In this webinar, Tom Ahern will provide proof-positive, airtight answers to the questions that are crucial to your fundraising success – each one world-sourced from top fundraising practitioners, creative agencies, and veteran researchers working in seven different countries.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Tom, my watch it struck 2:00. It is okay if I go ahead and kick us off officially?

Tom: Absolutely, kick it off.

Steven: All right. Let’s do it. Well, welcome, everyone. Good afternoon. If you’re on the East Coast, good morning, if you’re out on the West Coast, thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “How Do I Convince My Boss? Busting Through the Ignorance Ceiling at Your Nonprofit.” And my name is Steven Shattuck, and I’m the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang. And I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.

As always, just a couple of housekeeping items, just want to let you all know that we are recording this session. And we’ll be sending out that recording to you later on this afternoon. So, if you have to leave early or maybe if you get interrupted, if your boss comes by and [goes 00:00:45] to you about something, a deadline or something like that, don’t worry, we’ll get you the recording and you can be able to watch the whole session later on this afternoon. We’ll get you the slides as well in case you didn’t already get those.

Most importantly though, as you’re listening, please feel free to use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to try to save some time for Q&A at the end. So don’t be shy, send us those questions, those comments. You can do that on Twitter also. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed. And if you have any trouble with the audio through your computer speakers, we find that the audio by phone is usually much better. So try that if you have any trouble. There’s a phone number that you can call to in the confirmation email from ReadyTalk. So just check that out if you have any issues.

If this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra special welcome to all you folks. We do these webinars almost every single Thursday, like 49 or 50 Thursdays out of a year. We love it. I was telling Tom that earlier. He was kind of astonished that we do that. But it’s true, we love it. And we’ve got lots of other webinars scheduled out in the future.

But if Bloomerang is also new to you, we are a provider of donor management software. People tend to like it. In fact, they like it a lot if you look at those online reviews. So if you’re thinking of maybe switching providers in the near future or just kind of curious about us, check out our website after the session concludes. You can even watch a quick video demo and see all the software in action. You don’t even have to talk to a salesperson if you don’t want to.

But don’t do that right now because you are in for a real treat over the next hour or so. We had a very close friend of the program, a hero of mine. I’m not just saying that, he truly is. We’ve got Tom Ahern joining us from beautiful Rhode Island. Tom, how’s it going? You doing okay?

Tom: I am, Steven. We have our wisteria in bloom for the first time, full bloom. What an amazing sight.

Steven: Oh, no. Wow.

Tom: It takes years for those trees to start producing flowers, and this is the first year. It’s an explosion.

Steven: You’ve got to take a picture and send that to us.

Tom: Yeah. I know [inaudible 00:02:53].

Steven: I love it. Well, I want to brag on you real quick, Tom. I doubt anyone here today isn’t at least a little bit familiar with you. But just in case you folks, any of you folks, don’t know Tom, you got to know Tom, you got to go to his sessions if you see him on a conference schedule. Like I said, a hero of mine. He is what I consider to be kind of the foremost authority on donor communication. I tell people, if you’ve got donor communications issues, go read Tom’s stuff, check out his books. He’s a prolific writer, written four books, but he’s working on two right now, and I think one’s coming out, I think just came out, right, Tom? The new book is out now. So maybe this is one [inaudible 00:03:36] . . .

Tom: Yeah, that’s the one we’re going to cover today.

Steven: I love it. So check that out. We’ll get you all that info afterwards, if you want to pick up that book. He has been doing a lot of international and national speaking. So I think you’ll probably recognize his name on those conference schedules after attending this one. And, you know, there’s not too much I could say about Tom, other than kind of letting him speak. And I don’t want to take any time away from all the good advice you’re about to get. So, Tom, I’m going to pass the baton to you to tell us all about how to convince the bosses at the nonprofit and do the right thing. So, Tom, take it away, my friend.

Tom: All right, but, Steven, what do I do? Click on the share button?

Steven: No, you can just click on the slides of the . . .

Tom: Or you just give it to me.

Steven: Yeah, you should be able to click the button of the slides and . . . [yeah 00:04:23].

Tom: Okay, so are you looking at my title slide now?

Steven: Yes.

Tom: With the little girl?

Steven: You got it.

Tom: Okay. Well, you’ll be happy to know there’s been a change in pre-kindergarten education. Now, they are teaching children as young as two to become fundraisers. So, you know, it will take a while, but they’re coming. Okay. Now, the problem, the reason it’s called “How Do I Convince My Boss?” well, basically the answer is you shouldn’t have to convince your boss. Why is there somebody, without training, approving stuff that’s done by people who try to get training? And yet, this is the question that I have heard now for, well, I don’t know at least 18 years of presenting all over the world. It comes up every time I speak, “How do I convince my boss of what you’ve just told me?” And this, today, unfortunately, I don’t . . . my feeling is you shouldn’t have to convince your boss because this is the real stuff, this is not foolish opinion. And, so this book that I wrote, let’s see, I just clicked on a new slide, and it didn’t show the next slide. Come on, next slide. There you go. I must double click.

So this is this book that just came out, “If Only You’d Know,” and I want to point out, what I was hearing were kind of, you know, “Well, my boss doesn’t believe this. My boss doesn’t believe that.” So I took a set of questions, and originally it was 20 questions, and then there were many more questions, many more, what would you call it, urban myths floating around. So I took them to the outside world, the people I know around the world who were quality, productive, get the job done fundraisers, and I asked them, “Well, what . . . you know, give me what you know, not your opinion, but what your data shows.”

And so when it says these are airtight answers to 40 questions, that list on the left of those contributors, those are some of the people who are in this book. This is not my opinion because, frankly, my opinion is no better than anybody else’s opinion. Well, it’s an educated opinion now after many years, but I don’t like not having some grounding, some data underneath what it is I’m trying to do.

So one of the people who’s a contributor is Mark Phillips. He’s the founder of Bluefrog in London. And if I had to, and there’s so many really great agencies, but if I had to say there was one agency that I admire more than any other, it’s Bluefrog. They just test everything. They’re innovative. They’re constantly coming up with new approaches. They don’t let anything lie. And, Mark, there was this kind of academic exercise where you get everything you know about whatever it is you know about onto a single side of one postcard, and Mark took the challenge for fundraising, and this is what he came up with.

And, you know, I’ll leave it to you guys. You’ll get the recording, so you can read this at your leisure later. But look at what is at the top of the list here, “Observe your feelings. When you’re planning your fundraising, consider how the potential, not given, potential supporter will benefit.” It’s, like, benefit. Where did that come from? Why would a donor benefit? And I know why that’s important because I came out of commercial marketing, and in commercial marketing, when you try to sell people stuff, benefits are all you really have, you know. That benefit is why they will say yes and buy.

And so, you know, and then he goes down, “Is there a primary connection?” because people give to causes they care about. And if there is a primary connection, then use it. And if you’re giving comes from, you know, other things like sense of duty or they didn’t want to say no, then their loyalty to your cause will be weak. And it’s important that we understand that not all donors are created equal. Some donors are going to stay with you, but that’s a small fraction of the people that make a gift.

So, anyway, let’s move on to some more decent advice. And this one from Seth Godin really struck the big gong for me. “Our target markets are often lazy people in a hurry.” Now, as a marketer, there is no value attached to that. I’m not saying, “Oh, those horrible lazy people.” I just need to know what I’m dealing with here in communications. If it’s lazy people in a hurry, that’s fine. I just need to be aware of that. And, of course, it makes a lot of things go away. Like, you know, that essay that you wanted to write to convince people to support your cause, it’s lazy people in a hurry, don’t bother.

All right, so let’s dig into some of the things you hear. “Donors for life.” That’s one of the assumptions. I call these the 100% fallacy, and that name comes from an observation, what if everybody gave to our appeal? That is delusional thinking. You know, the real life of, for instance, a direct mail writer, if 1% of the people whom you send this to actually respond, that’s a great day, break out of the champagne.

So, donors for life is of the same ilk, but I didn’t know. So I asked around to my world of family of experts, and I asked them this question, so how long do you think the average donor actually does stay with a charity? Now, remember, this is average donor, this is not an outlier, somebody who gives to you for 30 years, somebody who gives to you for just once. This is how long does the average donor stick around? And the answer that came back after much hemming and hawing because these are all analytical people, and they hate being nailed down to these blobby questions that I come up with, but they played.

And what I heard was, you see two answers, people, the average donor, assuming they give you a second gift because most donors don’t give you a second gift, but assuming they do, they stay around for 4 to 6 years if they’re acquired through the kind of annual appeal method, or if they become monthly donors they stay for 7 to 10 years. Those were the averages collected from Australia, Canada, the U.S., UK, Ireland, New Zealand, all the people like, you know, I share a language with. And, that to me, means a lot. One of the things it means is you better have a really good acquisition program up and running, as well as all the other things that you need to do. So, please note, the 7 to 10 years, those are monthly donors. We will be thinking about monthly more than once during this presentation.

This one is got to be at the top of the hit list for board members and bosses who, you know, just want a magic bullet, and frankly, there are no magic bullets, there are no quick fixes, there are no cure-all, no magic wands, no magic potions, no wonder drugs, miracle cures, or panaceas. Fundraising is hard work. Come on people, this isn’t leprechauns and pots of gold, the end of a rainbow. And this is what this is, that we need younger donors. This is based on bad thinking.

Let’s look at good thinking. This is from Hillborn up in Canada. That’s why you see the little flag. And this is how you double your fundraising revenue. This is a very simple formula from them. And they know what they’re talking about. You move 10% of your donors to monthly giving. Okay, there you go, that’s not too hard. Persuade 3% of your donors to upgrade to 500 or higher, and get 5% of your donors to include you in their wills. Three, very doable, very tangible things, goal to goals, micro goals, that will reliably double your income. And what is the thing that is not mentioned by Hillborn and that is younger donors because that ain’t where you’re going to find the doubling of your money.

Let’s look at how old an average donor is. And you can see all the countries that where this question went out to. And here is the brilliant answer of how old is the average donor, 75 years of age. Now, that has consequences, unintended sometimes. You’re sending out letters like in 12 point type to old eyes, and I can tell you as the proud owner of old eyes that the first thing I think is, “Your type too small. I can’t read that. That’s a pain in the neck.” That is not how you want to establish your brand with somebody, with them complaining mentally about your customer service.

This is what a real average donor looks like. Female, of a certain age, and that sign she’s holding up, that’s how she wants you to make her feel, you the charity. Here are some more data on this particular issue. This is from True Sense, a very big direct mail firm, lots of data, mountains of data, and you can see the big slice of pie in the left, 46% is donors 65 and older, next biggest slice of pie 55 to 64, next biggest slice, 45 to 54. But they’re getting smaller.

And there’s a reason for this. And it’s not because younger people aren’t generous. They are fabulously generous, they’re fabulously concerned, you know, and the rest of it. They just don’t have all that much disposable income yet because they’re still building their lives and they’re spending everything that comes in on, you know, if they have a family, well, there’s a quarter of a million dollars just to get that kid through high school. You’re going to want a house, you’re going to want this, you’re going to want that, transportation, all the rest of it, very expensive to live in a very expensive country.

And so, until you get to be around 55, the behavior observed by True Sense is that as people age into their 50s, they become more likely to respond to a direct mail appeal or any kind of appeal, honestly, because these days you need . . . it’s not just direct mail. And if you’re not aware of this reality, then you’re going to continue to say, “No, we need younger donors.” No, you don’t need younger donors. They don’t have any money. They need disposable income, and that’s going to happen later in their lives, then they’ll give you money. So you have to wait until they age into their prime giving years.

And I can back this up my own experience, my own data. I work for a major hospital system in San Diego called Sharp. And I write all their direct mail insight, and I have all their data at my fingertips thanks to them being very generous about that. And what we know is that the average donor for this hospital, community hospital, nonprofit is 75, not 74.5, not 75.5, 75 exactly is the average age.

Okay, so now we’ve established who the heck we’re trying to raise money from. And, you know, but then some genius is going to say, “Well, old people don’t care about online.” So let’s look at that issue because online is very much part of your communications ecosystem these days. And so here’s some data. And it’s talking about where do people spend their time online? Who is consuming the most online content? You have, you know, your groups there, all the way to people . . . my parent’s generation, most of whom are actually no longer with us, the Mature/ Silents, Baby Boomers are the next, and Generation X, and then Millennials. And where’s the answer? Well, Baby Boomers are spending twice as long online as Millennials. That’s what “Adweek” found in their research. So be aware that that actually is a very vibrant pool of prospects for you.

Oh, here’s another one. Remember back on how to double your income. One of the bullet points was get more bequests coming in, i.e. set up even just the most rudimentary bequest marketing program. Yes, I’m looking at you when I say that because most of you, I know, don’t do it. And one of the reasons you don’t do it is, you know, you’ve got your priorities and you’re thinking, “Well, we’re not going to see that money for a good long time. They have to die first.”

And you’re thinking, “Well, that’s going to be down the road.” Well, let’s take a look at that. So, what does the research tell us? How soon, after you’ve created this bequest marketing effort, will that first gift in a will arrive? Will it be within 3 years, which is pretty fast, 6 years, 12 years? More like what we were thinking, “Oh, we won’t see the money for a good long time.” Well, you’ll be happy to know here’s the research. Within three years of setting up a bequest marketing program, you will see a gift coming in.

And that is because of when people tend to update their wills, which they tend to do one last time just before it is their last time. And, you know, they know the CDC in America, so they’re going to live to on average 82, and now they’re 80 and they don’t want to leave a mess behind, so they go in and they update their wills and then bonk. And, you know, there’s money. It’s coming in much faster than we believe.

And if you aren’t . . . you know, I see . . . I’ve tried to embarrass people, I’ve tried to scream at people for years, get marketing on bequests. It’s the easiest money that’s out there because it’s going to all come from people that already give to you and already like you. They just don’t think about it. So do it and still, you know, “I’ll come back next year and nobody’s done it yet,” “I wanted to but I never get around to it. Twelve months went by.” That is insane. If your predecessor had established a bequest marketing program, your charity now, 10 years ago, your charity now would be swimming, swimming, like drowning in money, and yet we don’t get around for this.

This chart here, this is from Mark again at Bluefrog, showing that almost half of the bequests, charitable bequests in wills in the UK, almost half of them came in within one to four years of the will being updated or written initially. And that’s confirmed by the number one legacy scholar in America, Russell James, down at Texas Tech, and he’s looking at tomorrow dollars, half of those gifts came from people who died at 88, who died at 90, and that most charitable bequests are added within five years of their death.

So this is not tomorrow dollars. This is very much today in just over the horizon dollars. This is your . . . something really, if you’re not doing this, you don’t have a full fledge, you know, fully participating fundraising program. And this is . . . I give the last word to David Love up in Canada. And David is kind of a legacy guru specialist phenomenon. And he said this, “The dead speak.” The gift that these people are making to you in their will, it’s about them and who they are, and why they lived, and where they lived, and things like that, and what they cared about.

All right, let’s go to another piece of junk, direct mail is dead. Well, of course in life, in the privacy of my head when I hear this I’m always, “No, you just suck at it.” But direct mail isn’t dead, and in fact, it hasn’t died. The first time I ever ran across this, I did a little Google search at one point. When did they start talking about direct mail dying? And it was like the early 1990s. They’re already, “Direct mail is dead.” No, it is hard that . . . if I could make pretend it isn’t, but it’s hard in ways that are not obvious.

So here’s what happens when you believe this crap, wrong assumptions can kill you. Well, here’s Pam Grow talking about one of her subscribers. And, you know, somebody says, “Well, that Kool-Aid,” and said, “Okay, well we’re just going to drop direct mail, DM, and we’re switching just to digital. We’re going to just do digital because that’s what modern people do.” And they lost two thirds of their donors in case you didn’t notice that part. In fact, two thirds of their donors went away.

So how big was online giving in North America? We have very good data on this, by the way, very, very good data on this. And this is 2017, and it’s somewhere in these choices. What do you think? Well, let me show you what the answer is. It’s between 5% to 10% of all giving is now exclusively done online that is to say. An email comes in, or I see a post in a Facebook feed, or something like that, and then I go to a website, and I make my gift and it’s entirely digital. Well, that’s 5% to 10%.

Things are, you know, and some of the numbers are really the . . . you can see at the very top there, this is the new M+R digital benchmarks, everybody should subscribe to that or download it. It’s free. The online revenue grew, you know, it just exploded in 2017. And it had kind of exploded the year before, but that’s with, you know, again, it’s this pure online revenue. And part of that was the rage philanthropy that happened after a certain person was elected to a certain high office. And, you know, and just amazing amounts of giving happened the day after that election.

But when we look at what is also happening here, what declined—opening rates for fundraising and advocacy emails. The emails have become . . . I don’t know what, they’ve been the new measles or something. I mean, it’s like, everybody gets so much email and all they do is throw out almost as much as they can every day. You know, it just become a very difficult . . . it was always a difficult channel to use to raise money, not that you can. I mean, Barack Obama raised $690 million, I think through email, but, you know, that’s . . . you’re not that.

So, let’s look at where things are going. It’s a multi-channel world as again, our good friend, Mark Phillips at Bluefrog tells us. And he’s got the data to prove it, as they always do. And you can see from the year 2010 to the year 2017 that it used to be almost all donors were offline, that is sending them a check or something. Now, we’re up to . . . you know, a little more than 10% have switched to some other channel. Mostly what they’re switching to is some of them become monthly, which is great. Some of them, you know, they’re getting direct mail piece and then they’re completing their gift online. So the direct mail, you know, everything’s becoming multi-channel basically. I’d give you the bottom line, the far right column, everything’s becoming multi-channel.

So here’s another piece of research just from the AFP ICON, and Blackbaud was reporting and, you know, this is very solid data, Chuck Longfield. It doesn’t get any better than that. And, you know, the people will resist, “Oh, we don’t want to . . . we shouldn’t . . . you know, we have these donors. They come in through direct mail. We shouldn’t really offer monthly giving to them.” Or is it a good idea? And, frankly, it’s a great idea because you can see here because they highlighted, it increases the average gift and it increases your retention.

Okay. So then we get to, you know, “Oh my Lord, did you see what those people did with the Ice Bucket Challenge? We need one of those.” And the answer is that ain’t going to happen to you. It’s a fluke. You know, you don’t . . . marketing is not about flukes. Marketing is about planning. And if you are hoping that an asteroid of cash is going to come crashing through your roof, then save your neck, won’t happen. You know, you will always be struggling.

And here’s some evidence from Aimee Vance in a tweet. And, by the way, for those of you that are not on Twitter, I find Twitter to be my primary professional social media. I learned a lot from tweets, and for the people I follow anyway. And Aimee is a very experienced fundraiser. You can see she had something go viral, oh 1 million people looked at it or something. And what do they get out of that? Nothing, zilch, nada, maybe a small donation or two. So you can still go viral and not make a penny.

Now, let’s look at a planned effort that is on social media. And this is Soi Dog, which is an animal welfare charity based in Bangkok, Thailand. And Soi Dog, they spent about six years of R&D, figuring out how to make money on Facebook. And they were helped with that task by Pareto, which is the biggest direct mail firm, telephone firm, fundraising firm in Australia. And Pareto’s top of line, they do beautiful work, but they also do very classic work. And it turned out that for Facebook, that was important. You have to be able to write the kind of offer ad that one would write. . have written back in the 1930s.

So Facebook was a new channel but the kind of advertising that work was not new. It was very old school. And what they would do is, you can see here, they would start with something that did not require a financial investment from the responder. It would . . . they just asked them to sign a petition like protesting the dog meat trade in Southeast Asia, and that’s a huge market.

They’d have a secondary offer, you know, would you like to stay in touch and hear how this campaign is going, so then you give them your email address. And you could see that a lot of people signed the petition, 1.4 million, but out of that, less than half were willing to offer up their email address. Some of them even gave phone. And that led to a financial ask. So if you give me your email address, you’re going to start to get appeals through your email as well as information. And if you give me your phone number, the phone may even ring. Out of that, so out of that 1.4 million, about 41,000, about 3% became donors. And then that group, about 5000 became monthly donors, and that’s a lot of money. But you can see how it started. It started with a non-money, non-financial offer that then led to you collecting a lot of email addresses and phone numbers, which led to then you could ask them for money.

I’ll show you what Soi Dog look like right now. And, by the way, how are they doing? Well, they’re doing real well. They were making, the last time I checked, $350,000 per month. Every time they spend a buck on Facebook promoted posts and ads, they’d bring in seven bucks. In the United States I know, up in Canada too, British Columbia, SPCA uses Facebook, you know, uses the Soi Dog model. The Humane Society of Northeast Georgia uses the same model, and every time they spend a buck, they’re making $18. So, you know, look at your return on investment. Are you getting $18 back for every dollar you spend on that, you know, second golf tournament you’ve introduced because it’s all your board members really want to do?

Anyway, here’s Soi Dog. You can see it’s very simple formula, “When Molido was found unable to walk, terrified of everyone,” so you’re getting the sympathy, the empathy going. “Many would have said she had no future, but not people like you.” And that’s where you’re identifying, you’re giving me something to identify with. Then I’m either saying, “Yeah, that’s me I’m . . . ” you know, or I’m thinking, “Oh, I’m in different pasture.” And, you know, but look at the . . . they have a little video that they run and look at the captions on it—she was paralyzed, her future lay with people like you, your monthly give can change the future of dogs like Molido. It’s very straightforward stuff. If you know your advertising, you can see that in this copywriting. There’s nothing fancy pantsy. Nothing, you know, amazingly groundbreaking about it. It is solid, solid stuff.

“Oh, well, yeah, but how’s about that crowdfunding stuff? You know that’s going to be a silver bullet.” Well, so you have to find out, you know, how does it do? So you look this up, percentage of crowdfunding, how many reach goal? And the answer is a third or less. And actually, the answer is worse than that, or I shouldn’t say worse. You’ve got to be realistic about this. There are no magic wands. So you’re looking here at good data. It’s like 77,000 successful projects on Kickstarter. Three quarters of them raise less than $10,000, and only 85 out of that 77,000, which is 1% of 1%, raised more than a million.

So, you know, these shiny new ideas, the thing that they should all have attached to them is a big tag that you can’t get off that says, “Oh, by the way, this requires a lot of work too if you want to succeed at it.” These are not shiny new ideas that automatically work because they’re shiny and new. They require a ton of work and that goes for things like Giving Tuesday and so forth. There’s no easy money out there.

Well, yeah, but what if we ran a 5K race? Okay, well, let’s look what happens when you run a 5K race. Well, first of all, it’s good to know, this is in the book, how many first time donors make a second gift? Is it 20% of them, 40%, 60%? Well, we have already discussed this in passing, so you may have noticed the answer. The answer is 20%. So one in five first time donors make a second gift. So you bring in 10 new donors, 8 of them do not make a second gift, got that? Ten new donors, eight of them don’t make a second gift.

And if you run what are called peer to peer events, like 5K charities, what you’re doing there many times is you’re requiring what you call donors, who are people that like to run, or golf, people that like to golf, you know. And they’re not there because of your cause, they like that part, I mean, it’s nice that that’s part of it, but they’re there for the activity. And they’re unlikely, even more unlikely, to make a second gift if you don’t do some really strong outreach to them. And so, you know, you keep building up what you think is a base of donors when in fact, it’s just a base of people that like to go running. And they’re not really attached in any strong identity way with your charity. So you actually could be bringing in the wrong people.

Oh, how about this one? We need more visibility. If I’ve heard this once, I’ve heard it 100 times. It’s kind of like, you know, I know that if everybody in our community thought about us all the time, then yeah, they’d of course support us, they recognize it, blah, blah, blah, blah. It’s hogwash. And, you know, all of these charities you see here, they’re big charities now, Oxfam, Greenpeace, Food for the Poor, yet all of them, their genesis story, all of them started with just a small group of people around the table going, “We’ve got to do something about this.”

You know, a few people on a leaky boat in Greenpeace go out to challenge the U.S. Navy over atomic bomb testing in the Aleutians. Oxfam used to be the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief. They were just a bunch of people in Oxford, England, who thought no kids shouldn’t be starving. So we’re going to do something about this during the Second World War. Food for the Poor, small faith-based group, you know, kids are starving in Central and South America. Now these are gigantic operations. They didn’t get there because of visibility. They got there because they asked for gifts. And that’s what’s missing from visibility, no particular call to action.

So, let’s go to this. Grab the sales lead funnel. I’m about to introduce you to something maybe many of you have not heard of this. If you haven’t come out of marketing, the sales lead funnel may be new to you, but it is how the world actually works for sales. And this is what it looks like. And if you Wikipedia the sales lead funnel, very good discussion of how it all works and, you know, the variations. There are many, many, many variations on it. But, initially, I mean what you just saw with the Soi Dog where they started with a petition at 1.4 million, that’s the top of the sales lead funnel. And what you’ve got at the bottom, which was 3% of them turned into donors, that’s what comes out in the bottom of the sales lead funnel. So, you know, you email me, and I’m just using the Museum of Science here, so this is pretty . . . this was a decent email for this past Giving Tuesday. And it was well done, I thought.

So it’s sent out, and let’s pretend we know their numbers. The Museum of Science in Boston sent out an email to 10,000 people they have on a list. Out of that, we can predict that there will be a 20% opening rate using standard, you know, metrics from nonprofit science museum. Out of the 20%, about 2% click through. So, now you’ve gone from 10,000 to 40,000, and then about half of them complete the gift. They go to your giving page, which is atrocious probably, and half of them, you know, were kind enough to still complete the gift even though they leave totally uninspired. That wouldn’t be, by the way, the case for the Museum of Science, which does everything for me nicely. But those are real numbers. Those aren’t fantasy numbers, those are real numbers. You email 10,000 and you get 20 gifts from that. So keep it in mind when you are thinking we should just switch to all digital.

Here’s one. This is probably my favorite because it’s where you know the ego is let loose to run in the bull in the china shop. You know, so your boss, you hand your boss, “We need your signature on the direct mail appeal, boss,” because, you know, that’s kind of best practice. You always have the person at the top sign the letter. And there’s a PS right after the signature. And you’ve written this letter because you’ve had some training, you read some books, you’ve listened, you’ve seen good examples of stuff that didn’t work, and you’re trying to mimic that, and everything is right. Okay, so, and then your boss says, “I’m not going to sign it. It doesn’t sound like me.” Well, no, you doesn’t sound like a, you know, pompous jargon filled puppet sock, but it still may raise money, and it follows all the rules.

This was cool. Moceanic, you can take online courses from Moceanic where they teach you how to write really good direct mail, and I mean step by step. And one of the students from the . . . by the way, the people, the teachers, and people like Jeff Brooks who may be one of the world’s best, most productive fundraising copywriters and he giving you all his secrets, and this came back from one of the students. She wrote the letter and Jeff said, “Great letter.” “And I’m getting pushback from management that it’s too cheesy and sickly sweet.” Now, in my world, when management doesn’t like stuff it’s like, oh thank goodness, because they don’t know what they’re doing, so they’re not a good judge of this. And the things they don’t like are exactly why these letters work, blah, blah, blah. And so that’s kind of, you know, that’s a good sign when they hate it.

And that leads me to this. So what is the chief purpose of donor communications? And I give you three choices. The boss would say upset no one, ask for help, or make the donor happy. And the answer is, I guarantee you will make most money, if you make your donors happy, if they’re so pleased to hear what you have to say to them.

Now, this brings us to another thing which nonprofits seem to have gotten this absolutely backwards, “If we really bored people enough, maybe statistics would be good, they’re going to respond.” Well no, that’s not true. We live in a busy world, here you’re asking for my attention span, and the least you can be is not boring. Try to be delightful if you can or flattering anyway.

So here’s Berkshire Natural Resource Council, conservation, land conservation, and now building a major trail system in Western Massachusetts. Wonderful group, really, you know, good leadership, and this is the envelope for a typical direct mail appeal from them inside your fall newsletter, with thanks from grateful farmers, scientists, birds, and bees. Oh boy. We’ve got to look. And, you know, essentially this is what I’m trying to point out. The book you see here, “Brainfluence” by Roger Dooley, this is a collection of his articles, his blog posts about using neuroscience to sell stuff.

Now, neuroscience gives us a lot of advantages that we didn’t have 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, we would have guessed certain things. Now, we can actually watch the brain work and certain parts of it light up when certain things are said to the brain, blah, blah, blah. One of the things they discovered, which has been very helpful I can tell you, is that the human brain did not evolve actually to discern between true flattery and false flattery, but all flattery sounds damn nice. You know, you can tell me something I know that it’s factually wrong about me, but, you know, if it’s basically putting me in a good light somewhere in my brain, my brain is going, “Oh, yes, Tom. You really are that good.” And so you can’t over flatter people, you can’t tell them too often how wonderful they are, and how beloved they are, and how important they are, and how needed they are.

And so, you know, I’ve been trying forever, since I moved into the fundraising world out of the marketing world, which was a very well-studied world. Marketing was very relaxing in some ways because you just knew everything had been figured out. It was just like now we’re going to tweak it to death. In the fundraising world, it was, like, we haven’t figured out almost anything. And so I’ve always wanted to try to get fundraising communications, my little specialty, down to just one thing you really have to be aware of and you’d be fine, everything else would just be technique.

And it’s this, “You know, why are you trying to get into the privacy of my head, in my home, and my wallet?” Are you going to be a bad guest or good? The bad guest sits there and talks about himself and nobody wants that guest to come back. Or you’re going to be the good guest who comes in and looks around and goes, “I love the warmth of your home, of what you’ve done here. I love what you have created here,” which led me to the next thought.

And this is for me, this is going to be on the on the tombstone, what is the purpose of donor communications? One thing, to make me feel good, me the donor, me the recipient, me, I will feel proud of myself. I’ll feel needed when you send something. I’ll feel surprised and entertained when you send me something. And if you go back to Mark Phillips, get it all on one side of a postcard, you’re going to find these saying exactly the same thing. You know, his is a little, you know, little more upper chambers than I am, you know, a little more aristocratic. This is all you really need to know.

You want to make your donor feel really good. And if you do that as often as you can, that’s when you start making a ton more money. So, like, for instance, what kind of words do you use? Well, we know what kind of words to use. Jen Shang, the woman you see on the screen, a psychologist who specializes in giving behavior, investigated what kind of adjectives are used, for instance, in the United States to describe what we would consider a good person that being somebody we would want to live next to, somebody we’d want to work with, somebody we would ask for help, a good person. And these are the words that came out of her research—kind and caring, compassionate, and so forth.

So, many of these are directly applicable to philanthropy, the act of philanthropy, to fundraising. You use these words: you’re such a kind person, you’re such a caring person, you’re such a compassionate person, we know you want to help, we know that you believe in fairness, that would be social justice. As a generous person, you use these words.

Here’s Lisa Sargent. She’s talking about . . . and again, this is why I cling to Twitter, this is one of Lisa’s tweets, and she is to be found there, 13 qualities that you can use when you thank your donors that will make them feel better: Thank you for your courage, your faith, your trust, your concern, your loyalty, you can see it. Are you using these words yourself? Because if you’re not, you’re leaving tons of money on the table and you’re disappointing, more importantly, the people that would potentially be your supporters.

Most organizations, most charities, most nonprofits that I review, and I review thousands of pieces of material and of course any year, speak in the we voice, which is not a magic word. That’s corporate communications. That’s about how great the organization is. You need to speak in the you voice, or here’s a little list from the wonderful Claire Axelrad who is also a presenter for Bloomerang on these webinars. So, whatever Claire tells you, just do it. She knows what she’s talking about.

And she had this little list of magic words, and I put some, you know, you is number one, it is at top of the list and there’s a reason for that. It is the most powerful word we have. English is a wonderful gift to the fundraising profession, because the word you is allowed, and we can use it. And, you know, these other words, those are good too. You know, ask for a small gift, not a large gift, some other things. But you is by far the most important.

And what you’re looking at now on screen is a letter. It was written up in the New York Times because it was ridiculously successful at bringing in new donors to the Sharp Hospital system, 35,000 discharged patients, they came then donors because of this one letter. And here, you know, you can see, I have circled each instance of the word you so that you can see how many there are. And when I’m writing for clients, I’m testing for the frequency of the word you all the time. And I’m automatically rewriting anything that doesn’t have the word you.

If you look at this, you’ll see that your eye is basically never more than an inch mostly or a quarter inch mostly from another word you. That is purposeful, and your boss would hate it. But what do they know? They don’t. And also it’s going to be in the big type because nobody really reads the small type. So when you have headlines, that’s the place for the word you, “Dear Donor, Angelo has something he’d like to tell you . . . You saved us.” That’s important.

Here’s an example of an email that came to me from a charity I support called Vida Joven. And it’s a charity, a wonderful charity. If you want to see some incredible donor communications work, this small charity which is for orphans and is located in Tijuana, Mexico, is going to surprise the heck out of you. Give them any amount of money, and they are going to make you feel great, and they’re going to send you stuff like this. You can see, this is an email. The stopwatch is there because I need to emphasize faster, faster, faster. “You’re two minutes away from feeling phenomenal, Tom.” Of course you’re going to open that up, I get the quick gift of joy, and then we got a Thanksgiving present for you, Tom. Made this video just for you, Tom. You mean the world to us, Tom. Thank you for being a friend, Tom. Oodles of love and extra gravy from all the Vida Joven kids. When you put the fun back in fundraising, you’re going to make some more money.

Now, if you’ve got some jackass on your board or your boss who thinks that the sun rises and sets on correct grammar, so would insist on its to whom, not to who are you sending it, then you need to escape their claws because they are meanies, and none of that matters. All fundraising copy should sound like conversation according to the very, very, very, very, very good and yet dead, George Smith who wrote this book, “Tiny Essentials of Writing for Fundraising.” He’s a very successful copywriter.

You may have your jargon, and what you’re looking at here, forgive Bloomerang, forgive their PC-based environment, it took my Mac-based list and screwed up all the numbers because that’s what PCs like to do. But the reason what you’re looking at here is called jargon is because it’s intellectual. It does not have an emotional content to it, therefore it’s dead on arrival.

And this is important to get away from jargon because of what Dr. Adrian Sargeant discovered when he researched loyalty factors. One of those loyalty factors, why will donors stay with you because your “service quality” is good. Well, what is your service quality? You know, it’s kind of the interface between you and your donors. So, when you shovel jargon at them, like food-insecure, at-risk kids and all these other things you understand but they don’t, at least emotionally they can understand it, intellectually but not emotionally the way you do, that is lousy customer service. So jargon defines lousy customer service. If you want to use jargon, just know that you are delivering lousy customer service.

So that’s about it. And I guess we’re all the way to questions. Steven?

Steven: Wow, you busted so many myths. I think you’ve busted like 10 or 12 myths that needed to be busted. So thank you.

Tom: Well, let’s hope so. I hope so.

Steven: That was awesome. I was having some flashbacks. You know, my wife has worked at nonprofits her whole career and some of those things she would bring home and now we have some good answers to them. The young donor thing, isn’t the ultimate response to that, to do bequest marketing, right? Because I feel like some people are afraid, “Well, if the average donor is really old, they’re going to die and then we won’t have any donors.” It’s like, “Yeah, that means you should do bequest marketing. Do you think [inaudible 00:55:32] like the ultimate comeback?”

Tom: Yeah.

Steven: Okay. Good. I love bequest marketing, by the way. Wow, we’ve got some questions here.

Tom: Any sane person would, you know.

Steven: Yeah, exactly. If you haven’t asked a question, now is the time. We got like two or three minutes maybe. Tom, you talked a lot about monthly donors, moving people to monthly donations is good. You recommend it. Is there a place where maybe you don’t want to move people into monthly donations? I’m thinking maybe someone who’s making like a multi-year pledge that’s $5,000 over five years. Like, should you maybe insulate certain people from those monthly commitment asks, you know, maybe use common sense?

Tom: Yeah, sometimes I wonder, is that a real question? Yeah, sure, why not? I mean, monthly giving is just an offer you put in front of . . . well, you put it in front of everyone. But if you already have a commitment from somebody, they’re going to give you $1,000 a year, you’ve got other issues on your plate and one of those is celebrating that person, so they really feel the celebration going on. It’s not an either or really. It’s like what is your . . . and I’ll give you a . . . we gave $5,000 to a small charity in my state [inaudible 00:56:54] on this call. And then they came to us and asked for monthly, you know, pledge. It was is like, “Wait a minute, guys, we just gave you $5,000. You haven’t even mentioned that in this letter.” So if you send everybody the same letter and you don’t recognize the fact that some of the people receiving it are already major givers, then you’re an idiot.

And, you know, so . . . but if you do send it and you do recognize, “I know, you’re already giving so much money, and I just wanted to put this offer in front of you too so you didn’t feel left out,” well, that’s a different story.

Steven: Yeah, that’s different. Okay. Tom, I know you have opinions about this. What advice you have for people who maybe they’re getting resistance to telling client stories because those people don’t want to maybe be exploitive towards showing those people who have maybe suffered the ailment or the thing you’re trying to solve in the world. What do you think about maybe putting those people in front of a camera, in an appeal or something like that?

Tom: Okay, that’s a topic for a different time.

Steven: A big one.

Tom: But there’s an answer in this big book, but I’ll give you a quick. When you ask for money, you’re often presenting a problem to the donor and asking the donor to solve that problem. Often, when you’re asking for money, and this is particularly true with acquisition where they don’t have any relationship with you yet, you’re putting, you know, “Here’s the problem, it’s a bad problem, it’s a real problem. Will you do something about it?” That’s the kind of a moral challenge offer.

And, in some people, a very small number will say, “Yes, I’ll do something about it,” and they’ll send you a check. Then you have to thank them, that’s delivering reciprocity, which is a psychological obligation that you have. And then you report back to them what happened with their philanthropy collected with other philanthropy. How has philanthropy changing the world? How is their philanthropy changing, pooled with other people changing the world? And in the reporting, you usually lean much more heavily towards solution to happy faces. In the asking, first-time asking, your leading towards sadder things because those are the problems that need to get solved.

People need to understand the psychological basis for giving. It is not an intellectual decision. It is 5 million years of brain evolution at work. And we are a social species, we help each other, not everybody, not every day, not all the time, but that is why we are, you know, destroying our planet and we survive so well is because we help each other. You know, this argument, it puzzles me, but it doesn’t really because people don’t know why people give and they make all sorts of bad assumptions. That’s what this book is about.

Steven: I love it. Well, buy the book, and we’ll get people a coupon code, Tom, for that discount. We’ll make something happen there for the $10 off.

Tom: Yeah, so me or are you going to do it? Because I’m not going to do it.

Steven: Yeah. We’ll figure it out. We’ll figure it out. We’ll email that to you, all listening. We’ll get that in your hands. Don’t worry. I’ll send you the recording, the slide. I’m going to send you all kinds of goodies. Tom, this is awesome. This is really cool. I love the session. Thank you. Thank you for doing this. I know you’re super busy. You’re traveling.

Tom: Thank you all of you. I really appreciate.

Steven: Yeah, this was awesome.

Tom: Thank you. Cool.

Steven: And yes, to all of you for hanging out with us. Thanks for being here. I know you’re probably busy this time of the year. So thanks for taking some time out of your day. I’ll get you all that good stuff like I said. Check out our webinar page. We’ve got some cool sessions coming up. Next week, we’ve got something for the bosses. Even though we were maybe teasing the bosses a little bit today, we got a nice follow up. One of my favorite Stefanie K., she’s here in Indy. She’s going to talk about how to coach you as a CEO. So if you’re listening and you’re a CEO, or if you have a CEO, invite them to the session, talk about change management. It’s going to be a good one.

We have lots of other sessions out into the future. Check out our webinar page. We’d love to see you again on another webinar. So we’ll call it a day there. I know we didn’t get all the questions, but like Tom said, he’s super active on Twitter. And if you tweet him, he’ll respond. I’ve seen it. I see it happen daily. It does happen. So do that. But, hopefully, we’ll be able to keep the conversation going there. So have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a safe weekend. And, hopefully, we will see you again next week. Bye, now.

Tom: Take care everyone.

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.