Category Archives: Online Fundraising

Why Your Nonprofit’s Next Fundraising Auction Should Set Earnings Records

boxesCorporate giving is up, according to the 2012 Giving in Numbers report from the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.

It’s up across the board, to the tune of 42% or $4.48 billion between 2007 and 2012. That’s good when you want straight cash. But it’s even better when you want a non-cash contribution from a business, such as  a gift basket, hotel stay, case of wine, or other tempting item for your next charity auction.

Non-cash corporate contributions accounted for 69% of the 2012 corporate giving totals, up from 57% in 2007. We seem to be at a curious point in the U.S.’s economic recovery: Business profits are up just enough that owners feel comfortable increasing their donations to charity — but with sales on the sluggish side, they’re still ending up with excess inventory, which can go toward a nonprofit in need.

Of course, need alone isn’t enough to convince a business to hand over its goods. The savvy nonprofit will make professional requests that stress the attractive manner in which potential auction items will be displayed as well as how the corporate donor will be recognized.

For more on how to hold a great auction, see the article, “Twelve Steps to Preparing a Successful Fundraising Auction.” And while we’re talking about auctions, make sure your nonprofit isn’t making the common mistake of giving bidders an exaggerated idea of how high a tax deduction they’ll receive, as discussed in, “Is Your Nonprofit Overpromising Tax Deductions?

Real People Trying Crowdfunding Discover What Nonprofits Already Knew

coinThe field of artists, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, dreamers, freelancers, travel buffs, scientists, and folks in need who are trying out crowdfunding as a way to raise cash is getting a bit, well, crowded. Distinguishing one’s pitch from all the others takes all the creativity and marketing skills that one can muster, as seen in the article “Generation ASK,” by Lauren Smiley, in the May, 2013 issue of San Francisco magazine.

Experienced fundraisers will nod knowingly at the marketing lesson arrived at by one such seeker — Michele Turner, on her way to raising $14,000 to cover basic costs (rent, gas) associated with her time spent in chemo. In order to tap into people’s passions rather than mere guilt, Smiley explains that Turner needed to “sell[] benefactors on the experience of being part of her recovery, not just on alleviating her poverty.”

Sound familiar? In fact, the various crowdfunding sites advise people seeking funds to post updates and thank-yous, “keeping [donors] abreast of every morsel of good news.” As Smiley explains, “All this can be exhausting for someone fighting a serious illness.”  But the good part of this is that “With so many people invested in her recovery, [Turner] can’t shake the feeling that she’s on the hook to heal . . . .”

The parallels aren’t entirely surprising, but notice that, even when the first people who will be viewing the pitch for cash are your own friends and family, sheer neediness and desperation remain a turnoff. Hope sells, as does the chance to be part of the solution.

For more information on nonprofit uses of crowdfunding, see Nolo’s new article, “Using Crowdfunding to Raise Money for Your Nonprofit.”

Before a Nonprofit Can Publish Its Stories, It Needs to Gather Them

book pagesIt used to be that two or three inspiring stories about a nonprofit’s work could supply all the material it needed for mail appeals and newsletters — with any luck, for months at a time.

But with the growth of blogging and social media, nonprofits are developing an unrelenting hunger for new, publishable stories about their own work.

Even if it’s for just a quick photo or blurb about recent activities, the communications or development arm of a nonprofit organization needs to hear from the program people and volunteers. The trouble is, many of the latter folks are either too busy to talk or don’t understand the value of passing information along.

The organization Share Our Strength, with its well-known No Kid Hungry campaign, has plenty of stories to tell: for example, about the volunteer who drives around in a non-air-conditioned truck to deliver summer meals to hungry children, or the mother who declared that, thanks to the Cooking Matters class, she could triple the value of her WIC check.

But the organization also realized a few years back that gathering such stories wasn’t going to happen by chance.

I spoke with Jason Wilson, Associate Director of Digital Communications, who explained, “We set out to deliberately create a culture of storytelling within our organization. This involved identifying members of each department or team and making story transmission part of their responsibilities. They are literally asked to set aside time to tell the story of the work that’s happening, and then to connect with the people who are putting this information together for the Web or other materials.

“Once we got this culture built, and staff people began to see their stories presented—perhaps in an email campaign or as online content—they realized the double satisfaction in not only accomplishing something through their day-to-day work, but also through the telling of that story.

“There’s no set schedule for sharing. Either the staff will pass news along, or the people in charge of content may approach them with questions like, “We’re looking for stories about X, what do you have to share?”

“An effort like this really needs to be organization-wide, and involve accountability. For our team members, storytelling is a formal part of their performance goals.”

Nonprofit Email Response Rates Down, Twitter Followers Up, Up, Up

roller coasterHave you read the 2013 eNonprofit’s Benchmark Study yet? It’s worth a gander, both for encouragement and for a reality check. The findings (based on data from 55 nonprofits) show that social media audience sizes went through the roof in 2012; in particular, nonprofits’ Twitter followers increased by an average 264%. But typical “open” rates of nonprofit emails went down to about 14%, and response rates dropped precipitously, down to .07% for fundraising appeals. Ouch.

The study’s authors (M+R Strategic Services and NTEN) are careful to note that different types of groups had different experiences, with the biggest drop in email response rates among groups doing international and rights-related work. And we might be able to blame the 2012 elections for sucking up a big share of donations. Also, response rates may also look worse than they should because nonprofits are failing to weed out nonresponsive recipients from their lists.

Nevertheless, I doubt that my email inbox is the only one in the world that’s simply flooded with emails from every nonprofit I’ve ever had contact with. (And once you sign a few petitions at the urging of your Facebook friends, you’ll find that the number of “contacts” starts rising fast.) I start looking for excuses to delete an email without opening it. (“Looks boring. Don’t care as much about that issue as others. Typo in the subject line? Fuggedaboutit.”)

What all of this inevitably means is that your nonprofit needs to work extra hard at making your emails stand out from the rest. Also be sure to include newsletters and other advocacy pieces in the mix of emails you send out — these, according to the study, get opened more than straight fundraising appeals.

For more tips on this topic, see Nolo’s article, “Nonprofit Fundraising Emails: How to Make Them Profitable.”

Will Your End-of-Year Fundraising Email Stand Out From the Pack?

Those end-of-year charitable fundraising emails are coming thick and fast. My inbox is full of subject lines like, “Midnight is just hours away,” “Last chance: Gifts doubled,” “Before midnight,” “Really, we mean it this time — last chance to match,” and “Last chance to give in 2012.”

They’re starting to all look alike — and no wonder. The senders have likely run out of creative ideas, given that this inbox-influx represents only the latest in a sustained flow of emails that every nonprofit has been pouring out for the last several weeks. All with good reason, of course: As you’ve heard many times before (including in my blog on “Motivations for Holiday Charitable Giving“) about a third of all donations are made during the final weeks of the year.

But maybe the similarity in subject lines is okay. By now, the readers should have a good idea of what your nonprofit does, and whether they deem it worthy of support (though this is certainly something you want to include convincing information on in the body of the email). If your nonprofit can’t stand out from the pack in this slew of emails, it can at least establish its presence there. That will be handy for the people who are making their final decisions about giving, and thinking, “Hmm, I think X nonprofit should get something from me — maybe there’s an email here with a handy link I can click.” A good part of fundraising is, after all, about making it easy to give.

My one pet peeve is with nonprofits that make it sound like the end of the world is coming, and that anyone who doesn’t give by midnight will lose their chance FOREVER. It’s just a tax deduction, folks. Not all charitable donors itemize their deductions in the first place. Plus, the same nonprofits will be asking for donations again in 2013. Hopefully with a few days’ break on the email front.

Let the End-of-Year Fundraising Begin!

I don’t know about you, but it feels like there’s a bit of space in my email inbox left behind now that all the campaign solicitations disappeared. But I’m sure it won’t last long.

Oops, my email inbox is filling up as fast as I write this. Savvy nonprofits are weighing in with subject lines like, “After Election Day: The Future of . . . ” and “What the Election Means for  . . . .”

Smart move on their part: We’re entering the most intense fundraising period of the year, in which the majority of individual donations to nonprofits are made. By grabbing readers’ attention with an email focused on subject matter rather than a need for donations, they are establishing themselves as a credible and valuable source of information. That credibility will prove crucial in the coming weeks, as they will (I’m sure) be coming back to me with requests for money.

If you haven’t planned your fundraising strategy for the coming weeks, here’s Kivi Leroux Miller offers “A Quick End-of-Year-Fundraising Plan” that’s worth reprising.

 

Could Your Nonprofit Raise $100K on Facebook?

A select few groups do raise this amount or more per year on the popular social media site. Unfortunately, it’s less than 1% of those surveyed for the 2011 Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report. But the fact any group raises that amount is still astonishing.

The prevailing wisdom is that social networking is, at the end of the day, best used as a friend-raising strategy. Most of the groups surveyed (30%) raised between $0 and $1,000 over the previous 12 months. But have we really tested social fundraising’s possibilities yet, given that the vast majority of groups surveyed reported having invested less than $10,000 and less than 1/4 of an FTE staff person to the task of maintaining their social media presence?

Meanwhile, the return on investment looks pretty good. Unless I’m jamming together numbers that shouldn’t be so jammed, the report seems to say that it took an average of $3.50 to gain a new Facebook fan, and the value of each new fan in the first year was $161. At those rates, I’d be hiring new staff members (probably for the communications department, which is typically the one handling social media).

Facebook isn’t the only social network covered by the report. But with 98% of  nonprofits having established a Facebook presence (though only about half of them attempt to use it to fundraise), and nonprofits actually using their Facebook page more actively than any other social networking site, it’s pretty clear which is the biggest show in town right now.

Will This Be Your Nonprofit’s Year to Develop a Great Social Media Presence?

Here’s some inspiring help from Laura Quinn of Idealware, guest blogging for Nancy Schwartz  (on Getting Attention). Quinn’s article, “Strengthen Your Nonprofit Social Media Impact,” breaks down the planning process into bite-sized pieces, and helps you figure out how to get into a habit of continuous communication without getting overwhelmed.

The only thing I’d add to the list is to start following the social media pages of other nonprofits you respect. Tasks that Quinn recommends, such as defining your organization’s voice and providing interesting content even when you’re not in the middle of a particular campaign, will be easier to do if you can model your organization, or distinguish it from, others that you’re observing.

And for more on when and whether this social media presence might lead to donations, see Nolo’s article, “Social Networks as Fundraisers (or Friendraisers) for Your Nonprofit.”

Can Your Donors View Their Names Online?

I recently received an email from my college, with the subject line, “View Our New Online Honor Roll of Donors.” It allows all alums, with a password, to view the name of everyone (class by class) who made a donation in the last fiscal year.

Of course, I clicked through, just to see my name. I felt silly as I did so, but hey, it’s a matter of human (or at least donor) nature. Which is just what the college was counting on. And as I viewed the list of other classmates who’ve also given, many of whom I remember well, I got that warm feeling of belonging to a special group. The college was no doubt counting on that, too.

There are no new lessons here, but a new-ish application of some old truths about donor recognition and sense of belonging. It shouldn’t be too hard to create such an online list for your own organization.

What Part of “Inspire, Don’t Guilt” Don’t They Understand?

Today I received a fundraising email with the subject line “Bad Start to December Fundraiser.” I didn’t open it. (Would you?) It’s from an organization that I won’t name, but which I’ve come to think of as the perpetual purveyors of doom and gloom in my inbox.

With all the access to fundraising wisdom out there, explaining the need to make donors want to join your winning cause, rather than getting them worried about throwing good money after bad, shouldn’t they know better? Only a couple of weeks ago, Nancy Schwartz wrote a fine blog about how to write good email subject lines — and among her tips was “Inspire, don’t guilt” people. (I talked about her post in my November 2 blog entry.)

But maybe this strategy is actually working for this group . . . . nah, probably not. I get too many emails from them telling me how badly their fundraisers are going. Time for a change in strategy.