Let's Raise Some Money
Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

It’s Not What You Say, It’s When You Say It

October 16th, 2014 by Karen Climer

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ve heard me talk about political fundraising.  So often I see a political campaign do something, and I wonder, “Why don’t nonprofits do that?”

Last night, we had a Florida gubernatorial debate.  The first ten minutes were bizarre to say the least.  Rick Scott refused to come on stage because Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium. (Find more details on any news website.) Within minutes of this happening, the Crist team sent an email to their supporters that said, “If you are as amazed as I am by what you just saw, chip in a few bucks right now to make sure this guy doesn’t get to stay our governor.”

The email went out within MINUTES of the fan fiasco.  They didn’t form a committee.  They didn’t get board approval.  The CEO didn’t even see the email – he was on stage debating!  If they had waited until today to send the email, it wouldn’t have worked.  Today, the fan is old news.  Last night, people were fired up and willing to donate.

Timing is more important than anything in fundraising.  Often there is a small window of opportunity where people are excited and ready to donate.  If it takes you too long to act, you’ve missed it.  Sometimes we want everything to be perfect.  We want the wording to be exactly right.  We want everyone on the team to have a chance to contribute.  Or maybe we want other people to approve it, so we can share the blame when it doesn’t work (but that’s another problem altogether!).  Sometimes that takes so long that we miss the opportunity.

Timing is paramount.  Usually it’s better to be timely than to be perfect.


Posted in Email, Planning | No Comments »

The One Thing You Need To Do To Increase Your Donations

October 7th, 2014 by Karen Climer

Quite frequently, I am asked by fundraising professionals, board members, and executive directors, “What can we do to increase our donations?”  I suspect these people are hoping that I have one magic tip that will take half an hour to implement, the fundraising dam will break down, and a river of money will flow into the nonprofit.  The good news is that I have that one tip that will increase your donations.  The bad news is it takes more than 30 minutes to implement.  If you’re still interested, keep reading…

The single biggest thing you can do increase your fundraising this year is to talk to your donors.  That’s it.  Talk to your donors.

Other things are important, but talking to donors is the most important.  The newsletter, the annual auction, the e-mail list, the website – all of that is important.  But none of it is even half as important as talking to your donors.

What do you talk about?  Talk about what they are interested in.  They are interested in your organization, so talk about that, but talk about their other interests too.  Talk about the other charities they donate to.  Talk about their families.  Talk about their vacations.  Talk to them the same way you talk to a friend.

Nothing – not one single thing – will do more for increasing your donations than a personal conversation between you and a donor.  Don’t put this off.  Before you do one more thing today, pick up the phone and call a donor.  It’s the single most important thing you can do to become more successful in raising money.

Posted in Donor-Centered, Relationships | 1 Comment »

How Often Is Too Often When Sending Emails To Donors?

September 22nd, 2014 by Karen Climer

Recently, I had a discussion with a development officer about email fundraising and how often to email supporters.  I say it depends on what you are sending.  There are some organizations that send one email to me every two months, and that’s too often.  I have friends who send several emails a day, sometimes several within an hour, and I have never told my friends to quit emailing me.  What’s the difference?  The content.

If you are emailing the equivalent of a brochure, once a year is too often.  I’m not exaggerating.  If your email is remarkably similar to your general information brochure, I don’t need to see it more than once.  If you need an example of what I’m talking about, look in your own inbox.  You’ll find plenty of examples from both non-profits and for-profits who do this.

If you are sending me the equivalent of a personal note – the type of emails my friends send me – you can send them as often as you want to.  A few qualifiers: have something concrete to say (my friends do that when they email me), keep it short (my friends do that when they email me), and make it personal (my friends do that when they email me).  If you want an example of this, look at the emails sent by Obama campaigns.

The Obama campaign sent emails frequently, sometimes twice a day.  They were brief.  They were personal.  They looked like something a friend would send.  With subject lines like “Join me for dinner?”  or “Some scary number” or, the most famous, “Hey.”  The more emails they sent, the more money they raised.  Yes, more emails caused more people to unsubscribe, but the growth in money was far greater than the growth in unsubscribes.

If your organization is having too many discussions about how often to send emails, change the discussion to what to email donors.  Email fewer brochure-type messages and more personal notes.  No one gets annoyed when you send personal notes.

Posted in Communication, Email | 3 Comments »

Four Fun Ways To Enhance Your Relationship With A Donor

September 11th, 2014 by Karen Climer

We always talk about the importance of cultivating donors.  Here are a few ways you can do it:

  • When an article about your organization appears in the newspaper, send a copy to the donor. Write a note that says, “Dan, because of you, we are able to reach more students than we ever thought possible.  Thank you for your ongoing support.”
  • If you send out a regular newsletter, attach a special note for the donor. For example, “Susan, I think you’ll like the photograph on page 6.  You made the new pediatric ward possible.  Thank you!”
  • Send an article that has nothing to do with your organization, but has to do with your donor. For example, if you see an article about feng shui and you know your donor is interested in that, send the article with a note that says, “Lisa, I saw this article and thought you might find it interesting.  Enjoy!”  It’s OK if you don’t talk about the organization all of the time.  Sometimes it’s better if it’s not all about the organization.  It lets the donor know you care about her as a person and not a checkbook
  • Invite donors to events that aren’t donor events.  For example, invite the donor to chaperone the pre-school field trip to the library.  I chair the citizen review board for the Orlando Police Department.  The police department invites us to programs about human trafficking, non-biased policing, and all sorts of interesting topics.  These training programs are intended for police officers.  Very few board members attend the events, but the invitation alone is great cultivation.

Feel free to leave a comment to share your cultivating idea with the Let’s Raise More Money community.

Posted in Acknowledgment, Cultivation, Relationships | No Comments »

What Would You Do With $10,000?

September 3rd, 2014 by Karen Climer

Recently, I had an organization approach me about writing a direct mail letter for them.  This is an organization that derives most of its revenue from membership fees.  They receive some small donations, but they do not have a history of soliciting donations.

I was having a hard time grasping why this organization needed more money other than for the security that comes with having money in the bank.  I asked the board, “If I gave you $10,000 (a huge gift for this organization) right now, what would you do with it?”

“We could subsidize the membership of students.”

“We could travel to Tallahassee to lobby.”

“We could provide more education to the community.”

“I would really like to have our own building.”

Every board member had a different idea about what they would do with the money.  Even after a lengthy discussion, there was nothing that remotely resembled consensus.

I told them they didn’t need for me to write a direct mail letter.  They needed a strategic plan.

Ask your board this question, “If someone gave us $___ (a huge amount for your organization), what would we do with it?”  Everyone needs to have the same answer.  Everyone on the board needs to know that the priority is scholarships or the new building or whatever it is for your organization.  If the board doesn’t know the priorities, your problem isn’t lack of money.  It’s lack of direction.

Posted in Board of Directors, Planning | No Comments »

The Most Important Take-Away From The Ice Bucket Challenge

August 25th, 2014 by Karen Climer

Unless you’ve got a bucket of ice water over your head, you’re aware of the latest viral fundraising craze, the Ice Bucket Challenge.  It’s been going on for several months, but it’s spread faster than a cold in a kindergarten class in the last few weeks.  Why is it so successful?  There are several reasons, but I’m going to focus on one because it’s something you can immediately use at your organization.

The best fundraising is always person to person and volunteer-driven.  The Ice Bucket Challenge is no exception.  The original challenge did not come from any ALS organization.  It came from a regular person who cared about ALS, posted a video, and called out a friend.  Once celebrities started doing it, it went viral.

One of the keys to the Ice Bucket Challenge is that each person calls out another person by name to dump a bucket of ice water over their head.  It’s peer-to-peer.  It’s not the organization calling out to a mass of people.  It is one person saying to their friend, “I challenge you to dump a bucket of ice water over your head or donate $100 to ALS.”  That’s powerful.

The challenges that don’t work well are when someone says, “I challenge all of the teachers at First Street Elementary School to pour ice water over their heads.”  That’s 30-40 people, so it lets the individuals off the hook.  (By the way, this is the same concept as saying to your board, “It’s the beginning of the fiscal year.  Don’t forget we need all board members to make a donation.”)  It’s just not as effective.  Probably 10 of the 40 teachers at the school will do it.  If one teacher did it and called out another who called out another, they would have gotten through all the teachers.  Yes, it takes more time, but it is infinitely more effective.

Fundraising works best when it is one specific person asking another specific person.  It works even better when it’s volunteer driven.  That’s the lesson we can all take away from the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Posted in Asking, Social Media | No Comments »

How To End A Story If You Want To Raise More Money

August 18th, 2014 by Karen Climer

When it comes to storytelling, Food For The Poor is one of the best.  If you are not on their mailing list, I suggest you stop reading this blog, and make a donation to them right now.  (But come back to reading the blog!)

I received a wonderful letter from them.  There are so many good things about this solicitation letter, but today we’re going to focus on the story they used.

First, the language is vivid.  The letter didn’t say Eber was sick.  It said Eber was vomiting and had a fever and diarrhea.  I know you can picture that.  You might even be able to smell it.  It’s stinky and yucky, but it’s effective.

Second, the language is without jargon.  Eber was hungry.  He wasn’t experiencing  food insecurity.  He was hungry.    Eber was sick.  The problem isn’t lack of adequate healthcare services.  No, the problem is that Eber is sick.  They used the language that real people use.  Even a child can understand what Eber’s problem is.

Third, the story isn’t finished.  Sometimes we write stories that say, “Eber was sick and hungry.  Thanks to your help, he got food and medicine.  Please give again.”  This leaves the donor asking, “Why should I give again?  Eber got the food and medicine he needed.”

This story is different.  This story says that Eber is sick and hungry.  He has no food or medicine.  He won’t get it until the reader sends a donation.  That’s a compelling reason to give right now.

Yes, you need some of your stories to end with, “…and thanks to your help, all is right with the world.”  Otherwise, your donors will wonder if you’ve ever helped anyone.  But you also need stories that are unfinished.  Stories that allow the donor to step in and finish it.


Posted in Communication, Direct Mail, Grant Writing, Marketing | 1 Comment »

Here Is One Way To Get Your Board Members Engaged In Your Mission And Telling Their Friends About It

August 15th, 2014 by Karen Climer

For the past five years, I’ve served on the citizen review board for the Orlando Police Department.  This is an advisory board that reviews citizen complaints, not a fundraising board, but there are still some things we can learn from it.

Once a year, the police department hosts a training day for the board.  They ask us what we are interested in, plus they have some ideas of their own.  Our advisory board considers all OPD cases of deadly force, so it made sense for them to talk about deadly force training and policies.  After we talked about it, we went to the OPD gun range to try it out.  When new members join, they always encourage them to ride with a patrol officer one night.  Most members of the board have done a ride-along.

The first time I ever shot a gun.  Yes, they know how to train people.  Offering a hands-on ride-along experience for your board members to get them more engaged in your mission.

The first time I ever shot a gun! Yes, OPD’s training is top-notch. Offer a hands-on experience for your board members to get them more engaged in your mission (and telling their friends about it).

The result is the board members have a better idea of what they officers do every night.  It helps us make better decisions as board members.  Plus, it has the added benefit of creating more excitement about the cases and making us more interested in what the organization is doing.

You might be thinking, “Well, we don’t have cool toys like the police department, so we can’t do that.”  You’re giving up too easily.  Your organization probably could do a “ride-along” of sorts.  When I worked for an opera company, we always encouraged board members to be supernumeraries (silent roles that usually require minimal acting skills) in the opera performances.  This required them to attend rehearsals, go through make-up and costuming, and perform in the opera.  Maybe there’s a way for a board member to shadow a case worker or teacher.

Don’t just throw your hands up and scream, “Client-confidentiality — we can’t do that!”  With a little creativity, you can find ways to offer some sort of ride-along while respecting the dignity and confidentiality of the clients.

Here are some ideas to get the brain cells moving:

  • Have the board member listen in on the suicide hotline for an hour.  He doesn’t have to take the calls, just listen and observe while a trained operator handles it.
  • Have the board member give school field trip tours of the art museum.  If she isn’t comfortable giving the tour to the kids, let the docent give the tour while the board member tags along to see how much fun the kids have.
  • Have the board member ride with a caregiver that makes home visits.
  • Have the board member go to the trial with a victim’s advocate to experience the emotions of the courtroom.

Don’t decide that your board members are too busy and don’t have time to do that.  People find time for anything if they think it is worthwhile.  That’s the key — you have to make it worthwhile.  I do not have time to do a police ride-along on the midnight shift.  Normally I reserve that time for sleeping, but I carved out a few hours one night of my life because it was worth my time.  Very busy professionals find time for all kinds of volunteer activities.  If they aren’t finding time for you, you have to make it more worthwhile.

Years ago (I’m not sure if this is still happening), one of our major local hospitals would arrange a ride-along day for new board members at the hospital.  When the board member arrived, they were given a white coat with their name embroidered on it.  What a way to make the board member feel important!  These were super busy professionals who made time because it was interesting.  Unfortunately, I don’t know the details of what they did during their day.  But the hospital made it worthwhile enough that C-level executives would find several hours to participate in it.

The biggest benefit of the ride-along is that it gets your board member excited about the organization and talking to other people about it.  I talk to everyone who will listen about some of the police department stuff I learn.  At the opera company, the board members would invite their friends and family to the performances because they were going to be on stage.   When a board member can sit in the courtroom and feel the same thing a domestic violence victim feels, that’s powerful.  They will tell other people about it.  Or when the board member sees the excitement of applying Newton’s laws of relativity through the eyes of child, that’s powerful.  Try doing a ride-along to get your board members more engaged.

Posted in Board of Directors, Cultivation | No Comments »

Is It Better To Ask For A Specific Amount Or A Broad Range?

August 11th, 2014 by Karen Climer

A common tactic in major gift asks is to use a range.  For example, “Would you consider a gift in the range of $10,000-$15,000?”  I personally like the single number ask, but I know some people find it easier to ask for a range.  I have always counseled clients that this was fine, but to know that the donor was most likely going to give $10,000 not $15,000.  I heard something the other day that changed my mind about using a range…

When you ask for "a gift in the range on $25,000 to $50,000," it sounds like you are throwing numbers at the wall and hoping something sticks.  Try asking for a gift of $25,000.

When you ask for “a gift in the range on $25,000 to $35,000,” it sounds like you are throwing numbers at the wall and hoping something sticks.

Jerry Panas says not to use a range for two reasons.  As mentioned above, the floor becomes the ceiling.  Worse than that, it sounds like you are throwing some numbers against the wall and hoping something will stick.  He’s right.

Recently, I heard an organization ask our local government for a gift in the range of $10-$12 million.  When I heard it, I thought, “Well, there’s a big difference between $10 million and $12 million.  Have these people figured out the project budget or are they just fishing for money?”  For years, I’ve been telling people that ranges are fine – an ask of $10-$12 million is fine.  But when I listened to that ask as an outsider, I didn’t like the range.  It sounded like they weren’t prepared and hadn’t done their research.  In reality, they probably were prepared, and expected $10 million, but they went with conventional wisdom (which I subscribed to until last week) that said ranges are fine.

I think Jerry Panas has the right idea.  When you ask for a range, it comes across to the donor as a hail mary pass.  You are just hoping and praying it will work.  Try asking for a single amount next time.

Posted in Asking, Major Gifts | No Comments »

Donations Are Not Investments, So Quit Calling Them That!

August 4th, 2014 by Karen Climer

There is a growing trend for development officers to refer to donors as investors because these are people who invest in the organization and expect to see a return on their investment.  I hate this trend.  As far as I’m concerned, it can’t die quick enough.  Why am I so cynical about it?  Because, in my own giving, I don’t consider my donations an investment, I consider them a gift.  The investment language turns me off.

People give for a myriad of reasons.  Some people give to repay society because they were helped at one time.  Some people give because it is a family tradition.  Some people give because they enjoy the social aspects or love seeing their name in the spotlight.  Some people give because their religion encourages or even requires it.  And yes, some people give because they think of it as an investment that will benefit them in the future.

It’s estimated that only 15% of donors are investor donors, but judging from the communication I receive, you would think it was 100%.  Don’t assume that because your donor is a business person she wants to hear about your ROI.  Why do so many say they return $7 for every $1 invested?  I have never received a dividend check from a nonprofit.  (Although I should mention that I received a nickel in a direct mail piece recently.)

I’m not trying to say that you should never you the word investment.  I’m saying it depends on the donor.  Don’t make assumptions about why donors give.  Ask them.  In fact, if you can only ask the donor one thing, ask them why they give.  If they say it’s an investment, then by all means, talk about ROI and dividends.  If they say it because they love the cause or to give back or anything else, leave investment out of it.

Posted in Communication | 2 Comments »

« Previous Entries Next Entries »