impact stories blog

Mid-Level Giving: The Middle School of the Donor Pyramid

As Jan Brady showed us on The Brady Bunch, being stuck in the middle is complicated.

Remember what middle school was like? Those life lessons can be applied to your mid-level program.

  • No one knows where they fit in. They’re not big enough for some things, they’re not small enough for others. This means in order to connect with them, you’ll need to borrow a little from where they’re going and a little from where they’ve been.
  • People talk to them like they’re “just kids.” Just like that 8th grader who thinks he’s a fully independent adult, you’ll typically get a better reaction by using a voice and tone that’s more advanced than they really require. Don’t send your mid-level donors to the kiddie table.
  • They care about what YOU think of them. So pay attention to them! Preferably before they break out the poufy black wigs. Don’t let things get so extreme.
  • Remember where they began. Sometimes middle schoolers need a quick reminder of the values they were taught in elementary school. Even as you steward your mid-level donors towards higher giving levels, use that early information (Did they come in through the mail? Online? An event?) to connect with them and keep them engaged.
  • They have unparalleled B.S. detection. So be genuine with them! Like the middle school kids who shirk at a pat on the head, your mid-level donors will know when you’re treating them as simply one of the herd.
  • Appreciate that change is hard. These donors have already had the experience of low-dollar giving or membership. They’ve moved up and on. But they may not be ready to move again right away. Recognize them where they are, for what they’ve already done . . . and when they’re ready (and well-stewarded), some will surely “graduate” to major gifts!

Impact Receives AARP Supplier of the Year Award

Impact has had the pleasure of working with AARP Foundation since 2011 and have come to know the organization inside and out. Over the past eight years, we have written about the innovative work the Foundation does to support seniors in poverty – solving the big issues of income insecurity, hunger and safe housing.

But we have recently learned about the truly remarkable efforts of AARP and AARP Foundation in the area of diversity and inclusion.

You see, not only does AARP say that they support diverse businesses, they actually encourage their employees to partner with small businesses and women, minority, or veteran owned companies. It was inspiring to attend the AARP Supplier Diversity Awards & Recognition Ceremony on Wednesday as I heard the encouragement and rewards AARP offers their employees for partnering with companies that represent the many different communities the organization serves.

Impact Communications was named as one of AARP’s 2018 Suppliers of the Year through their Supplier Diversity Awards & Recognition Program. Receiving this award is an honor, but the true privilege was learning about yet another innovative way AARP is working to make our world better for all people.

#WednesdayWisdom: Storytelling

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.  -Robert McKee

When was the first ever planned gift?

Well, to be honest, no one knows for sure. But Ron Brown has spent a lot of time researching the history of gift planning and he shared some interesting tidbits in his recent session at Planned Giving Days in Washington, DC.

While full-fledged gift planning programs began at colleges and universities in the 1930s, Brown chronicles a U.S. bequest more than 300 years before that. Mary Chilton Winslow, one of the first Mayflower pilgrims, is reported to have left a bequest to her church in 1620. Then in 1638, John Harvard left a bequest of 320 books and 375 pounds to a higher education institution you may have heard of in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Some other significant dates in planned giving history include:

1830    Early charitable gift annuity:  John Trumbull agreed to give his best paintings to Yale in exchange for a lifetime annuity of $1,000 a year.

1917    Charitable tax deduction first introduced.

1919    American Bible Society launches a gift annuity campaign with ads proclaiming, “Your money will spread the gospel,” in leading religious publications.

1932    Seven Sisters colleges collaborate to launch a bequest program.

1969    Tax Reform Act of 1969 clarifies rules for charitable remainder trusts and other planned gifts, stimulating rapid growth in the number and value of life-income gifts to charity.

1988    The National Committee on Planned Giving (now the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners, or CGP) opened in Indianapolis, Indiana for the education and training of the planned giving community.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip into the past as much as I enjoyed Ron Brown’s session at Planned Giving Days. Ronald A. Brown has worked in planned giving at Princeton, Fordham and Columbia Universities and the Pratt Institute.  Are you hungry to learn more about gift planning history? Check out Ron’s book here.

Five Takeaways from AFP ICON in San Antonio

More than 3,500 fundraisers descended on the San Antonio River Walk at the end of March to attend the AFP International Conference, or AFP ICON. Impact’s Kathy Swayze, CFRE was there and shares five ideas that might help you raise more money.

  1. If you have some money to spend on telemarketing for your mid-level program, where should you spend it? Skip the thank you calls and put your dollars into renewal calls. (Thanks Roger Craver, The Agitator and Chuck Longfield, Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropy)
  2. Where do donors do research before making a planned gift? They consult their lawyer and they go to your website. But sadly, most planned giving pages talk about gift vehicles and very little about what really motivates your donors—your mission and how they can carry it on after their lifetime. What’s on your website? (Thanks Penelope Burk, Cygnus Applied Research)
  3. Women make up 73% of nonprofit employees but only 45% of nonprofit CEOs. And for organizations over $25 million, women CEOs are just 21%. AFP’s Women’s Impact Initiative is addressing gender discrimination in our sector through research, awareness, education and support. Learn more about the AFP IDEA: Women’s Impact Summit being held this fall.
  4. How can you make your stories stickier and more impactful? Use subconscious anchors that make your story memorable. Tell your story in a way that a donor can see it, hear it, smell it, feel it or touch it. (Thanks to Bernie Ross, =MC)
  5. Where are your donors hanging out these days? On Facebook! People over the age of 55 are the fastest growing demographic on Facebook. Ligia Peña, Global Legacy Manager for Greenpeace, suggests getting videos, images and awesome copy in front of your donors on Facebook. Here’s a great example from UNICEF.

Want more great ideas? AFP ICON comes to Baltimore, March 29-31, 2020. Learn more here.

Free Marketing from USPS

Imagine a world where the US Postal Service would send a full color email to your donors letting them know your direct mail piece is on the way. With an actual image of your mailing. And it didn’t cost you a thing.

Wouldn’t that be great? Well, it’s already here with Informed Delivery. Enter your campaign in the USPS Informed Delivery system, upload a full color photo of your package and a call to action button . . . and anyone on your donor list who has signed up for informed delivery will receive an email from the post office that can link to your donate page!

Approximately 20,000 people a day are signing up for informed delivery and 10 to 20 percent of your donors may be using it already.

Do you still need your print newsletter?

Yes, yes, 1,000 times, yes!

“But it takes so much time to put together.” “Nobody reads anymore.”  “It’s really expensive and it doesn’t raise that much money.” “We can just send it by email.”

You have likely heard some of these comments from your staff, your Board members and maybe even uttered one or two of them yourself. Every fundraiser in the world has a lot to do, so it might seem like a good idea to save some time by not creating a newsletter.

But here’s the thing–your donors need to hear how their money is making a difference. They give you money because they want to make a difference. It’s your job to report back and tell them about the impact they are having by investing in your organization. This is especially true for mid-level donors.

Okay, you say, but we can do that with our e-newsletter. Isn’t that enough? First of all, kudos to you for sending regular e-newsletters–it’s a great part of the formula for reporting back to your donors. But be honest. . . how often do you open and read a charity newsletter when it shows up in your inbox? I find that even the organizations I truly love are often overlooked because of more important and urgent things in my inbox.

So, sometimes it’s nice to come home and find a newsletter in my mailbox, kick off my shoes, sit down on the couch and take a peek. And remember, many of your donors are older and retired. In an era when personal letter writing is on the decline, your newsletter may be the most personal thing in their mailbox on a given day. And they have time to read it.

And, when you tell people about the good work you are doing, it often inspires them to donate again. At Impact, we have developed new impact report newsletters for two of our mid-level clients. The goal was to share information and steward these important $1,000 plus donors. There is no ask, but there is an envelope, and each issue generates revenue, sometimes as high as $75,000. Why? Because they are inspired by what you do.

So, the next time you are looking for places to save time or expenses, leave your print newsletter alone.

You Are an Expert, Own It

During the AFP International Conference (ICON) in San Antonio, TX this week, past AFP chair Anne Hale shared a story from stage which I will paraphrase here.

Imagine you go to your doctor because you’ve been having flu-like symptoms. Your doctor does an examination and says, “Yes, it’s the flu. Go home, rest and drink lots of water.” But you say to your doctor, “Thanks, but I think I can kick this with rigorous exercise and by drinking more wine.”

That would be absurd, right? After all, your doctor is the “expert” in medical matters. But this is what happens to fundraisers in our jobs EVERY SINGLE DAY. Your board member (who is not a fundraising professional) tells you that you shouldn’t solicit more than once a year. Your CEO (who is not a fundraising professional) questions why you want money to go visit donors. A program staffer (who is not a fundraising professional) rewrites entire sections of your fundraising letter.

It happens all the time. But why?

The easy answer is to say, “they just don’t get it.” But what if we fundraisers considered the role we play in this continuing story? Here are five things you can do today to help ensure that fundraising is recognized as a true profession requiring real expertise.

  1. Advocate for your ideas and share the data (there’s lots of it) about why you are recommending these strategies. Get data from other organizations in your sector about how the strategy worked for them. Peruse the most current resources at The Philanthropy Centre, the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, the Science of Philanthropy Initiative, the Lilly School of Philanthropy, and other top research institutions.
  2. Invest in your own training by attending conferences and other educational events—and don’t forget all the virtual training programs now available online.
  3. Subscribe to (and actually read) fundraising publications and share the relevant articles with others on your team.
  4. Obtain certification, such as the CFRE, ACFRE, or FAHP.
  5. And, most importantly, never apologize for asking for money. Remember, you are fueling the change our world needs and giving people an opportunity to add meaning to their lives. Tell others how proud you are to be a part of the fundraising profession.

– Kathy Swayze

Fool Me Once. . .

It’s tax time and they’re at it again. Direct marketers who send mailings that look just like the important tax documents you are waiting for.



In January and February, my mailbox was full of envelopes that looked like this:

The problem is . . . these packages have nothing to do with my taxes. So, when I open them and find out the sender wants to sell me a credit card or insurance, or a bridge in Brooklyn, I’m annoyed.

Why do marketers think that annoying someone is a good way to start a relationship? Don’t they understand that in today’s world, TRUST is one of the most valuable assets any company has? How can you trust a company that uses trickery in its marketing to be transparent and above board with you when you become a customer?

The lesson here is that we should start our relationships with our donors (and customers) the right way. With honest, thoughtful communications that inspire them, not gimmicks. If we do that, we might just have a shot at building that relationship for the long haul.

8 Must-Have Components of a Winning Case Statement

Case statements come in many sizes and shapes—but they all aim to convince your donors to invest in the mission of your organization.  To make sure you have a winning case statement, include these 8 elements:

1. Use a Theme — This is how you grab the reader and get them to turn the page. Connects to donor (more…)

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