impact stories blog

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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Five Ways to Love Your Donors

You love your donors. But are you telling them how much you love them?

When only 46% of donors are retained on average across the nonprofit sector, it’s time to wake up and realize that too often, donors don’t feel valued (SOURCE: AFP’s 2016 Fundraising Effectiveness Project Report).

Tammy Zonker’s presentation at Bridge about the 5 Donor Love Languages provided some great ideas for showing your donors how much you love them—and why they should love your organization back.

Your supporters want to feel like they’re making a difference in the world. Here are Tammy’s five ways to help them feel the love:

1) Hands-on Service: Even if you work for an organization with client confidentiality concerns—like a domestic violence or child abuse organization—there are opportunities for your donors to volunteer and make a tangible difference. For example, at Bridge, we enjoyed stuffing back-to-school backpacks for students at a local charter school. It was a fun way to make a difference—without worrying about background checks or confidentiality issues.

2) Words of Affirmation: Handwritten notes and gratitude phone calls are a quick way to your donor’s heart. Why not block time to write five handwritten notes each week so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle?

3) Tokens of Appreciation: Gifts to donors should be personal and mission focused. Consider framing event photos of your donors, having beneficiaries make crafts for them, or sending special gifts (like picture books about philanthropy or your particular mission) to donors’ children or grandchildren.

4) Quality Time: Make sure to spend time connecting with your donors in person whenever possible—whether during one-on-one visits or at events. Tell them stories about the difference their support is making!

5) Proof of Impact: Keep donors informed about how their gifts are going the distance. Impact reports, newsletters, and personal communications are all opportunities to show your donors that they are truly changing lives.

What are your favorite ways to show your supporters—from the biggest major donor to your generous direct response donors—how much you love them?

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Lessons from Zappos on Donor Stewardship

Fundraising and shoes? Together in one session at the Bridge Conference? I just had to check this out. Valerie Vierengel and Nosa Adetiba of ASPCA did not disappoint. It all began with a phone call to Zappos that left Val, well frankly, unbelievably delighted and happy.

It’s no surprise when you consider that Zappos company values include “Deliver WOW through service” and “Build open and honest relationships with communication.”

The ASPCA Donor Stewardship was inspired. In their session, they shared how they are working to transform their relationships with donors and deliver WOW experiences. Here are just a few of their WOW ideas that you can put to work in your organization.

  • Invest in training for the people who answer the phone when members and donors call. Explain how you want the donor to feel: ‘when the donor hangs up, we want them to feel good about how they are changing the world.’
  • When people call to give you their new address or update their credit card number, send them a thank you note!
  • When sustainers call to cancel, it’s usually about financial hardship. The heavy push to “save” them can create bad feelings. Most people feel bad enough that they have to cancel. So, let them know that they’ve done their part. Let them leave feeling like a hero.
  • Track every interaction with your donors and identify the ones who want to hear from you more. Offer them chances to be more involved in advocacy or volunteering.

Great job Val and Nosa, we learned a lot and had fun too. Thanks for wowing us! What is your organization doing to surprise and delight your donors? We would love to hear from you.

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How Design Can Help You Raise More Money

As the Production Manager at Impact Communications, I am always wondering what design elements work best for our direct mail clients.

At the Bridge session Data Meets Design there were many good examples of tests that both unexpectedly passed and failed.

Here are a two quick tips to implement in your next campaign.

  1. A blank OE outperforms a teaser almost every time. As writers, we like to come up with the most compelling teaser. We feel certain the right words will get more donors or prospects to open the envelope. But, Mal Warwick Donordigital has seen in repeated tests that the mystery of a blank envelope is more compelling than any witty one-liner.
  2. In a test conducted by Mal Warwick Donordigital, a 6-page letter outperformed a 2-page letter by 82%. As fans of long letters, we couldn’t be happier to hear this news. This reaffirms our belief that your donors care about your mission and they want to hear more, not less, about your impact!

Thank you to the speakers at Data Meets Design for inspiring us with these and many other examples. They also reminded us that even if a test fails miserably – it is still a win! Every time the control does better than the test, you are learning more and more about how your donors want to be spoken to. Even silence can be loud – and important. So keep on testing!

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#WordsOfWisdomWednesday: Philanthropy is not enough

“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.




Photo credit: © Alan Kotok. Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license.


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