Last week I wrote about fundraising mistakes. They’re important, because they’re a wonderful, if sometimes painful, way to learn. I asked for your contributions.
So this week, we’ll hear from some friends and colleagues. Their experience might help you. And well, we’ve all been there – it’s a good reminder you’re not alone.
A bunch of our long-lapsed donors have emails. I had this clever idea to send a year-end eblast out on December 31st to those donors. I had sign-off on it. The message was fine. I pulled the list, excluding the latest donations, so I didn’t schedule it. I hit send on the morning of December 31st. I didn’t hit the preview button to see who was on the list.
A couple of hours later, I checked the stats and there were no results. I went back to the query and realized that I had excluded the long-lapsed donors and sent it to everyone else. I had selected “does not equal” instead of equals. I told my boss and set up the eblast to go the right people. I am thinking that all is good.
About 10:30 on New Year’s Eve, I get a text from our Chapter Development Manager. He deals with all of our events, volunteers and affected families. He asked if I meant to send the appeal to him and his sister. I have not yet had a drink on New Year’s Eve, but I think I am going to need one. I go back to check the stats and see that now over 14,000 people received the first appeal. That means I sent the first appeal to all of the wrong people. Or at least, none of the people whom I intended.
I also checked the donations. Over $6,000 is what I see. Including a $2,000 gift from a donor who hasn’t given through the mail in a couple of years. The gift is double his last gift. Also on this list are people who received our end of year e-appeal to mail donors. They had not responded to the previous message, but gave to this more general message. This is all very interesting, but it was the unsubscribeds that floored me. Over the coming days, the number of people who unsubscribed from all of our e-communications inched up to just over 100 people.
So, this turned out to be our biggest single e-appeal in terms of donations and pretty low on unsubscribes. Some people had been asked twice by email in less than a week and some people were never supposed to receive email solicitations.
Our major gifts person and the CEO were outraged, just as they should have been. I was appalled I made such a dumb mistake by not checking the list preview. The first day back in the office, I called a meeting to explain what had happened and why for the managers. I owned the mistake.
What I learned from the mistake is what I have long suspected: we are not working according to our donors’ schedules. The organization made assumptions about what our donors want, but here was evidence that we were making the wrong assumptions. It is the perfect example of why we need to become sophisticated and learn what our donors are telling us about online donations.
I didn’t get a tattoo on my arm that says preview.
Rachel Ramjattan shared one of her bloopers:
I signed up for a Direct Mail Proof of Concept mailing to show that direct mail works. We worked with Russ Reid on the appeal, but things were rushed. I missed ONE step – vetting the zip codes they would buy mailing lists from. They bought for areas surrounding our headquarters. But most of our programs were in a different county and we are better known there.
Needless to say, we didn’t prove our concept. Epic FAIL!
Patrick Sallee said:
At my first fundraising job, we ran an annual conference. We held one in Atlanta and the head of the UPS Foundation was a keynote speaker. UPS was also a big donor to the event. After the event, she didn’t take her award with her so we had to ship it. I asked one of the volunteers to handle it and didn’t think twice.
Until we got a call from UPS that they used the Kinkos/FedEx from the hotel.
Yeah, that didn’t go over well.
Jeremy Hatch shared from Twitter:
Anyone who hasn’t made a mess of it fundraising a few times isn’t doing it right.
The CEO of a series sponsor wanted to greet the crowd, who were drinking (Country act). He was booed. That was the end of the sponsorship. Two years of work gone in less than a minute. A $50k per-year sponsorship. The whole speech was my idea. And our new CEO was on hand to witness it. I wanted to hide under the bed.
Matt Connell offered this story:
A few jobs back I was managing my organization’s mass emails. In a rush, I ended up using my list of folks who should have been excluded as my send-to list…big mistake. Luckily, there was no significant fall-out and instead of complaints we heard from people we hadn’t reached out to in years!
This led to the organization revising policies about contacts and helped us recapture donors we’d ignored for all sorts of reasons.
And finally, Susan Ruderman shared this:
Here’s one from a long, long time ago, in a place not so far away…
The organization in question had an advisory board-type body where high impact donors could be stashed. The CEO/Executive Director heard about a donor by the name of “Dave Johnson” (not his real name, of course), a venture capitalist who would make a fine addition to the committee, and charged the director of development with drafting a letter of invitation to Mr. Johnson. A letter was signed, sealed, and delivered and Mr. Johnson accepted his appointment in record time. He acted completely surprised and honored to be invited to join this illustrious body. After all, it is not every day that an auto mechanic gets asked to contribute his thoughts about finance and investment to a well-known nonprofit.
Yes, the “wrong” Dave Johnson had been invited! And it was too awkward, naturally, to un-invite him.
Lesson: Trust, but verify! And verify again.
What do you think? Have your successes or mistakes taught you more about fundraising?