Category Archives: Messaging

Greenpeace Gets Brand Tone, Donor Motivations Right

Greenpeace membership renewal

Great example, Greenpeace!

Driving from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. last week, my old colleague and pal Sharon Swanson (producer of the Elizabeth Spencer documentary among other career hats) and I had plenty of time to talk. About street signs like the one posted below, sure, but also about how nonprofits sometime miss the mark with events and promotions that aren’t in keeping with their brands.


This got in here because it just cracked me up

Then this little blurb caught my eye this morning, thanks to The Nonprofit Times:

Individual donors contributed about 73 percent, or $217.79 billion to nonprofits in 2011, out of a total of nearly $300 billion, according to Giving USA. Knowing your donors’ motivations can help you create more targeted asks and get more contributions to your organization. Eric John Abrahamson, Ph.D., outlined seven types of donors in his book Beyond Charity.

  • Communitarians give out of a sense of belonging to a community, using their gifts to reinforce collective efforts.
  • Devout donors are motivated by faith, adherence to religious teachings, and loyalty to religious institutions.
  • Investors view money as a means to create social change.
  • Socialites participate in philanthropy as a social activity.
  • Altruists see philanthropy as a way to fulfill their life purpose.
  • Repayers give out of a sense of gratitude.
  • Dynasts are born into families with deeply embedded philanthropic traditions.

Exactly. Individual donors need to be described in terms of profiles that reflect their attitudes and motivations. When I was wearing my corporate marketing hat, we called it psychographics.

So the piece at the top of this post caught my eye. I thought this membership renewal piece was downright brilliant. It appeals to the group of people who define themselves as nonconformists and 99%’ers. It is a great execution right down to the creepy charcoal illustrations, the ironic reverse psychology, and even the use of snail mail to reach an audience that uses snail mail rarely. My son will love it.


Filed under fundraising, Messaging, Strategy

Sacramento Generosity Project: Check out reasons NOT to give

Maybe this is what we're missing: Glamazons for a cause?

The Sacramento Region Community Foundation released the results of its half-million-dollar research study about charitable giving in the four-county area yesterday, as reported in the Sacramento Bee.  Our region was compared with San Jose, Riverside, Kansas City and Indianapolis.  (Full report will be made available at a future date.)

Among the nuggets that came out of the research were several about the reasons people state for NOT giving charitably:  high administrative costs (76%)… and “not sure what charities did with their last gift” (51%).

Another that caught my eye: While 91% of households surveyed agreed that it’s important to give locally, only 63% of donations were made to local organizations.

I don’t believe that Sacramentans are less empathetic about causes that ask for support.  Nor am I convinced that the problem is a lack of habit when it comes to charitable giving and involvement.  Active 20-30 and Junior League, just for two examples, were virtual engines of charitable leadership for a very long time.

I wonder if Sacramento’s charities behave too much like small businesses that are trying to survive by cutting expenses to the bone, which includes funds for marketing.  I see billboards from national organizations asking for gifts; one of them doesn’t even spend collected funds locally – but its marketing is highly effective.

Sacramento’s philanthropies have to find efficient ways to get their messages out, and they have to have effective messages.  It’s inexcusable that people would stop giving because they don’t know how their money was spent.

So while the gist of the article may be “Step up, Sacramento,” my takeaway is this:  “Step up, charitable organizations.”  We all have to do a better job of giving people a compelling reason to care, and enough love to keep them giving.

We just don’t the celebrity star-power to raise money the way they do in Manhattan, or the corporations that can write big ticket checks.

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Filed under fundraising, Messaging, Uncategorized

Consider community report cards to add urgency to your message (when they’re good)

At lunch last week, a local community activist/former non-profit leader brought “dessert”:  two locally produced report cards that aim to create a vision for community wellbeing, and to document progress toward specific, quantifiable goals.  The 2008 Children’s Report Card, a project of the Sacramento County Children’s Coalition, attempts to create a cohesive and meaningful picture of the status of children using hundreds of publicly available data points.  The Sacramento County Report Card for 2007-08, on the other hand, draws upon a far narrower set of data and seems more focused on demonstrating improvement or progress, even if the data are not be particularly meaningful when it comes to showing the state of such priority areas as transportation and public health and safety.  How important is the % of pothold service requests handled within 72 hours as a measure of public satisfaction with transportation services?

As non-profits try to bring attention to the need for funding or attention, well-researched documents like the Children’s Report Card contain useful information that could easily be incorporated into backgrounders or fact sheets.  For example, the report includes information about self-sufficiency – the income level at which a family can be sustained without relying on income supports or public assistance.   Self-sufficiency is another way of painting a picture of what it means to be working but unable to meet basic needs such as housing, food, child care, health care and transportation.

As it becomes more imperative to keep website content fresh, keep in mind report cards produced by local coalitions and governments as a potential source of credible information.  But apply your critical eye; if the data doesn’t move you, it won’t be compelling to donors or the media, either.

And by the way, the Sacramento Children’s Report Card does not appear to be available via website – which seems odd — but the report lists this contact:

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Filed under Messaging, public relations

Do year-end fundraising pitches aimed at procrastinators work?

I’m declaring year-end e-mail pitches to nudge procrastinators a successful tactic, but I’m interested in your thoughts about circumstances under which they might fail or backfire… as well as your thoughts about what type of message is most successful — a direct-and-to-the-point “don’t forget” email, or something with a little more emotional oomph.

Network for Good recently reported that nearly 50% of donations they receive in December come in during the last six days of the month.  It also reported that average donations in December have historically been higher:  $189 in December 2007 compared to $135 during other months that year.

Taking the nudge to heart, a small food closet here in Sacramento tried an end-of-the-year reminder via its e-newsletter.   The approach was a brief, very personal article about the view from the executive director’s office – describing the chaos, including large numbers of people lining up for food, and stacks of donors’ checks arriving with notes.  One reader immediately wrote back:  “This letter is the BEST one I’ve read from you all…while all you do and communicate is wonderful, the letter below painted the picture so well. Thank you for all you do. I will drop a check off soon…”  And minutes later, the agency was notified that a $1,500 donation had been received online.

CARE sent a straightforward e-mail reminder with the subject line “3-2-1!  Make your gift before the New Year!”  The e-mail included a giant “donate now” button.  Feeding America’s (formerly America’s Second Harvest) e-mail reminder was similarly straightforward:  “Last chance for tax-deductible donation for 2008,” which focused on tax benefits of giving now.  And in case you didn’t get it, the “tax-deductible” line was repeated within the copy twice, hyperlinked to the donor function of the agency’s website.

What do you think worked best?  A short-but-sweet reminder, without a lot of emotion?  Something that focused on the tax benefits?  Or something that was a gentler reminder, a little longer, but still reminded people it wasn’t too late to give?  Or did the most successful tactic depend on the agency and its relationship with the people who receive the appeal?  It would be great to have real data about the results, but I’ll take informed opinion from you as a starter!

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Filed under E-newsletters, Messaging

What can non-profits learn from the campaign?

I started to write a post about title tags (sounds boring, but they actually matter), but I am just too excited to focus on something that granular.


Several weeks ago, Lucy Bernholz, who writes Philanthropy 2173, asked:

What can philanthropy learn from political campaigns?


Her post is worth reading, but here are three of my take-aways about what the most recent presidential campaign demonstrated:


1.     The message matters. 

A powerful message isn’t just dressing up an idea in new clothes.  It comes from understanding underlying values:  what people really want, and what they are concerned about.  Savvy product marketers and advertisers understand this when they sell cars as reflection of personal identity rather than a set of features.  With its message of “saving lives every day,” the American Cancer Society understands that people want hope.  The Humane Society understands that many people care deeply about the animal-human bond.  The Elizabeth Hospice in San Diego, which must talk about death in a culture of youth and invincibility, speaks to the underlying value of comfort that people have found in hospice when facing terminal illness:  “We listen, we care, we comfort.” 


I don’t want to pick on any specific philanthropies, but often organizations are too abstract (“expanding horizons through the power of one-on-one friendships”), too focused on describing what they do (“a powerful voice…”) or too focused on the features (“we are the crucial first link in the system that…”).  We fail to move people.


2.    The message-carrier matters.


One of the first things that a crisis communications expert does is to identify the spokesperson – someone who will be seen as credible, and who at least offers a sympathetic public face.  That’s why nurses are preferred as hospital spokespersons rather than old white guy administrators for many issues.  On more proactive messages, some of the best message carriers are the beneficiaries of the organization’s efforts.  March of Dimes understands the power of personal stories, and has found an innovative way to collect and share them through its “Every Baby Has a Story” interactive story map.  CARE uses videos and testimonials from women around the world as part of its “I am powerful” campaign.  Going in to this election, voter turnout was running less than 60%, in part because many groups felt disengaged or disenfranchised.  Who better than Barack Obama to convince people who felt cynical about the political process that their vote – their one vote – could matter?


3.     Finally, the medium matters.


Showing a grasp of electronic communication and social networking was crucial to attracting younger voters (even ones not all that young).  And that isn’t just because these voters use and prefer these modes of communication.  It’s that a candidate simply isn’t seen as “with it” if he or she doesn’t demonstrate a level of comfort through their campaign organization.


So what can philanthropists learn?  Too often, we restate or spice up mission statements as the basis of our message, rather than identifying and speaking to underlying values with evocative language.  Too often, our executive directors are the voice of the organization, rather than spokespersons who not only carry the message but live the issue or problem.  And too often, websites and social networking are seen as less than critical because we think that our donors are older and aren’t using electronic communications.  Not only do we miss an important part of the communications equation, but in doing so, we’ve just told a whole segment of the market that we aren’t “with it” enough to engage them.


What do you think non-profits and causes can learn from the election?  What organizational or cause-related websites convey a powerful message, and demonstrate that they’re “with it”?


Filed under Messaging