By Tom Ahern
“At risk?” “Accessible?” “Services?” I hear what you’re saying. I just can't see what you’re saying. And that’s the problem with jargon.
In fact, just about everything is wrong with jargon once it leaves your office.
Jargon is for specialists only. It’s convenient, professional shorthand used by staff to speed meetings along. Every industry has its jargon: the sciences, social work, health care, education, even fundraising. (The peculiar term “planned giving” comes to mind. You think the average donor understands what that really means? But I digress.)
Outsiders—and virtually all donors are outsiders—do not get jargon, not the way insiders do. Sure, outsiders understand the words at a superficial level. But jargon does not, will not, cannot ring the bell that is the donor's heart. Jargon is always clinical, abstract language. And, worse, it tells no tales.
Now maybe you're thinking you’re immune to jargon? Not so fast. Jargon is sneaky. Charities often use jargon and don't even know it. For example . . .
At risk . . . accessible . . . services.
These three terms seem innocent enough. And they’re certainly common: even news reporters use them without a second thought. But is the real meaning of words like these all that obvious to the layperson? Don’t count on it.
Of course, ask a donor what a term like “at risk” means; and you'll get some kind of definition. “‘At risk?’ Why, that’s some poor child who’s forced to grow up in a bad neighborhood. It’s tough. But, you know, heck, my grandfather was an at-risk child once, when he came over from the old country. And he turned out just fine.”
Charming. Just not what you meant.
When you, the expert, say “at-risk kid,” you have in mind a specific child whose name you know, with a dozen things stacked against him and a less than 50% chance of ever graduating high school. Which means, even with a good brain, he’s doomed, statistically speaking. Without a diploma, he’ll work minimum-wage jobs the rest of his life, marry too young, die too young, and society will lose his full contribution.
And yet you know—you have the proof—that it doesn't have to be that way. You know that, in fact, this particular “at-risk” child can make it and become a successful adult—if enough donors continue to support your wonderful, proven, amazing, life-transforming programs.
Just remember (have it tattooed on your wrist, if it helps): An outsider simply cannot accurately visualize what your jargon means. The references are missing. The daily exposure is missing. The context is absent. For insiders, jargon can conjure a rich world. For outsiders (i.e., donors), jargon just conjures confusion and blank mental screens.
It is the vivid mental picture of human suffering that stirs donor empathy. You can’t create that kind of picture with mere jargon.
Takeaway: Jargon can be a serious obstacle to communicating effectively with your base of supporters. Outside the office, jargon is a dead language. We carelessly fling technical shorthand (“accessible,” “services”) at our donors and prospects. But generalists do not interpret these terms correctly and profoundly, the way specialists do. Terms like “at risk” fail to move people unless we bring those terms to life vividly through anecdotes, photos, and other real-life evidence.
Reprinted with permission from the Ahern E-Newsletter: About Donor Communications. Copyright © 2008 by Tom Ahern.
You are invited to join Mal on April 30 in exploring Fundraising When Money Is Tight in a 90-minute Webinar sponsored by the Resource Alliance, organizers of the globally renowned International Fundraising Congress. Mal’s session, based on his newest book, will follow Judy Nichols’ March 26 Webinar on Addressing Donor Fatigue.
By Tom Gaffny
In my year-long study of the online practices of 144 nonprofit organizations, I learned about 12 ways that charities are using the online medium to bring donors closer to the cause . . . again and again. They’re thus making their organizations more relevant, more provocative, more stimulating, and more engaging.
Here, once again, are those 12 techniques:
Be relevant—be local
Highlight the video
Leverage techniques that work in the mail
Send information in bite-size chunks
Work at channel integration
Personalize your organization
Be visual—be provocative
Say “thank you” in different ways
Ask friends to “get the word out”
Be timely—be there
Highlight your partners
In my previous columns, I addressed the first 10 of these 12 approaches. This month, in the second-to-last installment of this series, I’ll cover the eleventh.
Be timely—be there
With e-mail, blogs, and Web postings, you can release comments on fast-breaking news in what we have come to call “real time”—as it’s happening. And in this age of instant communications—and instant gratification—your constituents expect nothing less from you than instant response to the news that bears on your work.
The true competitive advantage of online communications is its speed. Whatever you do online, you’ll be missing the boat if you don’t take every opportunity to be timely.
Here’s a good example of how one venturesome nonprofit organization, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (New York NY), jumped on breaking news:
Following that timely message to supporters, the ASPCA followed up with another one four days later, updating readers and soliciting their support in the case at issue:
Just in case you missed the central point, here’s the call to action in that message:
Here, from the Southern Poverty Law Center (Montgomery AL), is another good example of how to use the special power of timeliness that’s inherent in online communications:
Note that the Subject line of this message called out its urgency:
Here’s yet another example, this one from the Interfaith Alliance (Washington DC):
Here, too, you can’t fail to miss the timeliness of the message if you even glance at the Subject line:
If your organization has any reasonable excuse to relate to breaking news, don’t fail to demonstrate to your supporters how quickly you can act!
Tom Gaffny can be contacted at Tom Gaffny Consulting, 71 Cliff Road, Wellesley MA 02481, phone (781) 685-6825, fax (781) 685-0817, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Since 1994, when the Mal Warwick Associates Web site went online, Editor Mal Warwick has answered fundraising questions posed by visitors to the site. Hundreds of those Q&As are available here. In this feature, we’ll spotlight one Q&A from the most recent month.
Question: How would you measure the value of a newsletter? We've sent newsletters to our members forever, but for some of the smaller groups I work with the production costs per piece start to get quite high. Yet the obvious approach of not sending newsletters to a segment of the membership seems risky/expensive in a situation where we're sure the newsletter has some significant value, and let's say the group's membership is measured in hundreds or right around 1,000. Thoughts?
Mal answers: If you’re looking for metrics, I can’t help you. But if you want my educated guess about the value of a newsletter, that’s entirely different. Here are three aspects of the situation to keep in mind:
There is no doubt that good newsletters are valued by donors to nonprofit organizations. I’ve seen this point proven both when an existing newsletter has been discontinued (and giving fell) and when a new, second newsletter was sent free and unannounced to members who already received a first one (and giving skyrocketed).
You’ll have noted that I referred to “good” newsletters. In my not-so-humble opinion, a large proportion of nonprofit donor newsletters are anything but good. I strongly recommend that you get a copy of Tom Ahern’s excellent book on the subject, The Mercifully Brief, Real World Guide to Raising More Money With Newsletters Than You Ever Thought Possible.
I believe that the importance of a newsletter is heightened in an organization with a small donorbase that is, presumably, far more committed to the organization than are the huge numbers of donors or members who support large, national organizations. They tend to feel closer to the group and want to be kept informed.
By Michael Stein
December is the busy season for online fundraisers, and 2008 was no different for Mal Warwick Associates and Donordigital clients. The economic recession added a new twist to the task of crafting online appeals, and nonprofits found varied ways to work this into their messaging and appeal strategies. The ultimate challenge for most nonprofits was seeing smaller online fundraising revenues—and deciding how to reshape budgets and programs around that reality—and also what to count on going forward.
Here are six lessons learned from the year-end online fundraising campaigns:
The average gift size dropped in December 2008 about 25% compared to the year before, and this is the single biggest factor that affected online revenues. We can expect this trend to continue as long as the economy is perceived to be in a recession.
The number of online gifts stayed the same as last year’s, which is a sign that nonprofits should continue to make the case for online giving.
The more donors on your list, the more money a nonprofit will raise at year end. Donor volume counts even more in an environment where the average gift size is falling. It may also be harder to convert non-donors, such as activists, in a difficult economy. Now is a good time to put in place programs to grow your list size as you prepare for year-end 2009.
Recurring monthly and quarterly donors were a good source of year-end revenue for several clients during a time of dropping one-time gifts. There’s always a risk in losing some recurring donors completely, but the short-term gain of additional revenue may make up for it. Recurring monthly and quarterly giving programs may be a good year-round alternative for one-time donors who are feeling strained in the pocketbook and giving smaller gifts. Nonprofits should explore this option with their donors.
Multi-part e-mail appeals (sending three to five e-mail appeals) continued to perform well in the month of December with constant interruptions. The last three days of December continued to be the best performing in terms of donations, so it’s critical to message Dec. 29-31.
Donation page layout, length, and button color/size had the greatest impact on increasing the amount of online donations received, and seem to be more effective than using content personalization and online videos. Now is a good time to test and improve donation landing pages to increase online revenues.
Michael Stein is Senior Online Strategist at Mal Warwick Associates, 2550 Ninth Street, Suite 103, Berkeley CA 94710, phone (510) 843-8888, fax (510) 843-0142, e-mail Michaels@malwarwick.com. Nick Allen, Dawn Stoner, and Emily Campbell, all of Donordigital, contributed to this story.
The Agitator summarizes the results of an internal study of online giving among approximately 2,000 nonprofits using Blackbaud fundraising software. The one finding that jumps out is that 48% of their online gifts in 2008 (as measured by dollar value) were contributed during the month of December. What’s more, these charities had an average online donation of $152 in 2008. And which organizations had the highest average gift amounts? Those in the education, healthcare, faith-based, and foundation arenas. To read more about Blackbaud’s study, click here.
By Rob Blizard
As unemployment numbers go up in your community and your top donors watch their stock portfolios deflate, forging a smart and effective fundraising strategy is going to be harder than ever. While a top-notch Development Director or consultant might be just the ticket to rely on during these tough times, there are other people who should be helping to bring dollars in the door.
Those are the members of your board of directors.
Are you suppressing a smirk over that statement while simultaneously stressing about how you’re going to hit your financial goals this year? You’re not alone. Nonprofit directors nationwide are depending on their boards to garner resources by bringing in large gifts. But encouraging these special volunteers to become truly productive fundraisers is often easier said than done.
Board members are frequently reluctant and hesitant to ask for money. “They’re afraid of hearing ‘no’ and feeling pushy,” says Aileen Gabbey, Executive Director of The Maryland SPCA in Baltimore. “They also are concerned that the contacts they ask for funds will ask them to reciprocate by giving a gift to the contacts’ causes.”
“I can’t afford it, so they can’t either.”
Moreover, board members “mistakenly project their own financial situation onto others. In other words, ‘I can’t afford it, so they can’t either.’ They also find it a challenge to dedicate time and discipline in their busy lives to a donor cultivation process,” says Sheila Reilly, Board President of the Robert Potter League for Animals, based in Newport RI.
So, what are some optimal ways to help board members—possibly timid and sincere or possibly bold but in need of guidance—maximize the benefit of their fundraising efforts for the charity?
“Almost nobody is born a fundraiser. So you have to give your board members the tools they need to succeed,” suggests Outi Flynn, Director of the Knowledge Center at BoardSource, an organization headquartered in Washington DC that is dedicated to assisting the nation’s nonprofit leaders with governance issues.
“These key tools,” she notes, “include a well-constructed case statement, an ‘elevator speech’ for everyone, clear gift acceptance policies, and continuous discussion on what the organization offers and how to ‘sell’ the message to the right audience.”
Give them the tools they need
“Board members must have a complete understanding of the organization’s mission and activities, so they can spontaneously and credibly make the case to prospective donors about supporting the organization,” Reilly offers. “If they won’t step up to the plate, they need to be made aware that they cause the rest of the board and staff to shoulder a greater portion of the revenue generation burden.”
Education is an option to consider, according to Baltimore-based independent fundraising consultant Steve Haddad. “I believe board members can benefit from formal training opportunities, typically in group settings, as well as one-on-one coaching from professional staff and consultants. They will gain experience and confidence with regular prospect-review activity. In addition, staff can help board members learn how to answer tough questions and, of course, teach them how to experience rejection by not taking ‘no’ personally. Remind them that they will never hear ‘yes’ if they don't ask!”
Develop individual written plans
To bolster motivation among board members, Haddad suggests instituting metrics. “I’m a big believer in a minimum ‘give and get’ floor that every board member must meet on an annual basis,” he says. “All board members should work with staff to develop a written plan for how they will reach those goals. Successful nonprofits provide board members with quarterly updates on how they are doing, as well as the support needed to help board members reach the goals outlined in their plans.”
Gabbey agrees with the idea of fundraising plans for board members and emphasizes the benefit of tailoring strategies to people’s unique skills and abilities. “[Fundraisers] may want to think about individualizing such plans. Some board members will do better at hosting receptions, while others will succeed through bringing in friends for tours and then taking them to lunch.”
“A fervent supporter of a nonprofit needs to remember that asking for money is not begging,” Flynn points out. “It is actually the most natural thing to do when you believe in the good work that the organization is doing.”
And, given current U.S. macroeconomic trends, such efforts will become as necessary as they should be natural. “In the current economic climate, it will be a greater challenge than ever to encourage donations,” says Reilly.
“Fundraisers need to hold their heads high and be creative in offering fundraising options to prospective donors.”
“Getting the money is giving to the animals,” Gabbey says, “so fundraising is crucial to the work of the mission. I always give board members an animal story to have ‘in their pocket.’ They can share it with donors to explain just how our work affects the lives of animals. Being willing to talk about our work in meaningful ways and being willing to ask for help makes a big difference, especially in volatile economic times.”
Rob Blizard is Director, Gift Planning at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, P.O. Box 110, Mount Vernon VA 22121, phone (703) 799-8652, e-mail email@example.com. This article was reprinted with permission from the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators E-News, Winter 2009.
It was the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ most successful fundraising effort ever—and what The New York Times calls “a landmark” in nonprofit fundraising. We’re talking about the ASPCA’s poignant television commercial that features abused dogs and cats while Sarah McLachlan sings her haunting ballad “Angel” in the background. According to The Times, since early 2007, the ad has raised an astounding $30 million for the charity. In addition, many of the 200,000 new donors that have responded to the commercial have become monthly givers—contributing an average of $21 a month to the ASPCA.
March 24, 2009 — Teleconference
PBS Brown-Bag Teleconference
Fundraising When Money Is Tight
April 14, 2009 — San Francisco CA
Fundraising When Money Is Tight
April 21, 2009 — Washington DC
George Washington University
Fundraising When Money Is Tight
April 22-23, 2009 — Washington DC
Global Philanthropy Forum
Site: Mayflower Hotel
April 23-26, 2009 — Itasca IL
Social Venture Network Spring Gathering
Site: Eaglewood Resort
May 12-14, 2009 — Online
IFC Online eConference
Maximizing the Value of Your Donors With an Integrated Direct Response Strategy: Online, Mail, Phone, Mobile, Direct Dialogue, and Major Donors
June 15-17, 2009 — Naples FL
2009 DMA Nonprofit Leadership Summit
Site: Naples Grande Hotel
June 24-27, 2009 — Bangalore, India
International Workshop on Resource Mobilisation
Site: InfoSys Campus
July 21-23, 2009 — Washington DC
2009 Bridge to Integrated Fundraising Conference
Site: Gaylord Hotel, Resort and Conference Center, National Harbor MD