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July 2009

The building blocks of donor magic

To my mind, they are a number of key building blocks for creating donor magic and I’m going to talk through each one.  The first one is all about listening.


Donor magic ingredient: Exceptional Listening

Listening Ears


If you’re like me then your mother probably often told you as a child that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  As usual, mum was right!


Actively listening to donors is absolutely key to being successful in fundraising.


Listen. Hear. Understand. React appropriately.


A simple formula for improving your listening skills.  If you can’t listen and react appropriately to donors then you ain’t going to create donor magic.


Good listening isn’t just about verbal communication. 


It’s about the notes that donors write on letters and picking up on the subtle hints they contain; it’s about the non-verbal clues and body language people portray; it’s to hearing through the grapevine that someone isn’t happy and doing something about it; increasingly it’s about listening to what people are saying about you on Facebook, on blogs etc.


Good active listening isn’t easy.  It takes work and practice, especially if the conversation you’re in isn’t particularly interesting, but it is absolutely essential if you want to engage and gain the trust of supporters.


Donor magic ingredient: Be authentic and irreplaceable.


Always be yourself in any dealing with supporters. It is imperative that you don’t try and be something you’re not.  People will see straight through it.


In terms of fundraising this means developing your own story and way of saying things. 


Develop passion and enthusiasm based on your own experiences and knowledge.  Don’t sound formulaic and uninspired.


Back your words up by your actions and consistently behave in a way that reflects your values and beliefs.


Polonius said in Hamlet:


To thine own self be true”


but being true to myself I prefer this quote from Dr Seuss:


“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind”


I was going to paraphrase a blog post from Tom Peters here about being irreplaceable, but rather than rehash what has already been said, I thought it would be better to send you direct to the post.


Donor magic ingredient:  Unexpected & unique


Surprise girl


The brain is a fickle beast.  It processes huge amounts of information every day and only retains a tiny proportion of the images, sights and sounds that we experience.  So how do we overcome this natural deletion and create encounters with donors that will stick in their memories?


By constantly looking for ways to go ‘beyond the norm’ we can create encounters with donors that will be unexpected, unique to your organisation and which will surprise and delight donors. 


Consequently these interactions will have a much better chance of being remembered and recalled by donors in the future.  This means the next time we encounter the donor (be it face to face, through direct mail, on the phone etc) they will remember fondly the previous encounter, which will increase their propensity to give.


How often have you spoken to a donor who can’t remember giving to you previously? 

This is because we haven’t done enough (either through the thank you letter or follow up) to surprise and delight them.  Consequently, the brain hasn’t stored the memory.


“Engage the imagination, then take it where you will.  Where the mind has repeatedly journeyed, the body will surely follow.  People only go to places they have already been to in their minds.” Roy H. Williams


Those are my key building blocks to creating donor magic.  If you've any others then I would love to hear them.


Next week I will be looking at some of the obstacles to creating donor magic.

Seth: an added bonus!

Whilst I was researching yesterday's post on Seth Godin, I came across this letter I received from him after ordering 'Tribes'.  I thought it was great example of how to engage and inspire your audience and wanted to share it with you:


Here's a gift.

No strings attached.

I want to thank you for believing in the Triiibe, for signing up sight unseen, for buying a book you hadn't read yet, hadn;t heard about yet, hadn't browsed yet.

You went first, took the lead, took a (small) chance wih your money and a big chance with your time.


Here's an advance copy of Tribes. An earlyu copy, for you, before anyone else gets one.  Please read and keep it.  And when the one you paid for comes, I hope you'll give that one away.  IN two weeks or so, when it arrives from the bookseller, take that second copy and spread the word.  If all you do is file it away, I've failed.

I write books so people will spread the ideas inside.  I write them to change things, to give a name to something that might be invisible and to give you a tool to make the change you hope to see in the world.

Working with you (and the rest of the Triiibe) is the entire purpose of my career.  I hope you'll put this gift to good work and give it to someone who needs it.

Thanks again,


What does a letter like that achieve?  Well, it turned me from a fan of Seth's to an evangelist.  I showed people at work the letter, gave away my spare copy and made sure the book was passed round. 

It's a great example of viral marketing and how you can inspire your fans to take action.  I'm sure the extra buzz this letter created greatly increased the overall sales of Seth's books and, more importantly, spread his message.

A fundraisers guide to Seth Godin


Today is a special day for fans of Seth Godin. It's a year since he launched the 'Triiibes' site, which was a spin off of his bestselling book of the same name. I'm proud to say I've been a member since day one and have found the site a source of knowledge, inspiration and full of great people who want to share and learn from each other.

I haven't contributed as much as I would have liked so my birthday present to Seth, Triiibes members and fundraisers everywhere is this post, which outlines why Seth's thoughts, ideas and books are a must for every fundraiser.

It is part of a series of posts from numerous members of Triibes and you can go to the next post by following the link at the bottom.

Thanks to everyone involved at Triiibes for making the site such a diverse mix of insight and creativity. You can read a full biog of Seth and his books here on Wikipedia.

Seth: My first time

My first encounter with Seth was with his book 'Permission Marketing', which I read as part of my dissertation research at uni. I was looking at relationship fundraising in hospices and this book (along with Ken Burnett's 'Relationship Fundraising') greatly influenced my philosophy of what good fundraising should be all about.

Put simply, Seth argues in the book that relationships should be built on mutual respect, trust and, most of all, permission. This is quite scary for fundraisers, as it means giving up control and letting the donor dictate the relationship on their terms not yours.

In fundraising terms the only charity I've seen truly put permission marketing into action is the Camphill Trust / Botton Village. Despite their much reported success, impressive response rates and donor retention, no other charity seems to have been able to replicate their success.

My own theory on this is that it is hard work to put permission marketing into action and it can take time to see results and so short-termism wins at the expense of the long term benefits of permission marketing (or relationship fundraising as it also known).

Seth: My best time

Purple Cow 

'Purple Cow' was the next book of Seth's I read. In Seth's words: “it is a plea for originality, for passion, guts, and daring.”

A purple cow is anything out of the ordinary that makes people stop and go “Wow!” For fundraisers it is about making yourself truly stand out from the crowd, to do something extraordinary and different.

So, what purple cows have I seen in fundraising? Well, I think some of the stand out fundraising events have been 'purple cows', things such as Race for Life and the Macmillan Coffee Morning. Stand out mail packs such as the first Amnesty pen pack (which led to thousands of wretched copies) and the first 'Live Aid' also fit the bill as fundraising purple cows.

Creating 'purple cows' is tough, but Seth's 10 point plan in the book gives a good starting point. Like most of his books the answers aren't written for you, instead Seth provides the reasons, inspiration and examples for you to go away and do the hard work.

Seth: When I *got* social media

Sadly I've created a few 'Meatball Sundaes' in my time and find that most charities are guilty of this. Again, Seth comes up with a useful analogy to get his point across. A meatball sundae is two things that are fine by themselves, but just don't work together.

Many charities social media efforts fall into this trap, as they decide to jump on the social media bandwagon - everyone else is on MySpace/Facebook/Twitter* etc so we must be.

However it doesn't work as they haven't thought through how they resource it, how they make themselves interesting, interact with supporters, produce good content etc, etc and so they quickly decide to abandon it and move on to the next big thing.

I did this with my first foray into SMS fundraising. I thought it sounded great and it was a must for us, but I hadn't considered my audience, their incentive to give, how we nurture text givers etc. I was wowed by the technology and didn't think through the practicalities or strategy to accompany it. The result was an appeal that attracted about 50 texts.

If you've got anything to do with social media in your charity or you're trying to work out how to convince your boss to buy into it, then get them to read 'Meatball Sundae'.  

If you want an introduction to Seth and how nonprofits can use social media, then you could also read his free e-book 'Flipping the Funnel' - there is a version aimed specifically at nonprofits.

* delete as appropriate according to the latest craze.

Seth: Part of the Tribe

Tribes was a change in direction for Seth as it was less about marketing and more about leadership. Over the last year i've tried to put some of the leadership ideas in the book into practice, such as:

  • Don't be afraid to lead from the bottom: build your own tribe and don't be afraid to challenge the status quo. I've challenged my bosses (in a constructive way) and used my initiative much more in the past year. As a consequence i've got more done and had fun along the way!
  • Be a heretic and a positive deviant. Be a source of inspiration for others.
  • Tribes also contains one of my favourite all time quotes: “Change isn't made by asking permission. Change is made by asking foregiveness, later.”  I've now adopted this as my motto for getting things done at work. In the past year i've only had to ask for forgiveness once and it was fine!

Seth also has this to say about charities and fundraising: “The big win (for charities) is in changing the very nature of what it means to support a charity. The idea of “I give at the office”.....speaks to obligation. Many people donate to satisfy a guilty feeling or to please a friend. This doesn't scale.....The big win is turning donors into patrons and activists and participants.

The biggest donors are the ones who not only give, but also do the work.....The Internet allows some organizations to embrace long-distance involvement. It lets charities flip the funnel, not through some simple hand waving but by reorganzing around the idea of engagement online. This is the new leverage.

It means opening yourself up to volunteers and encouraging them to network, to connect with one another, and, yes, even to mutiny. It means giving every one of your professionals a blog and the freedom to use it. It means mixing it up with volunteers so they have something truly at stake. This is understandably scary for many nonprofits but I'm not so sure you have a choice.”

Seth: In person

I was lucky enough to attend a presentation and Q&A session by Seth earlier in the year in London. I found his talk as interesting and as relevant as his books and if you get the chance to see him live then take it.

Luckily there are a number of video's of Seth in action and these are my favourites:

Seth's two talks at TED: the first on being remarkable and sliced bread and the second on tribes. Second up, is Seth at Gel in 2006 where he talks about marketing being broken.

Thanks Seth and to everyone on the Triiibes site.  If you have any comments or questions about Seth then I would love to hear them. 

You can find the next anniversary post by clicking on the logo.

Triiibes_blog_ring: next post

Fundraising & Commitees


I loved this cartoon by Hugh.  I'm a big fan of Hugh's work and would recommend you check out his blog.  I've just ordered his new book and am looking forward to reading it.

Anyway, in a timely coincidence, there were a number of good posts about the dangers of design by committee last week and I wanted to share them with you.

First up, Jeff Brooks wrote about an interesting piece of research that analysed 1.5 million words of fundraising copy.  Sadly the results weren't great and Jeff put the blame firmly on the curse of the committee.

Secondly, Marc Hurst talked about his recent experiences at the Acme Company (think it might have changed their name to protect them) who refused to change different parts of their website due to their own self-interest and opinions.

It got me thinking about the times i've been subject to decision by committee. Early in my career I was getting increasingly frustrated by having copy sent back to me with various amends.  My fundraising letter was being passed around various departments and each took their turn to remove certain phrases or words they didn't like.  The result was a bland, insipid letter with all emotion removed. I was fuming.

Luckily I had a supportive boss at the time and they sensed my frustration.  They took a bit of a risk and decided to do a test.  They sent the committee letter to half of our supporters and my letter to the other half.

I'm pleased to say that my letter had about 3 times the response (the committee letter was criminally bad) and a higher average gift.  Our point was made and future appeals were subject to much less editing and we asked for only comments on facts and not opinion.

If you're facing a similar dilemma i'd always recommend taking the 'act first, repent later' course of action as you tend to get far more done by doing so!

Best Fundraising Posts: 25th July

I thought last week might have been a bit quieter as people head towards the summer holidays, but I was as busy as ever.  Got a number of projects that are coming to a head and will be relieved come a week on Friday when they should be just about finished. 

Anyway, here is a round up of what i've enjoyed reading this week...


A long, interesting post on 'The 4C's of Social Media'

Should charities be spending their reserves to get through the recession?

An interesting debate on fundraising ethics and do donors give to the cause or the fundraiser?

A timely and relevant warning about Twitter from Celina at Professional Fundraising

An in-depth post on using the various senses to enhance direct mail.  Should this be in SOFII?  I think so...


Using shared experiences to create word of mouth

Learning to say 'sorry' as a leader

Welcome to Island Marketing by Seth

More word of mouth truths 

Donor Magic: Getting the basics right

Following on from last week's article on 'What is donor magic', this week i'm going back to basics and considering what are the basic things you need to get right before trying to it.

Steve Yastrow in his free e-book "Encounters: The Building Blocks of Relationships"

(based on his book, which i've ordered from Amazon and will review once I've read it) says that whenever you intereact with a donor (or customer) one of three things can happen:

  1. You enhance the relationship.
  2. The relationship stays the same.
  3. The relationship deteriorates.

Our aim has to be that every interaction we have enhances the relationship with the donor.

However, there is no point creating magic if you don’t have the basics right.  This means it’s imperative that we get the transactional parts of the relationship correct and don't do anything that makes it deteriorate. 

Things like: ·    

  • Thanking promptly and sincerely ·    
  • Getting donors information right ·    
  • Respecting donors wishes ·    
  • Being courteous  

Getting the basics right is the bare minimum and is not enough by itself.   It only stops the donor not saying anything negative and grants permission for us to ask or talk to the donor again in the future. It is amazing how many charities fail to even get these basics right. 

Research by Adrian Sargeant1 showed that only 22% of donors stop giving because they can no longer afford to give.  Other major reasons to lapse are:

  • Donor perceives another cause to be more worthy
  • Poor quality of service
  • They forget they've even given in the first place due to the low standard of feedback or communications.

To really inspire and motivate donors to give again we need to create magic and next week I'll look at how you can go about doing this.  

1: "Relationship Fundraising: How to Keep Donors Loyal", Adrian Sargeant, Nonprofit Management and Leadership, vol12, no2, Winter 2001

ChangeThis Manifesto: Cracking the Genetic Code

The latest ChangeThis Manifesto is by Anne McCrossan and is called "Cracking the Genetic Code: A New Way Forward For Corporations".  I believe it is highly relevant for nonprofit organisations.

I've been fortunate to meet and chat with Anne at a couple of events in London and via Seth Godin's Triiibes site. I've found her to be friendly, interesting and, most of all, extremely knowledgeable so I was genuinely looking forward to reading her manifesto.

The basic premise is that businesses, brands and communities need to become more 'visceral' (relying on instinct) and 'flow'. Doing this will “generate momentum and growth through active engagement, learning and development.” To my mind, this is something that is particularly relevant for non-profits.

Throughout the manifesto you can see the influence of writers of such as Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell (to name a few), but Anne elaborates on their writings and presents a compelling case for change and a new approach to business.

Do take the time to download, read and share the entire manifesto, but in the meantime here are some of the key points and insights for non-profits:

  • Old business models based on hierarchy and central control are broke – beware the crazed non-profit zombie, who shuns the chance to engage, alienates supporters by not creating a chance to connect and fails to create memorable connections with donors. Perhaps this is why so many donors forget who they've given to?

  • When a person first comes into contact with you the first thing you get is their attention. This attention shouldn't be undervalued. If you abuse it, you lose that person, if you value and nurture it, you get trust and love.

  • I loved this quote about employees:

    “The best evangelists (for your nonprofit) are prized ambassadors, agents of value and, ideally, employees. And if they're not employees, why aren't they? They're the key to future growth and production.”

  • Just having integrity isn't enough by itself. You need what Anne calls 'blatant integrity', that is integrity that goes beyond just holding up to scrutiny, but which can eliminate objections before they emerge. You can do this by embracing opposition and using it as an opportunity to demonstrate leadership.

  • Emotional intelligence (Anne calls it 'being conducive') is a crucial aspect of leadership. What are you doing in your organisation to encourage it?

  • Passion is key. Passion gets you through the tough times. If you're not passionate about your non-profit (at least some of the time), do everyone a favour and leave!

To finish off I'll leave you with a quote that particularly resonated with me as a fundraiser:

“Instead of having a name over the factory door, create a body of people that stand for something. People will forget what you said and they'll forget what you did, but they'll never forget how you made them feel and what you inspired them to do.”

Fundraising and Sales

It always amazes me how many frontline fundraisers i've met who don't like asking for money.  I should know as I used to be one of them.  However, i'm now proud to ask for funds for my cause as I believe in what my charity does and know the money donated will make a difference.  It took time to get to that point and realise that the old adage 'if you don't ask, you don't get' is true.  My biggest fear, like many people I chat to, is of a tiny, two letter word: "NO!"

I'd recommend that all new fundraisers should undertake some mandatory sales training to help overcome some of the fears they have about asking for money.

Sales is often a dirty word and can have negative connotations.  I hope you'd agree that 'sales' when done badly can be a horrible experience and i'm sure you can think of times a pushy salesperson has lost your business due to their behaviour.  However, some of the best sales techniques are really useful and can give you some of the confidence needed to overcome the 'fear'.

This presentation by Kelsey Ruger is a great starting point for fundraisers who don't like selling.  Thanks for putting together such a great slideshare Kelsey!

Taking personal responsibility


We've all had days that could have gone better.

Days when you want to kick something. 



When you think the whole world is against you.

I think how you react on days like that and bounceback the next day says a lot about you.  Do you blame everyone but yourself for the frustration and failure or do you look at yourself and see how you could do better?

Ultimately, do you take personal responsibility for the situation?

That's the subject of a great post by Chris Guillebeau at 'The Art of Noncomformity' blog.

The whole post is well worth a read, but there are two quotes which really resonated with me:

"Thankfully, for those of us who do take responsibility, there’s good news on two levels. The first good news is that we automatically stand out. In a world of buck-passers, those who decide to take responsibility are unusual. Yay. You get the yellow jersey by default."

Secondly, Chris summed up by saying:

"When we find ourselves stuck in a situation and unable to move forward, something has to change. It is unnecessary and potentially fatal to rely on others to create change for us. Who’s responsible for creating change? You are.

What’s your job? Show up and bring something unique. I’d wish you good luck, but luck isn’t up to you. Luck is like a winning lottery ticket – if it comes your way, might as well cash it in. In the meantime, better to focus on what you can really influence.

Instead of luck, take heart. Take courage. It all starts with showing up"

Powerful stuff and I completely agree with Chris. As an aside, i'd recommend spending some time over on his blog as there's loads of interesting and inspiring stuff!

So, the next time something goes wrong, what are you going to do?

Image courtesy of Nosha

Fundraising and the Herd

Mark Earls is promoting the new, updated edition of Herd by speaking at the RSA next week.  The talk is free and is highly recommended for fundraisers.

Mark is an excellent speaker (his sessions are usually quite interactive and fun) and he presents a compelling and relevant case for how people are influenced and how we should attempt to change people's behaviour.

Of particular relevance for fundraisers are his thoughts on word of mouth marketing,  co-creation and the importance of finding (and living) your beliefs.

Events such as 'Race for Life', Macmillan's Coffee Morning and the Big Toddle are great examples of the 'Herd' in action and any fundraiser interested in what makes events such as this popular should read the book.

*Update*  The event is now sold out...