impact stories blog

First time gifts of $1000 in the mail? Yes, You Can!

I’ve worked in the direct response fundraising field for 30 years. And as far back as I can remember, the conventional wisdom was… you just can’t acquire high dollar donors through direct mail. After all, people reasoned, nobody will rent their best donor names. You have to bring donors in at the low dollar level and move them up the pyramid. Case closed.

But now we have new ways of selecting lists for acquisition mailings and models that can predict higher capacity among your prospects. It’s a new day. Here are some phenomenal results shared recently by Save the Children and the ASPCA during a session at the Bridge conference.

Save the Children tested their control acquisition lists with an ask string of $250, $100, $75, $50 and $30 against a list that had been optimized, using Abacus, for midlevel giving. The ask string on the test was $2500, $1000, $500, $250 and $100. So, what happened? Response rate in the test was down a bit but the average gift was up by 768%.

Now, this mid-level optimization is standard in every Save the Children acquisition campaign and they are running lapsed names through the model as well. In 2018 so far, Save the Children has acquired 600 donors straight into their midlevel giving group at $1,000. But what’s even better, they are also tracking repeat giving and have found that 60% of new donors from the optimized lists gave again in their first year, compared to 42% of new donors from the control lists.

The ASPCA also tested acquiring mid-level donors through the mail, targeting higher dollar lists and adjusting their ask string to $250, $500, 1000. Their initial test was a big win with a .78% response rate, a $348 average gift and net profit from acquisition. And Impact’s client National Park Foundation has acquired more than 200 donors with first time gifts of $1,000—simply by adding the $1,000 option to the acquisition reply. Imagine what will happen when they roll out their high dollar optimized list strategy and some copy tweaks promoting benefits!

The times they have indeed changed. Many organizations are having success acquiring new first donors with gifts of $500, $1,000 or more.  What have you found? Share your success or ask us a question. We’re always happy to talk about all things fundraising.

– Kathy Swayze

No-Cost Communications Help for Nonprofits

Our friends over at Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication recently announced an amazing pro bono program for nonprofits with small budgets but big communications needs.

Social impact organizations can apply to work with Georgetown’s graduate students on projects centered around communications, fundraising, or journalism—for no charge. It’s an invaluable opportunity.

The application deadline is August 21, so don’t hesitate to click here and apply today.

Photo credit: Serge Melki Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license

#WednesdayWisdom: Good Business

“It is prodigious the quantity of good that may be done by one man, if he will make a business of it.”

-Benjamin Franklin



Photo credit: Robert Linsdell Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license

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#WednesdayWisdom: Donors Invest in Ideas

“Donors don’t give to institutions. They invest in ideas and people in whom they believe.”

-G.T. Smith



Photo credit: Delta News Hub Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license

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#WednesdayWisdom: Little Bits of Good

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

-Desmond Tutu



Photo credit: Ben Sutherland Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license

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#WednesdayWisdom: Give cheerfully, accept gratefully

“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”

― Maya Angelou




Photo credit: Jeanne Menjoulet Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license

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Philanthropy’s New Frontier

I can’t stop thinking about a session I attended at Planned Giving Days this spring. Why? Because Avery Tucker Fontaine of BNY Mellon painted a picture of how today’s potential donors think . . . and let’s just say, it’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.

By next year, the population of Gen X and Gen Y combined will be 139 million, and the number of boomers will decline to 79 million. So it’s important to understand how these younger donors think about impacting change. And, the bottom line is, these younger donors are just as likely — or even more likely — to invest in a social impact business as a charitable organization.

According to Tucker Fontaine, “Yesterday’s wealthy investors were more willing to make their money in evil ways and then give it to charity to absolve their sins. Now, people want to make their money, invest their money, and give it away along the same spectrum with a consistent set of values.”

Unlike their parents, today’s investors believe that the financial markets can work for the people and the planet, as well as investors. It’s becoming mainstream to think about achieving social change outside of traditional nonprofits. There is a continuum of options available:

  • Traditional nonprofit
  • Nonprofit with income generating model
  • For profit social venture
  • Socially responsible business
  • Traditional for profit

(Click here to see a nice visual depiction of this continuum by Mission Capital.)

How can you position your organization with opportunities along this entire spectrum?

The Global Impact Investment Initiative, GIIN, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting social impact investors. They report that global impact investment has doubled in the past two years to $114 billion. Compare that to the $410 billion contributed to charity in 2017—and it paints a very clear picture.

If your nonprofit is not thinking about how to appeal to these new impact investment-minded donors, it’s time to start.

Here are some resources for further exploration:

How Nonprofits Can Tap Into the Impact Investment Market

The Impact Investor

What You Need to Know About Impact Investing

-Kathy Swayze

Photo credit: Pictures of Money Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license

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Donor profiles: Tell one story at a time

It’s common knowledge in fundraising that people give to people. Therefore, donor testimonials and profiles have become a fixture of fundraising communications.

But often, organizations will try to profile couples in their newsletters, websites, or other materials. For stewardship, this makes lots of sense. However, in telling a story that will inspire others to give, the “we” gets clunky.

“We give because the cause is important to us. It was something we bonded over when we first got together. We recently looked at our finances and decided to put our money where our mouths are.” Details are smoothed over such that they apply to both parties. Even the grammar of the “we” feels not quite right.

When using the first person, you can get a fuller picture of the individual. For example:

“I’ve always lived an active life. Sports have remained a constant since I was a kid – to this day, I ice skate and play softball and golf. I love going to different car shows all around the country – even though I don’t work for a car company, I will always be interested in them. I turned 83 years old in March. And as long as I’m capable, I’ll continue to push myself to live my fullest life. Thanks to AARP Foundation and the annuities I’ve created with them, I plan to keep living as fully as ever.”

The single-person focus allows that person to appear before the reader in more detail. You see what’s at stake, you see the direct impact the organization has had on their specific life. You even get a sense of their language and vocabulary. Essentially, they are more “human” on the page . . . and therefore more inspiring for prospective donors.

10-Point Checklist to Improve Response Rates

With fall and year-end campaigns being planned, NOW is the time to think about how to boost the response rates for your direct response campaigns.

Fundraising can be a bit like baking—with lots of different ingredients combining for a winning result. So just like in the kitchen, check your copy against this list to make sure you haven’t missed any key ingredients.

When drafting or reviewing a draft of your copy, ask yourself the following 10 questions. If the answer is no, go back to the copy and revise until you can answer yes on as many as possible.

  1. Did you ask for the gift at least three times? Is your first ask on page 1 of your direct mail letter and in the first three paragraphs of your email?
  2. Have you articulated a compelling offer?
  3. Did you tell me why more money is needed and outline the consequences of inaction?
  4. Have you considered a matching gift? “Your gift will be doubled.”  Or a challenge goal? “If 100 people donate, we will get a $5,000 gift.”
  5. Does your request sound urgent? Have you explained why it’s needed NOW?
  6. Have you personalized your letter or email with the donor’s name and other donor data?
  7. Have you included an involvement device for the donor to return with their gift, such as a petition, survey or note?
  8. Have you pre-tested your subject line to maximize success in email? Or tested teaser options (including no teaser) for your outer envelope in the mail?
  9. Are all your paragraphs shorter than four lines on the page?
  10. Did you use “You” in your copy? (Bonus points if it’s in your first line.)

Fundraising Fraud – Presidential Style

The New York attorney general filed suit against President Trump and his three eldest children Thursday, alleging “persistently illegal conduct” at the president’s personal charity, saying Trump repeatedly misused the nonprofit organization.”

As a lifelong fundraiser, it is always distressing to read stories about financial fraud within charities. But when the fundraising scam article you are reading in the Washington Post is about the U.S. President’s foundation, we have entered a whole new realm of insanity.

During the course of my career, I have had the pleasure of working with hundreds of organizations that raise funds from the public while upholding the highest standards of ethics. I work with nonprofit leaders who willingly and religiously abide by the laws of their states and our nation in administering charitable dollars.

And, now, the person holding the office of the President is alleged to have made a mockery of this worthy profession and the entire philanthropic sector. According to the suit filed by the New York Attorney General, Trump raised $2.8 million at a fundraiser in Iowa to benefit veterans. Some funds did go to veterans groups, but the suit alleges that the vast majority was used to support the Trump campaign. The Trump Foundation is also alleged to have used Foundation dollars to pay Mr. Trump’s debts, legal settlements, and even purchase a large portrait of the President.

This is the last thing our sector needed. Another story about misuse of funds by a charity. Now is an important time for all of us who work in this crazy and wonderful fundraising world to speak up. Let it be known that even when the news fills with stories of charitable fraud, that there is a mountain of good work happening in the nonprofit world. The funds we raise every day are protecting the environment, feeding hungry children, advancing treatments for cancer and Alzheimer’s, protecting the arts, ending discrimination, and so much more.

Stand up and say how proud you are by posting on social media this week. Here are some suggested hashtags: #proudfundraiser #closetrumpfoundation #charitiesmatter #weusefundswisely. Come up with your own. But let’s get the message out there that the big media story about fraud in the Trump Foundation is an anomaly and not the norm in charitable fundraising.

-Kathy Swayze


Photo credit: Damian Gadal Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license.

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