Maybe like you, I feel like I’m programmed to pick out things in odd places that relate to fundraising. So when I was reading a book called Traffic (Tom Vanderbilt) not long ago, something grabbed me. Vanderbilt touched on a point that I discuss in my fundraising classes: appeals that focus on the needs of one person – one student, one starving child, one cancer patient – are almost always the most effective. He went on to cite studies that tell us that the effectiveness of a solicitation letter goes down when even two people are discussed instead of one. He made clear what we know in direct mail fundraising: talking about groups of people or things simply dilutes the letter’s effectiveness.
Some of you have heard me talk and write about what I call the “Ed McMahon Factor.” (see http://www.pgtomorrow.com/archive/summer2009.pdf) In short, it says that forming a direct relationship between ONE signatory of a letter – not two or three, but one – consistently and over time, builds confidence in the organization. The letter writer – whether it’s the president of the organization or the board chair or a client that was served – is writing directly to the donor. It’s a personal correspondence, not from “us” but from “me.” But it needs to be the same person for a while. That builds a brand and loyalty – and response.
Rounding out this picture is the most important element – the person to whom you’re writing. You typically don’t write to a group, but to a person. So when you write to a person, you address that person by name, not “Dear Friend” or “Dear Hugg Family,” but “Dear Matt.” People pay much more attention to something written to them, even though they know that it’s not likely to be a personal letter.
So, what’s the formula? 12141. The best fundraising letter is from one person (1) to (2) one person (1)for (4) addressing the problems of one person (1)!
Of course, I’m biased. I can write 12141 appeals for you at any time. But whether you have me help you, or do it in-house, I hope this little memory trick reminds you of what’s important to say in every appeal out the door.
Early and often. When was the last time that the head of your organization communicated with your constituents? Not long ago, I hope. Yet that’s rarely the case. For all the work that’s required to run your typical nonprofit, sending out an update to 10,000 of her or his closest friends – your donors, prospects and clients – is probably not #1 on the list. That’s okay. Make it easy and write the letter (or have Matt write the letter) yourself. Regular communication with donors is a major problem for most nonprofits. Don’t let it be yours.
Banks… you might hate yours… you might feel ambivalent about yours… you may even love yours… but do you leave yours? Rarely.
Banks know that once you’re in… once you have the checking and the savings and the direct deposit and the credit card and the line of credit and the home equity loan and the brokerage service and the…. it’s too complicated to leave. They own you.
They spend a lot on building that relationship because they know that besides a tenth of a percentage point or two, what they offer is just the same as what the bank across the corner offers.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you manipulate your donors so that they give even while they hate you. However, I do want you to look at all the ways that you build your relationship. What have you invested to keep your donors?
Do your donors get “insider” information? Do they feel special when they give to you for the first time? Do you celebrate their successive years of support with a small token? Can they get access to information on your mission (which is really their mission) that they can pass along to their friends?
See, like the bank, you can’t afford to be a “just another charity on the corner” to them. You need your donor to “own” you.