In this webinar, Jeff Brooks will share some of the most deadly — yet commonly believed — myths in fundraising that chase away your donors and squash your fundraising revenue.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Jeff, my watch just struck 2:00. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started?

Jeff: Yes, sounds good to me.

Steven: All right, awesome. Well, good afternoon, everyone if you’re on the East Coast, I’d say. Good morning, if you’re on the West Coast. Happy Halloween, if you’re listening live. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Fundraising Myth That Should Scare You The Most.” 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 before we get going here officially, just want to let you all know that we are recording this session and we’ll be sending out the slides later on today as well as the recording. So don’t worry if you have to leave early or if you want to review the content or share it with a colleague, maybe a boss or a board member, you’ll be able to do that. Don’t worry, I’ll get that to you this afternoon by email, so just be on the lookout for that.

Most importantly, please feel free to chat us throughout the hour. Use that chat box right there on the webinar screen. We’re going to try to save some time for Q&A at the end of this session, so don’t be shy. We’d love for this sessions to be as interactive as possible. So send us your questions and comments throughout the hour. You can also do that on Twitter. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed as well.

And if you’re having trouble with your audio through your computer speakers, we find that the audio by phone is usually a little bit better quality since it doesn’t rely on internet connections or software, or any of that good stuff. So, if you have any trouble, before you toss that computer out the window, try us by phone, there’s a phone number in the ReadyTalk email that went out about an hour or so ago today. Give that a try if that’s comfortable for you if you can use the phone.

If this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra special welcome to all you folks. We do these webinars just about every Thursday throughout the year, bring on a great guest speaker, it’s one of our favorite things we do here at Bloomerang, but we what we are most known for is our donor management software. So, if you are in the market for that or just kind of curious about us, check it out, check out our website. There’s even a quick video demo that you can download and see the software in action. You don’t even have to talk to a salesperson if you don’t want to.

So check that out later, don’t do that right now. You guys are in for a real treat, pun intended. Much more treats than tricks I should say. A legend, my hero, Jeff Brooks is joining us from beautiful Seattle. Jeff, how you doing? Are you doing okay?

Jeff: I’m doing good.

Steven: I’m so happy to have you here. You are super busy, you’re on the road all the time, we were both at the conference, actually, yesterday. We flew home last night. I’m really, really appreciative to you for fitting this into your schedule. It’s going to be an awesome one. If you guys don’t know Jeff, definitely follow him, great follow on Twitter. My favorite blog literally is a must-read. You got to bookmark “Future Fundraising” now. The best blog almost a daily post from Jeff. He collects a lot of the best stuff out there, shoots down really bad advice that he sees, which I’m really appreciative of, really is my favorite blog out there, definitely subscribe to it.

Also is a fundraisingologist over at Moceanic with Sean Triner and the group over there. They do great work and he’s been doing this for over 30 years. So he’s got lots of wisdom to share with you today. And I don’t want to take up any more time from you, Jeff. So the floor is yours, my friend, to tell us all about those fundraising myths. So take it away, my friend.

Jeff: Okay. Well, actually, I’m going to only give you one really scary myth. But before we do that, let’s launch that poll, okay?

Steven: Here we go.

Jeff: Okay, which of these is the most scary myth? So go ahead and vote for which one you think. And if you think you’ve got something else, and let’s see if I’ve got some for you today.

Steven: I’m going to vote for Excel, personally, that’s going to be my scary myth.

Jeff: Okay, now, let’s see. How are we doing here?

Steven: Can you see the results yet, Jeff?

Jeff: Yeah. Well, Excel is winning.

Steven: Not by much.

Jeff: Excel and taking December off are kind of the leaders, I’d say. Okay, it seems like voting is slowing down. Shall we shut down . . .

Steven: Yeah. Looks like Excel narrowly won.

Jeff: There we go. You can see our results there, right?

Steven: Yep.

Jeff: Only 8.6% have heard something scarier than those four. Interesting. Okay, well, thanks for voting on that. But you know what? I’m going to tell you one that is scarier than all of these put together.

Okay. One myth that is way worse than all these. And here’s what it is. I want to make that short. There we go. “I would never respond to that.” That is the worst myth of all. Super dangerous, super scary, really destructive. And here’s the problem. It doesn’t matter who says it. It’s still scary. It’s very often your boss or a board member who looks at some fundraising and goes, “Okay, this is no good, and I know it’s no good because I would never respond to that.” And sometimes it’s you, okay?

This terrible, terrible myth can come from anybody. And that’s why it’s so scary because, actually, this myth leads to all the other scary myths, like we can just use Excel, or we can take December off into and make it up in February. Okay? That all comes from this false assumption that what you like, and what you think he would respond to tells you something useful about how your fundraising is going to work.

All that leads to . . . I’m going to scare you now, boo. I know that doesn’t quite work as well as it does in those videos that do that, but this is it. This is the scary . . . the Halloween fright face that we should be more scared of. Because, really, when somebody says, “I would never respond to that,” I want you to sort of translate in your mind, this is what they’re really saying, “I don’t know anything about fundraising, and I don’t realize that I’m actually a different person from all our donors.” That’s what’s actually going on. And that’s the problem with that, “I would never respond.”

When you say . . . when anybody says, “I would never respond to that,” they’re basically, I know they’re not doing it on purpose, but they’re lying. Okay? They’re not trying to trick you and lie, they think they’re telling the truth. But they’re lying. Because nobody, that includes you and me, really knows our own mind about this stuff. Your conscious opinion of fundraising does not tell you what your unconscious opinion would actually do in real life. So you can even ask your ideal donor, “What do you think of this piece of fundraising?” And she’ll have an opinion and it will be a lie.

I know this because I’ve been in many, many focus groups and this happens every single time. Every person in that focus group room, you know the conference room table and you’re giving them sandwiches and you’re hiding behind the one-way mirror and there’s a moderator in there asking them . . . Well, they’re in the room because they responded to your direct mail. We picked them from our list, people who responded to direct mail, and we showed them that piece of direct mail, the one that they responded to, and asked them to comment on it. And you know what? They all hate it. They rip it to shreds, they hate it, and they say they would never respond to it. They tell us, you know, “Take my advice, stop sending this terrible piece of direct mail.” This is what happens every time.

This is donors. This isn’t your boss, this is the donors. They’re wrong. They don’t know. So that’s the framework I’m operating under today. That’s why “I would never respond to this” is such a dangerous myth and why it leads us to massive losses in revenue.

So what it leads to is I’m going to show you some of the things that I see all the time flowing from this, my opinion about how I think it ought to be. And the most common, I think, is this one, “Underlining! Ugh!” I’d say almost every time I’ve addressed a nonprofit board about the subject of fundraising, it happens quite often because I’m in the room because they’re looking to up their game. And I’m there to help them do it. And I say, “Could you please present to the board what we’re going to do?”

And every time, every time, at least one person raises his/her hand and says, “Oh, I’m so excited that you’re going to improve our fundraising. And I assume what that means is you’re going to stop all that crappy underlining that they do in direct mail.” I don’t know where they get this. But there’s this belief out there that underlining that is done in direct mail is somehow the reason direct mail doesn’t do well. Guess what? Underlining is one of the few things you’re doing right if you’re doing it. And that sense that underlining is somehow tacky, that it’s inappropriate, that it doesn’t look good, it doesn’t speak well of us, solves you nothing. Your opinion about it is nothing. So let me show you a couple of facts.

Here’s two direct mail letters. The one on the left has no underlining, it’s very dignified and nice, isn’t it? I’ve changed the name of the organization so you won’t see the guilty parties. The other one is actually only the first page of another one from another organization, and they have underlining kind of right. What’s underlining? It’s just emphasis and the reality, the painful reality is this. Our donors, they don’t read our letters the way we do. They are not going starting at the top, you know, the very top and then reading every word all the way to the bottom like you and I have to. Like, I hope you read your own stuff that way. They don’t. They skim. They fly through it. You have to help them alight on the places you want to do it. Underlining is one way to do it.

Italicizing, all these other ways, and you can see it on this page I’m showing you, this sample, you can see there are several sort of, you know, typewriter underlines. There’s some things that are in boldface, somebody drew a little star next to something, somebody triple hand underlined something. This is how you draw people into the thing you want to do.

So here’s how to think about it. It’s emphasis. It helps them find their way. Underlining, boldface, indenting, italics, subheads, like little subheads within your message, hands drawn arrows. Maybe you want to draw their attention with a quick big font to take the most important phrase and it’s all about helping them find the things you want them to see.

And you don’t underline things that you think are important so much as you underline things that you want to make sure they read. So don’t underline, “We’re really awesome.” No. We underline, “You can really make a difference.” It’s always about this. And I can tell you with a lot of confidence that in testing, when you test emphasis instead of meaning, when you test underlining and other forms of emphasis, you do get an increase in response. The myth that it’s ugly, it looks bad, and it’s hurting our fundraising is 100% wrong. So your opinion, your boss’ opinion, your board’s opinion on that tells you nothing.

Okay, here’s another one. “Would you please cut all that emotional fluff?” Okay. There’s the belief again that fundraising doesn’t do well because it’s not rational enough. There’s not enough facts in it. You need more statistics. Give us tables of numbers. Well, it doesn’t work. I can promise you I’ve tested again, and again, and again, the rational kind of fundraising, versus the emotional fluff kind of fundraising, guess which one always wins? Emotional fluff one. I’m jokingly calling it fluff because I don’t think it’s fluff at all. I think to my long years of doing fundraising, I don’t think, I know, that people give through the heart, they don’t give through the head. Now, I think the head has a part to play in it, but basically, if it doesn’t touch your heart, it’s not going to even make its way to your head. And that’s why we go with emotion.

So what do I mean by emotion? I’m just going to give you a few thoughts on that. We actually know that all human decisions are primarily made emotionally. In fact, the research is very interesting where they, you know, somebody wears one of those helmets that read their brainwaves and then you ask them a question where they have to come up with, you know, make a choice and make a decision of some kind. And the emotional parts of the brain go crazy. And then the person goes, “Okay, and this is my choice,” you know, you might say something as simple as, “Would you prefer to write with a pencil or a pen?” And their emotions think that through and then they come up their answer, “I like a pencil better than a pen,” whatever it is, and then the rational part kind of fires up a little bit. And what’s happening is the rational part of their mind basically says, “Okay, the emotions told me the answer, now I better come up with a reason for it.”

That’s basically . . . that’s human life. That’s the way we are. You can’t change that. You can’t fight it, don’t bother. But fundraising, charitable giving, most of all, if you look at charitable giving at a completely rational way, you shouldn’t do it. Because if you give away your money, you don’t have your money anymore. Well, fortunately, our hearts know better. We know better. That’s the [wrong 00:15:07] truth about fundraising. Fundraising matters, giving matters. So it’s a good thing our heart is in charge of that department because it’s the right answer.

Okay, so we respond to individuals, not to groups. We respond to individuals. So, if you are doing fundraising that is about the large number of people that need help, there’s 4,000 homeless people here in our community, there’s 30,000 children dying of hunger every day, there’s 1,000 abandoned puppies in our community per week, you are basically giving them reasons not to donate. Again, proven again, and again, and again in testing, people respond when you tell the stories of individuals because that’s a problem they can solve.

Next up, negative input is more powerful than positive input. In other words, telling people there’s a problem and asking them to solve it is going to raise more money than saying, “Hey, we’re doing really good work, will you join us?” Negative input works much better. Statistics decrease response. The more numbers you use, the worse it’s going to get. And we respond to suggestions.

So I’m going to give you just some examples about each of these. You don’t have to believe what I just said, but I’m going to give you some examples. On this idea of individuals, not groups, it’s kind of hard to believe, isn’t it? Well, there’s a famous study out there. You might have heard of this, where they went to people and told them different stories. They told one group of people about a little girl named Rokia who lived in Mali, a country in Africa, who was in danger of starving to death. There was a famine in her community and she was in danger.

They told the other group there’s a famine in Africa and 21 million people are in danger of starving. Now, if it was a rational decision, you’d think that the 21 million people would raise more money. Guess what? The one person raised more money and the bars there you see are the average amount of money that came in, the very low amounts because it was a casual giving situation. And it includes the many zeros of people who decided not to give. So, on average, of all the people who were told the story about the little girl, an average $2.38 came in. When they told the story of the 21 million they got less than half of that much money. It was less than half as powerful.

Now, the researchers were surprised by this. They thought people were going to be making more rational decisions. They thought that 21 million would do at least as well, maybe better than the one little girl. So they tried a third way. They told the story of Rokia and then said, “And she is one of 21 million people,” thinking, maybe that’s sort of the best of both worlds. But when you say, “Hey, here’s a person I can tell you about. And she’s one of 21 million people,” look what happened. It did a little bit better. Putting Rokia in there with the 21 million did a little bit better, but we still did not get anywhere near what we got when we told the story of one. That’s really rough, isn’t it?

But that says that you’re going to have to almost go against your instincts, because I know you know how big the problem is that your organization solved. And you know that’s important, and you know it matters, rationally. But when you put your fundraising hat on, you’re going to have to think a little bit differently about it and start thinking, “What’s the one story we can tell?” Okay, next thing I want to show you, and again, by the way, this is a study. It’s a psychological study. I’ve tested it in direct mail. And I get the same results. If we tell a story of a massive problem, we raise a lot less money than when we tell a story of one person that you can care about, and think about, and help.

Okay. Negative input. I told you a couple slides ago, negative input works better. And you see fundraising like this all the time. “They used to be sick and hungry, but now they’re doing great. Thank goodness we were there. Will you please join us and give?” Okay. Now, I get the impulse. I understand the impulse which is “Hey, let’s show them that success is possible and ask them to join the success. Let’s show them that their gift does make a difference.” Okay, theoretically it sounds good. It doesn’t work. It does not raise as much money as showing them that there’s actually a problem. Now, you do need to tell your donors this story. That your giving makes a difference. You actually may have made things better. You may have fixed something in a way.

But you don’t do that while you’re asking. You do that when you thank them. It’s like a photo like I’m showing here. This is a wonderful photo. But it’s a disaster for fundraising. It’s wonderful photo for thanking. The people who gave need to see a photo like this. The people who have not yet given need to see a picture that looks more like a problem that you hope they’ll solve. Sometimes, I’ll very often see a photo like this with words that say, “There’s a big problem out there. Lots of people are hungry and dying. Will you please help?”

Which do you think speaks more loudly, the photo or the words? Well, you know the answer to that. That photo tells the story so be really careful that you are talking out a problem that the donor can solve and that you’re telling that story with your words and with your images.

Everything I said about statistics, about how they actually decrease response, again, I can tell you positively in testing, that when you base your fundraising on statistics, you’re going to raise less money. Here’s why. As far as we know, Joseph Stalin understood this, and he used it to do great evil. But he knew that when one person dies, it’s a tragedy, but when a million people die, it’s a statistic. And that’s kind of why he got away with what he got away with in his career. Millions and millions died. And it did not raise enough anger to do something about it. That’s what you need to remember.

Now, I have this theory that if Stalin had killed a puppy, and people knew about it, he would have been thrown. He would have lost his power. This is a piece of wisdom. He used it for evil, I want you to use this piece of truth for good. Go out there and tell the story of one that they can understand.

Here’s maybe a way to do it. Imagine we’re a homeless shelter. “As the temperatures drop, it’s time to think about the homeless here in the community. According to the best research, we have 6,000 chronically homeless people.” Okay, this fact, I assume it’s true. I actually got this little fundraising appeal.

Not a reason to give. If you want people to give, do like the other one on the right. “Frank spent last Christmas living under a bridge. He’ll probably spend this Christmas there again. It’s not what he wants. He wants to be with his family.” Very different stories, right? The story of 6,000 people that you can’t fix, donor. We hope you’ll join and become part of this big solution to the big problem. Or get them thinking about one person, and the suffering and pain of that one person. Because the donor can imagine making a difference in the life of one person. We’re all like that. We all want to solve problems we can solve, but we don’t want to even think about the problems that we can’t solve. We run away from those things.

Now, I also said suggestion can be effective in fundraising. And here’s what I mean. This is kind of strange, okay, but I really recommend that in your fundraising, you have something like this. Whether it’s an email, or a junk mail, whatever, where you specifically tell them what you hope they’ll do. “So pick up a pen, choose the amount that you want to donate on the enclosed reply coupon, then write your check and drop it in today’s mail.” Okay?

When you do that, you will see a boost in response. Here’s why. It’s not mind control, I promise you, you’re not going to make somebody do this by saying this. You have no control. What you’re going to do is help the person who wants to do it, overcome inertia. Inertia is our real enemy. People are reading your appeal, you’ve done a great job, you told a story, you’ve broken their heart, they want to do it, but it’s still hard for them to do the thing they want to do. So, when you say this, when you paint this verbal picture, “Go do this, do this right now, here’s how to do it.” You help them. You aid them along on this journey that they want to take.

So I really recommend look for doing things like this. So here’s what I want to leave you with on this subject of emotional fluff. I’ve been really privileged many, many, many times to help somebody make their fundraising more emotional. And it’s really typical that when we move from the rational, it all makes sense, all the figures and facts are there to an emotional case for why you should give, we typically double the response. Sometimes we more than double, sometimes fantastically more than double. But if you’d like to do better, look for the emotional case.

Okay, another myth that comes from, “I would not respond to that,” is “Hey, keep the message short. It’s really important. Nobody reads those long messages.” Wrong, like, amazingly wrong. In testing, 80% of the time in direct mail, 80% of the time, a longer message outperforms a shorter message. The times when the shorter one wins, that is to say, it occasionally does win, is always when the subject is something that everybody already knows about. Like a hurricane has hit and it’s all over the news. Everybody already knows what’s going on. Those are the times when the shorter message works better.

By the way, this is true of email too. Not quite as definitively, the longer message works about two-thirds of the time better. So there’s maybe a little more openness to a short message. And in fact, the best message you’ll ever do in your career of writing email fundraising, it will probably be a very short one. But the rest of the top 10 will be long ones. Okay? A long message is a safer bet. Pretty much always. Not 100% always, but pretty much always. I can prove it. I proved it again and again 80% of time, and not the only one.

So let me show you an outline of a direct mail appeal. This isn’t the only possible outline but you might want to do a screen cap of this or you’ll have the slides available to you so you can use them. This works. This is about a two to four-page letter. I also just want to kind of point out a couple things about it. Look how often there’s an ask. There’s a whole lot of asks, aren’t there? And that, by the way, that’s another thing that your board members and bosses might not like this thing. It’s too repetitive. Well, guess what? Repetitive is good. If you follow this, you’re likely to have a strong and effective fundraising appeal. So I won’t walk all the way through it but take it, use it, put it up and maybe say, “Hey, some dude in a webinar told me it would work and then maybe they’ll let you do it.

Okay, another myth that flows from, “I would not respond to that.” “Let’s be more up to date looking.” Have you heard that one? You know, direct mail has this kind of old fashioned look, usually, the effective stuff does. It kind of looks like it was done maybe back in the ’50s or ’60s, ’70s, at most. And guess what? Because it works. And the really cool stuff, like, works. We’re capable of designing better than that. Especially nowadays, anybody can do some pretty good looking design. But it’s almost always a mistake to do so. And I’m going to give you just one example.

This happened not so long ago. I had a new client. And in the pitch to them, I wanted to show them some cool looking ideas. So my team and I, we put together some cool modern working direct mail. And by the way, the client loved it. Because what we did was, we thought, “What do they want to see? Let’s create something that they’re going to love. We got to know them enough to know what they’re going to love.” Well, we got the business, and they said, “Okay, when are you going to mail those cool pieces you just designed?” Well, okay, we said, “Okay, we’ll do that.” Here’s what we came up with.

Old and plain versus new and fancy. Now, you can’t see the whole thing. I’m just showing you that on the envelope. The whole package of the new one that you see on the right, everything was kind of like that. Very designed, very interesting, very conceptual. The control, the thing that was working, was the one on the left. It’s a Cancer Center, and what we’re looking at is donor acquisition, these response rates are quite low so the control is getting .65, that is 65 out of 1000 people were responding. And the average gift was about $35. Look how boring that is. It’s practically like a bill, right? And then the one on the right, how you can draw a line in the sand against cancer, whole thing was the sort of this idea that you can actually create more, you can do more.

Well, look at the response. It got about half as much response, had a meaningfully lower average gift, and somebody just asked about cost. It cost more to do it because there’s full-color printing everywhere. This is the way it goes. Almost every test, the new fancy high touch well designed, I mean, it is a skillfully designed piece. I wish I could show you the whole thing. It is a quality piece of material. Well written, everything is good about it. But it was off. It didn’t really work. So annoying, right?

Okay. Let’s go to another one that comes out of this belief. “We should let the donors rest between gifts. So somebody gives, let’s suppress all communications to them for oh, I don’t know, 3, 4, 6 months.” Okay? Big, massive, super expensive mistake.

Let me show you a weird fact. Recency is the biggest indicator of likelihood to give when, and this is a chart showing . . . and this is, of course, a very large amount of data. And I’m not showing you the absolute numbers because that makes it really confusing. But the line and the numbers along the bottom is months after somebody gives. So somebody gives, and then the line shows how long it is until they give again. Okay, we’re not talking about the first gift. We’re just talking about any gift and then the subsequent gift. And what you see here is one month after every gift, it’s kind of high, two months, it’s higher and it peaks at three months.

And then it starts to drop. And by the time you get there to six and seven, eight, nine, it’s really low. The rate of the next gift-giving, the bottom falls out. Interestingly, there’s a little peak at 12 months, but it’s a very little peak and that 12-month peak is there is a habit that a few donors have of giving at the same time each year. That’s not very big, is it? It’s pretty tiny. And it’s absolutely true all the way through the biggest indication that somebody is likely to give is that they gave recently. So, if you have a policy, where we go silent on people for three months, you’re basically deciding not to get the gifts that they’re most likely to give. And you’re going to lose a ton of money and you’re going to have high attrition rates. You’re not giving people a chance to give when they want to give.

Never, never, never have that closed window time where you’re not asking. And one of the most dangerous things . . . now, I know it feels like it makes sense. In fact, you probably might even get complaints from people saying, “Why did you ask me? I just gave.” Some people do complain about that. But the bigger, more important fact is people like to give. And maybe that’s the most important counter myth I could give you today is this, donors want to give. In fact, that’s the kind of the defining fact about donors is that they love to give. They aren’t annoyed by you, even though some of them do say, “I’m annoyed by you.”

On the whole, most donors, most of the time are people who want to give. And the complaints you get, and I’m sure you do get fairly frequently, you get complaints saying, “You’re sending me too much mail. It’s bothering me.” Those are more often from non-donors or from lapsed owners, or from people who’ve had a change in their life where they’re saying, “I can’t give and this frequency of asking, it’s not relevant to me anymore.” For the most part, donors do want to give. I want to give you some interesting facts about charitable giving.

Donors are happier than other people on average. When you look at the happiness factors, when you ask people about their quality of life, people who are donors, very meaningfully higher scores of happiness than non-donors. Giving just makes your life better, you feel better about yourself. Please think about this. People who don’t give have . . . they live in this world that everything’s bad and you have no control over it. People who give, things are rough out there in the world, but you can make a difference. You can make things better. Imagine just the psychological difference between those two states of mind. Very, very important. Donors feel sort of more in control, and more connected, and more powerful. That’s not all. Donors actually have better health, better physical and better mental health. Giving is really good for you. Literally, you will have better health.

Now, chances are these two facts are related to each other, like, that sense of feeling and control, feeling good at all connects to your mental and your physical health. So, when you give them a chance to give, you’re actually helping make their lives better. Now, I’m getting to the weirdest, craziest, almost hardest to believe of them all. Donors end up wealthier than non-donors. In fact, there is a return on investment to charitable giving. And it’s 375 to 1. Basically, if you give $1 away, you get $375 back.

Now, that was not a direct cause and effect kind of thing, and chances are that 375 that eventually comes back to you is because of your improved physical health and your improved outlook and your happiness, right. When you have those things going for you, your earning abilities and your power of earning more money improves. So, when you get someone to give, you’re not taking anything away from them. You’re giving them something more, you’re giving them more and better. So that’s all really important to them.

So I just want to kind of leave you with one sort of last look at how big a deal giving us for donors. It’s a place where they connect with the divine and when I say divine, it’s whatever the divine is to them. It is the ultimate connection that matters the most to them.

So I’m going to leave some time open for questions and it looks like they’re quite a few coming in, but I want to leave you with this. If you can get your boss or yourself or your board members to realize this, “My hunches about fundraising are worthless. It might even be worse than worthless, but almost counter truths. And I’m okay with that.” That’s what I’d like to leave you with. It’s okay what your opinions of fundraising are. What’s not okay is when you let your opinions and your hunches drive your decisions. That’s not okay. That is malfeasance. That’s not doing your job. And our job as fundraisers, I’m kind of assuming we’re the ones who are doing the work and having to defend our work against people who are in authority who don’t know.

And so we have to go to them with that and say, “Look, you’re not the donor. You’re thinking of this in a conscious way. You’re not anywhere near a truth there. And that’s okay. Don’t worry about it. We do have facts about what works in fundraising.”

Okay, before I go to questions, I just want to put something out there for you. I’ve written an eBook. This is a Moceanic eBook and it’s really directly about this. What do you do when your boss and your board members and people like that are making it hard for you to your fundraising job? Short little eBook, five steps that the common sense are easily doable things that will help you get past this painful thing.

Five simple steps. So go to this URL, and download it. And I promise it will help you it’s based on many, many, many years of many, many, many struggles with many, many, many different bosses. These are the things that will help you solve the problem. So let’s go to questions. Okay, Steve, so do I go to the Questions tab? Is that where we’re going to look at?

Steven: Yeah, I’m going to populate in there for you, Jeff.

Jeff: Okay, thanks. Okay, I’m just going to start at the top get through as many as we can. Jessica asks, “In our appeals, we’re sharing stories. Do we just not share the ending? How do we share a story that a gift matters?” Jessica, you actually gave yourself the answer. Don’t tell the ending of the story. Here’s the complication, is most of the time the stories that we tell, the true stories that we find out are completed, finished stories. So there was somebody, they had a problem, we helped them. Everything’s okay now. That’s the state of the story. You very rarely actually have a story where the person hasn’t been helped yet, right? So here’s what you do in fundraising. Leave the ending off. Let the donor tell the ending.

Now, what I’m not saying is don’t put a different ending on a story. That’s a lie. You can’t do that. You have to tell the truth. But you don’t have to tell the ending. So you tell the story of the struggle and the suffering, that thing that was not right, and then drop it and say you can help people like this. It’s kind of weird. I know. As a writer, it kind of goes against your instincts to not tell the end of the story. But that’s the donors’ department. The donor’s department is to write the end of the story by making the gift. And that’s maybe the way of thinking about it.

So I know you know the ending of the story, and you know that it’s happy ending. Just let it go. It can be a revolutionary change in the way you approach it, because yes, I’d say I’ve rarely been told a story that was not complete with a happy ending tacked on already. Let me know, Jessica if that answered your question.

Tracy says, “We have pre-printed pledge cards with dollar amounts. Suggest removing the dollar amounts?” No, I wouldn’t say that. I think you want to put dollar amounts on there. I’m not sure I know in this context I’m giving you exactly the right advice. But in general, suggesting dollar amounts are a good thing to do. People need guidance. They want to know, “Okay, what could I do?”

Now, ideally, you know what they’re likely to give and you suggest amounts that you know that person is likely to give. So you can do that in direct mail, where you say, “Hey, we know this person has given $50 every time they’ve given, so we better ask him for $50. This is what they’re most likely to give.” And then give them some other choices, maybe a little below $50, but more importantly, above $50, in case they’re ready to upgrade. But suggested amounts are really powerful and quite important.

Ginger asks, “Since the peak is three months, we should ask monthly because everyone has different seasons of giving.” Possibly, yes. I’m not going to say that’s the exact right answer for you or for everybody by any means. But yeah, asking monthly is not a bad idea. Now, I know that’s unusual. Most charities are asking two, three or four times per year. What I can say is you can probably ask more if you’re at that kind of frequency of asking, you can probably ask more. I would not really recommend going from 2 asks here to 12. That will kind of wreck your life. You may not have the capacity to ask that often, you may not have the budget to ask often, but I would say is ask more. Just a little bit more than you ask now.

I’ll give you a crazy example. I had a client few years ago now, that asked 34 times a year. 34 times a year. That’s like they’re in the mailbox every nine days. Okay, no way am I telling you you should do that. The reason I’m telling you that is it was okay. It was all right. They were raising a lot of money, they had a lot of really happy donors, their retention rates were amazingly high. Now, there are a lot of reasons you shouldn’t go there. You may not have the staff to make that possible because you can imagine the workload that puts on 34 direct mail pieces a year. That’s a lot. You may not have the wealth of, sort of, variety of stories to tell. This is a fairly large international organization, they had thousands of great stories to tell.

So the only reason I’m telling you that about 34 times a year is to say, it didn’t kill them to do 34. It was actually financially a smart thing that they did. So if you’re two, three, four like most people are, go to three, four, five. Okay. You’re going to do better.

Gary asks based on my experience, does direct mail campaigns produce a level of getting compared with direct mail affect donor solicitation? I think you’re asking, Gary, maybe raise your hand if I’m not interpreting you right. Speaking to a person versus sending them a letter, if you have a relationship with a person, and you have their permission to speak to them, that is a better way to raise money. It is considerably stronger.

The reason to send a letter is a), the person hasn’t given me permission to talk to them, or I’ve got 10,000 people, and I have to reach them all. That’s the difference. So, typically, an organization has donors that they solicit only through the mail because their giving level is low. They can’t afford to spend an afternoon talking to somebody who’s going to give you $25. Not good use of your time. If the person is going to give $1,000 or $5,000 or $10,000 or a million dollars, you sure can spend an afternoon talking to them. So it’s really kind of a financial decision what’s the right way to talk to them. I’ll tell you what. You will get more gifts in personal conversation than you will get through the mail because you had more of their attention.

Another question here, Linda says, regarding design, there was something in The Chronicle and alarming . . . I skipped a line. In the previous webinar for younger donors, they mentioned design is of utmost importance. Presenters suggested investing in marketing. I mentioned the opposite. Yes, I did. I’m pretty skeptical of that point of view because, in my experience, modern high touch design is not effective in fundraising. Now, does that mean design is not important?

Design is super important. In fact, it takes the best designer to make something look kind of corny and homemade, but it’s well designed and readable and easy to follow and has the emotional resonance I had, that is an amazing designer, somebody who can do that. That is better than your high tech, art school degreed person who can do the really slick stuff. I’d much rather and I know only a handful of designers who can do a great design that doesn’t look like great design. That’s what I want.

William is talking about an article in The Chronicle that there’s a decreasing trend in the percentage of people who donate and that’s scary. And I agree that is kind of scary. It does seem that the number of donors on our side, it seems to be shrinking. Now, I’m not sure how much of that is a sort of a demographic thing, and how much of it is an absolute truth. There’s sort of two countering pieces of information that you might take into account. One is, one of the most powerful reasons people become donors at all is that they are participants in some kind of a faith community. Those are the best donors. And they’re best donors to all causes, not just faith-based causes.

There is less participation in religion in our country than there used to be. That could be one of the reasons that charitable giving is going down. Religious participation is a strong, strong indicator of giving to charity. I wonder though, if the other sort of related thing is, in general, younger people are less participatory in religion than older people. And we have a sort of a large generation of younger people right now. We’re sort of younger-heavy right now, even though we’re also kind of a lot of people, you know, there’s a lot of people in the younger generation. The Millennial generation is even larger than the formerly hugest ever Boomer generation. So you see more of them and they’re younger. And at that stage of life, you tend to be less participatory in your faith, but historically, people have become more involved in the faith as they got older, which is one of the reasons that older people are more often donors.

All that to say, it is kind of scary, this kind of percentage of people giving could be dropping. Frightening thing. All that means for us is we got to be way more on our game than ever. We’re going to have to raise more from fewer people. We’re going to have to find a way to break through to people who are who aren’t giving. And it’s going to be harder if that’s true. Sherry asks how often we should touch base with donors. Every few months? That’s partly a question of what can you handle, but you should touch base with them as often as you can. And by touch base, I’m thinking you’re thinking of everything, you know, emails, letters, phone calls, whatever the ways you’re reaching out to donors.

The thing about emails, you can probably send quite a lot of them because most of them they don’t open. It’s just a painful fact of life. There’s kind of, like, no point in sending one email to a donor because so few people engage with it. You probably want to send up to . . . anytime you want to have an email fundraising project, you want to send three, four, five, six, a bunch of emails to make it worth your bother.

But you can talk to donors quite often. The trick is you’ve got to be relevant. What really drives donors crazy, that makes them angry, that makes them complain is they just get these things in the mail that don’t mean anything to them. And it’s because so many organizations don’t try to connect with them. They throw statistics at them, instead of telling beautiful stories. That’s what I think really causes the problems.

If you’re relevant, if you’re talking to the donor, talk to her about her values and about how she can change the world, and you tell stories that touch her heart, you’re not going to overdo it. It’s about impossible to overdo it.

Christopher asks, “Are big donor events, dinners, etc., more potent than small or one-on-one events? What are the ROIs?” Oh, goodness, I’m not sure I know the answer to that, Christopher. But I do know that events, in general, are the least efficient way to raise money. Of all the ways, they are the least efficient. You really want to think hard about doing events. I know there are some events that are actually quite good, quite efficient but be really careful. And really make sure you’re paying attention to what it’s really costing you. What are you not doing while you’re doing the event?

Events can take up all your time, as you know, any of you who have done events. Maybe you would have been better off doing a direct mail project instead of that event because it would raise money, and it would have a more sustainable thing. So I’m not saying don’t do events. I am saying really think carefully about it. Charge your time against it. A lot of events out there don’t actually raise money if you look at net. They’re costing them more to put on the events than doing it. Between large and small events, I really don’t know what does better. I would guess a smaller event is likely more effective.

Karen, I think that Karen, you had a follow-up about adding the ending to your story. You work with people just like this person every day. That is, to me, that is kind of the ending you do. But not so much that we do this. You want to challenge the donor. If you told this story about somebody that, you know, Frank who lived under a bridge, who now, in life, has been through our program and now lives in his own place and has a job. Okay? Success. Great. But you might, in your story, tell the story about Frank living under a bridge and then say there are many people like Frank who are waiting for help right now. So you see now you just kind of changed the subject away from Frank to the problem you hope the donor will solve.

Gene asks, “What’s the difference between being suspicious of our own presuppositions and doing everything so that you can connect with some?” I’m not sure I understand the question very well. But I would say your beliefs that are not founded on facts, I can almost guarantee you that those beliefs are wrong. Okay, let me take this a step further than I took it before. It’s not just randomly you might be right or you might be wrong. No, you’re probably wrong. What you want to do is, is replace those beliefs, those opinions . . . we all have these opinions. I mean, I sometimes do an appeal and I think, “No way, ever I would respond to this.” Now, there’s a lot of reasons I wouldn’t, because I’m not in the target audience. But more importantly, I’m thinking about it in a rational and conscious way.

I try to replace those opinions with facts that I know. And that’s kind of the job we all have to do. So you might think, “Long letters, okay, that just seems so wrong.” But it is probably right. Underlining, corny design, all these things. The facts tell us those things work better. And most of us have, sort of, our instincts go exactly the opposite way. That’s okay. Just as long as you understand that. That my instincts are probably wrong, then you’re going to be fine, because you’re going to be looking for facts rather than those feelings that we have.

Ashley says, “When fundraising for economic development efforts, how do I select a single subject showing the impact? What would you suggest highlight, the business worker or someone else?” Okay, I’m thinking what you’re referring to is sort of large scale projects and that the work doesn’t directly touch any one person. But here’s the thing. It does. I know the way the work is set up it doesn’t. But it is all about changing the lives of individuals. So the story I would tell would be somebody who will benefit from the change that you’re bringing, and what’s wrong, what is going to change because of what you’re doing. Talk about the outcome in terms of individuals. I think that’s the way you need to get there.

And because a lot of us work in things like that, where we aren’t handing food to hungry person, and we’re not opening the door of a shelter to one person who needs a bed tonight, we’re doing things that are less direct. But the fact that it’s less direct doesn’t mean they’re not there. I think that’s maybe the important thing.

Steven asked “What do I find to be the most convenient, responsive way to get people to give? Mail, texts, online, etc.?” Mail is the best, online is a second and text is not often good, but there are some organizations that make it work. And that has kind of how did you get people’s cell phone numbers. If you have it, give it a try, see if it works, but mail by far the most responsive way. Actually, better than mail, is telephone. Telephone gets better response and phone.

The problem with phone is it’s expensive for you to do. But, you know, consider adding phone to your arsenal of ways you connect with donors. It’s kind of like the more human touch there is the better. So, you know, at the very top would be, you know, go to their house and have tea with them. That’s actually better. It’s just not very efficient. You can’t do it with very many people. Phone is better because you can call a lot of people. You call a whole bunch of people in one day whereas in a personal meeting you probably only meet two or three people in a day. Mail, you can do thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands at a time.

An email you can do even more but the engagement level of emails is lower. Yeah. So it’s kind of like the more human touch there is, the more difficult and expensive it is, but the more responsive it is. And mail is kind of the sweet spot between the low engagement of email and the high cost of phone and personal visits. It’s really . . . it’s an economic decision, right? If you’ve got somebody who gives you $100,000, you aren’t going to be only emailing that person, right? You’re going to do everything you can to be in that person’s life. And it’s worth it. It is a smart thing to do. If they want to meet with you, some of them don’t. But if they want to meet with you, you should be meeting with them and developing a specific personal relationship with that person.

Virginia’s organization has not been in contact with the donor base for about a year. Almost a year, sorry. There was a gala a year ago, 175 people, some of them were not thanked. Okay, you’re in trouble. Virginia, your organization’s in trouble. Not being in touch with someone for a year means pretty much you’ve lost that person. Not completely, you’ll be able to get some of them back, but if it’s been a year since you’ve talked to them and especially if they weren’t thanked, they’ve moved on. It’s kind of over for most of them. Now, you’re going to have some super fans in there and, you know, I would say try to pick up the pieces, try to contact these people, try to get going, but don’t let a lot of time go by. If you’re serious about building relationship with donors, you’ve got to pick up your part of that relationship. Kind of like sitting there and not talking to someone, that’s not a great way to have relationship with somebody is just to sit there silently and not engage with them.

Ivy asked, “Is it bad to send a “Dear Friend” appeal letter rather than ones personalized with a name address?” No, it’s not bad, it’s fine. Generally, you’ll do slightly better if you use their name, but it’s not a huge deal. I know some people say that, but I’ve tested it. In fact, there are a few cases where “Dear Friend” or “Dear Friendly Neighbor” or you know, things like that can do better. And that will be cases, I think it’s where maybe you’re going out to a zip code list. And “Dear Friendly Neighbor” in cases like that actually works better than using their name. And I think the reason for that is there’s enough error in the data, that if you’re using their name, there’s a not insignificant chance that you have the wrong name. And therefore, “Dear Neighbor” is actually a safer thing to say.

But all I could say is the cost difference between dear real name versus “Dear Friend” has really shrunk. It used to be a kind of an expensive deal. Now it doesn’t really make that much difference. So I would recommend you use their name. But if for whatever reasons you can’t, you’ve got to say “Dear Friend.” It’s okay. You will survive, you’re not going to kill your fundraising program by doing that. It will still work.

Toula asks about leveraging social media. I recommend it. I mean the cool thing about social media is you can target people very tightly. You can actually say I want . . . you can actually upload your email database and actually [point 01:00:25] specific people. But if they’re seeing in social media the same thing that’s in their mailbox and in their inbox, it’s good. That helps. I’d say that put your social media emphasis on supporting campaigns that are helping reach other media.

Okay, Steven, we’re kind of at the end of the hour. What should we do?

Steven: Yeah, wow, I could sit here all day and I enjoyed hearing you at this conference we were both at earlier this week. But since we are a little over time, I want to be respectful of everyone. But, Jeff, would you be willing to take questions maybe by email or Twitter or can people get ahold of you afterwards? Is that cool?

Jeff: That’s cool. Yeah, absolutely.

Steven: What’s the best way for people to find you?

Jeff: Let’s give them an email address. Should I type that somewhere or should I just say it?

Steven: Yeah, you can say it. I’ll type it in for you if you say it.

Jeff: Okay. Fairly easy, Now, the trick is there’s a hyphen between jeff . . . jeff-brooks.

Steven: Got it. All right. I’m going to put that in the chat. So, if we didn’t get to your question here’s your chance to email a legend and obviously a wealth of knowledge. So reach out to him.

Jeff: It’s really a busy week for me like it probably is for you, but I will get back to you.

Steven: Well, I want to acknowledge that you fit this into a very busy schedule including travel so thank you, Jeff, for doing this, awesome information, reinforced a lot of my beliefs and squashed a couple of ones that I had maybe the opposite feeling on. So this was awesome. Thank you for doing this. Really appreciate it and thanks to all of you for hanging out here. Getting towards year end, I know you’re also all very busy so I appreciate seeing full room in the chat as well.

We’ve got a great webinar coming up next week. Speaking of social media, we got Julia Campbell, buddy of mine, she is awesome. Going to be talking all about social media. She’s one of my go-to’s for social stuff. So check that out 1:00 p.m. next Thursday. We got lots of other webinars scheduled towards the end of the year and you can check out on our webinar page. We would love to see you again on another session. So we’ll call it a day there, Jeff, thank you. Really appreciate it and all of you, thanks for hanging out with us.

Hope you have a Happy Halloween, if you’re going out trick-or-treating tonight, be safe. And look for an email from me with the recording and the slides. I’ll get that for you this afternoon, I promise. And hopefully, we’ll see you again on another session.

Jeff: Yeah. Thanks, everybody. Great talking to you.

Steven: Yes, have a good rest of your Thursday, have a good weekend, talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

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