10 Steps to…More Money From Fundraising Letters

“Thank you.  I could not be here without your help.  I never thought my dreams would come true, but here I am!”  I am happy to share this note with you today.  Jeremy Jones, a proud Rutgers University freshmen, sent it to thank us – and you – for making it possible for him to go off to school prepared to succeed.

That’s an actual example of a fundraising letter I got in the mail.  A great opening is the first step in writing a letter that gets results.  But there’s more…read on to learn how to create fundraising letters to generate significant income for your organization.

Even though we have constant access to email and text messages we still check to see what the mailman brings each day.  Whether you send your appeals via email, mail or a combination of the two, you can improve the results.  

Here are my 10 Steps to a great letter campaign…

        1. Write a draft. Don’t think yet about the opening or the “ask.”  Just write a letter from your heart.  Use friendly, informal language, your goal is to connect with the receiver.  Use names and stories to make an emotional connection.  Share your dreams.  You are appealing to the heart, that’s how you will get people to care and to donate.  And remember…
          mantra
        2. Follow the rules.   There have been many, many tests done to show what gets the best results in direct mail.  The overwhelming winner is a long letter.  Fight the urge to keep it short, long works (more than one page).  But, the paragraphs should be short.
        3. Grab their attention.   Start with an attention grabbing device.  It might be a quote, a short personal story, an amazing fact, a heart-breaking statistic.  The type could be larger and bold or italic.  It should quickly draw your readers in and make them want to read.  If you use a picture, place it further down on the page.   If you are sending via email, check out 10 Steps to Powerful Emails
        4. Ask for the money.   While it is true that the recipient may not read every word, he/she will generally read the beginning and the end.  Near the end of the letter make your pitch.  State clearly what the need is and how the reader can help.  Suggest a dollar amount.  Let donors know that $500 will provide a special program for your daycare center, while $250 will provide safety equipment for the playground.  This can be stated in the letter and repeated on the remittance envelope (donation form, online).  Make it clear and easy to take action.   And remember – do not send an appeal asking for $100 to your $20,000 a year donor!  
        5. The envelope please. A remittance envelope is important.  Make sure it is easy to use and ready to go, postage free or pre-stamped.  The email equivalent is a direct link to your site’s donation page that looks like a natural extension of the email/letter.
        6. Surprise them.  Insert something small, lightweight and relevant in the envelope of your appeal letter.  It could be brightly colored paper with a fact, a photo or an incentive.  Use what you have – I used wood shavings (and a related message) for a crafts museum with great results.  The next year I used sheep’s wool.  Lightweight, free and effective!
        7. Time Your Mailing.   November or early December is great for holiday and year-end giving (and tax breaks).  A series of mailings works even better. 
        8. Mail Your Letter.  Keep that database in shape so you can easily print out personalized letters or send emails.  First class mail will speed up delivery and the stamp will improve the chances of it being opened.  A printed or hand written address, rather than a label, is time consuming but may pay off.  Email should be personalized.  
        9. Measure to Improve.  Keep track of the responses.  You might even try a test with two different appeals, this is easy to do and worthwhile.  If you mail a series you’ll want to know which one got the best results.  Don’t ignore this step!
        10. Make Friends.  Continually making friends is everyone’s job.  All year long add new connections.  Meet someone new; add them to your list! 

P.S.  Everybody reads the P.S.  And if there’s also a P.P.S., they’ll read that too.  Remind them of the urgency of your appeal and offer an incentive.  While they are there, they’ll read the signature so hand-sign it whenever possible.

Send me your fundraising appeal.  I’d be happy to review it for you!

NEED HELP WRITING YOUR ANNUAL APPEAL?  Check out my special offer for a limited time only.

Merle Benny is the Founder of Nonprofit Champion, a resource for fast track nonprofit leaders and the creator of Your Million Dollar Story. While building a successful career at Mc-Graw Hill and AIG, Merle was on a personal quest to understand how to help nonprofits grow and prosper. As a volunteer she learned to market and fundraise, raising millions for organizations. Partnering with Joe Landi, a branding expert and Duncan Pettigrew, a videographer, they created a system for all nonprofits to grow and raise more money. The result is Your Million Dollar Story.

10 Steps to…Be a Nonprofit Champion

NPCMedalThe world’s counting on you!  You’ve already proven yourself by stepping up and choosing to lead a nonprofit organization. You’ve got a clear vision and you’re making the world a better place. But sometimes being the quiet do-gooder isn’t enough.  It’s not enough for you and it’s not enough for your organization. Time for greatness!

I’ve seen organizations soar (taking their leaders with them) and have seen many more limp along.  I’ve learned a lot by observing and I want to share it with you – so you can be among the champions!

Let’s start our countdown:
10. Stardom comes from bold action.  Nonprofits tend to play it safe.  They do what is proven, what everyone else does, what they’ve done since 1942. Time for a new approach!

9.  Dream – be the visionary leader.  Before you can get others to care enough to promote you and your organization to stardom, you need a dream they can share.  This is your vision – it’s a reach, it  excites you and it’s easy for others to understand and care about.

8.  Maximize who you have.  At the very least you have a Board of Trustees.  Mobilize them.  They joined for a reason, get them turned on again and working with you.  Enlist volunteers and staff to use their talents to the fullest, some people are just waiting to be asked!

7. Open the door.  The biggest obstacle to nonprofit growth (and donations) is not expanding your Network.  You decide how people will enter – invite them to an introductory Story Hour or  schedule a private meeting. Just be sure that it is easy for everyone to learn about you and to get involved.

6. Make room for fame.   Clear out tasks that are time consuming, can be done by someone else (how about one of those new contacts!) or unnecessary.  You want to open up space so you can take big, bolder steps.

5.  Get out more.   It’s easy to sit at your desk and think about what should happen.  You need to connect with new people everyday. There are countless people who will become part of your team if you give them the opportunity.

4. Stay open and responsive.   As you connect to more and more people, opportunities will come your way. Listen carefully. Be ready!

3. Be online.   Build an online presence.  There are many tools and choices – email, blogs, postings, tweets – choose one that works best for you and get started.

2. Act like a star.   Get comfortable with speaking and writing so you can share your dream whenever opportunity presents itself.  Dress the part.

1. Take big steps.  The world is waiting.  Grab the attention of busy, smart, successful people.  Seek out big ideas.  Don’t reject anything that is legal and gets you closer to your Vision!

You’re all set – go for it!  And share your success stories with us so we can help more Nonprofit Champions.

Dowload your FREE 10 Steps to Nonprofit Champion Poster.

 

Merle Benny is known as the Mentor of smart, bold Nonprofit Leaders, ready to change the world. She is the founder and president of Nonprofit Champion, a company committed to the growth and empowerment of nonprofit executive directors and board leaders around the globe by sharing high-level thoughtful marketing and growth strategies – while supporting their work and values to create sustainable success.
After 20 years in a successful corporate career developing technology companies, Merle followed her passion and turned her talents to the nonprofits she loved.  Joining years of nonprofit board leadership with marketing expertise, business savvy with a philanthropic heart, Merle empowers highly successful nonprofit leaders.

10 Steps to…Powerful Emails

at signEmail is essential to your communication plan!  Every nonprofit organization uses email to give information, keep in touch, send announcements and invitations and ask for money.  Email is an effective tool, here you’ll learn how to maximize your results.

Make your email work harder (and become a Champion at the same time!):

        1. Build a Great List.  Every nonprofit needs friends – and their addresses.  Be sure you have good email addresses for everyone you want to reach.  Continue to add addresses for people already in your database and for everyone new that you meet.
        2. Call to Action!  Decide before you write a word what you want to get from this email!  Every communication needs a clear Call to Action.  If you know what you want the reader to do, your email will be much more effective – whether it’s an invitation, newsletter, friendly greeting, request or appeal.  Make it easy for them to do just what you want them to do.
        3. Craft the subject line.  Choose your subject line carefully.  The subject of your email may make the difference between it being opened or ignored, in a typical mailing as many as 80% may never be opened.  Write something compelling and interesting that will make them want to know more.
        4. Here’s one I didn’t immediately open, the subject is:
          Celebrating 100 Years: Girl Scouting Works!
          When I did look (to write this) I found a story about some interesting research that shows women who were Girl Scouts are more successful. I shared this link with all my favorite past and present Girl Scouts. The email would have gotten my attention immediately if it had a subject like this:
          Study shows Girl Scouts earn more, give more
        5. Personalize it. Address each email individually whenever possible. If you have the technology and the knowledge of how to customize an email, use it.  If not use a friendly greeting like “Dear friend of Organization.”  If there is anyone receiving the email who may not be sure why they are getting it, state the reason up front: “You are receiving this invitation because you volunteered at our…” If you do not have a database program, like eTapestry or Convio, that provides mailing services you could use free or low cost mailing services like Mailchimp and Constant Contact.
        6. Write a strong opening.  Make sure your opening or headline makes them want to know more.  Compelling works better than persuasive.  You’ve got 5 seconds to capture their attention.  Go for it!
        7. Here are two examples from one organization asking recipients to sign up for a tour.
          Persuasive: Help us celebrate National NeighborWorks® Week
          Compelling:
          “A Wonderful Surprise around every corner.” If you thought you knew all that Orange had to offer, think again!
        8. Choose the best format.  Just because you can make it look like a print newsletter doesn’t mean you should.  Like most people, I read personal emails but I don’t always get to the newsletters and other mass mailings.  Pay attention to what you open and read, it may help you make choices.  Try alternating a standard newsletter format with personalized emails and occasional news flashes.  Balance the “asks” with the “gives” – if you send two appeals a year be sure to send two (or more) invitations.  Introduce each newsletter story with a snappy headline, a short intro and a link to the full article on your site.  Use your established brand so it is instantly recognizable. 
        9. Use the right words.  Take the time to craft a well written email.  If writings not your thing have someone else do the writing (hire a copywriter if you can swing it).  Always have someone proofread!  Enough said.
        10. End with a great signature.  You, and everybody in your organization, should have an email signature; it is easy to create one in Outlook or Gmail.  It usually includes your name, contact information and a link to your website.  Include every option for someone to communicate with you or link to you.  It can even include a handwritten signature, your logo and a Facebook Like button.  
        11. Do it again. You are probably not communicating enough with your friends, volunteers, prospects and donors.  Frequency and consistency are important.  Try an extra mailing (or two) and measure the results.
        12. Book it. Create a full calendar of email communications.  Plan the why, who, what and where so there are no surprises or last minute rushes (I hope!).  

    That’s it! 10 steps to creating powerful emails that get you just what you need.

    Here are some links that may be helpful to you:
    Nonprofit databases

    eTapestry

    Convio

    Newsletter services

    MailChimp

    Constant Contact

    Research on what works in email and other online marketing

    Marketing Experiments

10 Steps to…Trouble-free Events

tentEvents and nonprofits go together.  Most organizations have at least one major event a year.  Here I cover the full range – from preparing for a small event (even a meeting) to a grand one.  The basic steps are the same, the investment of time and money varies.  I do believe that every event deserves careful planning, a distinct purpose and some fun!

 Here are your 10 Steps to Great Events:

    1. Know the purpose. Why are you gathering?  The best way to answer that question is to decide what you want the outcome to be.  Do you want to share information?  Make new friends or honor old ones?  Raise $50,000?  Your event needs a specific goal so you can measure the results.  Form a strong event team and make sure they are all committed to the goal.
    2. Make your guest list. This is a practical step since you will need to know how many people you are planning for.  It is also inspirational, when you make the guest list you are planning with special people in mind.  If you need Table Hosts for a fundraiser, make your wish list.      
    3. Pick your theme. I love themes!  They make everything easier, more fun and focused.  Your Theme may be year-long, like the one you choose in Your Million Dollar Story.  Or it could be as simple as picking colors and a special venue.  Themes inspire choices.  Next week I will post 10 Steps to Using Themes.
    4. Set the budget. Now that you have a goal, a guest list and a theme, you are able to set the budget.  How big of an investment are you willing to make to reach your goal?  Once you figure that out all the decisions will fall into place.
    5. Choose the venue. You know the type of place and size of room you need so take a look around.  Be creative, using an unexpected space or location shakes things up a bit.  This could be the largest budget item, especially if food is provided as part of the rental.
    6. Be prepared. Keep an extensive list of tasks and supplies – with each item assigned to a specific person!  You don’t want anything to slip through the cracks.  Set this up in Excel once and then expand and contract as needed for each event you do. 
    7. Give them something to take home. First, no more handouts than are absolutely necessary, most paper gets left behind for you to recycle.  Provide an agenda or the program so everyone knows what to expect.  If it is a public event, definetly give them something to take home.  Wrap it up like a gift if you want to be sure it makes it out of the building and into their home or office.
    8. Offer a high quality program. Always, always be sure you have the timing down pat.  Start and end on time.  Say what needs to be said and not more.  Leave them feeling emotionally inspired!   Check out 10 Steps to Your Winning Story.    
    9. Follow up. Seek out, listen to and record the feedback you get.  Have your team evaluate the event, in detail.  Use what you have learned for future events!
    10. Do it again. Decide how often you need to repeat this event and what other events might be added to your calendar.  Practice makes perfect!

 

Merle Benny is known as the Mentor of smart, bold Nonprofit Leaders, ready to change the world. She is a founder of Nonprofit Champion, a company committed to the growth and empowerment of nonprofit leaders around the globe by sharing high-level thoughtful branding and growth strategies – while supporting their work and values to create sustainable success.

After 20 years in a successful corporate career developing technology companies, Merle followed her passion and turned her talents to the nonprofits she loved.  Joining years of nonprofit board leadership with marketing expertise, business savvy with a philanthropic heart, Merle empowers highly successful nonprofit leaders.  

10 Steps to a Great Video

videoVideo is a powerful way to tell a story.  When your organization has a great storytelling video you have an emotional hook that will move people to respond.  You will need a professional to film and edit – these steps will help you understand and guide the process so you get just what you need.

Here’s a checklist to help you manage a winning video:

      1. Know the purpose.  Video is special because it captures many voices and shows your Mission in action.  A video should not take the place of you or another person speaking; you can do that without the time and expense of creating a movie.  Video is your opportunity to emotionally engage and move the viewer.  You may choose to premiere your video at a fundraising event.
      2. Create a storyline.  You’ll want to have a specific message for your video.  I (the world’s greatest fan of Themes) like to tie it to an annual theme; you can read more about that at 10 Steps to a Winning Theme.  A Theme helps you decide what to include and how to build your story.  You’ll use a storyline rather than a script because your video will be built on the words of the people you interview.
      3. Get the right length.  The general rule is to keep your video at 7 minutes or less.  That’s a good amount of time to keep an audience attention and it gives the videographer enough time to tell the story.  Alternatively, you could do two or more short videos, telling individual stories.  Remember, you do not want to try and tell the whole story of your work, it is more important to convey emotion than to educate. 
      4. Casting the stars.  Look first for those who have received and benefitted from your services, you’ll want to build the video around them.  Then you can fill in with volunteers or staff to round out the story.  You don’t want or need a large cast.  A rule of thumb:  keep it simple enough that everyone “knows,” by name, two people at the end of the video.
      5. Ready…Set.  They say the movie business isn’t as much fun as it looks and this is where you’ll find out that’s true.  Trying to line up the people and places you need, getting permission, signing releases – plus you have the camera crew and their equipment.  It can be a logistical nightmare!  But you can minimize it by being well organized and doing as much as you can in one day (that helps the budget too). 
      6. Preparing for interviews.  You may want to be the one who asks the questions, off camera.  Make sure you and your video crew know who is guiding the conversation, plan in advance how you will work together.  Have a list of prepared questions but be ready to follow the lead of your interviewees also –as long as it is on-track to tell the story.
      7. Doing the interview.  Always make your stars comfortable, let them know you will be asking personal questions and they can choose not to answer.  Also, be sure they understand that you can edit out anything they are uncomfortable with.  They should know that the interview may take an hour but their final appearance could be less than two or three minutes.  Say as little as possible, allowing your stars to tell their story in their own words.
      8. Making the cut.  Editing is a long, time consuming process.  If you have been clear about the purpose of your video and have good material, leave it to the pros to edit the material and make the first cut of your story.  They are able to go back and add or subtract, even-out voices, add music etc. after you have reviewed the rough cut and are pleased with the result.
      9. Showing the video.   It’s great to show a video for the first time at a large event.  The impact is quite significant and can greatly increase the amount you fundraise.  Be sure to do a test of the projector and sound system before the event as technical mishaps can be caused by simple things like not having the right cable or adapter.  If you have a professional AV company be at their “tech run through” to be safe.  At show time be sure the lighting is turned down and your audience is clear that they should turn their attention to the screens.  You will need more than one screen in a large room with hundreds of people. 
      10. Reusing your video.   Your videographer will provide additional copies on disc for your use.  You’ll get the most impact from your video when it is shown in context of a larger presentation, especially if one of the “stars” of your video is present to speak with the audience.  That said, you can post your video on Youtube for public viewing or by-invitation-only.  It’s easy to put a video on your site (it actually resides on Youtube).  If it will be used in different settings, you may want to make minor adjustments like adding the logo of a corporate sponsor or including a call for action at the end.

Your video will be an excellent investment and should be part of your annual budget.  Advance planning and the services of a great videographer will get you the results you want!

 

Merle Benny is known as the Mentor of smart, bold Nonprofit Leaders, ready to change the world. She is the founder and president of Nonprofit Champion, a company committed to the growth and empowerment of nonprofit executive directors and board leaders around the globe by sharing high-level thoughtful marketing and growth strategies – while supporting their work and values to create sustainable success.

After 20 years in a successful corporate career developing technology companies, Merle followed her passion and turned her talents to the nonprofits she loved.  Joining years of nonprofit board leadership with marketing expertise, business savvy with a philanthropic heart, Merle empowers highly successful nonprofit leaders.

10 Steps to Your Winning Story

You have a special, unique story.  It takes a little practice but you can learn to share your Vision so that people connect with it.  Once you create an emotional connection, you’ll have no trouble building a circle of friends and donors.  This is the first step on your path to fast growth in Your Million Dollar Story.


10

Follow these 10 steps to create your own story.

    1. Why do you care? Remember your first involvement with the organization.  What did you see or hear that inspired you to get involved?  Remember the time and place and the people who got your attention.  What was the problem or need that you heard?
    2. What’s your personal connection?  Go back further and reflect on your own life.  Think about how the work of your nonprofit relates to your personal challenges and successes.  Chances are that you were called to this work because it resonated with your own life story.
    3. What do you do?  Think about how you reacted to the Vision of the organization.  How did you think you could help to solve the problem?  What was your first role?  List all the roles you have played within the organization.  Spend time reviewing your favorite activities and the results of them.
    4. Success and failure.  Along the way we have little success stories that motivate and inspire us to do more.  We also make mistakes and learn from them.  Think of the impact you’ve had and the stories that have resulted from your work.
    5. Dream.  Spend time dreaming about what you want for the organization and the people you serve.  What do you think is possible but unrealized?  Explore the potential for your future work and the untapped possibilities for growth.  Think about how your organization can uniquely fill the need.
    6. The founder.   What is the story of the founding of your organization?  Think about the person or group who was motivated to start it.  What were the conditions at the time and why did they feel moved to act?
    7. The original dream.   How has the dream changed and grown since the beginning.  What has happened along the way that has made the dream bigger, smaller or different?   
    8. Bring it together.   I bet your exploration brought up plenty of story-worthy thoughts and memories!  Now you have the fun of putting it together to communicate your emotions and those of the founders.  And I’m sharing a secret on how to make that happen…
    9. A Formula! Telling your story begins with a simple formula.  I discovered this through trial and error and it works.              1. There’s a problem! + 2. We can solve it!     It really is that easy, you want to inspire people, not turn them off or put them to sleep.  Make them care by sharing the problem; make them act by telling them how you will solve it (with their help).
    10. Keep it personal. Be willing to talk about your life, to share the stories and names (first only is fine) of the people who’s lives are better because of your work.  Use quotes and numbers sparingly; this is about the emotions that drive your work and the successes that result!

Storytelling is a powerful art and one that is easy to use.  Lots of practice will help you become a great story teller.  By creating opportunities to share your story you’ll build a circle of supporters.  I look forward to hearing your story!

 

Merle Benny is known as the Mentor of smart, bold Nonprofit Leaders, ready to change the world. She is a founder of Thinc., a company committed to the growth and empowerment of nonprofits around the globe by sharing high-level thoughtful branding and growth strategies – while supporting their work and values to create sustainable success.

After 20 years in a successful corporate career developing technology companies, Merle followed her passion and turned her talents to the nonprofits she loved.  Joining years of nonprofit board leadership with marketing expertise, business savvy with a philanthropic heart, Merle empowers highly successful nonprofit leaders.