Actual lol

Look at this ridiculous shit – “my BS future” – christ on a bike (click to make bigger):

Unintentionally honest design aside – here’s the thing: we do this kinda stuff all the time. We’re so immersed in our organisations and our issues and our campaigns. No wonder though, it’s what we do all day.

So you get jargony and use dumb acronyms, and then that creeps into the stuff you communicate with people outside the org.

And because everyone else in the approval process knows what you’re talking about, you get shit like the giant professionally printed wall above.

From time to time, get someone who is unfamiliar with you to look at your stuff – and then listen to them if they say it doesn’t make sense to them.

Otherwise you’ll go on a BS journey to a BS future.

#IFC2017: best conference ever?

Just got back from the effing awesome #IFC2017 fundraising conference. If you get the chance, get that in your professional development plan (or if your org has no budget, you can volunteer too).

Here are some of my key takeaways that are applicable to all of us:

With technology, power dynamics are changing

Jeremy Heimans talked about the old power vs new power dynamic in the opening keynote, and that set the tone for the whole conference. It’s worth a watch.

We’re not structuring our organisations for success

Some of the organisations who have had the biggest impact recently have been structured to:

  • Be flexible
  • Empower BIG change by asking people to do something big in exchange for something big
  • Empower change agents within your organisations (and if you’re a manager, run defence for them!)
  • Be OK with not taking the credit for the victory
  • Offer value beyond data collection and being someone’s direct debit

I feel like people are underestimating digital

Power dynamics are definitely changing, and it’s more clear than ever that flexible organisations with a culture of taking risks are taking advantage of key moments when they matter. Take ACLU – when was the last time someone raised $42 million in a single weekend through DM*?

They had all of their ducks in a row (culturally and technically) to take advantage of some of the world’s biggest fundraising and activism moments. All they needed to do was be prepared.

Any of our organisations can be taking advantage of key moments like the ACLU (or countless other US-orgs have done).

Through the sheer number of people at Paul de Gregorio and Jo Wolfe’s mobile session, there’s also clearly still a mental separation between mobile and digital (and as Paul said, digital = mobile, mobile = digital). We’ve gotta rethink this stuff.

*Just as a total side note, the only people I’ve ever heard saying “direct mail is dead” are consultants complaining that people are saying “direct mail is dead”. Direct mail is very much alive, it just serves a different role.

Good fundraising is good fundraising

The core elements of what makes a great fundraising offer don’t change, no matter what the medium. Whether you’re talking itch & scratch; fluff & bite, or the Four Whys, it all comes down to making a credible offer to the right person at the right time.

I disagree with Tom Ahern

Shit, I’m going to stick my neck out here and say I disagree with something Tom Ahern said. He said there are no best practices in digital – that’s not true. The single best practice in online fundraising: test everything. I’m going to write a post about that soon.

FLICK the haters: complaints can be a good thing

Quick note: This isn’t just another article about how you can turn a bad donor experience into a good experience by handling it properly!

At pretty much every job I’ve ever had, people FLIP OUT when lots of angry emails come into the supporter services inboxes. Especially senior people.

Here’s a truth to repeat in those moments to quickly ground yourself:

Your best campaigns – the ones that motivate most people into action – will probably also generate the most complaints.

If you’re doing your fundraising properly, you’ll be telling a deeply emotional story that will feel uncomfortable. To lots of people, they want to right the wrong you’ve just told them about.

But there’s also a small section of people who don’t seem to enjoy life. They’ll just get angry that you’ve made them feel uncomfortable and will flick off an email about how bad you are.

It can be easy to get caught up in the hysteria about needing to change stuff to address the complaints, especially if your boss is the one receiving emails. So, take a step back and do this:

  • Figure out how many complaints is “a lot” (often it’ll be fewer than ten)
  • Look at how many donations you’re getting
  • If you’re getting lots and lots of donations, don’t worry about it – you’re running a great campaign! Get back to the people who have written you the angry messages, but pat yourself on the back for a job well done – because of you, you’re raising lots of money to make your mission possible
  • If you’re generating a lot of complaints and your donation rate is shitty, your campaign might actually be pretty grim. I can’t help you there, better go into damage control mode.

It’s about reframing the conversation to “look at how much money I’ve generated for our cause!”

You’re doing great work.

The ratio you need to know for fundraising email success

The ratio? 1:1(:1)

Spend as much time on subject line brainstorming as you did on writing the whole email. And then test the shit out of them to see which one performs the best (remember: you’re measuring action rate).

If you’re using a box (like this), then spend as much time writing that text as you did writing the email body. You’re looking to condense your message into 2-3 short sentences that tell the entire story, and they need to answer the top three of the four whys.

If you’re using an image in your box, spend as much time finding that image as you did writing the email body.

Then test, test, test.

You have a responsibility to your organisation and the people you’re helping send the very best email you can and raise as much as possible to help them!

Super simple stuff.

The unmissable opportunity for measuring email engagement

One of the reasons I like email so much is because you can instantly figure out how good (or bad) it’s performing.

But you can only really do that if you’ve got some sort of measurable action.

Luckily, forcing yourself to put a measurable action into an email is a great way to ask yourself “what am I trying to achieve with this message?”

For some messages, it’s easy: you want people to donate. Or you want them to add their name to a petition. Those are easy to measure.

And then you could (should) be reporting back on how you spent their donation.

There’s a simple opportunity there: in the report back, provide a way for them to engage with you again. Provide a link for them to share their accomplishment with their friends. And put a passive donation ask in there too, because people will want their donations to achieve more of the same or continue the fight*.

It doesn’t really matter what kind of message you’re sending – if it’s a quality message, people will want to engage with you. And it’s up to you to provide that opportunity for engagement every time.

Do this a few times and you’ll quickly figure out your baselines. Then test and optimise.


*Don’t expect this to be a driver of significant income – think of it as a reward for a job well done.

Does your site pass “the restaurant test”?

I eat out all the time, and I see this problem over and over with restaurant websites: so many just don’t have the info I’m looking for on the site.

If you’re Googling a restaurant, you’re generally looking for these four things:

  • Where the restaurant is
  • When the restaurant is open
  • What’s on the menu
  • How to book

Everything else is just nice to have.

So what the shit does this have to do with fundraising?

Lots of nonprofit websites make the same mistake. Your focus needs to be on your donors and prospective donors – figure out why they’re visiting your site and what they’re trying to do.

Here are some hints:

  • What your purpose is
  • Where you’re showing impact
  • Who needs help
  • How to get involved (donate/volunteer etc)

And for everyone’s sake, make sure it looks decent on a phone.

So, does your website pass the restaurant test?

Email: the metrics that matter

I’m a pretty massive nerd, and one of the things I like the best about digital-first fundraising is the fact that you can measure and analyse all sorts of data.

If you’re running an email program, there are only a couple of metrics you really need to be looking at.

Action rate
For me, this is the metric I look at to judge an email’s performance.

It’s better than click rate – through the action rate, I can see how many people were driven to take action, but I can also figure out pretty quickly where in the chain something is going wrong if my email performs badly. If your click rate is high and your action rate is low, it usually means something’s up with your landing page.

Amount donated (if it’s a fundraising email)
It’s up to you whether you choose to look at average donation or total amount donated, but this can help you see if your email is inspiring people to give a higher or lower gift than normal.

Unsubscribe rate
Establish a baseline unsubscribe rate and just keep an eye on it. Unsubscribes aren’t always bad anyway [link] but if they suddenly spike, you should definitely look into why.

A quick note on open rates
I don’t really even look at open rates when I’m assessing email performance, because ultimately I don’t want people to open my emails and then do nothing with them. Generally, look at open rates if your email is deeply underperforming – it could be an indicator of deliverability issues.

Otherwise, just keep your focus on the action rate.

Facebook fundraising is in Europe

Facebook fundraising has already started changing the game in the US – this is pretty exciting.

The donation process is totally smooth, especially on my phone. It’s what we should all be aiming for with our donation pages – absolutely frictionless.

I’ve heard lots of pros and cons about Facebook’s fundraising feature (the cons are mostly around processing fees and data transferred), but I’d consider you to seriously investigate it – especially if you’re a smaller org with an engaged Facebook presence.

Find out more here.

The Four Whys of great donor-centric copy

I used to have a problem when I started out in fundraising – I was trying to make my copy emotional, while also ticking all of the boxes to really speak to the donor’s desires to create change.

I’ve found that before I write copy, I picture having a quick conversation with my donor – and she’s only asking me four questions about my appeal. I call them the “four whys”:

Why this?
For most of us, this is the easiest part – you’re defining your problem for your donor. It’s also where most of us stop.

Just telling people what’s going on isn’t quite enough to completely nail an awesome fundraising appeal.

Why now?
This is where you need to add urgency – define why giving *now* is critical. You want to give your donor the drive to get out her wallet now, before the next thing in her life comes along and she forgets about you.

If there’s a deadline coming up, it’s usually a great chance to ramp up the urgency. Deadlines can include all sorts of stuff – big decisions being made, events… even the possibility of someone dying.

Why me?
You need to tell your donor how her donation will make a dent in solving your problem. Do this by telling her your plan – the specific things your organisation is going to do to resolve the issue.

One of the biggest issues that make our donor feel disconnected to our causes is that we’re making our problems too big – so big that it feels they can’t be solved. Make sure your solution will have a realistic impact that her £20 will help move forward, and then show that to your donor.

Why you? (I also like to call this So what?)
Answering this is where you describe why your organisation is the best positioned to tackle the problem.

This is your chance to show your connection to the issue.

You can do this simply by making sure you’re using the right signatory for appeal (someone with a strong personal reason for asking for donations, like an Exec Director or someone with family affected comes to mind), but you can also by describing your past successes (without taking away from the need to donate this time!) and describing the expertise you have in tackling the issue. Pretty often you don’t need to put this one front and centre, just further down in the appeal is ok.

Give the four whys a try next time you’re coming up with an appeal.