In this webinar, Jen Love and John Lepp share successful case studies and examples of donor love in action from Canada and around the world.

Full Transcript:

Steven:All right. I’ve got 10:30 on the dot. Is it okay if I go ahead and kick us off officially, friends?

John:Let’s rock and roll.


Steven:All right. Cool. Well, good morning, everyone, if you are stateside and good afternoon if you are across the pond. Thank you for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “#DonorLove—Forever and a Day.” 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 started here officially. I just want you all to know that we are recording this presentation. I’ll be sending out that recording later on today as well as the slides, in case you didn’t already get those. If you have to leave early, don’t fret, don’t worry. We’ll get you the recording. We’d love for you to stay the whole time, but we understand. Schedules sometimes get in the way, so look for an email from me in just a couple hours from the conclusion of the session. We’ll get you all those goodies.

But most importantly, please use that chat box right there on your webinar ReadyTalk screen or whatever. We’re going to be saving some time at the end for Q&A. So, don’t be shy. Send us your questions and comments. I’ll keep and eye on those throughout the hour. I’ll also keep an eye on Twitter if you want to send us some tweets. If you want to ask questions there, that’s always cool too. So, don’t be shy either way.

And one last technical note—if you have any trouble with the audio through your computer speakers, we find that the audio by phone is usually pretty solid and a lot better since it doesn’t rely on internet connections or browsers or any of that good stuff. So, if you have a phone nearby and if you don’t mind calling in, try that before you totally give up on us. I think the quality will be a lot better there. There is a phone number you can dial in in the email from ReadyTalk that went out around 10:00 a.m. Eastern this morning. So, use that phone number.

If this is your first webinar with us with Bloomerang, I just want to say an extra special welcome to you. One of my favorite things we do here at Bloomerang, every Thursday we bring on great guests like John and Jen. It’s kind of what we’re known for. But if you don’t know anything more about Bloomerang, we also offer donor management software. So, check that out if you’re in the market for that or just kind of curious about our offering.

Don’t do that now. Wait for an hour from now because we have got a great presentation by two of my favorites. I harangued them into doing this webinar. I didn’t even really give them a choice. I just said, “Hey, you’re doing this webinar on April the 26th.” And Jen Love and John Lepp obliged me because they’re beautiful human beings. So, hey, Jen, hey, John, how’s it going?

Jen:Hey, Steven.


Steven:Thanks for being here. I just want to brag on you guys real quick before I turn it over to you for the slides and all. If you guys don’t know these two, if you don’t know Agents of Good, you’ve got to check them out. They are pretty much my go to for all things donor love. They help their clients raise a lot of money and you should pay them to help you do direct mail and legacy and storytelling and lots of cool things that will help you raise money.

Check out Agents of Good. Check out their website, great case studies, great resources. They are this really awesome collective of super passionate fundraisers that help you champion your donors. They are going to share a lot of their work with you today of how they have helped their clients champion their donors, which raises a lot of money, by the way, actually raises more money than maybe traditional kind of fundraising stuff.

So, I have talked way too long. I am going to turn it over to these two. I think they’re going to share their screen and tell us all about donor love. So, take it away, my friends, looks like it’s working.

Jen:Awesome. Thanks, Steven. Thank you, everybody. We’re so happy to be here. We saw our couple of pals logged on here. I want to say hi to Clay and Jacqueline and Lorraine and Mickey and Bethann and all you beautiful people who have joined us. So nice to see some friendly faces and some new faces. Thank you to all.

So, we’re going to talk about “#DonorLove—Forever and a Day.” Our objective for this morning is really to explore the crucial donor connection between legacy giving, annual giving and legacy giving. But before we get started, we want to make an introduction and it’s not to Steven and it’s not to us. It’s to this beautiful woman. This woman’s name is Dale. Dale is in her 70s and she’s a mother and a grandmother. She gives single donations to about 30 of you lucky charities out there. She gives a monthly to about 10 of you.

She’s where we start every single conversation that we have here at Agents of Good. She is our hero. Every day, we ask ourselves what’s her story? What does she need? What we’re delivering is actually about her and all the conversations that we’re blessed enough to have every single day with the beautiful people like Dale who reach into their heart and support causes that they’re passionate about.

So, a couple of things about Dale, donors like Dale will not . . . as we know from legacy research, donors make their wills in their 40s and 50s triggered by a bunch of things that we know about like having kids, taking your first holiday without your kids, but we also know that donors will change their will to include charities when they’re 81 years old.

So, what that tells us is that it’s more important than ever before to have a steady stream of thoughtful, engaging, beautiful, remarkable communications that your donors are plugged into from the time they’ve been giving to you on an annual basis for many years, right up until that time when they’re in their early 80s and they finally take that step and actually go to their lawyer and actually write you into their will.

So, another thing about Dale that we know—Dale is loyal and not rich. I think all of us in fundraising have seen the donor pyramid 100 million times. That puts the minor donors on the bottom and the major donors on the top. At the Agents of Good, we believe that the donor pyramid is actually shaped more like the one on the right, which is donors who care a lot and donors who don’t care about you yet.

So, we believe that it’s really important when we’re talking about the crucial connection between annual giving and legacy to remember that Dale is loyal and not rich. Legacies come from your long-term loyal donors and Dale is giving to you because you’re allowing her to do something that she cares about. Remembering that she’s not a traditional major gift donor is a really important part of doing annual legacy fundraising.

Here’s the last thing we know about Dale. We know there is a dramatic increase . . . almost twice as much money will come from your annual donors once they have taken that step to leave you in the will. Some charities, once they get a notification and once they hear from a donor that they’ve left you in their will, they stop sending them the thoughtful, amazing, beautiful, annual fundraising pieces and that’s a mistake, not only because you’re not staying in front of Dale and a part of her daily life, but she’ll also give you more money if you ask her thoughtfully, appropriately, and with your heart as a course of your annual program.

John:So, let’s talk about this idea of donor love. Hopefully a lot of you have heard of the idea of donor love. We always say donor love should echo your real life. If all of us treated every single donor the way we treat the people that mean the most to us in our lives, I would say everything would be just fine.

So, just a little context here, in case you’re wondering, we’re in Canada. Jen and I are in Canada. We work with organizations in Canada and the United States and a few other places around the world. In Canada, we have 86,000 charities in our country. In the United States, you have 1.6 million charities. That’s a lot of competition for donors’ attention. So much of it looks like this and ends up like this.

So, we need to do things that stand out from the packages that your donors are getting over and over again. I know Dale in Canada, if you’re Dale in Canada, you get between 30 and 40 impacts in a week in a busy time of year. If you’re Dale in the United States, some of your donors, your best donors, they could be getting up to 50 appeals in one day on the very, very high-end. That is 5-0 appeals in a day.

So, there’s lots of things we need to do to think about to make sure that if we’re one of those 50, we stand out. Donor love lets you stand out because your donor basically gets no love and attention from anyone ever. So, hopefully by the time you guys have done this call today, you’ll all go back to your desk and actually start applying more donor love to your program. These are the principles we use every single day in our work.

The number one principle is your donors are heroes. Two, you share amazing, inspiring stories. Three, you connect to your donors’ values and emotions. Four, donor love is a courtship. It’s a romance. How do you make your donor fall and stay in love with you? Five, you ask for one thing and only one thing. Six, who or what is the right voice for your story? Seven, donor love is all of the small things all of the time. Eight, we say thanks with passion. So, we’re going to break down these principles in the presentation.

Jen:So, principle number one, your donors are heroes—your charity is the vehicle for your donor to do something that they care deeply and passionately about. Your donors, every single one of them, cares about your cause and they want to take action for what they believe. They want to help. They want to fix something. They want to light up a life. They want to make an impact and they want to feel good about it. The heart and soul of donor love is making a simple but absolutely critical shift from talking about what we do as an organization, talking about what you make possible as a donor.

This is the Agents of Good visual definition of donor love. That’s to put your donors at the heart of what you do, at the heart of every interaction you have with them. Express what your donor makes possible giving to you and make them heroes for the amazing things that they achieve for your cause.

I think we all know this silhouette, our friend, the king, our mentor, Tom Ahern. Tom says, “I want to read about me, the donor. I don’t want to read about you, the organization. Again, this is a simple but critical shift from what we do to what you make possible.

One thing that we do literally every single day here at the Agents of Good is with every piece of donor communication, the legacy talk newsletter, website, phone script, email, whatever it is, Tom Ahern’s world famous red pen test—take your piece of donor communication, circle all the you’s and every time you circle the you’s and look at the page from a distance, Tom says it should look like it has the measles. You need a visual cue that you’re talking more about your donors than you’re talking about yourself. The red pen test is one super easy way to start adding more donor love to your program right now. Break it down.

John:So, here’s an example we want to share. This is a pack we did for the Food Bank of Waterloo Region. This is the outer envelope that we sent to the donors. You can see there’s a little fellow at the top corner there of the outer envelope. This is the letter. When you look at the letter and we blow it up, it says, “Dear Jen, faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, it’s a Food Bank summer hero and it’s you. Your Food Bank urgently needs to raise $40,000 this summer to feed hungry men, women and children in your neighborhood and across Waterloo Region. That’s 120,000 meals.”

I won’t go on reading the rest of it, for our red pen test, we circled all the you’s. Again, it’s very clear from the very get-go that we’re making the donors a potential hero by taking the action we’re asking them to take. This is the reply form we used. The same with the reply form. Look at the language we use. You’ll rescue fresh food. You’ll feed hungry kids. You’ll help neighbors. You can be our hero. It’s a really obvious example, but this is the sort of work we need to be doing.

Here’s another example of an ad we did for Ontario Nature. Who’s this hero? Who’s this nature hero? It’s you. Take this action. You can be our hero now.

One last really simple, obvious example—the most important thing you have to remember is your donors, they are the actual heroes. We love all you guys to bits. You are all amazing. You’re doing amazing work that we really celebrate, but you have to celebrate your donors because they are the true heroes. You have to make them the star of your work day in and day out.

Jen:Okay. We’re going to move on to principle number two, sharing amazing, inspiring stories. Some of you may have seen this before. It’s the package that we did a couple years ago for St. Pat’s and I know Sarah is on the call. I can’t get through this story without having a few tears, so fair warning.

So, we did an appeal for St. Pat’s. St. Patrick’s Home of Ottawa is a long-term care home for ladies and gentlemen who are living with dementia and other conditions. This is a project that we worked on a couple of years ago to help fund the music program. Here’s the other envelope, “All it takes is 1 song to bring back 1,000 memories.”

Here in the letter, what we get into is really the importance of the music program. So, for those of you that work with seniors, you’ll know that music therapy is a hugely important part of working with seniors for a couple of reasons. It stimulates interaction. It can bring back memories. It can give people glimpses of their lives before their memory started to fade. So, we created this appeal that was all about the very specific needs of the music program.

Part of the package included the wish list of all the items that we wanted—music carts, electronic keyboards, stereos, specific tangible things that we need to make the music program come to life and then shared a couple of voices from around St. Pat’s, a daughter of a resident, the recreation chair and some families who are talking about the importance of a music program. On the reply form, we said, “Yes, Ruth, I’ll add my voice. Here’s my special gift to support St. Pat’s.” The other thing we did in this project is we invited donors to add their voices to the chorus and share songs that makes them feel emotional or that brings back a cherished memory.

The day after this pack went out, our client heard a knock on her office door and looked up to see a woman standing there she’d never seen before and she was holding this torn open mail pack in her hands and the woman said, “I felt compelled to come here today. This really moved me.” This woman shared with our client Ruth that as she’d been reading the letter, she started to hear songs playing in her head, the Irish lullabies her mom would sing when she was a child, songs that her mom and dad had loved that had been part of all the family traditions. All through the day, she kept hearing these songs playing through her head.

So, they spoke to her a long time, Ruth and this woman. The woman wanted to see the music program and meet some of the residents and hear more about it. They talked for a long time. Just before the woman was getting ready to leave, she told Ruth that her dad had recently passed away and he had always been a big supporter of St. Pat’s and all the Irish charities in Ottawa.

She said that when this letter had arrived, she had just been thinking about wanting to make a more substantial gift to an organization but she didn’t know what that organization was, but that today, she now knew what organization was and would it be okay if she wrote a check for the whole $20,000 right then and there.

So, this generous, kind-hearted woman funded the entire music program for the whole year. The first thing Ruth did before she called me to tell me this story was look up this woman in Razor’s Edge. She was a lapsed donor, hadn’t given for years, cumulative giving history of about $600. But when this landed in her mailbox, it spoke perfectly and magically to her value.

Then as the days went on, some of the other responses started to come in. “My mother’s best loved song was ‘Deep Purple.’ She would play it on the piano every night while my father was overseas in the war. Her name was Pauline.” “Fairly old one, the ‘Old Rugged Cross,’ was my mother’s favorite. It brought tears to her eyes.”

“‘Prince Edward Island is Home to Me,’ a song hard to find. I know my mom, Josie, in room 348 really enjoys all the old tunes. Keep up your efforts to have music weekly.” “‘You Are My Sunshine,’ Mom loved that little ditty, smiled every time she heard it and also sang along. Mom was a resident of St. Pat’s for years before she peacefully passed away at age 93. In memory of Mary.”

John:Are you okay?

Jen:I’m okay. Like I said, I can’t. Every single freaking time—I just did this in New Orleans, sobbing all the time. I’ll promise I’ll do some laughing and swearing later, so don’t worry. So, as these responses started to come in, they kept coming and coming and they were all these beautiful, thoughtful, delightful moments that donors were sharing with this charity. They raised double the revenue they expected.

They raised the whole revenue on the first day, so that was not hard. And they got to phone every single one of these donors and say, “Thank you so much for sharing that song. We put your note up in the music room and the ladies and gentlemen are looking at it. We’re planning a special concert for people like you who supported the music program. Would you like to come?” It’s this amazing experience of being able to connect with donors who are having a conversation with a charity that they’ve never had before and will probably never, ever forget.

A woman, Caoileann, from Dublin said something at the [inaudible 00:17:57] summer school a couple of years ago that has absolutely bore itself into my soul. That’s this, “The things that matter most to your donors don’t depend on big budgets and lots of staff.” At the Agents of Good, we are proud to work with small and medium-sized organizations. We love Small Shop Academy. In fact, we’re doing a Small Shop Academy next week in Ottawa for anyone who’s there. And really, small shops are such a great way to be able to express this.

Okay. Let’s move on. Principle number three—I promised some swearing. This will bring us to connecting to donors’ values and emotions. So, let’s talk more about values and emotions. The most important lesson I ever learned in fundraising I learned from my dad, David Love, because they called him the godfather of good. Dad said to me when I first started, “Money follows value.”

When we think about it, 24 hours before every organization on this call was founded, a group of restless, sometimes pissed off people sat together and insisted on action. They had to do more for something they believed. They don’t want to live in a city where women and children are victims of violence in their home. They don’t want to watch this smoke stack belch disgusting pollution into their environment.

And this is a photograph, actually, of Monte Hummel, the founding president of World Wildlife Fund Canada and a very good friend of our family. This was him circa the founding of World Wildlife Fund. Human rights, social justice, saving the environment, the health of our loved ones—these are not transactions in our lives. These are things that define us, that speak to our core values and that we’re intensely emotionally connected to. Every single donor on your file holds these same core funding values in their heart, values like justice and healing and faith.

This is a list of core personal values. We ask organizations all the time to reflect on the core values that your charity embodies and reflects. Habitat for Humanity—their core value might be hard work. YMC, their core value might be leadership. Tell stories that connect to shared values. Demonstrate how giving to your organization puts those values into action. John is going to share an example.

John:Nice. Thank you. So, this example is from a spring campaign we did a couple years ago with Ontario Nature. The campaign was save a piece of land only accessible by boat. The joke obviously is how more Canadian can you get than accessing land by boat, canoe in this case?

Anyways, the campaign was obviously deeply connected to the value of conservation. That was a value the organization and donor hold very dear. So, what I did was I looked at Jen’s letter and broke it down paragraph by paragraph. You can see that every single paragraph touches on and utilizes a value and emotion, all of which will echo the donors’.

So, I have to ask—have you ever looked at your own appeal letter this way? Do your appeal letters or any direct conversation you have with your donors, do they have an emotional range just like you have in a normal real-life conversation?

Jen:So, when it comes to your legacy program, I want to just expand on this idea of values and emotions and connecting with donors in terms of values and emotions. All communications should drive conversation. We want to have conversations with people that share our values and people we feel we can be emotionally connected to.

Ontario Nature, the same example that John just shared about the canoe, this is some work that we’ve done with them for the legacy program for the last number of years. This is an ad that goes into their magazine. When we put together this ad, we actually got some grief from our girl Kimberly Mackenzie for having her photo on there because she said, “It’s not about me, Jen and John, it’s about the donors.” That totally sounds like Kimberly, doesn’t it?

The point was we put her photograph on here because she looks like a woman who shares my values. She’s outside. She’s friendly. She’s happy. She wants to talk. So, I’m prepared to open myself up emotionally to somebody who I see myself reflected in.

Then when you get the Ontario Nature legacy pack, this is how it breaks down. So, this is the outer envelope, closed space, live stamp. The letter is a long, four-page letter and it opens with, “Dear Mr. Love, when was the last time nature took your breath away?” So, right from the get-go, we’re plugging into shared values and things we’re emotional about.

As we go through the letter, we talk about there on the top of page two, taking action for shared values is at the heart of what we do—protect, connect, advocate, educate. The whole piece is about the importance of having Ontario Nature always around to protect the wild spaces of all the species we love the most. We’ve done this pack a couple of times now and the last time we did it, it was off the charts in terms of success. When we redid it, we wanted to add another piece to it. So, we added this timeline.

For those of you who know me well enough, you generally know I think that organizational timelines are absolute garbage fires of information. I don’t think anyone cares about your organizational timeline for the most part. So, in this particular case, we put the organizational timeline alongside some top and tail content this year that talks about our life story. “Because of members like you, we’re taking action to protect the species you love. This timeline highlights proud victories made possible because of caring people like you. We’re sharing some dreams for nature by looking ahead into the future.” At the end, we say, “As you look at your own life story, how does this connect with your life story? With members like you, we’ve achieved a lifetime of conservation victories and you can help keep these stories alive forever.”

So, this timeline, I want someone to look at this timeline and think, “Oh my god, that was the year my daughter was born. That was the year I got married. I remember that fight for the [inaudible 00:23:49] when I was a student, and connecting donors with those milestones in their lives has been incredibly impactful for Ontario Nature. It’s also been amazing. You see in the second half of that timeline, there’s a line that says “today” and every single thought of that is looking ahead to 2067, which is what Ontario Nature will be able to achieve when amazing and caring members remember the organization in their will.

This is one of my very favorite pieces of legacy research from Dr. Russell James in the US, in Texas. He does brain scans of people when they’re thinking about charities. When you put them in an MRI machine and ask them to think about charity and giving to charity, the part of the brain that lights up is the same part of the brain that lights up when you have sex and when you eat chocolate. It’s the pleasure center of your brain. It’s the center of your brain that makes you feel connected and like you’re part of something, sense of belonging.

But the part of the brain that lights up when you’re thinking about your legacy, when you’re thinking about planned giving, is called your visualized autobiography, which very literally means the story of my life. So, when you’re talking to your annual donors about their legacy, you’re asking them to plug into how your organization is part of the story of their life.

So, principle number four, donor love is a courtship and a romance. How do you make your donors fall and stay in love with you? John’s giving me the slow down hands. I’m burning through this.

John:You are.

Jen:Okay. This is what we call our donor love story grid. Thanks, buddy. What this represents, I know it’s probably impossible to read, especially some of you doing this on your phone, so you’re probably going cross-eyed right now. I’ll explain to you what this is. We call it the love story grid that blocks out all the touch points between you and your donors.

Along the top is time and then along the side there in green, it says “objective,” “what is it?”, the “feelings,” the “channel,” and the “metrics.” Over the course of any given sets of month or years for legacy builders who do these on a three-year plan and you’re connecting to all the different feelings you’re going to instill in your donor, what your objectives are, what you’re doing, what channel it’s in and how you’re going to measure it. You can see in the bottom there, there’s two.

The top one is for all donors. The bottom one is for legacy prospects and suspects. A lot of them are the same touches that you’re sending them in the annual renewal but you’re sending it with a personal note that acknowledges that they’re part of the legacy circle and you’re grateful for that. So, putting together these love story grids, make sure you’re having intentional, thoughtful, emotional conversations with your donors over the course of any given year.

This is actually an easier one to see because what John did with this one is he broke down the same kind of a grid, but he’s also overlaid it at the bottom there with ask, thank, report, the kind of trifecta of good donor retention. As you can see, one, two, three, four, five are asks and then almost every month of the year, donors are getting thanked and almost as frequently as that, there’s a report back on their actions, what they’re doing, why they matter, why they’re spectacular human beings.

So, the donor love story is a really easy visual way for you to make sure you’re having a range of conversations. My dad was just at CAGP last week, I don’t know if any of you guys were up at the Canadian Gift Planning Conference here, the legacy love story is going to be the most important part of legacy fundraising for the next foreseeable future because donors like Dale have told you when they’re 50 that you’re in their will and they’re not going to actually do anything about it until she’s 80. You have 30 years of thoughtful, passionate, engaging communications that Dale deserves. So, the love story work is a huge part of what we’re doing right now with our clients for whom we do annual legacy work and it’s so awesome and super fun.


Jen:John’s tweeting. Come on, man.

John:Okay. So, here’s a few examples of things you can do as far as donor love and your program that go outside of the normal just asking for your donors’ money all the time. This is an example of a card that we created, a thank you card. So, within 48 hours of the donor’s gift, you can usually just write a simple thank you, “We appreciate the gift,” and this isn’t for your receipt. This is above and beyond your receipt. You pop it in the mail and your donor gets warm feelings right away. That’s the main thing.

Something else you can do is another idea of a thank you. This is a Thanksgiving card we’ve done, which your organizations have times a year that maybe you don’t want to get stuck with, that it’s sort of a good reminder to your donor that their support is important. Again, it’s just a nice thank you.

Getting to know you is a massive part of donor love because it’s an opportunity for your donors to actually talk to you. It really astounds me when you go really almost anywhere anymore and you ask people, “How many people as part of your program . . . do you actually allow your donors to tell you something about themselves, tell you a bit of their story, tell you a bit of their values of why they support you as an organization?” Far too often very few, if any hands go up in the room at all. But this is something that’s so important. What can you do to create softer ways to get your donors to tell you their story?

So, in this piece, we invited donors to share their connection with nature. I just want you to sort of keep in mind how can you create places and spaces in your program to let your donors talk to you? For some of our clients, we almost do this every single appeal and donors love it. The response rates are always really, really good because donors want to talk back to you. They care about you.

Surprising and delighting is such, again, another very big part of donor love. This is not something you can always directly say you got revenue from, but including a simple photograph of your mission in action is simple and it’s effective. In this case, the client took an image down to a local photography store and she got duplicates made and dropped in the envelope to value donors. She also added a Post-it note to it, but she could have written a little note on the back. Donors rarely ever get these kinds of things in their mail packs.

Another donor love story, we don’t see [inaudible 00:30:24] very often is an annual update on key accomplishments. This stuff is so simple. You have this information at your hands. One side shows these are the things, because of you, we were able to accomplish last year. We know in the coming year with your help we will be able to tackle these things and we’ll tell you more as we go through.

It’s a very simple insert, it doesn’t have to look overly designed like this one does. It can be very simple. But it, again, reports back to your donor once a year on things they make possible and things that will be possible when they give.

How can you demonstrate impact in a bigger sort of way? My joke was always like, “Yeah, you can let your marketing department,” which hopefully many of you don’t have, “you can let them design this gorgeous looking annual report with lots of boring abstract images and probably adheres to your soul destroying graphic standards.”

You could do that or what we say is you can craft a beautiful gratitude report. It’s the piece that should pour donor love syrup all over your donors—that sounds way more sexual than I want it to—and it tells them amazing stories of their hard work. You can come up with other really creative ways, like if this is an impact report, to show your donor how you utilize their gift, but more importantly gives your donor a perspective on giving they usually don’t get to see.

Principle five, you ask for one thing and only one thing. There’s a fellow named George Smith who passed away who was a fundraiser in the UK. Back in 1995, he wrote a great book and that book was called, “Asking Properly.” If you’ve never seen it or heard of it, Google it, see if you can find it on Amazon somewhere. It’s called “Asking Properly” by George Smith. But back in 1995, George was telling us things that even then we weren’t doing properly. He says every appeal should be special.

Basically, what that means is every time you talk to your donor or ask your donor for something, ideally you’re asking them for something specific. Asking just for whatever amount of money they want to put into your bottomless pit that is your annual fund is not what we’re talking about here. So, as an example, this is an example former client, Camp Ooch in Toronto. Hopefully Mickey is on the call.

Jen:Hey, Mickey, woo.

John:So, again, this is a very simple example of how you do that. This is the letter. Basically, from a design point of view, I highlighted the two most important things on this page, which is the donor’s name and what we were asking for. Basically, it says, “Because I know how much Camp Ooch means, I’m also writing to you today to ask you to give and send more kids like Sally to Camp Ooch for the summer. Can you find it in your heart to make a gift of $50?” The rest of the letter basically plays into that ask and makes the case for why we’re asking for $50.

When you get to the reply form, when the donor turns to your reply form, they see at the very top, “Here’s my gift of $50.” You can also see we include $125 or $250, our preferred give. What we did was include it on the back of the reply form some different amounts and what those amounts did. If you’re a donor, you should know most donors usually give below their ability to give because you’re not giving them opportunities to upgrade or give more because you’re not being specific in terms of why should they give $100 instead of $50. This piece does exactly that. It’s a very straightforward example.

So, I always say, “Why do I see so many examples like this in my mother-in-law’s sales mailbox?” I see these all the time, these very tiny eight and a half by three and a half coupons. How many decisions does your donor have to make to build this reply form out completely? In a case like this, this one has 27 considerations and things your donor needs to consider to fill out, including a legacy ask, which is there on the back. This is far too much. The more you ask your donor to think about or ask questions about, the less specifically they do it, it’s human nature, human psychology.

Also, in the context of actually starting a conversation around leaving a legacy gift, is this the time and place and the way you want to do it? Of course the answer is no, this is not the way you want to do it.

So, this is one last classic example of a great offer and a great ask. This is actually a fear ad. This is usually my opportunity to not only share this classic example but also to give a shout out to a website called, which stands for the Showcase of Fundraising Inspiration and Innovation. It’s an amazing online museum and resource for all different types of fundraising. You should definitely check out Check it out. Sofii is amazing.

Jen:Okay. Principle number six, who or what is the right voice for your story? Some of you may have seen this before. This is an appeal that we did a couple of years ago now for Ontario Nature. On the top corner of the outer envelope there are two funny looking things. Even though if you’re not a bird nerd, you might not know, but bird nerds would know and bird nerds are Ontario Nature members, those are bird prints, bird footprints. The back of the envelope, the return address says, “Boreal forest care of Ontario Nature.” Boreal forest is a band of aging forest that basically runs across the mid to top of Canada and a giant greenhouse gas carbon sink so all of our pollution gets sucked in there and gets turned into clean air.

That’s the Boreal forest. People in Ontario would know the Boreal forest is an ancient band of giant forest and would say to themselves, “What on earth is going on here? Why is there bird prints on my envelope and why is this letter coming from the Boreal forest?” It’s because the letter actually comes from Ruby the Hummingbird. The top of the letter says, “A shot of me taken just before we left Costa Rica. It’s my good side.”

“Dear Jen, I bet you’ve never received a letter from a bird before. That’s okay. I’ve never written a letter before. Caroline Schultz and the team at Ontario Nature wanted you to hear my story from my point of view. What a journey it was for me this year. I just arrived back home here in Ontario’s spectacular Boreal forest after my annual 4,500-kilometer migration from Costa Rica. Flying across the Gulf of Mexico was different for me this year,” this was the year of the BP oil spill. “Did you know that the massive and foul oil spill there had a lump in my ruby throat flying over that disaster?”

Ruby goes on, he says, “And then I was elated to fill my lungs with fresh, clean air. I’m home in Ontario. I can smell the Boreal forest and the wonderful, wild, natural space. What a beautiful province we share. I’m guided towards the Rouge River and amhome free. My heart skips 1,200 times a minute when I fly and it skips a few beats when I find the route. I follow the river north. What was that? I thought I saw another ruby-throated hummingbird right in front of me. As I skirted left, so did he. I skirted right, so did he. I hovered, so did he. I was looking at me.”

“There was a monster structure clear like the window right in front of me. I flew straight up until the strange image was gone and I continued. I now know what that was, the deadliest building for birds in Toronto. To us birds, it’s a wall of windows right on the shore of a path we all take to get home to the Boreal forest, but we can’t see it. I was lucky I could hover in the air so I avoided a collision. Many others suffer a horrible fate. I hear thousands of migrating birds die every year hitting this building. Friends of Ontario Nature, these bird deaths are preventable.”

The story is about bird strikes, which are a major conservation issue in Ontario and literally millions of migrating birds die every year crashing into this building. So, the right voice for this story to capture the drama and the villainy was Ruby. The pack comes with a letter from Caroline Schultz at Ontario Nature who basically tips her hand to the fact that ha, ha, you got a letter from a bird, but it also says, “This is a serious issue, and here’s exactly the three things we’re doing. We’re suing the developer. We’re demanding better development plans in the future and we need to raise $50,000 the next little while to get that done. Will you please give?”

The pack comes with a map. I love maps. It’s John’s cross to bear that I ask him for maps more times than he knows how to design. This is a map that’s curated by Ruby. You can see that he started in Costa Rica, was flying over the oil spill. You can see it goes right up there to the Great Lakes, the Boreal forest, home sweet home. See that band of ancient forest that’s keeping us all alive? You’re all welcome.

So, the right voice for this story was certainly Ruby. So, what happened? One of the first things that came back was this, this letter from a guy called Jack who lives in Toronto who wrote an absolutely spectacular . . . typed it out on his typewriter, made his own thumbprint and wrote at the bottom of the letter and wrote a letter to Ruby. You have to go on to Sofii. This whole case study is on Sofii. You have to go on to Sofii and read the whole thing because it’s absolutely hilarious. It’s chock full of puns. It must have taken him days.

John:Give a highlight reel.

Jen:All right. “Dear Ruby, you win the bet, I have never before received a letter from a bird, not even a cute young chick and I’m thrilled and delighted. I hope you won’t send any letters to glow worms because they don’t want to be delighted.” He talks about how they do all their fantastic aerial acrobatics. He talks about the QWERTY keyboard and why the QWERTY keyboard is a completely crazy order of letters. He talks about CD-ROMS.

It just is unreal. At the end, “PS, why does it not say air mail on your envelope? PS number two, when the male hummingbird performs his semi-circular swinging from side to side do you call him a real swinger? PS number three, do you birds use Twitter to keep in touch with each other?” Spectacular. Unreal.

But of course, Ruby had to write back to Jack and it was a delight as a writer to be able to write back and try to challenge myself to meet Jack’s pun challenge and exceed it. I’ve never written anything with more puns in it. Ruby writes back to Jack about a bunch of puns and expressions. You have to go on to Sofii and read the whole exchange because it is absolutely beautiful.

Also, as a part of these Ontario Nature programs, we also have other opportunities for donors to share their stories. Like John was talking about before, this is a campaign we did a couple of years ago celebrating the 85th anniversary of the organization. We told the story of these two women who were childhood friends growing up in the ravines in Toronto and they lived around the corner from each other and then one moved away and they lost touch. They hadn’t seen each other for 80 years. They reunited at Ontario Nature’s annual gathering. I remember Phoebe told me that she knew it was Gail because she recognized her voice.

So, we got to tell this amazing story about these two women and a lifetime of conservation that they have both made possible as mothers and grandmothers and activists and environmentalists, but also talk about the victories that Ontario Nature has helped make possible with the support of donors. We asked everybody, you can see there on the reply form, to join the conservation conversation, which is a mouthful when you say it, but looks really cute when you write it.

We asked people to share the actions they’ll take for nature today and their hopes and dreams for nature tomorrow. This is one of the ones that came back. “Having just reached 90 years of age, I believe you can understand my forgetting to send a reply to your past request. I was so glad to receive this letter from you to do something about it. A few months ago, I happily also added Ontario Nature to my will. I’m so glad there are so many people who care about what happens to nature in Ontario.”

Okay. Principle number seven, donor love is all the small things all the time. John’s tweeting and was just panicked he had to do the section. Don’t worry, buddy, I’ll do it. So, donor love is all the small things all the time. Said another way, attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. This, to me, is the heart and soul of good gratitude and it’s about giving your real personal attention to your donors.

What are these? I’m seeing some of these on John’s easily messy desk right now. These are coffee rings.

When you see a newspaper on the kitchen counter and it’s got a coffee ring on it, what does that mean? It means that someone else has touched it. Someone else was there. Someone else read it. Someone else experienced it and maybe even left it there for you. It’s like a fingerprint that says, “I was here.” We’ve used coffee rings as subtle design components before. This is an imprint that we did for the Red Cross about malaria nets in Togo and it comes from a field worker who is actually on the ground in Togo.

On the bottom corner there, there’s a coffee ring and it’s just a very subliminal, tiny moment where you think another human being has been here. This is another human interaction.

This gratitude report we did for the Oregon Zoo, which is a feature up on our website as well, there’s a very faint coffee ring there in the bottom corner. And of course, you want to read more about Chendra, the endangered Borneo pigmy elephant. But you also have a moment where you think somebody else has touched this. What can you do to create a coffee ring experience?

Another one, from coffee rings to paperclips—when we see a paperclip, so far today, the singularity has not affected us yet. Robots cannot paperclip things onto envelopes, as far as know, and letters, as far as I know, and when you see a paperclip, you know that a human being touched it and curated it just for you. There’s power in these tiny decisions.

Some of you may have seen this example before from our colleague, our very dear friend, Simon Scriver in Dublin. He’s expressed a similar idea about being present in your communications by talking about what he calls “paperclip moments.” When he first started working at a small Irish charity that helps adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, this was the experience of receiving a thank you letter when we give. It’s okay. It ticks the box but it doesn’t have any real feeling or emotion.

Now, this is how you experience it. You get this beautiful letter that’s handwritten with Simon’s personal information on the bottom there. On the bottom corner, you can see there are testimonials. These are testimonials from people who have been helped by this charity and they paperclip them to the top of the thank you letter that just says, “You make things like this possible. Thank you so much.” When Simon was there, it became a revenue generating part of his program. The thank you letter would have people write back and say, “That was the best thank you letter I’ve ever gotten and I’m going to give you some more money,” simple paperclip moment.

Here’s another example—we do some work with Ontario Nature, we do some coaching with them on their legacy program. This is what we call part of their wide brochure. It’s still in development. We’re still waiting for a photo there. Kirsten does, as a part of the legacy program, she invites legacy donors and all intermediate donors to join them on any kind of field excursion, so you can come to count orchids or look under rocks for salamanders or whatever. She tells stories about the legacy donors who have made this work possible as a part of the event.

This is one about a woman named Vida who died and left a legacy to Ontario Nature and they used it for an orchid survey. Kristen tells the story about sitting in this beautiful field with these beautiful people reflecting on Vida’s kindness and what she makes possible on this day when they went surveying orchids.

And so, a bunch of legacy donors can’t come, either they’re unwell or too old or don’t want to travel. So, Kirsten also sends them personal letters with real photographs of absolutely gorgeous orchids paperclipped to the top that says, “Thank you so much. I know you weren’t able to do this, but you were with us in spirit and we look forward to seeing you again soon and you’re continuing to make amazing things happen.” These paperclip moments are so amazing for your legacy donors.

This is another example of what we call a fundraising delighter. It’s been eight years since we did that Ruby appeal for Ontario Nature and John and I have dined out in some of the finest restaurants in the whole world thanks to Ruby and our ability to share her story. This year, I had the absolute privilege of meeting Jack, who was Ruby’s pen pal.

John and I decided we had to do something special for Jack. We got an artist friend of ours to commission this ruby-throated hummingbird painting or artwork and I took it to Jack and I gave it to him and I sat in his living room and we were able to present it to him. So, like a paperclip moment, can you do it for everybody? No. Can you do it for some people some of the time? Yes. This has been absolute transformative for Jack.

John:Wonderful. I’m just laughing because Jen blew over that last line.

Jen:We only have 15 minutes and we won’t have time for questions. Jack was a delighter.

John:Jack is a delighter every day. The final principle, you say thanks with passion—a lot of people actually think that donor love is actually just about gratitude and thanks. Obviously, this is a large part of it, but I think it’s a little short sighted to say that this is what donor love is all about. I think you’ve seen lots of examples that donor love is about lots of different kinds of things above and beyond just saying thank you.

Still, saying thanks is so important because donors rarely ever receive thanks for their gift. It’s sad but very true. Thanking emotionally, you’re basically connecting to your donor. You’re basically saying, “I see you. I see you’re important. You’re good and I value you, and most importantly, thank you.”

Tom always shares this slide almost in every single presentation I’ve ever seen him do. Tom says your job as a fundraiser is to make me feel good, me the donor, to make me feel proud of myself, to feel important, to feel wanted.

Some of you have heard Penelope Burk speak before and she found the three critical things a thank you must do and must be to move the donor to give again are, one, Dale must get a prompt, unique, and sincere thank you. She must be given details about the program or project she helped support. Three, you must promise to follow up with a meaningful and measurable report on what you did with her gift and you actually do that every single time.

So, let’s just take a look at a great thank you. This is a checklist of things you should be including in your thank yous. We have this as a whitepaper here at Agents of Good. What are some of the things you need to have to make a really great thank you? I want to point out as well, but this was actually an automated email, an automated thank you. It probably puts your hard copy version you have hidden away in a desk somewhere to shame.

So, what makes this thank you so amazing? This is from our friend Cathy Barrick. She’s the Chief Thank You Officer at Alzheimer Society. First of all, it’s personalized. It’s not, “Dear friend,” or, “On behalf of . . .” It’s “Dear John.” It has, like everything else, more you’s than we’s. Seriously, go through and count them. This one has 15 you’s in 110 words. That’s incredible. The reading ease is 90%, which is great, and it’s written at a grade three reading level. This is an exceptionally written crafted thank you.

The piece should speak to what the gift was for. Be as specific as possible. Don’t just say, “Thanks for your $50.” “Thanks for your $50 which did X, Y and Z.” sounds amazing.

This one also reminds donors of your shared victories. “You helped us accomplish so many things like this and that. Thank you so much.” It invites personal contact. Cathy includes her personal direct line, her email, just like we showed with Simon.

Invite personal contact in the thank you. It’s an honest and heartfelt thank you. Ideally, it should sign off with something memorable. On Cathy’s, it says, “With thanks,” but she could have done something like, “Yours for helping those with dementia forever.”

Also, it should be hand-signed. It’s really important it has lots of good human feelings. Your donors should be left with the lasting impression of when they gave you the $50 or $100, it’s completely the right decision. As a bonus, Dr. Jennifer Chang from Princeton University, she has shared in her presentations the nine moral adjectives that move people. Those adjectives are caring, compassionate, fair, friendly, generous, helpful, honest, hardworking and kind.

So, she proved that when she referred to, in her case, public radio station supporters in the United States as kind and compassionate, that increased their giving amongst women by 10% because these adjectives describe a core sense of who we actually are and a core sense of who we ideally want to be. It generally says when in doubt, if you’re scrambling, you don’t know what to say, take these words, put it into your thank you letter and you may see a big difference in how people feel and give to you.

Down the home stretch here. This is an example I share all the time because I really want people to see it. This is from the Redwood. I’m hoping [inaudible 00:52:08] most of you. The Redwood is a very small but mighty charity that helps women and children escape from domestic violence. When it comes to thanking donors, they are amazing at this.

So, this is a small collection of thank you letters and love they’ve sent to me over the years. Again, this is a very small collection. It’s not the ED’s response to thank you donors or the director of development or gift processing. Everyone can and should have a hand in gratitude. I know Penelope Burk says actually some of the best people to make calls of gratitude of thanks are people from the board. But we believe different people in the organization can have a hand in saying thanks.

Woman:Hey, John, [inaudible 00:52:58] such a generous gift to our diplomacy campaign. [Inaudible 00:53:08]. I just want to wish you a happy long weekend and thank you for making it better for [inaudible 00:53:26]. Thank you very much. Bye bye.

John:I hope you heard most of that. Even if you didn’t, that was a call from a board member. Like I said, even members of the board should have a hand in thanking your donors. Sometimes, it can be like this. This was unscripted, obviously. It was a bit awkward. That’s totally fine. This came on a Friday of a long weekend, which was incredible. This was like the President of the board calling you, amazing.

Sometimes, it can be fresh off the laser printer or it can handmade. Sometimes it can be random, like we said earlier, tied to like a vacation or a holiday just because. Sometimes it can be a little cheesy. Actually, if it’s cheesy, most of the time, that’s amazing. These are little simple things that you can send to your donors that have massive impact. This is what loving your donors like too.

This piece I always share when I got it. This 11×17 totally openly made me weep and cry. It still does if I spend too much time looking at it. All the windows have little notes from different people in the organization to me, the donor, telling me how amazing I am. I still can’t imagine doing anything above and beyond this. Can you do this for all of your donors? The answer is no, you cannot.

Can you do this for some of your donors, your most important donors? Can you make them feel like this? The answer, of course, is yes, you can. Donor love is conversation from one human to another and it’s emotional. It’s messy and it’s real. You need to be vulnerable and real in your work. We always remind people ask with thoughtfulness, thank with love and always remind your donor how much you need them and appreciate the amazing work they make possible.

Every day, we want you to share the amazing stories that happen around you. Please honor the life stories of your donors and most importantly, every single day please do your work with [inaudible 00:55:38].

Thank you so much for your time on this call today. We appreciate all the interactivity on Google—Google? Twitter, the interwebs, everywhere. If you guys want to reach out to us, I’m very active, some of you probably on Twitter, Jen not so much. You can find me at @JohnLepp. You can email us, call us, whatever you want. We’re always happy to chat about this or anything else. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Steven:Man, that was good. Donor love syrup, I love it. That was amazing, guys. You got people in tears. I just heard a couple of those stories like last week and I still teared up, some good stuff. You guys are awesome.

You should follow them. You should also pay them money to help you with your fundraising because they will make you money and they’re awesome.

We have some time for questions. We got a few questions here. I think we’re going to go to 11:30, so I’ll try to get through a couple of them here. I want to ask a question from me first, something I’ve always wanted to ask you two. It’s my webinar series, so I’m going to ask you the first question.

You guys are masters of anthropomorphism. That’s what I always think of when I think of Agents of Good. Maybe I shouldn’t think of that if you don’t want that to be your legacy. But Ruby the Hummingbird and you’ve done other characters, mascots, whatever you want to call them. And you’ve been wildly successful with those characters too. Why does that work, do you think? Does it make an immediate connection with the cause? What’s going on there that makes that so effective?

John:We always say the key thing is, first of all, they allow you . . . so we’ve had a talking expressive truck, we’ve had a talking heart for a hospital. These are things, they seem really kind of silly. First of all, make no mistake for a second, your donors love to be charmed. They love cheesy things like these things. Organizationally, you take yourself far too seriously. Using voices that allow us to use simple, expressive, emotive language and voices to reach out to and connect with your donors in a way they’re not used to.

We see really amazing things, like donors actually having a one to one conversation with paper bags and talking hearts and a truck, which sounds freaking bizarre, doesn’t it? It really speaks to the connection you’re creating by creating Ruby the Hummingbird, people dismiss it too easily like, “Oh, you guys are so cute with these talking things.”

Jen:”Our donors are more serious than that. They’re more educated.”

John:That’s not what they’re looking for. You’re doing it wrong, more often than not.

Steven:I love it.

Jen:It breaks them out of that, “Oh, I know what this is going to be. A letter from the food bank, I know exactly what it’s going to say.” Being able to change that conversation and say, “No, you didn’t, this is from a bag.” It changes the conversation.

Steven:I love it.

Jen:Are you curating questions there, Steven?

Steven:Yeah. I see the one from Haley. Haley, I hope I’m pronouncing that name right. You guys shared a lot of physical direct mail, handwritten notes, even voicemails, analog pieces. Is that the only format that works or do you think some of this will translate to digital, maybe email, or do you think it has to be more tactile and more personal? What do you think there in terms of format?

Jen:Great question, Haley. It absolutely does translate. Everything we do for our clients in the print and production component gets duplicated online. There’s always an email series that goes with our appeals and there’s social media posts that connect with the same stories and link back to a dedicated landing page. Sometimes tech is the problem and it’s actually harder for organizations because their websites are crap for people to be able to send back a message or a comment with their gift, which is tragic and I hope changes very soon. But it is the reality for some. The answer is yes, these do work in digital and they work in digital because it’s a good offer to a good donor at the right time.

Steven:So, you guys like the multi-channel approach. You guys are masters at that.

Jen:Absolutely. The reality is people think that a social media strategy is actually attracting millennial donors, which is it is, but we also know the most active users on Facebook are 60-year old women, which is exactly the people we want to be talking to, talking to them in the space where they are. I also heard when I was at IFC this year, I learned from Richard Radcliffe that Facebook is one of the fastest growing ways in which people are requesting conversations about legacies and the whole room gasped. The whole room gasped at IFC. I took Richard to task over beers later on that night because I said, “It’s just where the donors are.” It’s not the Facebook, it’s the fact that they’re all there. That’s why it’s working.

Steven:You’re right. I love it. Here’s one from Cindy. Cindy, thanks for all the kind tweets and everything, I really appreciate that. What about length? You guys showed a lot of examples. A lot of them are multiple pages, two pages at least. I know you’ve done other work you didn’t show here, five, six pages, maybe. Is there a formula? Is there a hard and fast rule for length? Obviously you guys are kind of bullish on longer form letters. What’s been your experience with length and finding that sweet spot?

John:Yeah. Length is something that’s been tested by this organization called Paretto Fundraising. There’s Bluefrog in the UK. Many, many others have tested over and over again, for example, appeal letters. I can tell you the standard in Australia and the UK is four pages at a bare minimum. That’s your base. Anything they passed against four pages tends to get beaten. So, they use that as their base length. In Canada, we traditionally use two pages more often than not.

Jen:With inserts.

John:But with inserts, yeah. I know we talk to people all the time, “My ED only wants us to have half a page because no one reads more than half a page.” That’s probably because your letter is really shitty. If you’ve got a great story, take the space you need to take to tell the story. That might require a two-page letter and three different kinds of inserts or photographs, a map, whatever it might be to tell the story. That’s the standard base. I would say use the two pages, you need a solid two pages, 14-point copy to tell a good story, to make a clear precise ask and to share some really good emotional content.

Jen:It’s the kind of thing—we hear this all the time, “I would never read anything like that. I don’t read anything that’s that long. I don’t look at direct mail anymore. I only use email.” I’m sorry, Captain ED, you’re not the target market. I’m thinking of generous, older women. I’m not looking for the razzle dazzle 40-year old CEO. We make these decisions about our fundraising because it’s not what we like, “Oh, I hate telemarketing. I’d never give to somebody on the street.” “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” It’s a classic fundraising mistake people make.

Steven:Don’t listen to the board member or the ED because they’re not trained. They don’t know about that research. There is research that’s been proven. Like John said, it’s out there.

This was awesome. I know I could talk to you guys all day. I wish I could. We’re a little over time. I know we didn’t get to all of the question but how can people reach out to you? Twitter, email, check out your website—what’s the best way to get ahold of you guys?


John:Those are all fine. We’re pretty responsive.

Jen:John says I’m not as responsive but he’s just being a jerk.

Steven:That was some Twitter shaming, John. Thank you all for chatting in, hanging out with us, taking an hour out of your day, this was fun. We’re going to get you the recording and the slides, give me a couple hours, I’ll get that out to you. I’ve got yoga at noon. I get to do yoga thanks to you guys doing a morning session, so thank you. But I’ll get that to you guys later on this afternoon.


John:Yeah, namaste.

Steven:Namaste indeed. We’ve got some cool webinars coming up. We have some great ones scheduled. It will be hard to top this one, but we’re going to give it a try. One week from today, we’re going to be talking about, speaking of multichannel, how to promote your offline analog events through digital channels. We’ve got Dana from Firespring. She’s awesome. That’s going to be a good one. That’s a new presentation that she’s going to give for us here on the Bloomerang series. Check that one out. We’ve got some other webinars you can register for on our page if that one doesn’t quite float your boat.

But definitely check out the Agents of Good. They’ve got other case studies. I just love that they show their work and give away the strategies there, but you should definitely also pay them because they’re awesome. We’ll call it a day there. Look for an email from me later on today with all the recordings and slides and all that good stuff. Hopefully we’ll see you again next week. If not, have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a good and safe weekend and hopefully we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye now.


Jen:Thank you.

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.