Interview with Steve MacLaughlin about Data Driven Nonprofits

The nonprofit sector has grown dramatically in the last two decades and part of that trajectory has involved the growing use of technology. However, author Steve MacLaughlin argues that nonprofits aren’t using data nearly as much as they could be to move their missions forward.

His new book, Data Driven Nonprofits, focuses primarily on fundraising as the critical element needed to advance an organization. In each chapter, MacLaughlin uses interviews and case stories to explore the variety of ways in which nonprofits, big and small, use data to accelerate change.

We asked MacLaughlin about his favorite example of a nonprofit that uses data to move their mission forward. Learn more about his answer to this question and others below:

CausePlanet: What case story or interview about making the “data leap” is your favorite and why?

SM: There are a lot of really great stories of organizations that have been able to transform their performance through better use of data and analytics. One of my favorites is Denver Rescue Mission, which was founded in 1892, and up until the late 1980s had a staff of four people and total revenue of about $200,000. Today, they raise more than $32 million—so much of that growth has come through being data driven with a growth mindset.

CausePlanet: Where do most nonprofits typically falter when trying to take their initial steps toward using data effectively and why?

SM: One of the biggest mistakes is trying to take on too much, too soon, with expectations that are too high. Nonprofit organizations are much better served by picking a specific question they want to answer or outcome they want to achieve. That first project should be big enough for others to care about, but not so big that it becomes controversial or bogged down in bureaucracy. Time box the team to 30 days to work on that question or outcomes, then come back with recommendations. Over time, you’ll build the right habits and processes to take on the next important problem.

CausePlanet: In your book, readers learn a great deal about how data-driven nonprofits look and behave (e.g. Test, Share, Grow, etc.).

SM: Yes, a big finding from my research and interviews for Data Driven Nonprofits was how big a role organizational culture plays in the success of being more data driven. As you noted, some of those culture types are around testing, sharing, and growing. The bad news is that a nonprofit’s culture must align around and value data. The good news is that nonprofits can have different culture types and still achieve their goals.

CausePlanet: Many important changes or initiatives require buy-in at the top. What three reasons should our readers present to their boards as to why they need to be data-driven?

SM: It’s important, but it’s not the most important thing to being successful. The most important things people can show to senior leaders or their board are examples of how using data produces a better decision or result than just an opinion. Speak softly. Bring data.

CausePlanet: What single idea would you like readers to know about your book?

SM: Equifinality. That’s the single idea that readers should take away from the book. (Pausing for reaction) It turns out that you can have the best data, the best tools, the best people, and still not be successful with data. Organizational culture can undermine any of those efforts. But thanks to equifinality there is hope. Equifinality is the principle that a given end state can be reached by many potential means. Nonprofit organizations have different culture types and still become more data driven. They can start in different places and arrive at the same positive place.

Learn more about this book, related books and our summary:

Measuring the Networked Nonprofit

 

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[Podcast] Get ready to update your assumptions about millennials

While the topic of engaging millennials as donors and volunteers seems to constantly bubble to the surface, unfortunately, the frequency of these conversations doesn’t equate to having all the answers.

We decided it was time to have another chat with Kari Dunn Saratovsky and Derrick Feldmann about Cause for Change, a book they published in 2013. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on what’s evolved since then and equally important, what remains relevant. Join us for some interesting responses to our questions below:

One of the things that stuck with me when I first read Cause for Change is that Kari and Derrick wanted to help nonprofits think differently to attract a generation who wants to give it their all, but also has a lot of competing pressure on their time and dollars.

CausePlanet: Could we begin by sharing what surprised you most in the results from the Millennial Impact Report and what’s evolved since then?

A new mentality and donor assets redefined (6:16)

CausePlanet: The Millennial Engagement Platform (BUILD) is a central framework you highlight throughout Cause for Change. Could you revisit that framework with us?

Determine your success with the BUILD framework (6:41)

CausePlanet: What is the most important takeaway you want readers to remember today in light of what’s transpired since you published Cause for Change?

Don’t jump to tech only – make value-based, in-person connections (3:27)

Figure out how to involve people in making change (3:26)

Read more on this topic:

Fundraising and the Next Generation

Working Across Generations

Social Change Anytime Everywhere: How to Implement Online Multichannel Strategies to Spark Advocacy, Raise Money and Engage Your Community

Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia – Multigenerational Management Ideas That Are Changing the Way We Run Things

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[Podcast] Tapping into your donor’s subconscious with Roger Dooley

Leading scientists who focus on brain activity say 95 percent of all thoughts, emotions and learning happen before we are aware of them. Author Roger Dooley says that unfortunately, most marketing efforts bypass the immense subconscious and instead target the rational conscious mind.

Dooley claims that if you want to promote your cause more effectively, it’s time to stop focusing on just five percent of your donor’s brain. Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing is Roger Dooley’s homage to the value of applying brain and behavior research to better understand the decision patterns of those you seek to influence.

The book contains key strategies—100 to be exact—to target your constituency through face-to-face, online, print and other marketing channels. Dooley answers three of our questions below in a recent podcast.

CausePlanet: Would you please comment on why incorporating “sensory features” into your donor marketing is so important?

Listen to his podcast answer here or read his answer below: Roger Dooley on sensory features

Dooley: Whenever we can engage multiple senses, our marketing is more impactful and memorable. Often, these additional senses offer a direct pathway to the donor’s brain. A scent, for example, can evoke memories or emotions, even without the person consciously processing the scent or even being aware of it. In some media, like print, it’s hard to engage multiple senses. In these cases, sensory words can be used. For example, the word “rough” lights up an area of the brain associated with touching, even when the word is used as a metaphor, as in a “rough day.”

CausePlanet: At what stage do most nonprofit marketers fail when trying to apply neuromarketing strategies?

Listen to his podcast here or read his answer below: Roger Dooley on when marketers fail

Dooley: Marketers tend to focus on facts and figures, features and benefits, and other logical appeals that are intended to persuade the donor or customer to act. Appealing to non-conscious motivators should be part of the process from start to finish. Using brain-oriented strategies is particularly important for nonprofit marketers. Usually, we buy products because we need them. We don’t have tangible benefits when we make a donation or volunteer our time. If product marketing is half psychology, nonprofit marketing is 100 percent psychology. It’s essential to identify and use the right triggers to get donors and volunteers on board.

CausePlanet: What interesting developments have you’ve discovered since Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing was published and that our nonprofit readers might find useful?

Listen to his podcast answer here. Roger Dooley on new developments

Want to learn more about how to apply Roger Dooley’s best practices to your donor communication? Follow him on Facebook, Twitter (@RogerDooley), subscribe to his newsletter, or listen to a podcast. You can also learn more about his latest book, The Persuasion Slide: A New Way to Market to Your Customer’s Conscious Needs and Unconscious Mind.

Learn more about this title and related book summaries.

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Content marketing for nonprofits: Don’t forget to rinse and repeat

rinseandrepeatThe number of tools and the amount of noise around us grow by the day. With choice comes complexity, and our environment changes constantly, due to technological, generational and marketing shifts.

Redefine your audience for today’s current climate with the help of author Kivi Leroux Miller. Content Marketing for Nonprofits: A Communications Map for Engaging Your Community, Becoming a Favorite Cause, and Raising More Money delivers on the title and much more.

Without the benefit of a multichannel communications plan like Leroux Miller’s, your organization pushes out mass-messaging in a variety of unplanned channels and hopes that a few calls to action land in receptive hands.

But with Leroux Miller’s guidance, you will develop a solid marketing plan and implement a dynamic content strategy, step by step, that will attract generous donors.

In our Page to Practice book summary of Content Marketing for Nonprofits, we asked Leroux Miller about repurposing content. Here are some great reminders and tips:

CausePlanet: We love your passage on repurposing content–it’s liberating to know you support this strategy. What’s one of the best examples you’ve observed or you personally use that you would recommend to our readers?

Kivi Leroux Miller: I rarely create anything new without knowing how I will use it in at least three ways. Sometimes it’s just an inkling, but everything gets reincarnated at some point. I am always expanding or reworking things I did earlier. It’s a way of life for creative professionals, including marketers! 

CausePlanet: In your book, you discuss one of many content strategies, including “Foraging and Filtering: Curating Content Created by Others.” What are some of the online tools you prefer to use when organizing thoughts and ideas within the same subject area?

Kivi Leroux Miller: The specific tool you use is less important than the tagging or labeling system you use. You have to know how to identify things you find so that you can find them again later! But since you asked, we use Diigo and Evernote regularly.

Learn more about this book and our summary: http://www.causeplanet.org/pagetopracticelibrary/detail.php?id=121

More titles and their summaries on this topic:

The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand

Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications

How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money

Mobile for Good: A How-To Fundraising Guide for Nonprofits

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Announcing CausePlanet’s Choice Award winners: Our top books for nonprofit leaders

cp_bookchoice_2016_greenIt’s my favorite time of year for many reasons. One of which is that my team at CausePlanet enjoys reflecting on the books we reviewed in 2016 for nonprofit leaders. Here are some of our favorites among them.

It goes without saying that this is an incredibly tough process because we don’t review a book to begin with unless we feel it has value for our readers. The titles below receive our CausePlanet Choice Award designation because each stood out on many counts, including factors such as originality, insight, inspiration and applicability.

We would like to congratulate the following authors on providing our sector with guidance and wisdom in these wonderful book titles:

How to Turn Your Words into Money: The Master Fundraiser’s Guide to Persuasive Writing by Jeff Brooks. turnyourwordsintomoneyfb

Jeff BrooksHow to Turn Your Words into Money is a nonprofit writer’s new ally with the latest guidelines for creating the most effective messages to persuade your reader. Brooks explains what fundraising writing is not and what it should be. He does so in a way that tells you exactly what to avoid and what to try in your next attempt to sway your audience. A fair amount is appropriately dedicated to the many ways you can create a compelling story even when you’re stumped. How to Turn concludes with what every fundraising writer needs: universal assumptions we know about donors and some helpful advice to keep you inspired. 

Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most by Hendrie “Hank” Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry.performingunderpressurecover

Pressure is the enemy of success, according to vast research conducted by Performing Under Pressure authors Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry. Since it’s impossible to live life free of pressure, the authors present strategies to manage it immediately and in the future. Divided into three parts, this book helps you understand all aspects of pressure-inducing situations, provides 22 powerful solutions for handling pressure scenarios, and explains how to build your own “armor” to protect yourself over your lifetime from the ill-effects of pressure. 

Retention Fundraising: The Art and Science of Keeping Donors for Life by Roger Craver.retention-fundraising-cover

If you want to change the world, author Roger Craver argues that you must tackle one of the greatest fundraising challenges: retention. In other words, don’t raise a dollar unless you have a plan for keeping that dollar. Unfortunately, low retention has become increasingly accepted as a given in nonprofit operations. Craver asserts this doesn’t have to be the case. Thanks to a study of more than 250 organizations, Craver and his collaborators have introduced a framework for boosting retention and the lifetime value of donors. This framework is the foundation to improve each of the retention issues he presents, from redefining loyalty to understanding authentic engagement.

Mobile for Good: A How-To Fundraising Guide for Nonprofits by Heather Mansfield.mobile-for-good-cover

Any doubts you may have that social networks aren’t powerful or don’t need to be a priority in your communication and fundraising efforts can now be put to rest, according to Mobile for Good author Heather Mansfield. A comprehensive and thoroughly researched resource for nonprofits, Mobile for Good helps you master mobile content distribution on social networks so you are more likely to experience fundraising success. She provides recommended software, helpful checklists and nonprofits you should model. Advanced users will find a section dedicated to nonprofit staffers who are ready to tackle more challenging strategies. 

The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High Character Employees by Bruce209-by-248-the-good-ones-cover Weinstein.

Questionable character is costly. Employees who lack character cost businesses and nonprofits billions of dollars each year. Unfortunately, employers focus too much on what candidates need to know or do and rarely think about what makes an employee great: character. The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees presents ten qualities that clarify what it means to be a high-character employee. Stories from employers and employees illustrate how these traits are critical to the long-term success of your nonprofit and to the employees who exhibit them. This book contains advice for the employer, the interviewee and employee in search of a character fit.

The Generosity Network: New Transformational Tools for Successful Fundraising by Jennifer McCrea, Jeffrey C. Walker and Karl Weber.generosity_network_cover_large

The Generosity Network was written for those of you who work for one of the 1.8 million organizations that make up America’s nonprofit sector and the 10 million nonprofits worldwide. Whether a nonprofit leader, volunteer, board member or front-line employee, each person plays a critical role in attracting support for its organization. This book describes an approach that makes working with partners easier, more effective and, dare we say, more fun. The basis of the coauthors’ approach is rooted in relatedness and connectedness with partners. These partnerships are built upon three elements: know yourself, know others and know how to ask.

I encourage you to give yourself the gift of knowledge and download one of our book summaries and purchase the book. Make 2017 count by committing to your professional development. Knowledge has a shelf life and it must be renewed!

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Avoid the 2-year website relaunch cycle: Look at ROI and mission

screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-4-00-39-pmIf you’re looking to improve your website, you’re not alone. According to Captivate and Engage coauthors, Jay Wilkinson and Randy Hawthorne, nonprofits relaunch their websites about every two years. This is due to several factors.

Are “go-to geeks” the answer?

Primarily, nonprofits hire website designers whom the authors affectionately call “go-to-geeks.” These professionals are tech-savvy but the authors argue that a great site is more about mission, vision and cause more than about technology. “No programmer can manufacture those components,” explain Wilkinson and Hawthorne.

The doing-more-with-less fallacy

Another reason why nonprofits find themselves in a constant state of website revision is the “fallacy of doing more with less.” This is based on the idea that you should make decisions based on cost rather than value. “Get as much as you can for as little as possible.” Unfortunately, this philosophy contributes to a very short shelf life for your website.

Look at ROI and mission before you leap

When we asked Jay and Randy about preliminary considerations before you launch a website, they had the following answer that touched more on the fallacy mentioned above. We also asked about one of their primary recommendations: connecting the website to the mission. Read on.

CausePlanet: What is your advice for nonprofits that want to make the initial investment to build a website the right way? What are the preliminary considerations?

Wilkinson and Hawthorne: First and foremost, don’t fall into the “we have to do more with less” trap by focusing entirely on the cost of the website. Way more important than cost is the return onscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-3-09-13-pm investment, or ROI. A nonprofit could spend $50,000 on a website and double its money by increasing contributions or spend $500 and get nothing in return except for a bland site with a few photos and its mission statement.

Which one “costs” more for the nonprofit? Fortunately for everyone, great nonprofit websites with gargantuan ROIs don’t have to cost $50,000. We recommend finding a provider that specializes specifically in working with nonprofits. It has probably already built the functionality that you’ll need—meaning it’s not starting from scratch. Then, know what you want. Take the time to seek out other nonprofit websites to cite as examples. It’s the single best way for a developer to know how best to please you.

CausePlanet: You stress the importance of getting in touch with your mission, vision and values before engaging in the business of enlisting technological help. Have you seen any of your clients do this successfully and what did that look like?

Wilkinson and Hawthorne: Yes. We see it all the time. Every web developer worth her salt will tell you that when the leadership team for the nonprofit is involved in providing direction for the website, the product always comes out better. The closer someone is to the heart of the organization, the more insight and guidance she can give. 

A great example of this is the Groundwater Foundation at Groundwater.org. The President, Jane Griffin, is involved in every aspect of the website. As a result, the purpose and mission of the organization is deeply embedded into the site’s DNA. You can’t visit the website without gaining a sense of its mission.

See book summaries related to this topic:

Captivate and Engage: The Definitive Guide for Nonprofit Websites

Content Marketing for Nonprofits: A Communications Map for Engaging Your Community, Becoming a Favorite Cause, and Raising More Money

Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications

Image credits: Groundwater.org, NonprofitHub Press

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Why you need a mobile media budget at your nonprofit

Any doubts you may have that social networks aren’t powerful or don’t need to be a priority in your communication and fundraising efforts can now be put to rest, according to Mobile for Good author Heather Mansfield.

A comprehensive and thoroughly researched resource for nonprofits, Mobile for Good helps you master mobile content distribution on social networks so you are more likely to experience fundraising success. She provides recommended software, helpful checklists and nonprofits you should model. Advanced users will find a section dedicated to nonprofit staffers who are ready to tackle more challenging strategies.

What I found particularly interesting were some of the statistics Mansfield shares early on in her rationale for why nonprofits need to pay attention to mobile and social media. I’ve put them in an infographic for you.

Mobile for Good (1)

Nonprofit book summaries related to this post:

Mobile for Good: A How-To Fundraising Guide for Nonprofits

Content Marketing for Nonprofits: A Communications Map for Engaging Your Community, Becoming a Favorite Cause, and Raising More Money

The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change

Measuring the Networked Nonprofit

Social Change Anytime Everywhere: How to Implement Online Multichannel Strategies to Spark Advocacy, Raise Money and Engage Your Community

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Put your own stories to work when winning others over

business2community-comPeople tell stories all the time and don’t realize it. “This book is actually designed to help you pay better attention to the stories you tell, so you can teach, build vision, share a process or introduce a new idea more effectively,” says storytelling thought leader Annette Simmons.

Influence, persuade, inspire

Simmons explains why storytelling that is used to influence others is more than a tool for the marketing professional or fundraiser. Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins is widely applied by leaders to influence, persuade and inspire. In Whoever Tells, you’ll learn how to build consensus, win others over to your point of view, and foster group decision making by using six kinds of stories.

These stories are often the reasons why donors give, why board members act, why stakeholders advocate or why people collaborate. Annette Simmons not only explains why this skill is so critical to everyone, but also how to learn and develop what many people mistakenly believe is a rare gift only a few of us enjoy.

Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins takes you step by step through the process of identifying and choosing stories from your own life, experience and knowledge, and then linking them, fully and authentically, to the themes, messages and goals of your workplace.designpm-com

You’ll gain skills in how to influence others, improve collective decision making and leverage the approval of ideas you’re presenting. Simmons helps you accomplish these goals by using six kinds of stories:

Six kinds of stories

1.     Who-I-Am Stories: People need to know who you are before they can trust you.

2.     Why-I-Am-Here Stories: People can be wary so you must disarm them by sharing your agenda.

3.     Teaching Stories: Some lessons are best learned from telling a story that creates a shared experience.

4.     Vision Stories: The idea of a worthy, exciting future can reframe difficulties and diminish obstacles.

5.     Values-In-Action Stories: Tell a story that illustrates the real-world manifestation of a value.

6.     I-Know-What-You-Are-Thinking Stories: These stories address possible suspicions and dispel them to build trust.

Working definition, how to identify good stories and Simmons’ approach

Simmons defines “story” as a “reimagined experience narrated with enough detail and feeling to cause your listeners’ imaginations to experience it as real.” There are many other definitions but this one is helpful because it keeps you focused on stories that influence and change perceptions.

She adds, “Stories replenish information with the food of human connection and reignite powerful motivations stimulated when we feel the sense of our shared humanity.”

According to the author, once you know how to find and tell stories that feel personal to you and your receivers, you have what you need to acknowledge, connect with and emotionally move others. The best storytellers understand how to use their own emotional responses as indicators of what will resonate with others.

Why you must tell stories from the inside out

Most storytelling advice instructs you to tell the story from the outside in. All stories have a beginning, middle and end. They have a plot, character, setting, conflict and resolution. These elements are all true but they don’t generate an emotional connection.

Conversely, telling personal stories teaches you storytelling from the inside out, which puts emotion and personal connection first. “Unless you bring a beating heart to your message, it is dead. But when you tell your own heartfelt stories about what is meaningful in your life and work, you get the hang of finding stories that frame life and work in emotionally meaningful ways for your listeners.”

Why you should take a closer look at Simmons’ book

If you find yourself in any situation where it is essential to engage a listener, audience, prospect, board or task force, you will find Whoever Tells exceptionally useful. Simmons’ well-researched and example-rich chapters help you build a foundation of stories that will become useful to you in a variety of settings. The book is well-written, clearly organized and an enjoyable read. In storytelling terms, there are no cliff hangers. Rather, Simmons provides you with heroic ideas and satisfying endings to each chapter.

See books and summaries for related titles:

Storytelling for Grantseekers: A Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising

Content Marketing for Nonprofits: A Communications Map for Engaging Your Community, Becoming a Favorite Cause, and Raising More Money

How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money

Image credits: designpm.com, business2community.com

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Find out why you shouldn’t like your donor message

The donor relationship equity built over the lifetime of an organization should not be taken lightly. Author Jeff Brooks encourages you to apply his proven strategies for raising more money and avoid jarring tactics that jeopardize donor relationships.

One of the passages we liked best in Brooks’ latest book, A Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications, was titled “Self-centric fundraising.”

Simply put, if you like your message, your donor won’t. Read on to find out why:

Self-centric fundraising

If you like your fundraising message, asserts Brooks, it will not appeal to your donors. Even if your donors say they like it, it will not compel them to give in real life. “Everyone’s conscious opinions about fundraising are automatically wrong. … Everyone hates the stuff that works best.” This happens because when you practice self-centric fundraising, or what appeals to you as the fundraiser, you lose the emotion because your initial emotional connection to the cause has become more sophisticated and educated as you have worked for the nonprofit.

For example, you may want to talk about global hunger as “food insecurity” after working in the field. A donor would not understand this term at all. In addition, you don’t focus on the donors because you are proud of your organization’s work and want to detail its merits.

Donors, however, want to be part of the equation. Finally, “your copy reads like inter-office memos.” Formal, professional, cold communication does not motivate donors to act. In this kind of copy, you focus on facts: “Please consider supporting the 124 children in our hospital,” instead of a compelling, emotional story about a 6-year-old girl talking about her good-luck bear in her fight against cancer.

In order to avoid these self-centric messages, turn off your personal likes and dislikes in favor of what has worked with donors before, either in your organization or others. Ask if it is emotional, clear and simple, rather than if you like it or not.

In our interview with Brooks, we asked more about what donors want to hear:

CausePlanet: What do you think is the best training fundraisers can receive? They need to be fluent, smooth writers but also need simplicity and an intuition about what donors want to hear.

Brooks: The best possible training is an experienced mentor–someone who knows fundraising inside and out and will go over your work in detail and show you what needs to be done. Read quality books about fundraising. There are a lot of them, and the folks at CausePlanet can help you find the right ones. Also, read a few of the blogs.  There are a lot of them, many of them superb sources of information. Find a blog you like, then add a few more from that blog’s blogroll. Finally, get to know other professionals and talk about stuff. Get involved in your local AFP, and/or go to one of the national conventions. Knowing and talking with other professionals really makes a positive difference.

CausePlanet: What in your research makes fundraisers lose money more than anything?

Brooks: Failing to engage with donors. Asking donors to “stand with us” rather than give them specific actions they can take. Writing in the language and about things that organizational insiders care about, rather than what motivates the donors. Using images that make insiders feel good instead of those that reach donors. Using abstractions and wordplay instead of clear, plain, powerful emotional messaging. Bragging about the organization and its programs instead of making it about the donors.

Read more about this book in our Page to Practice summary and other related titles:

The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications: Real-World Field-Tested Strategies for Raising More Money

The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand: Motivating Donors to Give, Give Happily, and Keep on Giving

Seeing Through A Donor’s Eyes

How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money

Image credits: dishntell.wp.com, iconarchive.com, goodwp.com

 

 

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Donor surveys hide the truth about longer fundraising messages

Writing fundraising communications is not merely a derivative of commercial marketing, academic writing or business prose. It’s a highly specialized and nuanced technique that requires experience, ongoing testing and specific knowledge about the reader.

Nonprofits that risk taking a casual approach to their fundraising communications or worse, allow someone without context or background change the branding and donor outreach methods entirely, will find themselves recovering lost ground for months, sometimes years.

The donor relationship equity built over the lifetime of an organization should not be taken lightly. Author Jeff Brooks encourages you to apply his proven strategies for raising more money and avoid jarring tactics that jeopardize donor relationships.

In Brooks’ latest book, The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications: Real-World Field-Tested Strategies for Raising More Money (www.EmersonandChurch.com, 2012), he skillfully and entertainingly instructs you in an easy and informative manner about everything you need to know about fundraising communications.

To wax on or not to wax on

In this post, I want to highlight one of many elements he covers in the book under “Writing Style.” Brooks tackles the debate over the length of your content and that longer messaging allows for effective use of repetition and storytelling.

What donors really want in your fundraising messages

Even though it is counterintuitive, longer messages, when tested, work better than shorter ones. When donors are asked whether they want short or long messages, they assert they want shorter ones. But actual donor behavior favors the longer messages.

No one really knows why, but theories include the following: A longer appeal can contain multiple triggers or opportunities to relay a message, such as a visualization of a life-threatening need or emphasis on a problem, and a longer message holds more weight, among others.

The two essential characteristics in the best longer messages include:

Stories: You can flesh out your stories in longer messages to deliver more vivid images.

Repetition: This will help your readers get the message clearly. Here is an outline Brooks gives for your message:

Introduction: Why I’m writing to you.

Ask.

Why your gift is so important today.

Ask.

How much impact your gift will have.

Ask.

Story that demonstrates the need.

Ask.

Remind the donor of his values and connection with the cause.

Ask.

Another story.

Ask.

Help the donor visualize what will happen when she gives.

Ask.

Conclusion: Thank the donor for caring.

Ask again.

If you haven’t picked up on Brooks’ theme here, let me spell it out for you. Longer messages let you repeat your ask and frame it in several ways, increasing your chances for triggering the response you’re looking for. Additionally, stories have greater potential when they can be expanded with more detail and emotion.

Why do fundraisers get it wrong when writing solicitations?

Content length is simply one of numerous techniques Brooks covers for fundraisers who find themselves in the communications role. Let’s pull back from this specific writing style example and introduce one of Brooks’ answers to our question about why so many fundraisers get it wrong when crafting an appeal. Here’s what he said:

CausePlanet: Jeff, thank you for writing this book that clearly emphasizes the best ways to write fundraising materials, contrary to many common beliefs. Why do you think so many fundraisers are so misguided and write unsuccessful solicitations?

Jeff Brooks: Almost everyone who enters the fundraising profession comes from somewhere else. Those who realize they’re in a new world and seek to understand it quickly learn how to do effective fundraising. Those who aren’t curious and open-minded, who insist on bringing the conventions of another discipline (such as commercial marketing), fail repeatedly and spectacularly.

The other source of unsuccessful fundraising is “Fundraising From Yourself”–the belief that if it’s persuasive to me, it’s good. That NEVER works. You have to aim at donors, and that always means you won’t find the message compelling.

See this book, Page to Practice summary and other relevant titles:

The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications: Real-World Field-Tested Strategies for Raising More Money

The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand: Motivating Donors to Give, Give Happily, and Keep on Giving

Seeing Through A Donor’s Eyes

How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money

Image credits: EmersonandChurch.com, leonlogosthetis.com, allisoncarmichael.com, thedailywalk.org

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