If you had more money ... you could do more good.
If you do better communications ... you WILL have more money.
Eminently re-quotable 

From Andrew Brommell, Campbell & Company:
Don't say everything. Say what matters.
Weak: As a nonprofit, community-based organization, we rely on the philanthropic support of our donors and neighbors to make our work possible.
Stronger: Only you can make our work possible. 

Campbell & Company offers via YouTube an amazing selection of free instructional videos, from "Gearing Up for #Giving Tuesday" to "Best Practices for Establishing a Grateful Patient Program." TU!!!
Running backwards on retention: A two-part post
Part 2 -- The Good News 

Charities can't reasonably expect 100% retention: deaths and other natural attrition chip away, after all.

But you can shoot far higher than 50% donor retention.

One public radio station in the US regularly attains 90% retention of new donors. Of course, public radio has an advantage: it provides a welcome service (great programming) to its "listener supporters."

Still, improving your donor retention by 10%, 20% or more should be easy enough, if you accept (as I do) Stephen Pidgeon's advice.

Stephen built and then sold a major UK direct mail agency. In his 2015 "everything I know" advice book, How to Love Your Donors (to Death), he makes this point: "It is the fundraiser's job, your only job, to make the supporter feel good about supporting your charity. You have to love your donors. The money will follow." Get out your highlighter and mark Stephen's words.

While you're at it, highlight these words by Mark Phillips, too, written in October 2015:

"The only thing that matters a damn is the donor experience. If we'd got that right, we'd have never been in this situation. I still don't understand why so many organisations dropped fundraising for brand awareness and an addiction to interruption recruitment techniques. The result is that we have a massive pool of people who - at best - tolerate how fundraisers treat them." Mark is founder (1997) and managing director of Bluefrog, an award-winning London-based creative agency serving many of the UK's top-performing charities.
Who's NOT your customer: your boss or board
So, yes, subpar retention is an easy enough problem to fix.

Or it would be, if ignorance regarding how to properly communicate with donors were not so firmly rooted inside nonprofits, especially at the approval level, among bosses and board.

I have a rule. I call it the Verbatim Rule. I will not accept any new direct mail client unless they promise to mail what I write without changing a word (except to correct factual errors, of course).

The Verbatim Rule protects my clients from their native urge to rewrite whatever comes before them.

Being literate does not make you into a competent direct mail writer. Nor does receiving a daily handful of uninvited direct mail appeals, most of which you throw away unexamined. Believing otherwise is akin to assuming you could win an Olympic sprint because you have two legs.

On the other hand, I've studied and practiced direct mail writing for 20 years and have a track record of decent results. So what I think about direct mail matters. And what you think on that particular and complicated topic does not. In fact, uninformed opinions in direct mail are very dangerous. It's a sensitive, expensive medium. It's extremely easy to fail completely and very, very hard to succeed.

And yet....

If I had a penny for every fundraiser who's approached me after a workshop to complain about her boss second-guessing her direct mail appeals, I'd own a penthouse in Paris.

If your goal is to please your boss, your board chair, or fellow staff, you might as well close this book right now. My forecast: your achievements will never exceed the mediocre.

Why? Because your boss, board, and fellow staff are NOT your target audiences. Though they often presume to judge and fiddle with your work, in the end their likes and dislikes are irrelevant to your charity's fundraising success.

You might hold onto your job by kowtowing to their ignorance. But you're unlikely to wildly succeed in job #1: satisfying your "donor customer."

Highlight the following two paragraphs:

In donor communications, untrained opinions are not only worthless, they're dangerous to your nonprofit's bottom line.

In a professionally run operation, the chief fundraiser will have full, autonomous control over all donor communications, print and digital-appeals, thanks, newsletters, donation landing pages on the website, social media, multichannel campaigns, whatever.

After all, its your neck on the line if your stuff doesn't work; not theirs.
Non-professionals use the wrong criteria
Inventor Henry Ford once observed, "If we'd asked the public what they wanted, they would have said, 'faster horses.'"

People work with what they know. Ask an untrained person for an opinion, and you'll get one, particularly if it's about the written word. But the context and references on which that opinion is based will be personal, not professional.

When an untrained person says, "I like it," it's a matter of taste.

When a trained person says, "I like it," it's a matter of judgment, using recognized and proven criteria.

In a professional approval process, personal taste is irrelevant and often misleading because it tends to favor the safe over the bold. It's risk averse.

BIG mistake.

Advertising legend, David Ogilvy, wrote, "You cannot bore people into buying your product; you can only interest them in buying it."

Ask any good marketer: Bold outsells bland every time. And that goes for fundraising, too. In the bowels of the direct mail industry, there's a belief that if no one complains, you probably haven't pushed hard enough. Someone should call to give you an earful: "I just got your latest fundraising appeal. How dare you show a picture like that!"
BTW: Communications committees are crap
The "communications committee"-that time-honored confection of clueless boards-just multiplies the problem.

Instead of a single untrained opinion making uninformed decisions, now you have several, working together gamely but lamely. Fundraisers with training (and a sprig of pride) will avoid such committees like the plague (unless they can control and use them for other ends). In his classic, Confessions of an Advertising Man, Ogilvy reminds us of this apt rhyme:

Search all the parks in all your cities;
You'll find no statues of committees.

[The article above is from my book-in-progress, the fully updated and revised 2nd edition of How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money, for publication in 2016 by Emerson & Church.] 
Your work or a life: A painful choice no one should have to make  

The marvelous Mary Cahalane digs deep into why so many female fundraisers don't like their job, in this sobering post. HT to The Agitator.
Your strategy isn't big enough, isn't small enough, and ignores money 

This blog post by Nell Edgington, president of Social Velocity, got me thinking. It reminded me of one of Jerry Panas' key tenets for cases: MAKE IT BIGGER!
Mark Phillips explains why modern fundraising methods are killing trust and driving off donors 

Spend some time watching this mesmerizing video by Bluefrog's Mark Phillips. It's blood-chilling, especially about the future of fundraising. Around 40 minutes in, he's starts showing what charities can do instead to break the cycle. Presented at September's Australasian Fundraising Forum, sponsored by
Kevin Schulman debunks "Ask more, get more" 

What if you could ask less, make more ... AND have happier donors? Mr. Schulman of DonorVoice makes a strong, well-sourced case that all of the above is possible, in this SlideShare essay. Another HT to The Agitator.
Storytelling tips from two top experts  

You can't do better than Jeff Brooks, creative director at national mail house TrueSense, and Steven Screen, co-founder of Better Fundraising Co., both Domain Group alums, both speakers at the 2015 edition of the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference, talking about nonprofit storytelling do's and don't's. You'll discover what the BIG lesson is that most nonprofits miss - and how companies like FORD benefit greatly from this lesson. Video here.
Tornado warning! Oncoming Ahern speaking gigs

Tuesday, Nov. 3 --
How to (properly) market charitable bequests, a 1.5 hour WEBINAR immersion in the delicate art of asking for that final gift. Includes lengthy Q&A for attendees.
Would you like to double the size of YOUR legacy society in just four years, as one charity that followed this advice did? This world-sourced webinar reveals all the secrets. Fundraising world-guru, Stephen Pidgeon, insists that a good bequest marketing program will bring in more money than most major gifts programs ... and yet few charities realize the promise. Find out the right way to go about this. Starts 1 PM Eastern. 
Friday, Nov. 6 -- National Philanthropy Day, Tulsa, OK. I'm the opening plenary:
Everything I Know in 60 Slides [I'm going to cheat and go over] AND
The Amazing Do-It-Yourself Audit [more fun than being locked inside a fudge factory]. Brought to you by the awesome-sauce Eastern OK AFP chapter, a 10-Star Gold Award chapter.

Nov. 12 + 13 -- the 2nd Annual Nonprofit Storytelling Conference, Seattle. Like no other conference on earth: writing exercises include cocktails in local bars. 
Friday, Nov. 20 -- National Philanthropy Day, Anchorage, AK 
Monday, Nov. 23 -- AFP luncheon, Fairbanks, AK  
Tom Ahern Donor Communications
 | a2bmail@aol.com | 401-398-8104 | www.aherncomm.com
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