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If you do better communications ... you will have more money.

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New on SOFII...
Jeremy Bentham's head  

Mark Phillips and his remarkable UK agency, Bluefrog, definitely found a new approach with this annual appeal for University College of London: the package contained a collapsible paper lantern printed with the head of philosopher and jurist, Jeremy Bentham, whose auto-icon (his dressed skeleton; he died in 1832) sits in the college's South Cloisters, on public view. Aline Reed, head of creative at Bluefrog, notes, "There probably isn't a UCL student who hasn't paid [Bentham] a visit." Which makes it the perfect hook for an alumni appeal. 


Now we know-ish...
Subject lines in emails raise $690 million         

During Barack Obama's re-election bid, nobody talked. Now that he's won (overwhelmingly), his team is finally sharing. And what they're talking about is subject lines on emails. In direct mail, the envelope's purpose is to get opened. Same for subject lines: their purpose is to drive up opening rates. Only problem is: Nobody really knows what works. Read this article in Bloomberg Businessweek (tip from Jeff Brooks). It will get you thinking about your next email subject line. Notice two things: they test ideas a lot ... and everybody contributes.  

Why creative thanks are so memorable....
Hero video  

Watch this, please. Get inspired. Fall in love. From the teens (!) at CentroN´┐Ża in Washington, DC, a "nationally recognized, multicultural learning community with a pioneering approach to bilingual education...." 

And the bad news is....
Fundraising in the US continues to decline, Blackbaud reports 

A report covering the first 3 quarters of 2012 finds giving still in a slump, and slumping deeper. There is counter data from other sources. Read the coverage in the Miratel blog, from Toronto. 

Inspiring....
"Made me cry."   

That's what my friend, Linda Dunham, told me after viewing this trailer for a new documentary about slum kids in Paraguay who live on a landfill and perform in an orchestra, using violins and other instruments made from trash. This is what "hope out of squalor" looks like.  

YouTube videos that productively waste yr time...
The Secret Life of a Donor        

Bluefrog (UK) presents a 2:40 minute online video that summarizes why it's increasingly hard to penetrate the minds of harried donors. Thank you, Mark Phillips, Bluefrog founder. He created this out of his own pocket for the 2012 Toronto AFP Congress Fundraising Theatre extravaganza.   

Telling the world's story...
Next year        

One Day on Earth is a project of the impossibly hopeful. Watch the trailer for this world-sourced documentary. "The largest media collaboration in history and film...." Learn about the project. Participate if you can (causes are welcome). "Tell the world what you have. Tell the world what you need. Tell the world who you are."  

If you like planes as much as I (have to) like planes....
4.5 hours of arrivals in 26 secs

San Diego Int'l Airport, Black Friday, 2012: every incoming jet. Awesome. Wait for the little guy at the end! Video: Cy Kuckenbaker. 

Can you take the heat? Come into my kitchen...

Enter a gallery of frank critiques ... solely for your error-avoiding, idea-stealing pleasure

NEW this issue: Is it annual report season again so soon? Well, here's a focused, donor-centered model report that's well worth a minute of your time. I'm always eager to see what the Susan B. Anthony Project publishes; they have "best practices" in their DNA.

How critiquing works: Brave people send me samples of their donor comms, for a free, nitty-gritty - and public - critique.
From the incoming pool of submissions, I choose some of the more illustrative of best (or bad) practices. I'm sorry I can't respond to everyone. Right now, I have the time to critique about a quarter of the incoming items. If you're chosen, I'll post the critiqued materials on my website, as downloadable PDFs with pop-up comments the whole world can read (and I'll let you know it's happened). The fundraising world thanks you: these critiques are the most visited area on my website. 
Where will Tom speak next?

Check upcoming events on Tom's international speaking CALENDAR!

Stats as of Jan 2012....

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In global fashion news: SOFII launches sleek, new look..
Once a week, visit this free site
SOFII offers you, for zero, zip, & free, examples of SUCCESSFUL donor communications from around the world that you can steal ... ahem,
learn ... from. I learn a new trick every time I visit. Like the giving string that increased average gifts $20. Don't be a stranger
Start off the New Year right ... by circulating this among your leadership
Composing a satisfying thanks: Wikipedia did

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One way to build trust is by answering questions before they're asked.

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You get a gift. Therefore you say "thank you."

 

We're taught that at our earliest birthdays.

 

And it's Fundraising 101 as well. First the gift. Then the thank you. In that order. And that's the end of it: transaction done.

 

Oh, dear.

 

"Wrong end of the telescope" thinking 

 

Like children ... charities tend to think the "thank you" is the end game, the final thing that needs to be said. 

 

But that's where we're wrong, I suspect. It's a matter of who walks away satisfied: the charity, the donor, or both?

Sure, the charity's satisfied. They got the gift. Yippee!

But is the donor satisfied? The data suggests not.

A "typical charity will lose 50 percent of its cash (that is, annual) donors between the first and second donation, and up to 30 percent annually thereafter," Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang reported in 2004. A 2009 study found that, in the U.S., about three-quarters of first-time donors did not make a second gift.

"[Marketers] have known for over 30 years that the single biggest driver of customer loyalty is ... satisfaction with the quality of service provided," Adrian Sargeant wrote in his aptly named 2010 book, Tiny Essentials of Donor Loyalty

 

So, given the shocking defection rates of first-time donors, can we reasonably call them "satisfied"? Obviously not. And why? Because at the very start of the customer experience, we get it wrong: our attempts to thank are unconvincing.

 

Many amount to nothing more than: "Thank you for engaging in this transaction. Here's an acknowledgement for your tax records."

 

No wonder so many first-time donors conclude, "Well, that wasn't very interesting. No point in doing that again."

  

I admire and adore what executive director Angel Aloma at Food for the Poor does. Here's a note from him describing his charity's thank you program, posted on The Agitator blog in response to a Tom Belford commentary:

 

Thank you letters have been very effective fundraisers for our organization. On average, we get more than one fifth of our net income from direct mail from our thank you letters. We pay a lot of attention to the quality and strength of the letters and we make sure that they are tremendously donor centric. We do not include any ask in the letter, but we do include an envelope and a reply piece. 

 

Amongst our highest donors, we tested two groups of 25,000 each. At the beginning of the year we sent a very sincere, simple thank you card to 25,000 for their past generosity - no ask, no reply piece, no envelope. The other group did not receive this. Both groups gave almost identical numbers of gifts that year, but the group that received the thank you gave almost $450,000 more for that year. 

 

Turning the telescope around

 

For donors, the 'thank you' should be the beginning of the relationship, not the end.

 

Your 'thank you,' in fact, is where your brand is born in the donor's mind ... for good, bad, or indifferent.

 

I want to share with you the thanks I got from the Wikimedia Foundation, funding arm of Wikipedia, when I made my first gift in December 2012.

 

This Wiki-thanks is a wonderful role model: (1) it tells me I'm a good person (You are wonderful!); (2) it tells me what my support helps make possible, using anecdotes (...keeps Wikipedia available for a...10-year-old in San Salvador who's just discovered Carl Sagan); (3) it sounds honest (...they trust it because even though it's not perfect....); (4) it's friendly and conversational; and (5) it offers a strong case for support (The fact that you fund the site keeps us independent....).

 

The one detail they didn't get exactly right was the salutation: "Dear Thomas...."

 

Thomas is my credit-card name. The name I go by, though, is Tom. That's what on all my books. That's what people call me. It's a minor problem, that's easy to fix. On your online gift acceptance form, ask just one more question, "How would you prefer to be addressed, James or Jim, Sue or Susan...?" 

 

I invite you to read and adapt....

 

Dear Thomas,

 

Thank you for donating to the Wikimedia Foundation. You are wonderful!

 

It's easy to ignore our fundraising banners, and I'm really glad you didn't. This is how Wikipedia pays its bills --- people like you giving us money, so we can keep the site freely available for everyone around the world.

 

People tell me they donate to Wikipedia because they find it useful, and they trust it because even though it's not perfect, they know it's written for them. Wikipedia isn't meant to advance somebody's PR agenda or push a particular ideology, or to persuade you to believe something that's not true. We aim to tell the truth, and we can do that because of you. The fact that you fund the site keeps us independent and able to deliver what you need and want from Wikipedia. Exactly as it should be.

 

You should know: your donation isn't just covering your own costs. The average donor is paying for his or her own use of Wikipedia, plus the costs of hundreds of other people. Your donation keeps Wikipedia available for an ambitious kid in Bangalore who's teaching herself computer programming. A middle-aged homemaker in Vienna who's just been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. A novelist researching 1850s Britain. A 10-year-old in San Salvador who's just discovered Carl Sagan.

 

On behalf of those people, and the half-billion other readers of Wikipedia and its sister sites and projects, I thank you for joining us in our effort to make the sum of all human knowledge available for everyone. Your donation makes the world a better place. Thank you.

 

Most people don't know Wikipedia's run by a non-profit. Please consider sharing this e-mail with a few of your friends to encourage them to donate too. And if you're interested, you should try adding some new information to Wikipedia. If you see a typo or other small mistake, please fix it, and if you find something missing, please add it. There are resources here that can help you get started. Don't worry about making a mistake: that's normal when people first start editing and if it happens, other Wikipedians will be happy to fix it for you.

 

I appreciate your trust in us, and I promise you we'll use your money well.

 

Thanks, Sue

 

Sue Gardner

Executive Director

Wikimedia Foundation

 

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Ahern here. Let me close (1) by directing you to the ever-fabulous "thank-you letter clinic" run by Lisa Sargent on SOFII.org; and (2) by sharing with you three "thank you" videos that made my hair stand up:

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