Category: articles-for-nonprofits


Six Ways to Punch Up Your Fundraising Appeals

You could have the best online donation form in the world. But people won’t give to you unless you make a really compelling appeal that inspires them. That’s often easier said than done! When you’re a nonprofit fundraiser, it’s hard to carve out a couple of hours to craft a really great appeal.

We’re here to help. Here are six in-depth strategies you can use to create a more effective appeal.


Donor-Centered Digital Communications: How to Leverage the ‘Me-Cosystem’

donor-centered digital

Ask not what your donor can do for you, but what you can do for your donor.

The donor is always right.

The donor’s priorities are our priorities.

These are adages for the modern age in which nonprofits compete with for profits in a service-oriented digital economy. It’s one of the reasons “culture of philanthropy” has become such an important topic. If you’re not coming from a place of service, gratitude and abundance in interactions with your audiences they’re not likely to stick with you very long.

Like it or not, this is the new reality.

In Part 1 of this three-part series, I noted we live in an “all about me” world. And that all about me doesn’t have to be a bad thing. But it’s on you to make it a good thing. Or alternatively, if you think it’s a lemon, to turn it into lemonade.

Brian Solis of Altimeter Group has written extensively on the new reality in which we all live and operate, noting how the digital revolution has fundamentally changed “business as usual.” One of the outcomes is what’s been termed the “me-cosystem” (or “egosystem”) — a concept that places the consumer at the center of their environment. 

Here’s how two business experts describe the me-cosystem:

The ecosystem that revolves around “me,” our data, and technologies that will deliver more relevant, useful, and engaging experiences using our data.” Altimeter

“The most successful brands – the ones with the most presence in a person’s life …often stand out by blending in, because people measure the entire experience by how much it adds to their lives and how little it disrupts it. They empathize with an individual’s priorities, figuring out how to meet people exactly where they are, and when they want it, and tailor to how people move through their worlds.”Interbrand

How does this translate for nonprofit marketing and fundraising?

Meet people where they are with content that makes them feel good

Ever hear the term “retail therapy?”

For some folks, shopping makes them feel good. So they head over to Amazon or Overstocks or Zulily to have a ‘feel good’ experience. That’s the online retail meconomy.

There’s a philanthropic meconomy as well. Your donor seeks a ‘feel good’ experience, and your job is to encourage supporters to invest philanthropically in order to find out what makes them feel good about themselves. Not because they got something, but because they did something reflecting their values.  

In a world that values individuality and self-expression, one of the greatest things you have to offer would-be donors is self-discovery.

TIP: Figure out what drives your donor and pumps their ego so you can give them what they need. If you do this, they’ll be inclined to give you what you need. You can:

  • Engage them in a fun quiz that helps them discover something about themselves (e.g., when I worked at the San Francisco Food Bank we sent folks a multiple choice quiz that separated out folks by favorite taste senses – salty, sweet, sour, bitter, umami). Folks identified, and shared the quiz with their networks.
  • Share inspiring quotes and see who retweets different ones that express their values.
  • Ask folks to pin photos showing them engaged in a favorite activity (a volunteer program? Wearing your organization’s swag?)

Understand your relationship with donors is symbiotic  

They need you as much as you need them. Which is why you must put them at the center of your universe and make them an integral part of your mission.

To succeed with fundraising and marketing in the 21st century means creating a “donor experience rather than bringing people in on your terms and marching them up a donor pyramid. Alas, the pyramid is transactional, climbing from one touchpoint to the next and always looking at what the donor does rather than what the nonprofit offers in return.

Your job is to offer donors an active, transformational experience. If you offer donors what they want, you’ll draw them in. Which is why, in our digital zeitgeist, we have an energized donor vortex. People don’t move along a linear continuum of engagement; they come in and out of your orbit on their own power. The experience you offer folks today — in any messaging channel — will color their next experience. Communication is more inbound than outbound.

TIP: Draw folks in towards you by developing an understanding of their needs, desires and preferences. You can:

  • Survey them.
  • Ask for feedback via social media.
  • Track opens and click-throughs from emails and social media to see what content appears to float their boat.
  • Ask for permission to send them different types of content, and see what they select.
  • Ask how frequently they’d like to hear from you, and be sure to track that in a donor database so you can follow through.
  • Ask what social channels they prefer so you know your best options for content delivery.

Embrace the joy of adding to your donor’s life

Everything boils down to making philanthropy a joyful, fulfilling experience.

And that means evoking the emotion of joy by persuading the donor your mission is their mission: If they join with you, magic will happen – and they’ll be infused with feelings of happiness and well-being!

The heart of good fundraising is, as fundraising guru and pioneer Hank Rosso famously articulated, “The gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.”

The joy of giving in support of your mission should, of course, shine through in all your nonprofit communications. Offline as well as online. But for some reason nonprofits often think longer and harder about their print communications than they do their digital materials.

When constituents feel they’ll benefit from engagement with you, they’ll do so. If not, you’ll lose them.

TIP: If you want to make engaging with you joyful, think carefully about how you’ll answer the following:

  • When a donor gives us money (or gives an in-kind donation, signs up as a volunteer, shares an email or social media link, completes a survey, or makes a pledge) what meaningful gift (experience, connection or ‘feel good’) will we give them in return?
  • If they even contemplate giving us something, how will we reward them?

Create beneficial content for a digital world

The options for delighting and benefiting donors online are virtually endless. The only limit is your imagination.

The important thing to keep in mind is that your digital content is every bit as important as your offline content. Maybe more.

In our digitally-revolutionized zeitgeist, where folks often are two-thirds down the path towards learning about you before they ever receive anything from you directly, you can no longer get away with giving shorter shrift to digital communications. Your tweets are as important as your emails. Your emails are as important as your mailed appeal letters and annual report. All your fundraising and marketing must be integrated.

Each channel reinforces the other. Or it doesn’t.  

TIP: Review your online messaging to assure it aligns with your print messaging. If you’re donor-centered on paper, but all about you online, you’re sending a mixed message.

When it comes to communications, the meconomy is worth considering by nonprofits as a model for both medium (channel) and message (content). It’s essentially a framework for donor-centered fundraising and marketing in the digital age.

Be sure to download the free “Donor-Centered Content Marketing Worksheet and Checklist to help you in creating an experience that’s all about your donor’s needs and wants. In the third article of this three-part series we’ll look at how to tailor a relevant, meaningful donor digital experience.

Author information

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, is Principal of the social benefit consulting firm, Clairification. Named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by AFP, Claire teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, is a presenter for 4GOOD Nonprofit Webinars, a regular contributor on nonprofit social media to Maximize Social Business and was named “Best Fundraising Blog of 2013” by FundRaising Success Magazine.

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Small, But Mighty: Seven Ways Small Nonprofits Can Boost Their Performance

On June 6, 2018, more than 500 participants (81 percent representing small nonprofits with less than $3M in annual revenue) joined SHALVA’s Board President Sara Block, Executive Director Carol Ruderman, and me in the “Small, But Mighty: Seven Ways Small Nonprofits Can Boost Their Performance” webinar, moderated by GuideStar Vice President and Fellow Ambassador Adrian Bordone. You can view the webinar recording here. 

Over the course of the 90-minute session, participants heard how the Leap Ambassadors Community collaboratively developed the Performance Imperative (PI)—a definition of high performance and seven disciplines for achieving it. In the initial hour, I interviewed SHALVA’s leadership about their journey, provided tips for less-resourced nonprofit leaders, and then responded to a rich set of questions for the final 30 minutes. 


Tie Donors To Your Mission, Not A Tax Incentive

your mission

Benjamin Franklin had it right: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

I’m sure you have heard about the tax changes. It was all over the news and pretty much on every social media feed with one horrific message.

“Nonprofits are going to suffer.”

“Charitable giving will significantly decrease.”

“Nobody is going to have any motivation to give.”

Yet, these tax changes are not as horrific as they were made to be.

What actually changed? Well… a few things:

  1. Individual standard deductions rose to $12,700. Married couples can now claim $24,000.
  2. With itemized deductions, charitable deductions can now be up to $60% of someone’s adjusted gross income.
  3. The Estate and Gift Tax deductions doubled to $11,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples.
  4. The Corporate tax was reduced to 21%.

One thing to note about these changes: they only affect individuals who currently itemize their deductions. If you were using a standard deduction, then you will still use the standard deduction (yay!). If you were itemizing, then you might want to switch now because you could save money with the higher standard deduction.

So enough tax talk. What will this actually affect within the nonprofit world?

Some say that individuals will have less incentives to give to nonprofits because instead of itemizing their gifts, they will just use a standard deduction (true). Others say that the middle class will also stop giving because there is no tax incentive to do so (also true).

However, what people are missing is that only 30% of households currently itemize their taxes. That means a majority of the country will not even change their current behavior. They will just have a higher deduction to work with.

In addition to that, we have to keep in mind the context of giving. When someone gives, its not because they will get a tax deduction. Sure it might be a bonus, but for a vast majority of people that is not the primary motivator.

In reality, they give because they want to help you and your mission.

So rather than worrying about if donors will no longer be as active, instead think of it like this:

You have an opportunity to make sure that these donors are tied into your mission, not the tax bracket. By getting them truly involved with you, then you open up the door to stewarding them into major or estate gifts. They become loyal and long term donors.

And if they reach that level, then they will probably still be itemizing anyways.

donor love and loyalty

Author information

Roxi Morris

Roxi Morris

Account Associate at Bloomerang

Roxi is an Account Associate at Bloomerang. Prior to that she was a Video Labs Intern, Social Video Coordinator, and Associate Social Video Strategist for FullScreen Media. She also regularly volunteers with the Historic Artcraft Theatre.

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Funding Anti-Poverty Programs

“Poverty is the worst form of violence.”
—Mahatma Gandhi

No matter how you slice and dice the topic, we all know that poverty is a huge issue throughout North America. I spend a good part of each year in Mexico and further south—in Chile—and have lived in Alaska for 40 years. I know how poverty has infiltrated Native villages throughout that state and Canada. And living in the New York Harlem neighborhood for part of each year, I see the “city side’ of poverty on a daily basis. That multiple perspective moved me to write this post as well as develop a new webinar focused on how to fund anti-poverty programs in North America.


2 Ways Donors Express Philanthropic Capacity

philanthropic capacity

Capacity matters in fundraising. That might be the most obvious thing for any fundraiser. People will give what they’re capable of giving. But time and time again, organizations I work with talk about having trouble filling their major gift pipeline, upgrading donors over time, or making any headway with lapsed donors. That’s because capacity matters, and more importantly, the philanthropic capacity of your donors matters. That is expressed in two ways: through their engagement with your mission and their generosity with other organizations.

1. Most importantly, a donor’s philanthropic capacity starts with their engagement with your organization, or their ability to buy in and believe in the mission of your organization. The first time a donor comes into contact with your organization hopefully they will glean at least one meaningful piece of your mission. Better yet, hopefully they will come away with at least one meaningful reason to support your organization. As they receive your monthly email newsletter, attend one of your community events, or tour your organization and see first hand the impact you make, they will continue to grow in understanding of mission and the need to support it. After they give a donation (most likely this first donation is going to be nominal), they will give you a chance to further strengthen their relationship and the involvement and tie to your organization.

Folks who have a few interactions but don’t donate — or donate once and don’t come back — haven’t bought into your mission. These are people you want to identify quickly as they won’t be major donors or most likely even mid-level donors to your program. These are constituents you want to engage with quickly so you don’t lose them forever. Whether they have capacity in terms of wealth will mean nothing to you since they haven’t bought in and haven’t expressed desire in supporting your efforts.

Other donors and constituents who not only continue to attend your events, read your newsletter, and make donations are people with the capacity in terms of their relationship with your organization to stretch and make a larger gift. Major donors don’t just appear. They will come from a group of constituents who have supported you in the past and who have been passionate about your mission.

2. Once you identify the donors ready to upgrade or become a major contributor to your organization, what they’ve done with other nonprofits like yours suddenly becomes critical. If these donors have never made a major gift anywhere else, don’t have a family foundation or donor-advised fund, and don’t give politically, well the fancy cars and houses they own don’t mean that much in terms of the likelihood of you getting a larger gift. These are good prospects for a smaller upgrade program or mid-level donor program. They’ve not demonstrated they’re ready to be asked for a larger amount.

Donors who do give major gifts elsewhere, have a family foundation, or contribute politically are donors you want to really target. Make sure you understand the range of their prior gifts. Have they given $1,000, $15,000, or $100,000? You don’t want to ask them for $5,000 if that’s way above their normal giving history of $500 – $1,000. Similarly, if you can find a pattern for $50,000 and $100,000 gifts, don’t ask them for $5,000. This is where you need good philanthropic research. You need to understand giving habits over time and types of organizations your supporters have given to. If they have a family foundation you want to know that to be able to see if there are specific ways you need to ask or approach them for a gift.

As you get ready for the fourth quarter of 2018 — when the majority of giving will happen this year — remember that the biggest gifts will come with folks who have the philanthropic capacity to give. They’ll have been generous with other nonprofits and have high engagement with your mission. If you can’t get that information out of your donor database, now’s the time to find one that can.

Major gift fundraising

Author information

Gabriel Harkov

Gabriel Harkov

Senior Account Executive at Bloomerang

Gabriel Harkov, MBA is a Senior Account Executive at Bloomerang. He was previously Operations and Program Associate at the Indiana Youth Institute and Operations Manager at the Indianapolis Children’s Choir.

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Why We Ask in Person

Let’s be honest—most people don’t like asking for money. In fact most of us don’t like asking for anything. So, why do we not only solicit individuals for charitable gifts, but do it in person?

[NEW FEATURE] BCC to Bloomerang

We all know how important it is to track and record every interaction with a current or prospective donor.

If you’re communicating to someone one-on-one through your personal email (Outlook, Gmail, etc.) it can be a pain to copy/paste that conversation into your database (and a real shame if it ever gets lost).

For Bloomerang users, those days are over.

That’s why we’re proud to announce a ridiculously-useful new feature: BCC to Bloomerang!

With BCC to Bloomerang, you can forward or BCC emails from your personal email account to Bloomerang. These emails are added as constituent interactions on the profile of the person you’re emailing! We’ll even include any file attachments that you send.

BCC to Bloomerang is handy for those one-time emails you send to individual constituents. It does not replace the Email feature in Bloomerang, which helps you send mass email to many constituents.

You can see it in action below.

BCC to Bloomerang is ideal for ensuring that future fundraisers at your organization have a complete record of every interaction with a constituent.

Never fumble through another in-person ask meeting because you don’t have all of the information!

Author information

Jessica Hartnagle

Jessica Hartnagle

Product Manager at Bloomerang

Jessica Hartnagle is the Product Manager at Bloomerang. She has over 10 years of experience consulting and implementing nonprofit donor CRM systems.

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Perspectives on Giving USA 2018

Americans achieved a philanthropic landmark in 2017: for the first time total charitable giving surpassed $400 billion in a single year. A booming stock market and a generally strong economy combined to increase Americans’ financial resources and their confidence in sharing those additional resources through their philanthropy. 


Donor-Centered Digital Communications: How Do You Create a Value-for-Value Exchange?

donor-centered digital communications

We live in an “all about me” world.

All about me doesn’t have to be a bad thing, even if at first blush it sounds ego-driven. You see, there’s nothing wrong with ego. It drives us to want to be better.

We want to look in the mirror and see someone we love.

How do you help your donor look in the mirror and see a hero looking back at them?

Being donor-centered in your communications means always asking, before you create any piece of written, auditory or visual communication:

What’s in this for me (the donor or would-be donor)”?

In other words, if the donor decides to enter into your world — to read, watch or listen to your content, and then act on what’s been communicated — how will they benefit? What will they get as a value-for-value exchange?

For the most part, donors want to feel good about their engagement and investment with you. They don’t want a tote bag (although a few token gifts never hurt) so much as they want a meaningful, emotional experience, connection to community and a place to make a personal impact.

TIP: What are some ways you can create a meaningful emotional experience for would-be supporters using online content? If your donor shows you love, how will you show love in return? (e.g., by telling them a resonant story? Sending them a personal thank you? Inviting them to advocate for a cause they care about? Sharing their tweet with a positive compliment?)

What is your donor ‘hiring’ you to do?

In ‘marketing 101’ I learned that folks don’t buy a drill because they need a drill. They buy it because they need a hole. Nick Ellinger of Donor Voice wrote a great article on how this plays out for nonprofits. He notes:

“Here’s the trick: a hole is not why people buy drills either.” Maybe they are buying hope for the future, as they use the drill to build a crib. Maybe they are buying peace of mind – attaching the bookcase to the stud so the toddler doesn’t tip it on to herself or building the sturdy swing set. Maybe they are buying nostalgia – a way to hang pictures of the toddler and the girl on the slide for when she’s left for college.

Donors, too, yearn for hope, peace, nostalgia and a range of other intangibles. What they’re buying from you is a sense of positive identity – and this is worth a lot!

TIP: Brainstorm no more than five key things your donor is hiring you to do. Then make your content all about those things (e.g., to find a cure for cancer; to get homeless people shelter; to stop sex trafficking; to ensure equal access to legal services; to create and deliver anti-bullying programs; to bring art into the schools, etc.)

How can you make engaging or investing with you worthwhile?

Philanthropy, translated from the Greek, means love of humankind. People want to be loved. Never forget this.

Sure, it’s nice to believe people give without any expectations of getting something in exchange, but that’s simply not true. Sadly, giving isn’t always its own reward.

Each of us is on an individual journey, constantly seeking to get to the next point in our existential quest for meaning. Victor Frankl in his famous chronicle on the search for meaning wrote: love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Humans want to feel a sense of connection and a sense of purpose to life. Giving (time, money, and energy) is a central way we strive to find meaning. And self-love.

On top of that, we’re wired for reciprocity– one of Robert Cialdini’s six principles of influence. If someone favors us, we want to return the favor. If we favor someone else, we’re wired to expect a reciprocal effort. (And it’s not just humans; even orangutans learn to trade favors.)

Similarly, we’re raised on the tenet of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is something found in all the major religions, and in the axiom of “scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

TIP: Complete this sentence: Our “golden rule” when it comes to how we treat supporters is ______________________________ (e.g., send prompt thank you’s; respond to comments; ‘like’ donor tweets; ‘follow’ constituents who ask us; offer meaningful and fun opportunities to engage with us as ambassadors and advocates, etc.)

How can you scratch supporters’ backs with online content?

Think about what gifts you can give; then let your would-be supporters know right up front. This way, you make it easier for them to decide to answer your call to action. Because they know, deep down, they’ll be rewarded.  

This is different than offering physical premiums and habituating donors to only give in exchange for tangible reward. Most of the meaningful value you can offer is intangible. You can assume good intentions, reminding the donor they’re enacting cherished values. Or fulfilling a moral or religious obligation. Or paying it backwards or forwards. Or following the golden rule.

We’ll look more closely at specific ‘gifts’ of universally appealing online content in part two of this three-part series.

TIP: Determine ways you can show donors that by doing something with you they’ll be enacting their own values and, instinctively, know they’ll feel good. (e.g., remind them of your enduring traditions, shared values, common experiences, past activities, etc.).

How can you share online content that points a donor towards your ‘looking mirror?’

When a would-be supporter runs across your content online, imagine this magic ditty running through their head:

Mirror, mirror on the wall,

Why should I care about you [your nonprofit] at all?

Whether your content takes the form of an email update, an e-newsletter, a tweet, a Facebook post, a discussion shared on LinkedIn, a visual on Instagram or a video on your website, your potential viewer/listener/reader wants to know what’s in this for them.

You see, everything people engage with takes time. And folks today are pressed for time. They’re simply overloaded with information. So they’re not going to spend time on something they don’t care about.

Too often, what you care about and what they care about are vastly different.

As you go about creating your online content, get inside your donor’s head and ask what they may think about:

  • A photo of your business sponsor presenting you with a giant check? (Read: We’ve got plenty of money)
  • A pie chart showing how funding is allocated? (Read: Mostly about money)
  • A graphic showing how your work is distributed geographically? (Read: Mostly about process)
  • An article about your new board member (Read: About process of management and people with money)
  • An announcement about your new logo or website (Read: About your process)

TIP: Content dwelling on money and process won’t draw a potential donor’s gaze in your direction; content focused on problems and solutions is more likely to entice. People care about solving relevant problems (aligned with their interests and values) they can realistically solve. Show a problem. Suggest a reasonable solution. Endeavor to see if your supporters can see themselves in that narrative.

Be sure to download the free “Donor-Centered Content Marketing Worksheet and Checklist” to help you in creating a value-for-value exchange, both online and off! In the next article of this three-part series we’ll look at how to leverage the philanthropic ‘mecosystem.’

Author information

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, is Principal of the social benefit consulting firm, Clairification. Named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by AFP, Claire teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, is a presenter for 4GOOD Nonprofit Webinars, a regular contributor on nonprofit social media to Maximize Social Business and was named “Best Fundraising Blog of 2013” by FundRaising Success Magazine.

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