10 Tips For Your Annual Appeal

Its that time of year again! Time to execute your Annual Appeal to get some last minute donations before the new year. We stumbled onto a great blog post from fundraising consultant Ruthellen Rubin. The post is 2 years old but the information is timeless! As she says, copy this list, print it out, and refer to it offen as you plan and execute your Annual Appeal.

Ruthellen’s Ten Step Plan:

  1. (The best) Letter (we are capable of constructing) is written, proofread and approved.
  2. Mailing Lists are segmented by groups.
  3. Targeted asks for loyal donors have been thoughtfully determined.
  4. Complete mailing package (traditionally: letter, donation return envelope and an informational insert) weighs under one ounce for postal mailing.
  5. Printer/Mail House has been notified of your schedule.
  6. Website has been updated to reflect the same information that is in your postal mailing.
  7. E-Appeal has been constructed in sync with your postal appeal and thoughtfully scheduled.
  8. Plan is in place to coordinate your social network voice to correspond to your Appeal.
  9. Gift processing strategy has been reviewed with your business office so that donors will be thanked accurately and promptly upon receipt of their donations.
  10. Your “case for support” this holiday season is reflected in all communications with supporters.

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How To Increase Your Likability

As we take some time this Thanksgiving week to reflect on what we’re thankful for, we also should examine what it is that makes us likable to other people. We love this infographic from silicon valley wiz Guy Kawasaki, an excerpt from his new book Enchantment.

Of course this kind of thinking could be used in a professional as well as personal situation, but more importantly we think this is terrific food for thought when it comes to fundraising. Knowing the basics of human interaction like this is of course one of the basic requirements of success for any major fundraiser, so take the time and review this a little bit. You might be surprised at what elements you’ve forgotten about or perhaps become a little lackadaisical with as you age.

How To Increase YOur Likability Infographic

Budgeting Your Non-profits Marketing & Fundraising

As the new year approaches, we cannot stress enough about the importance for making sure you have a proper budget figured out for your marketing and fundraising needs in the coming year. All too often we hear these budgets being thrown around and put together as guess-work, but the reality is that they need to be handled with some care and precision to ensure that your organization can make a significant impact with its followers moving forward.

One tool we suggest to clients is to put together a marketing plan and start pricing out some of the marketing tools that they are going to need in the coming year. Then whatever number they come up with, double it. Seriously. We’re not telling you all of this because we want your money. Quite on the contrary, we won’t see most of your money because it will actually go towards vendors and goods that will be used to execute your plans. Its very important that you take the time to plan this properly otherwise you’ll find your organization struggling all year to make any real progress in its marketing and fundraising efforts.

Feel free to download our example Marketing Plan and let us know what you think!

Image courtesy of Toban Black on Flickr.

How to Secure In-Kind Donations in a Tough Economy

Especially in this uncertain economic climate charitable non-profit organizations need to think outside the box for their donation request strategies. When it comes to in-kind donations (items or services donated to events or campaigns by companies or sponsors), a fundraising plan of action needs to happen before non-profits can expect donations to fall into their laps. When planning large-scale gala events or golf tournaments that involve auctions, these tips will put you way ahead of the fundraising game.

Strategy #1
Compile a database list of in-kind donations and prioritize items. Set deadlines for items and write effective (and short) donation request letters. Mail donation request letters eight months to one year in advance of events/campaigns. Do not expect in-kind donations overnight. Follow up with every contact on your master in-kind donation list. Divide companies and/or items between staff and/or volunteers (so it’s not as overwhelming).

Strategy #2
Target companies and sponsors that have the funding/resources to underwrite or donate items. Don’t lock companies into large versus small ticket items. Brainstorm and utilize resources from volunteers, staff and vendors.

Strategy #3
Ask for discounts from large vendors (such as rental or tent companies). Most vendors will give non-profit organizations partial discounts. Generous vendors will sometimes offer an in-kind donation of rental fees/tent usage. Create an in-kind sponsor level for vendors who waive fees and donate services.

Strategy #4
Take what you can get in this tough economy – don’t be picky. If a company can donate 200 flashlights (as opposed to 2,000), accept that amount. Approach other companies and ask them to match Company XYZ’s donation of “200 flashlights.” Company XYZ may be able to donate the rest of the items or similar items.

Strategy #5
Always follow up with phone calls and thank you letters after securing in-kind donations. Create a donor agreement letter and ask companies to sign (so they don’t forget that they agreed to donate and you have it in writing). If a company wants “acknowledgement,” offer a link to their website or a sponsor thank-you in the program. An in-kind donation is just as valuable, and should always be recognized along with monetary sponsors/donations.

Reply to Getting on The List

In reply to a great post over at Getting on The List | NetWitsThinkTank.com, I wanted to embellish on my thoughts. Go read that blog post first then come back here. Its ok, I’ll wait.

Ok, welcome back. It was a quick read right?! I always love insights into shifting our paradigm to really see what donors care about. One thing I’ve seen work to great success is less “selling” and more “empowering”. In other words, if we give supporters really amazing tools to support the cause along side an amazing story of what the cause is all about, then it empowers those supporters to become evangelists and bringe more supporters in from the fringe. Countless causes have had terrific success with this:
– 350.org with their rallies and marches around the world, produced by supporters.
– Toms shoes giving colleges materials to start their own Toms movement on their campus’
– Food, Inc. documentary with their home viewing parties
– and the list goes on.

Now the really interesting thing about any of these empowerment campaigns is that the communication does not come from the cause, it comes from the person you know. So since I know Chris Tuttle (albeit virtually), he might just open an email from me inviting him to my NYC studio for a documentary viewing party with good food and libations, but if it came from the cause it might not have the same possible influence on him.

For us at Mark & Phil, this is kind of the epicenter of what we believe to be the core strategic thinking in establishing the “new supporter”.

3 CRM Reviews For Small Non-Profits

OK, I have something to confess. I’m quickly becoming a Quora addict. In short, Quora is a question and answer system that enables you to ask and answer questions of anyone on the social network. It also ties in superbly to your facebook and twitter accounts, giving you the ability to follow your friends from the other social networks or invite them to join. The service revolves around the concept of “following” people, topics, and questions that you’re interested in. You can checkout my profile and see what I mean.

At first the social network seemed like another unnecessary web app to clog up the social media space, but I’ve recently realized its true potential as a source for true knowledge from pro and amateur experts alike. One thing I have been noticing specifically is that my answers to some of the questions on Quora seem to be rather long, almost like a blog post. So instead of just sending you links to answers I give over there, I thought I’d recap one of my proudest ones so far.

The question was “What is a good cloud-based CRM solution for a small non-profit organization/NGO?“. So below is the full answer I put together.  Feel free to add any CRM ideas you have for small non-profits in the comments here, or even better yet, join Quora and add them over there!

CiviCRM

Pros: Probably the most robust and customizable CRM you could get that focuses specifically on what NGOs need. The beauty of it is not only its CRM capabilities but also its CMS underpinnings built on top of either Drupal (http://drupal.com) or Joomla (http://joomla.com). Best of all, their is no licensing fees! The only thing you have to pay for is hosting and probably someone to set up the system for you and make any necessary customizations. Lastly, it can also handle management (if you want) of email newsletters, event registration, fundraising campaigns, donors, staff, and volunteers.

Cons: With that said, its not an easy install or customization for someone who doesn’t know code. I don’t mean you have to know code to work with it, but to get it up and running, you’ll need a web developer. Other con is there is no technical support. If you have issues you’ll need to pay a web developer for help or try to figure it out on your own but if it is properly setup, you should have no issues at all – clients rarely contact us about technical issues after we setup an installation, instead they usually contact us about add-ons and upgrades they want to make because it gives them new ideas on what is possible.

Donor Tools

Pros: Great little web application that looks relatively new. The interface is terrifically simple and the support team looks to be top notch. I’ve personally taken it out for a spin a few times and find it simply delightful. They have a free account that you can sign up for to test it out, but the free account never expires so if that is all you need then you can cut some costs. There is also a well built API that they have put together that would allow a good web developer to hook up Donor Tools to other web apps you use or even perhaps a legacy system you might have for other management of your NGO. The most impressive thing I think I have found about it is how quickly you can get things done on it. I mean, you find yourself working faster than you had thought you could. Very very intuitive and a clean user experience.

Cons: It is a paid web app but its not necessarily that expensive for an NGO. Complete customization of fields might be the only true thing that its lacking and integration into third party apps such as Google Apps or Basecamp.

Wild Apricot

Pros: Very similar capabilities to CiviCRM and phenominal tech support. The people at Bonasource (the makers of Wild Apricot) really do like their jobs and their product and it shows when you talk with them. I have not used this specifically but from what clients have told me, the interface is easy to use and adding new records or setting up an event is pretty simple.

Cons: The only downside I have heard of is that there are just many limitations of the web application that can be frustrating. I can’t remember what exactly, but I do remember the specific gripe was that it has had the same capabilities for a few years and hasn’t really evolved as much as this client had hoped (we ended up moving them to CiviCRM). But with that said, it could have just been the needs of this NGO were too robust, so I would suggest doing a trial run – after all, its only $25 a month and that is not bad at all.

I purposely won’t be reviewing Convio or Salesforce because, while they might be great for large organizations, I don’t feel they are as good for small non-profits as the ones I’ve mentioned above.

Update: I’ve also found a great breakdown of some other CMS for non-profits over at Idealware. Check it out if you’re looking to get more specific information on Opensorce CMS options for your cause.

9 Secrets To A Great Friendraiser

In case you are not familiar, a friendraiser is a great way to generate potential supporters by having current donors bring a friend to a special closed event just for them. The event is basically a private party for these folks with good drink, good food, entertainment, and even speeches that give an overview of your organization.

Its important to make sure the main people invited are donors and that they get to bring along a few friends (and their significant other), because it helps in two ways:

  • It acts as a way of saying thank you to donors (usually only invite big ones or big supporters who volunteer a lot). Give them booze, good food, conversation, and something to show off to their friends. Treat them like royalty in front of their friends and they’ll love you for years.
  • It eases any possible anxiety that the donors friends might have about going to the event, essentially they already know someone and it makes it much more comfortable.

Now some key pointers about friendraisers that you should keep in mind when planning:

  1. Have it during the summer and outdoors with a backup plain if it rains. Nothing is more powerful for making a romantic connection between a cause and its donors than a beautiful outside evening event in the summer. We say romantic because it should be. After all, you want them to fall in love with your cause.
  2. Keep the complete list under 100 total if possible (not including staff and volunteers for the event) because if it goes over, the setting cannot be as intimate. We’d say 150 max. And make the event 2 – 3 hours and on a weeknight, probably 7-10pm. Weekends seem to be sacred times for relaxing and most of the influential folks you’d want to attend will be leaving on weekends during the summer for the beach, hiking, road trips, and in the winter for skiing or just staying in because of weather. etc…. Thursday night is always good.
  3. Every primary staff member of your organization should attend the event and mingle with folks. Name tags with your job title is essential. I know, i know, it sucks to have to mingle. If your organization is usually a dress down type of atmosphere than make sure everyone dresses up. You want to feel like you belong in the same room as these donors and they’ll all be dressed to the nines. But the truth is that these folks really want to learn about you and they WANT to fall in love with you guys. This is the best way to ensure that happens.
  4. Do a slide show or something like that. Use a slide show of pictures and a small presentation to give attendees an understanding of what you do. You could also do a video montage or even a clip from a documentary or something if you have it. No matter what multimedia you use, you should have your Director/CEO speak and you should also have your Director of Development or Director of Outreach speak – you want the attendees to know their faces. Overall, we’ve found at past friendraisers that you really only want the total time for speeches to be less than 15 minutes. Any longer than that and people get anxious, want a refill on drinks, need more food,  and so on, so keep them short!
  5. Designate a host. Ideally, you should have a major donor as the host, but a celeb would work as well. If you opt for a celebrity, get a local one because they’ll have a closer connection with your org and the region, rather than paying for one to travel in from somewhere else. This person should either open their home (apartment, house) to everyone to throw the event there, or should offer to help invite all of their influential and supporter-ready friends to the event. Its really so much easier if they invite a substantial portion of the folks because the attendees will already be interested in coming because they know the hosts.
  6. Be liberal on the booze. Make sure their is plenty of wine and drinks. You should think about approaching organic beer and liquor makers once you know whom the host will be. Often they’ll send out their own bartenders to cater the event and supply alcohol for free because they want the exposure to the influentials. Don’t take advantage of the distributors though. Tip the bartenders and also introduce the distributor management to any donors you have that run restaurants, sports facilities, etc.
  7. Give goodie bags. Really, people will not necessarily expect it at an event like this and you can fill them with memorable items that can keep them thinking about your cause long after the event is over. Also, it will help to entice any sponsors for the event (like mentioned above). Make sure the gifts are appropriate though. Pens are good, drink coasters are good, wine is good candy is not. Also make sure their is a postcard or brochure in the bag that reminds people of the goals and mission of your cause.
  8. Don’t do any actual fundraising at the event. What we’ve found is that if you try to “sell” something at a friendraiser or actively ask for donations, it doesn’t come across that great. Its much more advantageous to just show them what your organization is all about and make them fall in love with you. Then in the follow up you can mention ways to donate and get involved (in-kind donations should be mentioned too). But obviously if someone wants to open their checkbook and give you $10,000 on the spot, don’t turn it down!
  9. Follow up is really important. Make sure that you get everyone’s contact info before the event so its easiest to follow up after. If you use something like http://eventbrite.com for everyone to RSVP then you can require them to give their email and phone numbers. The host should also have much of this contact info. For extra brownie points make sure the host sends a personal letter to each attendee. This could be done over email but its so much more awesome if its handwritten and on actual paper. It doesn’t need to be a huge letter, just enough to thank them, mention how great the cause is, and wrap it up with a personal closing like “See you at the little league game” or “lets get together for lunch next week”.CAS

Those are all the things we’ve found to be great ingredients to a successful friendraiser. If you have more feel free to comment or reach out to us at the contact form in the footer.

Featured image from James Vaughn on Flickr.