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Newsletters
2014
14.10: The Ugly Truth
Is "prettiness" cost effective?
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.
Competent on purpose -- PART 2
What every fundraiser should know about donor comms, IMHO
Part 1: Competent on purpose
What every fundraiser should know about donor comms, IMHO
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...
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.

Everything you think you know for sure about direct mail is likely based on the ways and means of mass-market fundraisers.

One-half of one percent: that's an acceptable response rate, mass-market professionals figure, for an untried direct mail appeal sent to an untried audience. You're acquiring one new donor, in other words, for every 200 pieces you mail.

Well, okay, if you mail a million pieces, that math might work for you. It somehow does for sophisticated mega-charities.

But if you mail just 5,000 pieces, as a local nonprofit might, hoping to attract new donors, a one-half of one percent expected return is bound to disappoint, at least in terms of an immediate financial windfall.

Acquiring 25 new donors (.005 x 5,000), even if they gave you an unusually generous $50 average gift, will only gross you $1,250. It could cost you twice that much just to print and post the mailing. How can you possibly cost-justify that kind of outlay when your fundraising budget is already dangerously frail?

And yet ... direct mail can be a vital contributor to the fundraising efforts of smaller and niche charities. You just need a different sort of math.

Onesies-twosies math. Smaller nonprofits are not in the churn-and-burn direct mail business. They are in the business of adding a few friends at a time, accumulating a list of true believers, fellow travelers, concerned neighbors and others.

New Haven, Connecticut, a typical enough small city, has one nonprofit for every 100 residents. The vast majority of these organizations will probably never muster more than a thousand supporters apiece. Even big organizations sometimes have relatively few supporters. A community foundation I know that in 2008 gave away $27 million in grants has accumulated just 1,100 permanent funds in its 93-year existence; that's about 12 new donors who started funds each year.

Work the percentages, not the gross income. Direct mail for smaller nonprofits is as much about "friend-raising" as it is about fundraising.

Case study: a nonprofit serving immigrants and refugees took its first baby steps into direct mail, sending out 5,000 pieces of mail to strangers. The mailing did surprisingly well, reaping 100 new donors, a 2 percent response rate. Still, the average gift was just $25 (a typical "first date" gift), for total gross revenue of $2,500. Total net revenue after expenses? Less than zero.

Was their mailing a failure or a success? If you counted just the cash, a failure definitely. But let's take a second, deeper look. This nonprofit was new to non-event fundraising. A mere 400 names comprised their entire annual donor list. Adding another 100 donors increased that supporter base by 25 percent, a significant improvement. Looked at that way, I would deem the mailing a howling success.

Why? Because, as a small nonprofit, an essential mission is to build your "tribe." Tribe is a marketing term. You can define your tribe as those few people who believe in your mission, would like to see you prosper and grow, and will occasionally contribute money or time to that end.

If it works, mail it again. Embrace this stark reality: most people ignore most of their mail most of the time. You do. I do. We all do.

Newbies to direct mail worry about the 99.5 percent who do not respond to an acquisition mailing. They worry, Why don't they like us? It's a pointless anxiety. Most people receiving your mail neither like you nor hate you. In fact, they've made no decision about your organization, except to ignore your mailing that particular day.

I learned a very interesting thing: if you keep mailing a good piece of direct mail to the same well-qualified group of people, you will pick up additional response each time you mail.

I wrote a direct mail "friend-raising" package for a community foundation. We sent it to a list of millionaires in the relevant geographic area. The first mailing went out to 3,340 names and garnered a 3 percent response. Hence, we judged it successful measured against industry standards.

So we mailed the very same package again to the very same list, minus anyone who had responded, a few months later. This time we attracted a 2.5 percent response. A few months later we sent the very same package to the very same list yet again, minus anyone who had responded. This time we received a 1.3 percent response.

Point? Had we stopped with the first mailing, we would have left more than half our eventual response on the table. (Care to read the letter? Go.) Again: most people ignore your direct mail for no good reason. If they're qualified recipients (for a local charity, anyone who lives in the same area is the broadest brush) AND (important caveat) you have a direct mail package that works, keep mailing. It will pay off.

Retention is the real name of the game. It is expensive to acquire new donors. It is cheap -- up to 10 times cheaper -- to elicit a gift from a person who has been a donor before.

And yet retention is probably the least developed aspect of most fundraising programs. Donor loyalty programs are in their infancy. (To hear the details of the extraordinary one at Georgia Tech, consider this archived webinar from Forum for Fundraising.) Welcome packages are virtually unknown. (For a case study of an effective "donor welcome program," visit Merkle/Domain.) Most donor newsletters, a primary tool for donor cultivation, are unmercifully wrong-headed.

Takeaway: A local charity needs a way to attract new friends and build its tribe. Direct mail remains the tool of choice for that important task. Know, too: as the economy went sour, U.S. donors began redirecting their contributions to local charities such as food banks, research indicates. Local charities, this might be your best moment to reach out.
 
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.