Wednesday, April 30, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Why aren’t we doing this?

There is an old saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” To which I ask, “...then what is a video worth?”

I’m not talking about a video of dancing cats or cute babies, but a video that tells a story and connects with us.

Today, too many nonprofit Development organizations that could be doing these types of videos are not doing them. Why? Because, frankly, they don’t understand how it fits into their direct mail appeal program. And you know what? They are right; it doesn't fit.

But here is the deal: today commercial companies are figuring this out. Below is just the latest example and it isn’t even from the United States.

Watch the below video. It is an excellent example of storytelling that connects the emotions. What does it have to do with life insurance? Honestly I don’t have a clue, but you remember the name of the company and the message they are sharing.

Why aren’t we doing this?


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Monday, April 28, 2014

BIG’s Blog: It’s Relationship

Fundraisers have always understood, as much as leadership or the board, that their organization needs supporters.

Yet over the last 15 to 20 years, a bothersome, and, some would even say “nagging,” issue has arisen that has many fundraisers puzzled.

The same successful messaging and fundraising methodologies that they have perfected throughout their careers are not engaging baby boomers, much less even younger generations.  

Starting with the boomers but also extending to Gen-X and the Millennials, these younger cohorts ARE NOT ENGAGING with many long-standing, established organizations.  


Nilofer Merchant in her 2013 book, 11 Rules For Creating Value In The Social Era, seems to nail it when she writes, “If people give to a cause (mission or ministry), they expect a relationship, not a transaction.”

The “ethos” of these generational cohorts has changed! We are living in the Social Era and, today, that means they expect a relationship. This new ethos has firmly taken hold in the boomer, Gen-X and Millennial generational cohorts.

Commonly used Definition of Ethos- the fundamental character or spirit of a culture; the underlying sentiment that informs the beliefs, customs or practices of a group or society; dominant assumptions of a people or period.  

Nilofer Merchant isn’t talking about your grandparents . . . she is talking about you and me.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Integrated Marketing is a Lie

Direct mail as a marketing and distribution fundraising methodology is in terminal decline. Of course you can still mail to long-time supporters and generate a positive return, and if you really have scale (mailing several millions) it can still generate significant net revenue.

But if you think direct mail will carry you long into the future, then why is your donor base growing older? And if you don’t know your donor base isn’t growing older because you haven’t done an age overlay … you are lying to yourself or, worse, your organization.

If you’re a small-to-medium-sized Development organization watching your mail program shrink and you get an email from an association or trade group touting a seminar or webinar with the title Direct Mail Is Alive And Well, how does it make you feel?

Obviously the intent is to combat the reality of the perception that mail is in decline. And of course with some of the largest nonprofit fundraising organizations moving out of direct mail, there is probably panic in the ranks. I mean … Exactly HOW MANY BILLIONS DID THE U.S. POSTAL SERVICE LOSE LAST YEAR?

But it gets worse and even more insidious. These mail veterans know that mail is in terminal decline, yet the latest ruse to get you to keep your mail program as the base of your fundraising is by adding the new sexy digital tools (email, Website, and social media). This combined effort, the so-called “integrated” or “multi-channel” marketing will somehow do better than just the mail program. This is the 1 + 1 = 3 promise.

And, of course, if it doesn’t work … it’s your fault. You just need to keep tweaking it until you see positive results.

Horse Hockey!

If you take direct mail out of your integrated mailing program, what are you left with? That’s right … digital online tools.

And how many of you are making pure online efforts generate enough revenue on-its-own to replace direct mail program revenue?

The problem with what you are trying to do online is a lack of  SCALE. We all understand that if you buy a million prospect
names for a mailing and you get a 1% response, that is 10,000 new donors added to your file. So how do you do that online?

You don’t!

Quit trying to take the “direct mail marketing” methodology and apply it to the online world!

An email communication IS NOT the same thing as a direct mail piece of mail. Completely different dynamics. How many letters do you get in the mail daily? How many emails do you get daily? Do YOU treat mail the same as email? I rest my case.

And, actually, email is the closest cousin to analogue terrestrial mail, but they don’t work the same … period.

Do this: Forward this blog post to five of your Development friends from other organizations. Ask them to honestly tell you if they believe integrated or multi-channel marketing is growing their revenue beyond what mail could do just by itself.

Listen to what they have to say.

Look, I know who the best direct mail fundraisers are. Remember, I’ve been a professional direct mail marketer for over 35 years. The best are still eking out gains . . . but they are running multi-million mailing programs. BUT THESE PEOPLE ARE SCARED TO DEATH.


Because they are smart. They know how to maximize and optimize the profitability of their mail programs and they see their donor files aging just like yours … which tells them that the decline is coming.

Even as they continue to profit from mail today, they know their future is online and many of them are looking at online models that “scale.”

Want to know more about scaling online … email me.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Guest Blog: “I’m ready - are you?”

Anne Marie Gardiner is the Development Director of a Catholic community called The Passionists. Just like many of you, she has been “in the fundraising business” for a few years. Unlike way too many in fundraising today, Anne Marie embraces change as just the on-going evolution of our industry.

In her own words …

My first job in development was 27 years ago.  I was a travel agent and got laid off because of the increase in airline deregulation and the increase of travelers making their own reservations.  A client, who was a priest, offered me a job in a new office he was opening “doing development work.”  I took the job “until something better came along.”

Fast forward and here I am, Director of Development for a religious organization.  Coincidently, my whole career has been working with men or women in religious congregations.  I have literally worked my way up. I started recording donations on index cards before databases, and assembled bulk mailings in back rooms with volunteers. Now, many, many trays of presorted (in zip code order, of course!) mail later, I am still in Development work.

I have had many wonderful mentors along the way as well as many roadblocks.  I have seen the industry grow by leaps and bounds, especially for the organizations wise enough to embrace and accept the challenge to change and not get caught up in doing things the way they have always been done. I was also fortunate in persuading the leadership in these organizations to move along with the technology so we could be on the “cutting edge” of fundraising trends.

I think the biggest change in attitude I have been witness to and a part of the last several years is, for the most part, religious organizations and other nonprofits have finally come to grips with accepting the fact that we are “running a business,” but the on-going question I always have is, “how do you effectively market a ministry?”

Throughout my career we “marketed” our ministries through direct mail, and of late we have begun to market online. With our direct mail programs, we used all the technologies and techniques as they developed to reduce our costs and mail “smarter.” As digital tools began to appear we work very hard to coordinate what’s in the mail and what’s on the website. We “look” the same no matter where you see us. We see our online giving slowly building. But gone are the days of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  Just like the early days of direct mail, if you’re not committed to an online program, just as we were committed to change in our early direct mail program, someone else will do a better job and catch the interest of your constituents.

There’s room for all of us in fundraising, but only those who are looking into the future and are serious about change will survive.  I’m ready-are you?

Encouraging words … right?

Anne Marie not only went through our program herself, but she brought her CFO, key staff, and members of her community. Change requires buy-in as well as becoming a mentor yourself.  

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Friday, April 18, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Isaiah the Super Star

With ancient people and civilizations, we only know about them through what other people wrote, or what they wrote about themselves . . . and then, we are lucky if any of the writings still exist.

The good news is that functioning bureaucrats and historians who kept government records and stories of the times from more complex civilizations such as the Hellenistic, Persians, and, of course, the Romans, gave us records that we can see today.

And even in the ancient near-East, little Kingdoms like Judah kept records in their day. And as each Kingdom was intertwined with a specific religious tradition, government records many times became religious records. In the case of Judah, these government records became Rabbinic records, as the citizens of Judah were all Hebrew. Thus, the written records of the historical Isaiah have come down to us today.

Now, what exactly a prophet’s job description is, and what exactly Isaiah did for the government of Judah is unknown . . . but we do know this: because they were prophets, they kept records of what Isaiah and other prophets said to see if, in fact, their prophecies came true.

Today, Isaiah is considered “the genuine article,” and a “major prophet” in Judaism, as well as in Christianity, and even revered in Islam. In modern parlance we would call him a Super Star. Not only were his words recorded in 800 BC in Rabbinic literature, but also they proved prophetic again and again to his own people in his time and shortly thereafter in Judah. And to us today, we look back 1981 years to the events outside the walls of Jerusalem that we commemorate as Good Friday . . . wherein a cohort of Roman soldiers nailed a Jewish carpenter and itinerant preacher to a cross, and in doing so fulfilled exactly the prophecy Isaiah had uttered 800 years earlier.

Isaiah 53: 3 – 7

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried
our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity
of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
Yet he opened not his mouth;
like the lamb that is lead to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that is before its shearers
is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.

On a hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and died. The records of this were kept by the bureaucrats of the Roman governor and by other eyewitnesses. Even some of the Roman historians commented on the event.

Soon thereafter, much more about this Jesus was written down and it wasn’t too long before some of his followers began to connect the dots that what Isaiah had written 800 years earlier connected exactly to the events of the life and the death of this Jesus.

Which then of course begs the question: who was this Jesus?

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Decisions are FIRST Emotional

You mail out a prospect list to a tested control package that has as its core message a story that tugs the heartstrings.

A small percentage of the recipients react by digging out their checkbook – forget that it took them 15 minutes to find the checkbook they hardly use anymore – and mailing you a donation.

You mail these new donors in 90 days. A minimum of 60% do not ever donate again. What’s the problem?

Do you really have a relationship with any of these first-time donors? Instead of working to build the relationship, you send them another letter asking … again … for money?

The first time they reacted on emotion, but more and more, as indicated by the collapsing rates of donor retention, it should be obvious there is a different ethos operating in the population you are reaching out to.

Emotion is what makes people react the first time, but after that, you must engage them.

How do you engage when your entire fundraising methodology is built on transactions?

Let’s think about this for a second.

Call your brother (who you haven’t seen for a while) and ask him for a loan. He reacts because of the emotional ties between you and sends you the money. Of course you call him and thank him when the check arrives. But what do you do next? Do you keep him apprised of your situation that called for the loan in the first place? Do you let him know what the loan means to you and when he will see the return of his money? Or, do you call and ask for another loan?

Baby boomers and younger generations DO NOT give gifts to charities. That’s what their parents did. Boomers and younger generations make “investments.”

Investments demand accountability and transparency.

Accountability + Transparency = Trust

Trust precedes Engagement.

Engagement = Support

How do you engage with today’s boomer and younger generations with a transaction-centered fundraising methodology?  

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Monday, April 14, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Money is NOT a Problem

I am luckier than most in that I have spent significant time in a very poor country. There is a saying among people who frequently go to Haiti: “There are no overweight Haitians.”

We throw away more calories from our meals than the average Haitian consumes in their average meal.

The latest figures I have seen tell us that $30,000 in gross income for a family of four in the United States is borderline, if not outright poverty level.

In most non-Western and what we would euphemistically call “developing third world countries,” that same $30,000 would put a family of four into the upper income segments of their population.

So, let’s be clear, access to donations (money) from the “relatively” wealthy people of the United States is not a problem.

The point is people have plenty of money to give you . . . you’ve just got to find a way to make it palatable.

That’s the genius of Scott Hamilton and others like him. They recognized upfront that fundraising today is essentially broken and then went on to create their own fundraising model.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Men and Women Think Differently?

A question to my direct mail fundraising friends: Do you communicate with your female supporters differently than you do your male supporters?


Look, I know this isn’t a revelation, but men think and process differently than women, and vise versa.

So if you are going to effectively communicate to the women in your next direct mail appeal, you need to approach them in a way that meshes with the way they think about and process whatever topic you address. The same for the men you are addressing. That means different copy for men and women.

What do you think? Maybe a 20% to 30% overall bump in response with this approach?

So why wouldn’t you do it?

Too expensive and WAY too much of a hassle … right?

Or … you could seriously consider shifting to a platform where you could address men and women, young and old, Hispanic or Anglos, etc., etc., in a way that each person can most easily relate and connect to your message.

What am I talking about?

The Internet.

Still don’t believe men and women see things differently? Check out the short video below.

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