Archive for October, 2010

Would you pass or fail the thank-you letter experiment?

In this month’s book feature of The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, I was surprised to see author Kivi Leroux Miller devote a chapter to thanking donors, especially since those of us in the sector know how important they are. After reading the opening paragraph called, “What I got when I gave experiment,” my surprise was quickly replaced by curiosity.

In 2008, Kivi made a donation to 16 different nonprofit organizations, 12 of which she had a giving history, and what she got after giving was as she puts it, “almost nothing.” Of the 12 national charities, only four or 33 percent acknowledged the gift in any way. Of the three regional charities, only one in three acknowledged the gift. Leroux Miller reports that these results are not unusual and other similar tests have shown that less than 50 percent of donors receive thank you letters. Leroux Miller did the test again with 10 national nonprofits when going to press and you can look at her results at for the results.

Rather than risk a 65 percent attrition rate between the first and second gift (according to Penelope Burke of Donor Centered Fundraising ), apply Leroux Miller’s six steps to improving your thank-you process.

  1. Send thank you letters out within 48 hours of the gift
  2. Use a mail merge to personalize by name, gift amount and personal designation. It’s also nice to add a handwritten note if you can and tell stories about the people you serve.
  3. Use more creative openings besides the standard “On behalf of” or “Thank you for” and instead try starting with one of your stories.
  4. Explain how the gift will be used.
  5. Tell them what to expect next. What will they receive or what invitation might they look for in the mail, etc.
  6. Personalize from the sender. Use ink instead of digital printing for signatures. Add personal notes from volunteer leaders or board members. Phone calls are also a powerful follow up as well as a thank you from the person or people who benefit from the gift directly.

Here’s what Leroux Miller had to say when we asked her about thanking donors in our Page to Practice™ interview:

CausePlanet: You dedicate a chapter to the importance of thanking donors. Why do you think nonprofits fail in this area despite the fact that they know better?

Leroux Miller: It’s short-term, to-do list-driven thinking. It’s not that nonprofits are inherently rude, but they do use being busy as an excuse. And they pay for that in the long-term, when they don’t have as many donors who give the second or third gift. Thanking donors is essential to repeat giving, but building time into your schedule to do it right with timely thank-yous requires a longer-term perspective.

Learn more about Leroux Miller’s book, The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, or our Page to Practice book summary.

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Add storytelling to your job description

Kivi Leroux Miller, author of The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, tells us to add storytelling our job descriptions. Why? Based on research cited in her new book, Leroux Miller claims that storytelling is a terrific way to get your audience to respond to your call to action.

Six qualities make up a good story, according to the author:

  1. Keep it short (try for 500 words or for video, two minutes)
  2. Be straightforward (avoid tangents because they will detract from your story)
  3. Be personal (your stories should be about specific people and limit the number of people in your story)
  4. Be authentic (people connect with stories that ring true—don’t write about perfect people!)
  5. Include conflict or imperfections (these elements bring stories to life)
  6. End with a message (make sure your message is clear)

You can find fresh story ideas by interviewing your receptionist, clients, and supporters; updating a newsletter or blog archive; checking the headlines and seeing what’s relevant to your cause; looking at your desk calendar or Chase’s Calendar of Events to see which national holidays pertain to your nonprofit; writing detailed articles about the key phrases people use to search for your site; reviewing trade news aggregators; getting interview ideas from event programs; or reviewing Twitter, SlideShare or social bookmarking sites like Delicious, Digg and StumbleUpon.

Leroux Miller makes such a strong case for storytelling in her book that we decided to ask her about it in our author interview:

CausePlanet: Your section on storytelling is very tactical and helpful for readers. In that section you discuss the wide variety of applications for storytelling. Is there ever the case of “too much of a good thing,” or should nonprofit leaders look for every opportunity to tell a story?

KLM: Storytelling is so undervalued and underused by nonprofits that I wouldn’t worry about overdoing it. Instead, I’d work on writing stories of different lengths from just a few sentences to several paragraphs, so you have something that works in many different venues. Leroux Miller goes on to say in her book that “stories are a nonprofit’s goldmine and if you are not using storytelling as an essential element in your nonprofit marketing and communications, you are robbing yourself of one of the most effective tools available to you.”

Learn more about Leroux Miller’s book, The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, or Page to Practice book summary.

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Leroux Miller and marketing: Social media and surprises

There has never been a shortage of one-person marketing departments or small budgets in the nonprofit sector. Technology and social media have presented marketers with a groundswell of inexpensive, if not free, opportunities to promote, publicize and organize on behalf of their nonprofit organizations.

While the juxtaposition of these two forces would seem to solve marketing budget problems, these forces actually have created feelings of angst and loss of control for traditional marketers. The fact that all generations (yes, that means seniors too) are represented online is a call to action for everyone still waffling about integrating marketing and social media.

It’s an exciting time for nonprofit marketing professionals and your marketing plans are waiting for you to dust them off and put The Nonprofit Marketing Guide to good use. This month we’re delighted to feature Kivi Leroux Miller’s book and have excerpted our author interview:

CausePlanet: The Nonprofit Marketing Guide is fresh and insightful. What inspired you to write this book?

Leroux Miller: I’ve worked as a communications department of one for going on twenty years, as a nonprofit staff member, board member, volunteer and consultant. I had to learn how to do that on my own for the most part, because while there are books on marketing or fundraising, they are written for large, well-funded organizations or are too academic. As I was struggling to figure out how to do nonprofit communications without a lot of staff or resources, I vowed to someday write the book for people in the same situation. So that’s what I did!

CausePlanet: One of your passages cites a survey that found only 37% of nonprofits measure the effectiveness of their efforts. This was surprising in light of how important it is for nonprofits to make their budget dollars count. What surprises you most about nonprofit marketing today?

Leroux Miller: That’s a tough question! I guess I’d say that what surprises me most is how undervalued marketing still is. As I discuss in the book, marketing is really integral to everything from delivering the right programs to the right people, to raising the money to pay your staff well. It’s not just about having a newsletter or a Facebook page. I wish more nonprofits really understood the impact of good marketing on implementing their missions–and how much harder they make it on themselves when they don’t value marketing.

Learn more about Leroux Miller’s book, The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, or Page to Practice book summary.

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