Somebody rarely volunteers.
Somebody is easy to ask.
Somebody is distant, polite, impersonal… safe.
And Somebody never gives.
Your organization has a mission – a problem to be solved. The solution almost always requires money.
To raise that money, you turn to people who might care about your cause. Maybe you don’t have to look far – certainly, your board, current or past clients, alumni are all close.
But if you choose to ask in a general, safe way, you are not likely to succeed.
Here are “somebody” asks:
- Appeals to “dear friend”.
- “We need $20,000…”
- “If 50 people would step up and contribute…”
Do you see what I mean?
Fundraising is personal.
That means it can feel scary.
You, the human asking for help, are vulnerable. That’s true whether you are face to face with a prospective donor or writing an appeal.
Your request – while on behalf of an organization – must still be personal. You are not wishing someone would give. You are asking a particular person. (Yes, even if you are asking 10,000 particular people.)
Personalization matters. A specific ask matters. Generalizations don’t do the job.
First, a common mistake: when you write an appeal, you are not writing to a group.
You know this appeal will reach many people, but this is one-to-one communication.
Even if you’re addressing Mr. and Mrs. Smith, only one person at a time will be reading it. So write to one person.
What do you know about that one person?
You have information in your donor database. At the very least, you have names and addresses. But it’s likely you also have giving history.
Start with names.
Get them right! For instance, if you want to go directly to my recycle bin, address me as Miss or Mrs.
And I can tell when appeals are from lists that have been sold over and over again. My last name morphs a little as people attempt to “fix” it.
If you’re not asking ME, why should I care?
Addresses can also help you.
Yes, sure, you can use them to generalize about a donor’s lifestyle. But I’m talking about something even simpler: social proof.
If we believe our neighbors are responding to something, we feel more pressure to jump in, too. We don’t want to be seen as the slackers or cheapskates who didn’t pitch in.
But don’t stop there.
Do some sleuthing. Look deeper. What has each person responded to? A newsletter? An appeal? What was the appeal asking for? Why was it different from your other appeals?
This is where segmentation can serve you – yes, even you single-person operation – brilliantly.
Create segments based on all the information you find. Then use the power of data and variable merges to tailor your appeals to each segment.
It’s worth the time. It’s also sort of fun. I love trying to figure out what moves which donors.
And of course, those segments and how each responded will make your next appeal even more personal.
I know when you’re the one asking for help, it’s so much easier to put a generalized “please give” out there and hope.
Hope isn’t a good strategy.
All that information you wrangled? Use it to determine exactly what you will ask each person on your list to give.
Gift strings are necessary when you have little or no information. When you have giving history, though, use it.
And soft asks like “please help” have their place. But they work best when matched with a specific ask. Ask, repeatedly, throughout your appeal. You can start with something soft. But by the end, get real.
Ask that donor for that amount to do exactly that.
Somebody always has an easy out. Don’t give any of your donors or prospects that option.
Thank personally, too.
I shouldn’t even have to say this, but a thank you letter is no time to go all formal.
It’s certainly no time to offer general “thanks” to your donors.
Your donors are not a thing.
They’re not a group – except in your thinking. They are individuals and they want to be seen that way.
So be sure your thanks are very personal. Names – of course. But thank each donor for exactly what they gave. The amount and the reason they gave.
While you’re at it, try thanking them in person.
I know. I get it. I’m not really a phone person, myself. But I promise once you’re past that initial, suspicious “yes?” and your donor knows this is simply a thank you call, she’ll warm up. And you’ll feel so much better.
(Also: many people aren’t at home during the day. You can leave a nice message. Easy!)
Do the work upfront. Enjoy the rewards.
Giving is a very personal act. We owe it to the people we ask to treat them like people.
They have their individual foibles and dreams. And if your organization’s cause has caught their attention, you’ll win their support by recognizing that.
“Dear friend” letters are easier. But they miss the real point of fundraising.
Humans. Helping each other. Feeling good about it.
Helping a person is so much more rewarding than helping an organization. Don’t cheat your donors of that feeling.
And don’t cheat your organization of the support it needs.
Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire at Gratisography