A giving incentive for your donors


Last week I shared how using Infographics can rev up your fundraising campaigns. This week’s topic isn’t nearly as fun, but it does have potential to increase giving from your retired donors. While this has big implications for donors giving up to $100,000, your smaller dollar donors can also take advantage of tax savings from this change to the tax code. I’m talking about the…


IRA Charitable Roll-Over


First of all, what is it?

Basically, donors 70 ½ years old can now make donations directly from their IRA without assuming the income and therefore not having to pay tax on top of that. Essentially, a donor can make, say, a $1,000 donation without also having to pay the income tax associated with withdrawing that amount from their retirement account.


Why 70 ½ years old?

Well, IRA holders are required to start withdrawing from their accounts at, you guessed it, 70 ½ years old. The IRA donations count towards their annual required disbursement, so this is a great way for retired donors to minimize their tax liability.


What changed?

Prior to 2006, this wasn’t even an option. Starting in 2006 and through 2015, Congress passed last minute amendments to the roll-over rules, allowing the IRA donations. The problem for fundraisers is that these changes were often made very late in the year, often as a last minute bill in December, right before Congress left for vacation, leaving little time to get the word out.


But starting January 2016, Congress made this rule permanent, so organizations are now able to promote this method of giving throughout the year.


What do I do with this information?

Tell your donors about it! Most organizations are just starting to get the word out to their donors, so this is an opportunity for almost any organization. The good news is that this information carries well without requiring a fully dedicated direct mail package. Post cards and buckslips in existing mailings / bouncebacks can be effective. Email communication and even social media posts are also a great way to get the word out. Newsletter articles are another effective way to promote this benefit to your donors.


Any caveats?

Since this information depends on a donor’s age, it’s a good idea to append that information to your file, so that you can effectively target your efforts. Additionally, since we are talking about tax liabilities, it is a good idea to use copy provided by a planned giving professional or have your materials reviewed by a tax professional for accuracy.


Sure, this isn’t likely a “game-changer” for most organizations. But it is another arrow in the quiver of the skilled fundraiser – YOU!

Scott AllbeeA giving incentive for your donors
read more

Picture this!


“I don’t have time to read,” say too many of your donors.


“Then how can I reach you?” say you.


“Send me something I can digest quickly.”


“Great,” you reply. “I have just the thing.”  


Want to speak a common language with your “I can’t read anything for more than 20 seconds” kind of donors? One good answer: Infographics.


Infographics speak volumes quickly to “I’m in a hurry” donors and help move them to action. And no wonder – studies show that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual!


Fascinating, right?


To learn more, check out this article (with visual examples, YES!) on how infographics can make your nonprofit marketing campaigns sizzle.


Always supporting your vision,


Sean O’Neil

Senior VP


P.S. At New River, we love pictures. But we also love words. We know how to put them together in a way that engages donors and moves them to action. Can we help you with that at your nonprofit? Let’s discuss. No pressure. No obligation. Contact me at or at the office, 954-587-8820.

Scott AllbeePicture this!
read more

Shameless Practices of the Worst Charities

Have you seen this recent report produced in collaboration with the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting? The report, titled America’s Worst Charities, exposes the fraud and abuse of trust perpetrated by some of the biggest scum bags in our industry. It is an exhaustive (and nauseating) look at the practices employed by 50 sleazy organizations that call themselves charities. I encourage you to read the report…but not on an empty stomach.


Our industry – the direct-response fundraising industry – relies on this simple exchange between trusting partners, “If you give me some of your hard earned dollars I will do good with it.” Most of the good people who fuel the efforts of social welfare organizations with their donations are trusting people. “You say you’ll use my money to help find a cure? Sounds good. Here’s my check for $35.”


But when fair-minded people read a report like this and discover that some in our industry are playing them for suckers—it erodes trust. In all of us. And if allowed to go on with no retribution for the crooks? A pox on all our houses.


It’s not that there haven’t always been a few con men lurking in the shadows of our industry. It’s that the short con has morphed into a long con and become systematized to the point that it has become a formula for fraud…


Start with a name that sounds a lot like the name of a popular, reputable charity. Find some hapless schlub willing to sell his soul for a six-figure salary and make him the figurehead and fall-guy-in-waiting. Mix in high-pressure and high-volume calls and letters. Make up a bunch of half-truths and exaggerations about the good you will do. Then sit back and laugh at the suckers while you recline on the porch of the lake-front house you built with money you raised to cure childhood cancer or help wounded veterans. You know the regulators aren’t likely to do anything more than slap you with a miniscule fine that you write off as the cost of doing business. And even if enough states ban your organization from operating? You just start over with a new name and a new figurehead.


Meanwhile the rest of us working hard to grow programs ethically and sustainably struggle with stagnant response rates and declining retention. I’ve been working in this industry for 20+ years now and I was fortunate enough to learn at the feet of industry pioneers and titans like Jerry Huntsinger and Mal Warwick and Ray Grace and Claude Grizzard. These guys weren’t boy scouts. They were tough-minded businessmen who didn’t suffer fools. But they were honest and ethical and would have scoffed at the small-minded shortcuts taken by the jerks named in this report.


Most people in this industry are good, hard-working, honest, intelligent folks who really want to use their skills and talents to do some good in the world. But when unscrupulous charlatans are allowed to make our job harder by destroying the trust of donors everywhere? It’s infuriating.


And it’s time we spoke up. So the next time you run into one of these jokers at an industry conference, tell them what you really think. If some of these agencies are trying to play both sides of the street by simultaneously working with reputable charities and disreputable con-job operations? Don’t give them your business. If you are active in industry trade associations, push for stronger enforcement of guidelines. Let your voice be heard. Stand up to these knuckleheads before they pull the rug out from under all of us.

Katapult MarketingShameless Practices of the Worst Charities
read more

The Super Bowl’s Finest Moment

Dodge Ram’s tribute to the American farmer, with the late Paul Harvey’s distinct voice over, was brilliant in its simplicity and emotional impact. I’m sure it was the talk around many water coolers on Monday morning.

But, it’s no surprise that it struck such a chord…

As a fundraiser and writer, I’ve come to understand and embrace the power of emotion to engage donors. And that’s why I’m often surprised to hear an executive director (or the non-profit’s board) decide that the last direct mail campaign was “too emotional” in reference to the appeals’ copy, the images, or both.

Instead, these well-intentioned leaders ask for more statistics, more organizational messaging, more “about us.”

Their intentions are good, but they are dead wrong. Testing has proven time and again that stirring key emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, etc. – not appealing to logic with facts and figures – is what drives a donor to action, volunteering, signing a petition or writing a check.

While the most effective non-profit direct mail works to engage both the “head” (providing facts/statistics) and the “heart” (story/emotion), various studies show that if you err on either side, better results are achieved with more “heart” and less “head.”

Are your own fundraising efforts too formulaic, too rational? If so, maybe it’s time to convince your boss or board to at least test injecting emotion into communications with your supporters.

Stir donors’ interest in your work with a true and authentic story. Focus it on the “story of one” – the single mom struggling to make ends meet or the Golden Lab that was beaten, tied to a chain and left to die by a heartless, hateful owner. Never forget this: the most jaw-dropping statistic is no match for a good personal story to capture attention and spur action. 

So, if your next direct mail appeal or e-mail campaign makes you cry, smile, scream, or get goose bumps, congratulations! Like those marketing gurus at Dodge already know, people respond to emotion. Trust me, your results will prove it…

Katapult MarketingThe Super Bowl’s Finest Moment
read more

Your Great Story Isn’t Enough

         Use the word “You” early and often. Be warm and conversational – don’t write a term paper – in your letters, emails, and other communications to donors. Tell stories. 

         That’s the gospel we preach here at New River Communications – at least a few books of it.

         All excellent advice, too, (though judging from many letters and emails we see being sent out by non-profits large and small, it’s advice not always taken.)

         But sometimes we and other like-minded agencies make it sound too simple…

         You could come away thinking, “Awesome! Just write a letter that breaks every rule of grammar I’ve learned since fourth grade, insert “You” in every other sentence, and tell a couple of stories about our work, and ‘BAM, PRESTO,’ the money will come pouring in!”

         Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.

         Close, but not quite. The part about breaking your English teacher’s grammar rules (and heart) and sprinkling more “Yous” throughout the copy is right on, but getting the storytelling part right requires more thought.   

         A recent post by Jeff Molander got me thinking about that. He writes:

The biggest beef I have with most of today’s content marketing experts is this: In the end, they claim it’s all about a good story when it’s not. You can tell the most honest, interesting, moving story possible and never get the customer to pick up the phone, send an email, make an appointment with you, click to fill out a lead form… take an action. And that’s just a waste of a good story!

         Jeff’s talking about the use of stories for sales in the commercial world, but I believe much of what he says also applies to us good people working in non-profits. Jeff doesn’t hate a good story, he just thinks it’s not enough – and I think he’s right.

         When you tell a story about your work, are you connecting it back to your donors with the most powerful offer/request for support possible? Are you moving their hearts and then making it easy for them to join in and help?  

         If your story/offer doesn’t compel a donor to take action and make it easy for them to do so, if it doesn’t draw them closer to your work and make them proud to be associated with you, if it doesn’t motivate them to think, “I love this organization. I want to do more to help – and I will!” you have to ask yourself,

         “Can I do better?”

Katapult MarketingYour Great Story Isn’t Enough
read more

One essential you need to get right

        Non-profit executive directors and development directors often ask me: “How can we use direct mail without being overwhelmed by complex strategies, production issues, postal regulations and other things I just don’t have the staff or time for?”

        These leaders at small to medium size organizations get it. They recognize that…  

(a) A significant portion of the U.S. population are charitable and willing to support causes they believe in.

(b) Even though social media is all the rage, the vast majority of donors use direct mail to make their donations. (Many love to research organizations like yours online, but they do their actual giving the old way – at least 90% of it anyway!)

        So from summer on, I answer their question like this: “Make sure you send out a year-end appeal to all your donors.” Even if it’s a low-key request for help, getting something into the hands of your supporters in the thick of the charitable giving season is essential –

        In fact, most non-profits receive nearly half of all annual donations in the fourth quarter. But it won’t happen magically. Out of sight, out of mind. In the frenzy of the giving season, you’ve got to be on your donors’ radar screen – reminding them of the good works you’re doing and, most important, that you depend on them to make those good things happen.

        If you don’t tell them, how will they know?

        When done properly, a mailing with a compelling offer and direct ask sent to the right audience, can produce truly stellar results. One organization we helped with only 4,000 donors generated income of more than $100,000 from a single year-end mailing!

        Labor Day has come and gone – NOW is the time to get started! Remember, your donors aren’t just your donors. They “belong” to other organizations as well – organizations who will be reaching out to them this fall. . .

        Will you get there first?

        If you want to save the work and worry of producing a year-end appeal, we are ready and happy to help! Just click here to see a sample of our year-end package format – we’ve made it simple and affordable for small and medium-sized organizations to get an effective year-end appeal into the mail.  Minimum 3,000 pieces

        New River’s team of agency pros will create and mail your year-end appeal for just .88 cents per piece, including postage! To participate, please contact Margaux Parento by phone 954-535-0644 or email I must hear from you by Wednesday, September 12th to participate!

Katapult MarketingOne essential you need to get right
read more

Quit Social Media? Not so fast…

I just ran across an interesting post on The Agitator by Tom Belford on quitting social media.  Tom cites Erik Sass’s 9 Reasons to Quit Social Media Now … a thoughtful take on why social media isn’t always a net positive.  In closing, Tom calls for rebuttals, so here’s mine:

I absolutely appreciate the lead in to Tom’s post; at this point, social media is not a major medium for fundraising.  If you look at response rates and dollars generated by social media, it’s only a drop in the bucket compared to email fundraising – which itself is only a fraction of the donations received via direct mail.

I would argue, however, that it misses the larger point of how social media is best used by nonprofits. 

First and foremost, social sites like Facebook and Twitter are best used by most organizations as a branding and engagement tool.  For most organizations, there is no quicker, cheaper way to communicate with donors than posting on your favorite social media site.  This truth is only becoming more prevalent as the stereotypical donor group (read: older donors) move online.

Social media sites are also one of the best ways to motivate the elusive 40 and under donors.  Dunham+Company’s recent study of online donations makes the point quite succinctly:

Social media motivating more donors under age 40

Social media shows no real improvement in motivating an online gift among donors 40 years old or older (10 percent in this survey versus 8 percent in 2010).  However, social media giving continues to grow among donors under age 40, as a full 30 percent now say they have given online because of social media compared to 24 percent in 2010.

My co-worker at New River Communications Christa Chappel just shared the perfect example of social media as a direct response channel:

Florida Yorkie Rescue continues to engage and involve people (donors or prospects) on Facebook and the owner Kit has said that if it weren’t for her doing that on Facebook she wouldn’t raise as much money.  She doesn’t have funds nor time probably to participate in direct mail or do a major fundraising event but she posts about a situation (dog needing surgery), the goal amount to solve the problem, and all of a sudden within 48-72 hours she hits her goal.  I am a donor and have given to almost every one of her cases…

Bottom line, it’s a multi-, multi-, multi-channel world out there, and the prospect of quitting social media – even if we wanted to – isn’t really an option.  The only question now is: what do we do with it? The answer isn’t the same for every nonprofit, but I believe nearly all can find ways to enrich their relationship with donors who use some form of social media – and isn’t that just about everyone these days?

Now, off to tweet this to the masses…

Katapult MarketingQuit Social Media? Not so fast…
read more

Five Ways to Boost Your Fundraising Returns

Looking for a few good ideas to maximize your fundraising results?  Try one or more of these five strategies and watch your returns head north:

1)  Target Ask Amounts to the Donor

If you have any mail pieces that are using a generic ask for everyone that receives it; change it.  And by change it, I don’t mean add a couple of ask levels.  Calculate ask amounts based on a donor’s past gift history.  You’ll get within each donor’s gift range and avoid under-asking, and also avoid asking them for gifts significantly higher than they could ever give. 

2)  Follow-up

This should be a no brainer for your major campaigns, like an Annual Fund Drive, but it also has its uses for more low-key appeals too.  Especially if you have new information to report, status updates or if you are still trying to hit your goals.  Whether via another mail piece, email or pick up the phone and call those highest of high dollar donors, following up with donors lifts response.  The trick is to not spend more following up than the additional revenue it generates.

3)  Send a Recorded Message

Similar to above, the additional “touch” of a recorded message (OVM) from a recognizable individual connected to your organization (letter signer/celebrity/etc.) helps lift direct mail response.  It’s different from a typical follow-up, in that federal law prevents you from actually mentioning a mailed appeal.  That said, timing a generic thank you OVM around a mailing works consistently to increase response.  This is one of those cheap, but way underutilized tools that should be in every fundraiser’s tool kit.  **Caution:  we’re heading into election season, so September – December would be less than ideal timing for these. 

4)  Link to (Compelling) Online Content

Linking to a simple photo slide show or couple of minutes of video on the topic of your appeal will more often than not increase response rates.  The trick is that it has to be relevant and compelling (though not necessarily “slick” or professional looking).  As more organizations move to multichannel, I expect this will become less effective.  That said, use it while you can! 

Fun fact:  we had one client test this strategy and donations went up MORE than the number of visits to the landing page!  Our only explanation is that just including the option made more people give!

5)  Pay the Return Postage

The professional fundraiser’s constant goal is to eliminate barriers to making a donation.  “I ran out of stamps” is one of those clear cases where an organization can step in and make the act of giving a gift easier.  Within your data, there are donors who it would make sense to *occasionally* pay return postage.  A live stamp is almost always better than a business reply envelope, but is more expensive and so trims the number of donors that this would make financial sense for.

While there is no silver bullet to effective fundraising, the suggestions I listed are simple to implement and work.

Katapult MarketingFive Ways to Boost Your Fundraising Returns
read more

Five Copywriting Mistakes to Avoid

Most charities these days, large or small, are operating on tighter budgets than ever before. So when you spend good money to get a letter in the mail to your donors, make sure you get it right. Here are five all too common mistakes to avoid if you want your fundraising letter to actually raise funds:

  1. Every letter tries to cover everything you do. Most charities have various programs as part of their overarching mission. When writing a letter to your donors, it is not necessary to detail ALL the ways that your charity helps others. Even in acquisition, you don’t have to discuss EVERY single program provided by your organization. Instead, choose one compelling program to focus on and tell a personal, in-depth story that makes an emotional connection with your donor.
  2. Avoiding the ask. Never stray away from asking for donations. Don’t worry, you’re not being pushy. Direct mail means being direct with your supporters. Tell your donors exactly what you want them to do – DONATE! Remember to ask early and ask often. Unless you actually ASK for their help, very few donors will offer.
  3. Overlook the reply device. A common mistake is to write the response device as an afterthought once the letter is completed. Even before writing your letter, be clear on where it will lead your donor – it should be directly to the reply device. A good response form not only asks for the donation, but also reinforces the reason to give.
  4. Fundraising by committee. With every additional person who reviews your appeal, the copy gets weaker. Not better. Copy that’s written by committee fails to be “real” or authentic. Your letter should sound like it was written by a human being to another human being. Overall, strive for an informal, warm, conversational tone because that’s what people respond to.
  5. Copy is NOT donor-centric. When writing your copy, keep in mind that it’s not all about you or your nonprofit. After all, your charity didn’t rescue the litter of kittens found in the dumpster…Your charity didn’t build that water well for a poor village in Guatemala. Your donors did all thatand more!  The truth is, your supporters want to know what’s in it for them. What they get may be intangible, but when they give they get something just the same. Your letter needs to offer it to them.

I hope you’ll remember these five mistakes to avoid when crafting your next fundraising letter. If you need additional help with your direct mail appeals, send me a recent sample and I’ll send you several ways to make it better – no cost or obligation!

You can send your direct mail sample to:

New River Communications

Attn: Sean O’Neil/Package Makeover

1819 SE 17 Street, Suite One

Ft. Lauderdale, FL


Katapult MarketingFive Copywriting Mistakes to Avoid
read more

What will your non-profit do with the public’s social media addiction?


So check out the stats. 23% of people’s internet time is spent on social media. 91% are on Facebook, 63% Twitter, 45% YouTube and 35% LinkedIn. You might say many of us are addicted. The good news is, SM addiction is not the life-threatening variety. In fact, for non-profits, the public’s SM obsession offers a great opportunity to engage, energize, and educate your supporters and prospects.

But first rule of SM engagement: Be present every day and make at least one great post in all forums. Say you have a great photo of a local family your organization saved from losing their home. Post it, share it, and tell your donors about them – and let your donors know they’re behind the good work. How about when your organization was first to respond to the deadly tornadoes this past year? Show us some of the action, what you did, where the money went, where future gifts are going.

And when you post make sure to connect the dots. Use your Twitter accounts to post teasers for whatever you have going on Facebook. You can even link your Twitter account to make posts on your LinkedIn account. They all connect in some shape or form. Use them!

When you post great photos, videos, updates, and statistics, you’re energizing your supporters. But don’t stop there. Remember, this isn’t a lecture, it’s a conversation! So invite them to comment on and share your posts. Get them excited and they’ll help spread the good news about your organization to friends, family, and colleagues – as word travels, it builds your brand and opens the door to potential new donors. People are more likely to give if they’ve heard about you, especially from someone they know, love, and trust.

You also can utilize SM to educate your donors. Make posts on current statistics, upcoming goals, continuing problems you need help with. The more informed your donors are, the more likely they’ll be to support your cause. So don’t hold back with all the info you slaved to pull together for your 2011 Annual Report. Use SM to post some compelling statistics … Let your supporters know what they helped you accomplish this past year and why you need help now in 2012.

Bottom line is don’t miss out on all the SM possibilities for involving your supporters and prospects. You have the power to engage, energize, and educate them. You just have to be present each and every day and keep the posts, sharing, “liking”, and comments coming. Happy posting!

Katapult MarketingWhat will your non-profit do with the public’s social media addiction?
read more