failure.
11.11: Social Information: A gentle nudge in the right direction
Dr. Sargeant finds that the mere mention of what another donor gave leads to copycats & increased giving
11.12: You're selling forest. You're not selling trees.
Donors give to the mission. If you're getting great results, feel free to spend their gifts as you see fit. (Though Charity Navigator might disagree.)
11.13: Meet AIDA: the sales formula, not the opera
This oldie but goody makes writing a direct mail letter faster and far easier.
11.14: The Verbatim Rule
You know, it just makes sense.
11.15: In direct mail, all responses, even complaints, are good
Hoping you'll offend no one? That's the wrong star to wish on.
11.16: The "planned giving" newsletter: Does anyone really need these things?
Pity the trees that died in the pursuit of lackluster results.
11.17: The Domain Formula for donor newsletters
Certified Proven (unlike the others)
2010
10.01: Idiot's guide to time management
I fidget, you fidget, we all fidget.
10.02: Donor profiles in your newsletters: Worth the trouble?
They can lead to bigger things ... or nowhere. You decide.
10.03: Young heads are different heads
Are younger donors alive ... or dead to you?
10.04: Is direct mail dead? (No, it's just dull.)
My goal? Entertain the heck out of the reader.
10.05: "I'll never give you a penny again!" Music to my ears.
Here's a terrific direct mail concept the client refused to try. Take it if you want ... and if you dare.
10.06: Your strategic plan = your case for support?
No! Don't! "The bridge is out"!!!
10.07: Oh, man, did Dale Carnegie have it right.
How to win friends and influence people: Donor bequest edition...
10.08: Why gifts matter
They buy impact and self-esteem
10.09: Why, oh why, don't they trust you?
"Because I don't pee like Jesus."
10.10: How to produce powerful case statements
Approvals, the delicate art of
10.11: Connecting gift and impact
The 2 dots that matter
10.12: The outrageous Mr. Radcliffe wishes a word
Bequest marketing the right way
2009
9.01: Does your boss or board chair get to approve your stuff? Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
Sad but true: Most donor communications are built to fail
9.02: If your paper newsletter is a flop, switching to electronic won't help.
Two key questions answered about newsletters
9.03: I just wrote a couple of appeals for a big hospital. This time I took notes. Here's how to get a better letter.
Your next direct mail appeal: Will it burst into song?
9.04: "Deserving charity"? There's no such thing.
No one owes you a gift, as this "inside a donor's mind" report makes clear.
9.05: Take the Donor-Centered Pledge (or die)
23 rules to live by (instead)
9.06: Straight to trash? The avoidable, sad fate of most annual reports
Entertain me with stories. Put stats in perspective.
9.07: Writing a fabulous case is easy
You're just answering questions
9.08: Bill's amazing "Warm Words" campaign
Bill Pratt decided to raise something other than money for once, and joyous response flooded in
9.09: A campaign case is a series of talking points
Report from the front lines
9.10: The perfect "eventless" fundraising event
Arts charity raises money year round: Pick a day, any day. And fund it.
9.11: Are you a funds-raiser or a funds-depleter?
Basing your metrics on acquisition is like trying to bail a boat with a sieve. You work hard, but you still sink.
9.12: Dr. Sargeant says you're only doing half your job
And he has the data to prove it.
9.13: Release your inner archer: Learn to shoot message arrows
Targets? The vulnerable hearts and curious minds of your donors
9.14: Valuable direct mail concept absolutely free
Do you have the guts to try something different? My client didn't.
9.15: Deciding what goes into your donor newsletter
Here's the easiest explanation I've ever come up with
9.16: Qualityspotting
How do you know when your donor materials are strong enough for the outside world?
2008
8.01: Acquiring new donors through direct mail: Measuring success
Measuring donor acquisition programs
8.02: Why is giving by bequest so rare in the U.S.?
Reviving your "death brochure"
8.03: Would you buy a mattress from this charity?
What you do vs. why you matter
8.04: How to write a good donor-centric headline
Writing a winning headline
8.05: Does your stuff suffer from jargon breath?
Adopt a zero-jargon policy and you'll raise more money
8.07: What is news?
Making donor news the right way
8.08: Obama's Web 3.0 campaign: Rewarding role model? Or risky distraction?
Are e-newsletters dead?
8.09: Richard Radcliffe has your back
Are you marketing bequests? (Right.) Or "planned gifts"? (Wrongo.)
8.10: When you're feeling a little irrelevant...
Do you know the real you? The one donors really care about? Likely not, thanks to the "curse of knowledge." But there's an easy way (fun, too) to see yourself anew. Read on.
8.11: The dirty truth about cases
Bitter truth? Maybe a quarter of the cases I'm hired to write never reach the finish line. Interesting tale, that.
8.12: Why won't paper die?
Everyone's drumming their fingers, waiting for paper to expire as a communications medium. Sorry.
8.13: Can direct mail be a cash cow for smaller nonprofits? Think "cash calves" instead.
Mass-market expectations yield disappointing results at local levels. Take heart, though: direct mail is about far more than instant cash.
8.14: "Hi. My name's Inertia. And I'll be disappointing you from this day forward. I know you have many obstacles to surmount, so I'm thrilled that you've named me Number One."
Meet the enemy: Inertia
2007
2006
2005
2004
2003
3.01: Analytical types: Good to the last objection
Part one of four personality types...
3.02: Amiables: Smile and say "Howdy!"
Part two of four personality types...
3.03: Expressives crave the new
Part three of four personality types...
3.04: Bottom-Liners leap to conclusions (and that's a good thing)
Part four of four personality types...
3.05: Are you interesting (especially to donors)?
Communications basics...
3.06: The Abraham Lincoln lesson
Case basics...
3.07: A surefire story formula
Case basics...
6.04: Fundraising communications: Cost or investment?
Building donor relationships
"Dear Desperate Newbie" wants to know: Who's right, my executive director or me?

This issue of my e-news inaugurates a new feature: the advice column. Think of it as kind of a Dear Abby-ish thing for fundraising communicators. I field a couple of dozen queries a month anyway. Let's share some of the answers.

Our first correspondent faces an all-too-common challenge: An overseer (executive director, finance officer, board member) who hopes to trim the cost of fundraising but lacks professional knowledge of how fundraising works.

"My executive director wants to slice our donor database into two tiers," this fundraiser explains. "One tier will be donors who give $250 a year or more. The other tier will be donors who give less. Those in the higher tier will continue to get our newsletter and a personal thanks. Those below $250 get nothing but a form letter acknowledging the gift. I'm sure this is a bad strategy, but I'm new to the job, and she's determined. Any advice?" Signed, Desperate Newbie.

Dear Desperate Newbie: You're not alone. Nonprofessionals often look at the expenses associated with fundraising as mere costs. And mere costs need to be controlled, reduced, or even eliminated if possible. Costs are bad. Cutting costs is good.

That view isn't wholly wrong. But it is inadequate, because fundraising expenses are also investments.

Yes, on an income-and-expense statement, fundraising expenses appear as costs. The conventions of accounting treat the paper and postage for your donor newsletter no differently than the electricity that keeps your computers humming.

But this superficial view misses a lot. Fundraising expenses are also your organization's long-term investment in donor loyalty and support. Investing a dollar wisely today in fundraising activities can yield hundreds, thousands, even millions of times that amount as the years pass -- a promise that spreadsheets and accounting conventions can't capture.

Here's a quick real-life example: a community foundation that risked $20,000 in a direct mail "friend-raising" campaign. Friend-raising is a precursor to fundraising. Friend-raising brings onto your mailing list people with an interest in philanthropy, so they can be cultivated over time.

Trust me: this was not an easy decision for the foundation's leadership. They jumped into unknown waters. Staff was unfamiliar with direct mail, a demanding specialty (they hired a consultant). They had never spent anything close to this amount on any kind of targeted marketing. In fact, their own experience with other forms of advertising had been extremely negative: they'd run what are called "image ads" for years, without any detectable result.

Yet, within a year of launching the direct mail program, a first gift of many millions had arrived; and other large gifts are in the pipeline, also as a result. To accounting, that $20,000 was an expense, pure and simple. To fundraisers, that $20,000 was an investment -- and it paid off big.

Getting it all wrong

Let's return to Dear Desperate Newbie. She has a problem. Her ED wants to set the bar at $250. What's wrong with that? Let's count the ways.

Wrong Way #1: The figure is arbitrary and unrealistic.

Why choose $250 as the magic number? Was some careful cost-benefit analysis done that proved every donor beneath $250 was a waste of time and money?

Unlikely. The average annual gift for U.S. charities, tossing every type and size of organization into the same pot, is probably no higher than $50. I know one national health charity that raises hundreds of millions with average annual gifts of just $12 per donor. Rarely in my workshops do I encounter a local charity receiving an average annual gift higher than $75; most are beneath $50. Baseline: $250 annual donors are few and far between. Which I suppose is exactly the ED's point: she wants to send out 20 newsletters instead of 2,000.

Which brings us to Wrong Way #2: Cultivation is for everyone, not just "major" donors.

To misquote Stephen Hitchcock, from his most helpful book on direct mail fundraising, Open Immediately!

(I am writing this in Bermuda, so I don't have his book handy. I've just attended the Centre on Philanthropy's first "Third Sector Conference," one of the most extraordinary experiences of my career. Every speaker and every attendee focused on one thing: this island nation's unique and serious issues. This was the Bermuda you don't see from a cruise ship: as in other presumed-to-be-paradises, there are potentially explosive social problems behind Bermuda's palm-and-pastel image of stability and riches. And it wasn't just the usual suspects attending: fundraisers and consultants. Participants included donors, board members, executive directors and other staff, plus government representatives up to the highest level: challenging, questioning, questing, planning, and interacting.)

Oh, right, the misquotable Mr. Hitchcock. After many years in fundraising, working for one of the world's best fundraising shops (Mal Warwick and Associates), he came to this conclusion: acquiring a new donor, no matter what size the initial gift, was worth whatever it cost.

His observation: you just never know where this new donor might end up, a view echoed by researcher Adrian Sargeant, who believes fundraisers would do far better by concentrating on a donor's "predicted Lifetime Value" (LTV) rather than "what did you do for me lately." [Lusting for insight into donor retention? Read Sargeant and Elaine Jay's authoritative book, Building Donor Loyalty.]

That's what things like newsletters, and a sophisticated "welcome and thank you" program, are for: retaining and cultivating donors.

A cost-cutting measure that restricts reporting on results and reserves simple courtesy to only those donors willing to ante up at least $250 should come in a bottle marked with a skull and crossbones. Because that measure, all by its lonesome, will poison any chance of a successful fundraising program. Slowly perhaps, but surely. (Dear Desperate Newbie: There's your answer.)

Doing it the right way

Let's be clear on the purpose of a donor newsletter. It has three jobs.

Job Number One: To report to donors on a regular basis what you've achieved with their gifts. A newsletter answers questions like these: "How did my gift to you help change the world?" Donors don't want to know about staff hiring and the weird name of your new program. They want to know about results.

Job Number Two: To convince donors that they are crucial to the mission. To say to them over and over, in whatever words and ways you can, "With you, this organization can do amazing things. And without you, we can't. You're essential." This is what's called "donor-centrism."

Job Number Three: To let your supporters know about your needs. A good donor newsletter is a balanced blend of accomplishment, donor-centrism, and need.

Now let's be clear on the purpose of thanks: It's NOT triggered by the size of a gift, it's triggered by ANY expression of support for your mission. Your thanks is social glue: it helps bond the donor to your organization. A thankless charity has no business in fundraising, because it is shooting itself in the foot.

Unbeknownst to them, I test my clients. I send them a small gift under another name, to see how they treat me as a new donor. Sorry to say, the welcomes and thank yous I get, if I get any at all, are almost always poor-to-mediocre.

Every new donor is a cause for celebration. Let's not forget it.

 
Copyright © 2005-2013, by Tom Ahern and Ahern Donor Communications, Ink. All rights reserved.
10 Johnson Road, Foster, RI 02825, Phone: 401-397-8104, Email: a2bmail@aol.com Twitter handle: thattomahern.