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Fundraising lessons from Hollywood

I took the kids to Warner Bros. Studio in LA last week.
We wandered through the maze of movie …

I took the kids to Warner Bros. Studio in LA last week.

We wandered through the maze of movie sets – buildings and towns and parks and jungles – and marvelled at the famous stories that have been filmed here.

And it got me thinking about storytelling.

But before I continue, let me show you two photos of me and my son at Warner Bros. These pictures were taken without trick photography or funny lenses or anything like that.





As you can see, I look big and Reuben looks small in one photo, and vice versa in the other. It’s all done through different perspectives, props, distance from the subject, and framing of the photo.

Same people. But different framing, and an emphasis on different elements.

As I said, it got me thinking about telling a good fundraising story.

A good story emphasizes certain elements to bring them into sharp focus. It paints a picture that is fresh, interesting, and unexpected. And it helps your donors see something they wouldn’t normally see … something that motivates them to give.

I want to be clear that I’m not talking about making things up. I’m talking about the art of seeing differently.

If you can find the gems and jewels in your material – themes that can be polished – then you can create an engaging story. You’ll help your donors, too. They won’t have to sort through all the details to get the point of what you’re saying.

For example, if you tell a story about providing clean water in a developing country, you don’t have to give all the administrative details about digging wells and installing pipelines.

You can frame your story instead – through the eyes of one child, perhaps. Tell about the difference clean water makes for that girl or boy.

Pick one theme to emphasize. No more constant stomach aches from drinking dirty water? No more sore necks from balancing a pail of water on your head? No more fear of snakebites on the long walk to the pond? No more being late for class each morning? More time to play with friends and enjoy being a kid?

Frame your material, pick your theme, and polish it. You will create a story that catches your reader’s interest. Take it from me – or rather, take it from Hollywood.


Read more 08/10/2015

Your story is simple. And so powerful.

On a recent visit to Manhattan, I had breakfast with an exceptionally generous person.
He’d just made a $15-million …

On a recent visit to Manhattan, I had breakfast with an exceptionally generous person.

He’d just made a $15-million gift to a non-profit organization. Not only that, but he’d also given an equal amount to his church.

This individual is hardworking and humble. He built a business that did very well, and when he sold it, he wanted to share the proceeds with organizations that aligned with his deep personal values.

Between bites of omelette, I asked him why he’d decided to support the specific cause he’d given to. I expected to hear that he’d done a lot of research, crunched the numbers, and satisfied himself that the financial plan was sound.

He told me:

“I got a letter in the mail with a picture and a story of a little girl. It broke my heart. I knew I had to do something.”

I was blown away — and I’ve been thinking about his response ever since.

So today, what I want to pass on to you is this:

Never forget the pure, simple, wonderful, inspirational message of what your organization does.

Tell that story over and over. Don’t let your story get lost in the complexities of your work or your desire to communicate every single aspect of what you do.

If the purpose of fundraising is to gratify ourselves with the difficult work that we’re doing, then yes, we could make a case for sharing a multitude of details about issues and context and strategic priorities and so on. But if our purpose is to raise money for the cause, then let’s focus on pure, simple, impact.

Because in the end, it’s about how you’re changing people’s lives and creating a better world. It’s about your essential “why,” as Simon Sinek says.

Tell your story. Share the basic need. Show your donors how they can respond.

It really is that simple.


Read more 07/08/2015

You Have $75. How Should You Spend It?

There’s no doubt — we’re living in a tough fundraising environment.
Just look at how different things are today, …

There’s no doubt — we’re living in a tough fundraising environment.

CamJust look at how different things are today, compared to 10 years ago (and I’m not just talking about what happened to my hair).

Today, nonprofits spend about $50 to $100
to get one new donor on board. That’s
one person. One gift. And no guarantee
                                      of future giving.

Ten years ago, if you spent $50 to $100 on marketing, you could bring in one new monthly donor — someone committed to long-term giving.

While I never want to think of donors in terms of numbers, the reality is that nonprofits today have to spend a lot more on marketing if they want to attract new people to their cause.

So the question I want to ask you is this:

What is the best use of your marketing budget?

Say you have $75 to spend per donor. Is it better to invest that money in bringing a new donor into your organization? Or is it better to invest in retaining your existing donors? (The retention investment would consist of relational touches like thank-you calls, welcome packages, impact reports, and so on).

I’m going to suggest that treating your donors exceptionally well — especially your new donors — makes very good business sense.

It’s a significant opportunity for most organizations to improve their fundraising.

To be clear, this isn’t a “one or the other” option. To have a healthy file, you have to work at both acquisition and retention. But if your retention numbers are low, this is definitely the place to start.

I’ll talk more about this in future posts and I’ll show you in more detail what I mean.

Until then,


Read more 06/03/2015

Meet Your Donors In Their Happy Place

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we, as fundraisers, might be making our lives more difficult …

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we, as fundraisers, might be making our lives more difficult than we have to.

That’s because we try to take donors to places where they don’t want to be.

Put yourself in a donor’s shoes for a minute.

You donated to an organization because your friend asks you to sponsor her for a fundraising bike ride. You were happy to sponsor her. She’s your friend — you want to cheer her on!

The next thing you know, you get a letter from the organization. You barely remember that they were connected to the bike race. Now they’re asking you to support a program you’ve never heard of.

That’s a big stretch!

Call it donor conversion, migration, whatever you want — it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It creates friction between a person’s natural affinity (their friend) and what the organization wants you to do (support their programs).

So how do we reduce that friction?

I was at a fundraising conference in Amsterdam, listening to a woman talk about how her non-profit raised $15 million in a bike race across the Netherlands. “Yes, but after people give, how do you convert those donors into your ongoing stream?” I asked.
She looked at me, puzzled.

“We don’t try to do that,” she said.

What do they do instead? They extend the bike race spirit throughout the year. They hold events. They send emails and letters reminding people of the fun they had. Six months before the next race, they start building momentum.

In a word, they meet donors where they’re at, and where they’re happy.

And that’s a good place to be.


Read more 05/12/2015
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