Our open, transparent year-end appeal is happening! As of this morning, we had topped $1,000 in our last-minute appeal. We are excited!
Our commitment has been to share our strategy, our targets, our goals and our progress. And while I blogged our goals and budget last week, we are learning that doing a campaign with just a week’s notice leaves little time for blogging our strategy. (It also means that strategy is changing as we go!)
So I promise to blog details in January.
Here, then, are 5 tidbits we have learned so far, both about doing a last minute appeal, and about doing so with the transparency we have been attempting to model.
1) Create a Strategy. Then Focus.
It’s easy to get lost in the million ideas folks have for fundraising. Which are the ideas that will get the results?
Using a decision-making matrix (like this one from our site) made it easier to consider ideas against objective criteria.
For us, a key criteria was whether a strategy could have lasting value beyond just this last-minute appeal. Will the video work as a general introduction piece, beyond this campaign? Will the email note be something we might point to as a summary of where we are headed, perhaps in January or February? In our minds, if it is between equal ideas, and one could be leveraged beyond this one-week campaign, that is a factor we want to help guide our choice.
Your criteria may be very different. Regardless, using objective criteria will help you make a wise choice.
2) It’s about the donor, not you
Brilliant fundraiser Pam Grow has been advising us on some of the finer points of doing an appeal like this. For every draft I send Pam, she has crossed out only one thing consistently – anything that focuses on us rather than the donor. I thought I was pretty good at that, until Pam made me see how a simple twist of phrase turned things from us to YOU!
Another brilliant fundraiser, Renata Rafferty, has mentioned in the past that there is a difference between saying, “Hildy’s books will be available for sale at the workshop” vs. available for purchase.
And in a recent blog post, John Haydon suggested, “Instead of saying Join our email list, say Don’t miss out. Email lists are boring, but missing out is painful.”
The advice we received from small business marketing consultant Mark Riffey made it clear: picture the individual to whom you are sending the piece. No, not a group – not “donors.” Picture a person. Is it a $50 donor or a $1,000 donor? Is it a schoolteacher who relies on your organization’s work, or a juvenile court officer who knows the impact of your work at the other end? The more you can picture the individual to whom you are writing, the more that person will feel the letter is just for them.
3) Working Transparently Requires Thick Skin
This is something we are learning as we go. The more transparently you engage conversation about your work, the more people will give you advice. As with all advice, some of it will be right on, while some will be completely wrong for your needs.
Yes, TidBit#1 applies here – use a matrix to weigh all those options against objective criteria to know which to choose. But the more important aspect is what to do when you have invited the world to offer their opinion!? Because you will find that everyone will indeed have an opinion about what you’re doing or what you have done.
We learned early on that we had a choice – to see each offer as a gift, a blessing – or to see each offer as an attack on our obvious brilliance. Taking the former approach is certainly not always easy, especially when you are tired and stressed and 100% emotionally attached to the idea they are suggesting is less-than-worthy.
But wouldn’t you rather hear it from your friends than…
4) Walking the Talk
I’ve received a ton of sample emails in response to my request for effective email appeals. Sadly, though, most are from folks sharing why they do NOT like the appeal. Donors feeling unimportant. The cause feeling desperate. A huge range of reasons (which yes, I’ll share next month as I debrief) for why donors are not responding. I’ll bet all those organizations are scratching their heads, conjecturing about why their appeal is failing (brings us back to #3 and the value of learning stuff before the fact…).
And then it happened – I got my own appeal letter, and found my own reason to feel, “Ugh!”
It was from an organization I very much admire. I was about to click through to give, when this line caught my eye as they spoke of how frugal they are:
Most of us are volunteers, and the people on our staff don’t get paid anywhere near what they deserve.
My heart sank. This is a group working on sustainability for our planet, including economic equity!
The need to have core values infuse every part of an organization’s work – especially as that work extends into fundraising – became clear once again. I really love the work this group is doing, but instead of a gift, they got a letter from me, explaining why I just couldn’t conscience giving (they had pretty much said if they had more money, they would hire more staff at those sub-par wages…). I also told them I was sending them a free copy of The Pollyanna Principles, to help them see a path that better integrated their walk with their talk. And I offered to help them through the thinking. After all, I know their intentions are good, and I do want to help.
This happens so often. My most egregious example is always the alcohol treatment facility who advertised their annual Academy Awards event by promoting “Beer, Wine & Local Libations” as the first attraction – even before watching the ceremony on the big screen!
And that’s when I realized that a big part of the reason people disliked the samples they sent me was because of that mismatch of values. And it was another reminder to me that thinking “values are just touchy feely – they are not practical” is seriously misguided.
5) Trust Your Gut
Last week, we spent 4 sleepless days creating our video (below), after which we sent a professionally crafted fundraising email to a select group – donors who had given to our Name Change campaign and attendees of some of our workshops.
It wasn’t until the rush of the holidays were over and we regained some semblance of normal around the office that we began thinking, “This just doesn’t feel like us.”
So we sent a note to our whole newsletter list. It started like this:
We were going to send out a year-end newsletter this week. Instead, we thought we’d do something few people do anymore – treat you like a real person. Not a number, not a subscriber, not a donor.
A person. A friend.
And so this letter is personal, or at least as personal as it can be. No hype, just a note from our hearts.
Interestingly, the response to this mailing was better than the first. We have no idea if that is because the first arrived the week before Christmas, and this week people are more able to relax and read and think.
But regardless, the thing we know for sure is we feel a deeper sense of integrity about this mailing. As Pam Grow told me in an approving note, “It is quintessentially YOU – very real.” High praise from the master!
6) One Last Thing
Ok, we said 5 tips, but here is #6. Be kind to yourself.
We have learned most of these tips after the fact – after messing up in some small way (or maybe some large way we just haven’t learned about yet!). If you are moving to do something fast, to capitalize on an opportunity (regardless of what that opportunity may be), know that you can only do what you can do.
The most important part is that we learn from it. And that we share what we learn with others, to prove that working transparently is the only way to raise the bar for ALL of us.
We hope you enjoy the video. And we hope you will help us with a donation.
Note: The video was intended to be seen on YouTube, where the arrow pointed to links and other info in the text below the video. To see what we included in that info, click through to YouTube.