General Fundraising

Should we make deliberate mistakes and trickery to get emails opened?

I’ve noticed a trend in email subject lines over the last 12-18 months. Many start with ‘Re:’ or ‘Fwd’ to try and get you to believe the e-mail is part of an on-going conversation or a personal communication.

I fell for this every time in the early days, but I’m becoming increasingly immune to the technique. I now tend to think less of any charity or company that overuses this in their subject lines. I don't like being tricked.

Similarly, I’ve seen one organisation (I’ll keep them anonymous for now, but a prize if anyone can guess!) who almost without fail send me a follow-up mail within 24 hours saying there was some sort of error or broken link in the original e-mail.

Again, this worked on a couple of occasions, but now I’m beginning to question the competence of those involved!

I remember blogging about making deliberate mistakes in direct mail in 2009. It now seems to be a popular e-mail tactic.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you tried these techniques? Did they boost response? Do you have any e-mail pet hates?

Of course, people using these techniques will argue they work and they may well boost open rates. However, like many direct marketing tactics, if they are overused then they can stop being effective. For me personally, that point is approaching.

The reason for asking these questions, is that on 5 March I’ll be speaking at Rob Woods’ Breakfast Club about e-mail marketing.

Over the last year I’ve been working with a number of charities on their email marketing and boosting their donations via email.

I’ve made some mistakes, but also had some fab successes that I’m really proud of. I’ll talk through six tips and techniques that don’t use trickery and that have helped me smash some targets.  

I’d love to see you there, but if you can’t make it then let me know and I’ll be happy to send you a copy of my presentation.

Breakfast Club Details

We start at 8.30am and will finish at 11am. The venue is at The Office Group, The Stanley Building, 7 Pancras Square, London. N1C 4AG. You can see a location map here.

As always, Breakfast Club will help you network with senior peers, solve common problems and learn powerful techniques that increase income.

Places are limited. The last eleven Breakfast Clubs have sold out. This one will too, so if you lead your fundraising function, click here so you don’t miss out.

Nonprofit Blog Carnival: A Celebration Of SOFII - Will You Inspire Or Invest?


The Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (SOFII) is one of my favourite fundraising resources. When I’m stuck with a fundraising problem it is my first point of call for inspiration.

However, it is only as good as the exhibits and articles it showcases. The current archive is amazing, but it only features a fraction of all the innovative and inspiring fundraising work that exists.

That is why I’m dedicating April’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival to gathering new articles and exhibits for SOFII and I need your help…

Get involved and help me gather 100 new articles and exhibits for SOFII.

Don’t be shy. Showcase the most successful fundraising efforts you have been involved in. What made them special? How could they inspire others? What lessons did you learn? 

Not got a blog? It is still easy to take part.

You can download the exhibit form and send your submission direct to me. My e-mail is [email protected]. Alternatively, I’d be delighted to interview you via Skype or telephone.

Not got an exhibit? Why not say ‘thank-you’ to SOFII and make a donation to help pay for the upkeep of the site. Just like Wikipedia and Firefox, SOFII is dependent on the generosity of its users to keep it free and always available for everyone.

SOFII’s founder and managing trustee, Ken Burnett had this to say about the ‘Celebration of SOFII’:

‘Fundraising’s history is, in essence, a history of big, bold ideas shared widely and borrowed wisely. That’s what SOFII is all about – spreading ideas to change the world.

'Now you can be a part of it.

'Making history starts here, now, with your April contribution. Inspire or invest, which will it be?

'Or, why not do both?’


  1. Bloggers – please include a link to SOFII and a request for people reading your exhibit to donate to SOFII.

  2. All submissions will be subject to SOFII’s editorial standards.

  3. You can read March's carnival at the Rad blog. The topic is 'Breaking through the noise'.

  4. Please encourage others to take part. We suggest the #sofii100 on Twitter.

Welcoming Donors and Securing Second Gifts from the Nonprofit Blog Carnival

Welcome to the July Nonprofit Blog Carnival. This month I've assembled the best articles and resources on welcoming your donors and securing that all important second gift.

A huge thank you to everyone who contributed. I hope you enjoy reading the articles and pick up some tips that you can put into action to boost your donor retention.

General Tips and Advice

Erik Anderson (Donor Dreams Blog) took the time to ask his colleagues and friends 'What do you do to welcome donors to your cause to surprise and delight them?' He had a great response and there is a fab collection of practical tips and advice for you to plagiarise copy!

The Veritus Group blog explain why you can't thank fast enough. Although they are talking about major donors, I think their advice applies for everyone.

Ann Green wants you to welcome your new donors with open arms.

Do you have a matching gifts programme? Double the Donation share their tips on using matching gifts to improve retention.

Mark C. Titi on why inspiring faith in your nonprofit might be the key to securing the first and second gift.

Pamela Grow talks you through your new donor welcome kit to secure that second gift.

Farra Trompeter (Big Duck) with five approaches to keep your donors engaged.

The Fundraising Authority present four steps to get a second gift from new donors.

Case Studies

 K. Michael Johnson (Fearless Fundraising) outlines how one small college rolled out a simple loyalty program that led to incremental and sustainable gains in donor retention.

How should you welcome back donors who re-start their giving? The Donor Relations Guru shares a case study from Whitworth University on how they do it better than most. 

As always SOFII provides a treasure trove of case studies on welcoming donors.

The link between culture and retention

Joanne Fritz ( Nonprofit Charitable Orgs) looks at the characteristics of charismatic organisations and how applying the principles can boost your retention efforts.

Simone Joyaux writes at the Bloomerang blog on how to keep your donors and creating relationships that last.

Tony Martignetti (Nonprofit Radio) talks to Dan Blakemore and Maria Semple about donor retention.

Making use of the telephone

Pamela Grow shares one simple habit that reduces donor attrition by a third. If you're not calling your donors to welcome them, then why not?

Jason Dick (A Small Change) urge you to pick up the phone and learn from what your donors tell you.

The importance of data and measurement

Smart Annual Giving highlight the importance of data to your retention efforts. Have you got the processes and systems in place to support your war on attrition?

Karen Climer (Let's Raise Some Money) implores you to measure your retention so you can do something about it.

Don't know where to start? No worries. Orange Gebera explain how to measure donor retention with this step-by-step guide.

Stay tuned for the August Carnival Round-up

I’m passing the Nonprofit Blog Carnival baton to Kivi Leroux Miller over at the Nonprofit Marketing Guide, who will be hosting in August on the topic of awareness raising campaigns. It's a  great subject, so do get involved and take part.

Nonprofit Blog Carnival Updates

You can stay in touch and receive email reminders about the Nonprofit Blog Carnival, by signing up to join the “Friends of the Carnival” here.   

What makes a 'super' fundraising team?

I attended a talk at the RSA* today on 'Superteams' by Khoi Tu - author of Superteams:The Secrets of Stellar Performance From Seven Legendary Teams.

It was a fascinating talk and I wanted to share some of the key learnings about what makes a superteam:

  • Great teams start with great individuals. Ignore the myth of the sole hero (something even Steve Jobs rejected) - the best teams amplify the individual's talent.
  • All superteams have a common purpose that acts as 'a north star to navigate to'.
  • The best teams practice and rehearse to ensure top performance. Think of a Formula One team and the pitstop. They don't do it in under five seconds by accident!
  • Trust is the lifeblood of teams. Knowing your colleagues have got your back and will muck in is crucial.
  • All great teams need abrasion and occasional (healthy) conflict. Too much consensus can lead to group think.
  • Having rules of engagement and interesting conflict helps build trust. Ultimately you want to encourage a 'democracy of ideas, but a dictatorship of decisions' to ensure things get actioned. 

Interestingly, the book looks beyond the normal corporate landscape and examines what makes the Rolling Stones, the Northern Ireland Peace Process, the European Ryder Cup team, Pixar, the SAS, the Ferrari Formula One team and the Red Cross such great teams. 

I can recognise lots of the above qualities in teams I've been part of, but consensus, group think and committees would be the one area that has been the greatest weakness I've observed in teams I've worked in.

What qualities do you think make a great fundraising team? Do let me know...

*audio and video from the talk should be available on the RSA website in a few days.

Competition: Free #IoFLondon Conference Passes

I'm delighted to be able to offer some free day passes to the IoF London Conference next week, courtesy of the Institute of Fundraising London Region.

To put your name forward simply do one of the following:

All names will be put in a random draw and the winners will be announced on Friday 18 November at noon.

Tickets are for a one day pass to either day of the conference.

VIP Draw - Two Day Pass Prize

To win a two-day pass we want to work you a bit harder, so we’ll award the prize to the person who comes up with the best answer (as judged by myself and IoF London Committee Member Kathy Allen - @kathyallen) to the following question:

Which session would you most like to attend and why? 

Answers can be serious, amusing, in-depth or just downright silly.  You can find a full conference programme here.

Again, you can enter in one of three ways:

  • Add your answer to the comments below
  • Tweet it to @ioflondon
  • E-mail me at craig[at]

Three reasons to attend

Even if you don’t win then you can still get tickets for the event and here are three reasons it will be worth your while attending:

  1. It is a general conference and so there are sessions covering all aspects of fundraising.  Most one day conferences specialise in one area, which can give a narrow focus, but here you can improve your all round fundraising skills.  Great for Heads of Fundraising (or aspiring ones!)

  2. There are some top speakers to learn from including Alan Clayton, Mark Phillips, Damian O’Broin and Howard Lake. There is also a good mix of workshops, presentations and plenaries.

  3. Great value for money.  With day rates from £65, the conference offers an affordable training and development opportunity for charities of all sizes and budgets.

When donating money causes more harm than good: the response

Yesterday's post certainly provoked an interesting reaction with over 100 tweets and five times as many visitors to the site as usual.

I wanted to share some of the great Tweets* and comments I've received and I have split them into a number of categories:

General Comments

I have to say 10 years ago that would have been double the numbers received. Nice to see interaction between you and donor :)  I think charities have done lot to target rather than blanket mail their supporters. Whilst targeted mail is on the increase. I think it is in most charities interest to restrict indiscriminate mailings. Some of those numbers per charity were very low.  What i did like from their (the donors) record keeping was no hiding place for the charities clearly overmailing and wasting funds, but still showing poor cold mailing lists and very poor marketing strategies on ROI and RFV. @Phil_RAs

That's a phenomenal amount of mail. It's the data swapping that's really poor form.  @learnasone

I don’t agree, but an interesting read. Reason I said I didn't agree is because giving begets giving and I don't have prob IF letters were real, authentic, personal & fed back.  I'm not suggesting all packs met that criteria! I'm sure most didn't. :-) Their generosity was their biggest downfall! @jonathongrapsas

Interesting piece - I think phone campaigns can have a similar effect. I stopped one gift after high pressure call to increase! However, it's a difficult balancing act - after all, if you don't ask... @attythatwas

Fundraisers should ask 3 questions before sending a mailing: Why am I sending this pack? To this person? At this time? If can't answer, don't send! @adriansalmon

 Digital is the future. @kuntze

 Depressing... @jon_bedford

Possible solutions

We should all look at the letter - it's awful. But what do you do? A centralised database to reduce over-soliciting?  FRSB + major reciprocals brokers, e.g Occam? Voluntary code on list swaps? DPA should guard against this, in theory, but don't. @adriansalmon

I've been advocating some form of planning function for phone contact for years. Over calling kills response. @pauldegregorio

Other examples

We had a granny who collected her DM for us and would use 1 month's worth in pitches - it landed on the desk with a bang!  Poorly created and targeted DM is junk. We should think of the impact on responders and non-responders. One donation form had comments box on it - 1 donor simply stuck twenty different address labels in the box! @markphillips

I did some analysis for a client once & found one poor bloke had been selected for a telephone direct debit ask 13 times - and carried on giving!  I made sure he didn't get another one! He obviously wanted to give cash, not DD! @pauldegregorio

I spoke to a lady whose aunt had recurring gifts setup by credit card, charities concerned were very hard to contact.  All setup by direct mail and telemarketing. There were so many they had split the work of opting out between family. @medavep

That's bad (letters) did you see my collection of Charity Bags? @AFPaz

@linereed @pongogirl On calling donors to apologise:

Was cringeworthy & highly recommended - if you are in the business of trying to change things for the better.

Yep I've done it too. Awful. Talking to donors stops you doing things that look good on a spreadsheet, but actually aren't.


*I've edited tweets to make them easier to read and comprehend. Let me know if you think I have misrepresented what was said.

What Copernicus and Car Advertising has to do with Fundraising (and other revelations!)

I recently had the pleasure of reading Beth Breeze’s research paper on 'How Donors choose charities'.

I decided to send Beth some follow up questions on the research and she has kindly agreed to share her answers.

One of the key findings of the research was for charities to clearly demonstrate that they are ‘in need’.

Do you have any thoughts on how charities can better portray this in their communications and messages?

I think I'd rather that charities were more honest about where need does and doesn't exist, and cease trying to inject a sense of urgency and 'neediness' into their appeals when it doesn't exist.

Not only would that be more honest (for example, do we 'need' another new orchestra or would it just be really nice?), but the evidence is that donors are more likely to respond to how a cause 'clicks' with their personal experience.

The example I used in an article I wrote for Third Sector magazine, is to float the idea that heritage charities could say:

'Do you like trooping round stately homes, having a nice cream tea and browsing the gift shop? Then join us!'

rather than

'We urgently need you to save the fabric of the nation'

I think donors know the difference between meeting needs and pursuing their own tastes, and might appreciate a more honestly framed request.

I noticed that there was decidedly more males than females in the survey. Are you worried about any gender biases?

Also, without being sexist, would it be fair to assume that you spoke to the gent (as the CAF account was in their name for gift aid purposes), but their wife also has an impact on the decision making?

The main concern in my sampling was to reach committed, proactive givers, as opposed to those who describe themselves as donors but in reality just reactively chuck the odd coin in a tin.

This is why I approached CAF account holders, but the down side is they tend to be older, male, live in the South etc - though if these are the backbone of charity funders then they are the right people to speak to!

You're quite right that the named account holder may not be the sole decision maker, and often the wife did chip in in the background, which was endearing and funny to listen to "No dear, we gave up the donkeys years ago"!!

Am I being too harsh in the conclusion that the findings from your study shows that comparison sites, like Intelligent Giving, (which I’m a big fan of), will never greatly influence giving?

That is my current conclusion I'm afraid, much as I can see the logic in providing good information to donors, there just doesn't seem to be the appetite to actually read it or act on it. But I'm open to changing my mind if new evidence emerges, e.g. it may be that people making bigger donations are more likely to do the research. Although recent research from Hope Consulting in the U.S.A. finds this isn't the case.

How do you cut through the marketing clutter? How can you use heuristics/binary distinctions/satisficing etc in your own favour? How can fundraisers get a better understanding of them?

Empathising with donors and understanding that the process by which they make decisions is not only (or even largely) about the charity, but about themselves - their own needs, personal experiences, tastes etc. I wrote about this in a think piece for the NCVO Funding Commission, in which I argue:

“By 2020 the relationship between donors and charities needs to be turned on its head so that givers become the centre of the charity universe.

"As Paul Schervish has suggested, the accepted wisdom that charities need donors in order to help them achieve their organisational mission, ought to be replaced by an understanding that donors choose to support charities in order to achieve their personal missions.

"The nature of this transformation has been compared by Canadian philanthropist Charles Bronfman, to Copernicus’ revelation that displaced the earth from the centre of the universe.

"In this analogy, the donor, not the charity, is the sun around which all else must revolve. This donor-centred universe will be a far cry from the current widely-held attitude that the people with the cash are a necessary evil who must be recruited at minimum expense and kept happy with minimum fuss so they are ready for maximum tapping when required.

"Once the charity sector’s version of the Copernican revolution takes place, the implications will affect all aspects of the fundraising profession.”

Does social media offer opportunities to harness supporters networks to raise money?

Yes, and the reason this works is because people are swayed by being asked by people they know, and by seeing how much others give.

The genius of JustGiving-type sites is the sharing of this information, which prompts others to think "If he gave £x, I'd better give at least £y.

Are you worried that what people say and what they do are different things?

Does the fact that people say they don’t like glossy appeals/flashy communications/free gifts etc, but the reason fundraisers use them is because they work and increase response concern you? The largest and most successful fundraising charities generally have the glossiest comms.

You're right, people are deeply inconsistent and contradictory in this regard. I constantly meet people who berate fundraiser's methods and yet respond to them!

I don't know what the answer to this is - do we carry on pissing people off because it works, or do we change tactics and make people feel more fondly of charities but potentially reduce income?

My interim answer is the former - commercial companies don't worry about annoying customers (think of how irritating many of their ad campaigns are), so long as it boosts their bottom line, and I think charities might have to settle for being less loved but better funded.

On page 37 of the research, you talk about some donors preference for small, local charities. How can small charities tap into the apparent bias towards them?

Small charities should shout about the fact they are small, non-bureaucratic, have a personal touch, rely on volunteers, work hard to keep overheads low etc etc - donors who prefer to support the big boys won't want to support the tiddlers no matter what they say, but those who feel their money is better spent by smaller organisations will respond to these kind of messages.

If donors are so entrenched in their giving choices, then how can charities attract new donors?

As people like Adrian Sargeant have long argued, we should be prioritising the retention of existing donors rather than recruiting new ones.

I once read that most advertising by car companies is aimed at reassuring people who have already bought one of their cars, rather than trying to tempt people to switch from Volvos to Fords.

I think the same is true of cigarette advertising.

My hunch is that charities share something with these sectors, a deep-running customer loyalty that means people will stick with their original decision (be it Volvos, Marlboros or the RNLI) until they're given a reason to leave - so focusing on not pissing off donors is a better investment than trying to win new ones.

Thanks for your time Beth and for providing further insight into how donors choose charities.

Overcoming 'The Curse of Unremarkable Fundraising'

Jeff Brooks rightly laments the amount of boring fundraising that exists in the world today. He highlights the fantastic Donor's Choose as an example of an organisation that you'd talk to your friend about.

To cheer you up Jeff (and everyone else reading) here are a few other examples I've come across recently that show that there are a few non-profits who are giving donors something to talk about.

First up, two examples via the Open Fundraising website.  The first is a fantastic thank you from the Smile Train. Secondly is the launch of, which looks like being the UK answer to Kiva and allows people to lend directly to entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Crowdrise is a great site, with huge potential.  It combines a number of things - volunteering, donating, sharing - and gives people the tools to tell compelling stories.  What also makes it stand out is that they offer points to fundraisers, volunteers etc and these can be redeemed for prizes and other goodies. HT to Frogloop - there a couple of other good examples, but this was my favourite.

The next example is the opening of a non-profit restaurant that asks people to pay what they can afford.  Any surplus profits are then used to support people who can't afford food in the local community. HT Freakonomics blog.

Finally, I thought I'd share two 'for profit' sites, that I found interesting.

Kickstarter is similar to Crowdrise and helps people get start up funding for a variety of projects. The idea has been around for a while, but I really like the layout and design of the site and it seems to be attracting some serious money.

Got any design needs? Then 99Designs is a great concept. You set your budget for a design project, upload a design brief, designers around the world pitch to you, you pick your favourite and pay the chosen amount.  The whole thing comes with a 100% money back guarantee and the quality of work looks very good at first glance.

Project losing momentum? Try these simple ideas

I’m starting a new job at the beginning of June and before I leave my current role I want to try and tie up as many loose ends and outstanding projects as possible.

For various reasons, a number of projects have come to a bit of a standstill and I held a meeting yesterday to try and inject some momentum into them, so I can hand over knowing that things are making progress.

I’ve recently read Switch by Chip & Dan Heath and thought I’d try to use some of their ideas to motivate my team to get things done.

The first technique I used was to show the team that many of the projects  were underway and that they were already 20/30% towards their goal.  This was based on the research in the book about loyalty cards (such as at car washes or coffee shops) which shows that people are far more likely to finish and redeem  a card if you give them a head start, such as a couple of free stamps.

For a couple of the projects the issues were that we trying to do too much at once and had been over-ambitious in our goals, which meant that people had got frustrated when progress was slow and abandoned things when they couldn’t see the next steps.  For these projects I ‘shrank the change’ and focused on the small, simple, next tasks that we could do for each project to get things going again and tried to provide clarity over what was needed.

Finally, I reminded the team of past successes, demonstrated how they’d overcome problems in the past (even when things looked tough) and then got all of them to verbally agree to what the next action would be in various areas. 

I followed this up by sending notes with clear, small tasks that each person needs to undertake in the next few days and with a promise that we’ll review these again before I leave.

The next month will tell if these actions will have any impact, but hopefully I’ll be able to report good progress and handover to my successor with a clear conscience.

I can highly recommend the book and there are tons of resources on their website, including this handy one page overview.

Switch on UK Amazon:

Notes from #media140 - Using Real-Time Social Media in the Third Sector

Attended Media140's event today, which featured a number of panels and guest speakers on social media.

It was an interesting event and as well as seeing a few old faces, it was good to chat to new people and to hear what they're doing with social media in their own organisations.

Below are some quickly typed thoughts and observations from each of the sessions.

Keynote 1: 'Staying relevant in a wired world' by Steve Bridger

I've had a few conversations with Steve on Twitter, so it was nice to see and hear him in the flesh (although I had to dash before getting a chance to say hello!) and I was impressed with what he had to say.

His talk was a personal plea for charities not to make social media a silo and that 'legitimate voices' were a bad idea.

He said we should encourage workers to become better storytellers and professional conversationalists about their cause and to trust them to do it properly.

I particularly found this slide about the changing giving environment useful:

Panel 1: Finding a voice - maintaining personality cross platform, across different campaigns.

The panel relayed how they used social media in their own organisations and the importance of engaging in conversation and not just 'shouting' your messages at people.

Simon Collister of We are Social got a bit of a backlash on Twitter when he suggested that charities outsource their social media. Personally I think the actual Tweets/messages/engagement should be by a charity staff member or volunteer, but I don't have a problem with an agency providing training, advice, strategy etc. As Rob Dyson of WhizzKidz pointed out we don't kick up the same sort of fuss when charities outsource things like face to face or telephone fundraising.

The other quote that I liked from the panel was: 'People are multi-faceted, you only find out their depth and diversity when you engage with them.'

Keynote 2: Building a community from nothing by John Carnell of Bullying UK

I've heard a lot about Bullying UK and social media, but hadn't heard John speak before. I thought he did an excellent job.

He made a number of pertinent points, as well as sharing some great stats on how Bullying UK engage with people. You can see his presentation on Slideshare.

He encouraged people to put their message across as a person and not as a brand as that builds the best connections.

Share, share and share content, be honest, be open and people will love you.

He predicted that the mobile web is untapped. He's getting in early as he think it is about to explode and that this explosion will be driven by the social web.

Panel 2: The future of fundraising with 'real-time' social media?

Some of the ideas and trends that the panel discussed were:

  • The increasing need for NGO's to collaborate to raise fund. No NGO is unique - even if they think they are.
  • The importance of storytelling and fitting your ask around this.
  • Making things relevant at the point of sale and the increase of micro-donations.
  • Mobile barcodes (QR-codes) becoming increasingly popular and will give fundraisers new opportunities to capture data and raise funds.

Panel 3: How to enthuse and co-ordinate volunteers

Jamie Thomas of iVolunteer gave an impassioned defence of slacktivism and said it was better that people did something than do nothing. He said this micro-volunteering (such as signing an online petition) often led to further involvement and engagement in the future.

The panel also thought that volunteering was lagging behind other functions of charities (such as fundraising) in their adoption of social media to manage and involve volunteers. Someone quoted a study that found that less than 20% of small, local charities had any social media presence.

Demo: Media140 Labs

The final part of the day was a presentation from Liam of, which is an online tool to help charities campaign better (well worth checking out if you are a campaigning charity) and from iVolunteer, a Facebook style community for volunteers and volunteer managers. One of the interesting things about this is that they are producing a white label version for large charities to use for their own staff and volunteers.

More information:

Itchynotscratchy's thoughts

The Flickr pool from the day - including this one of me not being able to keep my mouth shut!

The organisers: Media140