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Ah-ha moments that changed my game - part 3
Tom Ahern

July, 2011

Hearing some expert's so-very-smart answer to a donor comm puzzler has become my greatest pleasure.  See below.


You don't get better by switching media. A common question I hear in my workshop on donor newsletters is this: "When can we switch from paper to email?"

     Meaning: When can we drop the expense of printing and postage for a paper newsletter, which seems to be getting us nowhere, and instead enjoy the sweet, cheap ease of digital delivery?

     The short answer: not for another generation (20-25 years) at least. Until then, you should do both.

     But there is a deeper issue behind this seemingly innocuous query. And I thank Kris Hermanns, deputy director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, for pointing it out.

     "Lousy is lousy." Those aren't her exact words, but that's what Kris meant.

     If your paper newsletter isn't succeeding at the two things it's supposed to do - helping you (1) retain more donors and (2) increase giving - then you cannot reasonably expect your electronic newsletter to do any better.


"I finally decided that everything was a campaign. Even if I was just targeting a single donor." 

     So said Guy Mallabone -- formerly the record-setting fundraising chief at a Canadian institute of technology; now president and CEO of Global Philanthropic Canada.

     I happened to be grilling Guy about how he uses a case for support; physically, how he uses it: "When do you introduce it? How do you treat it in a meeting?" And he told me one of his secrets for success. This thing about campaigns.

     The campaign metaphor has deep psychological roots, as political spin-masters on both sides of the liberal/conservative divide readily acknowledge.

     A campaign implies a worthwhile goal. A campaign implies a fight worth waging. A campaign implies urgency. A campaign implies that you will assemble resources to win a contested objective. A campaign implies a victory, too --- "if you're willing to help."


You cannot love your donors too much. You can always be more grateful. You can always be more appreciative. You can always be more eager to tell donors how much good they're doing by supporting your mission.

     Our job as donor communicators, I am now convinced by experience and research, is to bring JOY to the donor's door.

     And if you do that, more of your donors will stay loyal. More joy = higher retention. Higher retention = significant increases in charitable revenue.

     How do I know this lovely result will actually happen? Adrian Sargeant proved it so. Case closed. 

     For 10 years I've tried to make donor communications simple, for myself and for the hungry-to-succeed who attend my workshops.

     Well, I can't make donor communications any simpler then this two-word piece of advice: "Deliver joy." Like Domino's delivers pizza. A delight in every bite.

     Remember: the first gift to a new charity is fun for the donor. It's emotionally gratifying. It's a bit exciting. "What will I learn?"

     Then the charity quite commonly sucks all the joy from the relationship through bad communications. 


Thought for the day >>>>  


Here's a cringe-worthy observation: I suspect that most charities, from mega- to micro-, leave more money on the table than they actually pick up, due to lousy donor communications.

     Could you, for instance, increase giving 1,000% by simply changing the way your newsletter talks to donors? I know one charity that did exactly that. (And I'll be talking about them on my July 14 webinar for the Chronicle of Philanthropy.)  

     I review lots of stuff. I look at hundreds of donor communication attempts each year, from charities across North America and overseas.

     Here's my considered conclusion: charities, even many global charities, do not talk or write in a donor-centred fashion. They haven't learned how to do it. And that common ignorance, I believe, costs those same charities frightful amounts of ready, easily harvested philanthropy.


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