In this webinar, donor communications expert Tom Ahern outlines the latest best practices for digital copywriting, including website, email and social media.

Full Transcript:

Tom: The great Mexican food in San Antonio.

Steven: Absolutely.

Tom: They’ve got a special kind of . . . I’m not going to get the . . . it’s some kind of taco that’s only found there.

Steven: That sounds good.

Tom: Oh yeah.

Steven: Well, speaking of lunchtime, why don’t we get going so that people have time to have lunch? Is that okay with you?

Tom: As long as they’re muted and I can’t hear them eating, absolutely.

Steven: All right. Cool. We’ll get going. Formal good afternoon to everyone and I guess I should say good morning if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “The Big Diff: Writing for Digital.” And my name is Steven Shattuck and I am the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.

Just a couple of housekeeping items before we get going, I want to let you all know that we are recording this conversation, so if you have to leave early or perhaps you have to review the content later on, have no fear. Of course, we don’t want you to leave early, but if you have to, you’ll be able to watch that recording. I’ll send that out a little later on this afternoon as well as the slides if you didn’t already get those.

The most important thing is if you have questions or comments, please feel free to send them over on that chat screen. I’ll be taking a look at those and we’re going to try to save just as much time as we can for Q&A at the end, so don’t be shy, don’t sit on those hands. If you have any technical problems, I’ll be looking out for those chats as well and responding to you as I can. You can also send us messages on Twitter. You can use the hashtag #Bloomerang. Our username is @BloomerangTech. I’ll be keeping an eye on that as well throughout the hour or so.

And if this is your first webinar with us, I just want to say a special extra welcome to you. We do these webinars just about every Thursday. We bring on a great guest like Tom. It’s one of my favorite things that we do here at Bloomerang for sure.

But if you’re not familiar with Bloomerang, our core business is donor management software. If you are in the market for that or maybe you just want to learn more about us, you can check out website. There’s even a short video demo that you can watch and get a glimpse of our software. You don’t even have to talk to a salesperson if you don’t want to. So, check that out after the presentation concludes if you are interested.

But for now, I am so excited to introduce my personal hero, a role model of mine, the world’s foremost expert on donor communications, Tom Ahern is with us today. Hey, Tom. How’s it going?

Tom: Well, good. I had no idea I was any of those things. Thank you, Steven.

Steven: Oh, yes you did. Stop it. I’m going to brag on you. Tom’s pretty modest. I doubt that many of you don’t know Tom very well, but just in case he is new to you, he truly is considered to be one of the top experts in donor communications. The New York Times said it themselves a couple of years ago, so it must be true.

He is the author of four awesome books, donor newsletters, “How to Write Fundraising Materials,” “Seeing Through a Donor’s Eyes.” He is a frequent international speaker and trainer. In fact, this is really special. He cut out this hour for us on his way to Canada for a weeklong stretch. So, we’re very appreciative that he could make the time for us today. He is an advisory board member for the Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, which is a think tank that Adrian Sargeant started over in Plymouth University in the UK.

He’s my hero. He’s a poet. He’s an artist. He’s a genius. I am going to pipe down because we want to hear from Tom, not Steven. So, Tom, take it away, my friend. Tell us all about digital copywriting.

Tom: Okay. How do I get in charge of advancing the slides, Steven?

Steven: You are in charge. If you just double-click them, they’ll move. There you go.

Tom: Now, is there a way to make that full screen? Just hit the maximize window?

Steven: Yeah. It will be full screen for the attendees, for sure.

Tom: Okay. So, that’s our title slide. I’m standing up, by the way, because we now know that sitting is the new smoking. So, I’m doing all my webinars standing up. Anyway, what is not different? Obviously words and pictures are the basic ingredients of our communications work. I just want to say my perspective on digital is that of a copywriter. So, a copywriter is paid to get results, sales or bring in gifts for fundraising copywriting. You have words and pictures.

Now, nothing changed. The so called digital revolution—for actors like me, copywriters, people that have to send out messaging, hope for response, all it did is add channels for us and some opportunities. But what isn’t different. Let’s look at some of these things that aren’t different between digital and print.

First of all, what kind of content are you putting in front of me? Well, one thing that I will be reliably interested in is anything that takes me on a journey to someplace I otherwise will not go and you’re going to show me something interesting or content that reinforces my values, that says to me, “Yeah, this has been a problem that I worry about, now we’re finally getting something done about it.” Or I read the news and I’m horrified and upset and I am at least helping a little bit.

What’s not different—you’re really talking to eyeballs all the time. So, the eyeballs are the symbol, the connection to the brain. That’s how we get into people’s brains or through their ears. We’re looking for a group of people to become true believers. I’m going to get back to that in a second. Attention spans are shrinking. That’s science. We need to focus on monthly giving—again, science.

A couple years ago, had you asked the question, “Should you try to acquire new donors on monthly giving?” experts like Harvey McKinnon would say, “I’d go no. The answer is no. Make that a second option and they’ll get to it.”

These days—and this is in part because research came out from Blackbaud and you’re going to see some of that—you really want to take your new donors and get them right into monthly giving if you can. It solves one problem right away, which is getting a second gift. Most of the time, the second gift is built in if they sign up as a monthly donor. If you do get a second gift, they’re much more likely to hang on longer.

Frequency—the secret to advertising is not cleverness. The secret to advertising is repetition and keep hammering the same message over and over and over. Headlines—your big type are going to do a ton of the work. So, make sure you know how to write an interesting headline. I get hooked right away. I have to know more.

You need to know how to write offers, digital or print. Those are your calls to action. “Here. Would you do this?” is what you’re presenting to me. Finally, making an emotional connection is all important.

Now, in print, you have a couple of extras that you can exploit. First of all, it is what you’d call high-touch. In other words, I’ve got a piece of paper in my hands and I’m rubbing it and I’m feeling it and that you can take advantage of. If it’s something interesting, I can put it on the refrigerator like your kids’ art. It is kind of quieter. The digital realm is very active.

So, instead of just words and pictures, you have video and you have audio. I can hear stuff. I can see stuff moving. We’re watching all these little micro videos and we’re clicking on stuff. We love to click on stuff. It’s a very action oriented environment. You take advantage of that and you also realize that in some ways, that can be a limitation. My already brief attention span is now getting chopped up even finer and finer and finer. All right. Those are what’s different, what isn’t different.

Who’s the donor? When I started in copywriting, I did not have an answer to this. I asked around and then I also had more experience over the years. Eventually, this comes out of a book you can get for free you can get on my website. You can see the address there. It’s a downloadable PDF called “20 Questions.” In there are how many questions, I wonder. These are common questions that I think it’s important to have a well-grounded answer to, otherwise you’re kind of driving all over the place and you don’t know where are the lines on the road here. How old is your average American donor? That would be the same for Canada and it’s roughly the same for Australia and it’s roughly the same for the UK, Ireland. 35, 55, 75—the answer is 75 years of age.

Now, when I started as a copywriter in fundraising, that wouldn’t have been my guess. I would have probably averaged and said, “I don’t know, 55, 45,” something. I didn’t have a clear picture in my head. You have to have a clear picture in your head of who you’re writing to, digital or print because that’s the person you’re trying to persuade. That’s the person you’re trying to have a conversation with. This woman is exactly the right demographic. The sign she’s holding up—thank you Mark Phillips of Bluefrog in London—is what she wants you to do for her.

So, when you see the little guy here in the lab coat, that means we’re talking data science. I try not have opinions in my work. I try to just have data I can rely on. Here’s some data from TrueSense, one of the bigger direct mail fundraising firms based on the United States, does a lot of national campaigns, sitting on a mountain of data.

Donors by age—what’s the biggest slice of pie? 46% are people 65 and older. Next slide of pie, 55 through 64—so, between 55 and up, you’ve got two-thirds of your donor base. Now, this has implications. It isn’t because older people are more negatively generous than younger people. It’s because older people have some surplus income they can afford to give away and it will not change their lifestyle on iota.

See, when you’re building your life, the people 35 and under, small slice of pie, 35-44, 11%, 45-54, 17%. When you’re building your life and you’re maybe raising a family, acquiring things like a home, so forth. You have a lot of expenses, you’re trying to save like crazy so you won’t have an awful retirement. TrueSense notices behavior. Finally, around 55, you have some money that you feel you can let go of into a charity without it affecting your own domestic comfort level. That’s why we need to know who is giving us this money because we need to talk to these people clearly.

Here’s some back—I’m going to harp on this because I have the data now. This is Salvation Army. This is from the Midwest, Army Central. They’re active donors. You can see that on the upper left. The largest number of active donors they have are age 87. The second largest is age 70. First time, new donors, the largest group of new donors are age 70 and the second largest is age 61.

This should tell you something. If you’ve been thinking, “Well, anybody can be our donor.” No, they won’t be. Here’s this hospital I work for in San Diego. I do all their direct mail. We know to the moment basically when people were born. They’re mostly ex-patients. I know my donors are exactly, not rounded up, exactly 75 years old.

Now, digital changed it a little bit. The percentage of donors by age, as you can see here from a 101 Fundraising post, it’s a little younger, not horribly, a lot younger until you get to the top band 75+. By the way, you’ll see these little balloons that say, “I subscribe.” These are the posts, the blogs, professional blogs that I personally do subscribe to and read on a regular basis in order to learn all the cool stuff that other people are able to teach us. They’re online, a little bit wealthier and online a little bit less loyal. They come and go more quickly online than they do offline. All right. So, there’s some comparisons.

I was talking to some top person from Charity: Water earlier in this year and I was surprised to hear because Charity: Water, some people would say they basically reinvented fundraising and they certainly became a large useful charity very quickly in the 2000s. They basically outsourced fundraising to their donors. So, we all have a birthday every year. You want to take your birthday and do something useful with it. You can use your birthday to raise money for Charity: Water, which is what a lot of people do or they have some other family event or whatever.

Charity: Water aggregates tons of donations this way. The average lifespan of the Charity: Water donor is 14 months. They do it once and that’s it. So, those people are coming in the door and then they’re going out the door. Charity: Water is now moving into monthly giving because that is not the greatest sustainable business model. Just the US has 330 million people. You’re not going to run out of birthdays anytime soon. But still, they want a donor to be with them for longer than 14 months. I just wanted to bring that to your attention.

Here’s Greenpeace. You go to their homepage. This is their homepage before the US Presidential Election in November. It is has changed now because they suddenly have a different enemy that they can clearly point people at and say, “This is what we have to defeat, this idea,” for instance, that global warming is just, I don’t know, it’s just an opinion.

Anyway, so you go to Greenpeace and what pops up before you go anywhere on their homepage is this interrupter. Here, it had a child with Greenpeace on its forehead, “You make our work possible. Donate today.” Greenpeace is very clear about what they want. This is called anchoring. This is whatever I say to you first is the thing that is the most important. You can actually work with that concept that’s a concept from persuasion and linguistics and psychology, but it’s what are you putting first. Go to your website—what are you putting first? If it isn’t fundraising, that’s not the thing people are going to be most responsive about.

When you click on that, you go inside and the Greenpeace giving page is stacked this way. First of all, join the movement. So, that’s this group of merry troublemakers that are going to make some problem better. What do they want first? Well, they make that quite clear. They put it in a box. It’s got a yellow tint behind it. They put, “I want to become a monthly supporter.” That’s what Greenpeace wants you to choose or you can make a single donation.

Look what Greenpeace did though. They have as their giving string the smallest amount is the first amount in the monthly supporter. So, you think, “Oh, $12, I could probably afford that. That’s a couple of Starbucks.” Or, “I’m not sure I’m ready for monthly giving. I’ll make a single donation. What’s the first amount there? $500.” At which point, your brain goes, “I don’t think so. I am not ready for a $500 gift.” Is anybody? So, I’m going back to that $12 offer. This is my view. This is them being super genius and kind of shaping your behavior.

Blackbaud’s “Sustainers in Focus,” this is what we learned in May 2017 when the agitator published the results—ask new donors for monthly gifts right away. Don’t do it second, do it first. Keep converting them to monthly giving. That’s what a sustainer is, a monthly donor. Make monthly giving your website default, etc., etc.

This new leaning toward monthly giving solves many problems. It solved lots of problems in Australia. They just did it a different approach. We don’t have in the United States anyway. I know it’s big in England, huge in Australia, what’s called street fundraising, peer to peer, on the street, people in their 30-somethings, 20-somethings sometimes, kind of approaching other people in the same demographic and signing them up right there on the street for credit card monthly deposits. Well, in the United States, you don’t see a lot of that compared to other countries, but in Australia, it’s why they have such a huge number of monthly giving donors.

Anyway, where are we now with online giving? Let’s look at the data. We’ve got a record amount coming in through pure online giving. You send me an email. I click through to the website. I make a gift. Yet, even though this is a record high as of last year and it will be a record high against this year and a record high again next year, it is still in the single digits. It’s not going to jump from 7.2 to like 25% next year. It’s going to go from 7.2 to 7.3 or 7.4.

It is slowly moving in that direction because of the penetration of all things digital into our daily lives and the convenience factor that digital offers compared to say writing a check. So, yeah, we will continue to move in that direction. You’re not behind, I guess, is the thing I want to say to anybody who’s kind of nervous about this. You’re not behind. There’s still time.

All right. Why do we have to be digital? Let’s go back to eyeballs. See the picture in the background there? See all those devices that are being held up in the air to take a photo of something? You have to be digital because that’s where my eyes are. No matter if I were reading hieroglyphics, you’d have to be there in the hieroglyphics because that’s where my eyes are. These days, you have to be where my eyes are now being drawn to all the time, which is digital.

This “Attention Merchants,” the book in the middle there, Tim Wu, fascinating book about how we have gone from basically the calligraphy days—Sheena, you might be interested in this—we copied a book one book at a time, Gutenberg, now the printing industry comes along and then mass marketing comes along and then newspapers come along. All of it is trying to do one thing, which is to get my attention because that’s the portal to my credit card.

Okay. So, finally, kind of ramping up this section—is digital the answer? If you’ve been thinking, “Oh, well finally, fundraising is easy and free.” No, it’s actually harder because now you have to understand all these other channels. A lot of us grew up on paper. Now we have the new generation digital natives, they grew up online. But online is still fairly new.

Gutenberg brought in printing around 1440. So, we’ve had a long time to figure out print. Digital, we didn’t really see that until the mid-90s. That means we were only whatever we are, 17, 18, 25 years in. We don’t really understand this tool. Everything sounds like it is going to be brilliant and change the world and most of it nobody else can repeat.

So, for all of you, it’s not either/or, digital or print, it is both. Here’s Tina Cincotti and she’s a very accomplished copywriter/consultant for fundraising and this is what she does for her clients now as a standard pack. This is going to be your solicitation letter, first bullet. It has the typical stuff, the direct mail, reply device, buck slip, lift note.

She’s going to have acknowledgement letters as part of her standard pack, so when people send a gift in, they get a professionally written thank you rather than a trite, “On behalf of the board of directors of so and so, we want to thank you for your gift. Our robot said we have to.” But look what’s bullet number three—also, email appeals and web content are part of her standard pack these days, not just the direct mail, the physical but also the electronic messaging.

All right. Take a quick look at Facebook, where we are with that. Soi Dog, amazing operation—based in Bangkok, Thailand, making $350,000 a month from Facebook fundraising alone. That’s pretty amazing, given that there are very few other charities that are making any significant money from Facebook.

Now, was it easy? No. It took them six years of research and development working with Pareto, Australia’s biggest direct mail and telephone fundraising house, six years of trying stuff to figure it out. But they did. Here’s how they raised money from Facebook. They have a petition. Now, if you’re an animal lover or a cruelty hater, you sign that petition and now they have your signature.

They also ask for your email address and they’ll ask for some other information too, none of which you have to enter. The signature is the entry point. You can see there. Some percentage give Soi Dog their email address, which allows Soi Dog to now continue to solicit them with email. They start that and they also, if you gave them your phone, call you.

Eventually, what you see here, this ratio from the tallest bar to the bars that are labeled ask, ask, ask, 1.4 hundred million people signed a petition to end the dog meat trade in Southeast Asia. Out of that 1.4 million people who said, “Yeah, this is horrible, I want to do something about it, so here’s my signature,” about 41,000 became donors. Of those 41,000, about 5,000 became RGs, regular givers, which is the Australian name for monthly givers. You can see the ratio. You start with this non-monetary offer that brings in a ton of people and then from that ton of people, you will get a certain percentage who will say yes.

Now, the percentage for Soi Dog, remember, this is in Bangkok, Thailand, Soi Dog is getting most of its money from females in the United States 45 and older and then from females in the UK 45 and older and then females in Canada 45 and older and then females in Australia 45 and older. That’s what you can do with Facebook that you cannot do with any other kind of fundraising. You can reach a world audience for an obscure charity doing something interesting in another part of the world.

Here’s a typical ad for Soi Dog. What’s odd about this—one of the things they discovered in the six years of R&D was that the kind of ad they had to write could have been written by a professional copywriter in the 1940s because it’s a very straightforward—that’s why you have that cover there, “How to Write a Good Advertisement,” that’s all you need to read in order to write Facebook advertising. That was published in 1963 or something.

You start with your little story—”Attacked by so many, never been so scared, didn’t know how it was going to end, I’m a street dog called Twaddle, etc., see more,” stop talking, a couple lines is all you need. Photo—that’s your eye candy. Photo brings me in physically, literally because we know from eye motion studies that any big image is going to be something that I have to stare at. Right beneath it is the offer, “Only you can make a difference for street dogs that have nobody else. Please click here to help. That’s it.”

So, at Pareto, they call these fluff, that’s your story, but you can’t just do fluff and that’s what a lot of charities are doing. They have half the story. They have the fluff. They don’t have the bite. The bite is where you go in and go, “Yes, you do need to do something about it.” It’s the oldest form of charity fundraising.

Okay. Some more advice and all this advice is going to be yours, I think, somehow. Steven will explain all that, because you’re going to forget most of it by tomorrow, except for those of you that can’t stop coming to hear me speak, in which case you’ve heard this a thousand times. These are checklists that you can go back to and say, “Yeah, we need to do it that way.”

Kivi—subscribe to her—she brought to my attention the AARP’s rule of one for Facebook posts, one photo, one sentence, one link, one request from readers and that’s three times a day. That’s well-researched. That’s not somebody’s guess. That’s what they found worked best.

E-newsletters—we can adapt the AARP formula for your newsletter as the Canadian Red Cross did here. What you’re looking at is the thing that succeeded better than what they had been sending out. The thing they had been sending out was more of a long copy. It wouldn’t have been just a handful of words and a couple of paragraphs. It would have been 250, 300, 400 words.

That’s what they replaced with what you see on the screen. That space on AARP it has the one photo, Mustafa, and it has the little micro story. You’ve got him testifying, “When I was confirmed as positive with Ebola, I thought I wouldn’t survive.” Yet, he is alive today thanks to your support. I’ve circled the “you’s” with red so you can see how frequent they are and there’s something to click on because you have to have something to click on in a digital environment. That’s what it’s about. It’s about clicking and going and seeing something different.

Let’s look at email. Kivi, thank you for this checklist. All of you will read it before you send out another email. Here’s some good advice from John Haydon, probably the guy I subscribe to with most enthusiasm on the digital side. He’s always got something to say. Here, he’s talking about how Charity: Water uses stories in their email.

Here’s how you can personalize the email so it’s about me, not the organization. You wrote, you shared, you gave, you rallied with your kids. Give me something, a picture, give me a little story in my head. I’m giving $25 and now I can see a chimpanzee’s x-ray. About the only thing that I would change there, I think I’d have an x-ray of a chimpanzee instead of the outside of a chimpanzee. You can always make things different.

What else have we got? Ask three times, John says. You can see not a big piece of text here, not a big ad, but donate now, donate and make a gift today. Everything in there is otherwise supporting why they need your help. Some more success tips, blah, blah, blah, you’ll look at them in the future.

Let’s look at what is the purpose of email and Facebook. I was surprised by the answer to that. The answer is the purpose of email and Facebook is to send people somewhere else, to your website, basically. On the website, they can do all sorts of things. So, here’s Habitat. They get this email and it has this goal thermometer and that’s good and it says donate now and it points, direction.

You click through and here’s where you go. You go to a landing page, which looks the same. So, it has a kind of, “Yeah, I’m in the right place.” It’s a coherent message. You make your choice. What do they put first? Monthly giving. Here’s some other stuff that you can have people do on your website. The list is endless. This is all I could fit onto the slide.

Okay. Let’s look at the purpose of an email subject line. Again, I’m talking here as a copywriter. So, if somebody’s asked me to do a series of emails, what’s the thing that is most important? Well, it’s the email subject line if that’s how we’re attempting to raise money because I’ve got to get that—it’s kind of like the headline on an ad. The ad is going nowhere if I do not engage somehow emotionally with that headline.

We are so over-solicited. Look at what you do every morning. I’m pretty sure it’s what I do every morning, which is to open my email inbox and as fast possible delete everything I possibly can, just clear it out of my world. I’m getting on average 147 emails a day, so are you. Getting through that mob and saying, “Oh, by the way, would you give us a gift?” That is tough.

Here’s the results. This is a great report. It comes out every year from M+R Benchmarking on digital. For every 1,000 emails, fundraising emails that are sent out, the organization raises $40. Wow, $40? Actually, it’s shrinking. That was then. This year, it’s $38 for every 1,000. I was in Tucson. I was speaking to a room full of fundraisers. We quickly estimate how many emails you sent out in the last 12 months. The highest number we had there was 96,000 emails in 12 months. What would that turn into? It turns into less than $4,000 in gifts.

So, the volume of your email is just something to think about. This is math. At some level, it’s always going to be math. What is the correct math? The job of email, just like in direct mail, in direct mail, the direct of an envelope is not to protect the content. The job of an envelope is to get opened. In email, the job, number one, of your subject line is to get the darn thing opened. So, you need to be very, “Let’s try stuff.” If you have a 30% opening rate, they like hearing from you. If you have 15%, you’re not all that welcome and they’re just not expecting much from you.

So, here’s a list of subject lines that I opened relatively recently. Here on the top one, “NSFW: Sex Lives of the White-throated Sparrow.” I know, but I just wanted to know. Did they have a big wonderful sex life? I don’t know. Anyways, here’s Houston Grand Opera. They are making this offer. They’re going to take the story of your romance and turn it into an opera. They do a lot of commissioned work there at Houston Grand Opera, fabulous idea.

Here’s AFP in Dallas-Fort Worth. This one comes in, “You=Awesome, We=Grateful,” yeah, I want more of that. That’s a lollipop and so forth and so on. These are ones that I open because the subject line. Here’s the other one I opened, “Finally, a Great Use for Snow.” I live in the Northeast and it just was relevant to me.

President Obama’s 2012 campaign was notable for many reasons, one of which it did raise a ton of money online, $690 million were raised online through emails, emails that sent me somewhere to make a gift. The thing that’s interesting about their subject lines, you can see the top 15 moneymakers here, is why are these working? The insiders couldn’t predict, by the way, they always got it wrong. The things they hated worked best, the thing they loved didn’t work at all, etc. This is why you have to keep trying stuff. Don’t go with what you think will work. Go with something you don’t think will work, perhaps.

So, look at these. I’ve made the pronouns red. This is a characteristic of many of these top moneymaking subject lines “I Want to do This Again,” this is the President of the United States, “My Place, June 14th,” “Me Again,” “I Love You Back.” It’s personal, it’s warmer, not distance. You don’t want distance. You want to bring people closer to you. Also, the subject lines for Obama’s campaign were short, as you can see.

All right. A couple of guidelines you can try yourself. Having some urgency helps me to get past the biggest problem in fundraising, which is my native inertia. It’s so much easier not to do anything than it is to do something. So, give me a countdown to save Angel. Angel will be back soon, by the way. Oh, send this to me. “Thank You, You Wonderful Person,” of course I’m going to open that.

Here’s one that somebody shared in one of the workshops. This is the one that they use that always gets the biggest opening, “You’re Our Hero, Here’s Why,” or at least it didn’t say an old goat named Tom Ahern. I opened this up. The personalization got me.

By the way, a great piece of information here, what are the most effective email closings? You can see that when the closing was, “Thanks in advance,” there was a 38.3% bump in response rate. So, thanks in advance. In some ways, what you’re doing with that is modeling your behavior and saying, “Yeah, you’re that kind of person. You’re that kind of generous, compassionate person, you will do this, so thanks in advance.”

Email job number two—remind me that I am part of something. Remind me I am part of some wonderful thing. Here, the goat named Tom Ahern—I’m joining a herd when I respond to this. This was so cute that I just looked at the goat and saw the voice balloon, “Hello, my name is Tom Ahern,” I’m a big proponent of voice balloons on animals. I see all this personalization. I circled all the examples of that in red so you can see all the personalization. Basically, within a couple seconds I said, “I don’t care what you’re asking for, I’m going to give it to you.”

So, why? Because it gave me a story to tell. I just told it to you. We’re back to our iconic donor. So, maybe she’s a monthly giver to Greenpeace and she’s thinking, “I save a polar bear every month.” Maybe her self-image all her life has been, “I want to be a nice, good person, a decent person, and be helpful to the world.” Giving allows her to say, “I met my self-qualification. I am that decent person.” Giving may allow her to say, “I follow the scriptures. Jesus said do this and I am trying to be good at this.”

Charity allows her to say that or she reads the newspaper and gets totally crazy upset because of the millions of people displaced into refugee camps outside of Syria and she just wants to help and she does and she sends a check. So, she’s got these stories where she has been the actor. That’s what you need to emphasize over and over, that I am part of this family of doing something worth doing.

Now, this was a recruiting poster for World War I. Six million Brits were mobilized based on this and 700,000 of them died. This is no different. This is Planned Parenthood asking you to join a capital campaign, will you help young women like that? What all of this stuff is trying to create in some sense is what is called in psychology a synthetic family. It’s a self-organizing group of people that get together to do something. That’s why Greenpeace talks about join the movement. The movement is what is the synthetic family. “We’re going to get something done.”

I just wanted to bring up email segmentation—very important you try to find as fast as possible who the true believers are versus the lesser believers because where the money really is is with the true believers. You will never have that many of them.

Now, here’s Jay Love, the founder of Bloomerang sharing some data that has been collected there. 88% of dollars raised come from 12% of the donors. This is a key fact. For me, what this meant—and this has really changed my focus—what this meant for me was you’ve got to sort people into two groups as fast as you can into the group that is really kind of identified with you and feels strongly and the others.

The others, they’re lovely people and we are grateful for the help, but those are the ones that give one gift and never give again, those are the ones that quit after a couple years. Those are the ones that jump from charity to charity because they’re philanthropically inclined, but you turned out to be not a very interesting charity. So, they move on. You’re looking for the people that really care. That’s where 88% of your money is actually coming from.

Jeff Brooks, wisest man in fundraising, “Donors don’t give to support your programs,” frankly, they could care less about the details of your program. What they are trying to bring into their lives is a sense that something—they help make something happen. It’s really your job as communicators, digital or print to continuously feed that huger to make something happen.

Next after great organization, just coming into the nonprofit world out of the business to business marketing world and they are looking here, “Why do people give?” Well, look at those faces. They’re all ages, their gender, they’re different races. They give for their own reasons because they have hope. They want to protest against something. They want something to change, dammit, etc.

So, taking that, those were all emotional connections with those people. What are you going to do? You’re going to have your donate button just like every other 30 million donate buttons or are you going to ask me to actually feel something? This is for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City. They are big into the social justice. They were big into the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and continue in that world. The people that come to their website, why are they coming? They’re coming because they’re really angry about something in society. What this group does is goes to court and tries to fix it. So, if you’re outraged, donate. What’s your adjective?

Here are some typical emotional triggers. If you’re a professional copywriter, you’re working with these day in and day out. It’s really all you think about. How can I use anger? How about exclusivity? That would be the President’s Circle is exclusivity, etc.

Now, it is important that you don’t follow your instincts, which is to rub the corners off and to turn down the drama and make everything smiley because you have an amygdala and so does every one of your donors. That amygdala is also known as the lizard brain had two thoughts originally, “Can I eat it? Will it kill me?” The will it kill me thought leads your brain to be fear-based and attentive. Now these days, you don’t have to worry about a sabretooth tiger dragging you off. What you worry about—unless you live in Alaska—what you worry about is other things. Life is tense.

Negative emotions, because they are linked to survival will bring me more quickly into some kind of connection with your charity’s message and mission. Good research from the American Marketing Association—a photo of a sad child raises 50% more than a photo of the happy or a photo of a neutral child. So, you have USA for UNHCR, “Don’t turn your back on this child.” That is fundraising 101. That’s how Oxfam grew from a small group of people around a pub table into a worldwide force for doing good with ads like this. You are trying to connect with what’s already in their heads.

Richard Radcliffe, buddy, we’re stumbling out of a bar in Amsterdam and he is telling me about his experiences because he’s interviewed over 25,000 donors about their reasons for giving and he said, I wrote it right down in that moment, “Donors are staggeringly ignorant of the causes they support,” only in a cute British accent.

What he meant by that is woe is us, we had to teach them. He really meant lucky us. We don’t have to teach them anything. They’re already pretty much there. They may be ignorant, according to that statement. What they have though are their own values, their own interests, their own beliefs, all these things that happened to them during their lives, secrets, lost loves, regrets, fears, hopes, anger. We also have built in empathy, one of the few animals that does.

So, it’s all there. They’re already 99.9% of the way there. You just have to bring an offer to them that makes sense to them. “Oh, 25, I can afford that, yeah, and I’ll be helping find the cure for cancer or I’ll be helping with this or I’ll be an upstanding member of my local community.”

You’re looking in writing in copy always for mental nods because a mental nod is a values match. That’s where we connect. That idea comes from Dr. Siegfried Vogele, Munich, and he was doing eye motion studies. Those studies, people were reading direct mail and he was watching them, cameras were. What he noticed was they would occasionally nod as they read. There was an agreement and it was physical. He could actually see it. It led him to the thought that we need as many mental nods as possible. That’s an agreement. It doesn’t have to be a physical nod. They have to mentally say, “Yeah, I do agree with that,” or, “Yeah. That is a problem.”

So, here’s PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. They have a statement at the top of their website, “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in any other way.” If you read that and go, “I totally agree,” that’s your mental nod moment, at which point, you’ve got eye contact with the bunny and the donate button in contrasting colors so you can see it easily.

All donor communications, digital or print, have a job. You’re coming into my home. Are you going to be a good guest or a bad guest? A good guest will be invited back. Bad guest, sits down, feet up on coffee table, starts talking about himself the next 20 minutes. Nobody wants that guest to come back. The good guest comes in and says, “What a gorgeous, lovely, warm, welcoming, friendly, loving home. I can see you’ve made a temple of affection. I just love being here. It feels so nice.”

When you come into the privacy of my head and my home and you make me feel good, I will want you to come back over and over and over. That’s really all you need to do with donor communications is make me feel good. Make me proud. Make me feel wanted. Make me feel important. Entertain me. Take me someplace. Take me on a journey to something I wouldn’t otherwise see.

So, that brings us to your donation landing page, which may have a clothespin on it because Jeff Brooks has said this and Jeff, of course, is 100% true all the time, “Every time I look at an online fundraising program that isn’t going anywhere, it’s because of poorly built giving pages.” So, how is your giving page?

Well, why don’t you take this ten-lesson free online e-course from Network for Good run by Caryn Stein? I just took it. It was great. It teaches you everything you really need to know about having a great giving page. This is one of the things it will teach you. Your donation page has an emotionally compelling image that captures the mission.

This is one of the oldest children’s hospitals in America, CHOP, Children’s Hospital Philadelphia. Here’s the mom and the child with cancer because she doesn’t have any hair versus here’s Joe’s Kids. Joe’s Kids is a wonderful charity in Indiana, Northwest Indiana. Yet, I went to their donation page and I said, “Gee, I kind of just lost my enthusiasm.”

Where’s the cute kid that I was just looking at? Gone. Do you really need my help? Not answered. Gee, I really want another form in my life. No, I don’t. Of course, we want monthly giving because it’s better for the charity, so why is monthly giving the right thing to do. It turns out people love monthly giving because it’s actually more convenient for them.

Email job number three—clicking through to do something. Give me something important to do. Here’s this formula developed by Stephen Pidgeon. He’s UK. He built one of the country’s larger direct mail fundraising firms called Tangible. It started in his living room and when he sold it, it had 400 employees. So, they were really good at what they did.

Stephen, this formula he shares with the world, this is the four-part formula they use, the tangible in order to raise money. You have the vision, “Where do we want to go?” Well, cure cancer. Yeah. Feed all the people that are hungry today. Those are your visions. The enemy is whatever stands in the way of making that vision a reality. The served are the hungry kids that now have a meal and of course in red, I put the hero. The hero is you, the donor in cooperation, in collaboration with the charity doing this good work.

So, here, “Save Angel from a lifetime of Hell. There’s Angel again. Any questions? Save Angel from a lifetime of Hell.” There’s the enemy. What am I going to defeat? I’m going to save Angel from a lifetime of Hell. Viktor Frankl survived the Nazi death camps unlike the rest of his family. He was already a well-known psychiatrist in Vienna, Jewish, unfortunately, so that’s why he ended up in those camps. He noticed something in the camps. He was surrounded by 16,000 corpses when he was liberated.

What he saw in the camps is when somebody had purpose, it didn’t matter if it was a big purpose or little purpose, any purpose would get them up in the morning. They would live longer. So, he said humans are driven by this need to establish meaning. They needed purpose. That’s one thing you as a charity can bring into my life is a sense of purpose.

Let’s look at finally, donor communications 101, what are you doing? You ask for my help, you thank me for my help, and then you report to me what you did with my help and the help of others.

Charities tend to focus too much on the asking part because they’re completely obsessed and mesmerized by how much money can we bring in and how soon. That’s the part the donor, the person—see her there, again—doesn’t are about. This is the money she can afford to give away and it does not change her lifestyle. What she does care about is are you grateful and what did I do? What did philanthropy do? Is the world a better place?

Your thanks and your newsletter, digital or print, are your hugs. This is how you reach out from this agency and you just wrap me in your arms and say, “Thank you for existing. We are so appreciative.”

Here’s my final slide. This is a thank you. It’s from Crisis Aid International, a small faith-based charity that does incredibly nice stuff for incredibly difficult situations around the world. This one happens to be talking about Ethiopia. I circled all the thanks. There are seven of them in this. What I want to say to you now is I will always the emails from Crisis Aid. I will always open the emails from Nyaka School, which is a Uganda school for HIV/AIDS orphans, because of the way they’re written and because of the way they make me feel.

They tell me a little story. What did my money do? It got a girl off the streets in Ethiopia. She’s now safe in a refuge home. She had been in the PS. She’s 19 years old and spent five years trapped in the Red Light District. I get the credit. They’re not claiming the credit. I get the credit. Thank you for bringing that into my life.

Okay. So, we have 2 minutes and 39 seconds for questions. Steven?

Steven: All right. Maybe we can do a couple of questions, but Tom, that was so awesome. There was so much good advice there, so thank you. To anyone who was fiercely trying to take notes, have no fear. I’m going to send out the slides and the recording here in a couple of hours. Be on the lookout for that. It looks like people are loving it so far.

We’ve got a couple questions here, Tom, concerning disaster fundraising. We were talking about the hurricanes before we started. Is there any special consideration, anything you would advise, particularly for those organizations who are maybe in the midst right now or preparing to do disaster relief fundraising specifically?

Tom: Make you an obvious place where people can go to help other people. As it happened, I looked at two different community foundation websites last week. So, Harvey had hit and then Irma was coming to Florida and clearly, this was going to be a horrible event in a bunch of different places.

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which is kind of looked upon as being one of the innovators in the community foundation world. You go to their website, right there on the homepage right away, hurricane relief, how you can help, click here and then you go right into how you can help.

Whereas I go to a different community foundation—I won’t name them—they didn’t do that. They basically just ignored the fact that the news was filled with hurricane weather reporting. They have all these donor-advised funds there. They should be alert to the fact that donors will be saying, “What can I do? What can I do?” And instead you go to their website and it’s like it never happened. So, the first thing is make it obvious that you are a place where people can help and make it easy for them to do it.

Steven: Yeah.

Tom: All right. What else have you got?

Steven: One last question since we’re running up against it and I don’t want to keep people too long. I’m going to combine two or three questions, so I hope the people who asked will forgive me. Tom, a lot of people asked about the age of donors. You gave us a lot of research that shows the average donor skews older.

Two-part question for you—does the age of the donor change any of the strategy? For example, if you know your donors are 45 and not 75, do you do anything differently? It seems like this advice you’ve given transcends age, right? Compelling offers and strong imagery—should age really even factor into the things you’re doing here?

Tom: No. You can be clever about it. I certainly read any article I can get, which talks about the psychology of people in their older years. As it happens, I am a person in my older years. I don’t have to look much beyond my own day to understand what I think about. What you’re bringing to them—this is a part I don’t think has been well exploited or well understood is that you’re bringing emotional gratification to your donors.

We treat them as wallets with a life support system, but that is not them. Their identity is tied up with what they do, how they contribute to the world around them. So, you want to reinforce the identity. If you’re the 1 out of 100 or 1,000 charities that makes the extra effort to thank the heck out of me and to tell me what a wonderful person I am, I’m going to stick with you longer.

Steven: Yep, that’s it. I could not think of a better way to end on. Tom, this was awesome. Thank you so much for doing this, fitting it in your schedule and giving such good advice.

Tom: Thank you all for joining us.

Steven: Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, definitely. I want to thank all of you, almost 300 of you for taking time out of your day to hang out with us. Please sign up for Tom’s newsletter. It is the best newsletter that you will sign up for in your entire life. It’s great. I always look forward to opening it when I see it come in. Lots of good advice there. You can keep learning from Tom beyond just this webinar. We’ve got some other resources on the Bloomerang website as well.

We’ve got BloomCon coming up in February. We’ve got an awesome speaker lineup. We’re going to be down in Phoenix. We’re also going to be in Baltimore in May of 2018 and Tom is going to join us for that BloomCon. Check that out if one or more of those dates and times and places works for you. Check it out. It’s going to be a really fun time. We’ve got some great webinars coming up here and over the next few weeks or so.

One week from today, we’re going to a special townhall where we are going to do a 60-mintue Q&A session just about fundraising challenges in the wake of natural disasters. So, if you’re perhaps in Texas or Florida or somewhere along the East Coast, maybe you’re in the Northwest dealing with those wildfires, I’m going to have a couple of disaster fundraising experts here live to take your questions.

Check that out. It’s going to be pretty different from what we normally do. It should be a lot of fun and very insightful. So, check that out. Next month, we’ve got Claire Axelrad. She’s going to talk about creating a really successful fundraising appeal. So, if you’re working on maybe your year-end appeal, your holiday appeal, register for that one. It’s going to be really good as well.

We’ll call it a day there. Just look for an email from me with the slides and the recording. That will go out to you this afternoon and hopefully we will see you next week or some other Thursday. Have a great rest of your day here and a safe and fun weekend, and we’ll talk to you again soon.

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.