impact stories blog

#GivingTuesday: Impact’s picks

It’s a tradition at Impact that on Giving Tuesday, each member of our staff selects a nonprofit to receive a contribution from the company. Here are our 2017 picks:

Kathy: “I have decided to donate this Giving Tuesday to Capitol Hill Group Ministries—a leader in ending homelessness in our city. I have participated in their Adopt-A-Family program for many years through my own church. I shop for a mom and two children and it’s one of the highlights of the Christmas season. This year, one of the boys wants a neon football so he can play after dark. But CHGM does so much more that support families during the holiday season. They work year round to prevent homelessness by helping at-risk families stabilize their income and keep their homes. They provide short-term and long-term housing to more than 100 families and their Shirley’s Place Day Center welcomes people for counseling, meals, showers, laundry and more. They are a catalyst for positive change in our city and I’m proud to support them.”

Meg:  “I love the approach that the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation has taken to end breast cancer. They connect the public to the scientific community to help provide more opportunities for innovative research – the more research, the better we understand how to treat and beat breast cancer. I have been a member of their Army of Women© since its inception in 2008. It’s an easy way to be a part of finding a cure – you just sign up for their email list and they will send you opportunities to participate in research studies.  You can help cure or even prevent breast cancer just by filling out a survey. How easy is that?!”

Alanah: “The devastation in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria has been shocking to see and hear about in the news. Hearing the personal story of my friend from Puerto Rico has drawn me in even more to want to help the recovery effort. It is powerful and heartbreaking to hear what her family and friends are going through. That personal connection I feel to Puerto Rico— even through one person’s experiences— has its grasp on my heart. That is why my Giving Tuesday donation is going to United for Puerto Rico.”

Amanda: “This year I have decided to make my #GivingTuesday donation to United for Puerto Rico. Devastated by Hurricane Irma and then Hurricane Maria in September, many people are still without power to this day and hundreds have died. With all of the other political chaos going on around us, the people of Puerto Rico have not gotten the spotlight, or assistance, they so desperately need. I want to be there for our brothers and sisters in any way I can, even with a small donation. The United for Puerto Rico initiative is spearheaded by the First Lady of Puerto Rico.”

Courtney: “I would like to make my Giving Tuesday donation to N Street Village who serves nearly 2,000 homeless and low-income women each year in Washington DC. Some of the most common challenges for the women of N Street Village include: health or mental health problems, substance abuse or addiction, a history of trauma, a lack of educational and vocational opportunities, job loss or eviction, domestic violence, a criminal background or other barriers to employment, or functional illiteracy. And sometimes the biggest challenge for a woman arriving at N Street is the loss of her own sense of dignity, self-worth, and hope – which I can relate to on a personal level.”

Heather: “I love UpCycle Creative Reuse Center in Alexandria…where treasures abound. Connection, creativity and conservation all wrapped into one! From UpCycle’s Signature Tinker time blending science and art, to after-school programming, summer camps, and community workshops, UpCycle teaches students and teachers that cast-offs like bottle camps, bread ties, fabric scraps and more are just the beginning to inspire learning. Last year alone UpCycle collected and kept more than 50 truckloads of art, learning and business materials out of the landfill! And then redistributed these items through their Community Resource Center open to all in Alexandria.”

Jen: “It’s no secret that the arts are near and dear to my heart. This year, I’m making my Giving Tuesday gift to Sitar Arts Center — a state-of-the-art, after-school program offered free of cost for DC kids to train in the arts discipline of their choice. Many public schools don’t offer robust arts programs, and enrolling in expensive private lessons isn’t possible for all families. With classes in everything from bellydance and pottery to filmmaking and guitar, Sitar Arts Center helps young people develop their love of the arts in whatever medium they choose, from professional artists who volunteer their time.”


Say Goodbye to Business as Usual

“It is our duty to take reasonable risk in pursuit of the systemic change we seek.”

That was the message delivered at the National Capital Philanthropy Day luncheon in Washington, DC this week by the 2017 Philanthropist of the Year, Winsome McIntosh. A board member of the McIntosh Foundation and Founder of Rachel’s Network—an organization of leading women philanthropists—Winsome is a true agent of change.

Her comments about risk taking are particularly important for our nonprofit sector at this time. I’m fond of the phrase, “business as usual tactics will not get the job done.” You may have seen a similar line in some of the copy I’ve written for your organization over the years. J Winsome reminded us of how profoundly true that is.

During her remarks, we learned that it was bold risk taken by the McIntosh Foundation that stopped a pending IRS regulation that would have prohibited foundations from making grants to organizations that lobby. Rather than adopting a “wait and see” attitude, the Foundation sought a private ruling that cemented the right of foundations to support lobbing organizations. It was a seminal moment that continues to fuel the progress of advocacy movements in our country to this day.

So, we must ask ourselves . . . what risk is my charitable organization, my foundation or my social impact business willing to take TODAY to speed the path to true systemic change? There is no question that bold action is needed.

Organizations throughout the globe have recently agreed on a number Sustainable Development Goals to guide progress for the years ahead. Will “business as usual” tactics get us to these goals? Most leaders agree that they won’t.

A Pew Research report shows that 40.6 million people in the U.S. were living in poverty in 2016. Are we taking bold enough action to address the root causes of poverty in our country?

The United States is one of the most charitable countries in the world—donating 390 billion last year! Yet, our nation continues to fall behind on many measures of social progress. Populations of entire cities do not have clean drinking water. We have more kids living in poverty than most developed nations. And wages for most U.S. workers have been flat or falling for decades.

So, as you look ahead to a new year, ask, ‘How can I be a bolder agent of change in my organization and our nonprofit sector?’ ‘How can I encourage smart risk taking for bigger wins?’ Here are three ideas to get you started:

  1. Reward risk taking. Procter & Gamble’s Heroic Failure award honors the employee or team with the biggest failure that delivered the greatest insight.
  2. Use data to work smarter. The world now creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data everyday. The nonprofit sector must harness this data to make clearer, data-driven decisions to create social change.
  3. Plan a half-day retreat for your team with the goal of brainstorming dozens of groundbreaking, but potentially risky, ideas that could help you accelerate progress toward your mission. Then select a few to implement across your team.

Winsome McIntosh inspired me this week. I hope this blog inspires you to become a smart risk taker in the months ahead. Let us know about your big risks, big wins and even big failures. We’ll feature some in our blogs throughout the coming year.

– Posted by Kathy Swayze

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Storytelling to Help Alzheimer’s Patients

We know the power of a good story… stories that evoke emotion at deep level… stories that move people up out of their comfort zone, but what about stories that heal the storyteller? In this instance, a couple’s own story helps them remember the good times, while they still can.


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5 Signs That You’re Playing it TOO Safe

Are you pushing the edge in your marketing and fundraising programs? Or playing it safe?

If you are hearing these kinds of statements in your meetings, it may be time to shake things up a bit. (more…)

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Three tips for a better letter

When the Target Marketing enewsletter shows up in my inbox, I almost always take a minute to peak at it. The articles are informative and fun — Melissa Ward’s videos crack me up every time. Thanks Melissa. This week’s edition of the newsletter included a great article from Alan Rosenspan, with 15 quick ideas for a better letter.  You can read the full list for yourself but here are my favorite three.

#1: Put the Benefits in the Margin. I like this one because it reminds us to focus on talking about the benefits to the reader in our letters. Whether you put them in the margin, the p.s. or within the letter, the most important thing is that you remember to ask the question, “how does the donor benefit?” In nonprofit fundraising, we often don’t have tangible benefits like products do, but we offer our donors lots of benefits. Here are just a few: the chance to feel good about themselves, to express their values in the world, to align themselves with people they respect, to make a difference or solve a problem.

#5: Try an unusual salutation. Rosenspan shares an example from an antique magazine that instead of “Dear Friend” opened their letter with, “Dear lover of beautiful things.”  I like it because it’s a way to make your letter feel more relevant to the reader even though it’s not personalized with their name. Here are a few more ideas to get your juices flowing on creative salutations for your organization. Dear citizen of planet earth for an environmental organization,  Dear lover of words for a library, Dear health enthusiast for a hospital or disease charity.

And finally, #15: Use short words and simple language. I love Alan’s reasons on this one that I’m just going to share them verbatim:   Why? It works. It’s not that people are stupid they just don’t want to go to the effort of figuring out exactly what you mean. It’s a wonderful reminder that our donors are not studying our letters—they are too busy and have too many important things on their mind. We should make it easy for them to understand what we’re asking and to act.

These tips come just in time for all those year end fundraising letters you’ll be writing in the weeks ahead. If you need any help with brilliant letter copy, Impact’s writers are standing by.

— Kathy Swayze, CFRE

#WordsOfWisdomWednesday: We All Matter

“There’s not a human being alive who doesn’t want—in any conversation, encounter, experience with another human being—to feel like they matter.”

-Oprah Winfrey


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Don’t Throw Away Your Shot in Planned Giving

Whether or not you are fan of the musical production of Hamilton, the ACLU and Impact Communications’ joint-session resonated loud and clear: if you don’t work in concert with other departments, your program might end up dead!

Here are four tips to make sure your departments aren’t feuding like Hamilton and Burr:

  1. A rising tide lifts all boats. If direct response is doing well, you have a great pipeline for major gifts and planned gifts in the future. If planned giving is doing well, it could mean increased gifts for direct response. (Yes, really! Average annual gifts go up after a donor puts your organization in their will, according to research by Dr. Russell N. James, III.)
  2. Stand together. Your message should be consistent no matter if it’s coming from direct response or planned giving. To the donor, you’re all one.. Of course, tweak your message to focus on urgent needs in direct response, and the “long view” for planned giving.
  3. Get on the same page.If you don’t have one yet, create a master calendar to show all fundraising and marketing communications in one place. The creation of the calendar will yield some ‘friendly’ negotiations around prime mailing times and audience segments. Remember, this is a give and take.
  4. Be in the room where it happens.Getting your planned giving and direct marketing teams in the same room, or even on the same email chain monthly or bi-weekly is really important. Keep each other in the loop about all donor communications. And find opportunities to help each other achieve your shared and individual goals.

Don’t Throw Away Your Shot: How to End the Duel Between Planned Giving and Direct Response left us feeling warm and fuzzy inside. We are so grateful to Liz FitzGerald and Mohammad Zaidi of the ACLU for sharing their experiences. It’s easy to end the duel at any organization when everyone keeps the donor at the heart of what drives your organization. After all, we’re already all on the same team!

10 Things I Learned from Save the Children’s Success

A real highlight of the Bridge Conference was a session on Transforming Your Organization Through High Impact Strategies by Janine Scolpino. She is in charge of mass-market fundraising (donations under $10k) for Save the Children and has been leading the organization through a strategic plan to grow unrestricted revenue. And it’s working . . . with improvements in response rates, average gifts, and long-term donor value.

So, what’s the secret? Here are 10 tips you can take away from Janine’s session and the Save the Children success story:

  1. Inspire your team to believe change is possible and then clear any obstacle that gets in their way.
  2. In your acquisition program, shift from a “Cost to raise a dollar” mindset to a “Long term value” mindset.
  3. Recognize that other departments are critical to your growth plan. Janine set aside 10% of her investment to fund the things teams would need to support her team’s growth.
  4. Invest in mid-level first to generate revenue that you can use to invest in new channels that will take longer to pay off.
  5. Try lots of things. Save the Children tested DRTV, radio, canvass, DIY fundraising, and more.
  6. Improve data quality – spend money on this! Save’s audit found that more than 20% of their records had data quality issues.
  7. Consider a plan to acquire mid-level donors online – and offer them a very warm welcome series by email.
  8. Create shared revenue goals with closely allied teams such as marketing, communications and major gifts.
  9. Establish a concierge program for your midlevel donors to ensure higher touch stewardship. Save the Children outsourced this, but other organizations are adding mid level gift officers to the staff.
  10. Finally, the most important thing you can do to grow revenue from your individual donors? Think about how you can “surprise and delight your donors.”

Thanks Janine for a great session. We learned a lot and came away inspired!


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Brain Science Secrets. . . for Better Fundraising

Fundraising success comes from influencing donor behavior. At #Bridge17, Nancy Harhut, of HBT Inc. and Joe Harr, from AARP, shared how they are using brain science to help achieve fundraising success.

Their session, “Brain Science Secrets: How to Get the Behavior You Seek,” was a lot of fun. Here are few of their key tips:

  • Give the donor a reason to agree. If you’re talking to someone, or even writing a fundraising appeal to them, start with the most agreeable points. Simple questions like, “Nice day, isn’t it?” give them the opportunity to say yes . . . and keep saying yes when they hear your fundraising ask.
  • Reframe or recontextualize to make it easier for people to say “yes.” Would you buy a plug-in air freshener marketed to cover unpleasant odors? Sure, if you needed to. But those of us without stinky problems to disguise might not think the product is for us. Bath & Body Works reframed their air fresheners to grant them greater universal appeal – claiming the product makes “every room a destination.”
  • Use your words carefully. Certain words and phrases will subconsciously encourage the donor by reiterating the importance of their gift. By including the simple phrase, “even a penny will help,” American Cancer Society raised their response rate from 38% to 50%.
  • Tell more stories. It’s a proven fact from neuroscience that storytelling activates more parts of the brain. And, when 80% of decisions are emotion-driven, the more parts of the brain you can touch with your messaging, the greater the chances your donor will give.

On that last point, the members of Impact’s team couldn’t agree more.

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The Happy Marriage of Branding & Fundraising

Tammy Zonker and R. Trent Thompson’s Bridge Conference session title did not mince words: Brand + Philanthropy = Tripled Philanthropy in Three Years. Their session told the story of how they transformed the brand and grew revenues for The Children’s Center in Detroit, Michigan.

Here are 4 tips from their presentation that you can use at your organization:

  1. Be future focused. As the presenters said, “people applaud the best, but they fund the future.” Just because your organization is good at what it does, doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed funding. Painting a picture for donors of how the future will be better because of your organization is paramount. One question Impact often asks its clients is, how would the world look different if your organization didn’t exist? It gets to heart of your impact on the world—and that moves donors to give.
  2. Create a brand persona. Many nonprofits build donor personas as a way to define their audiences and create content and strategies around their best prospects. But it can be fun to think about what your nonprofit’s persona might be. What would it look like if it was a person? It’s a good exercise when thinking about your brand. Brainstorm what your org’s name, age, motivations, accomplishments, and frustrations would be.
  3. Create a messaging map. “Align and empower the staff to talk about their work in a consistent manner,” as the presenters said. By creating a one-page fact sheet that consolidates your organization’s messaging, you empower everyone to sing from the same song sheet. My favorite element of The Children’s Center’s messaging map was the easily shareable story, because not everyone can think of a good story off-the-cuff.
  4. Repurpose the good stuff. When you write articles for your newsletter, reuse them on your blog, or vice-versa.

Most of all, remember that your re-branding is not just for your organization, it’s for your donors!

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