Category Archives: General Fundraising

Best Email Subject Lines From Nonprofits

pirate msgLast week’s pirate-themed email from Oceana has got me keeping a watchful eye on other nonprofits’ email subject lines, to see which can best capture readers’ attention without the use of pirate lingo. (It’s thematic only one day out of the year, after all. Arrr.)

I had to open a recent email titled, “It’s time to take care of the bottom‏,” from Shotgun Players (a Berkeley-based theater company). I thought the wording was some sort of faux pas, oops thing, but no, they’re raising money for seat cushions and a new toilet.  So, give them credit for humor, taking a chance, and curbing my “delete without reading” impulse.

“Your tax dollars at work — killing wildlife‏,” from the NRDC, was also one I had to click on. The heavy sarcasm caught my eye, not to mention that it raised a question to which I needed to know the answer. (In case you are similarly curious, the first line of the email explained, “A little-known government agency called Wildlife Services is killing thousands of wild animals every year — and you and I are picking up the tab.”)

“Big Tobacco: Get your butts out of our Bay‏,” from Save the Bay, wasn’t bad either.

From Greenpeace, the heading, “BREAKING: Russia holding Greenpeace activists at gunpoint in the Arctic‏” was one I certainly couldn’t ignore. If your nonprofit has news like that, post it while it’s fresh and you can speak in the present tense!

So let’s see, humor, sarcasm, humor, and urgency. There’s a pattern here, at least regarding what I respond to. As to what I don’t? Well, I still don’t know what’s in the email entitled “This will make you furious.” Yes, it raises a question (“What could be worse than what I’ve already heard?”) but frankly, there’s already plenty that makes me furious. I don’t want to add to the list.

Fundraising Kudos to Oceana, for Riffing Off “Talk Like a Pirate” Day

treasure chestOne of the first items to land in my email inbox this morning had the subject line, “Avast! Was your seafood caught by pirates?‏” As Oceana went on to explain (and anyone who’s on Facebook already knew), today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

The email went on to say that, “It’s all in good fun, but how can we celebrate when there are real pirates out there scooping up our fish?”

Oceana is dealing with an issue that’s ongoing — but it managed to use a topical, and even humorous hook to get readers to think about it in a new way. That’s an ongoing, even daily challenge for any organization trying to use email or social media to get its message out. Let’s hope their strategy brings in lots of pieces of eight.

Study of Kids’ Giving Patterns Raises New Questions

kidPlenty of surprising statistics can be found in the recent study known as Women Give 2013, New Research on Charitable Giving by Girls and Boys, conducted by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Most notably:

  • Nearly nine out of ten children between the ages of eight and 19 have given at least some small amount to charity in at least two of the previous several years.
  • Around six out of ten girls had volunteered at least once during the relevant time periods, and five out of ten boys.

Too bad we can’t predict how many of these kids will go on to become charitable donors in adulthood. I’d hazard a guess that the numbers will drop off as soon as they’re in college and facing tuition and other bills, but that’s just a guess. In fact, there are a lot of other things that we might wonder about but can only guess at, such as:

  • Why are giving levels so high among the young? Speculating about this isn’t too difficult — kids take part in numerous organized activities through school and church, and some of these may involve giving to a charity. Also, use of social media may mean their friends ask them to give to a cause.
  • Why do girls volunteer more than boys? One could easily speculate about adults — there’s a long tradition of women volunteering, based in good part on their history of staying out of the workforce for some period of time while raising children. But young girls are far away from such social structuredness. What’s up?
  • How can nonprofits foster continued interest in charitable giving among these children? One factor, unfortunately, is somewhat out of our hands: The study found that when parents actually talk to their children about charitable giving, beyond just modeling giving behavior, it made a big difference in the kids’ likelihood of making donations. But nonprofits can certainly remind parents, via social media sites or newsletters, to talk to their children about their reasons for giving.

Because this study is new, we don’t know whether today’s adults come from a similar history of childhood giving. But as the children in this study themselves grow up, nonprofits can act with the knowledge that the concept of supporting a good cause is not a new one for them.

Newly in Print: Fourth Edition of Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits

effn4_2I almost forgot to announce this — but don’t worry, the midnight lines of eager purchasers haven’t completely depleted the stock of this latest edition of Nolo’s all-around guide, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits.

Some exciting features of this new edition include simple explanations of how “search engine optimization” can help bring Web searchers to your nonprofit’s website; new information on how to use crowdfunding to augment your fundraising efforts; new stories from fundraising practitioners, such as the development folks at Rosie’s Place in Boston describing their holiday card-sales program; the latest IRS tax figures relevant to your work; and much more.

Should everyone involved in nonprofit fundraising buy this book? No! This book is specifically aimed at nonprofits that are fairly grassroots, but nevertheless large enough to have staff members whose responsibilities include development. If you are with an even smaller nonprofit or one with no full-time staff, such as a P.T.A., church or temple, or musical group, you’ll be better served by reading Nolo’s book, The Volunteers’ Guide to Fundraising.

 

What Fundraisers Can Learn From Ben Franklin

benBen Franklin is quoted as having said, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” This quote is often tossed around by telemarketers, teaching one another the not-so-gentle are of pushing a customer just far enough toward closing the deal . . . but not so far that the customer hangs up in a panic.

Your average fundraiser does not, of course, go to telemarketer school. (Many telemarketers, in fact, seemed to have skipped the lesson mentioned above, but that’s another story.)

The thing of it is, I sometimes wonder whether fundraisers would be better off studying telemarketing tactics. By doing so, they could also understand when to back off, and why prospective donors — who are also consumers — are prone to feeling railroaded.

Why is this on my mind? Because some overeager fundraisers recently showed up at my front door, and despite the fact that I was literally holding cell phone to my ear and talking to my parents, they WOULD NOT LEAVE until they’d delivered their entire, long spiel. (They probably thought I was lying about being on the phone. I wasn’t.)

If anything, selling a product leaves more room to convince someone against their will than “selling” a cause does. We all buy lots of things we don’t really need, sometimes just to try something new. But when it comes to supporting a charitable effort, studies have shown that even those who donate to charity tend to choose a limited universe of causes to give to, based on very personal reasons. (See my book, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits — just out in its 4th edition — for more on that.)

So, there are some people out there — goodhearted, charitable people — who will not support your cause no matter how hard you try. Or maybe they’ll give a few bucks, but ignore all follow-up appeals, and resolve never to pick up the phone or open their door again.

Ben Franklin might have been interested to hear the results of a recent study of fundraising techniques, which found that telling targets that they were free to refuse the request actually increased the likelihood that they would donate. People felt “less threatened” by the whole interaction. (Will we be hearing such messages from telemarketers soon?)

It’s PTA Collection Time as the School Year Begins!

Can you feel the excitement in the air? Kids are finding out who their teachers are, buying their back-to-school wardrobes, and signing up for activities.

Parents, however, may be a little less excited. Whether the kids are attending public or private schools, this is the time when many are asked to write a big check — knowing that without parental support, the school will literally go without an arts or music program, a librarian, after-school tutors, and so on. The “suggested donation” levels can run into the thousands of dollars.

This raises the annual conundrum: Should the PTA or other volunteers organizing these fundraising efforts ask for the full, needed lump-sum up front, or plan to spread out their requests for funding over the school year, sometimes packaged up as special events or fundraising sales?

Two mothers I recently spoke with debated this very point. One said, “I helped with school fundraising last year, and noticed that some people just won’t write a check unless they get something in return — they hold out for the silent auctions and other sales.” The other said, “But I get so sick of having to attend events like that, and I’m sure things like wrapping paper sales don’t net the school more than a few bucks — I’d rather just add that to my check at the beginning of the year. Yes, it hurts to write that big a check, but at least I get it over with.”

FLIBThere’s probably no final answer, though if you’re a PTA fundraiser, it’s worth keeping an eye on whether parents are developing a “mass sentiment” toward fundraising. Here’s an excerpt from my book, The Volunteers’ Guide to Fundraising, that will help illustrate:

[D]onor sentiment has cycled at South Mountain Elementary School in South Orange, New Jersey. PTA copresident Laura Reichgut describes, “We sent out a survey last year to get a sense of how the school community was feeling about fundraising, programming, and so forth. A lot of the feedback suggested that parents had had their fill of the various smaller fundraisers, such as giftwrap sales or walkathons. So the PTA decided to eliminate some of those this year—or at least take a break from them—and replace them with what we call the ‘No Frills Campaign.’ We sent out a simple letter asking
for donations and including a reply envelope. Our pitch was that this is an opportunity to support all the great work of the school with 100% tax-deductible donations. . . . [A] mere week into the campaign, the South Mountain PTA had already reached its minimum monetary goal for the No Frills Campaign, and the donations continued to come in during the following weeks.”

Hey, Nonprofit: Are You Talking to Me?

armyI just received an email from a nonprofit with the subject line, “We Need a Tiny Fraction of You to Donate.” Exactly which fraction of me are they after? My pinky? My appendix?

All kidding aside, this awkward construction, using the plural “you,” is all too common among writers at nonprofits and elsewhere. The writers unconsciously picture themselves as addressing a crowd.

They forget that, by the time the email reaches my inbox, it’s just me. I’m expecting a personal touch — a direct appeal for funds based on a supposedly one-to-one relationship between the nonprofit and me.

But with a subject line like the one above, I quickly notice that the nonprofit is not really talking to me at all. It’s talking to a whole bunch of people. In that case, all I have to do is step aside and let the others make the donations, right?

We’re not talking complex grammar here. All anyone has to do to avoid this problem is to look twice at every use of the word “you” in addressing prospective donors. Make it singular, as if talking to just one person.

Then, don’t forget to carry this usage throughout the email or other missive — another common place where writers go wrong, as illustrated by another email that just landed in my inbox. It had such a promising, personal-sounding subject line: “My work with you.”

The writer proceeded to blow it within the first two lines: “Ilona, I’m writing to let each of you know about an important change at [our nonprofit.]” Each of me? Oh dear, I didn’t know my multiple personalities were that obvious.

Got Milestones to Celebrate?

childrenThe East Bay Children’s Book Project recently announced to its email followers that, “We are getting ready to celebrate an amazing milestone. We will give away our millionth book sometime this year.” In recognition, the group is sponsoring a contest to guess the exact time they give away that millionth book, collecting one million pennies, and otherwise inviting publicity.

Let’s think about that milestone for a minute. It’s impressive, and it’s legitimate. But unlike, say, an organization’s tenth anniversary or the graduation of its first class, “millionth book” is not a milestone that stares you right in the face. This group basically had to decide to measure, mark, and announce it. And kudos to them for their nonprofit marketing savvy.

Milestones are an excellent way for nonprofits to engage with their members and supporters on topics that don’t scream desperation. Even if a group doesn’t build an event around them, they can be fodder for email campaigns and social media. And some milestones will, in fact, be worthy of a special event. Let this be inspiration for you to think about what milestones your group is reaching, beyond the obvious ones, and make the most of them.

For free tips on how to hold a special event, and how to engage with supporters via social media, see the Nonprofit Fundraising section of Nolo’s website.

 

 

It’s Actually Okay If Your Nonprofit Doesn’t Hold a Golf Fundraiser

golfTo hear all the ads and emails, you’d think that any nonprofit that hasn’t started planning its spring golf tournament — right now, this instant — is putting a permanent divot into its fundraising budget. Doesn’t it make you feel a little nervous, hearing about how other groups are raising money in ways that yours hasn’t even contemplated?

Relax, take a deep breath, and remember the fundraisers’ mantra: Your fundraising plan should be based on your nonprofit’s assets and capacities. If you don’t have a fundraising plan, now might be a good time to get going on one. But chasing after ideas like golf tournaments is only going to postpone that process, probably without much of a budgetary boost in the meantime.

There’s a reason I’m picking on golf tournaments, too. I’ve never met a fundraising method more famous for insinuating itself into a nonprofit’s activities — usually because one founder or board member happens to love golf — and then occupying oodles of staff and volunteer time, despite the fact that the number of participants hasn’t grown much and it has absolutely no thematic tie-in with the nonprofit’s work or the interests of most of its members.

For help with identifying your nonprofit’s core assets and developing a fundraising plan that best utilizes those, see “Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits: Real-World Strategies That Work” (Nolo).

What “Fundraising” Means Depends on the Type of Organization

CAKEThe dictionary defines fundraising as simply, “the act or process of raising funds.” But what that literally means depends on what sort of organization you’re working with. In particular, fundraising techniques, cycles, and cardinal rules look very different depending on whether you’re with:

  • a small or volunteer-led effort such as a start-up nonprofit or a school, church or temple, or community group, or
  • a nonprofit that’s big or established enough to have at least one development staffperson (or perhaps an executive director committed to fundraising efforts).

What’s different about the fundraising experiences of these two types of groups? Here are some of the biggest variations:

  • Volunteer-led efforts may lack continuity. Particularly in schools, where the population of parents changes every year, it can be difficult to plan beyond the next 12 months. While a few people may stay on, other key participants may drop out, and vital information about previous activities or donors may be lost. The constituency may change, as well, making it difficult to develop and maintain relationships with donors. Larger more established groups, by contrast, can and should develop an annual fundraising plan and foster long-term relationships with donors.
  • Volunteer-led efforts rely on what volunteers are willing to do. That sounds obvious, but if you look at how it plays out, the significance is huge: Most volunteers hate asking people for money directly. They may eventually learn that it’s not so bad, but on the whole, this tendency leads to a huge proportion of volunteer-led fundraising activities that are special events (bake sales, pancake breakfasts, auctions, fairs, carnivals, benefits, and so on). Special events are the least efficient way to fundraise, as the larger more established groups have mostly learned (sometimes the hard way). But for certain types of groups, special events not going to go away anytime soon.
  • Volunteer-led or smaller groups may have a constituency with a direct, personal interest in the cause. It can certainly be easier to get people involved when they are the literal beneficiaries of the group — the parents of kids in school or on a sports team, the patrons of a local library, the members of a house of worship, and so on. Not everyone will feel a sense of responsibility or be able to follow through, but many will “get it” that if they don’t take part in fundraising activities, the service will go away. This can be good for fundraising via methods that involve large numbers of people, such as a walk-a-thon or auction.
  • Smaller or less established nonprofits may face greater challenges obtaining grant funding. Foundations and corporations like to see that a group has a track record of using funding wisely, and that’s hard to show if you, uh, don’t. Then again, a nonprofit that’s new may at least be able to show prospective funders that it’s doing something exciting and different, instead of just trying to continue last year’s program.
  • Smaller or less-established groups may lack infrastructure, resources, and storage space. They’re often going without a donor database, a dedicated office space, a place to put the goodies for their next auction, and so on. Individuals often end up borrowing their own homes or even office space for the cause.
  • Larger groups must raise larger amounts just to cover the basics. With various commitments such as rent, salaries, and other operating costs, a larger organization may find that a big part of its fundraising efforts serve just to keep the lights on. They have a harder time being nimble in responding to change.

No doubt this list could go on. In the meantime, you can learn more about each of these two different fundraising universes by reading one of the two books offered by Nolo: The Volunteers’ Guide to Fundraising; Raise Money for Your School, Team, Library or Community Group; or, for the larger, more established groups, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits; Real-World Strategies That Work.