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Major Donor Messaging

By: Robbin Gehrke, Russ Reid SVP, Creative Insights & Integration

How to acknowledge and treat major donors specially

As a major donor myself, I believe in supporting our clients as well as a few other nonprofits whose work I admire. I’ve also supervised creative for Major Donor campaigns for more than 15 years.

So I know that to maximize your giving opportunities with Major Donors, you need to develop a personal relationship of some kind with them. Some major donors truly appreciate face-to-face interaction. Others will sincerely appreciate the gesture, but won’t take you up on this.

But all Major Donors are happy to get regular thank you notes and personalized updates on how their gifts are making a difference.

High-touch personalization is key to your relationship. Whether your message is a thank you letter, an update, or a campaign, you should leverage any relevant data or information you have about the donor’s giving or interests. Most Major Donors simply want to feel that you appreciate what they’ve done to help. A little affirmation goes a long way.

For example, you might begin a thank you letter with personalized affirmation, such as:

Janet, your gift of love made a lifesaving difference. You may not remember the day  last December when you reached out to help provide food for suffering people/families with your amazing gift of $10,000.

But THEY will never forget your kindness. Nor will we.

On behalf of everyone you’ve helped over your 15 years with us, we also want to thank you again for all the heartfelt gifts you’ve given to save hurting people from etc. You may even be surprised to know that since (date) you’ve donated $00,000 to etc. Your caring heart is an inspiration to all of us here at XXXXX.

Personal touches, like handwriting a thank you card or a short note at the top of a letter, and hand-signing your name, are other simple ways to help build a bond, especially with donors who aren’t interested in a face-to-face relationship.

If you don’t know the donor personally,you may want to ask them whether they prefer to be addressed with the formal “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Last Name” or just their first name(s)—especially with older donors (75+) or corporate donor contacts. Most baby boomers are used to being addressed by their first name, because almost all emails use the first name. And please, make sure you have the spelling correct.

And since many Major Donors tend to give their largest gifts at the end of the year, be careful about asking them for the same level of gift throughout the rest of the year, except at year-end. It’s best to suggest different levels, but leave the personal ask open.  Most major donors are not exceptionally wealthy. They just believe in the power—and joy—of giving to help others less fortunate.

Major donors also appreciate—and respond best—to campaigns that recognize the donor’s desire to make a significant impact. These campaigns typically have:

  • An urgent, compelling need they can help solve
  • An innovative solution. Something you can position as a new way to serve your clients or a cutting-edge program. (I.e., not just a higher ask for the same offers you send to regular or lower-level middle donors.)
  • Creative that leverages highly personalized mail, email, and phone calls, with multiple touch-points.

But somewhere prominent in the campaign—especially in the first mailing and of course on the phone call, you’ll want to acknowledge your appreciation for the specific ways they have helped your cause in the past.

Talk more Major Donors and Major Gifts programs with Russ Reid. Contact Andrew Olsen (CFRE, Vice President at Russ Reid) or Steve Harrison (Senior Vice President at Russ Reid).

More resources like this:

  • Register for the June 30th Webinar – Major gifts: The nuts and bolts of a successful Major Gifts programOrganizing your Major Gift/Major Donor efforts, keeping track of activities, and measuring success are all critical elements of a great Major Gifts program. But how do you start? Join our Director of Client Data Services Elina Gorelik to learn how to build your pipeline, manage your prospect portfolio, track prospects’ progress, and know the key reports to keep you sane, organized and successful. Thursday, June 30 – 10:00 AM PST. Register for this webinar >>
  • Webinar recording “Major donors: Mastering the ask”. They say the fear of asking for money ranks right up there with fear of death and public speaking. Russ Reid’s Karen Erren walks through how to navigate the “ask” with confidence! Come away with clear understanding of why we ask for money, the steps to take prior to the “ask,” and how to ensure the answer is Yes! Access the webinar recording >> 

One-day only fundraising advice for boosting major gifts

One-day deals and products are all the rage lately. We think there might be something special to the whole exclusivity thing, so to jump on the band wagon–better late than never–we asked our senior development advisor Roy Jones for some exclusive fundraising advice for boosting major gifts. Here’s his top 6 tips…

1. Be extra vague. Too much detail about the need for the gift will definitely make you seem too knowledgable. Instead it’s better to be vague and let the potential donor’s imagination fill in the blank.

What's not to trust from Roy Jones?!

Expert major gift booster Roy Jones.

2. Talk only about your interests and desires. Any conversation with a major donor should be 98% about you, and only 2% about the donor’s interests and desires. The moment the donor thinks you’re willing to listen could be the end of your major gift program. 

3. Don’t let them think their gift is helpful. If you give a mouse a cookie…

4. Just wing it. Everyone knows that the secret to asking for a major gift is to just go with whatever is on the tip of your tongue. Practice is for rookies, and major donors specifically love unprepared presentations. You don’t want to exceed their expectations ever. 

5. Treat every potential donor and gift the same. In fact, forget the donor’s name. It’s not important. Neither are their interests or how they might envision the use of their major gift. 

6. Never say thank you. Even if your mom taught you to always have manners, we know better. Years of fundraising experience tells us that saying thank you can be a detriment to the donor relationship. Plus (bonus!) you can trust that they already know you’re thankful. No one needs to hear it anymore.

What do you think? Are there other tips you’d add to this list for boosting major gifts? Tweet them to us @RussReidAgency

This advice expires at 11:59 pm on April 1, 2015. 

Roy Jones is Russ Reid’s senior development advisor, CFRE, 26+ years of fundraising experience, and co-author of Rainmaking: The fundraiser’s guide to landing big gifts.

Fundraising trends to watch for in 2015

Keeping an eye on trends in nonprofit fundraising keeps us poised for success

By Tom Harrison, Chairman of Russ Reid

I’m not big on following fads. They’re too often just a flash in the pan.

But keeping an eye on trends can keep us alert to opportunities and challenges we may be smart to address in our fundraising programs. In a new Fundraising Success Magazine article, I wrote about six trends that are worth tracking in 2015 including: the ethics of fundraising, impacting government policy, non-negotiable multi-channel marketing, growing optimism on the economy, brand and social media campaigns with fundraising impact, and ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ imitations.

What do you think? Are there other trends you believe need to be on our radar? Tweet @RussReidAgency and I’ll respond to your thoughts. 

Read the full post Looking Ahead to 2015 And Beyond on Fundraising Success Magazine online.

The Saturday Night Live Skit? Yeah, we laughed too

But seriously, folks…

They laughed when SNL satirized charity commercials. And so did we. The “39 cents” skit last Saturday was laugh-out-loud hilarious. Our colleagues at nonprofits—including those who rely on TV spots to bring in generous monthly donors—also took the skewering with good humor.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then getting parodied by SNL is a sign you’ve truly made it.

But let’s also celebrate the success that really matters. Charity commercials are one of the most effective ways to move people’s hearts. They’ve motivated hundreds of thousands of donors to make ongoing monthly gifts. And those committed donors—the backbone of so many great nonprofits—have helped find cures for childhood cancers, feed hungry families, rescue abused animals, save kids from poverty, provide care for injured veterans and surgeries for children with clefts, and so much more.

Alan Hall
CEO, Russ Reid

Top 10 characteristics of the Hispanic donor

By Damaris Montalvo

For all the talk about Hispanic marketing, there’s very little discussion about Hispanic fundraising. What fundraisers know about the Hispanic market often comes from the commercial sector:

• There are 53 million residents of Hispanic origin in the United States (1 in every 6), representing the fastest growing demographic in the country.
• The purchasing power of Latino consumers is incrementally increasing.
• Hispanics have a strong proclivity for digital – especially mobile and social – and are early adopters of new technologies.
• Consumer trends vary by language preference, generation breakdown, and geography.

But what do we know about Hispanic¹ donors? And how can we use these learnings to grow our fundraising programs?

The list below of the top 10 characteristics of Hispanic donors comes largely from Russ Reid’s Heart of the Donor research study (conducted in partnership with Grey Matter Research & Consulting), as well as other industry research and in-market nonprofit case studies.

1. Hispanic donors are generous. Latinos represent a sizeable group of donors whose annual average giving is healthy, and whose generosity levels are right on par with the largest donor group: Caucasians. English-speaking Latinos will donate larger average gifts, mirroring monetary contributions by English-speaking Caucasians. Spanish-speaking Latinos will donate slightly lower average gifts, but these contributions represent a higher proportion of their HHI. For example, if Caucasians give 1% of their HHI to charitable contributions, Spanish-speaking Latinos will give 1.2% of their HHI.

2. Hispanic donors yield great long-term donor value (LTDV), while typically acquired at half the cost of their English-language counterparts. Because this market is still largely untapped by nonprofits, media buys can be more affordable. For example, Operation Smile has built a large Hispanic donor file – 15% of which is composed of sustainers. These donors have a LTDV that’s on par with English-speaking donors, and depending on the channel, their cost-per-acquisition (CPA) is either equal to or half as expensive as their English counterparts.

3. 61% of Hispanic donors make spur-of-the-moment giving decisions. Only 39% of Hispanics donors plan in advance which organizations they will support and how much to contribute. This learning is ripe with promise, for as long as you’re “fishing where the fish are,” with the right offer and the right message, you are likely to capture their attention – especially in a market that isn’t yet overly saturated.

4. 72% of Latinos speak Spanish at home. If Hispanics are more comfortable with English, they’re consuming media in English and are likely part of your donor file already. But if they’re speaking Spanish at home and their mothers, fathers, and tías are watching Spanish-language TV, listening to Spanish-language radio, or following mami blogueras online, you’re leaving money on the table if you don’t pursue Spanish-language media.

5. Hispanics use at least 3 or 4 channels to give. While non-Hispanics will use an average of 2 or 3 channels to give, Hispanics will use 3 to 4, choosing whichever channel is the most convenient at the point of interest. Multi-channel strategies enable them to respond through several means.

6. Hispanics are 50% more likely than non-Hispanics to participate in monthly giving programs. Spanish-speaking Latinos typically display generosity through frequent, multiple “lower” dollar gifts, with the cumulative amount representing a higher proportion of their HHI. This makes Hispanics prime candidates for a sustainer program (assuming you present a strong offer).

7. Hispanics are 5 times more likely than non-Hispanics to list TV, radio, and primary channels. For nonprofits looking to acquire Hispanic sustainers, direct response television (DRTV) has proven to be a successful platform when the offer is strong. But for those looking to acquire single gift Hispanic donors, direct mail and digital have also proven successful. Operation Smile recently tested a direct mail acquisition campaign that yielded nearly a 1% response rate with an average gift on par with the English control. Spanish-language SEM and display strategies have worked for several organizations, yielding strong ROIs – and a lower media cost.

8. 38% of Hispanic donors are likely to support a brand new organization each year. This finding is not surprising, given that Hispanics make spur-of-the-moment giving decisions. So with a strategic, multi-channel presence, you’re providing ample opportunity to grab a new donor’s attention – and ample options to convert that interest into action.

9. Credit and debit card usage among Hispanics is growing. While credit card (CC) usage decreased 7% for non-Hispanics from 2004-2011², CC usage increased 23% for Hispanics, and debit card usage increased 115%. In Hispanic households where credit and debit card usage are common, household income is 2.5 times higher than average.

10. Social media is key. In Hispanic fundraising, social is the prime information center about your organization. Latinos investigate a new cause by seeking input from others. What people (and not just watchdogs) say about your organization matters. In addition to friends and family, the opinions of donors, nonprofit employees, and social media followers are important. New and existing donors will weigh social information heavily in making their first gift – and any gifts thereafter.

Damaris “Dama” Montalvo is a nonprofit professional with deep experience in Hispanic marketing and fundraising. She joined Russ Reid in 2008 to grow a donor base of US Hispanic donors for the largest and most well-known charity in Mexico: Teletón. Since then, Dama has served nonprofits through multi-channel fundraising strategies in English and Spanish, including KCET, Paws With A Cause, Operation Smile, American Red Cross, and many more. Past marketing experience in the commercial sector includes Azteca América, Azteca Mobile, Banco Azteca, and Curaçao.

¹“Hispanic” generally refers to language of origin or preference, specifically Spanish. “Latino” generally refers to geography, alluding to country of origin or history. For the purposes of this article, “Hispanic” will be the term most frequently used, referring to Spanish-language marketing, as opposed to English-language communications.


For a downloadable PDF of this article, please click here.

How You Can Help Donors Better Understand You

DMANF’s new Nonprofit Dashboard promotes transparency, provides information

By Tom Harrison

Nonprofit organizations make our world better, every day, through the unbeatable combination of strong programs and strong fundraising. It’s virtually impossible to make a meaningful, long-term difference without both.

Those of us on the fundraising side of the equation know what it takes to build a great fundraising program.

But that knowledge and understanding is not ­always translated well from our sector to the good people who support us. And many times, public perception comes down to the way charity watchdogs evaluate our effectiveness.

It’s time for us to help donors more accurately evaluate nonprofits as they choose organizations to support.

Let’s provide a better way to  measure a nonprofit’s effectiveness through an evaluation tool that’s more meaningful than the number of overhead stars from a Charity Connoisseur, and easier for donors and reporters than “come volunteer and see for yourself.”

Enter the DMA Nonprofit Federation
Last year, DMANFOpens in a new window created a Best Practices Code of Ethics for direct-response fundraisingOpens in a new window. It’s a smart way to hold our work to the highest standards of integrity.

This year, the DMANF completed a two-year exercise to provide a standardized tool that nonprofits can use to help donors understand what they do and to answer the question of effectiveness.

The new Nonprofit DashboardOpens in a new window (view the DMA Nonprofit Dashboardimage at right) allows donors to see the important metrics that indicate
a healthy nonprofit, rather than reducing all of them to one or two simplistic measurements (e.g., overhead). Are you purposely investing to expand your donor file? What are your annual program deliverables? Are you growing year over year? Perhaps most importantly, the Nonprofit Dashboard takes the long view (at least a year), rather than judging a single campaign to assess fundraising effectiveness.

All DMANF members are being asked to complete the new Nonprofit Dashboard and post it on their websites.

How it helps
The intent is to promote transparency and to give donors pertinent information and metrics about your organization in an easy-to-understand format, so donors can clearly understand what you are accomplishing and at what cost. It will even include a link to the GuideStarOpens in a new window-hosted Charting ImpactOpens in a new window.

This puts the knowledge and the power in your — and your donors’ — hands.

An added bonus is that next time a donor, reporter or foundation questions your fundraising costs or a watchdog score, you can reply with confidence, “Our organization adheres to the DMA Nonprofit Federation ethical standards, and we publish an annual dashboard showing exactly what we do and how we measure it. Would you like me to send these to you? Then if you have any questions, I’d be happy to discuss it further with you.”

Instead of allowing others to frame the issue, you can use established industry guidelines to explain
your work.


To view the article in Fundraising Success, please click here

Midterm Elections Impact on DRTV and Mail

For the 2014 mid-term elections, the Democrat and Republican parties are anticipating a cutthroat election season, which will mean heavy spends leading into fourth quarter for political advertising on television and in the mail. For 2014 there are 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 36 seats to be decided in the Senate, in addition to gubernatorial races in 36 of the 50 states. There is also additional ad spending by the U.S. government to support the Affordable Care Act.

Midterm electionsTotal political ad spending for the 2014 election season is predicted to surpass $4 billion and could go as high as the $4.5 billion record set in the 2012 presidential election year. The last midterm election in 2010 had a reported spend of $3.6 billion.  As in years past, a significant portion of the media spend with be on local market broadcast TV and direct mail.

There are twelve highly disputed state races (predicted state spends in excess of $75 million on TV alone) that have the potential of impacting our avails and increasing competition for the mailbox, they are in the following states:

  • Louisiana
  • North Carolina
  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • West Virginia
  • Kentucky
  • Iowa
  • Colorado
  • New Hampshire

Historically Russ Reid has not seen a negative impact on results during an election or mid-term election year for TV or mail.


In the 2012 elections, Russ Reid’s DRTV clients experienced a tight marketplace for long form avails from the end of September until mid-December. Many advertisers who could not afford to buy time during the election window (September-October) over spent in November and December to make up for their lack of presence. This drove up the cost and limited inventory until the end of the calendar year. For short form DRTV Russ Reid utilizes almost exclusively national cable and there are only a small percentage of budgets being allocated by political advertisers in that channel on a national level so impact should be negligible.    The impact of the elections on buying time will not be apparent until close to year’s end which makes it difficult to predict how efficiently budgets can be spent and at what levels. This left significant amounts of DRTV budgets unspent for the year in 2012.

Direct mail

For direct mail there will be an increase in clutter in the mailbox that can impact drop dates. In past elections Russ Reid’s clients have seen strong direct mail results. This can be partially attributed to a few factors:

  • Fatigue by consumers (donors) with political messages
  • Less competition from non-profits in the mailbox
  • Political advertisers tend to use over-sized mail packages compared to the standard #10

Recommendation It will be difficult to gauge the actual impact of the elections on spending DRTV budgets efficiently and fully until mid-November at the earliest. For DRTV it might make it impossible to spend the allocated budgets by years end. There is no expected negative impact on the direct mail results. There are a few tactics that can be used to help offset these concerns:

  • Adjusting the in-home dates when available to avoid the heavy political mail times (varies by market)
  • TV Buyers to buy avails and packages further in advance (already happening) than normal
  • Heavy up TV spends August through October (move budget from 4th quarter)
  • Push more spend into cable (where efficient)
  • Explore markets in states that do not have heavy DRTV spends
  • Put additional incentive programs in place at the call center to try to improve conversion rates to allow for a higher cost to acquire donors
  • Closely monitor and adjust spends

To view a downloadable PDF of this article, click here.

Tear down the silos!

Stubborn adherence to ‘the way we’ve always done it’ can hurt your fundraising.

By Tom Harrison

FundRaising Success recently hosted its second annual Engage conference in Philadelphia and a mini-version of it in San Francisco, where nonprofit practitioners lamented the high cost of silos and discussed ways to overcome them for the benefit of your cause — and your sanity.

It’s a subject worth tackling. Silos can stifle team- work, frustrate donors, inhibit innovation and cost you significant dollars in net revenue. They can, in turn, weaken your programs and prevent your organizations from having the impact you want to have.

And as they calcify over time, they can get even worse.

As our friend global management and fundraising consultant Bernard Ross says, “It’s time to barbecue some sacred cows.”

There are different types of silos that can harm your organization. Do any of the following sound familiar?

Departmental silos

These occur when departments within an organization don’t communicate, cooperate and engage with each other for the benefit of the organization. Can you believe that some departments are reluctant to upgrade donors to monthly sustainers or major givers because they won’t get “credit” for their giving anymore? Have you heard major-gifts folks arbitrarily insist the direct- response people stop all communication with donors over $5,000 — even if the major-gifts team doesn’t have the staff to personally cultivate those most important donors?!

Solution: Put the donor first — organize your donor marketing programs around the donor. Let the donors tell you by their responses how they want to be communicated with. Don’t let any individual or department take turf ownership of the donor. Measure everyone’s success against the growth of the overall giving of the donor, not by individual campaigns. Encourage cross- functional teams to work on organization-wide challenges, where staff gets to know each other, gain exposure to other areas of the organization and perhaps even accept assignments on other teams. Establish common platforms and systems across the organization, and give people access to the same data and information. This discourages information hoarding.

Donor silos

These occur when you define donors the way you want to handle them. “Those are online donors — we can’t send them a letter!” Or, “Those are special-events participants — we can’t send them appeals.” Have you heard anyone say, “Those are volunteers; we can’t ask them for money”?

Solution: Donors don’t see themselves as online donors or special-events donors or volunteers. Meet them where they are, in as many places and ways as you can. Engage them through as many channels and experiences as possible. The more ways donors engage with you, the more bonded they are to your cause and the more valuable they are to your organization.

Budget silos

These occur when you see revenue and expenses as unrelated.

I was speaking about new revenue sources to a group of chapter CEOs of a mega-nonprofit. One raised her hand and said, “Last year you told us we should put return envelopes in our newsletter. Well, we tried it.” Silence in the room.

I broke the rule about never asking a question unless you know the answer in advance. “What happened?” “It brought in enough money to pay for a whole year of newsletters!” she enthused.

Relieved, I probed, “Then what did you do?”

Barely able to contain herself, she said, “We did it again! And even more money came in!”

Elated that I was getting through, I went for the trifecta and pushed: “And then what did you do?”

“Nothing,” she replied, “because I didn’t have any more budget for envelopes.”

I actually thought she was kidding. No such luck.

I sputtered and stammered and asked the audience if it could help explain to her that if she was netting positive revenue from each effort, she could just take the money from the proceeds to pay for the reply envelopes. The entire room stared back at me as if I had two heads and agreed with the chapter CEO. There is a revenue budget and a separate expense budget. Even if something generates an extra million bucks, staffers can’t use any of those newly found dollars to roll it out to raise more, unless they have enough in their separate, preapproved expense budget.

Solution: Focus — and be measured — on growing your net revenue for program. Whether you need more spending or less spending, the measure of your success needs to be increasing net revenue for program. That allows more flexibility and the opportunity to pounce on new revenue opportunities without getting delayed by budgetary red tape. And, as any healthy corporation would do, consider the impact of making (or not making) an investment not just on this year, but over multiple years.

Organizational silos

These occur when you hold stubbornly to the belief that your chapter is unique, your organization is unique, your donors are unique or your market is unique. If other food banks’ donors have higher long-term value, if other hospitals have a larger percentage of monthly givers, if other veterans chapters have a higher percentage of company-matched gifts, it is too often (and too easily) explained away that, “Well, our donors are different.”

My friend Chuck Longfield, chief scientist at Blackbaud, compares it to health care. Can you imagine a hospital administrator saying, “Well, sure they use antibiotics to fight infection at that hospital, but our hospital is different”?

Yet that is exactly what many of us do every day.

Solution: Stop making excuses or settling for what you get. Compare your metrics (e.g., percent monthly sustainers, second-gift conversion) against the strongest results in your category. Determine the specific strategies and steps being taken by the top producer, and do the same thing. This is the lowest hanging fruit available to you and, if done properly, will generate significant net income that you can use to expand even further (if you paid attention to the above solution to budget silos).

To view a downloadable PDF of this article, click here.

Talking to Your Board About Direct Response

It’s often counter intuitive — so business instincts might actually be counterproductive.

By Tom Harrison

Unexpected conflict can erupt at the most awkward times. I was at a wedding reception recently and found myself sitting next to the vice chairman of the board of one of our clients. When he learned who I was, he declared with some passion, “You’re the agency I’m trying to get rid of. Do you realize you’re the largest line item on our budget?!”

Sensing somehow that “Nice to meet you, too” wouldn’t quite cut it, I replied, “Do you mean that we produce the largest income line item on your budget?”

There are a lot of ways to read a long pause in a conversation, aren’t there? You just never know. In this case, he smiled and said, “I honestly never thought about it that way. You’re right. Your agency produces more revenue for us than any other source.”

Thankfully, we went on to have a healthy dialogue about fundraising channels, about the cost of media and printing and postage, and about how the real measure of success is what combination of channels and strategies nets the nonprofit the most dollars to fund its life-saving programs. And about how beautiful the bride looked on her special day. He turned out to be a terrific guy. Our conversation reminded me that some of the best questions about direct-response fundraising programs often come from nonprofit board members.

The challenge

This challenge is compounded by the fact that most board members are more likely to be major donors than regular donors. They hang out with major donors. They think like major donors, and support causes and offers that resonate with major donors. In other words, they are generally not the audience for your direct-response marketing program and, hence, are not in the best position to pass judgment on your messaging, offers, channels, frequency and even creative approach.

Where can this challenge damage a nonprofit?

I’ve seen otherwise knowledgeable and successful board members:

  • advocate that the acquisition budget in digital, mail, DRTV be slashed in order to improve the current year’s net income and fundraising ratios;
  • opine that people don’t want to receive letters anymore and the organization should simply email its donors;
  • share that someone they know complains about receiving too much email and snail mail, and conclude that the organization should cut back on frequency (and on expenses);
  • insist that people want to invest in success, so the organization should emphasize the positive results of its programs rather than showing need; and
  • champion “the next big thing” in marketing as a way to attract hipper, younger people to the cause. (Millennials are a vitally important audience to many consumer product companies, but they are not one of the primary, economically viable target audiences for fundraising. They can be effective advocates for nonprofit causes as well as volunteers and event participants. But when targeting for direct-marketing revenue, attracting “younger” donors means trying to get people in their 40s.)

The opportunity

Smart nonprofit leaders recognize that their board members are successful in their own lives and careers because they have the ability to learn and grow. The facts are friendly. Your CEO and chief financial officer can be — in fact, must be — very effective spokespeople with the board to lay out the business case for your direct-response fundraising program. That means you have to make sure your CEO and CFO have all the info and understanding they need. To do this:

  • Map out the long-term value of your donors, and explain how you calculated what you can afford to spend to acquire and cultivate them. Get your board used to evaluating everything over the long term — not simply campaign by campaign.
  • Show them the money. You’ll be amazed at what happens once business people understand that for every dollar you invest in direct-response fundraising, you net $3 to $4 for your cause.
  • Quantify natural attrition and the steps you’re taking to build your largest asset — your active-donor file.
  • Map out projections to demonstrate the long-term impact of cutting acquisition — as well as the impact of investing more in successful online and offline acquisition programs.
  • Study industry frequency testing, and if necessary, conduct your own cultivation frequency tests to determine the optimum number of appeals based on the response (net revenue) of your donors, not someone’s opinion.
  • Run head-to-head tests of your channels (digital, mail, DRTV, phone, events), and calculate the long-term donor value and net revenue over time of donors acquired via each channel to determine the right media mix. And show how the value increases dramatically as you engage with donors through multiple channels.
  • Do in-market testing, not simply focus groups, on your best offers (Success/need? Monthly sustainer? Advocacy? Generic/specific? Founder/celebrity/CEO/recipient?), so you can meet the donor where she is, rather than where you (or your board) wish she were.
  • Do the analytics to demonstrate the impact of integration not just across channels, but up the entire donor pyramid to show your board how direct-response donors (the bottom of the pyramid) can be migrated to produce monthly contributions, major gifts, capital-campaign support and planned-giving revenues.
  • Finally, consider inoculating your board in advance against the stereotypical objections. I once told a conservative, development-shy board of a $20 million nonprofit that we had a way to raise an additional $1.5 million net a year. After explaining the strategy, I warned these board members that they’d probably hear complaints about the fundraising from friends, neighbors and even family, but, “If generating an additional $1.5 million isn’t worth the hassle of complaints, tell me now and we won’t do it. But if we go forward with it, let’s agree that we’re in it together and not going to be discouraged or deterred by complaints.”

The board agreed and, for the first time, actually championed our successful direct-response fundraising efforts. At the next board meeting, the members applauded the results and the development department staff.

To view a downloadable PDF of this article, click here.