Enter our Donor Conversion Contest

Most nonprofit organizations add more new donors during the months of November and December than any other time of year. This is the prime season for new donor acquisition. That’s the good news.

The bad news? Typically less than half of those new donors will ever give to you again.


Many veteran fundraisers believe that the “conversion rate,” referring to the number of new donors that make a second gift and “convert” to
multi donors, is the single most important barometer of long-term success for an organization. Most statisticians would agree.

Getting a second gift from a donor will dramatically increase the odds that you’ll get another gift in the future. That’s why you should be planning now how you are going to go after those new donors that make their first gift to you this November and December. If you can increase the
number of new donors converting with a second gift by even 5% or 10% it will likely increase your overall renewal numbers by 25% to 35%.

So with this in mind we are announcing a new contest to gather the best ideas for new donor conversion strategies.

  • The winner will receive a new Kindle e-book reader.
  • We’ll share the top ideas in a future Currents email so that you can learn in time to start converting more new donors in the new year.

Just email your best conversion strategy idea to and put the words “CONVERSION CONTEST” in the subject line of your email. Our panel of experts will evaluate the ideas and choose a winner.

This is a great idea for us to all learn from each other how best to tackle the tricky challenge of converting new donors. Don’t miss out on the chance to win a Kindle. Email your best conversion strategy idea today!

Enter our Donor Conversion Contest
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Lessons from Steve Jobs

I received an email earlier this morning from a colleague that included a list of inspiring “take aways” from the philosophy and wisdom of Steve Jobs, the late, great American inventor and entrepreneur.

Since I was smack in the middle of writing an appeal for a client when the email popped up in my inbox, there were two lessons, in particular, that struck me…

1. Create insanely different experiences. Jobs sought innovation in the customer-service experience. When he first came up with the concept for the Apple Stores, he said they would be different because instead of just moving boxes, the stores would enrich lives. Everything about the
experience you have when you walk into an Apple store is intended to enrich your life and to create an emotional connection between you and the Apple brand. What are you doing to enrich the lives of your customers (or donors)?

2. Master the message. You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can’t communicate your ideas, it doesn’t matter. Jobs was the world’s greatest corporate storyteller. Instead of simply delivering a presentation like most people do, he informed, he educated, he inspired and he
entertained, all in one presentation.

The e-mail’s content gave me pause for reflection and a “what if” moment. Rather than a leader at the helm of Apple and the technological industry, what if Steve Jobs had been a fundraiser instead?  What different approaches might he have taken to reverse the current declines in donor acquisition and donor giving in our industry?

And, upon further contemplation, what if Mr. Jobs were actually sitting at my computer this morning, how differently would he go about crafting this particular client’s fundraising letter? What technique or strategy would this master storyteller employ to more readily engage the donor and motivate a response?

While I don’t presume to have the exact answers to these questions, there is one thing I do know for
certain: Steve Jobs certainly wouldn’t accept the same old “we’ve always done it this way” approach to the work we fundraisers do. Instead, he would turn everything upside down, sideways – or toss it out entirely – until arriving at a completely new, fresh, innovative perspective or solution.

We can all learn something from this creative and visionary pioneer… even those of us who think we’re doing a pretty darn good job as it is. Steve Jobs’ counsel? Dream bigger. I think that’s the best advice he could leave us with. See genius in your craziness, believe in yourself, believe in your vision, and be constantly prepared to defend those ideas.


Lessons from Steve Jobs
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New River Communications Brings Home Two Silver MAXIs

FT. LAUDERDALE, FL – New River Communications was recently awarded two Silver MAXIs for
2011 from the Direct Marketing Association of Washington (DMAW). The annual awards honor marketing excellence and innovation. New River won this year for packages created for Cross International and Save the Chimps.
One of New River’s MAXI’s came for Cross International’s “Send Back Cross” package that focused on the organization’s efforts to provide material and spiritual hope to poor children and families in the developing world. The package includes a small gold cross that donors are asked to send back with a donation for a destitute child.

The “Send Back Cross” package won in the MAXI’s “Workhorse” category, for control packages that continue to perform well for at least three years.

New River earned its second 2011 MAXI for their Save the Chimps Tote Bag Acquisition package. The prospecting piece tells the story of Bobby, a chimp who spent most of his life as a biological test subject in a laboratory before finding new life at the Save the Chimps sanctuary.

A large tote bag with the organization’s iconic logo is included and prospects are encouraged to use their bag to spread the word about the sanctuary.

Founded in 2001, New River Communications has won numerous MAXIs, including the competition’s “best of show” Big Idea Award in 2008 with a package created for Cross International.

For more information about the 2011 MAXI Awards, go to and scroll down to 2011 MAXI AWARDS Ceremony.

New River Communications Brings Home Two Silver MAXIs
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Six Big Mistakes to Avoid When Testing

One of the benefits of direct marketing is that decisions can be driven by data.  Unlike say television advertising, it’s very easy to draw a straight line between “I did this” and “a donor did this.” 

In most cases, we use this to our benefit to make the best use of fundraising dollars.  Unfortunately, there are more than a few ways that data can be misinterpreted and push you to the wrong conclusion.  Here’s a list of some potential mistakes during testing that can result in flawed conclusions:

  • Insufficient Test Quantities: Testing should give you a result that is accurate and repeatable.  Unfortunately, if the quantities that are tested are not large enough, you can wind up with a result that is essentially meaningless.  For simplicity and as a general rule; always shoot for test quantities that will result in 100 or more responses.  Doing so will lead you to results that are statistically significant.
  • Improper Segmentation: When splitting packages into test and control groups, it’s critical that the groups are equivalent to one another.  This is one of those infuriating little details that should go unspoken, but can wreck an otherwise good test.  Most data companies have their ducks in
    a row, but if you are working with someone new, it’s good practice to check output files to confirm that they are split correctly and of equal composition.
  • Ignore Roll-Out Costs: Your control package is likely being produced in higher volume than any of the test packages.  Make sure that you quote all test packages for roll-out costs, so that you have an apples-to-apples comparison.  Otherwise, none of your small quantity tests will ever be able to compete with your control in full volume.
  • Testing More than One Variable:  It’s ok to test completely different packages against one another, but if you are trying to maximize response on your control or “tweak-testing” then testing one variable at a time is the only way to know what changes are making the most impact.  Similarly. . .
  • Extrapolating on Findings:   Testing works because you run A vs. B and get a result.  It’s tempting to take that result and assume it’s a general fact for every situation.  Unfortunately, doing so can lead you to make some very wrong decisions. 
  • Wildcards: A lot can happen between a concept and delivery; unanticipated events in the marketing environment can nullify a test.  Some are obvious, such as when a hurricane strikes or unwanted press.  Others are less obvious, such as what your acquisition list panel is receiving at the same time as your appeal.  If any of your results seem blatantly inconsistent with what you have seen in the past, ask yourself “is there anything that could have impacted these results?”

It always amazes me how consistent donors will behave once you know some basic facts about their past behavior.  Our job as fundraisers is to use that information to make the best decisions possible. 




Six Big Mistakes to Avoid When Testing
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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 June 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!


I know it’s only August, but don’t wait too long 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?



P.S. 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 find out how we have made it simple and affordable for small and medium-sized organizations to get an effective year-end appeal into the mail.



One essential you need to get right
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Retention strategies… anyone?

A recent blog from the Agitator last week reported on a survey they conducted in April which asked, “What percentage of your non profit first time donors make a second gift?”

The results were far from impressive.  In fact, the majority of responders reported 39% or less.  The Agitator went on to comment that a Forbes Insights survey of top corporate executives in the U.S. and U.K. listed customer retention as their current number one priority too.

Times being what they are, combined with more “competition” in the marketplace, makes donor and customer retention all the harder for both non-profit organizations and for-profit companies alike.

So today I want to ask you, what specific strategies, or packages, have you tested and found to best increase supporter retention rates for your charity?

And since I’m the one asking the question, I guess it’s only fair to make me go first!

One package that has performed particularly well is our “Donor Loyalty Certificate” appeal pictured below:

This package leads right off with an eye-catching certificate at the top of the letter.  The certificate recognizes the donor for her loyal support and the number of years she has been a supporter of the
organization.  It can be detached from the letter and framed or otherwise displayed in her home or workplace.

The letter goes on to tell the donor just how very important she is to the good works being accomplished by the charity – something that is repeated several times throughout the copy.  (Remember, despite what some of them may tell you, donors never tire of hearing the word “thank you!”)  And by recognizing donors, and their loyalty, it’s a sure way to motivate more giving.  At least that’s what our experience and results with this package have proven.

OK, so now it’s your turn.  Please share with Currents what’s working for you in improving donor retention rates.  I’ll take the best that comes in and share it with our readers.  Anything we can all learn will be greatly appreciated.


Retention strategies… anyone?
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Common Mistakes in Social Media

        Just read a great article from Fundraising Success magazine about 10 common mistakes non-profits make when engaging in social media.  After finishing, I quickly hit my “Like” button. Writer Heather Mansfield got it just right.

        Three of her points really caught my attention and inspired a few riffs of my own…

1. Facebook Status Updates limit 1 per day
– We all know one person on Facebook who seems to update their status about every 30 seconds. “Heading to work” 8am, “Getting Coffee” 8:08am, “Checking my email” 8:12am.  Arrrrghhhh!  Who cares!!!  Although I am an admitted stalker, I actually don’t care what you are doing every minute of your life – and neither do your supporters.  So spare your followers the minutiae and limit yourself to one great status update or posting per day!  If not, your sanest followers will quickly “Hide” your updates, and you’ll never again appear on their mini feed!  So show up each day, but make it one great post!

         2. Twitter Become a fan of your fans!  Fundraising Success called it a 1:1 ratio – plain and simple support your supporters.  Follow your followers.  They will like you and trust you more – and they won’t think you’re a snob.  Besides, symbiotic Twitter relationships can help you create new business relationships not to mention spreading the message of your organization to more people. 

        3. Blogging and exciting post content – Both of these are severely important and they kind of go hand in hand.  Every non profit should be blogging. Deliver news and updates on what great work you are doing. Make it fresh; new, exciting… make your supporters laugh, cry, care…..  Make them emotional about what you do or what needs doing!  Blog about it, tweet about it, and Facebook about it!

Whether your non-profit is already fully immersed in social media or are just about to dip a toe in, don’t let social media stress you out!  Become that social butterfly that you aspire to be and spread the good news and good works about your organization to your supporters!  Be present and have fun, just don’t be a bore or a snob.  To read the full Fundraising Success article, click here.

Common Mistakes in Social Media
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Chasing the Unicorn?

Be very quiet.  Remain perfectly still.  You don’t want to frighten away the elusive creature of legend.  Are we stalking the Unicorn?  Bigfoot?  Leprechauns or Chupacabra?

No, the fabled prey we seek is … the multichannel donor!

But is the multichannel donor a mythical creature or do such people really exist?

Fascinating insight was provided recently in Target Analytics’ 2011 donorCentrics™ Internet and Multichannel Giving Benchmarking Report.  For the past five years Target Analytics has put together a benchmarking study with the cooperation of some of the biggest non-profit organizations in the world.  The data they gathered has provided critical insight into the reality of online and multichannel giving.

One of the key findings will surprise some:

“While multichannel giving has become a popular objective of nonprofits as a way to build constituent support, the large majority of donors on file give through only one channel and use only direct mail as their vehicle for donations.  The only donors who do significant multichannel giving are new donors acquired online, who switch in large numbers to direct mail giving in subsequent years.”

While it continues to become more and more common for new donors to make their first gift online very few actually renew their giving that way.  Those that do renew tend to do so through traditional off-line channels primarily direct mail.  But not the reverse, only a small percentage of direct mail acquired donors give online in later years.

The study is full of interesting statistics and if you are involved in public fundraising of any sort I highly recommend you read it.  You can find it here.

It is worth noting that this report only addresses online “giving” and does not consider the impact of online “communication” on offline giving.

My best advice?

First, push your message out to donors and prospects through every means feasible: social media, email, direct mail, telephone, special events, etc.

Secondly, open up every possible channel to make it as easy as possible for donors to give however they feel most comfortable.  But however you get the first gift make sure to keep mailing them because that is how the vast majority of donors renew their giving.

Who knows?  Maybe you’ll actually come across the legendary elusive multichannel donor.

Chasing the Unicorn?
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Why and what to mail your donors this summer

Summer is coming fast and furious and with it a great cultivation opportunity…


That’s right. Despite popular belief – summer can be an excellent time to talk to your donors.


So forget what you’ve heard and make it a point this summer to say “hello, look what we’re doing, thank you, and can you help today?”


Here’s the logic: Since many organizations cut back mailings in June, July, and August, there’s typically less competition in the mail and on-line.  That means your letter and/or e-mail has a much better chance of getting your donor’s attention – and a response…


But what to send?  Rather than just another standard appeal, consider sending a newsletter.  Summer is an especially good time for these.  The pace of life slows up for some donors and they’ll be more willing to give you more of their time.


So, don’t waste that opportunity.  A good newsletter is a great way to help them get to know you.  Make sure a lot of the real estate in yours shows what you’re accomplishing (and, of course, emphasize that donors are the driving force behind those accomplishments.  Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them.)


Positive, “we’re accomplishing things together” articles will leave a good feeling now – and they’ll also pay dividends in the fourth quarter when you’re pushing harder for a gift and, more importantly, when donors are at their most generous.


Success stories from your summer newsletter will bubble up in their memories – if not in much detail than at least in positive feelings – “Oh yeah, I like what those guys over at Non-Profit X are doing” – that translate into giving.


So, get your thoughts and your newsletter together.  What you sow now in the summer, you’ll reap this giving season.

Why and what to mail your donors this summer
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Leaving Money on the Table?

A donor who feels as though she’s important to an organization is more likely to give and keep giving.  If you give the impression that the organization does not need help, it is harder for donors to feel that they are making a difference with their gifts.

Contrarily, if yours is an organization that is continually screaming for immediate and urgent help, then your donors are probably questioning the good stewardship of their charitable donations.

It’s important to find the right balance in your fundraising efforts.  And to always make a strong and clear connection between the donor’s gift and how exactly it’s being used to make a difference.

In the most recent Cygnus Donor Survey (Where Philanthropy is Headed in 2011), 49% of survey respondents said that they could have given more to charitable causes last year and that they were holding their philanthropy back.

This includes 60% of donors under the age of 35, 49% of donors 35 to 64 and 42% of those 65 years and older.  There seemed to be opportunity to raise more money from every category of donors surveyed including the most generous givers in 2010, of which 40% said they held their philanthropy back last year.

The good news is that donors appear willing to give even more under the right circumstances.  As fundraisers, our job is simply convincing them to do so.  Otherwise, we’re just leaving money on the table.

Leaving Money on the Table?
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