3 Ways to Rev Up Your Nonprofit’s Direct Response Fundraising This Year

February already? Yeah, hard to believe. But there’s still time to get your fundraising act together and kill it in 2023. Here are three ways to jump-start your efforts and begin reaping the benefits while the year’s still young.

1) Find and feature the best stories for your fundraising.

If you really want to connect with your donors, really want to light their fire and infuse them with passion for your cause and good work, tell them a story.

You’ve heard the same things hundreds – if not thousands – of times in recent years. “It’s all about the storytelling.” Or: “Use personalized stories to show the mission and value of your nonprofit.” And each one of these sayings is true, but any old story won’t do. You’ve got to be picky. You’ve got to go hunting for the stories that really resonate.

“Reach into the stream of life,” an old writing professor of mine used to say, “and pull out something that’s alive and wriggling.”

So which stories about your organization are worth their weight in gold?  Which are the ones that get you all juiced up about what your organization is doing… the ones that inspire YOU through the dull parts of your job? Those are the ones to harvest and share. Supporters love to see how your organization – really how, they through your organization – can have a life-changing effect on the people, animals, or lands or whatever you serve. It might be a dramatic account of a life saved. But it might be a simple anecdote that highlights whatever makes your nonprofit unique.

Personalized stories with emotion are always a great choice. Look for stories that feature memorable people on both the giving and receiving end of the work.

Keep in mind that emphasizing personal stories doesn’t mean that stats and numbers have no part to play in your fundraising. But we believe – and studies of philanthropy support – that appealing to a donor’s heart is more important than appealing to their head.  (https://bit.ly/3wS89wv) I don’t think anyone ever got emotionally moved by a statistic. Sure, numbers have their place, but charity and fundraising are about inspiring people, sharing real-life accounts of overcoming struggles, achieving goals in spite of hardships, and having the sheer will to persevere. That’s the stuff of gripping narratives. A list of numbers and facts? Not so much. Everyone can identify with a human story on some level – it’s relatable, it’s tangible. So, if you’re looking to move hearts and raise money, share an awesome story.

Also, keep this in mind when asking for support: Don’t go on about how great your organization is. It’s all too common for orgs to write too much about themselves – even to the point that it seems there’s no need for a donor’s help. That’s a big mistake. First thing to remember: This isn’t about you and your organization, so give your donor a (big) part to play.  Inspire them and never let them forget that their help makes the difference. Your four-star Charity Navigator rating and your “95% of your donation goes to programs” chest-puffing is great stuff. But those things are the avocado toast side to the three-egg farm-fresh omelet that is the donor’s generous help.

Another thing about compelling stories to share with your donors; don’t think, as some orgs tend to do, that you don’t have any great stories. More often than not, they’re sitting right under your nose, with staffers who probably don’t realize the gold mine of material they’re sitting on. Stories of lives changed, animals saved, medical progress made, and so on. The problem is that some orgs have a major disconnect between program people and fundraisers. So, break down that wall and get friendly with some of the folks in your org who are on the ground, in the trenches. They’re not deliberately holding out, keeping the great stories just for themselves, they just may not have that marketer/fundraiser’s nose for a story that would “wow” your donors. So ask the program folks what they’re up to and listen hard. You’ll be surprised at the treasures you’ll come up with to share with your supporters.

One last thought on stories: You don’t always need to give away the ending! That homeless family you mentioned living in their car? We don’t need to know whether they found shelter and support yet. If you end with them in safe shelter, you resolve the natural tension readers feel.  Many will think, “Wow, that was harrowing, but all is well now. … Anything new on Netflix?”  Your readers want a reason to stay engaged, but if you reveal all, you resolve the reader tension and risk losing their attention.  Don’t be afraid to leave ’em hanging! Leave your donor a part to play…  they’ll step up, and you’ll raise more money.

2) Give them a gift in your mail package – or don’t.

The nonprofit world is no stranger to the concept of premiums. “Up-front premiums” – a.k.a. freemiums – are small gifts like name and address labels or greeting cards that are included in a direct mail package to donors or prospects. “Back-end premiums” are more substantial gifts, like a water bottle or tote bag, that are used in direct mail campaigns in exchange for donations (Example: Send a gift of $35 or more and you will receive [insert premium item here]).

As with any form of fundraising, there are pros and cons associated with using premiums. On the plus side, offering premiums as incentives can be an effective way to boost response rates, increase donor engagement, and encourage larger gifts. Additionally, the use of charity-branded items can help spread awareness about your cause. Promotional items like T-shirts or bumper stickers featuring your logo or tagline allow you to expand public awareness about your org’s good works.

However, there are some drawbacks when it comes to offering premium incentives as part of your fundraising strategy. Setting up a successful premium program requires careful planning and significant financial investment up front – often too much for small nonprofits on tight budgets. In addition, many potential donors might find premiums to be unappealing or a waste of the organization’s resources – make sure you’re targeting those most likely to respond positively toward receiving something in return for their donation. It’s also important to monitor retention rates, especially for new donors acquired through the use of a premium package.

In conclusion, deciding whether offering premiums should form part (or all) of your next fundraising campaign requires careful consideration, but done correctly can result in increased response rates, revenue, and engagement opportunities.

3) Boost your fundraising by using postage techniques.

We test copy, design, offers, and ask amounts and a hundred other variables to help drive better response rates. But one often over-looked variable that can make a dramatic difference is postage technique. This can be as simple as testing nonprofit bulk rate postage vs. pre-sort first class or first-class live stamps.

While saving money is always good, we often find that first-class postage produces more gross revenue – sometimes even enough to overcome the additional cost. But there are other postage treatments that can impact response. Sometimes using a nonprofit rate bulk stamp but imaging a faux cancellation stamp over top to simulate first-class postage can give you the best of both worlds: low cost and great response. Another postage treatment strategy that has worked very well is to provide first-class postage stamps already affixed to the return envelope. Of course, this is expensive. Postage doesn’t scale in quantity. But we’ve seen this technique produce double the response rate and more than overcome the additional cost, especially when paired with an urgent offer that provides rationale for the stamps being affixed to the return envelope. Of course, postage-paid BRE envelopes accomplish the same goal of lowering the barrier to response. But BREs come off looking very corporate and non-personal and often do even worse than asking donors to provide their own postage. Test it for yourself and find out.

The bottom line is if you want to see results from your direct mail and programs – to see them stay healthy and grow in 2023 – it’s important to be strategic about how you communicate with your supporters. When it comes to fundraising, being even a little creative can really pay off. You can start by keeping these three tips in mind: Find and share powerful stories, consider using premiums, and use postage as a tool. Follow these suggestions, and you’ll be on your way to boosting response rates and raising more money for your nonprofit. Best of luck, and if you need help getting started, just let us know. We’re always here to lend a hand!


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