Look up now: Your donor is leaving!

20 Jan

161142__icebop_lYour donor is walking out of the door. And you’re so busy turning cartwheels for a potential donor that you don’t even notice.

In the absence of donor attrition studies in India (if anyone is doing them, I’d love to hear all about it), here are some findings from the 2013 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey conducted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and The Urban Institute in the US:

  1. Every $100 gained in 2012 was offset by $96 in losses due to donation attrition.
    This means that for every Rs 100 raised, not-for-profits lost Rs 96 because of a drop in other donations. In other words, you think you have Rs 196 in the pot, but you have only Rs 4!
  2. Every 100 donors gained in 2012 was offset by 105 in lost donors through attrition.
    This is even more shocking. For every 100 new donors recruited, 105 donors were lost because they just stopped giving.

Last week we talked about how donor retention had finally jumped ahead of acquisition as a priority for not-for-profits. This is in the US. At home, it’s business as usual.

While not-for-profits are willing to earmark budgets for donor acquisition, very few see donor retention as a priority. It’s time to wake up to the stampede of the departing donors’ feet.

Plan for donor retention, the very minute that you make plans to acquire the donor, and not long after the donor has been acquired.

Finally! Retaining donors comes first

9 Jan

Donor retention jumps ahead of acquisition as a priority for non-profits, according to the just-released Nonprofit Communications Report 2015. The report, which surveyed more than 1,500 non-profits primarily in the US (a few in Canada and fewer still in the rest of the world) is indicative that non-profits are finally heading in the right direction.

I’m kicked about this enough to consider printing out a placard and carrying it with me on meetings to non-profits in India. Many of the NGOs we talk to see acquisition as the main basket for investment – and communication to retain donors as a soft – and secondary – option. Sure, you need to have donors in the first place to retain them, but I’ve also seen scores of examples of donors coming when you spread the word – and ask. I’d therefore argue that both need to be done simultaneously. The truly visionary ones are those that build their brand, communicate consistently, and ask clearly – till the donors come – and the donors do come.

Going back to the report, the top priorities of the non-profits surveyed were as follows;

  1. Engaging community
  2. Retaining current donors
  3. General brand awareness
  4. Acquiring new donors, and
  5. Thought leadership.

The top four communications channels that non-profits most preferred are website, email marketing, traditional social media and in-person events, in that order. The top three social media sites turned out to be Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Interestingly, the report shows the differences in priorities in the same non-profit between the communications director and the development director. To know what these areas of conflict were, get your copy of the report at http://npmg.us/2015.

What is your donor’s creative impulse directed towards? And how does that affect your fundraising?

22 Aug

Most human beings think of themselves as being creative. Paul Arden’s book, “It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be” takes a look at a human life’s creative cycle through this diagram.


Let’s take a look at the years from the age of 15, right up to wherever you’d like to. Imagine your donor as a person situated somewhere on this circle of life. Which stage of life is she in? What is his creative impulse directed towards? Is she consumed by a need to change the world, in the throes of political awareness, hell bent on success or in a state of reinventing herself?

And then, take a look at the piece of communication that you’ve just put together for this donor. Does it speak to that impulse?

Are you thinking about bringing out a generic brochure? A word of advice: Don’t!

21 Aug

It hard, it’s cruel, but the No. 1 destination of most generic brochures is – I’ll say it out loud – the dustbin.

A generic brochure – also called an information brochure – is usually an A4/A5 sized brochure spilling over with information and stamp-sized photos. These are handed out by the armsful at conferences and workshops, and they are left behind – except by the most inveterate brochure collector – in the hotel room. (They’d have left it behind at the breakfast table, except that you had your beady eye on them!)

And that’s because it’s a generic brochure.

The dictionary defines generic as thus:

generic /dʒɪˈnɛrɪk/

adjective: characteristic of or relating to a class or group of things; not specific.

The noun is even more damning: a consumer product having no brand name or registered trademark (as in generic drugs).

Oops – did you see what just happened? The brochure, that very thing that you thought would sear your brand into the minds and hearts of people – could end up doing the very opposite.

You could have your logo on it in the biggest size possible, but it will still be unread and unloved.

And that’s because we sent it out into the world without an audience, a purpose, a message or an ask.


How to solve the problem of generic brochures

  1. Every brochure must have an audience in mind.

Who is the brochure for? And it has to be specific – individual donors who give up to Rs 5,000, large donors who give upwards of Rs 25,000, companies, and so on. It cannot be “the public at large.” If we wanted to address the public at large, we would call a rally and not print a brochure.

The target audience of the brochure determines the case for support that you make. It dictates the kind of language you use. And it determines the ask you make.

  1. Every brochure must have a purpose and message.

Why are you producing this brochure? What is your main message? And how will it be used?

You could say something like,

“The purpose of this brochure is to attract the attention of the 15 donors who fund reproductive health and rights, among the 100 who will be at the conference.

I want to let them know that we have pioneered an innovative way of engaging local religious leaders in family planning. I plan to talk to each of them face to face for five minutes, and leave this brochure behind as a reminder of the key points of our conversation.”

Ah-ha! Here’s a clue to planning the content of your brochure.

Instead of looking at it as the definitive A-Z guide to everything that you do, look at the brochure as a reminder to the reader of key points. And if that grabs their attention, they will go to your website for more information – or better still – call you!

The more well defined your target audience segment is, the more effective your brochure will be.

  1. Every brochure must tell the reader what to do.

So now that the reader has read your beautifully designed brochure with just the right amount of content, what do you want her to do? “Hmm. Nice” is not an acceptable answer. That’s the equivalent of “Whatever!” with the accompanying shoulder shrug.

You want the reader to do something for you, while they are basking in the afterglow of your awesome brochure. Something like:

  • Like our page on Facebook
  • Visit our website and check out this campaign
  • Fill in this response coupon and write out a cheque
  • Call the office to volunteer or drop of school supplies

A lot of small not-for-profit organisations might say, “We don’t have the money to produce different brochures for different audiences.” Then produce just one, for your most important target segment. For the others, use your annual report!

I remember years ago, Tribal Health Initiative in Sittilingi using copies of an article on them that appeared in The Reader’s Digest as a brochure for the longest time.

Tell us about the challenges you face when bringing out your brochure. Till tomorrow, then.

A cold, hard look at the Ice Bucket Challenge #icebucketchallenge

20 Aug

Two weeks ago, I hadn’t heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Three days ago, I stared goggle-eyed at the tweets piling up on #icebucketchallenge.

Two days ago, YouTube went crazy with vids of famous people dunking buckets of ice water on themselves.

Yesterday, I watched every single one of them.

Well, almost. Awww, wasn’t Bill Gates the best? Wasn’t Tim Cook’s the most boring IBC (ice bucket challenge for the uninitiated)? WTF was Melinda Gates thinking, wearing that top hat from Toyland? And Satya Nadella, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Conan O’Brien, Sania Mirza… how sporting of them! Not to mention the scores of lonely hopefuls who dunked themselves in their living rooms, shot it on a shaky handycam balanced on the TV, set to the sound of canned applause (they must have had to do the cleaning up afterwards, unlike Nadella, Bezos and the others).

This morning, as I crawled into work suffering the chilly after-effects of my IBC Youtubathon, sense returned. I asked some questions. Was the IBC a brilliant campaign that would forever change the face of ALS research and care? Or was it a one-trick-pony that would go the way of #nomakeupselfie and others?

But first, what is it?

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a fundraiser to raise money for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease in the US). Most people are unlikely to know the full form, but most do know that Stephen Hawking has lived with it for most of his life.

What the Ice Bucket Challenge has done is capture the public imagination, catapult ALS from being an unknown (and unpronounceable) disease to one that’s widely recognised (the acronym, not the full form) – at least among netheads. And it has raised tons of money.

There are some professional doubters quibbling about the punctuation, of course.

Their No. 1 quibble is:

The IBC is not really raising awareness on ALS – people are doing it as a fad, and will forget all about it when it dies down. It’s a fake campaign.

Sure, Thomas, but the money is very real. And that will support research into this disease that has a life expectancy of two to five years, and ensure better care for people living with ALS.

While numbers are mounting day to day, an August 19 report said that the IBC has raised more than $15 million since three weeks ago, when Pete Frales, former Boston College baseball captain who has ALS, posted the challenge video. 

In the same period last year, the charity raised $1.8 million.

Go figure.

Quibble No. 2:

It thrives on peer pressure.

Peer pressure. One of the first lessons we learn in fundraising class. Tell us fundraising folks something new.

Quibble No. 3:

It feeds the narcissistic side of people.

Hmmm. If people are doing something to raise money for a cause, why deny them their moment in the sun (or in ice water, in this case)? Be generous with giving donors the credit and the glory. And take a deep breath.

I do have some worries, though.

One, the Ice Bucket Challenge is raising more money than ever before raised in a campaign by the ALS association and related charities, but is it enough? Research into life-threatening diseases needs a bottomless bucket. I hope all these $100 donations (except the likes of Charlie Sheen who gave $10,000) add up to enough and more money to support path-breaking research on ALS.

Two, I hope the recipient charities are holding emergency meetings and staying up late at night inking their donor relationship and communication plans.

That’s the only way to make sure that long after all this ice has melted, there will still be a steady trickle coming in.

How nonprofits can use Twitter lists to curate content, research and stay updated

19 Aug


As a child, were you ever told the story of the thirsty crow and the pitcher of water?

It goes like this. The thirsty crow wanted a sip of water from a long-necked pitcher, but couldn’t get his beak in. So he dropped pebbles one by one into the pitcher till the water level rose, drank and flew away.

Twitter lists are a lot like that. We’ll see how.

Twitter! Not for me, oh no!

Many not-profits that I work with leave Twitter well alone, because they feel that:

  1. There’s too much information out there, and I don’t have the time.
  2. I don’t want to wade through the noise of Twitter (eg. What did Amitabh Bachchan do this morning) to find a single article of interest, because, you guessed right, I don’t have the time.
  3. I wish someone would make sense of all the information on Twitter and bunch together just the stuff I’m interested in (also called Content curation and aggregation).

If you can’t follow ’em all, Twitter list ’em

And that’s where Twitter lists come in. There’s a lot of water out there, and you need to drop these pebbles in to get the water to the top.

For example, one of my interests is Fundraising. I want to keep up with stuff that’s going on in the world, watch people and non-profits who’re doing brilliant campaigns and stay on top of my game.

All I have to do is create a Twitter list and add people who are doing path-breaking work in fundraising to the list. (These are people I already follow on Twitter.) These people are likely to follow other people that inspire them, so I wade through their list of followers and unashamedly follow some of them who look interesting. Soon, I have a list that is curated, organized and easy to follow. If I don’t have time to look through my entire Twitter feed, all I have to do is go to my list, and catch up on the most important goings-on in the world of fundraising.

Five steps to creating your own list on Twitter

Step by step, here is how to create a Twitter list of your own.

  1. On your Twitter page, go to the Settings and help tab on the top right hand and click on lists.
  2. Click on Create new list, give your list a name (eg. Fundraising) and add a short description.
  3. You can keep your list private or make it public (which means other people can follow your list).
  4. Add a bunch of people from the list of people you follow – take some time with this step. You want to get the best of the Twitterati on your subject here. Select people who read and tweet widely on the subject of fundraising.
  5. That’s it! You now have your own selected list of the best and latest information on fundraising on your Twitter feed.

Or follow

If you don’t want to take a trouble of creating your own list, then follow the Twitter list of someone else who’s taken the trouble to put it together, and you get a pretty well curated list for free! (Fundraising enthusiasts, my list of the Bold and the Beautiful in Fundraising is at https://twitter.com/bharatir/lists/fundraising – follow away!)

What’s in it for you

A Twitter list is a lifeline in an age of information overload. You get just the information you want, pulled together in a single place. A great way to make sure you’re on top of what’s happening around the world in your field.

Twitter lists are great for research on any subject. If it’s a new subject you want to look up, you can follow the above steps to get a customised Twitter list that has the latest information on the subject of your choice.

Another benefit of Twitter lists is that it creates a virtual group of your peers – or people with whom you want to hang out. You get to keep up with what they’re reading; you can retweet them; tweet them; and build relationships with peers in this way.

The common crow had oodles of common sense

The technology is new, but the idea is centuries old, courtesy the common crow. Who’d have thought a crow could teach you how to tweet?

PS Since we are on the subject of how smart crows are, take a look at 6 Terrifying Ways Crows Are Way Smarter Than You Think.

Six things to get right when you say hello

18 Aug


In 1959, a meeting took place between Nikita Khrushchev and Marilyn Monroe.

Monroe opened with a line in Russian that she had learned from a colleague, “We the workers of 20th Century Fox rejoice that you have come to visit our studio and our country.” Khrushchev was not to be left behind and said, “You’re a very lovely young lady.”

This anecdote gives a clue to the first of today’s six pointers on what to get right when you say hello. This meeting is an example of how each celebrity went out of their way to focus on the other person.

  1. Use the word YOU.

Ask yourself, “Why would this person be interested in what I have to say?” Bring the listener into the scope of the introduction. Do this by using the word YOU. The word “you” is the equivalent of nudging the listener on the shoulder and making him take notice.

This can be done quite simply.

“Did you know that every second child in India drops out of school before reaching middle school?” (Shares information.)

“You know that every second child in India drops out of school before reaching middle school.” (Looks at the problem together with the listener.)

It could even be something as simple as, “I’m so glad we met. This is a story that will interest you.”

  1. Focus on a benefit that your organisation provides.

When telling people what I do, I don’t tell them what I do. I tell them why I do it. I tell them how it benefits the people with whom I work.

See the difference between the following two statements:

“We help young people step out of poverty by training them in skills for better jobs.” Answers the question, “Why do you exist?”

“We provide vocational skills training and job placements.” Just gives a list of stuff you do.

By drawing their attention to the benefit, you create an opening for a conversation like, “Oh, that’s interesting. Let’s talk about this.”

  1. Tell a story.

By this I don’t mean a long story that you’d normally stick in an appeal, but a Cliff Notes version of it. A story can be told in just a sentence. “Some of the girls who did a course in computers with us earn in a month what their family used to make in a year.”

Telling a story or giving an example brings your work alive. It helps the listener draw a picture of your work in their heads.

  1. Make an ask.

A conversation is not closed till you make an ask. The ask need not always be for money. “Can I meet you sometime next week to tell you more about this?” A good ask has a specific request with a timeline.

  1. Infect them with your passion.

Heads of great fundraising organisations always talk with passion about their work. Some of them are soft-spoken; some others are not great speakers – but there’s no mistaking the passion on their faces or in their body language.

When we speak with passion, it communicates itself to the other person.

  1. What’s in a name?

The same rules apply, whether it’s your own name or your organisation’s name.

Enunciate it – syllable by syllable, especially if talking to people for whom it might be an unfamiliar name. Sometimes, I hold my visiting card out and point when introducing myself face to face. That way, they can read the name, and I’m just reinforcing that visual with phonetic backup.

Speak the name at the same tone, pitch and pace from start to finish. JAY-MZ BO-ND. Not Jemsbnd.

A last tip before we go – take the trouble to write out a great intro and practise saying it out loud, over and over again. As you practise it, first in front of the bathroom mirror and then in public, it gets better and better.

Read Part I of this two-part series, Five Things We Get Wrong When We Say Hello.

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