Posts tagged ‘direct mail’

November 11, 2016

How Long Should Your #Fundraising Appeal Be?

When I was in middle school, it was common for my English teacher to give us an essay assignment. Every time she did, one student would always ask, “How long do you want it to be?” The teacher provided great direction that has guided my writing ever since:

Make it as long as it has to be. If you have something to say, say it. When you’ve said it, stop writing.”

Sometimes, you’ll need to write a lengthy appeal while at other times, a shorter appeal might be more effective.

Mal Warwick, the direct mail guru, once told me about a survey of men and women designed to explore what type of appeals they might prefer. Men said they prefer short appeals while women said they prefer longer ones. The interesting thing is that when follow-up appeals were sent, men and women responded at similar rates. Even more interesting is that both men and women were more likely to respond to the longer appeals.

kerouac-scrollThe idea that people don’t read anymore is a myth.

If the appeal comes from an organization someone cares about, he will take the time to read provided that your copy is compelling and relevant to the reader.

Don’t be afraid of the number of words you are using. Use as many as you need to move your readers.

This general insight also holds true in the business-to-consumer and business-to-business worlds making it something of a universal truth. Writing in Target MarketingBob Bly says:

So when clients tell me they don’t like long copy, I ask, ‘For whom are you writing? Casual readers? Or serious buyers looking to spend their money on what you are selling?’”

Bly observes that longer copy generally generates greater response rates in both b-to-c and b-to-b marketing. Fundraising is no different.

Bly also reports that longer blog posts are better from an SEO perspective, according to research from Orbit Media. Research by HubSpot finds that longer blog posts (over 2,500 words) are more likely to be shared on social media. Site SEO Analysis shows wordier web pages (500 words at minimum, but over 2,000 is better) rank higher in search engines. Eccolo Media reports that longer whitepapers (six to eight pages) are more likely to be read than those that are shorter.

There are certainly times when using fewer words is the way to go. For example, if you’re writing copy for a postcard mailing, you’ll have very limited real estate with which to work. You’ll need to be brief. However, when you have space, it will generally be better for you to write longer rather than shorter.

Following best-practice can often be the wise move. However, that’s not always the case. If your list is large enough and you have the resources, you should test various appeal lengths to see what works best for your organization and its various audiences.

If you test, more often than not, you’ll find that longer copy will generate a better result. Just be sure to keep these 10 tips in mind:

read more »

Advertisements
June 21, 2016

Stop Making Stupid Email and Direct Mail Mistakes

Last week, my wife received an email appeal that demonstrates that fundraising professionals continue to make stupid email and direct mail mistakes. I’m not talking about fundraisers who have failed to use cutting-edge techniques. Instead, I’m talking about folks who have made S-T-U-P-I-D mistakes when it comes to the fundamentals of making a simple appeal.

To help you avoid some common, yet stupid, mistakes with your email and direct mail appeals, I’m going to share the email solicitation my wife received from the Rosenbach Museum and Library:

Rosenbach Email Appeal copy

Now, let’s look closely at the appeal to see where the author went wrong:

Subject Line: The subject line on the email reads, “Please support the Rosenbach!” Unless the recipient was waiting around anxiously for some way to donate to the Rosenbach, why would she even bother to open the email? The subject line tells the reader what she needs to know about the content: The Rosenbach wants money. And it either wants lots of money or needs money desperately judging from the exclamation point.

Rather than opening the email, my wife mentioned it to me because of the ridiculously bad subject line. When I asked her to open the email and read it aloud, she initially refused, saying, “We know what they want. They want money. Why bother opening it?” (By the way, we actually happen to like the Rosenbach; that’s why we’re on their email list.) I replied, “I bet the email is equally bad and that they even mention the end of their fiscal year.” So, with a sense of amusement, she opened the email.

Tip 1: Write a subject line that will entice the reader to open the email. Avoid turn-off subject lines or those that are misleading. For help writing more effective subject lines and headlines, checkout the Headline Analyzer tool.

Inappropriate Personalization: Right at the start, the author missteps. The email begins, “Dear Lisa.” Some people, particularly younger readers, might not find this problematic. However, Lisa does not know the email’s signatory, Derick Dreher. It was presumptuous of Dreher to address her by first name rather than as Mrs. Rosen or Ms. Rosen. Interestingly, adopting a less friendly and more formal style by the end of the email, Dreher signed his full name rather than just his first name.

Tip 2: When addressing people, especially strangers you want something from them, it’s generally a good idea — and always good manners — to show respect and a bit of deference. At the very least, if you’re going to use a casual salutation, be sure to match that style with a casual sign-off.

End of Fiscal Year: No one cares about the end of your fiscal year. Let me be perfectly clear: NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE END OF YOUR FISCAL YEAR! Okay, your Chief Financial Officer cares. However, your prospects and donors do not. Unfortunately, in the very first sentence of the appeal, it mentions that the Rosenbach is nearing the end of its fiscal year. If this was tied to a challenge grant that was about to expire at the end of the fiscal year, that might have been a worthwhile point to make. However, by itself, who cares?

Tip 3: Be donor centered and recognize that donors care about their own fiscal year, not yours. Unless you have a very good reason to talk about the end of your fiscal year, don’t do it.

Engagement: As if the first sentence wasn’t bad enough, the author made it even worse by referencing that Bloomsday has come to a close. There are two reasons this is a negative. First, my wife and I have no idea what “Bloomsday” is. So, why should we care about it?

Second, if Bloomsday was some sort of fun, worthwhile event, telling us about it after the fact is simply annoying and would make us feel terrible that we didn’t know about it in advance (hint, hint). Perhaps, the Rosenbach should have segmented its email list to send slightly different messages to those who did and did not participate in Bloomsday.

read more »

February 12, 2016

Do You Really Know Your Donors? — Part 2

In a cautionary tale earlier this week — Part 1 of a two-part series — I looked at the missteps one nonprofit organization took by not taking the time to get to know one of its loyal donors. In Part 2, I now examine a horrible fundraising appeal from an organization that actually knows its potential donor quite well, though it failed to leverage that knowledge.

Stethoscope and Piggy Bank via 401(K) 2012 via FlickrI originally got the idea for this post from one of my readers who contacted me with a link to an interesting New York Times article: “A New Effort Has Doctors Turn Patients Into Donors.” My reader wanted to know what I thought of the emerging trend of having doctors actively contact their patients for fundraising purposes.

I delayed writing about this subject because I have mixed feelings about it. Then, in December, I received a year-end appeal from my surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Cancer Center. The letter helped crystallize my thinking.

First, let me share a bit of background. A recent study by Dr. Reshma Jagsi, a radiation oncologist and ethicist at the University of Michigan, was published recently in The Journal of Clinical Oncology. It was the first major examination of the role of physicians in fundraising.

The New York Times reported:

In an unprecedented survey of more than 400 oncologists at 40 leading cancer centers, nearly half said they had been taught to identify wealthy patients who might be prospective donors. A third had been asked to directly solicit donations — and half of them refused. Three percent had been promised payments if a patient donated.”

Involving doctors in the fundraising process raises a number of ethical concerns. Dr. Arthur L. Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, shared some of his concerns with the Times:

Patients may be emotionally vulnerable; doctors have very close ties to their patients, which can strain asking on both sides; and the fact that incentives to ask sometimes skew toward the doctor’s own program rather than the most needy areas of the hospital.”

Another issue is, how will giving or not giving affect the level of care, or perceived level of care, from the doctor? Will patients feel coerced to give?

While I see the enormous potential for ethical pitfalls, I also see the significant potential benefit of having doctors involved in the fundraising process. The issue is how and when they are involved as well as the quality of development training they will receive.

For example, if I’m half-naked in my doctor’s examination room, I certainly do not want to receive an ask for a contribution. If I’m drowning in hospital bills, I’m not going to be particularly receptive to a fundraising appeal. However, if a development staff member wants to have lunch with me and my doctor to discuss the physician’s latest research, I’m perfectly amenable to that.

There are right ways and wrong ways to involve doctors in the fundraising process.

UPMC DM Appeal

UPMC Cancer Center Direct-Mail Appeal.

That brings me to the letter I received from Dr. David Bartlett in December. Dr. Bartlett is a world-class oncologic surgeon and medical researcher. He is one of the leading experts dealing with Appendiceal Carcinoma with Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (PMP), a very rare form of cancer I am currently battling. (You can learn more about my fight by clicking here.)

Dr. Bartlett knows me very well. In addition to knowing me as a patient, he knows that I’m a professional fundraiser who shares his passion for finding a more effective treatment for PMP. The development staff also knows me. Prior to going for surgery two years ago, my wife and I reached out to and met with one of the development professionals for the UPMC Cancer Center.

Yet, despite their knowledge of me, they sent me a piece of garbage intended as an appeal letter. The direct-mail solicitation was definitely not the way to involve my doctor in the fundraising process.

Let me outline the ridiculous mistakes that the UPMC Cancer Center made:

read more »

February 5, 2016

It’s Not Too Late to Think about Year-End Giving

No, the headline does not contain a typo. It’s not too late to think about your 2015 year-end giving. It’s also not too early to begin planning for your 2016 year-end appeal strategy. Let me tell you why.

Only about one-third of tax filers itemize on their tax returns. Therefore, year-end giving for tax avoidance is simply not that important to the majority of donors. Furthermore, survey after survey indicates that tax avoidance is a very low motivating factor for most donors. So, why put a tremendous amount of energy and resources into doing a year-end fundraising campaign? Here are some of the rationales:

Herd Mentality. The fourth quarter of the calendar year is a busy time for charity appeals. The largest number of direct mail appeals is sent at that time. For phone fundraising, it is also the busiest time of year. So, since everyone else is doing it, fundraisers think they should be out there, too. #GivingTuesday helps perpetuate this mentality.

Heaping Pile of Mail by Charles Williams via FlickrIt’s the Right Time. For some charities, doing a year-end campaign around the holidays is appropriate given the mission and/or history of the organization. Consider The Salvation Army and its red-kettle campaign, or the Toy-for-Tots effort geared to providing holiday presents for children. For other organizations, donors are simply accustomed to seeing and responding to a year-end appeal.

Year-End is a Time of Giving. With Hanukah and Christmas falling at year-end, there is certainly a giving spirit leading into the end of the year. Charities hope to piggyback on that giving spirit.

Charities Simply Must Appeal at Year-End. This relates to the first two reasons above. Fundraisers think they have to do a year-end appeal because it’s the thing to do or because the organization has always done one. Without giving it much thought, fundraisers conclude that a year-end appeal is simply something that is best practice.

Despite the conventional wisdom, doing a year-end appeal might actually short-change your organization. There might be a more effective way for you to raise money.

I’ve worked with charities that have tested a year-end appeal against a beginning-of-the-year campaign. Many of these charities found they could raise far more money in January and February instead of at year-end.

Why did those charities raise more money at the beginning of the year rather than at the end of it?

Interestingly, the reasons can be found when taking a closer look at the reasons I’ve outlined for year-end giving:

read more »

January 15, 2016

3 Direct Mail & Email Lessons from the For-Profit World

The nonprofit and for-profit sectors can learn a great deal from each other. For example, there are three powerful insights from the for-profit sector about direct mail and email marketing that fundraising professionals can certainly benefit from.

In a never-ending search for the latest, greatest tactics and ways to cut costs, the nonprofit sector has embraced email fundraising while frequently questioning whether direct mail is dead.

So, what can the for-profit sector teach us?

Lesson 1: Direct Mail is Alive and Well

For both customer acquisition and retention, the for-profit sector knows that direct mail still works. That’s probably because 73 percent of consumers prefer direct mail, according to Epsilon. Furthermore, Interquest Digital Direct Mail Printing reports that direct mail delivers 30 times the response rate of email.

Direct Mail v Email InfographicWhile the numbers will be somewhat different for the nonprofit sector, or for particular organizations, the reality is that consumers (also our donors) like direct mail. That’s why they respond to it. While direct mail is not as effective as it was several decades ago, it remains a powerful fundraising tool.

Now, I’m talking about high-quality, well-crafted direct mail, not something you just throw together. I’m talking about direct mail that is donor centered and touches the prospect’s emotions. I guarantee you that bad direct mail will produce poor results. However, a good direct mail appeal will still achieve meaningful results.

Lesson 2: Direct Mail and Email Work Better Together

It’s not just chocolate and peanut butter that go together. The marketing agency Merkle has shown, in a study for one of its pharmaceutical clients, that email can produce a greater response than direct mail. However, when direct mail and email were used together in a multi-channel marketing campaign, the result was a 118 percent lift over direct mail alone.

For a wealth management client, Merkle found that it could generate a call response that was 1.5 to 3.8 times greater when using email and direct mail together rather than direct mail alone.

Direct Mail and Email 2Sometimes, nonprofit organizations think of their fundraising efforts in silos. “Let’s plan our direct mail appeal. If people don’t respond, we can call them later to renew. But, we’ll need to make sure the timing doesn’t interfere with our email appeal.” Sometimes, I’ll see charities that will exclude people from the direct mail pool who are in the email pool; it’s often seen as a cost-saving tactic.

The reality is that multi-channel, coordinated marketing (and, yes, fundraising) works. Some people are more direct mail responsive (whether or not you have their email address in your system). Other folks are more email responsive. Some individuals need to hear from you a couple of times before you capture their attention. For all of these reasons, multi-channel fundraising could help you get better results. By the way, it’s not just a matter of coordinating direct mail and email. You can also coordinate direct mail and the telephone, email and advertising, etc.

Lesson 3: Test!

read more »

September 3, 2015

Are You Smarter than a Fourth Grader?

A few weeks ago, I got to spend time with my niece Nicole and nephew Evan who were visiting Philadelphia before the start of the new school year in Florida. They’re wonderful kids, and it was great seeing them.

Evan by Michael Rosen

My nephew, Evan.

One evening when 9-year-old Evan and I were hanging out, I decided to ask him an odd question to see where it might go:

If you wanted someone to give you money, what would you do?”

Evan, who just entered the fourth grade and has no fundraising experience, replied:

I’d ask them.”

Bingo! Evan instinctively knows one of the fundamental rules of fundraising: If you want donations, you have to ask for them.

So, are you smarter than a fourth grader?

Since you’re reading this post, I’m going to assume you know the general importance of the ask in the fundraising process. However, knowing and doing are two different things. So, let me ask you a few more questions:

Do you ask for planned gifts?

While 88.7 percent of people surveyed say that it’s appropriate for a nonprofit organization to ask for a legacy gift, researchers found that only 22 percent of those over the age of 30 have been asked. In other words, there are a huge number of people who are willing to be asked for a planned gift but who are not.

Even among those charities that do ask people to make a planned gift, the ask is reserved for a very narrow group of prospects that might include major donors, board members, and people who have requested planned giving information. Those asks are most often made during face-to-face visits.

On the other hand, wise organizations also use direct mail and the telephone to reach out to a broad number of prospects to ask them to make a planned gift commitment.

One smart nonprofit organization that has successfully used direct mail to ask for legacy gifts is the Natural Resources Defense Council. They did two mailings involving a total of 50,000 pieces that generated $8.5 million in bequest commitments. You can see a sample of the mailing by clicking here.

A university in Texas targeted 7,000 alumni with a mail promotion for Charitable Gift Annuities, following up direct-mail-generated leads with phone calls that resulted in $730,000.

An orchestra in the Pacific Northwest implemented a coordinated mail/phone campaign involving 2,200 prospects in an effort that produced an estimated $2 million in bequest expectancies.

If your organization wants more planned gifts, you need to ask more people to give. While face-to-face asks will always be important, you can ask far more people by using direct mail and the phone as well, just like your organization does for the annual fund.

You can find more details about the examples I’ve cited, additional examples, and helpful tips in my award-winning book Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.

Do you ask supporters to enroll in a monthly-giving program?

In 1989, I predicted that virtually every charity would have a monthly-giving program within five years. Sadly, I could not have been more wrong. I shouldn’t have been, but I was. Now, more than a quarter-century later, shockingly few charities ask supporters to give monthly.

A great way to enhance your organization’s donor-retention rate while upgrading the amount of support from donors is to ask donors to give monthly.

Some of my friends and I believe so strongly in the power of monthly giving that we participated in this short, light-hearted video on the subject:

If you’re not asking your supporters to give monthly, you’re organization is missing a great opportunity. For powerful advice on how to run a monthly-giving program, checkout Harvey McKinnon’s book Hidden Gold, and Erica Waasdorp’s book Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant.

Do you ask donors to upgrade their support?

read more »

March 7, 2014

Latest, Greatest Secret to Fundraising Success Unveiled!

Most nonprofit development professionals would love to find the Holy Grail of fundraising. Discovering a new piece of research, a proven technique, a new technology that could unleash a torrent of funds would be undeniably wonderful.

But, do we need the Holy Grail?

Some folks seem to thinks so. Perhaps that’s why, when I’m invited to speak at conferences or lead workshops, my hosts frequently want me to present the “latest, greatest” ideas for fundraising success. Perhaps that’s why so many articles, blog posts, and seminar titles include buzz words such as “secrets,” “great tips,” “powerful,” “fresh,” “innovative,” “simple,” “key tools,” etc.

I’m not immune. I’m always on a quest for new, robust ideas. In addition, I title many of my articles (see above) and seminars with the buzzwords I know will attract attention.

In one planned gift marketing seminar I did a few years ago, I shared a variety of ideas for promoting planned giving. I knew I had a diverse audience, so I provided both simple and sophisticated ideas. While my suggestions were certainly not revolutionary, they did push the envelope of current practice.

Following my talk, a fellow came up to me and said, “You didn’t say anything I didn’t already know.”

Ouch! That’s not the feedback I like, even if it was just one person’s opinion. I always want everyone to come away from my seminars with at least one terrific idea.

After receiving the stinging feedback, I said to the man, “I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t get any fresh ideas. However, I’d love to hear about how you’ve used the phone to market bequests.”

He replied, “I haven’t implemented a phone program.”

“Ok, then tell me how your direct mail campaign has done,” I requested.

“I haven’t done a planned gift mailing,” he said.

“Ok, then tell me about your website and how it allows you to track and rate visitor interaction,” I requested.

“Our website isn’t that sophisticated,” he said.

The conversation continued. The point is that this fellow knew what he should or could be doing, but he was not doing it!

While finding the Holy Grail of fundraising would be spectacular, the truth is that such a singular, miraculous method or tool does not and will never exist. However, I have some good news. We do not need a Holy Grail.

Low Hanging Fruit by defndaines via FlickrMy latest, greatest idea for fundraising success is something that can benefit virtually all nonprofit organizations: Master the fundraising fundamentals and grab the low-hanging fruit.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Sheesh! There’s nothing new or great about that idea.”

Well, if that’s what you’re thinking, you should be right.

Unfortunately, I see far too many examples, far too regularly that charities simply have not mastered the fundamentals, and they have left plenty of low-hanging fruit on the tree. Just like the fellow who came up to me after my seminar, many folks may know what they should be doing but they’re not doing it.

Consider this: A new study by Dunham and Company found that charities could be losing literally billions of dollars in donations because they have failed at the online basics. For example, 84 percent of nonprofits do not make their donation pages easy to read and use with mobile devices. By the way, that statistic includes some of the nation’s largest charities.

The fundamentals matter. The evidence shows they could add up to billions for the nonprofit sector.

Do you want more money for the annual fund? Then tell me, do you have a monthly donor program? Do you do second gift appeals? Do you effectively steward gifts to ensure a high donor retention rate? Do you use database analysis to help you better target asks, even in your direct mail appeals?

read more »

April 19, 2013

16 Tips for Crafting a Powerful Postcard Campaign

As you might imagine, I regularly receive direct mail appeals from many charities. Most of them are truly “junk mail.” After a quick glance, I quickly deposit the junk appeals into the recycling bin where they will do much more good than their intended purpose.

JFGP Postcard (front, back)

JFGP Postcard (click for larger image)

Occasionally, I’ll receive a mailing that captures my attention, for the right reasons. Even more rarely, I’ll find something in my mailbox that is worthy of sharing with you. Earlier this month, I found just such a piece.

The postcard mailing from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia arrived shortly before the Passover and tied into the holiday. This post contains an image of the front and back of the postcard so you can see it for yourself. Federation did a great job with the piece. So, let me take a few moments to share some tips we all can learn from it:

1. Get rid of the envelope. One of the greatest challenges with direct mail is getting people to open the envelope. They won’t get your message unless they do. If you can get your message across in a way that does not require a full mailing package, you can overcome this challenge by simply doing away with the envelope altogether. Federation’s postcard mailing has done exactly that.

2. Employ a pattern interrupt. Another challenge with direct mail involves figuring out ways to engage the recipient so they spend more than two seconds with the piece before tossing it into the trash. When most folks go through their mail, they quickly look for the fun stuff and bills. People quickly weed-out what appears to be junk.

So, how did Federation disrupt the typical mail-sorting pattern? They did it with two very different photos on the front of an odd-sized postcard. While speedily going through my mail, I noticed an old-fashioned, sepia-tone photo of an older couple on the postcard. Beside it, there was a contemporary color picture of a cute, young child eating matzo. The postcard got me to ask, “Huh, what’s this about?”

In other words, Federation caught my attention by being unusual and by presenting contrasting photographs. They knocked me out of my normal mail-sorting pattern.

3. Make it easy to read. By printing black type on a white background, Federation provides strong contrast that makes reading easier. While reverse type was used — something I normally do not approve of — it was used sparingly and with a larger serif font ensuring easy readability.

4. Keep the message brief but impactful. In about 50 words, I learned that Mr. and Mrs. Schweig had passed away long ago. However, I also learned they had contributed to Federation. Most compellingly, I discovered that their generous support would feed 1,500 community members in need during Passover.

The generosity of the Schweigs impressed me. The depth of the community need surprised me. The organization really had my attention.

5. Engage the reader. I was already engaged with the postcard when the photos caught my attention and I read the pithy message on the front of the card. However, the card engaged me further with a simple question: “What will your legacy be?” By asking the reader a question, you can get them to stop and think.

6. Provide more details. On the address-side of the postcard, the reader is told that Mr. and Mrs. Schweig made their gift through a bequest. Providing additional details and telling people where they can get even more information will satisfy all readers and their individual levels of curiosity.

7. Demonstrate impact. Donors want to make a difference. Whether they give to the annual fund or make a planned gift commitment, people want to know that their support will have a positive impact. They want to know that their donations will be used efficiently to help the organization fulfill its mission.

This postcard shows how the support of past donors is being put to good use. The implied messages are: We wisely use the support from past donors to help the community. We can help you to have a positive, high-impact as well.

read more »

December 28, 2012

Top Ten Posts of 2012, and Other Reflections

We’ve survived another “Doomsday”! Now, as 2012 draws to a close, I thought it would be interesting to look back briefly before we march into the new year.

 

Champagne Toast by viking_79 via Flickr

Happy New Year!

 

For starters, let’s look at which of my posts have been the most read in the past year:

1. Survey Sounds Alarm Bell for Nonprofit Sector

2. Can a Nonprofit Return a Donor’s Gift?

3. 10 Essential Tips to Protect Children from Real Monsters

4. Garth Brooks Sues Hospital for Return of $500,000 Gift

5. 8 Valuable Insights from a Major Donor

6. Overcoming the 9 Fundraising NOs (Bernard Ross)

7. Breaking News: Brain Scan Study Gives Fresh Insight into Charitable Giving Behavior

8. What NOT to Do in Your Email or Direct Mail Appeals

9. 20 Factoids about Planned Giving. Some May Surprise You.

10. Two Major Factors that Demotivate Donors

I invite you to read any posts you might have missed by clicking on the title above. If you’ve read them all, thank you for being a committed reader.

I’m honored to know that I have readers from around the world. (I love the Internet!) While I appreciate all of my readers, I thought it would be interesting to look, beyond the United States, to see my top ten countries for readership:

read more »

August 17, 2012

What NOT to Do in Your Email or Direct Mail Appeals

Writing an effective email or direct mail appeal is not as simple as writing a note to a friend. It’s a real challenge. Sometimes, organizations hit the mark. Sadly, this post is about one of those other times when an organization misses the mark.

A short time ago, I received the following email from a performing arts organization (which will remain nameless) that my wife and I care about and have supported in the past:

Subject: We’ve Missed You!

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Michael J. Rosen,

With just a few weeks to go before the end of the [ABC Organization’s] fiscal year, we are writing to ask for your support of the [Organization] at a time of increasingly good news. As you have undoubtedly read, the [Organization] is no longer in bankruptcy. We officially exited from financial reorganization on July 30, 2012. As we look to the future with confidence, we hope that you share our excitement about the beginning of [John Doe’s] tenure as [artistic director]. With [John’s] first season coinciding with the 100th anniversary of [John Smith’s] arrival in Philadelphia, the stars truly seem aligned!

We are grateful for your generous past support of [the Organization]. Several seasons ago, you helped us make possible all the outstanding performances … and the extensive educational and community partnerships that enable us to engage, inspire, and serve Philadelphia.

Today, we ask you to rejoin the thousands of Philadelphians and audiences worldwide in demonstrating your love for our magnificent [Organization] by making your gift. Now, more than ever, we need to have you with us!

“Donate Now” [button]

Sincerely,

Senior Director of Individual Giving”

While it was smart of the organization to send an email appeal to lapsed donors, there are several serious problems with the appeal that will negatively impact results. My wife and I are among those who have chosen not to renew our support.

By providing a detailed critique of the email appeal, I hope to help you avoid some of the same mistakes. When you do, you’ll get stronger results.

To begin, the email is not donor centered. I created a Worlde using the text of the email:

A Wordle is a graphical representation that makes words that are emphasized larger than the words used less often. In the Wordle I created, you can see that the following words are most emphasized:

  • organization
  • ask
  • now
  • support
  • Philadelphia

Of the five emphasized words, only “Philadelphia” reflects me and my community. The other four words are all organization focused.

Now, let’s look at the subject line: “We’ve Missed You!”

My wife has spent the past several months engaged in a fight with cancer. As a result, we have refocused our philanthropy. In addition, we haven’t been getting out as much as we once did. However, with my wife’s health returning to normal, we’re looking forward to the start of the new performing arts season.

When I saw the “We’ve Missed You!” subject line, I was excited because I saw the email was from an organization my wife and I have an interest in. I assumed the email would tell me about the upcoming season. And, as it’s been awhile since we’ve been able to attend performances, I thought the email just might also contain news of a special performance or ticket discount offer to entice us back.

Then, I opened the email. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the organization really did not miss my wife and me, it only missed our money. The email contained absolutely no information about the upcoming season and did not even include a link to the 2012-13 performance schedule.

I’ll give the organization credit for crafting a powerful subject line. Unfortunately, the subject line merely sets the reader up for a letdown.

The organization missed a great opportunity to leverage reciprocity and inspire gratitude. If the email had invited us to make plans to attend an upcoming performance, if the organization had supplied a link to its 2012-13 performance schedule and, especially if the organization had included some sort of promotional offer, it would have inspired a sense of appreciation.

By giving us something small, even just information, we would have been more likely to reciprocate with a donation.

Instead of beginning the email with something of interest to me (i.e.: upcoming performance information), the organization chose to write about the upcoming close of its fiscal year.

Guess what? Very few prospective donors care about an organization’s fiscal year. We care about our own fiscal year. The line used by the organization is quintessentially organization-focused and not the least bit donor-centered.

Rather than focusing on the end of its own timeline for giving, the organization would have been wiser to focus on the impending start of the new performance season. That would have been more donor-centered as it would have involved future engagement of the reader. As a result, the message would have been more inspirational and giving would have been more likely.

The next sentence in the email is just a bit strange and, perhaps, pointless. The sentence begins, “As you have undoubtedly read…” If I’ve “undoubtedly read” about the organization’s emergence from bankruptcy, why is the author telling me about it? If I had not read about it already, the phrase would make me feel foolish for not having read about it. If I had read about it but forgot, the phrase would make me feel silly for not having paid more attention.

Phrases like “As you have undoubtedly read” or “Of course” or “As you know” serve no possible useful purpose. Instead, they can actually be offensive to readers. When using such a phrase, you’re either about to waste the reader’s time or make them feel ill informed.

The email expresses confidence in the future now that the organization has emerged from bankruptcy. However, the email does not explain why the organization is confident. Many of the organization’s board members who led the way into bankruptcy continue to serve. While it’s certainly good news that the organization has emerged from bankruptcy, it’s unclear what changes have been made to ensure the organization’s strong management and long-term viability.

It’s not enough for the organization to say things are better. It needs to prove it. I’ve given them money before, but they still ended up in bankruptcy. How do I know it won’t happen again?

The email shares more good news by reminding readers that a new staff leader on the artistic side will be taking the helm in the new season. The email tells me this news is exciting and suggests, therefore, that I should be excited. However, I’m not told why I should be excited.

What follows is insider-speak about the new guy coming on board 100 years after a famous other guy came to town. Some supporters might not really know the historical figure or why he’s so important. I have no idea what “the stars truly seem aligned” means. It’s a mildly interesting historical coincidence. But, beyond that, so what? Will the new guy be doing some sort of tribute to the old guy? I don’t know, but I’d certainly like to know if that’s the case. If it’s not the case, why mention it at all?

The organization did do something correct in its email. It thanked my wife and me for our “generous past support.” That’s good. You want to thank past supporters before again asking them to give.

Unfortunately, this email takes things a bit too far. While my wife and I have been supportive, we certainly have not been generous enough to have “helped [the organization] make possible all the outstanding performances … and the extensive educational and community partnerships that enable us to engage, inspire, and serve Philadelphia.” I’ve heard of stretching a dollar, but this is just silly. By telling me I’ve made all things possible when I know I haven’t, the author really isn’t telling me anything at all.

Organizations should tell donors how their money was really spent. Or, organizations should tell donors what their money, when combined with gifts from other supporters, made possible.

read more »

%d bloggers like this: