Jen Love & John Lepp will show you how to lean into vulnerability in your fundraising right now. You’ll leave with ways to apply #donorlove in the time of coronavirus.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Jen and John, we’re recording. Is it okay if I go ahead and get us started officially? Nice, let’s do it.

Jen; Do it, brother.

Steven: All right. Good afternoon, everyone. Good morning if you’re on the West Coast I should say, good afternoon on the East Coasters, people in the middle, whoever you are, thanks for being here. Thanks for being here for our Bloomerang webinar. It’s Thursday, which means we got a great webinar for you. Jen is leaving but that’s okay, she’ll be back hopefully with the webinar. We’re going to be talking about donor love, about vulnerability and awkwardness in the strange, new world that we find ourselves in. So thanks for being here. I’m Steven, I’m over here at Bloomerang. Not at Bloomerang, I’m at my house like probably all of you are but I’m just happy to see you nonetheless. Thanks for being here. We’re going to have some fun today.

Just a couple of housekeeping items before we get going. We are recording this session so if you get interrupted by a pet or a family member, or maybe have another appointment, don’t worry we’ll get that recording to you later today. We’ll get you the slides, we’ll get you any handouts. Don’t worry, we’ll get all of that to you this afternoon. But most importantly, please feel free to chat your questions and comments throughout the hour. We’re going to try to save some time for Q&A so don’t be shy. There is a chat box and there’s a Q&A box. If you have a question, try to use the Q&A box if you don’t mind. It will just not get lost in the shuffle there but, you know, no big deal. We’ll find your question there. You can also use Twitter. I’ll keep an eye in the Twitter feed if you want to tweet us. But we’d love this to be interactive so don’t sit on those hands.

If this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra special welcome to you. We usually get some newbies here. Just for context, if you’ve never heard of Bloomerang, we do these webinars pretty frequently but what we are most known for is our donor management software. So, if you’re interested in that or want to learn more, just check us out. Go to our website, there’s videos there you could watch if you want to see us in action. Don’t do that now because I got two of my favorites, the Agents of Good are here, Jen and John from beautiful Ontario. How’s it going, friends? You doing okay? Jen’s happy.

Jen: Awesome. This is so fun already, like highlight of the week.

Steven: This is great. This was a short notice thing. You two were so gracious to come on and share your wisdom especially with all that’s been going on. Whipped this together, I’m so grateful for both of you for not just for doing this but for existing. You’re beautiful humans, two of my favorites. You got to check out Agents of Good if you guys aren’t following them, excellent direct response. One of my go-tos for all things, not just direct mail but lots of things but they are geniuses. I’ve seen their work. I vouch for them. I’ve sent clients over to them, I think, but they’re awesome. And I don’t want to take any time away from them because they’re the pioneers of donor love and that’s what you’re here to hear about. So I’m going to stop sharing and also end this situation because you want to hear from them. So, Jen, I’ll let you . . .

Jen: And I will start sharing.

Steven: This is always the handoff phase that’s going.

Jen: The handoff catastrophe which should work.

Steven: It looks like it’s working. It’s almost there.

Jen: Am I gonging?

Steven: It’s not full screen. Yeah, there it goes. Yeah, you’re gonging.

Jen: I’m gonging, okay.

Steven: Do it.

Jen: So welcome, welcome one and all. Thank you and welcome to “The Gong Show.” And John and I are very happy to be here with you, I guess as we say now apart but not alone. And I think, I wanted to start with we’ve got a number of Star Wars GIFs today because that’s how we roll. And we want to start with this one because I certainly feel a little bit like this right now. I feel like every time I come out of my Jedi cave, lair, I kind of looking around and trying to orient and anchor ourselves. And that sometimes when we open our mouths to talk to donors or beneficiaries, team members, colleagues, it’s all a little bit awkward saying how are you, saying what’s new, saying your cat’s butt is blocking the camera. I think right now, we’re all a little awkward and vulnerable. So we’re going to acknowledge the awkward and lean into the vulnerable.

And I want to start with this quote from Dr. Brené Brown which is one of my favorites of all time which says, “One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on going it alone. Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into ‘those who offer help’ and ‘those who need help.’ But the truth is that we are both.”

And I think, John and I wanted to start this session today with this quote because I think this feels like many of us fundraisers, we tell ourselves these stories about how things are harder for our beneficiaries or they’re harder for our program people, or they’re harder for other charities. And the reality is that right now things are hard for all of us and that’s okay, and we know things are hard on you right now and that’s okay.

So over the course of today’s webinar, especially the beginning, we’re going to share some brilliance and thoughts from others in our sector and around the world as we all respond to the COVID-19 coronavirus. And our wonderful colleague, Leigh, shared this the other day. Has anyone seen this from the Harvard Business Review, which is fantastic? It’s a great article, “The Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief.” And really talks about and acknowledges that what’s happening right now is a version of grief. Anticipatory grief is a word that I didn’t know until I read this article that was shared to me by my girlfriend. And now I understand what that means, what that means for our work, what that means for our donors, and what that means for where we are and where you are right now.

And then there’s one more quote to set the stage from Glennon Doyle, the author of “Love Warrior,” and more recently, “Untamed.” She said just recently on her Facebook Live, “We’re are in collective grief. Resist the hustle and self-improvement messages. Grief is a cocoon from which we all emerge new and it takes all we’ve got. Go easy. No shoulds. No shame. Just relentless tenderness.”

So John and I are here today to sit with you and be with you, and give you the relentless tenderness and permission that you need for wherever you’re at and whatever you’re doing right now. And we’re going to share with you some thoughts and considerations on how you can move forward in the best possible way, brimming with donor love and also being true to yourself.

So one thing that helps me get through anxiety and tough times like this, is anchoring and centering myself on some of the things that we know and the things we know to be true. So, lucky for us, fundraising is a profession with loads of research and insights coming at us all the time about donor behavior and both what donors wants and needs. So I wanted to start with some of the things that we know to be true across time all the time and this is from Penny Burk’s research on what donors want. So I’m going to go through this quickly because hopefully these are familiar to folks, but as Steven acknowledged, you’ll all have these slides at the end. So what do donors want in all times, including pandemic times? Donors want prompt personal gift acknowledgement, they want confirmation their gifts have been set to work as intended, and they want measurable results. But they see, they get is not that, they say they get prompt but impersonal gift acknowledgements, general appeals with few measurable results.

So let’s talk about the power of personal thanks, 95% of donors would be very appreciative if a member of the board called them within a day or two of receiving a gift just to say thanks. 85% of donors would definitely or probably support the charity again if this happened. 94% of donors say they never or rarely get a call from a charity unless it is a solicitation and 98% of donors are never visited unless it is a solicitation call. 55% say they rarely or never receive measurable results on their gifts at work and 29% sometimes receive measurable results.

So what would donors do if communications improved? Which is exactly what we’re going to talk about today. And 93% said they would definitely or probably give again to a charity that provided them with what they wanted, 64% would definitely or probably give more, and 74% would definitely or probably continue to give indefinitely as long as they continue to get these things.

So, given where we’re at right now, the state of the world, the state of where we’re at, let’s look at what some of our experts are saying about what we can do right now and ways that we could help. So I can see that there’s lights going off here and I can also see you on my second screen here, John. So, if I suddenly cut or die, just start waving and I’ll know that something’s gone horribly wrong.

John: Okay.

Jen: Thank you. So our very good friend, Lesley, who actually was a guest on our blog just this morning said something a couple of weeks ago, actually it seems like a lifetime ago now, or back in December on our Four Fundraisers lobster’s chat. We were talking to her about insights and applying donor research to our work. And what she said was, “Please, just start somewhere. Everybody start somewhere, we can all start somewhere, just start today.”

Mike Duerksen, fellow Canadian, posted this tweet from a couple of days ago that I thought was amazing. “My sense: this is the time to do things that don’t scale. Personal calls. Personal emails. Handwritten cards. Surprises in the mail. Highlighting stories. Inviting supporters just small-group Zoom chats.” Mike followed up by saying, “I’ve been doing this the last few weeks. It’s exhausting and emotionally draining. Doing things that don’t scale are more work by nature. These times will require more from you but they will be rewarding.”

Sam Laprade just last week on the Fundraising Everywhere’s Project Everywhere COVID-19 Virtual Conference gave a great suggestion about getting board members and volunteers involved in some of your fundraising or activities, stewardship activities right now, and her advice was call five donors. If you’re in a position where you’ve got team members or volunteers or board members who are looking for ways to help or looking for things to do, give them a list of five donors to call. I’m going to give you some resources in just a sec. But I want to say first is that sometimes we get feedback like this. We ask our board members or our teammates or volunteers to call donors and they say, “Well, what am I supposed to say? I don’t know what I’m saying, I don’t know what I should say, what’s the best thing I could do?”

So we have an answer for that. The best thing you can do is, according to our girl, Shanon, gave us this amazing tip which I use all the time now which is to create a madlib. So this is a madlib for a donor thank you call, but you can create a madlib for anything, for a stewardship call, for a monthly donor touch, for anything. And so I have a bit of a trigger warning. Apology for anyone who is homeschooling elementary school students and is probably doing your fair share of madlibs right now which are driving you bananas. But the idea about these madlibs is that they allow you, it allows the person who’s calling, whether it’s a volunteer or a team member to fill in their own adjectives and their own preferred words but basically have the center of the script.

And John, I know from talking to our own clients and from hearing from lots of folks around the world, that making phone calls right now is actually a very effective strategy. Lots of people are picking up, lots of people are enthusiastic about talking to charities that they love. And when you get on the phone and talk to donors and you ask them how you are doing, what’s happening, we’re just calling to check in. Is there anything we can help you with? Even if you’re not a charity that’s responding to the COVID-19 crisis specifically, you can still provide help and support to your donors by reminding them of the environment that’s outside their window, by reconnecting them to the arts and culture that they can’t wait to get back to. So, if you call your donors and ask them how you’re doing, how they’re doing then these lead to great conversations.

And I think one of the reasons why there’s so much reluctance to people just picking up the phone and calling donors and other stakeholders is because most of us are afraid of three little words. And the three little words that we’re afraid of is not I love you, we all love to say that, I certainly do. The three little words that most of us were afraid of is actually I don’t know. So a huge part of the reluctance behind why board members and volunteers and staff members don’t like calling donors is because they’re afraid the donors will ask them something that they don’t know the answer to. And we’re here to tell you and give you permission to say that when you’re speaking to someone and you don’t know the answer, the best thing you can say is, “That’s a great question. I don’t know the answer but I’ll find out and get back to you.” You feel awkward doing that, you feel vulnerable doing that, but the person on the other end of that line sees and feels your humanity and really feel, seen and heard.

And there’s tremendous power in saying, “I don’t know.” And too often we either bullshit the answer or dodge the question, but really all someone wants you to say is, “I don’t know, that’s a great question. Let me get back to you.” So, if you’re coaching and encouraging and any of your board members or volunteers or staff to make calls, tell them that saying “I don’t know” is not only okay, it’s fantastic and should be embraced.

So moving on from three little words to nine little words. I don’t know how many folks have seen this before but Dr. Jen Shang, who’s one of the leaders in fundraising research along with Adrian Sargeant, providing a tremendous amount of intelligence to our sector right now. And Dr. Shang has isolated what she calls these nine moral adjectives which do two things. These nine moral adjectives isolate the people that we are and the people that we want to be.

So, if you are looking at your madlib and saying, “Oh, I’m not sure exactly what to say,” these are the nine moral adjectives you can use. And Dr. Shang can find lots of information about this online. She ran a head to head test on donors calling into a PBS telephone and when she referred to female callers as caring and compassionate, she raised 10% more money from that cohort of donors. So we often have clients say to us, “Well, I don’t know exactly what to say or I don’t know exactly what words to use in my thank you letters or calls.” And our advice is use these because these are the nine moral adjectives that allow us to reflect on who we are and who we want to be. So we hope that you can use in the immediate future some of those insights to move forward with awkwardness and vulnerability, and also maybe just a little bit of confidence to reach out and connect with your donors.

And I want to peak ahead a little bit into a little more of our immediate future. Our very good friends, Steven Screen, along with Jeff Brooks have shared a really great whitepaper which is available for you for download. And it shares a model of how we might expect the next little while to play out. This is based on previous natural disasters and economic collapses. And so Steven and Jeff have created this kind of expectation for what the next number of months and even into the year might look like. As we can see, we’re looking at a bump and then a slump, and then a surge, and then the new normal. And I really encourage everyone to take a look at this piece and reflect on how your charity can respond and adapt in the best possible way. And I think a lot of us are asking some questions around what’s going to change, what’s going to stay the same? Just before we got in the calls, we’re chatting with Steven about upcoming fundraising conferences in professional development. How is that going to change?

Well, one of the things that I really hope is a change that we’re seeing that sticks is this idea of vulnerability. And Steven and I have been talking about vulnerability and fundraising over the last number of months and we really do believe that it’s a huge key to fundraising success. We believe that vulnerability is a whole new currency in the nonprofit sector that we haven’t seen to this degree in the time, the 25 years I’ve been working in this sector. So Steven and I have curated some content around vulnerability that I just want to run through you, and it comes back again to Dr. Brené Brown. And what Dr. Brown says is, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing, it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness. It is our greatest measure of courage.”

Steven and I share a couple of examples of what happens when you take your fundraising from not vulnerable to vulnerable. So I’ll go through to these two examples quickly. This one is from a public broadcaster in the U.S. This is what their appeal looked like before Steven got his hands on it. And even just as you look at it, even if you scan it you can see big, wrong words, complicated sentences, no “you’s” all “we’s.” Nothing on this jumps out to me, as on this to jump out to me is organizational jargon.

Steven Screen got his hands on it and turned it into this. “Your help needed by June 30th. I’m writing to you today with an important request. You’re one of our most faithful donors and I’m going to be very direct. You know that we’re an essential part of your life, whether it’s News Hour, MASTERPIECE, Father Brown. You know you’d miss it terribly. So I come to you when your help is needed most and today is one of those times. We’re behind our goal and our fiscal year is about to end. I don’t want shortage of funds to get in the way of providing you your favorite programs. I’m hoping, asking, will you please send a special gift before June 30th?”

Totally different approach to the organizational, sanitized, approved messaging they were using before. And this campaign not only got them out of their shortfall but got them past their shortfall.

Here’s another example. This is what Steven calls, which I love, wall of copy with a happy photograph, which, as a donor plugs into doesn’t see themself in the story at all. I don’t see myself in this. I’m not needed. I’m not part of this. Look like this problem is already solved. And even visually when you move on to a different version of this, “Homeless moms and kids need your help today. I have urgent news to share with you.” As you dive into this, you can tell that this organization is coming at this from a place of vulnerable, thoughtful, emotional fundraising as opposed to bland, sanitized, approved messaging. So this makes me very happy.

As I said, Steven and I had been talking about vulnerability now for the better part of the year. And I got email just in the early part of the New Year from a client that said this, or someone who’d seen some of our sessions said this. “Our annual appeal letter typically brings in $24 to $25k. We wrote this year’s letter using the vulnerable and honest techniques we learned from you. The result? An $84,000 response! We were very concerned that being so vulnerable with the budget loss might cause donors to turn away. Instead, we gave them a real problem to fix and donors stepped up.”

So this was just the perfect indication of what vulnerability, what adding vulnerability to your fundraising could mean. And I already showed the Han Solo but it’s worth looking at handsome Han Solo again and again and again for as long as we can. I’m going to kick this over to John to chat more about putting vulnerability into our fundraising, specifically related to COVID-19 right now. Ready, partner?

John: I think so. Ask me in a couple of minutes. So this is a couple of more tweets from some of our friends. Mark Phillips out of the UK, “I’ve talked a lot to people all over who are doing direct mail every day or doing direct response every single day. And everything we keep hearing over and over again and even people who had appeals out that have nothing to do with COVID. In other words, they had them done and dusted in the mail just before everyone got sent home. Even those appeals are doing well. And I’m going to share some examples of some very specific COVID stuff since I’m sure you’re here wanting to talk about that.

So go ahead, Jen. So here’s one we did with our friends at BCSPCA. I worked with Rachel Zant on this one. We pulled this mailing together over the course of a weekend because it was the right thing to do. They knew they need to get an emergency appeal in the mailbox of donors as quickly as possible. Here in Canada, the mail is still running. I think there’s only a few place in the world where mail actually has stopped, New Zealand being one of them, but I think for most places, the mail is still working. And so we wanted to get this piece in the mailbox to the donors as quickly as possible.

And so we did this very simple letter envelope on a number 10 envelope. I usually recommend doing a larger 9×6 envelope but again, in this case, BCSPCA, most SPCAs like food banks, donors are very plugged into their giving. They’re really plugged into the cause and mission. And so we just got cheap [and share 00:21:54] full something into the mailbox, so it’s in envelope. And the letter, we’ll just take a look at the letter. I wanted the design to be really plain.

I wanted Craig, the CEO, look like Craig just sat down in his computer and hammered this thing out on his typewriter. I didn’t want it to look overly designy, and so we left a lot of design, all the design pretty much out. But there’s still some things happening here that I want to point out. First and foremost, we all go to conferences all the time and talk about stories. Jen and I talk about this all the time, sometimes great appeals don’t need stories. In the case of emergencies, obviously, you don’t really need to have a story. So, this letter, what we did was the red, I’ve added the red in now after the fact just to highlight what the problem was. And as the donor reads through the letter as he scan down, gently clicking, then we talk about what the solution is for the problem, which obviously involves the donor. We need their help to make sure we can fix the problem.

And then the action that we need the donor to take. And, again, we repeat again what another part of the problem is, the solution that the donor can be a part of, and the action we need them to take. So, again, as the donor works through the letter, they can see all the ways they’re needed. And like I would say, if you can sprinkle lots of urgency, of course, emergency appeal that’s very easy but if you can overlay urgency in that messaging then you’re off to a really good direct mail letter even when you don’t have a story. In the reply form, we put together this reply form and I also wanted to give you some sort of tips on why this is an example of the perfect reply form. We know from testing that large, in other words, a full size 8.5×11 beats the more typical 8.5×3.5 reply forms which I know probably most of you do use a lot.

Full size is better, it’s personalized. You can see at the very top I have emergency reply for Ms. Caring Donor. I want her to see her name right at the very top of this piece. It has an affirmative and specific call to action that I have there. It has lots of you’s in it.

Usually, we’re looking to segment when you do your apply forms in normal appeals, you want to segment to a donor. In other words, if last year I gave you $50, asking me for $5,000 doesn’t make a lot of sense and vice versa. If I gave you $5,000, ask me for $50 on this one doesn’t make any sense. In a case of emergency appeal, it’s whatever people can give. Anything will be important and we’ll love it. So, in this case, we didn’t personalize the actual giving. It asks for one thing. This comes out of a testing again. I’ve seen it tested that when you ask for more or if you ask for a single gift and a monthly gift, you can start to lower your response rates.

That being said, I’ve talked to my pal, Rachel, they have tested this with SPCA over and over and over and over again, and they find actually whenever they asked for monthly and single, they’ve seen no impact on the giving. And they have tested it over and over again. So test it, it’s worth trying.

This one has a ton of white space. You can see that when a donor is looking at this, the type is nice and big. They have lots of space to write their information in. It has very large type. I’m doing everything I can to make sure that this coupon is approachable to donors of any age. And it doesn’t feature lots of tiny crappy boxes for your donor to somehow write their numbers in. I’ve always marvel at these reply forms that designers create for donors that, you know, donors already as we know mostly are older, 65 to 95. You know, we do everything in this world to make them feel really bad about that, remind them how old they are. So let’s not do these things to remind them that they can’t see and that their hands hurt. Let’s make these things really easy for them to read and to fill out.

And yeah, less is more, analysis paralysis. Now is not the time for asking for, you know, lots of extra information, that isn’t really important. Everything this reply form serves a purpose and we’re explaining why we’re asking for the information we’re asking for.

Now, that’s what went into the mail. Probably a few days later after talking to Sean Triner out of Australia at Moceanic. He did a really good session around mail and its giving right now. And based on some of the things that we’re finding in terms of mail houses stopping, not running, and printers maybe closing down or the mail service itself. We redesign their reply form. Jen, you go to the next one.

And so, if I’ve had a chance, the mail had already gone out. We already sent to the printer. We just took over two weeks, sorry, two days to design to write it. Went into the print house and it was in mailboxes about two days after that. So, afterwards, I designed this reply form for most of our clients right now. These are the sort of reply forms depending on the client that we’re putting out there. And we don’t want donors feeling that they have to leave their house. Some are not going to be comfortable putting a check in the mailbox. Even for those who have and will do, you’re sitting at home right now watching us from wherever you are through the United States and Canada. And, as you know, you can’t go down to your office whenever you want and pick up a bunch of checks. So there’s going to be checks that are sitting there at the office.

We want donors to go online and to give. We want them to call and to give instead because you need that money now. It can’t sit somewhere in limbo for once the world returns to normal. So, for the BCSPCA, they were lucky because they were on their digital game a long time ago. They had figured out how to collect gifts online, how to receive gifts through the telephone. And we know for some of our colleagues and friends, for various reasons that’s, you know, equipped for this sort of thing. And I know your lives are going to be quite a bit more difficult in terms of asking donors for help and receiving the help that they want to give. But for those who are still are able to send out mail, you might consider this as a reply form.

A couple other examples that I want to share also through the SPCA. Oh, sorry. Thanks, Jen. I forgot about this. We did a couple of inserts like this for our own clients. Again, we had mailings that were done. They were in the shoot. They were loaded to go. And so last minute we drew up some inserts that we added into the mail and just to, you know, observe what was happening out there in organization and what we were doing about it or what we felt about it, or want donors to do. There’s an extra piece but, like I said, I think we’ve already discovered people like Mark Phillips and Jeff Brooks were discovering that it doesn’t matter if you send an appeal to a donor. Donors are replying to appeals even about something other than COVID because they understand the world was moving before this all happened. So, again, if you got things that are in the mail or almost in the mailboxes, even just adding a little insert like this would be super useful but not necessary.

I like this as well. Jen, can you go back one if you can. Anyways, this was an e-appeal I got from SPCA. It comes from Jenny the Cat which I . . . like everything about this I absolutely love. From “Jenny the Cat, Cat rescued from deserted home.” You can see, no, go ahead, Jen. You can see that, you know, this little sublines, “Thank you for hearing my cries.” Oh, my god. There’s pretty much no branding here. The best email testing, again, I’ve seen this over and over again. BCSPCA test this over and over again has none of your branding. You don’t need your logo nice and big. You don’t need a big banner. You can do or try testing these things and maybe not right now but a personalized email is always going to do better. The copy, I think, is fantastic.

You know, I’ll let you read it but I love the copy, nice, big font. This is great photograph of Jenny. I mean, come on, seriously? How can you not just give away all of your money? Like these things working certainly, like I said, for SPCA right now. They are really bringing in the cash. People really want to help Jenny the Cat and Daisy the Dog. And they’re having, you know, even in this climate, they’re also having a bit of fun with their other channels. You can do stuff like this. It doesn’t, like people know it’s bad but we’re all sitting here. There’s some folks on the call with us before we even took off. Everyone wants to connect with other people. Everyone’s looking for little moments of lightness and laughter. You can do things like this where it’s appropriate to your organization.

Again, that’s the key question, is something like this appropriate for your cause? For some, no, it’s not going to be. For many others, you can find things like this. Donors do want opportunity to laugh and just have a moment away from everything that’s going on, that’s totally cool.

And I think last, we have a Facebook, again these folks really didn’t know what they were doing. This is a very direct, “Help us, please make a gift now.” Everything is working for them extremely well, every channel. They’re talking to lot of people signed up for lottery tickets. They have people who are, I mean giving so much money just even to the lottery. Everything is working but they are talking to donors. They’re having conversations with donors everywhere, on the telephone, in the mail, and online. So some really good examples there for you.

Oh, thank you. And lastly, I’ll post this link into the chat room as well once I’m done speaking. So this is from Mark Phillips. Mark Phillips also just like Steven Screen has a . . . I shared that earlier, have put together some really good resources or some guides if you’re creating your own COVID materials. That you can sort of take, download, and steal from and I think you’ll find them super useful. So I will paste this link into the chat box so you guys have that as well.

Jen: All right, awesome. So we’re going to share a little bit of a chunk of content now moving away from specific appeals that you could be writing or working on right now and turn into a bit of a deeper dive just for a few minutes, then we’ll take some questions about the kinds of conversations you can be having right now with donors. I don’t know about what you lot are all doing but I’m still doing, as many donor interviews and calls as I do normally, because I’m still writing stories and generating content for clients all over the world.

So I wanted to share a couple of my top tips for great donor calls. So this is what I call a five-question conversation with donors. If you only have a few minutes to talk to a donor or if you want to really narrow down the very specific bits on exactly what you need to get a great donor story, these are the five questions you need to ask. What inspired you to give to us in the first place? What matters most to you about our work? Why is this so important and urgent right now? What makes you feel good about supporting us? And what would you say to others about giving to us? Now, that fifth question is actually probably not all that useful for your outbound, urgent appeal that you’re working on but it is very useful for your thank you letter, follow up, and/or social media online companions to any appeal you’re working on.

And then I’ve got 10 questions for legacy donors. Right now is a complicated time for legacy fundraising which I’m going to get into in just a minute, but it’s also a very good time for legacy donor conversations. These are my top 10 questions for great legacy donor interviews. Tell me about when you first realized you had such a passion for our cause? Was there a particular person that influenced you? Especially with environment and social justice, we know that people often have a spark story around when they first realized they cared so deeply about the organization, that’s why we ask that question. What inspired you to give in the first place? What matters to you most? What are your fondest memories associate with us? Why is it important right now? As you can see, some of these carry over from regular donor conversations. What makes you feel good about supporting us? Tell me about the decision to leave us in your will. What did you remember about that time?

Did you talk to your loved ones about your decision? We ask this question because we know that one of the barriers in legacy fundraising, the people talking to their loved ones about their wishes is they’re afraid that people will say, “Oh, what, mom? You’re doing what now? What’s happening here?” But as we’ll show you in a minute, those conversations can actually not only be rewarding and wonderful, but they can also be stories you can share later with your donors and community.

What do you hope your gift will accomplish in the future? And what would you say to others considering making a gift in their will? So I recently did a wonderful interview with this woman who is an environmental warrior here in Ontario. And I wanted to share with you my number one tip for great legacy interviews. And, in fact, it applies to all interviews and that can be best expressed by Han Solo right here.

I will often, as a part of an interview process, and I actually learned this from Howard Stern which as a tried and true feminist, it’s hard for me to confess that I learned something so fundamental from Howard Stern but I did. One of Howard’s and now my interview techniques is to say, “Just one more thing, I just got one more question for you.” And when you ask that, even if you know it’s only two thirds of the weight of your interview, people relax. They think, “Oh, I did it, I’m done. I don’t need to think about, you know, I’m not scripted anymore, I’m not answering a journalist question anymore.” And they unwind and loosen up and that’s often when you get the best parts of the story.

When I was speaking to Joanne, the woman, from this lady from the slide before. I was chatting with her and about two thirds the way of the interview I said, “I just want to ask you one more thing, you know, tell me what’s so important to you about the environment right now?” Which I knew wasn’t my last question and she chatted a bit about the destruction of our environment in Ontario which is a real, legitimate truth. But I could tell she’d relaxed and then for the next 15 minutes, she just chatted on and on and on about all the things that had mattered to her and all the environmental fight she had for her whole life.

And it was right around the end, it would have been the end of the interview, but she said to me, “You know what, Jen, talking to you today has been amazing and it’s been a great reminder of why I care so much.” And she said, “And you know what I’ve realized, it’s been too damn long since I got hauled away by the cops protesting.” And I knew that was the headline for the story that I was going to write and she wouldn’t have said that if she hadn’t felt liberated from the kind of fear or awkwardness or vulnerability around being interviewed and was just being open and honest with me as a person.

So, when you get these great stories and have these great stories from donors, you can put them in your newsletters. Here’s an example of a recent newsletter sharing a legacy story. All of our print newsletters share. This is another one for Nature Canada, share a great legacy story. And you can also use these online, in social media, and all kinds of other places.

And I want to talk just quickly before we end about legacy giving RFN right now. Here, John and I do a lot of work in legacy fundraising.

John: You didn’t swear. I can’t believe it.

Jen: What?

John: I said you didn’t swear. I can’t believe it.

Jen: Yeah, I know, I chickened out. But in legacy fundraising, here’s three things we know right now. Our clients are seeing the spike in calls from people spontaneously calling their charities they love saying, “I need to talk to you. I realize my affairs are not in order and I’m finally, can you send me that paperwork? I want to get that done.” One client of us took five calls in 24 hours at the beginning of this pandemic from donors saying, “I realized what’s going on right now and I haven’t done that work, and I know I’ve been thinking about it but now is the time. Can you please send me those documents?”

Wilful, an organization here in Toronto has seen double the increase in sales and traffic for free. There’s a free online will service here in Toronto and these wonderful, open-hearted, loving people, they’re giving free will services to frontline healthcare workers right now which just makes my little Canadian heart shine.

And thirdly, for legacy giving right now, our Ontario government which is notoriously bureaucratic and slow, is now allowing for virtual witnessing of wills and powers of attorney, which as of two weeks ago was impossible. So, right now, lots of people are thinking about their wills, lots of people are reflecting on their wills. And it is a good time for you to be, what we call passive legacy fundraising. In the next month, we are going to go back to active legacy solicitations. We paused them in March, in the beginning part of April, and we’re going back to active legacy fundraising now. But I just want to share a couple of examples of what we call passive legacy fundraising or legacy dust, ways in which donors can find information on your website or in your materials about legacy giving without you having to send out specific, directly generation activity right now. Which, by the way, I would suggest you start doing again soon because everyone is thinking about it.

But this is what we call our why brochure, which is the piece that donors receive when they say, “Yes, I’d like more information about leaving you in my will,” whether they’re asking online or from a lead generation pack or whatever mechanism they get this piece which talks about the importance why leave this organization in your will. Too often, our legacy brochures have a picture of a sunset and it says some boring copy on the front of it like, “The Estate Planning Guide,” or some garbage like that.

We like to create why brochures which resonates with donor stories and feelings about why they care so much with the organization that they love. So I’m not going to go through this in detail but I just wanted to share with you because as you can see from the very beginning, it doesn’t look and feel like a traditional planned giving brochure. Lots of great photographs, lots of little illustrations. I see myself in these stories. I want to know more about Susan and Sheila and why they rescue turtles. I want to know more about Anita and Stan and what forest saving is.

This is a story about Nancy who talks about how her father left this organization in her will and whenever she thinks about that it makes her feel closer to her dad even though he’s gone. And then another story from a family who lost their son when he was a teenager and they created a nature reserve in his name. So these are beautiful, thoughtful feelings-full stories. And then our why brochures end with a bit of a promise to donors and then a vision for the future.

The other piece that we’ve started to work on more with certain organizations, including the [Lanchest 00:40:03] who’s listening from New Brunswick, whoo-hoo, are organization timelines, creating organizational timelines.

And if somebody had told me a couple of years ago that I would suddenly become interested in organizational timelines, I would have told you were bananas because 99% of the time, organizational timelines are dumpster fires of useless information. But these are organizational timelines that are created that are victories made possible because of the organization and the donors. So, in this case, these are milestones and victories for nature that everyone from Ontario would recognize. The establishment of Algonquin Park, the First Endangered Species Act, the beginning of the Greenbelt. These are things that we all know about and care about, and we’re looking at this reflecting on the strength and the impact of Ontario Nature members like me, who were here before me.

This timeline also looks into the future and promises of vision that you can make possible if you leave Ontario Nature in your will. And this piece is top and tailed with a little bit of content around life stories. This comes from, again, fundraising research that we go back to everyday. Russell James from the States talking about how when we think about giving gifts in our will, the part of our brain that lights up is the part of our brain that is our visualized autobiography, the story of our lives. So we create these materials to get people thinking about the things that have mattered the most to them in their lives, and why they’re important. John, I’m going to kick it over to you for this online version.

John: Sure, yeah. Talking about “Gong Show,” so I am trying to monitor what people are asking in the Q&A and figure out what questions we’re going to have time for and stuff. People are asking some specific questions about legacy giving. I think Jen sort of said at the very beginning, for Amy who’s asking this and a couple other people, yeah, you do have to be careful. We have created some lead generation pieces like this for the mail that are going to current donors of organizations, and what we decided to do is hold it for now. We’ve told organizations that we’re going to do mailing now just to hold on. Let’s just wait because sending a mail right now, like some people are saying, sort of saying, “Will you put us into your will?” can be a bit, yeah, it might come off of as a bit like not reading the room. I don’t think, you know, people appreciate that kind of level of directness. So, for now, we’re telling people hold on but what we are doing, and this is a quick example.

Jen: Building the passive work.

John: Exactly, yes. So we’re doing that so for print, just holding out for now until it makes a little more sense. But like I think, Jen, again, I was . . . Sorry, I wasn’t listening to everything because I was trying to watch questions. People are talking about their wills. The lawyers I know are as busy as they’ve ever been because everyone wants to make sure they’re making revisions they want to make. Everyone is thinking about this right now as we probably should be. We should be having these conversations with our family. I’m sorry, that is the truth but that’s where we’re at.

But in the context of fundraising, here’s an example from our pal, Mark Phillips out of UK, from Rethink Mental Illness. And this is something we’re doing to some of our clients right now, too, which is Facebook lead generation. So go ahead, Jen, click through it.

So go back one, I’ll talk about it anyways. So, in the UK, they do these old-fashion press ads, still a very common thing to do an ad in the newspaper around general fundraising but also for legacy giving. This is a very, this is just lead generation. Someone may be thinking about and they are thinking about their wills right now. You’re not being direct. You’re not direct by saying, “Hey, Sue, you look like you’re getting up there in age. Make sure you put us into your will.” This is are you thinking about. We can do the information if it will be helpful to you. And so they do these press ads, but also we’ve been doing some Facebook ads as well. And so Mark shared a bunch of examples with me. Jen, you need forward the slides. And these are some examples and so I’m not going to deep dive into all this stuff. But basically, they ran this campaign, Jen, you click again. Sorry.

And so, when you click on the ad on Facebook, it would go through to this landing page and this is something we’re doing now. There’s lots of different ways, different things you can do when you get to these landing pages of different amounts. In our case, we’re just asking for an email so we can email the donor of this will kit, which just basically talks about some of the things that Jen just talked about, which is like the why would you want to consider leaving this organization in your will? So the example that Mark shares was tell us more about why you care about mental health. Give us your mail address and we will send you this piece. You can see other people’s thoughts on the page. That will resonate. That’s social proof that we resolute with your, the potential donor in terms of like yeah. I also think these are, yeah, these things also concern me.

So it’s a really good case study. This is a sort of mail piece that they created that they would mail out to certain donors. We’re only doing this digitally right now. I would love to do a mail piece that someone, if they wanted to give me their mail address, I will mail to them. That’s not going to happen right now. But doing Facebook lead generation, legacy ads isn’t the worst idea. If people wanted more information, I know we’re going through this really quickly because I know there’s a ton of questions. I’m happy to talk this through with anybody who wants to talk it through. But the long or short of it was, you know, in UK, they have people going through public wills all the time and taking note of wills that leave gifts to organizations, to charities. So, generally speaking, year over year, they give about 555 gifts to mental health causes of all shapes and sizes.

After they did this campaign, they got 545 specifically to their organization. So that’s a part, that’s on top of the 555. Seventy-five of those came from the actual press ad themselves, so, again, here in North America, I don’t know about the States. I’m not up to date. I don’t see a lot of press ads or advertising for legacy giving and most newspapers in Canada that I know of. Whether you’re doing it or not in the States, I’m not sure. I mean you may want to try. You may want to think about it, but right now, you can definitely if you have a space for it, think about doing a lead generation legacy piece via Facebook.

Again, I just crammed through that really quick. So sorry about that. So this is our virtual. Jen and I are not obviously in the same place. Jen is about 45 minutes up the road from me so the best we can do is high five each other because we kind of pulled this data like super last minute. Because our boy, Steven, came to us and asked us to do it and we love to help our community of fundraisers just like all of you who are on this call today, so that’s incredible. Can we go through some questions, Jen?

Jen: Totally.

John: I’ve been kind of going through things. Steven, do you mind if I just sort of do this for now or . . . ?

Steven: Do it. You guys are awesome, keep going.

John: Okay. Angela asked right at the very top, then Amy also asked about this. She said, “What are your thoughts about sending out kind, empathetic, direct mail now? We typically send out a letter in April.” And we sort of touched on this a little bit. Everything is working. Fundraising is working. Fundraising of any kind, if it’s a real, if you listen to some of the things we’re telling you, if you have real things you’re asking your donors for. If you actually need their help, if you can be empathetic and you use vulnerable language in expressing the help that you need, all of that is working.

We’re not seeing any instances where it looks like stuff is not working right now. So, if your fundraising and fundraising well, every organization I know is doing really, really well. That being said, not all of it has to be fundraising. Some people are saying every couple of days you’d be talking to your donors in some capacity. You could do is simple video from your CEO on your Facebook page. You could be sending out a postcard through the mail to your donors. You could be . . . This is a great photograph by the way, Jen.

Jen: I can’t tell what’s happening here. I thought it was going to be our . . . anyway.

John: Smiley faces. I don’t think it’s [inaudible 00:47:36] . . .

Jen: Yeah.

John: . . . the screen. Anyways, it doesn’t matter. But right now, just keep talking to donors. Your donors are sitting around just like all of us. They would love to talk to people. They love to talk to causes they care about. They love hearing from people who care about the same things they care about. They want to talk to you. Donors almost always want to tell you about their story. Give them opportunities to tell you their story, why they care. Let them help. We can be talking to them a lot. More is more right now, not less is more. If you’re not talking to your donors right now, then I don’t know what you’re doing. That being said, I do understand that there’s certain organizations and someone ask a question about it. Some organizations I understand it, you’re sitting at home with your laptop from the office or just your own personal laptop and you have no way to access your donors information, no telephone numbers, no emails, no mailing addresses and that’s a really horrible situation.

For organizations like the SPCA who are far ahead in terms of having all the channels up and running and working very well, they are going to make a lot of money. I know the number of organizations who are making unbelievably amounts of money right now. But also know there’s less organizations because of some technological problems are not. Gina says . . . Oh, go ahead.

Jen: I was going to say, I see a couple of questions about leadership and what to do if your leadership says you shouldn’t be fundraising right now. My answer to that would be help your leadership see what those of us who are working on the ground are seeing from experts like Mark Phillips, Jeff Brooks, Harvey McKinnon and the rest of us that those, people who are fundraising right now are fundraising effectively and doing really well. So, if your ED is saying, “Now doesn’t feel like the right time.” Then you can say, “I know, it might feel a little weird but let’s look at some of the basic research that we’re getting from experts around the field who are saying it is working. And let’s try something, let’s try an email, let’s try, you know, to a small group of people first and see what happens.”

The biggest folly in the fundraising is people who say, “Oh, I don’t want that. I wouldn’t respond to that, therefore, I should do it.” You are not your donors, you’re executive directors, not your donors. Fall back on fundraising and research which is overwhelmingly right now telling us that is a good time for a thoughtful, empathetic, leaving with gratitude fundraising included in the COVID-19 . . . that we shared, including some of the COVID-19 messaging of the BCSPCA shared, it’s a good time for fundraising. Somebody else asked about just before, I’ll let you go back to this questions, John, because you’ve obviously been curating them a little better. Somebody asked about planned giving book would be available, yes, all the slides are available.

“If I don’t have really nice legacy materials, is now a good time to start one?” Absolutely. There is no downside to you creating a bit of a hub on your website that’s got some legacy giving materials, even simple things like a couple of stories. And if you’re saying, “Oh, I don’t have any stories.” Tell a story about something that you’ve done with someone who’s passed on legacy gift. So, if you don’t know that you have current donors who’ve said, “Yes, I left you in my will,” tell a great story about someone who’s passed on that you’ve done something great with. Mr. Smith died three years ago and he left us in his will and we’re so thrilled that we’ve been able to build this brand new animal shelter because of him. There are lots of ways you can tell legacy stories without living donor testimonials which you can grow into once you start to work on them. So pretty materials should not stop you from having a passive legacy program so that people can at least get a hold of you and let them know what they want.

John: And Lexy asked way back around 20 minutes after 2. She said, “Is a vulnerable appeal found to be standard way of fundraising or would it be viewed as an appeal that should be plugged only once a year?” My brain kind of boggles at this question a little bit. I mean we’ve talked about a number of our conversations with clients and with friends, you know, the idea of being vulnerable, the ability to pivot your organization. I think the best organizations are always vulnerable. You know, it’s like every good friendship, it’s every good relationship you have with every human you know in your life. There are times when we need our friends so sometimes you have to be there because they need you. And I don’t understand organizations who feel like they’re not supposed or can only be vulnerable once a year.

You should be vulnerable. If you’re asking for help, you are vulnerable. If you can express why you’re asking for help or what you’re asking for help from in a vulnerable way, then I think you need to either rethink who’s writing the letter or who’s signing the letter if they have a problem being vulnerable. But, you know, I think some of this old way that we have to be overly professional. We can’t use emotional language. That stuff, especially right now, especially right now but hopefully forevermore, stuff has to go away. Right now, you are vulnerable. If you don’t need help, if your organization, your mission, you know, have all, then I guess that’s amazing. But as Steven tweeted out in the last few days stuff every organization I think has an opportunity to ask your donors to reach out, to ask them for help.

But, again, if you can’t do it in a vulnerable sort of way then that’s not going to work very well for you. I don’t think because, you know, like I said in the context of asking for help, that’s already bringing a vulnerable position. Same thing with the ability to pivot. You know, the best organizations are the ones who do operate almost like a small business. They can make quick decisions, they can pivot, they can do quick ads. They can now email donors instead of, and throw out that mail appeal. Like our friend, Sean Triner, says, “Right now you have no [strap 00:52:59] plan. There is no strap plan for this. Everything has to be put aside. You have to react to what’s going on in your donors and your donors’ lives right now as quickly as possible, because they do need you and you do need them, so reach out to them.”

Jen: We also, there’s a couple of questions here about not mail and you are in a position . . . I’m sure you’re just going to say that I was going to say if you’re not a direct mail-based organization, amazing. Use the phone, use email.

John: Yeah.

Jen: You’ll be in a better position than organizations or, well, maybe not. But you may be in a better position than organizations who are very mail-based. I’ve heard a couple of people saying or people worried about checking their mail because maybe it has COVID-19. Should we stop sending mail because maybe we’re getting the virus on our mail packs? I mean I know fake news is a complicated thing to say but at the moment that is fake news, and I don’t think there’s anyone who’s fearful of receiving their mail. In fact, I just did this webinar a couple of weeks ago with our Canadian Legacy Fundraising Organization and a colleague of mine who was a co-lead, Aimée Lindenberger, was saying that she had just done a legacy survey just before the COVID-19 pandemic started. And they were getting, at the time they were looking like they were tracking ahead of where they normally get from legacy surveys because we’re all at home.

People are at home looking to connect with the organizations that they love. So you have to balance this feeling of, “I don’t want to be ghoulish, I don’t want to look like I’m an ambulance chaser. I don’t want to look like I’m hoping that people die from COVID-19.” But I also know that there are people sitting at home who are reflecting on what’s happening right now in a thoughtful, caring, leading with gratitude, empathetic survey or legacy piece could be very, very well received.

One more question for going back to you, John. Jared asked about starting a new position, “I have no portfolio. What can I do to start cold calling?” Tell stories. Pick up the phone and call people and say, “I’m new here. What a completely surprising time to start working at a charity but I want to tell you about the story that just came across my desk. Tell me more about you. What can I learn from you about why this organization matters? What are some of the highlights of what you’ve seen in the past?”

Invite stories. In some ways, if you are someone who is just starting a new job or you’re picking up the phone kind of cold, ask and listen, and listen, and listen. Donors want to talk. They don’t want to be broadcasted to. So give them a chance to say, “You know, tell me what’s happening with you. What matters to you about what we were doing? You know, what have you heard about our COVID response and what’s happening now?” Just listen and listen and listen and listen.

John: I mean there’s . . . That’s great. Thank you, Jen. I mean there’s so many questions. I know there’s lots of people ask lots of questions earlier as well. And, obviously, we only have a certain amount of time so we can’t get to all of them. And some of them I know we’re not going to it because we don’t have the expertise to answer them in a way that’s being helpful to you. But Jen and I, probably me more than Jen are very, very open to talking to people wherever you are. I’m always happy to take questions. Again, I’m okay to use the words “I don’t know” because god knows there’s tons of stuff I don’t know. But, fortunately, we know tons of great people who do know some answers to these questions. You have our emails there and stuff. I’m very active on Twitter. Jen and I also have a Facebook page that I guess I’m plugging right now as we speak, under Agents of Good.

Last week, we tried doing a live piece just to answer people’s questions just to talk because we’re all in the same boat. We all want to have conversations with people we want to share our collective grief and what we’re going through with one another. We have our challenges at work that we’re trying to get our head around and figure out how do we maneuver from here or what’s the good next step considering all the things. We’re here to talk all these things. We’re here to help everyone that we possibly can with these things. So please open invite to me and contact me and I will do my very best to be helpful to you. But we will get this, we look through this definitely at some point. But thank you, everyone, for all the questions. And I’m sorry we couldn’t get through everyone’s questions today but we’re always available to chat more.

Steven: Wow, that was awesome. Thank you both. I’m just reading through so many of the positive comments in here, seeing words like inspiring, best webinar I’ve ever seen. Yeah, this is, I knew it was going to be a good one. And John gave me way too much credit earlier. This was their idea, they wanted to do this. They love all of you. They’re obviously very servant-hearted and put this together a real short notice for you all. It was a chockfull of so many good tidbits, wow. So thank you to you. You guys are awesome. You know, you’re obviously a treasure to the sector so thank you, thank you. And thanks to all of you for hanging out. I think we had maybe 600 or 700.

John: My god. They’re out there doing the hard work. I mean we’re here. We’d like to help but I mean I have so much heart for these people who are going 18, 19, 20-hour days trying to keep up with all the things. And there’s so much content out there people are trying to process and figure out stuff. So, good, honestly on you guys for being on the call like this. And thank you for listening, I hope that there were something useful on this for your work today and tomorrow.

Steven: I think there was many things.

John: Hopefully. Yeah, cool.

Steven: Speaking of those things, I will send out the recording and the slides here. Over the next hour or so, you will all get it. All the links will be in the slides, all the examples you’ll get those soon, no worries there. And reach out to these two, you know, they’re on Twitter, they’re awesome people obviously. Go to their Facebook groups, follow them online because they’re awesome and they’ll answer your questions. So I think we’ll call it a day there. I just want to plug our next webinar coming up. Actually, we’re doing three next week but we’re going to kick off . . .

Jen: Should I end my slide share here, Steven?

Steven: I think I took it away from you.

Jen: Oh, you took it over, nice.

Steven: Sorry. It’s power grab. On the 14th, we got a Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday session coming up so just check out our webinar page on our website. But my buddy, Victoria Dietz from Virginia is going to talk about major donors specifically. This was a previously scheduled webinar but she has been gracious enough to kind of change it for what her agency isn’t seeing since the pandemic started. So it’s going to be a good one, be a timely one.

We’d love to see you again. If you’re free, I know it’s busy, I know it’s Passover week. But if you’re watching this on the recording I’m so glad that you watched it. And, hopefully, we’ll see you on another recording or live sessions soon. So, thanks to you all of you. John and Jen, I mean what can I say, it’s just superlative at this point. You guys were awesome so thank you. Thanks to all of you for hanging out.

John: [inaudible 00:59:39] and just stay healthy.

Steven: Stay healthy. Yes, please, we’re all thinking about you and thanks for all the good work you’re doing. I’ll email you later and get you the good stuff but then we’ll call it there. So, have a good rest of your Thursday, have a good rest of your week, have a safe weekend and we will talk to you all soon.

John: Thanks, Steven.

Steven: See you.

Jen: Bye, gang.

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.