Category Archives: fundraising

Not-too-late tip #4: update your website copy

To large non-profits, this is an insultingly basic suggestion, but the fact is that small non-profits don’t usually have webmasters on staff.  Often, no one has a formal accountability to make sure that the website is up to date.  So when someone is moved by a holiday e-newsletter or snail mail appeal to check the organization out, they often turn to the Internet.  What they see will either move them… or not.

Tip #4:  Take full advantage of your website real estate by tying in – though not parroting – your other materials.

Writing for a website is different than a snail mail appeal, so make sure your copy is punchy.  You may want to break up the content you included in your holiday appeals into a few short stories.  The website is also a great canvas for videos and images that connect emotionally with your constituents.

So go look right now.  Is your website as effective as it can be in supporting your holiday fundraising efforts?  Or did it get forgotten?

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Not-too-late tip #3: individual fundraising ideas “in a box”

Even though a recent study by Harris Interactive suggests that fewer people will give a charitable gift as a holiday present this year, and they may give smaller amounts than in years past, Americans haven’t turned into Grinches.  I was blown away to stumble across this statistic about Hawaii:  92% of people there report that they give to charity.

Hearts haven’t hardened, but people may not be able to just write a check.  They are looking for ways that they can make a personal difference, even if they aren’t in a position to volunteer on a regular basis at a non-profit.

So here’s tip #3:  package ways that individuals can organize activities or fundraisers within their own small networks.

You hear a lot about people mobilizing their Twitter networks to give money for causes like charity:water.  But the truth is that most people – especially here in Sacramento – aren’t big Twitter users.

It’s more practical to think of ways that people can have fun, maybe teach a few value lessons to their kids, and raise some money for a good cause.  The best way to meet people is via introduction, so individual-based fundraising does more than prompt a flow of smaller donations; it increases awareness of your non-profit’s brand among new audiences.

Example:  River City Food Bank is promoting “Soup That Serves”.  They suggest that people fire up a big pot of yummy soup (recipe provided by local chef Shannon Berg of Cafe Bernardo), and invite their friends to come by with donations of canned soup.  The soup-oriented activity, by the way, ties in nicely to the organization’s reputation for organizing the area’s largest Empty Bowls fundraising event.

The road to fundraising is filled with good intentions, so make it easy for people to participate by packaging ideas, providing invitations and flier templates, etc.  Stir up your own idea!

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Not-to-late for the holidays tip #2: Set up a Google Alert

Old fashioned public relations has a lot to offer as part of the holiday fundraising mix, even in this time of the Great Shrinking News Media.

National news stories researched and reported by sources like the AP are having have an increasing influence on local news outlets.  Besides using their content outright, editors may hunt for a local tie-in.

So here’s not-to-late tip #2:  take advantage of Google Alert.  Google Alert is a cheap way of staying on top of news that might represent an opportunity for your non-profit, besides its value as a basic listening tool.

Example:  the US Department of Agriculture released a report this week that documented a rapid rise in hunger, which triggered an AP story.  Cynthia Hubert, a Sacramento Bee reporter, localized the story of the federal data by reaching out to local non-profits that provide emergency food and shelter.  Having a Google Alert set up for “hunger”, for example, could give food closets and other emergency social service providers a chance to suggest a local angle to key news organizations.

Even if your call to an editor or reporter doesn’t result in a story, you can still construct a brief news release regarding your organization’s data or experience, and use the information  in electronic or printed materials to add credibility to your messages.

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Five not-too-late tips for holiday appeals: #1 email more often

Forty-four days until December 31!  If you’re a non-profit, it’s not too late to have an impact on this giving season, without spending a lot of money.  Based on last year’s experience, non-profits should expect average gifts to be smaller, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on mobilizing – and even growing – your base.

So here’s tip number one:

Increase the frequency of your emails or e-newsletters over the next five weeks.  I was impressed with Jeff Patrick’s presentation last April at the Nonprofit Technology Education Network conference, which suggested that non-profits have far greater latitude than they think when it comes to the amount of email they can send to their constituent base.  That doesn’t mean you should bombard your supporters with appeals just because you have their email addresses.  But if you’ve been paying attention to what they open, read and respond to, you can gin up a mix of cultivation and appeal content.  Cultivation-focused content includes information and profiles, but stops short of asking for money.  Appeal content, well, flat out asks for donations (elegantly, perhaps, but still directly).

By the way, Jeff suggested tracking down email addresses for donors who have previously only communicated with you by  snail mail.  FreshAddress, a service he has used that sells email addresses, turned out to be too expensive for one small, local non-profit.  Fortunately, the organization was able to expand its list of good email addresses by working with Blackbaud, their fundraising data management system.  (Blackbaud required them to send a friendly email with an opt-out option before they started emailing on a regular basis.)

If you do decide to up the email ante, make sure you have a foolproof system for managing unsubscribes (Constant Contact is one affordable example), and that you watch the “opt out” data like a hawk.  You’ll do more harm than good if you start sending out a bajillion emails from your Outlook or email client, or if people don’t want to receive email from you and they can’t get off your list.

(If you want to read a cringe-worthy example of how NOT to manage unsubscribe requests, check out this story on the Bad Pitch Blog.)

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Do holiday philanthropy guides have a positive ROI for non-profits?

Comstock's "Capital Region Cares" spread on River Oak Center for Children

Comstock's "Capital Region Cares" spread on River Oak Center for Children

I need your help.  I need to hear from you about whether non-profits you’re associated with have received donations attributable to holiday philanthropic guides published by newspapers and magazines.

I’m confident that individuals receive donations when their stories are published in such guides, but I’m less sure about how organizations fare.  There’s a cost to be included in most of them, and community-oriented businesses often pick up the tab.  But is it worth it?  In terms of donations?  Or reputation enhancement?

Here in Sacramento, I know of at least three holiday philanthropy guides:  the Sacramento Bee’s “Greatest Need” section, The Sacramento Business Journal’s “Partners in Philanthropy”, and Comstock Magazine’s “Capital (sic) Region Cares”.

I’m working on two comprehensive marketing/fund development plans right now.  Every penny has to count, now more than ever, so I need to know if there’s a return from these investments.  What do you think?

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How much email is too much when it comes to fundraising appeals?

Screen shot of Common Knowledge's home page

Screen shot of Common Knowledge's home page

Jeff Patrick, president and founder of Common Knowledge, a consulting firm, promised that one of the four case studies he would present at NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference yesterday would be “a juicy one,” but all four went a long way toward satisfying one’s appetite for solid results.  Here are some of the delicious tidbits that appealed to my palate:

You can’t send too many email appeals.”  Knowing that fundraisers and direct mail experts assume that more frequent email appeals will wear out donors and lead them to unsubscribe from email lists, Jeff worked with a national veteran’s group to test whether high frequency email (2 direct appeals and 1 cultivation email with a “soft ask”/month) performed better or worse than low frequency email (1 appeal/month) in combination with printed direct mail materials.  The suprising result:  over a three month period, 23% more was donated by the group that received high frequency email.  (Test groups of equal size received either the low or high frequency email campaign.)  It’s true that the % of those opening these solicitation emails was a little lower among the high frequency group, and their average gift was lower, BUT because they were asked more often, more was raised.  Jeff’s tip:  don’t evaluate a tactic based on a one time experience; run the test over a time period.  He concluded, “Asking more (often) is okay as long as asking more has cultivation in it” — that is, information and stories that develop interest and relationship with potential donors.
A fast way to double your fun – well, almost – by using both online and offline channels in combination.  Jeff also presented a case study that demonstrated a way to jump start email list acquisition by using a company like FreshAddress to append household/address info with emails.   These list suppliers match your info with an email address and go through the work of getting people to opt-in to receive email; the non-profit only pays for email addresses they receive at the end of the process.  Remember that these constituents already know you, so you’re not spamming them.  They may unsubscribe at a higher rate (e.g. 1.5%) but they still give more just because you started communicating with them with an online channel.  Why acquire email addresses of existing donors?  Often, non-profits have large list of past donors with which they communicate by snail mail, but for whom they have no email address.  Jeff says that strong evidence points to the value of communicating BOTH online and offline.  Get this:  if you ask for donations both online (via email) and offline (via snail mail), organizations yield roughly 1 1/2 times the revenue than if they had used just one channel.
Got a new donor or contact?  Jeff recommends “rapid onboarding.”  Anytime someone shares the gift of their contact information with you, communicate rapidly and frequently with them over their first 30 days with you.  Jeff recommends sending cultivation emails twice a week for that getting-to-know (and love)-you period.
Jeff also did a show-and-tell of a Facebook Application he created for the Alliance for Lupus Research on Facebook.  I won’t explain it well but I hope that Jeff will blog about it in the next week or so, and if he does, I’ll share the link with you.  As he points out, Facebook is a great platform where people “meet up” in an environment that is almost SPAM free.  He effectively created a microsite for ALR within Facebook that went way beyond what you can do with Causes.
P.S.  Common Knowledge is also serving up a new white paper that looks interesting, Social Networks for Non-profits:  Why You Should Grow Your Own.  Check out the description about it here.  And just yesterday, Common Knowledge and its partners, NTEN and ThePort, reported that almost three-quarters of non-profits have a Facebook page, plus a whole lot more good data about social networks in the Nonprofit Social Network Survey report.


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Cool free online tool from my new offline friend

eventbriteHands down, real live conversations beat email, facebooking, linking in and tweeting, every time.  Thanks to Della Gilleran, principal, Marketing by Design, and networker extraordinaire, I had the opportunity to attend Sacramento’s Community Services Planning Council luncheon on Wednesday and to meet other “FOD’s”  (friends of Della’s).   Seated next to Constance Crawford, Marketing Officer for Capital Public Radio, I had the chance to exchange notes about cool FREE tools for non-profits.  I love free!

Constance is a huge fan of Event Brite – an online event planning tool that takes a lot of the administrative headache out of selling tickets for fundraising events.  You can get these applications elsewhere (evite comes to mind) but the people at Event Brite have apparently grouped a number of applications under one e-roof:  personalized invites, money collection, reporting, bar-coded ticket production and even name tag production.

It’s free to use the service, but there is a 2.5% transaction fee per ticket (which is on the low end of transaction fees that I’ve seen).

I asked Constance some questions about her experience with the service via email, and her responses are below.  No, she does not get a kickback from Event Brite!  She’s just a satisfied customer.  (Sorry about some of the wacky formatting changes that I can’t seem to eliminate when I paste in our email conversation…) Here goes:

How did you find out about Event Brite? When I started working at Capital Public Radio- they had a volunteer setting up the initial account. Staff associated with it was raving about the possibilities. I was interested.

How has it solved a problem for the Capital Public Radio? Two-fold. One, it’s event management from paypal to scheduled correspondence with those “signing up.” This took the work off the shoulders of our admin support folks who were often tied up during the day answering calls about events – specifically, how do I buy tickets, how do I get my tickets, will you mail me my tickets etc. Secondly, it helped put the urgency in our calls to action. Often our events are free and so folks felt they could wait until the last minute to decide to attend. Eventbrite can be used to register for a seat for a free event. It not only helps us plan for capacity, it makes it clear that this is a limited venue.

What kind of feedback did you get from people? Staff ADORED the way it managed contact lists, archived, and captured a wealth of information (oh, you’re vegetarian? check here…). A few people who purchased tickets were happy with the amount and type of information they received initially and continued to receive even after the event.

What were the results?  Can you compare how Eventbrite outperformed whatever you did before? Before Eventbrite- mostly at other organizations, I would use email and an excel spreadsheet to document – often a messy and inaccurate process. Eventbrite lets you manage AHEAD and then archives for reflection. Also, because it’s linked to paypal, there is no problem with the management of credit card info etc.

Was it difficult or expensive to use? Setting it up the first time for the organization took some effort. Linking to paypal and getting the related authorization was probably a full day’s effort for someone just learning the ropes. A seasoned paypal veteran could get it done more quickly. It’s free! There is a charge to use the paypal aspect- a per ticket fee that is quite reasonable.

Are there any types of organizations or events that you don’t think Event Brite would work well for? I could see it being confusing for nonprofits trying to attempt a “table sale.” It’s really more designed for individual tickets.

Any words of warning? Yes, it’s important to customize the confirmation emails your attendees will receive. The default could have them waiting for a fed-ex package, printing bar codes or who knows what else…

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I’m on safari: isn’t there a fundraising tool/site for individuals that takes a smaller cut?

Safari helmet and machete in hand, I’m crashing through the jungle of the Internet looking for tools that make it easy for enthusiastic individual fundraisers – like my son and his classmates at Jesuit High School in Sacramento – to raise awareness of causes and collect money from people who like to give electronically.  But alas, the tools I am finding – cool as they are – take a pretty hefty cut of the action.  Talk about a wet blanket, at least for student/fundraisers.  Here’s the two I’ve examined.  Got any better ideas?

I haven’t found what I’m looking for yet – which would be something like firstgiving’s pages but with a smaller cut of the action.  As one does in the jungle, I did stumble across some unexpected stuff – this white paper written by Katya Andresen and and Stacie Mann of Network for Good with great info about the potential of individual fundraisers who are powerful emissaries for their causes AND who successfully motivate their friends and contacts to give.

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How Twestival worked with charity:water, and what the coordinator would do differently

Went on Beth’s Blog this morning looking for this and saw several “must read” posts*.  Among them, Beth interviewed Amanda Rose, one of the key people (and volunteers) on the Global Twestival Team.  (She’s also posted two amazing Powerpoint presentations – one on the ROI of social media and the other, an introduction to social media for charities.)  She shared her thoughts about what she’d do differently next time.  These three observations (of five) seem germane to local grassroots-organized efforts:

 2) Providing A Better Virtual Hub To Support Volunteers.   Amanda says the website was a key element in reaching out to the cities and that she was not prepared for the amount of work that went into setting it up.  Says Amanda, “Even through this was a volunteer-run event, there was a level of expectation from people once they signed up.  I think most understood that we were doing the best we could with our resources and limited time – but it was frustrating not to be able to offer them something beyond a blog to connect and share.”

4) Set up a system for incoming donations to be aggregated quickly and easily.   Donations were coming in from several streams, including Amiando, Tipjoy, Paypal,  and cash donations.  This made it difficult to tabulate the amount raised quickly.  In addition, being able to produce real time tracking reports that showed how much each city still had to work to achieve their original fundraising target would have motivated them and spawned a bit of friendly competition.

5) Extend the planning timeline to 2-3 months.   Amanda admits that it was stressful to work under these very tight timelines.  “However, not unlike Twitter which is restricted to 140 characters, I wanted to challenge everyone to see what we could do in the span of a few weeks.  This generated a lot of buzz and enthuasiasm on Twitter and extended offline.”  Amanda observes that volunteers were amazed with what they could do in this short a timeline and the amount of creativity that surfaced was truly inspiring.  Amanda points out, “Hawaii raised over $7k in 9 days, Toronto $10k in about 15 days.  What we are left with now are international teams who have a passion to do this again – only bigger.  The feedback so far has been incredible and many cities feel disappointed that they couldn’t reach their goal this time; but the amount of awareness they were able to generate through their community or local press is a testament to their hard work.”

*I want to ask Beth about her perspective on how charities can ensure that they maintain control of funds being raised in their name on Tipjoy, and I’m also interested in her perspective about the effect of a recent Facebook dispute about who owns/controls user-generated content, and how that might affect charities and causes.

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Not so fast: what are the issues associated with accepting donations via Twitter?

At a meeting last week, someone talked about making a charitable donation via Twitter using AT&T as the payment tool.  Imagine, a friend tweets you and asks for your $5 contribution to a worthy cause.  You send the $5 contribution as directed, and it shows up on your very own AT&T bill next month.  Lori Aldrete, principal of ACS Quantum, was at the same meeting and asked how that works.

In truth, I don’t know (if you do, please comment or email me).  I do know that most of the campaigns I read about seem to be using Tipjoy.  Anyone can set up a Tipjoy account as a convenient way of collecting donations that are then forwarded on to the organization or person (hey, you can even pay your friend back for that Starbuck’s coffee).  And, in fact, Tipjoy was used as the money-collecting service for at least some of the grassroots events associated with the Twestival for charity:water (see prior two posts for more about that).

I passed along the info about Tipjoy’s prevalence to Lori.  Then I wondered, if anyone can set up a Tipjoy account to collect donations, how is a donor to know that the money eventually went to the cause, and not into someone’s pocket?  Tipjoy is a system for moving “micro” amounts of money, easily.  When you read Tipjoy’s FAQs, it doesn’t seem to have been designed with fundraising in mind, even though it’s now being widely used for that purpose.  It was built as a way for website owners to get paid (competing with PayPal) and as a way of “tipping” content creators who offered free content you love.

I gather that the onus is on the non-profit to establish a Tipjoy account from which they will collect donations.  Just by looking at a Tipjoy account name, however, a donor wouldn’t have any way of knowing for sure that the charity would receive the money unless they contact the charity and ask.

As well liked and accepted as it is, Tipjoy also prompts questions having to do with fundraising ethics and transparency.  Based on a tip from Beth Kanter’s blog, I read Rachel Weidinger’s thoughtful post on an even more knotty set of issues.   Unlike Facebook, where you decide what content is public and what is private, the default on Tipjoy is for all financial transactions to be public.  In practical terms, that means that your Tipjoy donations (or payments) will rapidly rise to the top of Google searches.  

Rachel also points out, “It won’t be long before someone scrapes all the TipJoy donor data off Twitter and builds a Twitter micro donor list, and campaigns follow. I don’t want Twitter to be like that. Ick.”

So, as we adopt social media tools for fundraising, we all better think through the implications.  Do donors understand that their names and donation levels are public?  Do we simply assume that it’s “donor beware” when it comes to ensuring that a micro-fundraising drive set up by someone in our personal network will go to the intended charity?

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