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3 Tools Power Ambassadors to Success

We all have an incredible marketing and fundraising resource right in front of us—our colleague, board member, and loyal volunteer ambassadors. But most of us look right past them!

You STILL HAVE TIME to launch your team of messengers to advance your campaigns. They’re already fans, so many of them will be eager and effective fundraisers. So that’s all good. However, your ambassadors’ reach, engagement, and ultimate impact on donations is directly related to saying the right thing at the right time. And it can’t be a script, repeated from everyone to everyone. Spamming robots just don’t work. But…

Provide these three message tools to your ambassadors, and you’re golden. They’ll ensure your ambassadors’ comfort and confidence, so they’re more likely to reach out to friends and family members (a.k.a. donors and prospects). Plus they’ll boost the odds prospects hear the kind of consistent yet personal outreach that generates true engagement and the actions you want!

1) Your #1 tool! Ready-to-use email signatures make it easy for your ambassadors to close their emails in a way that’s hard to ignore or forget. That means more recipients will respond and spread the word to family and friends.

Take this memorable email signature from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

2) Graphic badges ready to cut-and-paste into your ambassadors’ emails, tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts.

Who can resist a face like this?

graphic_badge-fundraising_hsus

Or a laugh like this one?

3) Cut-and-paste templates like this email for teachers to customize when fundraising via DonorsChoose.org

Fundraising Ambassadors

Create the templates you anticipate your ambassadors will need most frequently. Have no idea? Ask them!

Get these three tools in your ambassadors’ hands a.s.a.p. so they generate as much engagement and action possible, with the greatest ease and confidence. I can’t wait to hear how it goes.

WE Rules! Make Your Messages Matter Now

LisaSargent 2.1

Guest blogger Lisa Sargent is one of the best fundraisers and copywriters I know. She focuses here on donor communications, but her take is relevant for all nonprofit campaigns and audiences. Read on, and we up!

Lately it’s been that the 24/7 donor communications fiesta … is getting a little tired.

Same old players, same old info, recycled the same old ways: more you/less we, Flesch Kincaid and readability, ban all jargon, timely thank-yous, and on and on and on.

Then Nancy Schwartz wrote this. She said:

“[It’s] about WE…not you. This is a critical shift in voice that I’m starting to feel is very important.

For so long, experts have advised cause communicators to address prospects and supporters in second person—you. The shift to WE—signaling the power of collective action for stronger results—is a vital strategic shift.”

Having heard countless nonprofit pundits tell you to circle every instance of ‘we’ in your appeals and find a way to replace all of them with ‘you,’ some of you are no doubt shaking your heads. No doubt you’re thinking, So now ‘we’ is okay? Puh-leeze.

Then why was I nodding my head (while shouting, “YES, Nancy!”), at her post?

Because I too had noticed that same shift.

The shift that donors want something more.

Then I read Vu Le’s (Nonprofits with Balls) superb post on community-centered fundraising.

Again I found myself shouting, “YES!” … and I knew it was time to speak out.

Because quietly and since 2010, I’d been letting words like “we” and “us” creep into my copy. Not the look-at-how-great-we-are, institutional “we.” (See Future Fundraising Now for more. Also heed the advice on “I.”)

No, no, no.

I’m talking about the we’re-in-this-together, you-and-me “we.”

Quietly, I’d been including stuff in appeal letters, donor newsletters, and acknowledgments that quite frankly fly in the face of what a long line of experts tells you is handsdown bad, and would bring about the equivalent of some kind of nonprofit Armageddon.

But I couldn’t shake the shift.

What’s more, donors and other folks were responding. Call it donor realism. Call it community-centered fundraising. Call it whatever you like.

The results I saw mattered more.

Double-digit response rates to newsletters. Sixty-five percent retention rates. Lapsed donors returning. Increased feedback. Plus signs, big and small, that we’d struck a chord.

There were other things my clients and I had been doing. I’ll share some with you momentarily. To me it’s early proof that a seismic shift must occur in the way you and I communicate with prospects and supporters.

Does it mean the death of donor centrism? Does it mean you stop treating folks well? Does it mean no more “you” in copy?

No. That would just be absurd. But when famous consultants start blogging that words like “programs” and “services” are jargon (true story), I believe that we, as an industry, are in deep, deep trouble.

Are we so lukewarm about our work we’re afraid that people will stop giving simply at the mention of a word like “program”?

People of fundraising, your donors can take it.

Because more than anything, what they crave isn’t a bunch of copy with artificial “yous” inserted all over the place. What they crave isn’t always even the story of one (proof here).

What they crave is authenticity.

What they crave is to be treated like the incredible insiders they are.

What they crave is to feel knowledgeable and enlightened and part of something bigger.

Here’s how my clients and I are making this subtle shift in voice and practice that:

1. We use words like “we” and “us” to inspire action and engagement. Refer to Vu’s and Nancy’s posts mentioned above. As Vu wrote, “None of us are heroes without all of us.” He’s spot on. (Warning: if you think this clears you to use the institutional “we,” banish the thought. Then read Tom Ahern’s books.) We use “I” a lot, too.

2. We don’t hide our partnerships with other organizations. In a donor newsletter, we recently highlighted a program that one of my clients runs in partnership with another charity. On their own, neither had the resources to fund it. But the need was there, so they joined together to make it possible. Donors loved it.

3. We show struggle. And yes, sometimes defeat. This is an old copywriting adage we call “show your warts” that holds true for nonprofits – it’s transparency like you’ve never seen.

In a recent appeal from one client’s CEO, we talked about his six-month struggle to get government funding for an important program. He talked about the budget – what was included, and what they denied. We framed it honestly, without bashing anyone: times are tough for everyone. Donors came through with flying colors.

4. We are unabashed adapters of The Big E. I can’t express how much I agree with Vu Le on this one when I say: Educate Your Donors. But not in the organization-focused way it’s been presented all these years.

In your donor newsletters, share updates on programs. Talk about bigger issues – even some you might not be able to tackle yet. Showcase your staff, and what they see. Share numbers. Take donors inside the work you do…the work they make possible! Overwhelmingly, we’ve seen that donors are thrilled to feel like experts around causes they believe in.

5. We use jargon. Am I paving the way for gems like “paradigm” and “stakeholder”? Does it mean you can now start using “food insecure” for someone who is going hungry? Or “housing challenged” for someone who is homeless? No way, no how!

What I do mean by jargon is that you need to get real.  If you’ve been given provisional state funding or short-term, contingent funding, say so. If you need to talk about a gap in the budget, do it. If in-network healthcare is being moved from your area at an alarming rate, leaving the lives of good people hanging in the balance, say so.

6. Our thank-you letters often serve as receipts. I’ve been openly criticized for this, and I hold firm.

Nearly ten years ago I crafted all the donor acknowledgements for what has become one of the largest animal welfare charities of all. We told folks that, to conserve resources and help more animals, their (lovely, personal, timely and sincere) thank-you should be saved for their records, because it also doubled as a tax receipt. Donor feedback was fantastic; retention didn’t dip. Another of my clients includes a BRE in their otherwise uncompromisingly no-ask thank-yous – a practice I myself railed against for years. Again they’ve seen no drop in retention, and donors have written back to thank them for sending an extra postage-paid envelope.

Programs and services are not dirty words. Maximizing donations is not a taboo topic.

Needing the money to pay for overhead – electricity to keep the lights on, the water running, and boots on the ground – is nothing to be ashamed of.

Speaking of unashamed, if you visit my (ridiculously outdated/overhaul coming) website and find that some of my advice here seems to have changed slightly from advice of ten – or even five – years ago?

It has.

I’m not ashamed to say that the way I communicate with donors is ever changing. That every day, these good people teach me something new. That I hope I never stop learning as long as I live.

Vu and Nancy are onto something. Listen up.

P.S. I’ll make a prediction neither one of them has. More and more, I’m seeing properly crafted donor newsletter packs pull their weight as never before (like 7:1 ROI good). I’m talking a proper mix of content, infographics (NOT pie charts), design, quality writing, reporting back/gratitude, opportunities – things like that.

I could be completely sucking wind on this theory. But my guess is it’s another sign that same-old won’t fly.

How WE Do It: The Best Video Ever (Case Study: We Rules)

5 Must-Haves: Your Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Toolkit

Rob Wu, CauseVoxGuest blogger Rob Wu is CEO of CauseVox, a crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraising platform used by nonprofits to create fundraising websites.

Today, fundraising extends far beyond motivating people to donate. We want engagement, we want other actions, and we want to build a relationship! We also want as many people as possible rallying for our cause.

Here’s where peer-to-peer (P-to-P) fundraising comes in, as a reliable method of leveraging your existing audience to raise money on your behalf. It’s a great way to reach a broader audience, activate new donors, and re-engage current supporters.

You tell us that your biggest challenge is getting your peer-to-peer fundraisers prepared, informed, and engaged. This five-part fundraising toolkit will be a great help:  Read more

Still Time: 5 Ways to Up Year-End Giving

The clock is running out on year-end fundraising.

Whether you’re exceeding expectations or are barely meeting the bare minimum, you can do even better. I know what you’re thinking: “There’s so little time.” But I want to share five doable adjustments you can make right now to increase year-end donations.

1) Expand your prospect pool program participants, volunteers, and advocates (Low-hanging fruit alert!).

Read more

Empathy Map Your Way to Relevant Messages

Our newest guest blogger, Rob Wu is CEO of CauseVox, a nonprofit crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraising platform for nonprofits.

You know it, and I know it. Connecting with your audience is harder than ever. And that means more of your org’s messages than ever before are ignored or deleted.

So how do we cut through the noise? And how do we motivate donors to donate and supporters to take action? We have to make our messages relevant.

That’s right-things, right-now marketing and I’m thrilled to introduce you to our Empathy Map tool to help you get there!

Note from Nancy: This Empathy Mapping technique is the perfect complement to developing personas—learn how to do that here. Then put your results together and you’ll have a 360-dgree profile of the folks you want to engage. That’s right-things, right-now marketing, and that makes you a  5-star messenger!

empathymapThe  Empathy Map is a proven framework for strong connections with the folks you need to act—to give, to volunteer, to take whatever action you need to move your mission forward.

The Map highlights key elements of your supporters’ environment, behavior, concerns and aspirations, enabling you to hone your messages, tone and channels to what’s most important to them (and so most likely to be digested, and acted on). That’s relevance, and relevance rules.

Here’s how to Empathy Map to get to know the people you want to engage—it’s the only way to get relevant:

1: Identify Primary Folks You Want to Reach & Engage

Consider all groupings of prospects, supporters, staff, partners, etc. but select no more than three broad groups as your targets. More than that and you’ll be unable to make messages to any of them relevant.

2: Group Them by Common Characteristics

Consider all groupings of prospects, supporters, staff, partners, etc. your organization have. e possible segments of supporters that you have. . These characteristics can include age, geographic location, profession, social identity, etc. Prioritize the top three within each of your broader audiences groups. So three target audiences, and a max of three segments for each—that’s all any of us can engage.

3: Humanize Your People

Bring each of the (up to nine) segments to life by creating a representative supporter complete with fictitious name, and demographics such as age, income, and interests. This helps you get to know these folks. ds.

4: Empathize with Your People

Each segment requires its own Empathy Map. Note the segment name in the middle of your map. Then, with your team, jot down responses to these six questions as illustrated above:

  • What does this supporter think and feel?
  • What/Who does this supporter listen to?
  • What does this supporter see?
  • What does this supporter say and do?
  • What is the supporter’s pain?
  • What is the supporter’s gain?

Note from Nancy: This Empathy Map technique is the perfect complement to developing personas—learn how to do that here. Then put your results together and you’ll have a 360-dgree profile of the folks you want to engage. That’s right-things, right-now marketing, and that makes you a  5-star messenger!

5: Validate Your Analysis

After crafting your Empathy Maps, test them to ensure they accurately represent the people you want to engage.

Interview a sample of trusted prospects and supporters to test your analysis and conclusions. Then adjust each Empathy Map as necessary.

Now you’re ready to use the Empathy Map to define messages, tone, content and distribution strategies for your nonprofit. And the value? Your communications will get more reads and shares because they are tailored to mirror what’s important to the people you want to engage.

Note: The Empathy Map was developed by XPLANE, an information design consultancy. We’ve adapted it for nonprofits so you can cut through the noise.

How to Raise More Money Now – Free E-Book

How to Raise More Money NowI was honored to be among the folks that Network for Good asked to contribute innovative fundraising ideas to this inspiring new e-book, How to Raise More Money Now.

You know what the tried-and-trues are, and I’m sure you’re working them as hard as possible. But swallow this free guide (it’s a great, quick read) for ideas beyond the norm — ideas that you can use to wake up donors and prospects now.

Here are a few of my favorite ideas from the e-book:

  • Don’t ask your donors to solve huge problems; ask them to solve solvable problems.
  • Think like a Girl Scout and start selling cookies. Give me different options for how to invest with your organization.
  • Organize a volunteer online thank you corps. Donors get a simple training and are then assigned new donors to personally thank on behalf of the cause. (Particularly love this one. Everyone is – or can be — a fundraiser, just as everyone’s a communicator. Help your colleagues supporters be great at it.)

You’ll find many more ideas like these in How to Make More Money Now.  They won’t all be  “cut-and-pasteable” to your organization, but I guarantee they’ll spur you to come up with some fresh ideas that are. Download the guide now.

P.S. Vote now to build your messaging skills by selecting the best in class in the 2010 Taggies — the third annual Nonprofit Tagline Award Competition. It’s a fun project that will help nonprofits in all fields discover what works, and why.

Your Annual Report’s Opening Message:
6 Ways to Motivate Readers

Thanks to guest blogger, Kimberlee Roth, one of our team’s valued writers. Kim has written for the Chicago Tribune and The Chronicle of Philanthropy among other publications, and provides writing and editing services to universities, health systems and other nonprofits.

I harbor no ill will toward opening messages. In fact, I believe they can be an important component of a nonprofit’s annual report. When done well–well being the operative word–they provide context for the rest of the publication. They personalize it and make it more immediate, and they help point readers to key information and calls to action.

That said, most opening messages, those “letters from the executive director,” make me want to get out my figurative red pen and edit away (at best) or, at worst, put the publication down or close my browser window. Of course you want your annual report’s welcome to excite readers and motivate them to read from cover to cover. Here’s how:

1) Keep it Short
I can’t emphasize this enough. Short is a few succinct paragraphs, a half page, 200-300 words. Short is not asking your graphic designer to “make it fit,” leaving audiences to squint at six-point font. Assume your reader is scanning. Make it easy to read. Use subheadings and bullet points. Hit the high points and move on.

If this sounds impossible–if you feel like it’s your one chance to say everything to everyone–then it might be a good time to revisit your communications plan. That feeling, and the resulting letter that goes on forever, could be a clue that you’re not regularly and consistently talking with all your constituents the rest of the year.

2) Keep the Salutation Simple
“Dear Friends”–or something similar–is great. You don’t need to spell out each audience, unless you want to waste several lines of valuable real estate (your letter is brief, remember?).

3) Keep the Tone Conversational
Keep it professional and formal, yes, but not stilted or distant. Somewhere between, “Hey, what’s up?” and “Dear Sir or Madam.”

Don’t be afraid to let some personality shine through either. Conveying the director’s sincere excitement about a particular accomplishment, his or her sense of humor, or a personal note or observation–these all make your opening message and, as a result, the whole report more engaging.

4) Show Awareness
I once edited a “letter from the director” for a client who had a fantastic year. Unfortunately, though, colleagues at similar organizations did not fare so well. Talking about all the great things that happened without acknowledging others’ challenges during the long, hard recession felt wrong. It was nearly a missed opportunity to show camaraderie and gratitude. Phrases such as “In spite of difficult economic times, we were fortunate to … ” can go a long way.

5) Keep it Candid and Transparent
Not a good idea to say how great the year was if it wasn’t. You can highlight the good while still being honest about areas you know need addressing. Your donors and other supporters want to know that you’re working to improve and that their time and/or money isn’t being wasted.

6) End with a Positive Note and Call to Action
Hint at a few things you’re excited about for the coming year, keep your ending hopeful but not artificial, and invite readers to do something–join you on social media sites, sign up for your newsletter, make a donation before the year ends, volunteer at an event, respond to a survey. Instead of making them drowsy, get them engaged–not only in reading your annual report but supporting your cause.

What techniques do you use to engage readers with your annual report’s opening letter?

5 Steps to a Stand-Out Year-End Appeal

This is the beginning of the end…of the year. The time for you to bear down and give birth to the most compelling fundraising campaign you have in you! So get to it.

Email outreach is just one component of your multi-part year-end appeal campaign. But it’s a channel that increases in importance — due to your ability to time receipt precisely — as you move into the final days and hours of 2011.

Take a look at the email subject lines above — which led year-end appeal emails I received in December 2010 — for ideas on what will work (and what won’t) for your organization.  And work backwards from there!

My recommendations:

  1. Make it extremely personal, as the end of the year is emotionally weighted with review of the year past and hopes and goals for the year to come. So emphasize that connection (between your organization’s review and goals, and those of your supporters and prospects). Also, include one of your team’s name (or rotate names) in from lines and direct mail signatures.
  2. Inspire, don’t guilt. Ringing in the new year with a gift to free speech inspires me, while nudging me that I shouldn’t delay just annoys me.
  3. Launch an email series, rather than depend on a one off, tied together with a single, memorable theme. Note how Lauren-Glenn Davitian (of CCTV, I’d add that to her “from” info) first asks for a 2010-focused contribution on December 28, then returns at the last moment with a request for a contribution spearheading 2011 impact on December 31.
  4. Integrate that email series with a direct mail campaign, and social media (where you are already — don’t go out for the first time at this point.)
  5. Laser focus on your appeal during the last week of the year, rather than talking about events to come. Keep your base’s eye on the prize, especially during this week when we’re all distracted by holidays, family and honing those new year resolutions.

What’s worked for your year-end fundraising campaign, and what’s flopped?

Email Subject Lines: 6 Cardinal Sins to Avoid

Welcome to our newest guest blogger, Kerri Karvetski. As owner of Company K Media, Kerri helps nonprofits communicate online.

Email subject lines have one main job—to get your email opened. You have two seconds to grab your reader’s attention. That’s a lot of pressure. So avoid these avoidable mistakes.

Writing subject lines is mostly art, but there’s some science to it as well. If you steer clear of these subject line sins, there’s a world of opportunity available to you.

Sin #1: Too Long
At 50 characters, most email programs cut off the subject line preview in the inbox. Subject line real estate is extremely valuable, so go shorter when possible. Your readers will thank you, especially mobile readers.

You are absolved of this sin if…you have a highly targeted audience. MailChimp analyzed millions of headlines and found that these audiences appreciate the extra detail you can put in a longer subject line.

Sin #2: Too Short
One-word subject lines used to be the hot new technique, but the party’s over. A few political campaigns still use them, but most nonprofits can’t pull it off. Too vague and gimmicky. Skip them.

Sin #3: Boring
Nothing makes me reach for the “delete” button faster than subject lines like, “March Newsletter.” I know you’ve got a monthly newsletter; I signed up for it. I also know it’s March.

Give me a reason to read this newsletter. Tell me your best story.

Sin #4: Personalization Abuse
Personalization is great, but you can get too much of a good thing. Use personalization in subject lines wisely and sparingly.

Sin #5: Sticking Your Tongue Out at the Spam Filters
Gone are the days when the word “free” automatically flags your message as spam, but you still have to be careful. Avoid these content spam triggers:

  • AVOID ALL CAPS. It’s shouting and tempting fate.
  • Holy $%*&^$!!!???? Excessive use of punctuation and symbols will surely get you in trouble.
  • If you can, look in your spam folder. Cringe. Be offended. Have a chuckle. Don’t write stuff like that. (Learn more at MailChimp’s How Spam Filters Think.)

Sin #6: Betting the Farm on the Subject Line
High open rates are great, but high conversion rates (getting people to take action) are better. Once you get the reader to open the email, you need to quickly and convincingly deliver on the promise of your subject line. And never trick your supporters into opening an email. No one likes a bait and switch.

Great subject lines don’t always have to be clever or witty to work. Experiment. Accept failure as part of the learning process. And, most importantly, keep trying.

More Ways to Strengthen Your Email Impact