Don’t give…

What? Don’t give? Well, actually this great spot for St. Joseph’s High School in Trumbull, CT is meant to get you to give but they do it in a wonderfully funny and creative way – they put a Catholic guilt trip to work to raise money. As an alumnus of the school (along with my father, uncles, sister, brother and at least one cousin) and as someone who works in development and non-profit marketing I couldn’t help but take notice.

The video uses current students, past students, parents and teachers. The participants speak directly to you. They engage you through the screen. They make the appeal personal to them and to you. Mr. Carrie, a Spanish teacher at the school, even chuckles that he likes and needs his job. The request for donations are tangible – for the heat, lights, books. And the video appeal is quick, maybe 3 minutes.

All these things by the way: being personal, being creative, being tangible, being donored centered and being quick are keys to effective thank yous as well. Actually, they are ways to thank donors so they’ll give more.

For me, it was a great trip down memory lane and made me think about how pivitol a role the school played in my development. This is pretty important because I have never given to the school before. I never really thought about continuing my support of the school – especially since I no longer live in the area and don’t have kids.

What do you think of the spot? How effective do you think the appeal is?

Take away: I’ve made a donation and will let you know if their thank you is as clever as their ask.


When quirky gets in the way

Yesterday I read a wonderful New York Times article called One is the Quirkiest Number. It had me chuckling because I live alone and have one or two quirks that come along with not having to share space with another person. The article got me thinking about how organizations can have their own quirks.

Sure, you are part of a greater network of non-profits with similar missions, constituents and geographical areas – but each organization is alone and unique. I’ve worked for large and small non-profits – international monoliths with over 1,000 employees and conduits of community action with only five. Each one has its own culture and each can seem isolated or insulated at times. Just like living on your own, it’s often easy to fall into bad habits.

As a singleton I try to keep my quirks as contained as possible. My biggest is eating dinner every night in my pjs on the couch from a bowl with a spoon. To counter this I have friends over for dinner or brunch every few weeks. It forces me to be social, but it is also a great treat for my friends and me. Something different from our daily routines.

Can you think of the organizational equivalent? Can you find a way to mix up the cultural “quirks” that sometimes get in the way?

I am a big believer in group meals. Barriers can be broken down over a slice of pizza and friendly dialogue. Don’t talk about work, talk about people’s lives and interests. Treat staff as individuals with hopes and dreams and talents – not deadlines, project goals and grant reports.

Take away: Changing bad habits takes time and effort, but little steps and good food go a long way.

Making appeals appealing…

Many of us stick to two major appeals a year (in December and June). Even for small organizations, these mailings are massive ordeals that require concentration, coordination, organization and volunteers. This article isn’t about what makes a great appeal letter, it’s about what it takes to get an appeal letter out the door.

I used to coordinate the appeal letters for a land trust. I remember carefully mail merging letters, response forms and envelopes. I remember too the army of volunteers needed for the week. My volunteers were wonderful and I let them know it. I’d bake treats and encourage lots of chit-chat as we stuffed envelopes. I’d also have them play Mass Mailing Bingo.

What is Mass Mailing Bingo? Well, really, it was a way to keep the volunteer’s attention to the job at hand. Bingo cards had spots for the crazy things all of us know pop up in our databases. People got points for finding:

  • their letter
  • a family member or neighbor’s letters
  • the one woman with four last names
  • the household on “Chuckleberry Lane”
  • another volunteer in the room’s letter
  • and so on

If volunteers knew someone they were encouraged to write a little note on the letter.

I had a winner each shift and they always got some kind of prize. My volunteer army loved stuffing envelopes and loved the organization more because their experiences were fun and personal. My thank you notes to the volunteers always referenced something that happened during their shift and thanked them for making the experience enjoyable and easy for me – something I truly appreciated.

Take away: Volunteers are often financial supporters of your organization. Make their experiences rewarding and their involvement will grow deeper roots.

Create a community

The mission of every non-profit can be boiled down to one concept: Doing good in/for a community. It doesn’t matter what community you are working for – farmers, cancer survivors, female headed households in India – your organization’s goal is to create a positive, lasting change.

But we all need money to make our mission run and that’s where our donors come in. Donors are a community all their own. Though donors shouldn’t be the primary focus, they have to be one of our top priorities because without their support the mission is toast.

So how do we serve the needs of our donor community? Well, the first step is to create a donor community.

  1. Let the donors be part of your organization’s successes in clear, tangible ways. Relay that your success is due in part to their belief, commitment and involvement in your cause.
  2. Mix things up. Create personal, fun and (sometimes) quirky touches – notes, emails, posts – that keep interest and wonder. Donors chose to give because an organization is a tangible outlet for their hopes and dreams. So keep them dreaming about what they can accomplish through you.
  3. Celebrate the community. Every community has their own special celebrations, your donor community should be no different. Host gatherings that have no other purpose than to celebrate the wonderful things they have helped make happen.

Take away: Donors choose organizations that fulfill their own aspirations for the world. By creating a community that celebrates their involvement, you show a tangible connection between your donor and the world they hope to create.

Thanking means including

Donor appreciation is an ongoing and important aspect in our line of work. It can take many forms from simple to complex. It can seem overwhelming. It can seem like a major time-suck. But, donor appreciation is absolutely vital. The truth is that appreciation does not need to be complex, grand or time intensive. What it must be is personal, relevant and donor centered.

Though you should be personal, relevant and donor centered in all forms of appreciation, I have illustrated how to use these three keys when writing thank you notes.


A form letter stating “thank you for your gift of $30.00” with the standard IRS language at the bottom is necessary, but it isn’t an actual thank you – it’s a ticking off of a box.

A thank you is personal and sincere. Thank yous should make the reader feel good about what they have done because what they’ve done has made someone else feel good. Thank yous reinforce the feeling that the reader is part of something.


Being relevant means directly acknowledging the donors gift in a timely manner. Thank yous show the connection between the gift and the impact.

Donor Centered

Being donor centered does not mean being sycophantic, that’s demeaning and won’t win you any support. Instead, put your donors in the center of your communications and your successes. Thank yous make readers feel as if their participation has made a lasting change in someone else’s life.

Notice how all three sound rather similar? That’s because they are…and that makes your life easier. Thanking a donor does not need to be time-consuming. Three lines written on a notecard takes five minutes tops, but will have a lasting impression on the person who receives it. If you make those three lines convey how the reader has been part of something, then you’ve succeeded in making their day. And making their day will make your mission successful.

Take away: Make donors feel as if they are a vital part of your organization, not just casual observers.

A simple splash

Marketing, at its heart, is all about making a big splash. A splash that draws attention long enough to hear the pitch. Those of us who end up in marketing are naturally creative, splashy people. Sometimes though we get so caught up in the splash that we forget the pitch.

Non-profit marketing, on the other hand, is far too often focused solely on the pitch with splash thrown in as a poorly formed after thought. Your organization’s mission is to do good and to make a lasting change in the world. You want to be taken seriously as a credible, reliable, important player in the community – one that people will support through monetary and time donations. But you don’t need a lot of words to do that.

You can be splashy and credible. You need materials that get attention but also engage and the best way to achieve both is to have simple materials filled with sincere words. Show potential donors why their participation is important – to those in their community, to their own lives – and how their involvement will have a tangible, lasting impact – in their community, in their own lives. And do it with as few words as possible.

How do you relay all that you do and still keep it simple? I’d recommend focusing on the following three keys whenever you sit down to write:

  1. Make it compelling. Why should the reader care and how does your organization connect with their interests?
  2. Keep it concise. A great photo shows your work and provides you the opportunity to relay the heart of your organization with a few simple statements that drive the point home.
  3. Be credible. Don’t overstate your mission or the impact you have. Your work should speak for itself.

Take-away: Make it believable and don’t overreach.