We had our big annual summer party yesterday (rain before, rain after); 35 cherished friends, clients, colleagues; superb seasonal farm-to-restaurant catered food (tomato-watermelon cold soup, e.g.); "Freedom margaritas" (1 large can of frozen limeade; mix with 2 normal beers; add the same large can filled with tequila -- instant favorite, mixes in seconds); 10 kinds of craft beer (people mostly emptied out the wine, so now I have a beer cellar); a raffle of all the junk Simone and I collected on the road over the year; and some pretty decent domestic-scale fireworks.
People kept asking, "When are you going to retire?"
The monetary answer is, "When they stop paying me for stuff."
The psychological answer is, "I'm actually at my peak, in my view. As long as I keep surprising me, why would I retire? Makes no sense to spend 40 years learning how to do things properly and explaining that to other people in ways they GET ... and then hang a CLOSED sign on the door. Hang a closed sign on my cremation urn."
The best answer I came up with, "Flying to places has become sort of a hobby. I mostly see tolerance on airplanes, interchangeable hotel bedrooms, taxis, and chandeliers with large groups of people spread under them. But at least I get to look out the windows. I have seen Saskatoon and eaten in a couple of its best joints. Have you?"
The demonstration spread across both sides of the road, in sight of Rhode Island's Maximum Security Prison. The highlight of the day for me was hearing the prisoners inside, disproportionately black, Hispanic and American Indian, screaming their support of this rally. That, and the many people who turned out. That, and the many passing cars that honked in agreement and disgust. Only saw one politician: Aaron Regunberg.
My Top Eleven and Three-Quarters Bits of Advice for Winning at Donor Communications
by Tom Ahern
Why Eleven and Three-Quarters? Be a little less predictable. "10 Top Tips" is predictable. "11 Top Tips" is a little less predictable, but still pretty obvious. I ripped this idea off, as most of you immediately recognized, from Harry Potter's Track Nine and Three-Quarters at King's Cross Station. Steal well. And often. But don't steal from failures. Which means you'll have to learn enough to tell the difference. Plopping a "Letter from the Desk of the ED" on the front cover of every issue of your donor newsletter is common ... but typically a waste of your supporters' ridiculously valuable and scarce attention spans. Just because "they" do it doesn't mean you should, too.
Google "sales lead funnel." When I did that a few minutes ago, Google returned more than 9 million results. Look at some of the images returned. Read an article or three. The funnel gets you thinking about target audiences. It gets you thinking about offers. Do not pass "GO" until you understand the sales lead funnel. This is a standard model for how selling works. And at some practical level, fundraising is "just" a type of sales. The sales lead funnel also reveals why direct mail hasn't died yet. The funnel also reveals why you need a donor acquisition program.
Google "AIDA." Not the opera, the marketing term: the acronym stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. As the Wikipedia article says, "(AIDA describes) the steps or stages that occur from the time when a consumer first becomes aware of a product or brand through to when the consumer trials a product or makes a purchase decision." Why do you care? Because donors are consumers. Consumers of hope, maybe. Donors are fundraising's customers. And once you understand AIDA, you'll never again wonder what to say first, second, third, fourth. Without an understanding of AIDA, you may launch your case for support with something like: "Our organization was founded in 1897 under a chestnut tree when a group of foresightful folk envisioned...." Snore. Lesson #1 of AIDA: Don't start with the boring bits.
Things change slowly. Until it's too late. This keeps me up at night. It keeps me desperately curious about developments in my field. Bigger charities remain bigger charities for lots of reasons: innovation and analytics in fundraising being among the more important. So you have this data point: “For every 1,000 fundraising [emails] delivered to supporters, groups in our study raised $40," the 2015 M+R Benchmarks study reported and 2016 was even worse. But then you have this data point: "Finland to be Cashless by 2029" reads the headline in FinTech Finance, a UK-based financial industries researcher. The world is abandoning currency, checks, ATMs and credit cards. And then you wonder: "How do we prepare in fundraising for what could be a major shift in common consumer behaviors?"
"Digital or print?" That's so 2003. That was the year I first heard the question raised by a fundraiser in a workshop. She asked, "When can we retire our print donor newsletter and switch to an email version instead?" I didn't know the answer until at least a decade later. And the answer was, "For now, you have to do both, if you want to maximize income and impact." We are in a transition period. Multichannel communications are the rule for now and the foreseeable future (at least as I foresee it). In 2018, Mark Phillips, Bluefrog's founder, shared data showing the bending 7-year trend: purely "offline" donors (i.e., they did not make their gifts digitally) were decreasing (although at 89.4%, they were still the vast majority); online donors were increasing (almost doubling in number in the past three years); and "multichannel" donors were becoming a new normal. What's multichannel? Someone gets a direct mail appeal, which prompts them to make a gift ... but they make that gift online. Or someone sees a text-to-give poster in the Tube ... and takes action via their mobile. I.e., print and digital working together.
The Shiny New Thing saves a few ... but probably not you. Corollary: All fundraising is hard work, yet every so often something crazy wonderful happens (just don't count on it). In June 2018, a couple of tech employees in San Francisco, Charlotte and Dave Willner, started a Facebook crowdfunding campaign. They wanted to help kids separated by U.S. law enforcement from their illegally immigrating parents. The Willners' initial goal: $1,500. Driven by a wildfire of public outrage and press coverage, giving to their campaign quickly broke every previous crowdfunding record, raising $16 million in a matter of days. And then there was the viral Ice Bucket Challenge. It raised more than $115 million in 2014 for ALS research. Sure, pray for a miracle in your free time. But stick to your knitting at work. Your board and boss need to know this, too.
Donors aren't forever. Mostly. Again: Why do you need a donor acquisition program as well as a donor relationship program? Because donors come and go, like pee holes in the snow. A couple of years ago, I polled experts around the world with the question, "How long does the average donor stick with a charity?" There was a lot of hemming and hawing and clearing of throats and asterisks and "depends" and "sometimes" and exceptions (these were all heavily analytical experts). But the consensus was this: if someone makes a second gift to a charity (which excludes something like 70-80% of first-time donors right there), you can expect them on average to stick around for something like 4-6 years. If that donor is acquired as a monthly donor or converted to monthly, they'll hang around longer, on average for 6-8 years. In other words, the conventional wisdom that mandates, "We must find younger donors!" is nuts ... IF it's based on the presumption that they will stick around forever. As veteran fundraiser Jeff Brooks commented, "It’s rare even for a long-term donor to stay longer than 7 years.” If you're only getting a 7-year run with the average donor, then you actually want OLDER donors. Donors give from their surplus. Younger donors are generous, too ... but they are building their lives and have lots of expenses. Older donors have already built their lives ... and may feel they can give more away. Results vary, but as a rule.