I love(rize) you!

BackgroundHEARTLIGHTS-01Love. A simple word. A powerful word. A word chockablock full of emotion.

Yet not a word we tend to use when referring to donors or supporters or others who are critically important to the success of our organization. Which is weird, when you think about it, because you generally feel “deep affection” for people who make you successful, right?

Likely the word love is too loaded. And too closely associated with behavior that would be (ahem) inappropriate in the context of a professional relationship.

So let’s give Dr. Jen Shang Sargeant a great, big THANK YOU for coming up with an entirely new, entirely appropriate, and entirely awesome word: loverize!

Listen to this week’s podcast and fall in love with the word loverize…

How will you show the people who help you succeed (or just make you really, really happy) that you loverize them?

Are you a first impression flop?

New supporters are often your loudest supporters. This makes them really super duper important. They are like new converts–singing the gospel of awesome at the top of their lungs. For a brief period of time, you are that gospel of awesome.

Do you motivate new supporters to sing your praises by making a fantastic first impression? Do you make them feel like VIPs?

Most organizations miss the boat on this. New donors often start out at the bottom of the proverbial pyramid. Smaller donors tend to get less organizational adoration. If you’re  looking at short-term ROI, this makes some sense. If you take a longer view and/or are looking at both your cash AND beyond cash goals (as Peter Drury helps you do with his Beyond Cash Fundraising Dashboard), it makes no sense. Zip.

Acquisition is WAY more expensive than retention. One of the lowest cost ways to keep someone happy (and singing your praises) is to shower them with luv early and often–that first volunteer gig, donation, trip to the capital is a key happy-making-shower-them-with-luv moment. And yet many non profits let this opportunity pass them by.

Shanon Doolittle, brains behind the ‘Do good. Feel better.’ blog and generator of 22 Delightful Ways to Say Thank You is possibly The Best Thank You’er Ever. She is a Gratitude Goddess.

What did Shanon do to garner these coveted accolades?

She’s creative, consistent and lightening-fast with her gratitude goodness. She spreads gratitude up and down the donor pyramid…and is especially generous with newly minted supporters. She makes you feel grateful you had a chance to give to whatever cause you just gave to. (In addition to her day job at Group Health Foundation, Shanon raises money for many other causes in her spare time…she’s that kind of gal).

We should all channel our inner Shanon when it comes to making a fabulous, gratitude-infused first impression.

Are you making a fab-tastic first impression? Or are you a (gulp) first impression flop?

photo credit: SnoShuu via photo pin cc


5 Small & Deadly Mistakes to Avoid

MistakesA few weeks ago, Harvard Business Review blogger Kyle Wiens wrote a post about why he won’t hire people who use poor grammar. The comment section became a veritable grammar smack-down, with over 1,400 people weighing in.

As a non profit focused follow-up to Wiens’ post, I did one on why I wouldn’t give to non profits that use poor grammar. Based on how much traffic that post got, it’s clear this grammar stuff gets people all hot and bothered.

Why would posts about things as mundane as commas, semi-colons and apostrophes unleash such a fervor?

Because in people’s minds, sloppy grammar amounts to sloppy work. And few people want to support a sloppy org, let’s be honest.

Grammar isn’t the only small thing that turns out to be a big turn-off. Here’s a list of the Top 5 Small but Deadly Mistakes to Avoid (if you want happy supporters):

  1. Failing to honor someone’s request to not receive direct mail: Really, seriously take them off your list. No excuses.
  2. Not sending timely thank you notes: If someone can’t remember making the gift for which you are thanking them, you’ve missed your window for a gracious, heartfelt, “we value you” moment with that donor. Bummer. Ditto for volunteers, advocates or anyone else who has done something nice for your organization. Apps like Red Stamp and the ongoing consistency of the US Postal Service can help you make this happen.
  3. Misspelling someone’s name (yeah, I know this is close to grammar but it merits its own spot): One time? Okay. More than that—especially for your most committed supporters—is poor form. Nothing says, “I can’t be bothered” like consistently writing Addams instead of Adams.
  4. Poor phone etiquette: If someone has taken the time to pick up the phone to call you, they should be treated well. From the first “hello” to a smooth transfer to a courteous sign-off (“Thanks for taking the time to reach out. It means a lot to us!”), the phone experience matters. Basic phone etiquette can go a long, long way to happy supporter-dom.
  5. Cross-channel inconsistency: Okay, this one isn’t exactly small, per se, but it’s deadly if you don’t get it right. With the advent of social media, keeping consistent across channels is a challenge. If I first meet you on Facebook and then I visit your website and it looks like it was last updated in 1999, I’m going to wonder what the heck is going on with you. Facebook says modern. Animated gifs not so much. (If you’re stuck on this, this post might help.) Ditto for messaging. If your board chair describes what you do in a way that is inconsistent with the brochure she’s left behind for you to peruse, this doesn’t instill confidence. It erodes it. Confidence leads to trust and trust is the cornerstone of both initial and ongoing engagement.

Some of these traps can be handled with process improvement, some are a question of culture and values and others are a matter of carving out time to get your house in order. Can’t tackle all five? Prioritize them from most egregious to least and, over time, work your way through the list.

Here’s to sweating the small stuff!

Thermodynamics, Ironman, and Ambassadors for Good

thermodynamics, mission, non profits
We can convert energy to make the world a better place.

Yesterday morning at 6:30am, I found myself bobbing on a dock watching 1,000+ wetsuit-clad people of all shapes, sizes, and ages hit the water as they began Lake Stevens Ironman 70.3. My husband, Rod, was among these kooky cats.

It makes you wonder what motivates people to do it.

For Rod, the answer was heart-breakingly straight-forward: he was doing it in honor of our friend, Sean Murphy, who had passed away doing the Coeur D’Alene Ironman a few weeks ago.

But most people there had never met Sean. (For the record, Sean was one of the most exuberant, awesome, full-of-life guys you’d ever have the great good fortune to know.) So why do something that grueling?

We often wonder what’s possible–physically, emotionally, mentally–but we don’t often push ourselves to find out. Every single one of the athletes yesterday was pushing themselves to find out.

As organizations, it’s even easier to convince ourselves to play it safe. Too risky, we tell ourselves. The funders/donors/supporters wouldn’t like it if we failed.

Is your goal for people to say that you’re cautiously plucking your way toward moderate mission impact? Likely  not.

In his ‘Eulogy from a physicist’, Aaron Freeman makes a moving case for seeking solace in the first law of thermodynamics:

“According to the first law of conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly.”

This thought brought me a lot of peace as I watched all those athletes yesterday. It gave me a way to understand that Sean was there, even if we didn’t see him leap into the water.

That we can convert energy should be a call to arms–if the goodness that is you and your organization already exists and will always be here, shouldn’t we do what we can to harness as much of the universe’s energy so that those particles become Ambassadors of Good, forever on a mission to make the world a better place?

Sean was an Ambassador for Good. Rod did him–and all of us–proud yesterday when he raced on his behalf.

The Ironman may not be your thing. But making your supporters proud and doing good by your cause is. Please do so without ever apologizing for the boldness of your efforts and the limitless potential of your impact.

Mission-Motivated Messaging Checklist

mission, messaging, checklist. non profits
Got your why? Check!

This morning, I got to spend time at the PNAIS Advancement Conference. I did a session on Marketing Your Mission in 3 Easy Steps. No matter how many times I present on this topic, I’m always 1) humbled by the AMAZING work being done to make the world a better place and 2) reminded how little time we spend on the Why of it all.

Directly after my presentation, I got to hear Susan Howlett speak. Susan is responsible for transforming thousands of organizations through her work with boards. Her book Boards on Fire is setting the world of fundraising on fire!

In her session, Susan encouraged us to heed Simon Sinek’s advice to start with the why–and to keep going back to the why. Not just start with why, but to lead with why from start to finish. Sprinkle in some what and how, sure, but elevate the why.

For some reason, the mission-motivated of the world shy away from sharing their why. Why be shy about your why?

In an effort to stop this “Shy About Why” epidemic, I created a Mission-Motivated Messaging Checklist. The next time you are going to communicate about your organization, run down the following list:

  1. Why? Why does your organization exist? Why should someone care about what you’re doing?
  2. Why you? Of all the organizations out there, why should someone engage with you? What makes you special? Compelling?
  3. Why now? What makes now the time for someone to take action?
  4. What  now? What, specifically, do you want the person to do? Make it clear and make it easy. (Note: If you’re writing a Thank You note, for instance, the “action” might be to feel really, really good about the impact they’ve had. This isn’t a plug to always make an ask. It’s a plug for always being clear on what you hope the person on the receiving will feel and, when appropriate, do.)

If you address all of these, you’ll be in good shape.

Are you shy about your why? If so, why?


Event donors: more than a one night stand

event360, fundraising event, donor communicationsEvent 360 recently released a new white paper: 4 steps to converting event donors to organizational donors. I will leave the in-depth commentary on whether these are the “right” 4 steps to event pros like Shanon Doolittle but will say that the event donor segmentation and sample engagement plan for major donors alone are worth giving over your email address for (which you have to do to download it).

Here’s the thing: Event donors often get stuck in the one night stand camp because we try to go too far, too fast.

Unlike most other forms of fundraising where there is a longer lead up to the ask, event participants go from ‘I don’t know you at all’ to ‘going all the way’ (i.e. making a donation) very quickly.

Even after the event, event attendees barely know you! You’ve had a fling. Even if it was a great fling, it was still just a fling. That’s very different than a courtship.

From a messaging perspective, this means you have to properly introduce them to your organization after the event. In the event follow-up, don’t make the mistake of leaping to the middle of your story. Reinforce what they learned–and felt–at the event. Reiterate the key points from the event. Reinforce why they should like you. Cement their basic knowledge of your cause, your mission, what makes you unique and how they can engage.

This may sound incredibly, painfully obvious. But I’m always surprised how clunky post-event communications tend to be. Take it slow and your event donors can turn into much more than a one night stand.


Brand is Lame

I’ve been thrilled to hear more and more mission-driven organizations talk about their brand. It’s downright happy-making.

In this day and age, understanding your organization’s brand is imperative if you want to stand out while staying grounded. When the three elements of brand (visual, narrative and experiential) come together in a compelling and consistent manner, you create an engagement-rich environment.

Here’s what doesn’t thrill me. When someone uses the word ‘brand’ instead of  ‘organization’. To illustrate:

“Donors just love our brand!”

Really? Have you heard a donor say: “I support Organization Awesome because I just love their elevator pitch.” Or perhaps, “Organization Awesome is my #1 partner-in-good. I mean, look at their logo!” Might how you talk about your organization (narrative aspect of your brand) and your logo (one piece of the visual aspect of your brand) resonate with a donor? You bet. But it’s that you are effectively speaking to what they care about through these things that makes their hearts go pitter pat.

What donors–and anyone else engaged with your organization–love is your cause and your mission. They care about what you do and how you do it (your mission) and why you do it (your cause). (Here’s more on the difference between cause and mission, if that last sentence made you furrow your brow.)

The word ‘brand’ is trendy. That’s fine. It risks ending up on the Banished Words list, but it’s fine.

What’s not fine is if you let its current celebrity status distract you from the whole point of having a clearly articulated brand–so people can connect with your cause and engage in our mission!

In Sum: Brand for brand’s sake is lame. Brand for the purpose of connecting with supporters who are passionate about your cause and lit up about your  mission is awesome.

[DIY Moment: If you’d like some help figuring out your brand, here’s a free resource.]



How Social Media Can Help You Do 5 Things You’re Already Doing

Group of Hands Holding Speech Bubble with Social Issue ConceptsJohn Janstch of Duct Tape Marketing constantly offers great advice that is as relevant to nonprofits as it is to the small businesses he works with every day. A few months ago, the Claxon crew got to see him in person in Seattle. Fantastic!

This post is modified from a recent post of his called “5 Ways to Use Social Media for Things You Are Already Doing.” What person working in a nonprofit doesn’t like the sound of that?!

Thinking that sounded pretty great, I took his key points and made them specific to nonprofits. (My changes are in [brackets].) The terminology may be different, but the advice is the same. And it’s good!

1) Follow up with [prospective donors]

I love using social media tools as a way to follow-up with [prospective donors] you might meet out there in the real world. So you go to an [AFP or NDOA] event and meet someone that has asked you to follow-up. Traditionally, you might send an email a week later or call them up and leave a voice mail. What if instead you found them on LinkedIn, asked to be connected and then shared an information rich article that contained tips about the very thing you chatted about at the [AFP/NDOA] mixer. Do you think that next meeting might get started a little quicker towards your [mission]? I sure do.

2) Stay top of mind with [donors]

Once someone becomes a [donor], it’s easy to ignore them, assuming they will [donate] next time they [want to] or, worse yet, assuming they understand the full depth and breadth of your offerings and will chime in when they have other needs. Staying in front of your [donors] and continuing to educate and [move them up the ladder] is a key ingredient to building marketing momentum and few [nonprofits] do it well. [Because it’s really hard to do everything well with so few resources!]

This is an area where a host of social media tools can excel. A blog is a great place to put out a steady stream of useful information and success stories. Encouraging your [donors] to subscribe and comment can lead to further engagement. Recording video stories from [donors] and uploading them to YouTube to embed on your site can create great marketing content and remind your [donors] why they [donate to] you. Facebook Fan pages can be used as a way to implement a [supporter] community and offer education and networking opportunities online. [For a great example of this, check out The Pride Foundation.]

3) Keep up on your industry

Keeping up with what’s happening in any industry is a task that is essential these days. With unparalleled access to information many [donors] can learn as much or more about the products and solutions offered by a [nonprofit] as those charged with suggesting those products and solutions. You better keep up or you risk becoming irrelevant. Of course I could extend this to keeping up with what your [supporters], competitors, and key industry journalists are doing as well.

Here again, new monitoring services and tools steeped in social media and real time reporting make this an easier task. Subscribing to blogs written by industry leaders, competitors and journalists and viewing new content by way of a tool such as Google Reader allows you to scan the day’s content in one place. Setting up Google Alerts and custom Twitter Searches or checking out paid monitoring services such as Radian6 or Trackur allows you to receive daily email reports on the important mentions of industry terms and people so you are up to the minute in the know. (Of course, once you do this you can teach your [donors] how to [learn more about the mission you both care about] and make yourself even more valuable to them – no matter what [your mission may be].)

4) Provide a better [donor] experience

It’s probably impossible to [do too much donor recognition], too [provide too] much of a great experience, but you can go nuts trying.

Using the new breed of online tools you can plug some of the gaps you might have in [cultivating donors] and, combined with your offline touches, create an experience that no [other organization] can match.

While some might not lump this tool into social media, I certainly think any tool that allows you to collaborate with and serve your [donors] qualifies. Using an online project management tool such as Central Desktop allows you to create an entire [donor] education, orientation, and handbook kind of training experience one time and then roll it out to each new [donor] in a high tech [donor] portal kind of way. This approach can easily set you apart from anyone else in your industry and provide the kind of experience that gets [donors engaged].

5) Network with potential partners

Building a strong network of strategic marketing partners (i.e. another organization that cares about the same cause as you and offers complementary services) is probably the best defense against any kind of economic downturn. One of the surest ways to attract potential partners is to build relationships through networking. Of course you know that, but you might not be viewing this kind of networking as a social media function.

If you identify a potential strategic partner, find out if they have a blog and start reading and commenting. Few things will get you noticed faster than smart, genuine blog comments. Once you establish this relationship it might make sense to offer a guest blog post. If your use a CRM tool (and you should) you’ve probably noticed that most are moving to add social media information to contact records, add your potential partners’ social media information and you will learn what’s important to them pretty quickly.

If you know how to set up a blog already, offer to create a blog of network partners so each of you can write about your area of expertise and create some great local SEO for the group.

Maybe you’re not doing all of these things, but you’re probably doing at least a one or two.

Take John’s advice and you’ll definitely engage your donors more effectively. And who doesn’t want that?!

Marketing-Fundraising: A Happy Continuum

We chose to focus on the Marketing-Fundraising Tango this month because so many of our nonprofit friends and colleagues voiced confusion, frustration or consternation at how this works (or more accurately doesn’t work) at their organizations. The amount of brow-furrowing over this is interesting to me since marketing and fundraising are simply different means to the very important end of engaging people with your cause.

Here’s perhaps a different (and hopefully helpful) way of thinking about this. Rather than thinking of these two functions separately, think of them as points along a relationship continuum. On one end, you have marketing and the other fundraising. On the marketing end of the continuum, you focus on attracting new supporters to the organization by reaching out to groups of individuals (otherwise known as target audiences). These are largely one-to-many activities such as advertising, community events, and PR.

As you slide further toward the fundraising end of the continuum, the activities become more tailored to an individual, rather than a collection of individuals. They are personalized activities meant to deepen a supporter’s relationship with your organization.

When you think of marketing and fundraising as a continuum, then you simply adjust your position to support your current goals and objectives. If you have had above-average attrition and need to attract new donors, you might settle on a spot closer to the marketing end of the continuum. If you have a solid donor base and want to increase the number of major donors you have, you’d likely slide over to the fundraising end.

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?