April 2009 Archives

April 14, 2009

Fundraising Kudos to: Webby Award Nominees

With many nonprofits still struggling to integrate modern technology into their fundraising and other activities, it's worth giving a special round of applause to those whose websites earned nominations for the prestigious Webby awards, honoring the best of the Web. (We'll set aside for the moment the fact that one of these nonprofits, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, probably has no lack of technological expertise at its disposal.)

The nominees include the aforementioned Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Causecast ("where media, philanthropy, social networking, entertainment, and education converge"); charity: water (yes, that's really its name, apparently a clever way to capitalize on people's Web searches); Outward Bound; and The Nature Conservancy.

A quick glance at these sites reveals what the judges admired, and what other nonprofits designing their websites can learn from. Most of them show clear organization, an up-front and brief explanation of their mission, colorful and vivid use of photos and images, interesting content, and other clever ways to draw in readers and get them more involved in the cause.

Although the Webby awards aren't specifically about these websites' effectiveness in bringing in funds, check out the methods that some of them use. For example, the Nature Conservancy puts a number of donation and other options under the heading "how you can help," and encloses it all in a bright yellow box -- the brightest thing on the page. Charity: water opens its site with inspirational video, and offers two buttons underneath; "enter site," and "donate $33." Note that these don't appear too pushy; they're just a realistic part of supporting a good cause.
The Webby winner will be announced on June 8th. For more detailed tips on creating a website that's effective for fundraising purposes, see my article, "Using Your Nonprofit's Website to Help Fundraise."
April 13, 2009

Fundraising Letters: How NOT to Write a First Paragraph

I just came across a fundraising letter that -- with apologies to the sender, who shall remain unnamed -- seems like a good lesson in how NOT to write a first paragraph.

It goes like this: "During recent months, our world has been experiencing swift and constant change. The challenges of our current times are, however, underscored by a feeling of hope for the future. While the weight of the global financial crisis presses upon us, the generosity of our supporters encourages us to continue our efforts..."

Are you excited by reading this? Did you learn anything new? Were any questions or mysteries raised that the rest of the letter will solve (other than the mystery of what effort or cause the writer will eventually ask your support for)?

To me, this opening sounds generic, like a speech that any political figure might give. It's not at all conversational, and therefore impersonal. What's more, it doesn't give any clues about the relationship between sender and recipient, why exactly the sender is writing, or why we should keep reading.

A good fundraising letter starts with a strong personal message, and preferably a hook that draws people in. You're dealing with nanoseconds here -- that's all the time you have before most readers say, "Just another fundraising letter," and aim yours at the recycling bin. For examples of catchy, interesting fundraising letters and more details on how to write one, see the lengthy discussion in Chapter 4 of my book, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits.
April 8, 2009

Relying on Charitable Pledges Can Be Dicey

Check out law professor Vaughn E. James' description of the disastrous sequence of events leading to a possible bankruptcy filing by the Children's Museum of Los Angeles. And here's my even shorter version of the story:

New building constructed but needing millions more to finish and furnish + big pledge that seems like it will save the day + donor assets then frozen due to alleged corruption = big problem for nonprofit
As if we needed further reminders that rich and successful people aren't always what they appear to be... but perhaps this is a lesson in needing to look further and not pin the entire success of one's plans on one pledge.