Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Let's Look At A Poor Fundraising Appeal Letter I Received Today and Get It Right

I just received this solicitation and organizational update letter from a local nonprofit and had to share it (with its organization, author, and other pertinent people and program names removed and replaced by fake likenesses).  It's a nice attempt at its goal but a poor letter and a terrific example for us to look at to understand why.  This is the letter:

"The Starfish Preservation League is proud to announce Jo Doe, as our interim Executive Director. The organization is not missing a beat, and continues to deliver our starfish preservation programs in schools and to the community. We are planning for A Night For Starfish (May 30) featuring oceanographer Bo Doe and will be announcing the biologists for the coming Annual Starfish Conference (September 12 - 16) soon. We look forward to seeing you at both events.

"The Board is hard at work during this transition.  We have met with our Advisory Committee as well as with some of you, our donors.  We have gotten great advice and input.

"The goals of Annual Starfish Conference, to permeate our community with starfish awareness experiences, remains unchanged.  We are reaching thousands of people in this community every year.  The board and the staff are unwavering in our commitment to our goals.

"We need your help now.  If you are considering a gift to Starfish Preservation League, I am asking you to make the decision to support us financially and to reach out to friends and colleagues to ask them to support us now as well.  You may use Paypal to respond immediately or send in a check.  Our goal is to have 200 new donations of at least $100 each within the next 50 days.  This is an ambitious goal and I hope we can report back to you at A Night For Starfish that we have made our goal.  Please let us hear from you today.

"Our goal is to raise $20,000 in the next 50 days. You can track our fundraising campaign by becoming a fan of our facebook page, or following us on twitter.

"Sea Sea Bythesea
President, Board of Directors
Starfish Preservation League"

While this letter is a sincere and earnest effort at both informing current donors about a major change at this nonprofit and raising funds - it is a poor letter.  I am sure the author meant well and was probably just trying to get the letter done and out to the donors amid a million other things he or she had to do, but it also comes off like this.

What is wrong with it?  What could have been done to improve it?  Please look at the same text, below, and consider what I've highlighted and what I have to say about the highlighted portions.

"The Starfish Preservation League is proud to announce Jo Doe, as our interim Executive Director. The organization is not missing a beat, and continues to deliver our starfish preservation programs in schools and to the community. We are planning for A Night For Starfish (May 30) featuring oceanographer Bo Doe and will be announcing the biologists for the coming Annual Starfish Conference (September 12 - 16) soon. We look forward to seeing you at both events.

"The Board is hard at work during this transition.  We have met with our Advisory Committee as well as with some of you, our donors.  We have gotten great advice and input.

"The goals of the Annual Starfish Conference, to permeate our community with starfish awareness experiences, remains unchanged.  We are reaching thousands of people in this community every year.  The board and the staff are unwavering in our commitment to our goals.

"We need your help now.  If you are considering a gift to Starfish Preservation League, I am asking you to make the decision to support us financially and to reach out to friends and colleagues to ask them to support us now as well.  You may use Paypal to respond immediately or send in a check.  Our goal is to have 200 new donations of at least $100 each within the next 50 days.  This is an ambitious goal and I hope we can report back to you at A Night For Starfish that we have made our goal.  Please let us hear from you today.

"Our goal is to raise $20,000 in the next 50 days. You can track our fundraising campaign by becoming a fan of our facebook page, or following us on twitter.

"Sea Sea Bythesea
President, Board of Directors
Starfish Preservation League"

First, let me begin by stating what is done well, here.  This solicitation reached me by e-mail (which is cheaper than paper, printing, postage and the time taken to make a mailing), formatted well (appearing, after clicking on the e-mail as a letter on the organization's actual letterhead), complete with live links to all of the events listed, and including live links to the pertinent Paypal, Facebook, and Twitter accounts after the letter's close.  The formatted e-mail also includes a photo of youth attending one of their programs. Also, the letter gets to the point.  It doesn't ask me to wade through a bunch of information or a long letter.  Finally, it conveys a positive energy about the organization's future and potential.  For example, including upcoming events and their dates and also disclosing where and how recipients may track the organization's current fundraising goal's progress are both encouraging and inclusive.

You will see, in the draft of the letter just above, that I have used three different colors to highlight what could have been re-done in a second or third draft of this letter to improve it: orange, red, and purple.

The items in orange are best practices errors of the most technical yet important order.  In professional nonprofit best practices we always strive to be clear, be informative, and be succinct in both our organizational communications with the public and fundraising communications.  For example, the author of this letter in the first line does not open the letter but rather 'gets to the dirt' which is 'hey we have an interim director'.  They do not even attempt to address it to its individual recipients or even open with a common professional salutation even as generic as, "Dear Valued Donor:".  This letter is indeed succinct (to my point) but frankly too succinct.  It is important to use the opportunity of reaching out to supporters by fully communicating and also representing the organization professionally.  An opening is part of the opportunity.  It can include welcoming donors, thanking donors, or updating donors (or all and more).  "Dear Valued Donors: On behalf of Starfish Preservation League's beneficiaries, volunteers, and members thank you for your support."

Next, never assume everyone receiving your organization's letter knows the latest information about changes at your organization (especially if that's what you're announcing).  Before jumping into a new interim director being announced, the author should have first clarified that the organization's former executive director had been asked to leave for poor fundraising returns (which is the case, here).  Then, in the letter the author could follow with, "...but that an interim executive director has already been hired (who has x, y, and z pertinent experience to be an executive director and for an agency with our cause and goals), and the search for the full time executive director is underway (at q or p progress in the search, and those interested should find qualifications, how to apply, and a job description here or there)".

The second line in the second paragraph is the next item highlighted in orange.  The board (why is it capitalized?) met with the advisory committee (again with the capitalization) and no one needs to know this because it should be public record and frankly, the two should be meeting regularly, anyway (and especially if the organization's let the executive director go).  In other words, 'we assume you've been meeting'.  You don't need to tell us this.  The second sentence also states that the board has met with some donors which implies it did so without inviting all donors to this discussion (which is either not necessary to disclose at all or a public relations blunder or - more likely - both).  As an organization you want to be inclusive in all communications - especially with your donors and volunteers.  You do not want to publicly set some donors apart from others in their importance to the nonprofit.  Either invite all donors to meet and provide their advice and input (for what, we do not know - we aren't told) or go ahead and meet with key donors but do not advertise it to all of the donors in an organization-wide letter (some of whom will feel left out or less than, comparably, - and for what?  We don't even know.).

The final line, above, highlighted in orange is 'nonprofit public relations 101'.  Always state all of the (many different) ways that a donor can get a donation to your organization and include each of the contacts such as the postal address, web address, phone number, etc. they need to reach your organization.  Yes, today Paypal is one way that a donor can donate to this agency, but do not instruct donors to give through Paypal or send a check if there are other donation modes, as it is confusing and sounds like it's the only way your organization is taking donations.  Instead, state something like, "We remain grateful for all of your support and accept donations however is most convenient for you: Paypal; phone our office at 555-555-5555 with a credit card; mail a check made out to Starfish Preservation League at P.O. Box 222 Sunny Valley, State 99999; or through your company's employees' community giving program"  You state explicitly where or how they can get you the donation and you list all of the ways they can give.

The items highlighted above in red indicate the tone of the letter and how the author feels about what's going on at the nonprofit's office and this letter's tone is shaky.  By 'tone' I mean the message to read between the lines or what, by the end of the letter, the reader will make of the organization's situation.  Your recipients are not dumb - the recipient will get it.  You must re-read first and even second drafts of letters sent to donors, volunteers, and other supporters for the tone or underlying message in the letter.  What are you indicating whether meaning to or not?  The author of this particular letter is trying to reassure the donors in his or her direct language, but everything in red, by the end of this letter, makes the situation sound a bit dire.  For example, the quotes begin, "not missing a beat", "we are planning for", "hard at work", but then we read "the goals remain unchanged" (why would we assume otherwise?), and "the board and staff are unwavering" (why would they waver?), and finally, we read, "this is an ambitious goal and hope I can report back to you we succeeded at it" (gulp!).  These quotes, as the letter progresses, sound first peppy, then a bit concerned, and by the final quote sounds like the president of the board isn't so sure this current fundraising goal can be achieved.  The tone in this letter, overall, is poor at best.  It's concerning.  You have to read a letter for what the total message is by the end and tighten that up (a good way to do this is to get someone who hasn't seen a first or second, etc. draft of it to read it and let you know how positive (or not) it sounds, overall).  Whether the author is or not they need to sound confident about the organization's future and its potential if they are really trying to raise donations.  Why should a donor give if the nonprofit's leadership isn't certain of the agency's future?  If these sentences are to be improved, some should altogether be removed, others should sound certain and confident, and finally all of it is a lot of yammering.

If you want to tell us these things - show us rather than tell us.  For example, how is the board hard at work right now (what are they doing IF it is pertinent)?  Otherwise, get this line out of this letter and let us (the readers/donors) assume all is well with the organization because for an established nonprofit with a sound track record, the reader will assume this, if you don't give them cause to think otherwise).

Let me say, too, that the close of this letter is also weak.  Listing an organization's social media contacts is not a closing.  A closing is an opportunity to reiterate what the organization's mission, current programs and projects are, and what the outcomes or goals of those programs are.  In closing, also, invite those that haven't but wish to, to volunteer.  "Please join us and volunteer if you'd like.  Here's how...phone Bob at 555-555-5555...or e-mail him at..." etc.

Always, always, always say thank you in your closing.  These letter recipients are either past participants, donors, volunteers, members, etc.  Be grateful which is not only thanks but also including those who've supported your organization before in your nonprofit.  It goes far.  The author of this letter never said thank you once which is a serious and missed opportunity. 

The last batch of improvements I recommend for this letter are in purple.  These errors are professional nonprofit fundraising best practices basics.  These errors, by the way, to the informed reader make the president appear a fundraising novice (which is fine if he or she is but don't sound a novice in a letter to donors, and sooner than later get that leader educated about best practices and how to actually treat supporters such that it raises funds).  The first item in purple, above, is one of my foremost fundraising pet peeves.  Never tell donors that the organization is doing good work and has reached a lot of people (or succeeded) in such general or generic terms.  The person who wrote this included a lot of content in this letter that frankly in a second or third draft of it could've been cut or at least shortened.  In other words, there's room in this letter to actually list a few service statistics that demonstrates the good work done in clear quantifiable facts (or data or results).

Service statistics are the actual (verified and demonstrable or able to be proven) statistics of the organization's services (so, these are usually numbers of people (or beneficiaries - in our example, here, starfish) served, how they were served (i.e. public education, social services, health services, or whatever the mission and program is)), and what the actual (verifiable) outcomes were.  This point demonstrates why it is so important for all nonprofits to track their actual service stats, keep those records, and also gather feedback from participants and beneficiaries - not only for fundraising data to provide to demonstrate what the organization has done, but too, for the organization to be able to see what it accomplishes (how and and for how much) and where improvements or modernizations or whatever is needed can be made to programs, services, or maybe even the mission if needed (especially as the stats are tracked over time and compared to the beneficiaries' current or maybe new needs).  So, for example, maybe the author could have stated (instead of the first line in purple, above) "In 2012 the Starfish Preservation League conducted three education programs at each of our three local area high schools and the outcome was two of the schools started Oceanography Clubs (after school programs), each involving more than ten student members, committed to helping preserve and protect oceanic wildlife and ocean ecosystems."  When I say, above, "show us, don't tell us" this is what I mean.  It's one thing to tell a potential donor, 'we have succeeded' it's quite another (more compelling) thing to show them what the organization has actually accomplished in real results and what that accomplishment's outcome (as long as it can be verified) is.  One really sounds nice but the other actually raises donations (and even repeat donors).  This is why these practices are considered "best practices".  They've been proven and work for all kinds of organizations big and small, rich and just starting out.

The final two items, above, highlighted in purple ask for contributions but the requests are in such specific terms that it actually may (and can) preclude a donor who was considering doing so, from giving more!  The author had more money come their way but actually reduced what they received!  Yipes.  For example, maybe I was thinking about giving $200 but when I read the $100 number requested, above, I thought, 'well, heck, that's a discount from what I was considering giving - if that's all they need from me, then that's all I'll give this time'.  Never state a number that the donor should give UNLESS the letter is being tailored or rather personalized and individualized.  If you send the letter to say, for example, 200 individual donors who have given under $100 at least once over the last year - just ask for a contribution from them but state what it's for (more to come on this in a second).  If you send a batch next, of these individualized letters, to your larger increment donors, ask them to give $100 or more.  Never ever ever restrict how much a donor may give by telling them how much to give.  Instead, ask (as is reasonable based on their recent giving history) for a realistic amount at a certain amount of money OR MORE.  This author missed a serious opportunity and may, frankly, have lost money before this e-mail was even sent out!

The author asks, above, for at least 200 donations at $100 each within the next 50 days.  The final highlighted purple line says they'd like to raise $20,000 in 50 days.  First of all, we'd all like to raise $20,000 in the next 50 days, right?!  What nonprofit wouldn't like to raise $20,000 in the next 50 days?  So, why should we give so much to this nonprofit so quickly?  Second, why $20,000?  If there is a specific need, such as a new program or an endowment being started, or something that pertains the organization's current goals - let the donors know that and generally break down where the money will go (aside from a grant proposal or major donor request you need not include a program or project budget).  If the money is for budgeted overhead or administration then that's fine to state, too, but (because it's not mission specific expense) I'd include an explanation why overhead is being raised suddenly now (for example, "our recently departed executive director, over the past twelve months of his or her employment, raised literally nothing and in this tough economy the Starfish Preservation League finds itself needing to catch up for this year, in effect" (and do not disparage or say anything slanderous against him or her but rather just state the pertinent facts)).  By the way, because it's not program related costs (if it isn't) I'd also note (so the donor knows) how much of each dollar your organization raises goes to overhead (or in other words, how much of each dollar raised goes to mission-related programs and services in contrast to overhead expense).  The professionally accepted best practices amount of each dollar a nonprofit raises in the United States going to actual mission related effort (programs or services) is at least 80% of each dollar or more (obviously, the more the better - but 100% is only usable by 100% volunteer run and operated nonprofits).  Notice that the author of this letter gets it across that a lot of money is needed but he or she never states why or where the money will go explicitly.  Donors are investor/partners in the nonprofit's efforts and achievements so donors need to be 'read in' to what is needed and why.  Why, then, would the author leave pertinent expense or need information out?  Finally, why in the next 50 days?  That doesn't sound good for the organization or the message the donors are being sent.  It sounds somewhat short sighted if not dire.  Raising $20,000 often takes more than 50 days unless it's being raised through an annual event, for example, that has existed for more than five years, been well attended, and is a hallmark in the community that people enjoy participating in!  The organization may need $20,000 in fifty days but it should be raising funds such that it will.  Giving donors a time limit all of a sudden is not professional fundraising.  It's laying the sudden need at long time supporters' feet when the responsibility is the nonprofit's and the organization should have been raising funds better from likely months if not a year or two ago.  If the need is dire - the organization's leadership should be responsible individually for the need being met in 50 days and leave it out of the letter while meeting with major donors and investigating emergency grant opportunities after sending out this (better written) solicitation letter.  Better yet, the organization should have planned out its fundraising for the coming year a year ago, and the board should have ratified a fundraising plan for the coming year back then especially one that included a built in emergency fundraising plan (especially in this economy).

This letter in the form I received it in is a rough draft, at best.  This letter could have been fine tuned just a bit before being sent out and become a more effective, communicative, clear, inclusive, and successful letter.

The nonprofit that sent it is not just trying to raise $20,000 in 50 days or let everyone know an interim executive director has been hired and the next E.D. is being sought out.  This organization wishes to instill confidence among its supporters during the transition and beyond so it can raise money again later on.  It also hopes to raise more volunteers and donors again and again.  For these reasons, not just the immediate goals, this letter could have been improved - for the nonprofit, the goal of its mission statement, and especially for the organization's beneficiaries.  There is now and there is also again later, hopefully.  One must set their organization up to be successful both now and again later.

For another of my correcting an actual poor real world solicitation that I received see Read My Corrections of a Poor Annual Appeal Letter I Received So Your Nonprofit Crafts Professional and Successful Donation Requests That Retain Past Donors and Create New Ones

Grants for American Nonprofit Environmental, Education, Human Services, Disaster Relief Projects, and More

From The Foundation Center...

[If you are interested in this grant opportunity, click "Link to Complete RFP" at the end of this blog post for more information].

"Deadline: Rolling (April 30, November 1)

"Lawrence Foundation Accepting Proposals for Environmental, Education, Human Services Projects


"The Lawrence Foundation awards grants in support of the environment, education, human services, disaster relief, and other causes.

"The foundation awards both program and operating grants with no geographic restrictions to nonprofit organizations that qualify for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, as well as public schools and libraries.

"International charitable organizations, private foundations, for-profit businesses, individuals, churches, and religious, charter, and magnet schools are not eligible for grants from the foundation.
In addition, grants not awarded for computer or audiovisual equipment purchases or for music or garden programs (or related equipment). Also ineligible for funding are programs and equipment for physical education, recreation, theater performance, hospices or old age homes, political lobbying activities, and voter registration, as well as dinners, balls, and other ticketed events."

To determine whether your organization is eligible for this grant "... and application guidelines as well as a list of previous grant recipients, visit the Lawrence Foundation Web site."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

How To Raise Donations and Different Methods and Tools To Do So

What Motivates Giving?

Bring In Donations From Many Different Kinds of Sources

Gates Foundation Donations vs. Foundation Investments (about how a donor to your nonprofit operates and whether that can effect your organization's reputation and potential to raise other donations)

A List of Specific Fundraising Methods Particularly Helpful At the End of the Calendar Year

Recommended Content, Layout, and Uses of the Nonprofit Donation Remittance Envelope, And Why




Grants for Governments, Nonprofits, Regional Organizations, Individuals, Private Sector Creating Small and Large Scale Fisheries Management Solutions

From The Foundation Center...

[If you are interested in this grant opportunity, click "Link to Complete RFP" at the end of this blog post for more information].

"Deadline: March 31, 2013 (Extended)

"Deadline Extended for Innovations to Stop Unsustainable Fishing Award


"The International Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance Network (IMCS) has extended the deadline for the first annual Innovations to Stop Unsustainable Fishing Award. The prize is designed to promote creative solutions in the monitoring, surveillance, and control of both small and large-scale fisheries.

"The prize is open to projects that have potential to make a substantial contribution to the prevention of illegal and unregulated fishing through new technology or tools, or a practice that demonstrates innovation, success, and tangible impact. Entries should have the potential for replication and contribute to responsible fisheries governance.

"Prize winners will be flown to the 2013 Global Fisheries Enforcement Training Workshop in Costa Rica, where they will be honored with monetary prizes. A capacity development phase will follow to expand the winning entries' potential for replication across local and regional fishing communities and facilitate the implementation of pilot projects.

"Applications are invited from individuals, governments, regional organizations, fishers organizations, community-based organizations and NGOs, the private sector, and the academic community. Entries from developing countries are encouraged.

"Eligibility and application guidelines are available at the IMCS Web site."