Why Mail and the Telephone Still Rule

The electronic world offers tremendous opportunity, but let’s not forget about the basics . . .

There is no doubt – email, web sites, social media and all the other tools of the electronic world have great potential.
And any nonprofit organization that ignores them would be making a huge mistake. Money raised through these means continues to grow every year and will likely grow significantly over the next decade.

But the lions share of donations to nonprofits has been and will continue to be raised by the tried and proven workhorses of fundraising –the telephone and direct mail. They are more reliable, more predictable and provide a better return on investment than other methods. This may eventually change and the phone and mail may give way to more effective approaches but for now and the foreseeable future, if you’re not using both mail and phone, you are missing out.

The most powerful way to convince someone to donate is to meet with them face-to-face. And some organizations do run door-to-door campaigns. But when you compare the number of people you can reach door-to-door in a week to the number you can reach by telephone, the phone is a hands down winner.  If you want to speak with thousands of people in a short period of time, the telephone is the only way to do it. It is the most effective way to raise a large amount of donations in the shortest possible time.

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Donor Newsletters: 12 Ways to Make Yours More Effective

By Alan Sharpe, CFRE
The difference between a good donor newsletter and a poor one comes down to donors and dollars. A good newsletter retains donors and makes money. A poor one doesn’t. Here are 12 ways to improve your donor newsletter so that it works harder for you.

1. Make your donor the hero of every story. Take the focus off your institution and put it where it belongs: on the person who pays your salary. Donors want to read about themselves, not your charity.

2. Make each issue a report card to your donor. Prove that you are using donor gifts wisely and as intended. Show how their donations are making a difference. Act as if you won’t get another dime of support unless your donor gives you an A Grade, an A for Accountability.

3. Don’t celebrate another anniversary. Donors don’t care that you’re celebrating your 20th anniversary, or that you did something special in 1968. They give to organizations that look ahead, not backwards.

4. Make your donors reach for the Kleenex. Stir the emotions of your supporters so that they identify even more closely with the people you help. Help them feel at a visceral level that they are touching lives with their support.

5. Give your donors “The Because.” Doctors Without Borders in Australia has a page in its newsletter entitled “Why We Do What We Do.” It doesn’t tell you what they do. It explains why they do it, the “because.” Do likewise and you will retain more donors and raise more money.

6. Fine yourself $1,000 for every cliché photo you publish. No more ribbon-cutting ceremony with the over-size scissors, cheque-passing ceremony with the over-size cheque, ground-breaking ceremony with the people in suits putting shovels into the ground, or the grip-and-grin photo with the awkward-looking host handing over the plaque to the equally awkward-looking recipient. If the photo has been done to death, bury it.

7. Write about people, not programs. People give to people to help people. No more stories about your board retreat, awards your staff have won, or staff promotions. Make sure every story has a strong human-interest angle.

8. Put captions under all photos. No photo is worth a thousand words. Otherwise silent movies would still be silent. And People Magazine wouldn’t need a proofreader.

9. Write photo captions that tell the reader what she can’t see. If the photo is of a child riding a horse, don’t write, “Children in our program ride horses.” Instead, write, “Billy didn’t talk until he rode his first horse, Presidente. Now he speaks in full sentences, thanks to our therapeutic riding program, which is funded by our generous donors.”

10. Put your donor in your headline, subhead or opening paragraph, or all three. Example: “Thanksgiving Dinner at The Mission Beats All Records with 1,865 Homeless Served, Thanks to Our Donors.”

11. Make each newsletter article, column, news story, editorial and profile answer the only question your donors have: “What good have you done with my donation?”

12. Offer your donors many ways to donate. Include a tear-out coupon. Enclose a business reply envelope. Print your website address on every page. Supply a toll-free number for donations.

Learn More

Read Increase Your Income and Boost Donor Loyalty with Donor-Centered Newsletter Stories, 53 Simple Ways to Raise Money with Your Donor Newsletter, and Lucrative Donor Newsletters.

Who Writes a Better Fundraising Letter, the Doctor or the Patient?

You have a dramatic, interesting, compelling story to tell about someone who has been helped by your non-profit organization. You are sure that this story will stir your donors’ emotions and boost your response rates and revenue.

So how should you tell the story? You have two options.

You can either (A) tell it from your point of view, or (B) you can let the person who experienced your organization tell their story in their own words. I recommend you go with Option B whenever possible, although this style of letter has its disadvantages.

In a first-person letter, the person that the story is about writes and signs the letter. For example, if you are a hospital, and you have an amazing story to tell about a patient who was dead on arrival but is alive today because of the intervention of your hospital staff, this type of story would be told in the patient’s own words.

The letter might begin like this: “On a sunny afternoon last September, I arrived at the Metro Health Hospital dead. I had no pulse, no blood pressure, and I wasn’t breathing. Not good, you’ll agree. But here I am a year later, telling you my story, and all because of the amazing staff of the hospital, who saved my life.” The letter would continue with the patient telling his story, and conclude by asking the reader to make a donation.

1. A story told in the first-person is invariably more dramatic and interesting than when the same story is related second-hand by a staff member. The writer of Amazing Grace wrote: “I once was blind, but now I see,” not, “John Newton once was blind but now he sees.”

2. They make your claims more believable because they get the people you serve to make them for you. An ex-patient who suffered a heart-attack, but whose life was saved by hospital staff, can say that the cardiology department is among the best in the world, and be believed, but if his surgeon says the same thing in a letter, donors will think he is just bragging.

3. Letters written by people who have been helped by your organization prove in a personal way that you are making a difference in the world. That’s because stories of lives changed, told by the people whose lives were changed, are more persuasive than stories told about them.

1. Letters written in the first-person by the people your organization helps or the people you serve have no institutional authority. A letter written by your CEO obviously speaks on behalf of your organization. But a letter written by someone who has used your services speaks about their experience, and nothing more. Only a letter written by a staff member or board member can tell donors about your strategic direction, describe your programs, and show how past support from donors is making a difference at your organization today.

2. Letters written by your clients are also unable to talk to donors about confidential matters. They cannot thank your new donor for her first gift, cannot ask your lapsed donor to renew his support, and cannot ask your monthly donor to make a one-time gift to a special appeal, since doing so would breach your privacy policy. (The way around this shortcoming is to include a note, written by your CEO or executive director, that describes all of the things that the writer of the letter could not write about.

Fundraising letters written in the first-person by the people your non-profit helps are likely the strongest letters you will mail, but not all of your letters can be written this way. Your clients cannot tell your story as well as you can, and you can’t tell their stories as well as they can. At least half of your letters need to come from your organization, written by and signed by a person in senior leadership.

Learn more about how to write better fundraising letters. Read Breakthrough Fundraising Letters, Pushing the Envelope, or one of Alan Sharpe’s many handbooks about direct mail fundraising.

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