Messaging that works
Given time and trials, you may find ideas and language that works well for your fundraising. When you do, feel free to continue to use it.
Your readers aren’t waiting for your latest artistic creation; they read your appeals to know how they can help. They give because helping makes them feel good.
So as I wrote about recently, work to find the core messaging that works for your donors. Then offer them variations on the theme.
This doesn’t mean you should stop trying to figure out the best way to engage your donors. Always try. Controls were made to be broken.
But don’t recreate the wheel just because. Always make changes intentionally – to test a strong hypothesis. And not because you’re bored.
Images that work
Jeff Brooks, in The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand (which you should read), talks about your “fundraising icon”. Much as you can discover (through trial and error and lots of hard work) the language that works for your donors, you can and should look for a visual as well.
Jeff calls this image your fundraising icon, because, like the icons used in Orthodox Christian worship, these are more than images. They’re a visual shortcut for your donor to your mission and how they can be part of it. And once you find yours, you should use it – often.
This is not likely to be an “after” photo – happy kids in your school program, happy people no longer hungry, happy puppy with a new home. The image is most likely a “before” – a hungry child (or as Jeff explains, a hungry old man), a lonely child, a sad puppy who needs a home.
It’s the image that beats a thousand words and immediately says: “here’s a problem and here’s why you should help”.
Habits that create systems
Have you ever worked with one organization for a long time? Have you done that, working with mostly the same people? You probably found you got into a groove. You developed ways to get your work done that worked well. You had tasks assigned so that everyone was capable and content.
Habits, rules, templates – they can all be powerful.
Take your data, for instance. If you don’t have a smart way to categorize information – and stick to it – you will have a difficult time retrieving good information.
(Then someone new comes in and wants to blow it all up. Because new.)
The difference between a groove and a rut is whether it’s working.
And whether someone else could work much better. You have to decide which you have. But if you’re in a groove, then it’s a system. And it saves you time and effort and leaves more time to raise money.
When it’s not
That’s how we always do it
On the other hand, new eyes can sometimes see that groove is a big, muddy rut. Often, organizations and people get comfortable with “how we always do it”.
Beware that reasoning. Always question. Is there a better way? Are we less effective than 3 years ago? Than last year?
Do we always do it this way because it’s easier or because it’s better? And better for whom? Donors? Staff? Volunteers?
Nothing is in stone. Always look for opportunities to improve even great systems.
Our annual event
This is one of the biggest ruts organizations get stuck in.
Sigh, followed by a deep breath. Time for the gala again. Let’s get the invites out, because it’s January. Let’s call the same caterer, the same band, the same facility.
Why? Because we always do it.
- Do our attendees LOVE this event?
- Does it raise lots of money?
- Are there better ways to raise that money?
- Are we deploying our staff resources best by doing this?
- Are we even netting enough to make all this work worthwhile?
Events can be fun. Traditions have power. But if you’re just doing it because that’s what you’ve always done, it’s time to take a realistic look at what you’re putting in (time and money) and what you’re getting out.
Our annual appeal
Same story here. Just because you’ve built your schedule around a single appeal, doesn’t mean it works.
It would be rare to mail your donors once a year and expect that to solve your budget issues. If it does, your vision probably isn’t big enough.
Appeals aren’t just about asking for money to keep the doors open. Appeals are part of a year-long communication plan. The intent is to engage donors in your mission. That means asking, thanking and reporting to them what their giving has made possible. Over and over, throughout the year.
Not everyone is ready to give only when you’re ready to ask. Give them a few opportunities throughout the year. Otherwise, you’re probably out of sight and out of mind.
What we’re comfortable with
The bottom line on repetition that hurts you? When it’s there just because it’s comfortable. Our business doesn’t let us sit still. We’re growing (more or deeper impact) or we’re probably dying – though that might not be apparent.
Don’t be afraid of smart, intentional repetition.
But beware the rut.