impact stories blog

Communications is NOT Overhead

If you work for a social impact organization, chances are your work involves moving people to action, enacting public policy, providing services, conducting research, changing public opinion, or some combination of these and other functions.

What good does it do our society if the powerful work you do is known to only a small cross section of the population? Or if the report you wrote about hunger or homelessness or healthcare access is read only by your Board of Directors?

If there is one thing the social impact sector must do more of it’s this: Tell your stories to a broader audience! That belief is what inspired me to start Impact Communications 20 years ago and I still believe it as wholeheartedly today.

As we wind down our 20th anniversary year, I want to challenge you to ask yourself these questions about your organization’s commitment to storytelling:

  1. Do you see your communications staff and fundraising communications staff as overhead? They are not. They play a pivotal role in advancing your mission. Let’s tell our funders and our donors that this is an investment we MUST have with EVERY project.
  2. How many of your foundation’s funders give you money not just to develop a program or conduct research, but ALSO to tell the world about it? Start including that expense in your proposals.
  3. Does your programmatic staff find it burdensome to talk with fundraising and communications staff; to share stories and images from the field and invest time in content development? If so, you have to change this from the top and ensure that storytelling is valued by everyone. Not just because it pays their salary, but because it’s part of the social change.
  4. Do your Board members roll their eyes every time you mention fundraising or outreach? It’s time to train your Board members in communications and fundraising storytelling as an essential part of their role as leaders of the organization.

The truth is, fundraising and communications teams are essential to the advancement of your mission . . . because stories move people to action and action moves your mission forward.

For more inspiration on this topic, check out this article from Stanford Social Innovation Review.

– Kathy Swayze

#WednesdayWisdom: We’re All Storytellers

“Look, we’re all storytellers. There’s no one alive who isn’t a storyteller, even if they don’t think they are. Every day is a story.” -Steven Spielberg


We’re inspired by Spielberg’s work with the USC Shoah Foundation to combat hate by sharing the stories of survivors of genocide. Read more about how this “living testimony” is changing hearts and minds. 

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


Fundraiser’s Corner: The Story of #GivingTuesday in 40 Subject Lines

#GivingTuesday was bigger than ever this year – raising $380 million from 3.6 million donors.  What were the Trends this year? #GivingTuesday started earlier and lasted longer, with many organizations sending emails a week or more in advance and a few days after the actual giving day.  #GivingTuesday went social, spurred by a $7 million Facebook match. #GivingTuesday was all about matching gifts with many organizations offering double and triple matches for all gifts made that day. We’re inspired by this global giving day that celebrates our capacity to care for and empower one another.

Here’s a view of this year’s #GivingTuesday through a sample of 40 subject lines I saw in my own inbox:


11/20 – 11/22

A mix of asks and Thanksgiving thank you messages

1.     Foster healing arts this Giving Tuesday

2.     Giving Tuesday is Just One Week Away

3.     Celebrating You

4.     With Gratitude

5.     We are thankful for our friends

6.     Happy Thanksgiving (8 versions of this)

7.     What are you thankful for?

11/23 Black Friday

8.     We’ll Double Your Black Friday Gift

9.     Things that Matter

11/24 and 11/25

Very little activity on the Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving

11/26 #GivingTuesday Eve

10.  Early Bird Challenge Grant for You

11.  Cyber Monday – make a gift

12.  Match Your Gift for #GivingTuesday

13.  Why Wait ‘til #GivingTuesday

14.  Giving …Monday?

15.  For #GivingTuesday…Support X Org

16.  #GivingTuesday Eve

17.  Tomorrow is #GIvingTuesday

18.  #StandWithUs

11/27 #GivingTuesday

19.  Your #GivingTuesday Match Status

20.  Video message from our clients

21.  Happy #GivingTuesday

22.  A #GivingTuesday gift for you

23.  Today is the Day

24.  #GivingTuesday

25.  What #GIvingTuesday is Really About

26.  Today is the day to show your love

27.  #Thank you Tuesday

28.  24-hour goal

29.  Your gift is doubled now

30.  #GivingTuesday Triple Match

31.  There’s Still Time to Act  (4 variations of this)

32.  Trying to Reach You

33.  Gifts Doubled Until Midnight

11/28 and 11/29  The days after 

Mostly thank you, reporting back messages but some additional asks.

34.  The spirit of giving carries on

Opening line: It might be Wednesday but the spirit of #GivingTuesday carries on

35.  My personal thank you

36.  You made #GivtingTuesday great

37.  We’re grateful

38.  It’s not too late

39.  Giving Tuesday Success

40.  Wow! You made #GivingTuesday great

— Kathy Swayze

Impact Celebrates #GivingTuesday

The tradition at Impact continues – each member of our staff selected a nonprofit to a receive a contribution from the company on Giving Tuesday. Take a look at the organizations we are celebrating this year.

Kathy: “My Giving Tuesday charity is the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs…. I am choosing to support them because, right here in my city, they are working to dismantle the systems that sustain racial inequity while repairing the damage caused by past generations of discrimination.”

Meg: “For #GivingTuesday this year, I am focusing on joy. Through City Dogs Rescue & City Kitties, my family and I gained two new pets this year. We also played a small part in bringing happiness to other families by fostering animals in need of a good home. Well, actually, the whole Impact team helped with fostering on our self-declared “Take Your Kittens to Work Days!” City Dogs Rescue & City Kitties rescues animals from rural, high-kill shelters and pairs them with caring families in the Washington, DC area.”

Julie: “We live in a nation where Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. It’s a horrifying statistic—and it doesn’t have to be this way. I’m making my #GivingTuesday contribution to the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. They’re working to change policy, healthcare, and culture so that Black mothers can thrive—before, during, and after pregnancy.”

Jen: “My #GivingTuesday pick is an organization that galvanizes the creative arts to help promote social good. Based here in DC, Halcyon does the work of supporting artists in pursuing their curiosity and creativity AND having these artists work towards innovating solutions around affordable housing, access to nutrition, youth incarceration, and other crises affecting our country.”

Heather: “We can save the planet…one choice at a time. UpCycle Creative Reuse Center is creativity and conservation all wrapped into one! UpCycle inspires children, teachers and adults to collect cast-offs like bottle caps, bread ties, fabric scraps and more. Last year, UpCycle collected and kept more than 4,500 ft3 of art, learning and office materials out of the landfill! And then redistributed these items through their Community Resource Center open to all in Alexandria, Virginia.”

Courtney: “I am donating to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in support of the millions of Americans affected by mental health conditions. The stigma associated with mental illness causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control, prevents many from seeking help, and even claims lives. NAMI works to help the one in five people in the United States living with mental illness every year.”

Hannah: “Over the holiday weekend, my family unfortunately had to say goodbye to one of our beloved dogs, Lilly. In her honor, I’ve chosen to contribute to Wings of Love, Kuwait, a local dog rescue group in Baltimore. A former flight attendant founded this organization after witnessing horrific conditions faced by stray dogs around the world, but nothing compared to what she saw in Kuwait. The women of Wings of Love, Kuwait independently rescue these dogs, fly them to the United States, provide medical care and find them forever homes. Lilly was my furry companion for twelve years after being rescued by a local shelter and hope to provide the same for another dog and family.”


20 Years of Impact

Today marks the official day of Impact Communication’s 20th anniversary.  If you’re reading this, you’ve played a part in Impact’s journey. Thank you.

We were thrilled to celebrate earlier this month with those who have supported this company in countless ways. Thank you to everyone who could make it to the event – it was a wonderful night spent with great company and sharing fond memories to commemorate this magnificent occasion.

Impact began as a one-person shop, when President & Creative Director Kathy Swayze decided to pursue her passion. Over the years, we have been honored to work with over 300 organizations on the front lines of change. We feel incredibly fortunate to work with world-changing organizations and some of the most committed, intelligent, hard-working people in the world.

For the past 7,300 days, we have drawn inspiration from the amazing work of clients who seek to connect orphaned children with new homes . . . protect and rescue mistreated animals . . . defend our natural environment . . . sound the alarm for human rights violations . . . eradicate senior poverty. . . and much, much, more. We are incredibly fortunate to work with people like you who are dedicated to changing the lives of others.

Today, as we celebrate this anniversary, we have our eye on the next twenty years. And we’re thrilled to share with you the new look of Impact Communications – a fresh new logo for the chapters ahead.

Thank you to all who have supported us the past 20 years – we are eager to accomplish more and excited for what the future holds.

Provide a warm welcome to your new donors

I purchased something online from Jet. I didn’t give it much thought–it just popped up as I was searching for a product I needed to buy. I went ahead and bought it, but then Jet welcomed me in such a special way that I had to sit up and take notice. A link to their welcome message is provided below.

As you look, ask yourself, what it would take to welcome new donors to your organization in a similar exciting way. Not much really. Just a video camera and a nice script from someone on your team saying, “Welcome. We noticed you joined and we are really excited!”

Think it would have an impact on long term donor retention? I do!

– Kathy Swayze

Take a look at their welcome message here.



Impact is Hiring!

Read on to learn how you can join our team of passionate fundraisers!

Impact Communications, Inc., based in Washington, DC, is seeking a FUNDRAISING CLIENT LIAISON with direct marketing experience to join our highly collaborative and fun team. You will work closely with our VP Gift Planning to oversee marketing campaigns for environmental, civil liberties, and social benefit organizations. Responsibilities include marketing strategy, client management, client meetings (some travel), writing direct mail packages, email campaigns, and more; and managing copy development and print production. Ideal candidate will have bachelors degree and 2-3 years experience working in a nonprofit organization or an agency serving nonprofits. For more info: To apply: email resume and cover letter by October 15th to


Photo credit: the Italian voice Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license


#WednesdayWisdom: Your Impact

“There’s no greater gift than thinking that you had some impact on the world, for the better.”

-Gloria Steinem



Photo credit: Ms. Foundation for Women Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license

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Bon Voyage to Our Amanda

I am filled with pride to announce that Amanda Marcucci has accepted a new job with The International Fund for Animal Welfare. Serving as Development Project Manager, Amanda will be developing and managing communications to the IFAW’s major donors.

Though all of us at Impact and our clients will miss her greatly, we know she will excel in her new position at IFAW. Amanda’s dedication to her clients and her colleagues is second to none.

For the last five years, Impact has benefited from her talents as Amanda grew from a part-time Operations Assistant to an experienced Client Liaison & Production Manager. Her work at Impact has helped our company grow and made the organizations we serve more successful in their efforts to create a better world.

A search is currently underway to hire a new Client Liaison & Production Manager and Impact is committed to continuing to provide seamless service to the clients Amanda managed.

I want to publicly thank Amanda for everything she has done at Impact over the last 5 years. I am so grateful for all she has brought to us day in and day out – her drive to constantly learn and improve, her dedication, her humor, and her patience. I will continue to watch her career with pride, knowing that I had the honor to mentor her in these early stages of her professional life.


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