Tom Ahern will show you how your organization can not only fundraise BUT emotionally BOOST your supporter base in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

Full Transcript:

Steven: We’re rolling here. Okay, Tom, we’re rolling. So is it okay if I go ahead and get us started officially?

Tom: Take it away.

Steven: All right. You’re the man. Well, welcome everyone. Thanks for being here for a special Friday edition of our Bloomerang webinar series. We’re going to be talking about how to speak well, well enough, I should say, to your family of supporters during this wacky time we’ve got going on here. I’m so glad to see a full room. And I hope all of you are staying happy and healthy, productive. We’re all thinking about you and just glad you’re here. Well, hopefully, this’ll be a good productive hour for you and maybe a little bit of a distraction from what’s going on in a good way. So I’m Steven. I’m over here at Bloomerang. I’m going to be moderating today’s discussion as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items real quick. Just want to let you all know that we are recording the session and we’ll be sending out the recording as well as the slides later on today. So, if you have to leave early, or maybe you got an appointment later on, or a family member comes in and interrupts you, that might happen to me, it’s okay. We’re all in this together. Don’t worry, we’ll get you that recording later on today. But most importantly, a lot of you have already done this, but please feel free to use that chat box and the Q&A. We’d love for these sessions to be interactive. So don’t be shy, don’t sit on your hands. I’ll be active in the chat for sure, but we’ll try to get to some questions as many as we can in whatever time we have remaining. You can also do that on Twitter. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed as well.

And if you are new to Bloomerang, if you’ve never heard of Bloomerang, this is just for context. We not only a provider of webinars, we love doing these webinars. We do them just about every day. It seems like these days over the past month or so. But what we are most known for is our donor management software. So, if you’re curious about that or interested, check us out. You can visit our website. You can watch all kinds of videos, and get to know us. But if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, welcome, we’d love to have you. Hopefully, you’ll join us again for our future sessions and we’ve got a lot of them. So thanks for being here.

Without further ado, I’m so excited. My hero, literally my fundraising hero, is joining us from beautiful Rhode Island. Tom Ahern and Tom, are doing okay? You guys are hunkered down up there. Are doing okay?

Tom: Yeah. Although actually because of the lack of hair cutting, my hair now looks like your monkey.

Steven: I think it looks good. I think you could bring back the . . . you got a little bit of a bouffant going there.

Tom: Well, I could.

Steven: Yeah. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to shave my own head, but on the webcam view, you can’t tell what a bad job I’ve done, so . . .

Tom: That just sounds like an emergency room visit waiting to happen.

Steven: Yeah, it probably is. I would come over and trim your hair if we were closer.

Tom: Oh, thank you.

Steven: I wouldn’t be the sanitary either. Wow, this is Tom’s idea, folks. He reached out to us. He wanted to do something for us given the unprecedented nature of the situation today. So we’re really grateful to have Tom sacrifice his time and his knowledge here for you all. If you don’t know, Tom, it’s kind of hard for me to encapsulate who Tom is other than just someone I look up to and a lot of other people do for donor communications. He’s written so many books on the topic. You’re up to seven books now, right? Is there a seventh book coming out or? I can’t remember. I lost track.

Tom: I just get bored and I write another one. Yeah.

Steven: Yeah. And they’re great. He’s usually all over the country, helping folks speaking at conferences. And you’re just going to benefit from his wealth of knowledge here today. He’s put together this presentation special. There’s brand new stuff in here, brand new examples, and I don’t want to take any more time away from that. So I’m going to pipe down and I’ll stop sharing. Tom, you can bring up your slides. This is always the fun awkward transition.

Tom: Okie dokie, share screen. Yeah. I don’t know if you can do it or I can do it. I wanted to get me off there.

Steven: I will turn your camera off. I think I have the power. There we go.

Tom: Okay. Here’s the first lesson from eye motion studies. If anything is moving, your brain is automatically hardwired to follow it. So we have somebody up there yapping away.

Steven: I’ll turn mine off too.

Tom: Okay.

Steven: Go for it.

Tom: All right. Well, here it is. Here it is. And the provenance of this is I got a call from my local community foundation and they said, “Oh my God.” Or something along those lines. “We need a show for the grantees, for all the nonprofits they support.” And they support about, I don’t know, thousand plus in a year. And you know, everybody’s just kind of . . . their hair’s on fire. They don’t know what to do next. They’re under orders not to leave their home.

Now in Rhode Island where I live, if you go out in public, have to wear a mask. And you know, the question is, did fundraising die? Did it just die? Did we hit the pause button? And so I started calling around because I know a lot of experts around the world. And I am . . . Going to shut my window because my wife is out there raking and on the phone? And she’s not a soft-voiced person. Anyway, so this is what resulted after I talked to lots of people. So there’s some good stuff in here, I think. Let’s see. It’d be nice though if it would actually advance. There we go.

So here are some of . . . and this is going to be quick because this part . . . this is what some of the fears were that people were expressing. And often, it wasn’t the fundraiser who was expressing the fear. It was more like board members saying, “We shouldn’t be asking for money now. It’s insensitive during this time of crisis and so forth.”

But what I found, this is Jeff Brooks, he’s a good friend of mine, but he’s also one of the top veteran fundraising copywriters in the world. And he has a Future Fundraising Now blog. It’s free. If you don’t subscribe already, you should because every day you’ll get a nice piece of smart insight and information. And this is one of his new columns. And he’s addressing all these various issues. Fundraising now is insensitive. And then he explains why that’s not the case. Or somebody will complain, yes, they will. Or fundraising now is exploitative, which is these comments on the side are by me, by the way, because I have these mental conversations. “Yeah, yeah, it might get worse. Yeah. Oh, come on, don’t, you know, etc., etc.” But what’s down here in red is kind of the bottom line for it. Going silent on donors has only one guaranteed outcome. And that is your fundraising will shrink. So this is not the time to go that route.

Let’s look at what is actually happening out in the world. Mark Phillips, who’s based in London in the UK is founder, head of Bluefrog, which is a major creative agency, does amazing work. And also has the advantage right now of constantly surveying donors, people who are charitably-inclined, to find out what their attitudes are at the moment, you know. So every day almost on Twitter, you can find Mark and you should follow him. Twitter is where I get most of my professional information these days. This just came up. What he discovered was, if people were not worried about finances, they saw no reason not to continue giving to the charities they care about. Right. So that was his finding. That’s not a guess. That was a piece of research. Bloomerang also contributed a nice note here. Because I think there’s . . . and Steven, you can correct me. You have something like 8,000 clients or something like that.

Steven: Yup.

Tom: A huge base of statistically valid information there. And what they found was that since the crisis has happened, their customers, the Bloomerang customers, have raised $1.35 million more than they did during the same time period last year. Now that’s an interesting thing. And doing those year on year comparisons are very helpful. Now obviously, in some way, this is not the time of year when many charities are out there, you know, beating on doors for fundraising. Because the giving season in the United States tends to be October, November, December, maybe a little bit into January. You know, that’s where it’s kind of concentrated. So what I see here anyway is that people are now on higher alert. And by the way, there are some case studies on the Bloomerang site under the “Freebies” menu that you can study. And I’m going to share a couple with you right now.

This one, “We canceled the event and we made more money.” You know. And in some cases, I know there are some long-suffering fundraisers out there that are like, “Oh God, I wish we could cancel our event.” And maybe you could make more money too. Now, this is an Education Foundation for those of you who may not be familiar with that kind of group. They raise money in the community for extra things at the public schools that are covered by budgets. And so particularly when you get into school systems that have a lot of what are called at-risk kids, you have needs for all sorts of additional programming, or maybe even food, maybe they’re not getting enough to eat. And so they raise money for very good things. And they’d been doing that for 27 years and all of a sudden, this happens.

So they sent out an email that canceled the 27th annual fundraiser. You can see huge donate now button right there and very visible. And they then, after they canceled it because of course, that was the thing that they had to do, state law, government, federal law. The next thing they did was announce this Kid Booster Crisis Fund, which was essentially to replace the donations that were lost by not having the 27th annual.

So now it’s been introduced. And this is what happened on the day of the event. So they would have happened on this day and instead, they did it virtually. And they kind of supplied the people on the receiving end, the email lists with a bunch of things that they might have seen had the event actually happened. You know, there’s some drumming going on, there’s some Lego business going on. You got some drama clubs stuff going on and so forth. And what you can see up here, and this to me is all that needs to be said probably, is that when they no longer had the expenses associated with the event, like a facility rental, food and costs, and so forth and so on, they actually netted more money. So they raised . . . they did hit their goal. The goal was $100,000, but had it been a normal year, they would’ve kept $70,000 of that and $30,000 would have been in costs. This year, they got to keep it all. And in fact, they went over goal. So it’s over $100,000.

Here’s another one, same thing. Peace Community Center in Tacoma. And this first they send out an email, that’s the boss there sending out an email, canceling the big annual benefit. Now, this is a big annual benefit and it’s big in the sense of $100,000 big. And that they put that into students and kids going to college. As you can see from the next email, the one on the right, where she’s holding her banner. Where is she going? Well, she’s going to Saint Martin’s University. Yay. And there were five emailed appeals. So there was a whole campaign, five emailed appeals leading up to the day of that ask . . . of the canceled event, excuse me. And that was the final ask you just saw. And then once it’s over, the executive director comes back and she made a little video, where she thanks the community for all the things you’ve done. And it’s a wonderful, very warm thank you. And you have the little thermometer there showing that not only did they make goal, they went way over goal, almost $18,000 over goal.

So, when you give people a job to do in a crisis, they are on alert. So, anyway, what they can do for you. One of the things that I ran across, and some of you may already have seen this, is a video. It’s available online at Better Fundraising Company, which is out in Seattle. Steven Screen does the video. It’s pretty quick too. And it’s for an emergency e-appeal and it’s a template. And it says that it’s a template that works. Well, how do we know it works? Well, first of all, I called people who used it to see what happened. They were really pleased with this.

So this is what one of these emergency email appeals looks like. And you can see it has a donate button, not just at the bottom, but at the top. In fact, one at the top is probably more important than the one at the bottom, in terms of people responding. And I’m going to take you through this a little bit, but one of the people who responded was me. Now, this is in San Antonio. I like San Antonio, but I don’t live in Texas. I happened to know Steve Herlich, who’s the director of development there. And he sent it to me just so that I could see what he had come up with. And I was so touched by what he had written that I actually became, you know, an accidental donor. I became a spontaneous donor.

And what they’re trying to do is outfit . . . they have senior living facilities for people with low income. And isolation is an even bigger problem for people of a certain age. And that’s what we’ve been handed is, you know, enforced isolation. So they wanted to retrofit the two campuses where they have housing units with high-speed internet that would allow people to stream and do all sorts of things like that, plus do telemedicine, things like that. And that was going to cost $22,000. So that was the goal. They were going to come in, and they’re going to do it all, and it’s going to cost $22,000. And they broke that down and they said, basically, it’s about $32 per housing unit. And so I’m thinking, “Okay, well, I could help one person for $32 or two for $64, or $96, three.” I went with three. And that in fact, turned out to be the average choice. I mean, the average was like $112, but what most people chose was the three-fer. And here’s some more data from Steve, the opening rate, which is astonishing. It’s almost 50% opening rate. And then you just don’t get that in email. Not these days, anyway. Click-through rate also very, very high, almost 10%.

Within 24 hours after they sent this email out just once, by the way, they had already gotten halfway to their goal. They had brought in almost $11,000. And it was sent out to around 1,000 people and 85 donors responded within those 24 hours. They sent it out again, but also, Steve started calling the people who were on his list as major donors saying, “Hey, we’re halfway there. Can you help us get all the way there?” And yeah, basically, within about 48 hours, they had met their goal.

Now, the same template as you can see at the bottom, was being used at the same time all across the country because all these people watched the Steven Screen video. And they have been reporting back and he had already raised at other small charities about $1.5 million. Here’s what it is. So you’ll have this. And Steven, I sent him these slides so that he could convert them into a PDF, which can be then distributed to all of you so that you’ll have this in your archives and can just look at it when you feel like, for reminders. I mean, don’t bother taking notes. You’ll have that.

But look at some of the eight points here. First, you come right out and state that the message is urgent. I don’t normally send you emails like this, but these are desperate times. And get straight to the point. Describe how the situation, that is coronavirus, is hurting either your beneficiaries or your cause or the organization itself. And in the case here with Steven’s video, they’re basically talking about moms who’ve lost their jobs and therefore, are edging towards homelessness because they don’t have any income now. And it goes on, ask for a special gift to help. Now, not a generic gift, but a special gift to provide emergency housing assistance. Notice the amount, $33. That’s a good amount. It’s not too much. It’s a little higher than the national average amount might be, which I think is closer to $25. And it’s affordable. And that’s very important. You want people not to have any mental reservations, hesitations. You want them to say, “Yeah, I could do that.” And note what it says after the word note in red. This is a Steven talking. “Most donors are not going to read past here.” In other words, they’ve made their decision by here.

And so, you know, everything else here is backing that up, giving it more credence maybe. But for the most part, you’re done. Now, I need to point this out, a lot of charities don’t get to the point until three or four paragraphs down. And that’s a basic copywriting mistake. You shouldn’t do that. That wastes everybody’s time. For instance, your time because you have to write this blah, blah, blah that nobody reads or cares about. But more importantly, your consumer, the person reading it, they’re just bored until you get . . . so get to the point, get to the point, particularly now because everybody’s being assaulted by all sorts of attempts to grab a little piece of their attention span.

You might have a little story in there. And there’s an example there about Angie. She waited tables and then lost her job. You refer to Angie again because you need that poster child. You could save Angie and her kids from being homeless. The then you go to . . . Oh, yeah. And by the way, it’s not just Angie. The need is bigger than just one person. It’s a lot of people. So whatever you can afford would be welcome.

And here’s your rationale, that you didn’t have this crisis in your budget. Of course, you didn’t. Nobody did. So you’re reaching out to the community or to whoever and saying, “Will you help? These are special times. Will you help?” And you emphasize that urgency, emergency gift. Your action is needed now.

Okay. So that’s the 8-point formula. They put a donate button top and bottom. The subject line they used and that Steve Herlich didn’t bother rewriting, he used it verbatim. Coronavirus Consequence Emergency Funds needed. So we know it works. So don’t try to get creative, just use you know, what we already can depend on.

The length, don’t go too long, 300 words or less. Grade level. This is something you can score in Microsoft Word if you turn on that function, Grammar. Or you can go to . . . what is it called? Hemingway, I think. And it’ll score your prose for you. And I saw that the other day and it was pretty neat actually because it not only scores your prose, but it tells you which of your sentences are harder to comprehend quickly. Because grade level has nothing to do with vocabulary. It has only to do with the speed at which a brain can consume the prose. And so you want to have a low-grade level.

Trust me, it doesn’t . . . people say, “Oh, I don’t want to insult anybody’s intelligence. They all went to university.” Yeah, I know, we all went to university. It doesn’t matter. That’s not what this is about. This is about me being able to consume your prose at light speed. And just know that you’re going to have to probably, you know, send out more of these than you might feel comfortable because people are ignoring emails. There’s so much of it coming in now. And the research, by the way, on that is quite clear.

Now, I took Steve’s emergency e-appeal, and I took the eight things that he is recommending, and I numbered where they were in his appeal so that you could understand a little better, how to execute this. Now, here’s somebody who used the very same e-appeal, emergency appeal. Ruth Frazier, she’s at a Senior Center in Florida. And she kind of dolled it up a little bit. That’s Ruth there. And she decided, well, not only am I going to do it as an e-appeal, I’m going to do a companion direct mail appeal for people that maybe we don’t have email addresses for, but we do have postal addresses for. So she did a direct mail. It wasn’t that the copy was any different. It was pretty much exactly the same.

And this is what happened with her. What she did, she sent me a picture. This is from her office or wherever she is. I don’t know, probably at home, like the residence. But she’s holding the checks that came in in the first day. That’s a pretty thick stack. And that stack there, 105 responses she’s holding, amounted to over $17,000. At the same time, the email appeal, brought in $23,000. At the same time, one of her, you know, fund supporters, a major donor said, “Hey, I’ll put up $50,000 as a match and you can use that to stimulate giving.” And so she did. And so these appeals also have the match in them. And within about 48 hours, she had $100,000 come in.

So these are good times depending, of course, not all causes. But they can be good times. Now, Lisa Sargent, who liked Jeff Brooks, is one of the world’s great copywriters. When I say great, I mean their stuff gets superb results. I don’t mean I like the way they write because that’s irrelevant in direct mail. All that matters is the revenue that comes in. And she gets incredible revenue. And, she’s saying this on a tweet just recently, you’re going to get sick of using this language, but people do respond to it. So don’t do what many charities do. They overthink this stuff. Don’t give it a second thought, just do it and use the language.

Now, here’s Aimee Vance and she’s also a fundraising expert down in Tennessee. And I talked with her, see what she was up to because she was busy. I could tell. And she said, “Well, this is where we are. This is how I’m writing for my charities or how I’m advising that they write. You have to have empathy, transparency, vulnerability.” And the final thing she said is, you have to be bold. And I thought, well, this is going to be a problem because charities don’t like being bold. They’re afraid of bold. They’re afraid they’re going to offend somebody somehow. And so they cut the corners. They back off. They are anything, but bold, they’re bland, almost institutionally bland. And if you have the unfortunate circumstance where, you know, three people who comment on some kind of appeal, it’s going to lose all its flavor. It’ll just be water by the time you’re done.

And that’s exactly the wrong thing to do. So now you know it. And what you’re going to hear because we hear this from students, where Moceanic is an online provider of fundraising training. And I did a course for them, and Jeff Brooks did a course for them, and some other people of note do courses for them. And, one of the students who was learning how to write direct mail sent this because they have a private . . . which is very good, they have a private Facebook group, where people could say anything they want. And it doesn’t circulate. And she was reporting back. She wrote the letter, everybody loved . . . all the faculty at Moceanic loved the letter. It was strong. It was conversational. It was flattering to the donor, all the things it’s supposed to be. And she writes back, “I’m getting push back that it’s too cheesy.”

Now, we’re all going, “Cheesy? That’s great. Cheesy is fabulous. More cheese. Let’s do the whole cheese boat here.” And yet you have management. I think it’s mismanagement, is how it should be spelled, who has no training, absolutely no training, but has an opinion, the size of the Goodyear Blimp. And they’re saying, “We don’t talk that way. That’s just wrong and it’s a form of ignorance.”

So what you do need to know, and again, I can’t help you with your own situation because I’m not in human resources, is you just need to know that if insiders feel uncomfortable with what you’re about to send out, email, digital, print, doesn’t matter, then that’s a good thing. That’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing. They are not your target audience.

Okay. And here’s an example. So notice the subject line, Coronavirus Crisis Emergency Funds needed, we heard that before. Well, this is Julie. And she’s the ED at the United Way of Pickens County. And she took the little video of Steven Screen and she did it too. She wrote an appeal right over that template and it did great. And she got in touch with me because we’re kind of buds. And she said, “I just got cussed out by a major donor for sending this out.”

Now, is that a bad thing? No, this is another thing. You know, those of us who have been trained in direct mail writing, we have our little dark secrets. One of which is if you don’t get complaints, you probably didn’t write something strong enough to matter. So we expect complaints. We actually want complaints. It’s like, “Nobody complained. Oh my God, what did I do?” And so you will get some complaints. That’s just human nature. Not everybody’s going to love everything you do. We can’t please everybody all the time, blah, blah blah. And just don’t worry about that. If anything, you could use it as an excuse to have some kind of a dialogue. All right?

So continuing on with this. “Never waste a good crisis.” Churchill said it and you know, one World War II with a lot of help. Rahm Emanuel said it when he was chief of staff for President Obama. And they managed to get at least the beginnings of national healthcare put in place because never waste a good crisis and get stuff done that you couldn’t get when there wasn’t a crisis.

Now, my version of this is right now, do something that you haven’t been doing. You can’t have an event, so do something else, or do a virtual event, or do a non-event. People have raised quite a bit of money with unevents in the last few years because people kind of, “You know, were worn out.” They didn’t really want another event. Move some of your donors to monthly giving. And that’s very important for your bottom line, and your future, and your sustainability. Upgrade some of your higher donors if you have such and then get 5% of your donors to include you in their wills. This is all from a major communications group up in Canada called Hilborn.

And so what do we know here about monthly giving? Well, I put it in red. This is Erica Waasdorp, who has published a book, very good book, called “The Sleeping Giant” on monthly giving. And she’s saying, “Now, this is a good time to ask your donors for special gift or a monthly gift. Just keep it short and sweet.” Okay? And then the rest, read it on your own.

Now, here’s the Norman Rockwell Museum. Like every facility-based charity, they don’t have any visitors. And so now what are they doing? Well, they have put up a ton of programming that is all virtual, and with people and their kids at home all the time now. It’s been very helpful, I think, to parents for one thing. But notice I put a red arrow on it. That’s not there in real life, but I’ve put it there to point to the $5 amount because monthly giving is different slightly in certain slight ways than annual giving.

One way it’s different is, you’re asking for this from me each month, so don’t start by having like $30. Because most people are going to go, “I’m not going to give you $30 a month. That’s ridiculous. I can do math.” And this is what Erica Waasdorp recommends, have the lowest amount starting point you’re comfortable with. And she does recommend $5. And you’ll acquire a lot more monthly donors if you have a starting amount. You can always upgrade them to something higher down the road, but get them in the door first. Initially, it’s not about the money. Initially, it’s about them saying, “Yes. Okay, I will be part of your family.”

All right. And then, here’s some more good news from Erica. We now know research that 75%, three quarters, three out of four of charitable bequests are coming from monthly donors. Now, monthly donations seven times more likely to leave a bequest.

You know, most of you I’ve harped on, you’ve got to have a bequest marketing program. I’ve harped on that for many years, but mostly, all charities I speak to ignore me and doesn’t matter. It’s my hobby really. And I’ll just keep harping on it. But I wanted to show you, here’s a client who didn’t ignore me and what a bequest actually looks like. This is a real bequest. Notice the date, March 19th, 2020, so about a month ago. And oh, look at that amount. Gee, I wish we’d get more than one of those, $74,000 . . . almost $75,000. That’s a real bequest for charity. And it just came in and you could get these things too, if you only had a charitable bequest marketing program, but you don’t. And is it easy to do? Oh, yeah. It’s the easiest money you’ll ever fundraise for, but you haven’t gotten around to it yet. And you listen to me yap on every year and never still get around to it. Now’s your time. That’s what I’m saying. Don’t waste this opportunity. Now is your time. Don’t waste this crisis.

Okay. I’m going to go over some basically basic basics for beginners because you can’t hear this often enough. I can’t be reminded often enough. And I’m the author of this, I have to be reminded of it all the time. There’s only one real bottom line purpose for donor communications and it is not about asking for money. It is about making your donors feel good or your prospective donors feel good. And you can do that in many different ways. They can feel proud of what they’ve just done, made that gift, contributed to the community. You can tell them how important they are. You can bring some kind of entertainment into their home, tell them something they didn’t know, surprise them, point out to them how powerfully, strongly needed they are. Those things will produce emotional resonance in people.

By the way, we’re not talking opinion here. This is where the state-of-the-art is in psychology as far as philanthropy is concerned. What you need to deal with is what is already in the head of your prospect or your donor. And this is what they’re thinking when they make that gift. “Oh, I helped somebody.” They can see a person in their head, “Oh, I helped her. She might’ve been homeless. I helped her.”

Now, the charity . . . again, this is from The Better Fundraising Company, wonderful stuff. And they put this out and you get this free every Friday if you subscribe, some kind of graphic like this. But the charity is thinking, “Oh, we have another supporter. They really love us, the organization.” And that is not accurate. “She is not your donor.” You do not own her. You have been invited into her select circle of charities that she has chosen for her own reasons, and values, and experiences, and regrets, and fears, and angers, and hopes. This is one of her charities. So you’re one of her charities.

So here’s a wonderful Soi Dog Foundation. Most of you may not have heard that, but it is a small animal welfare charity based in Bangkok, Thailand. And yet they raise through Facebook alone, something like $350 . . . $350,000. Oh, pardon me, three zeros there I missed out on, $350,000 a month, year in, year out, year in, year out. And it was a small animal welfare charity in Bangkok, Thailand. Now it’s a rather much larger animal welfare charity, taking on national campaigns, and doing all sorts of stuff.

And they still raise all their money on Facebook. And this is a typical ad for them. And I have labeled it with these voice balloons. Is this me? Is this me? Because this is how I think of when I’m writing stuff for my clients. Anything I say has to earn its keep. If I write this sentence, “When Molido was found unable to walk and terrified of everyone, many would have said she had no future. But not people like you.” Because I need to speak to your heart, not your brain. Well, it is in your brain, your emotional seat is in the front of your skull. But I need to speak to what is metaphorically your heart, your emotions. And I need to say, “Is this you?”

So you read the next line and notice how short, by the way, this entire Facebook ad is, “Please go to this address, the link, to join a special, special group of animal lovers, lovers, who are changing the world for homeless . . . ” And it’s one, is this me? “Yeah, I want to be part of this special group. Yes. I love animals. I want to change the world for homeless animals.” And then there’s a little video showing how she went from dragging her butt around to now she’s got wheels. So it’s not about you. I mean, it is in a sense, but you’re just a means to an end. You’re doing good. I give you a gift to also do good through you. Your mind means to my end to feel good about myself.

And so here’s another letter. This is an appeal that works and we study success not, you know, guess. And, I know exactly what happened with this appeal because this is a client and I saw the results. And you know, it’s everything here. I’ve labeled it here with arrows. They’re not on the original, but that’s what I’m trying to do as I write this. I want it to be saying, “Is this you? Is this you? Is this you? How about this? Is this you? How about this? Is this you?” And it goes on and on and on and on.

Now, here’s another thing you don’t want to waste. It is a crisis. You can talk differently. You don’t have to be the uptight charity that you might’ve been in the past. You don’t have to be the . . . you know, have that institutional voice that you might’ve had in the past. You talk vulnerable human to vulnerable human, people are going to respond. If you do talk like an institution, it’s not going to happen. You present me with no joy. And you can actually do a lot for your donors right now.

And this is more psychology. It’s from Jen Shang. First though, some evidence. This was at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis and Angela McBride, again, you can see I have a Twitter icon there. That’s because I want you to know how much of this, the content in this show came from people I follow on Twitter. That’s where some of the best fundraising professionals are leaving their best advice. And she was just reporting what they did. Our team sent simple brief emails to check in. And they got all these responses back, some of them lengthy responses because people crave care and connection. And that’s what you can do now.

Now, you can thank me for my gift, but don’t . . . it’s not about the money for the donor. You want to thank me for who I am. You want to thank me for my identity. You want to thank me for getting past my inertia and actually doing something. Acting on behalf of the people you serve. And if you do that, that makes the donor feel good and they’ll like you back. And by the way, that’s more of the new psychology. There’s very firm evidence that if you show that you like me, that is your supporters, your volunteers, your donors, I will like you back. It’s a form of a built-in reciprocity.

Now, here’s Lifeboats. And this was March 17th, their update on that day. Things are getting bad and the Lifeboats is over in the UK. And the guy you see here, the good looking, competent-looking guy you see there is a volunteer. And he’s one of the volunteers, they’re all volunteers, who jump in a boat in rough seas, go out and rescue people from drowning. And they do it over and over and over, and they are respected, and beloved in the United Kingdom, Island Kingdom, of course.

And what they did is they investigated with their donor. They asked their donor some simple questions. Tell us five adjectives that describe who you are? And then they asked, give us five adjectives that describe why you support us, the Lifeboats Charity? And they collected these adjectives, came in from thousands of donors, and made them in word clouds. And then could see immediately that there were certain words that were much bigger and that overlapped. And one of those words was caring, which led their copywriter to create this special message for you. “You’re part of our crew and crew members look out for each other.”

The reason that language exists is because they knew something about their donors. Why do I give . . . what part of my self-identity is triggered by my gift to Lifeboats? Well, I care about people being saved. You know and that’s what they’re reflecting here. And this is what you are. All your donor communications are basically, mirrors that you hold up to your supporters, to that list, to your prospects. And you say to them, “This is who you are. In our world, this is who you are. You’re kind, caring, compassionate, fair, social justice, generous person.” And you actually use these adjectives.

Now, here, this is one of my personal favorite charities. It’s orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico, which this year or last year in 2019, was chosen as one of the most dangerous places on the face of the earth for murder. And these kids have no protectors. They’re on the streets, they’re orphans, they are orphans, and they’re scrounging food. And you know, they’re nothing. Their life is going nowhere. And they get into this orphanage, now they get fed, they get clothed, they get medicine, they get care, the have a safe place to sleep, and they go to school. And because they’ve been around for 30 years, we also know that they eventually mostly go to college.

So you started life as an orphan on the streets of a murderous city, and now you’re in college. But what is really great about them is their way of thanking their donors. And this is typical from Beth Beall, who is the executive director, and she’s writing to me, “Corona cowers before you, Tom. You’re the whole enchilada.” And she’s showing me what the kids are eating and using that common little phrase. And she’s talking about life as it is, but you know, it’s tough down in Tijuana, probably tougher than it is other places. “But check out a little Maria in the above photo. These kids, our kids, are getting three delicious meals a day during this crisis. And it’s all because you care, Tom. You’re feeding these hungry children.”

And it’s all because I care. And I will open anything they send me because it always makes me feel good. If your opening rates for your emails are not very high, it’s because you’re not delivering any emotional gratification to me, to the people you’re sending it to. So this is a good time to work on this. This is your time to not be institutional, to put a human face on your charity.

Today’s identity. We’re not going to get too deep into identity-based fundraising, so-called, which is the new shiny old thing. And that is based on psychology and that kind of research and a lot of . . . and about 15 years of testing that’s just now starting to hit the streets. But one of the identities everybody has is their today identity. And you know, what would urge me to say yes to an appeal? Well, make me feel good.

Let’s leave appeals out for the moment. Right now, according to Jen Shang, who is the world’s leading psychologist, studying philanthropic behavior, people feel, these are her words, paralyzed, confined, victimized, disarmed, and powerless, none of which are comfortable.

Mark Phillips, Bluefrog, has a blog called Queer Ideas, which only means they’re ideas you probably didn’t think of, weird ideas is probably the synonym. He was thinking, why are people stocking up on toilet paper? And how much of this stuff can you use in a lifetime? But you know, he’d investigated a little bit. And basically, people were feeling out of control and buying toilet paper made them feel like they had some kind of control. And all they’re trying to deal with this is to get this uncomfortable feeling of helplessness. And this is also part of Mark Phillips research on the daily basis with donors. “For those who are financially secure, life is quite easy. Yet, they are frustrated and they are guilty that they can’t do more to be part of some solution.” That’s what you’re offering to them. You’re saying, “You know, there’s a problem, there’s a solution, but we need your help. It won’t be possible without your help.”

And here’s one more from Mark. “As a fundraiser, you’re providing a public service. You are people a chance to be part of a solution.” And that’s what you can bring to me. And if you do bring that to me, you know, we worry, “Oh, we shouldn’t, it’s impolite to raise money during a crisis.” No, that is . . . I don’t know how to classify that. It’s wrong. And what you can bring to your base, your supporters, your potential supporters, is a connection to this world that has gone mad. You can tell them how much you care for them. You can just say, how are you doing?

Greenpeace Spain just sent out a survey, did very, very well. And I believe, I’m not . . . I think the subject line was, how are you doing today? And that was it. And they got a huge opening rate and a huge response rate because they indicated . . . and they weren’t trying to stealth in an appeal with that survey. They actually asked people some questions about, you know, how are things going? If you show that you are thinking about your target audience, they will like you.

So this is The Gamm Theatre. It’s a wonderful small theater group, does great stuff. But they’re closed. Of course, they have to be. And so they’re putting on premiers of shows. They’re inventing on YouTube and Facebook. That’s how they’re keeping their audience happy.

Here’s the Animal Rescue League of Boston and every couple of days they send out a cute break, a virtual care package. It’s a care package. Yeah, there’s probably a click here to give button somewhere. But mostly, it’s about you going, “Aw, oh, that makes me feel so good.” And they’re also reminding you in this, as you see on the right there, “A wild rescue you made possible. A beaver was rescued, you know, and you did that. And here’s some tips for at-home pets and so forth.”

Here’s the Friends the Blue Hills, which is the prominent “mountain” outside of Boston. It’s the high point outside of Boston. It’s really not that big, but you know, anyway, it’s a wonderful place, Friends of the Blue Hills. And Judy is just terrific at these things. She’s always coming up with something and in this case, she came up with a virtual book club people can be part of and even sell you the book. And you can be part of it through Zoom.

So I’m going to end sort of with Jen and her to-do-list. This is her recommendations. Remember, psychologist. You want to connect with each person on your list this week . . . well, next week. Now, I guess Friday. Number two, you want to say something caring to each of them next week. Then you want to thank them next week, each of them. And then you want to thank them again, and again, and again, and throughout the crisis. And you want the goal . . . the ultimate goal here is for them to have a memory, a positive memory of what you did during this crisis to make them feel cared for. That’s your goal. Now, what does our immediate future hold?

This again, Better Fundraising Company. And they looked at past crises of different kinds. The dot-com crash 2000, 2008 financial calamities, you know, natural disasters, and so on, and so on. So how does giving go? And they found that there’s a kind of predictable flow to it. You have what they call the bump, and that’s where people are all stirred up and they know a lot of people in trouble now, I must help if I can, of course, if I can. And that goes for 2 to 4 weeks.

And then for about 4 to 6 months, you have what they call slump, which is going to be a little bit lower than normal. But you know, we’re getting into the summer. So it would have been a little bit lower than the normal anyway, probably for many charities. And then we’re going to have the surge and that says we start to . . . you know, instead of having 11 pieces of bad news in every 12 pieces of news, we start to get a two or four or five or six or half or more of those pieces of news, are lights at the end of the tunnel. And we start to see, “Oh, the world will continue.” And then we get to a new normal. And not just Better Fundraising, but Mark Phillips over in the UK with his research, is predicting that giving will come out the other side in the new normal, higher than it currently was before this crisis.

So a couple of things you can get for free. Learning to say thank you. This is based on research and all you have to do is go to the under reports and you can download it as a PDF. And then there’s this also a PDF. All you have to do here is google “The Irrefutable Canons of Fundraising” and Jerry Panas and it’ll pop up right away. I’ve done it a couple of times. And this is an amazing book. And Jerry unfortunately, deceased two years ago and he was one of the fundraisers ever, ever, ever. And he’s a great storyteller and he put all the things he’s learned over a long and profitable career into this book. So you should get it. That’s what we got to say today. Hey, Steven, you out there?

Steven: Wow, that was awesome. Tom, thank you for doing this for us. I’m getting a lot of good chats and comments in here, so thank you, everyone. I know we sent out a ton of links. We’re going to email all that stuff to you. We’ll send you the slides, the recording. It’ll all be in the slides. If you can’t find something, email me, email Tom. Tom, thanks for doing this. I know you’re super busy and this was your idea, you put it together, short notice. So really appreciate it. It’s almost 3:00 p.m., so I’m going to ask you two quick questions if you don’t mind.

Tom: Absolutely.

Steven: A lot of people were asking me variations of these questions, but Tom, I don’t know about you. But the number one thing I’ve heard over the last month or so is we are not essential. We’re not, you know, providing masks. We’re not feeding families who lost their jobs. My response to those people is, of course, you are essential to your donors. What have you been saying to those people? How can you encourage those folks?

Tom: How can I . . . Well, first of all, don’t go quiet. That is the number one. Well, you know, it’s going to be tough for some charities to get to the other side of this. It could take six months or more. And that’s not because you’re bad at business. It is because small businesses, in general, which is what most charities are, only have 3 to 4 weeks of operating, you know, cushion and then they’re done. And that we know from the Department of Labor. So, you know, it is going to be a little tricky for a while. Anything, a facility that depended on live programming, well, they’re just bustling with virtual programming instead just to keep the mental doors open. Remember this is about connection. They connected with you, you’re part of their identity, part of their world, just keep saying, how’s it going, how’s it going? Here’s how it’s going for us. How’s it going for you?

Steven: I really appreciate that you shared animal rescue examples, environmental rescue, conservancy examples because I feel like all those people have just as a compelling story to tell to the people who care about those issues.

Tom: Well, and actually, the conservancy people, I ran into the head of the Audubon Society here in my state, Rhode Island, and he said, “Our parking lots are full of families for one thing, taking their kids out and getting some nature put into them.” And you know, there can be for many charities, a silver lining, you might have to chase it a little bit. You might have to be imagining, this is not a good time to not be imaginative. Take chances, do something different, take advantage, you know, try stuff.

Steven: Last thing before I let you go, just in the last 48 hours, I’ve heard a lot more chatter around the stimulus checks specifically for people that may not need them and may be willing to pay them forward because they are in a good place financially. Any advice for maybe soliciting some of those funds? I know that seems maybe a little tricky, but it seems like there could be some money available out there.

Tom: I can verify that because I talked to my sister just a few days ago, Steven, and she’s a retired teacher, 30 years in the inner city, and you know, has a wonderful pension, and great healthcare, and all the rest of the things that you get when you’re in a union like that. And she doesn’t need a $1,500 stimulus check. And so she said . . . you know, out of the blue, I didn’t ask her, she said, “I’m just going to send it over to . . . “And she named a charity in her town where she lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, that she loves. And you know, she volunteered there for a long, long time. And that’s who’s getting the money.

Steven: I love it. So maybe if they follow your playbook here, that could be the result.

Tom: Yeah. I mean, you know, people are . . . This is one of the key reasons why a lot of charities do not get into bequest marketing is they start by thinking, “Well, I don’t want to talk about death.” And it’s like, this is not about death because you know, they’re alive when they wrote the will. And you know, they invent obstacles. Stop inventing obstacles, just do it.

Steven: I love it. And speaking of planned giving, some folks may have seen in the chat, but there was a white paper put out by Russell James just a couple of days ago, Russell James and Michael Rosen, talking about what you’re saying specifically in kind of the COVID context. So I’ll send that out to folks as well.

Tom: That’s great. Yeah.

Steven: Tom, this is awesome. Thanks for doing this.

Tom: Oh, thank you all. I love the Bloomerang audience. You always show up in big numbers.

Steven: Yeah. They’re a good group. They’re awesome. Reach out to Tom and subscribe to his newsletter, awesome newsletter. It’s always chockfull of good stuff, actionable items. Follow them on Twitter if you’re a Twitter person. He’s one of my favorite Twitters . . . Tweeters, I think is right word there.

Tom: Twittors.

Steven: And speaking of webinars, we got more webinars coming up. We got for next week because I’m stuck at home and I love talking to folk folks. Monday, some of you may not be aware, but there is going to be a GivingTuesday on May 5th that was just announced a couple of weeks ago. They’re going to do two, they’re going to do one on May 5th and then the normal GivingTuesday. So we asked someone from GivingTuesday to come on and just share what they have seen worked on their end. So Kat Murphy Toms, she’s on the digital team at GivingTuesday. So you’re going to get advice like straight from the source. There’s not going to be any fluff there. So join us if you can, if you’re free. If you’re not, we got lots of other free webinars next week. I think we’ve got four, one almost every single weekday. So join us if you can.

Well, we’ll call it a day there. Look for an email from me. We’ll send out all the goodies and hopefully, we’ll talk to you again on another session. So have a good rest of your Friday. Stay safe. We’re thinking of all of you and hopefully, we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.