Fundraisers: Get off your carousels!

I’m still seeing carousels on many nonprofit’s websites, even though their effectiveness has been disproven repeatedly for more than a year … even as they rose in popularity.

I’m talking about rotating feature frames on websits — carousels … AKA sliders — you know, large images dominating a homepage that automatically slide away, replaced by a new image/mission feature/event for the organization.

Like slideshows.  Only very often with key content, including links … too often the only link on the site that lets users get certain timely information.

Not long ago I asked one organization’s staff about an event, wondering why it wasn’t on their website.   “What?” came the reply:  “It’s on the homepage, right there in the banner.”

Sure enough, one of their carousel frames had a short squib on the event and a link to “find out more.”

But like most folks, I don’t read carousels much, due to the long-established phenomenon known as “banner blindness.”   Big and moving means ad and doesn’t get read.

If I did read slides, I’d have to process info and act on it quite quickly.  It’s only up there for six seconds or so.   Please don’t require my intense attention to discover your event.  That’s work.  And the more you make folks work, the less likely they are to read or react to your info.

Here are some comments on all this from a WordPress blog, a post aptly titled “Our themes don’t have sliders … because sliders suck.”    Only 1% of people actually click on a slide.  Sliders trigger banner blindness.  And they hurt your SEO, too!

Another from a design blog:  “Why automatic carousels suck and must be eliminated from your homepage.”  “Automatic motion is just plain annoying.”

You do, of course, have options:  “5 Alternatives to Using a Carousel on your Homepage.”

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Fundraisers: Don’t ask donors to “respond” today

See the previous post on asking donors to “reply.”  Then swap out the word “reply” and replace with “respond.”

But asking readers to “respond” is more than inappropriate.  It’s actually damaging to your relationship.

“Respond” is really a marketing term, very transactional.  It came out of mail marketing of books, book clubs, magazines, etc.   Basically, “I just made you this terrific offer … How do you respond to this offer?”   Now please respond today.

Fundraising is not really transactional in this sense.   I ask you to give money and get nothing concrete in return?   The call to action should be “please join me in accomplishing this mission.”   Not please respond.

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Fundraisers: Don’t tell donors to “reply” today!

How often have you read (or written) the following at the end of a fundraising letter:

“Please reply today!”

Moving forward, I invite you to reconsider use of the word “reply.”  In fact, I encourage you to drop it from your fundraising vocabulary.

Reply” is a direct marketing word.  It’s a transactional word.  It’s not a fundraising word.

Direct response fundraising copy is effective when it’s personal.  One to one.  Like talking.

When you write a personal letter, do you ever ask the recipient to “reply“?

In business correspondence, ever say “please reply“?

No, you say “get back to me” or something like that if you want a response.

In fundraising, people are more likely to do what you ask when your request is very specific:

“Please mail your donation today!”

Or be more explicit with …

“Please mail your donation today in the envelope proviude!”

When possible, make the urgency more concrete with something like…

“Mail your donation today, before the Matching Gift Deadline!”

Anticipating reactions, here a two exceptions …

1)  On envelopes, it often works to say “The courtesy of a reply is requested”   But that isn’t really asking for a reply.  It’s a language convention, really just expressing that you are approaching the reader with great polity.   (R.S.V.P. is another convention.  You’re not asking the reader to speak French.)

2)  In email, I often say “Please ‘reply’ with any questions.”   With the word reply in quotes.  This is just asking the reader to hit the “reply” button in the email client.

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A reminder: Fundraising mail still rocks …

The year-end flood of nonprofit mail feeds cynicism among some fundraisers, particularly new folks and those in small organizations.  In that light, I was happy to see a blog post from a friend with some reminders of why direct mail remains so critical.

Nancy Scott writes the Marketing Brillo blog covering a wide range of topics, most often in consumer and business-to-business marketing … yet worth your time when you read fundraising into the subject matter at hand.  The key points you should notice in this post:

“The fact that direct mail is rarely used in some segments, makes it effective…”  Bryan Semple.

“With the mountain of social media and other on-line marketing and advertising ‘noise’, getting something delivered right to you increases the chance it will be seen.” — Terri L. Mauer.

I’ve worked on fundraising programs targeting engineers in their 20s … young, high-tech types, who long ago moved past desktops, let alone paper on desks.  No way mail would work with that group, right?

The programs worked quite well … as long as we gave people an online giving option.  The organizations received many gifts in reply envelopes, many more at their web site, all spurred by good old paper through the mail.  (You need a good giving site of course.  And make sure it’s optimized for mobile.)

Again, this post and Nancy’s blog are about business-to-business marketing, lead generation and such … Forbes and such … but such ideas should inform all who want to influence and drive action and donations today, even in this wired world.

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Fundraising in a competitive environment?

Many organizations realize that they have “competitors” — organizations engaged in similar missions that are communicating with the same members/donors.  Think animal welfare.   Environmental groups.  Wildlife.  Etc.

True to a great extent.   One poll I ran across at a conference indicated that mail donors in their “niche” gave, on average, to fourteen organizations!

Often, the mail piece that reaches them firstest with the mostest — the most compelling appeal, one arriving early in the pre-holiday cycle — gets the donation, leaving little disposable income to pass to those a little weak or a day late.

This argues for persistence … frequent mailings so you’re in the potential donor’s hands at the right moment.   And for compelling copy and design, of course.

But is each group really just going for “share of wallet” … a phrase commonly heard in consumer marketing?

I’ll argue “no”.   Nonprofits are also going for “share of heart” or “share of spirit.”

Beyond any similarity of mission, each group is quite distinct in how it connects to the donor’s vision.

Consider the donor’s deeply emotional question: “How do I see — or want to see — the world?”

At this heart/spirit/vision level, Sierra Club, World Wildlife, and Wilderness Society really are quite distinctive missions and paths to achieve that mission.   Their donors have discrete visions that can align more with one group than another.

If donors had appeals from all groups on the table at the same time, I don’t think the donation choice would be at all difficult at the heart/spirit/vision level.

I’m not quite sure how actionable all this might be.  Still, when creating an appeal for an organization, we must look beyond the obvious mission and emergency.

Also consider your “competitors” and put as much thought into your “share of heart” as your share of wallet.

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The #2 Secret to Writing Fundraising Letters that Maximize Results

This is the second post trying to better identify specific strategies/tactics that consistently enable one copy platform to beat a fundraising control.  (The first is here.)

The essential issue:  What is the fundraising appeal really about?

Organizations — particularly board members and other internal reviewers — think the appeal should be about the organization itself and its mission.

Nope.  The more effective fundraising communication will really be about the action you want the recipient to take.


The purpose of your letter is not education.  You’re mailing to people who are already familiar with your organization and its mission.  They’re already donors.   Or you’re talking to rented names of folks with a known affinity for your cause.

You’re not trying to talk the recipient into giving you money.    Can you convince an indifferent reader to part with her hard-earned money?   No.  A letter is not a sufficiently powerful medium to do that.

Why do some acquisition lists fail utterly?  Because these people are poorly qualified.  They don’t really have an affinity for your cause.  And you simply can’t convert someone with the written word.

All you’re really doing is prompting people who are sympathetic to your cause to make a donation today.

Your donors know about you, understand your mission, and support it.  They have a demonstrated predisposition to make a contribution to your cause.

A good rental list has a good percentage who are dedicated to a cause that strongly overlaps with your own, so they share this predisposition.

So the purpose of your letter is not to educate or convince, it’s to prompt them to do something they’re already quite willing to do … and to make that donation right now.  (If they set the letter aside, planning to “do it later,” you’re lost that gift.)

“Make your donation … right now.”   Action and urgency.  That’s what it’s all about.

Devote more of your words, your real estate, your “visual cues” to action and urgency, and you’ll get more of those blessed predisposed supporters to make that gift.    Emergencies.  Matching gift challenges with deadlines.  Anything with deadlines … anything that adds to the urgency … will lift response.

Where do you put all these calls to take action? … this urgency?   All over the place!  As explained in our #1 Secret!

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The “resistor” fundraising acquisition package

Many/most organizations keep going back to the same lists for acquisition over and again. They’re good lists. They keep performing well. But you can speculate that thousands of people have become numb to your control acquisition mail package.  At least to some degree, they recognize it when it arrives and say “no thanks … already decided on this one.”
Remailed often, they have become are “resisters” to your acquisition control.
One solution proven by multi-million-donor programs:  Develop a “resistor acquisition package”  — something really cheap in relatively small quantities and test into your most-used lists.
You don’t need to get as good a response as the control. (You don’t need to beat the control in response.) You just want to find out if there is a package that so cheap that it about the same cost of acquisition as the control.
With this, the overall prospect list can become more productive over time.   In big programs, this pays off nicely with a tiny incremental increase in value. With small programs, you might have a cost-effective way to squeeze a few dozen new donors out of your best rental list.
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Too many fundraising emails? Part III.

As noted in the last post, some organizations have been increasing frequency of emails around deadline until the number of “unsubscribes” was so high it offset projected revenue increase.

In a related learning from mail:   The more powerful your appeal, the greater the negative reaction.

The Obama campaign included a nugget on this topic on one of their extremely helpful reports, this one called “Surprises fro Obama’s New Media Staff”:

“Best performing appeals often had the highest unsubscribe rates. Turns out, evoking passion in supporters worked both ways, but ultimately the campaign decided the positive fundraising results were worth the increased unsubscribes. Even when considering retention, the conversion stats outweighed the downside of losing people.”

This is further proof that learnings from mail fundraising are valid in the electronic arena.

Time and again I’ve seen the most over-the-top successful mail appeals generate a spike in white mail complaining about the letter, or the topic, or just complaining generally.     When donations really spike, so does negative reaction.

A classic example, the National Rifle Association’s famous “Jack-booted thugs” appeal sent in 1995.   The letter was pure LaPierre, claiming that the AFT and other government agencies were ready and able to invade your home.   Former President George HW Bush resigned his membership.   I heard list-rental rumors that almost a million mainstream NRAers also dropped membership.   Whatever the number, they took a big hit.

But for all the negative furor, this was reputedly their most successful appeal in years, maybe ever.

Did it raise enough to offset the “mail unsubscribe” revenue loss?   Maybe not.  But it galvanized the resolve and spurred the giving of the hard-core gun rights folks — those who buy LaPierre’s rhetoric — and the organization has more than bounced back in subsequent years.

This is a high-profile example.  I’ve seen many, many others in a variety of organizations.  Evoking passion in supporters worked both ways.   You lose some, yet you may well gain a lot more in donor dedication and generosity.

The real danger?   When your organization (really, your board) has a dramatic reaction to the negatives, without adequately appreciating the related benefit of increased revenue.    If someone forces you to weaken your message, you cut down on complaints.  And income.

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Too many fundraising emails? Part II.

If you’re concerned about “peppering” their donors with emails, look first at the nature of your electronic communications.

If you mailed me a brochure every few days, I’d quickly stop opening your envelopes.

When you mail me a personal note, short, with something concrete to say, I’ll at least look at quite a few more.

And if you can create increasing time urgency around a particular message, you have a far better chance of my reading, recognizing the reason for urgency — and responding.

Personal letters are far, far more effective than brochures.   That doesn’t change in electronic media.

The Obama campaign did a wonderful demonstration of this, and they’ve been kind enough to share.

If you haven’t read a summary of this, do so now.   Really.  Right now.   I’ll wait.

If you were on the receiving end of Obama campaign emails, you know how often they hit your inbox.  Often.  Sometimes twice a day.

So why was this frequency acceptable to donors?   Why did they work?

They were brief.  I could make a read decision in a nanosecond.

And they were personal.    Look at the subject lines that worked best:   “Hey”   ‘Wow.”

These are not mission-based.  They don’t tell you anything about what’s inside.

They look like something a friend sent.

Even “Some scary numbers” and “Do this for Michelle” hit the reader as personal communications.

In the context of the last happydonors post:  They had a real deadline, which they effectively leveraged throughout the email campaign.

Sure, I’ll bet they got a lot of “unsubscribes.”   But they also took in millions.

So, before deciding on email frequency, consider:   Are you sending brochures? … or are you being appropriately urgent and personal?

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Too many fundraising emails? Part I.

Every direct mail fundraising program generates its share of complaints, usually scrawled notes sent in your reply envelopes complaining that “you send too much mail” and either “you’re wasting donor money” or simply “I don’t like it.”

These almost always correlate with the success of the mail.  The more response and revenue, the more complaints.

What to do?   Respect their wishes.  Stop mailing these people if they ask.  Or mail only once a year.  You’ll be fine.  (Oh, and spend the necessary time with your board explaining that these are NOT representative of your donor community.)

Email raises more possibility for engagement, revenue … and trouble.    Not free, but no print or postage.   Why not send more … and more and more?

Some organizations have been testing the limits of email frequency during their electronic end-of-calendar-year fundraising campaigns.

Midnight, December 31 is a real deadline, which is an unusual marketing advantage in our business.   Donors must send by that marker to deduct this donation on their itemized tax returns.

And emailing right into the teeth of that deadline works like crazy.   I’ve seen programs as much as double donations in an end-of-year campaign by sending that one more email on December 31.

So why not make the most of it.  Email two weeks before the deadline, again one week before, a few days before, a day before, then “deadline: midnight tonight”?

Try frequent emails if you dare, and you’ll find out how effective this can be (very!) and how dangerous (mileage may vary).

The groups that have been testing intensive email campaigns have a metric:  “Unsubscribes.”

Unsubscribing to email is identical to that nasty “stop mailing” note in a reply envelope.   Our problem though, is that it’s awfully easy to unsubscribe.  And you must respect unsubscribes under the law!

Nonetheless, some courageous groups have tested, pushing for a fine line:

The additional revenue from frequent emails more than offsets the anticipated revenue loss from unsubscribes.

In a large program, you can project the average lifetime value of a donor.   So you can monetize the loss of “unsubscribes.”

On the other side, you have the immediate increased revenue resulting from the email campaign.  Plus you can extrapolate some increased value of each responding donor, especially if this is their critical second or renewal contribution.

The organizations doing these tests have huge files, large enough that the loss of a few dozen donors to unsubscription does not hurt the bottom line.   Large quantities mean more to gain and less to lose from testing creative strategies like this.

That said, what can smaller organizations learn from this?

Deadline fundraising communications work.  Really.   So …

If you’re not sending”Day of Deadline” emails, you can do so with little to no risk.     (Exceptions:  You might not want to send them to your board or donors you have lunch with — people who you know might be sensitive to marketing techniques.)

BUT … don’t go out with a five-contact array of emails, especially if your audience is not used to getting many emails from you right now.

NOTE:  This is effective any time you have a real deadline:  End of calendar year tax deadline … Matching gift deadline … event marketing … any time there is some real-world negative consequence to not donating by a certain date.

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