July 2009 Archives

July 29, 2009

Fundraising Appeal Letters: Tips for Improvement

Don't miss The Chronicle of Philanthropy's effort to do something concrete about the widespread problem of tired, uninspiring fundraising prose, by inviting readers to comment on one organization's draft appeal letter.

The proffered letter was actually pretty good to begin with. In some ways, that makes the suggestions for change even more instructive. Obvious errors like bad grammar or logical  inconsistencies are easy to deal with, and could have perhaps been spotted in-house. But all writing can be improved, and in this case the commenters give some excellent suggestions for improvement, focusing on length (notice how long the original letter takes to get to the point?) and engaging personally with the reader.

For a quick writing lesson, take a look at the letter and imagine how you'd rewrite it, then read the comments that follow. Learning to edit is a great way to learn how to write!
July 23, 2009

Fundraising Scams Abound

Is it the economy, or am I just happening to notice more news of fundraising scams -- total scams, in which people who are unaffiliated with any organization pose as canvassers in order to raise a few -- or a lotta -- bucks?

Like the woman in Oregon who's been going door to door pretending to raise money on behalf of a cat charity.

Or the young man in Urbandale, Iowa posing as the pitcher for the high school baseball team and requesting money for a supposed team trip to Hawaii.

The kids and adults approaching people in public places in Minneapolis asking for money for local parks.

And the all-too-organized effort among college-age kids in San Francisco selling $40 books, supposedly on behalf of a local hospital.

No, there's probably not much anyone can directly do about such scams -- new ones will arise as fast as old ones get tracked down. But any nonprofit doing outreach or canvassing can help potential donors distinguish the real fundraisers from the scammers by providing lots of official-looking brochures and other identification materials, and giving people a phone number that they can call for verification. (A sophisticated enough scammer can fake all this, too, but it's worth trying to stay at least a half-step ahead of them!)
July 23, 2009

Email Subject Lines Need Attention, Too

Have I not ranted about this yet? Or maybe I have, but I'm still continually surprised at how often nonprofits compose a nice email and then put no thought into giving it a subject line that will make people want to open it.

Just like with mailed fundraising appeals, email readers are looking for an excuse to ignore the message. We're all swamped with email even if we receive nothing but spam! A  less than compelling subject line provides the perfect excuse to zap your email into cyber-eternity.

The worst entry lines I've seen are simply inexplicable -- using mysterious or nonsubtsantive words like, "signs" or simply the organization's acronym. Others title their emails like distress telegrams: "Donations down," or "Help, need more money." It takes a pretty committed donor to not run from that one.

A better approach? As with all types of fundraising, it's to keep people's eyes on the goal; with intriguing subject lines like, "New program close to launch," or "We did it!" Then you can share the hopeful part of your news or plans -- but explain what funding or other help you need to complete or continue similar efforts. You don't have to believe me -- divide your donors into two groups and give it a try.
July 17, 2009

Giving USA's 2009 Report Is Out

Care to take a break to look at the big picture? The Giving USA Foundation, (a nonprofit whose mission is "advancing the research, education and public understanding of philanthropy") recently released its annual survey of giving trends and amounts.

Some highlights:
  • Not surprisingly, giving is down, by 2%.
  • Surprisingly, among the hardest hit are those charities that provide for basic human needs like food, shelter, and clothing.
  • There's some good news: Overall giving is still over $300 billion per year, or 2.2% of U.S. GDP -- a historically strong amount, and a good indicator that people still want to give to the extent they can.
Click here for the press release. The report itself costs $75, but I confess I usually access it at my local Foundation Center library.
July 13, 2009

Did Michael Jackson Leave Your Nonprofit Any Money?

According to reports (not only by the tabloids, but from reputable sources like the Wall Street Journal), the late "King of Pop" named at least one, and possibly more, charitable organizations in his estate plan.

That's not too surprising, given that Jackson was a supporter of many charitable causes during his life. Is there anyone who can't at least hum "We Are the World," the song he wrote with Lionel Richie in 1985 and performed with a large group of well-known musicians to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia?

But we're not likely to find out which charities Jackson named unless they themselves make it public (with the estate's consent). As Nolo's estate planning expert Mary Randolph explains, "A will is a matter of public record, and Michael Jackson's is already available online. However, like many wealthy people or celebrities seeking privacy, he left all his assets to a family trust, the terms of which will not be made public."

If your charity doesn't get a call from Jackson's estate soon, you can still take away one hopeful lesson: Big gifts can come from donors who aren't currently able to give you a lot of money. Michael Jackson died with an estimated $500 million debt hanging over his head. Yet his assets, such as his 50% stake in Sony/ATV Music Publishing, are believed to be worth far more than that: around $700 million.

What's more, you don't have to delve deep into the world of planned giving (and charitable annuities and so forth) in order to let donors know that your organization is a worthy recipient of simple estate gifts. Just continue building relationships with donors, remind them every so often that remembering their favorite charities in their will or other estate planning vehicle is a great way to leave a legacy, and provide information about how you're positioned to use such gifts in a lasting, meaningful way. (For more details on such early steps toward a planned giving program, see the article, "Nonprofit Fundraising Through Inherited Gifts.")