Grants & Awards Update

January 15, 2009

Change Makers $25,000 Grant
Ashoka’s Change Makers and We Media are awarding $25,000 in seed money to start a nonprofit idea. The project should “inspire a better world through media and technology.” The deadline is January 21, at 6 pm EST. Visit We Media change for more information or Changemakers.net to enter the competition.

Here are a couple nontraditional ways to make money for your organization that I’ve recently heard about.

Insider Pages
Raise money through writing a review of a local business. The typical group raises $1,000 to $10,000 in three weeks for an organization. For details visit their website.

Fundit Bar
Raise money by creating a custom toolbar for your charity where you benefit $0.10 per click. There website shows some interesting examples of other nonprofits that have done this. For more information check out their website (thanks Gary Paricio for letting me know- feel free to email him with questions).


Some Good Businesses: Solicitation Letters Interview

January 9, 2009

Geoffrey Peters and Steven Maggio have lent us their expertise all week on writing good solicitation letters and direct mail. If you are looking for a business to help you with a direct mail campaign make sure to visit their websites.

What does your business do to help nonprofits with their mailings?

CDR Fundraising Group:
We manage the entire process and provide strategy, creative, package design and creation, production management, analysis of results. We do not physically print or manufacture mailings, we do not house or update mailing list data, and we do not handle caging or keypunching. In other words we are a full service creative and strategic agency that can manage all of the data, caging, and production vendors (securing 3 bids from each and transparently billing their work with NO markups or commissions).
Geoffrey Peters, President, www.cdrfg.com

DaVinci Direct:
DaVinci Direct is a full-service, integrated media direct response agency. That means we do everything from program planning, strategy, copy, design, printing, mailing and back-end reporting and analysis. We work in direct mail, print advertising, and Web channels and believe in testing as aggressively as each client’s budget will allow.

All of our efforts are data-driven, so that each time we do an appeal, we learn something that we can apply down the road to improve performance.

We recognize that we’re in tough economy right now, but we’re still optimistic about the future. We may see a decline in giving in the first part of 2009, but are telling folks that you cannot stop mailing acquisition or you will suffer the consequences for many years.

Your tried and true core donors, will stay loyal to you if you make your case correctly. They may give smaller amounts or less frequently in the immediate future, but we believe in the generous nature of these donors, and even if they drop out for an appeal or two, they will be back and will remain loyal to your organization if you treat them correctly.
Steven J. Maggio, President, www.davinci-direct.com


Integration & The Future: Solicitation Letters Interview

January 8, 2009

All this week I’ll be talking with Geoffrey Peters and Steven Maggio experts in writing excellent solicitation letters and direct mail.

How important is integrating online & offline media important in a direct mail campaign?

CDR Fundraising Group:
It is very important. Donors who are multi-channel donors have a long-term value that is between 3 and 13 times greater than single channel donors. Integration is a major value added activity.
Geoffrey Peters, President, www.cdrfg.com

DaVinci Direct:
Direct mail is still the workhorse of most direct response fundraising programs, but online giving is becoming more significant each year. Certain non-profit categories, for example, political campaigns and disaster relief organizations have already had huge success online.

At DaVinci Direct, we encourage all clients to give their donors the option of online giving – usually on the reply slip and also in the letter text. We capture email addresses on our reply slips and help the client grow an “organic” email list, which is much more effective than renting email lists.

There are also programs by which you can acquire email addresses when you have the donor’s name and address – but people who “opt-in” are best. Often we’ll offer special “e-updates” or “e-newsletters” to get people to give us an email address.

Nonprofits should tout the fact that e-appeals are more cost-effective for the organization, allowing more money to go directly to programs. Plus, it’s the “green” thing to do – and a good way to tap into younger donors.

Recent studies indicate that a certain subset of your file will give both online and through direct mail – and that these people give more generously and will have a longer lifetime value than donors who give through only one channel.
Steven J. Maggio, President, www.davinci-direct.com

What does the future of direct mail/solicitation letters look like?

CDR Fundraising Group:
There is some evidence that the leading edge of the baby boom generation is becoming direct mail active despite the fact that many are also “on-line.” This suggests that millions of aging Americans will broaden the pool of those who tend to respond to direct mail solicitations (i.e. those over age 60). This bodes well for direct mail as a channel. The major threats are not the other channels (e.g. on-line, DRTV, display advertising) but rather the problems being faced by the US Postal Service.
Geoffrey Peters, President, www.cdrfg.com

DaVinci Direct:
Whether your letters are sent through the mail or the Internet, there will always be a need for good writing that touches the hearts and minds of your donors and prospects. By continually testing all variables such as list, offer, copy, design, format, postage, timing of appeals, etc. – we will continually refine our communication with donors.

As we develop ever more sophisticated ways of collecting and using data about our donors, we’ll make our messages more personal and relevant to each individual.

Online giving will soon begin to represent a bigger share of the marketing mix for non-profits, as will SMS (texting) which is all the rage with young people today. It’s all about giving your donors the choice of how and when they want to give.
Steven J. Maggio, President, www.davinci-direct.com


Frequency & Length: Solicitation Letters Interview

January 7, 2009

All this week I’ll be talking with Geoffrey Peters and Steven Maggio experts in writing excellent solicitation letters and direct mail.

How often should you send a solicitation letter?

CDR Fundraising Group:
It varies by charity but for most the optimum is 10-11 times per year for the house mailings. Beyond that it depends upon your objectives – optimizing net income or cost of fundraising. It also depends on what other channels you are using to communicate with that donor.
Geoffrey Peters, President, www.cdrfg.com

DaVinci Direct:
That depends upon the organization and the nature of your donor file. Some smaller non-profits we work with do four or six appeals per year and think that’s a lot. Other clients send out an appeal every month plus a number of “special appeals” and make a good return on each. One client I worked with in the past had 17 appeals per year!

If you’re mailing too often, one appeal will tend to cannibalize another. If you see revenue declining in certain time frames – or if you get a large number of complaints – you may be mailing too often. One way to find out for sure if you’re mailing too often is to take a segment of the file and mail one group a fewer number of appeals over a one-year period and see how that affects overall revenue vs. a control group that gets all of the mailings.
Steven J. Maggio, President, www.davinci-direct.com

Is it important to make things “short and sweet?”

CDR Fundraising Group:
It depends. Straight letter appeals tend to be a bit longer and advocacy appeals tend to be much longer. Charities that have a well-known brand are often better off with “short and sweet.”
Geoffrey Peters, President, www.cdrfg.com

DaVinci Direct:
Not necessarily. The length of the letter depends upon how long it takes to state your case. The key with all letters is to use relatively short sentences and paragraphs — to give the letter plenty of “air” and make it look like an easy read. Don’t be afraid of one-sentence or even one-word paragraphs. This is especially important with longer letters. I also sometimes use special indents, underlining and “handwritten” passages to make letters easy to scan quickly and allow time-challenged readers get the main idea without reading every work of the letter.

Avoid fifty-cent words. I prefer to write in a conversational style, but sometimes a letter needs to be more formal if that’s the tone the client wants. A letter for an animal welfare organization may have a different tone than one from a Comprehensive Cancer Center with a scientist signing the letter – or a religious organization with a clergy member signing it.

Of course, if your organization is a household name, for example, the American Cancer Society, the rules are a bit different. Organizations with very high awareness and a strong brand image can often send small format appeals – simple buck slips or double buck slips — without a full letter – and still get a strong response at a lower cost.
Steven J. Maggio, President, www.davinci-direct.com


Segmenting: Solicitation Letters Interview

January 6, 2009

All this week I’ll be talking with Geoffrey Peters and Steven Maggio experts in writing excellent solicitation letters and direct mail.

Do you encourage “segmenting” databases? If so how would you advice doing it?

CDR Fundraising Group:
You should always segment any database except for a startup charity (until the file is fewer than 15,000 names or less than 9 months old). You should segment at least on three variables – recency, frequency and most recent gift amount.
Geoffrey Peters, President, www.cdrfg.com

DaVinci Direct:
Yes, the traditional way of segmenting a file by RFM is still a must. That means segmenting the donors by how Recently and Frequently they’ve given as well as by the Monetary amount.

This technique allows you to vary copy, design, format and offer to suit each individual segment. For example, donors who have given a gift $100 or more in the past twelve months should be recognized in the letter, and perhaps invited to join a donor club. Many organizations have “mid-level” donor clubs and “major” donor societies, each with a series of tiered giving levels with different recognition benefits associated with them. Donors who give frequently, say three or more times in a year, may be invited to join a monthly donor club.

There’s an old saying that a donor isn’t a donor until they’ve made their second gift. The first gift shows interest but the second gift really indicates commitment. For this reason, we’ll create “pre-lapsing” strategies, with conversion packages that try to get the donor to make that second gift within a 12-month time frame.

LYBUNTS (donors who gave “last year but not this year” can receive a special message — and lapsed donors who haven’t given in perhaps 24 months or more can receive a customized “win-back” package that says “we miss you… we need you – and we want you back.”

Most of our appeals are branded with a distinct theme, for example Annual Fund, Member Drive, Research Appeal, etc., so that each appeal has its own look and feel – all within the umbrella of the organization’s identity standards and brand image.

These days people are taking segmentation to an even higher level by using data overlays (wealth ratings, age, home ownership, etc.) and predictive models to identify new segments and tailor special offers and messaging to them.

Someone who is over 50 and has given to your organization for eight or ten consecutive years would be a prime candidate for a planned giving offer. People who give through multiple channels – mail, web, special events – can be treated differently.

The goal in every case is to talk to the donor as if you know them, and are cognizant of their interests and giving preferences.
Steven J. Maggio, President, www.davinci-direct.com


Solicitation Letters & Direct Mail Interview

January 5, 2009

My most read post, Simple Solicitation Letters, has become so popular I decided to provide more for you on how to write good solicitation letters. Geoffrey Peters and Steven Maggio are experts in their fields and have some great tips and ideas for you. Make sure to check back throughout the week for more advice on how to write a good solicitation letter. Feel free to check out other online interviews about Capital Campaigns or Online Giving.

What are the key components of a good solicitation letter?

CDR Fundraising Group:
A clear indication of what your “story” is with a case history and an urgent reason to give. Short declarative sentences and a PS recapturing what you are asking the prospective donor to do.
Geoffrey Peters, President, www.cdrfg.com

DaVinci Direct:
Most good letters tell a story – with a beginning a middle and an end. But good storytelling alone will not do the job. You need to have a clear offer, a sense of urgency and a strong “ask” or call to action. The letter should tap into the donor’s or prospect’s emotional need to do good – to right a wrong and/or make a difference.

Giving feels good, and the letter should convince the reader that their generous act will truly have meaning and give them a sense of accomplishment.

Showing accountability is important these days as well. Explaining how careful and efficient you are with the donor’s hard-earned money is helpful. Describe exactly what their donation will do.

I like to have a personalized salutation on my letters, and often use the donor’s name and their state and/or town name in the body of the letter.

To me, a letter should look like a letter – not a brochure. I’ve had a few clients that want to have several pictures on the letter or use more than one person to sign the letter. I prefer to design letters to look like real letterhead, and have one signatory, to make the letter look like a personal, one-to-one communication.

I almost always use a P.S. that re-states the offer, sometimes adding a deadline to increase urgency. Include a url that drives folks who prefer to give on line to a unique landing page that echoes the look and feel of the direct mail appeal.
Steven J. Maggio, President, www.davinci-direct.com