#GivingTuesday: Just One Piece of the Puzzle

It's that time of year, and #GivingTuesday campaigns are beginning across the nation. As a matter of fact, CrowdRise just launched a #GivingTower Holiday Challenge for nonprofits.

And while #GivingTuesday is a big deal for fundraising, it's also just one way to engage your donors. But, what about the long haul?

This is the 3rd post in a series of Donor Love, inspired by Blackbaud's Show the Love: Thoughtful Engagement to Retain Donors.

How to focus on the long haul:

  1. Pay attention to your annual donor renewal rate. Has it decreased/increased? You should be tracking this each year, and it should inform your strategic plan for the next year. Track what works and what doesn't. Just because internally your organization thinks a campaign or tactic is great, it doesn't mean that it's resonating with your donors.
  2. Give your donors some lovin'. In Dearest Donors: A Love Letter we talked about the importance of thanking your donors, reaching out to them (and not just when you want money), and creating a donor retention calendar. Make sure to thank your donors whether they're big, small, monthly, or one-time. Every of their dollars counts, and shows that people care about your organization. You need to show them that you care right back.
  3. Strive for monthly sustainers. Monthly givers will bring in much more money over the long haul than one time gifts. And a monthly gift of $20 is more doable for many people than a single donation of $240.

    Entice your audience to become monthly sustainers through direct mail, special events, face-to-face engagements, and online. Donors acquired by direct mail generally have the greatest lifetime value of all monthly donors. By reaching out across all channels, you're meeting your donors where they're at.

    Blackbaud's report showed that monthly givers donate two or three times more in a year than they would if they only gave a single gift.
  4. Get specific. And by specific, we want you to get a bit personal. Don't just acknowledge your donors generally, instead show pictures of your actual donors (if they're okay with it), and take some time to thank each donor individually instead of sending a mass email. You want your donors to feel special, because where would you be without them?
  5. Craft unforgettable messages. If your constituents can't forget about you, you'll be on their mind when it's time to donate. You don't want to bore your donors. These messages are vital to the donor lifeline. Focus on the human-side of messaging, not just the numbers. While numbers and transparency are important, so are the stories.

    How are you making a difference? What change are you envisioning for the world, and how have you actually succeeded? What have your constituents done to impact this world, and why are you thankful? Use captivating photos, be creative, and feel free to have fun when sharing these moments. These will be the messages that make your donors come back again, and again.

Are you making sure that your #GivingTuesday campaigns and your year-end campaigns have a focus on donor retention? What are your best strategies for this?


10 Must Have Year-End Fundraising Tips

Year-end fundraising is upon us once again. With every nonprofit out there trying to raise money at this time of year, how can you get a piece of the donation dollar pie? It starts small, check your website, have a plan, and test drive your donation page. Without testing these pieces, it won’t matter how amazing your messaging or story is, people will not be able to donate.

To help you capture the details, we have compiled a list of 10 tips for you to think about as you craft and execute your year-end fundraising campaigns.

Go ahead, serve yourself a slice of that $$ pie!

1. Map it out. Determine your budget, goals, timing and what channels you will use to drive your campaign. Timing and planning are essential since donors are inundated with messages during this time.

2. Tell your story. Why is your organization special? How is your work relevant to the reader’s life-- are there ways that messages can be personalized to reflect past actions or interests, geography, or demographics? What will the donor get from you that they can’t get anywhere else? And why do they need to support you now.

You want to separate yourself from the masses and at the same time send enough messages to be noticed! What makes your work different from all the other charities trying to capitalize on the holidays and year-end? Look for hooks to current news, seasonal relevance, or accomplishments from the prior year that might help you stand out from the crowd.

3. Give your website a check up! Are you driving your site visitors to the right place, or sending them down a dead-end? Make sure anyone coming to your homepage sees a clear ask and an easy and obvious path to donate. Are there donate buttons on all the right pages? Are donation pages search engine optimized? If you haven’t already, why not test a donation light box during December that pops up for all of your website visitors (except those that have already given).

4. Test-drive your donation page. First, make an online donation on your site using a desktop browser and via mobile to test the ease of your online donation process. When testing, think about any elements you might want to test and optimize. Good tests include: size and color of the donate button, text on the donate button, ask strings, and form fields to include. Your donation page should have limited navigation options to keep your donors from getting distracted.

Next, ask three other people to donate, and watch them while they go through the process. Moms, cousins, your neighbor, are all good subjects for this test. Watch for any indication that getting to the donation page and completing the donation is anything but intuitive and smooth.

For the rest of the tips and some awesome infographics, download the tip sheet here!

What pre year-end fundraising activities have you found most helpful?


Useful Resources:

Procastinators Guide to Year End Fundraising

Last Minute Tips for Year-End Fundraising

It’s Not Too Early To Be A Year-End Fundraising Superhero: Part Two

Three Ways to Wake Up Your Donors

Stand Apart From the Crowd with your Year-End Fundraising Campaign

Eight Tips to Plan your Holiday Campaign


Scary Tactic Emails

I have always loved Halloween. Haunted houses, a full moon, and starry nights.

This year, Halloween was creepier than usual. We saw a deluge of scare tactic emails from the Democratic Party and every progressive organization involved in the midterm elections.

We have also repeatedly heard a call for the progressive movement to use more positive messages to motivate people to get involved. But do positive messages work?

I looked at the data for a women’s rights organization and compared the results from their positive emails to all of their emails, including scare tactic messages. 


Open Rate

Click Through Rate

Unsubscribe Rate

All Emails




Positive Emails





The lower click through rate for positive emails shows that positive messages don’t motivate people to take action as much as scare tactic emails. In addition, after sending emails to supporters, some decide to unsubscribe.  In this case, we found that the unsubscribe rate is lower for those receiving positive emails than for those receiving emails from the organization in general.  This could be an artifact of the lower open rate.

What happens when we break down the email data by advocacy and fundraising emails? Are positive emails more effective than scare tactics emails in either of these realms?  Here are our findings:


Open Rate

Click Through Rate

Unsubscribe Rate

All Advocacy Emails




Positive Advocacy Emails





Let’s stop for a minute and talk about positive advocacy asks. These include actions like thanking members of Congress for voting a particular way, or sharing graphics about major organizational accomplishments.

So, does fear really motivate advocacy actions? I believe it does. The most interesting and shocking data point here is the dramatically lower click through rate for positive advocacy emails relative to all advocacy emails sent. This suggests that while it’s great when organizations have major wins and positive advocacy developments, these situations don’t motivate people to get involved in the issues as much as fear of what might happen if they don’t get in the game.

Do positive results lead to higher fundraising responses? Let’s look at the data:


Open Rate

Click Through Rate

Unsubscribe Rate

Response Rate

Average Gift

All Fundraising Emails







Positive Fundraising Emails







The difference between click through rates, response rates, and average gifts demonstrates that positive emails don’t raise as much money as scare tactic emails - Yikes!  Evidence reveals that positive emails in the fundraising arena seem to inspire so there is less people to consider making a donation (i.e., lower click through rates than a typical email seeking funds), and far fewer people to follow through (i.e., positive emails have a lower response rate). Moreover, when people do donate in response to a positive email, they give a smaller amount of money than the typical donation generated by a fundraising email. This means that scare tactic emails bring home the bacon this time of year.

The success of scare tactics creates an interesting conundrum for nonprofits. We like to stay positive, but to have positive results in terms of advocacy actions by supporters and donations from them it pays to play on their fears.  This does not mean that nonprofits should jump on the fear bandwagon all the time.  Positive emails can still be an effective tool for digital strategists, but they must be crafted carefully.  This leads to a wonderful question…


Why don’t positive emails work?

It could be because people think that thanking members of Congress for voting “the correct way” on an issue is really just thanking them for doing their job. Generally, people are frustrated with Congress, so expressing gratitude to them may feel like giving them a pass. Think about it: When you’re frustrated with someone, you aren’t likely to compliment their work.

Positive emails may also lack the sense of urgency that's generated by fear factor emails. In essence, positive emails may make the requested action seem less important than intended by the digital strategists, and hence easier to ignore.


Why does fear motivate people?

Scary emails work for three reasons:

First, Scare tactic emails often make the reader feel like they can stop the terrible thing from happening if they simply do their part and act. Organizations are directly involving the recipient in both the issue and the solution.

Second, scary tactic emails usually have a greater sense of urgency because the message conveys that something terrible is taking place or is about to occur, and the reader needs to take a stand.

Finally, scare tactic emails usually present a plan, a theory of change, for how the organization is going to stop the terrible thing from happening. These emails hit a perfect trifecta of necessary items to motivate people to take action.



I’m not saying that positive emails should never be sent. There is definitely a time and place to go positive with emails. We should celebrate our campaign wins and our organizational successes. We should thank our allies in Congress. However, we need to be realistic about the expected results of these emails. We need to keep people involved, which includes sharing worst-case scenarios to motivate our supporters to take action and donate


The Great Mysteries of Donor Retention

All nonprofits struggle with donor retention. It's a buzz word, it's a motivation, and it's a burden. We're reaching the fundraising season where asks are being tailored and success stories are being drafted.

You might think that your donors are a mystery. I'm going to let you in on a little secret: your donors should never be a mystery.

Here's a challenge for you. Get to know your donors, and let them really get to know your organization. Think about it like donor dating. (Donor love is how Blackbaud npExperts frame the subject, and we dug into the second part of their recent report for this blog post.)

36% of donors give more generously to charities that communicate measurable accomplishments.

How to be a good communicator and "date" your donors:

  • Don't just communicate with facts and stats. Donors respond to stories with emotion that offer drama, emotion, and human connection. Show them just how passionate you are about your cause and get them on board by telling stories. Stories are what put the statistics in context.
  • Pass the talking stick. Make sure you're giving a voice to a diverse array of people at your organization. Give a couple of dedicated volunteers, program staff members, or clients with success stories the mic. Have them write their stories up, and share them with your donors.
  • Meet your donors where they're at. Some of your donors are extremely connected to email and mobile, but others still appreciate that newsletter delivered by the postal service. Some people like both. Make sure that you email your donors, but also mail them letters, especially if they are responsive to mail. However, if they aren't don't waste your money and paper. 
  • Engage your board members. Engaging your board members in the retention process is critical. Get your board members to understand the importance of donors, and then have them support you. Your board members can call your donors to thank them personally. They can also reach out to their personal networks to recruit new donors. If your organization has a big gala or benefit auction, have your board members donate their time and services. Chances are your board members have prestigious reputations. I know that some of your donors would love to seek out their advice and would pay for it all while supporting your organization.

With holidays, year-end fundraisers, and Giving Tuesday approaching, this is a lot to consider. We want you to succeed. What are your tried and true methods for donor retention?


4 Ideas for a #GivingTuesday Crowdfunding Campaign

A 24-hour fundraising campaign like #GivingTuesday (mark your calendar for December 2nd, 2014) is the perfect opportunity to experiment with new tactics and tools, and to showcase inspiring stories from your nonprofit.

Whether you’re integrating a #GivingTuesday campaign within your larger year-end campaign, or keeping it separate, there’s no limit to ways you can make your nonprofit stand out among the crowd with something unique, fun, or innovative.

At CauseVox, we get constant inspiration from our clients, and from the larger nonprofit community. To that end, we came up with a few ideas of our own that we encourage you to borrow and tweak for your #GivingTuesday crowdfunding campaign. Check them out below.

24 hours, 24 stories

First, find Jack Bauer.

In all seriousness, the reason the show 24 was so compelling was because it kept you coming back for more – you had to watch each episode consecutively to tie together the events of the day, and ultimately, to see how Jack saved the world from terrorists once again.

So why not take the same concept and apply it to your #GivingTuesday campaign? You could find 24 stories that drive home your mission and goal, or you could break one story into 24 parts that compel continued visits and more donations. You could even “unlock” each story as a specific amount of money is raised. It’s also a great reason to finally bust out that cool countdown widget you’ve been dying to use.

We’ve found that as you use storytelling more in your appeals, the more donations you’ll get. In the lead up to #GivingTuesday and on December 2, be sure to post frequent updates and new stories to your crowdfunding campaign site.

Change Your Voice

If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to share a new perspective – a board member, one of your most ardent supporters, or someone who has benefited from your organization – today is the day to try it.

Send an email from this person, let them be a guest poster on your Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook profiles (as groups like Water.org and AARP have done with members of their online community with much success), and feature them on your homepage. Make sure you explain why you’ve switched things up for the day – personalization is key to make that connection to your broader audience, and to inspire them to give.

Be Uber-Specific

If much of your fundraising throughout the year is unrestricted, and you mostly communicate about general programming with broad mission statements, now is the time to hone in on the nitty-gritty.

With a short timeframe and sense of urgency, #GivingTuesday is a great day to pick one specific fundraising goal and focus all messaging on it. For instance, your nonprofit may usually fundraise for research or program operating costs. But this time, perhaps you can raise money for one family, or one specific project, or tangible goods or items. Then after #GivingTuesday, you can tell your donors how that investment is integral to your overall mission and long-term goals.

You can even quantify the impact so that donors and supporters can be inspired by the potential effect of their donations.

Give Back to the Givers

Many giving challenges are successful because they use prizes and incentives as a key part of their strategy. America’s Giving Challenge and GiveMN are just a couple of the bigger giving challenges in the last several years that have awarded extra funds to organizations that “beat” their peers for raising the most amount of money in a certain timeframe, by having the most donors, etc.

Think of opportunities to reward your donors throughout the 24 hours of #GivingTuesday. You could offer an exclusive meetup with people from your organization or an entry for a trip to see your work on the ground. Or maybe you could give away handcrafted goods or gifts that directly relate to your impact. Perhaps it’s as simple as sending the first 10 donors a handwritten thank you letter or featuring them in your next newsletter. If you’ve been debating using prizes and incentives, #GivingTuesday could be the perfect opportunity to test this tactic.

If you’ve tried some of these ideas before, let us know how they worked for your nonprofit. And if you want to give one of them a shot, send us a note after the campaign is over – we’ll want to know the results!

Jenna Sauber is a crowdfunding and digital marketing expert at CauseVox, a peer-to-peer fundraising software for nonprofits.


Dearest Donors: A Love Letter

Your donors are likely your organization's lifeline, and it's important to acquire donors, keep them egaged, and move them further up the ladder of engagement. But you need to treat your donors with love, and cultivate a real realtionship.

Blackbaud brought together 14 nonprofit experts in an eBook to share tried-and-true donor retention strategies, tips, and ideas. We reviewed the advice and are bringing you the highlights of Show the Love: Thoughtful Engagement to Retain Donors.

But first, why should you care? According to research conducted by Chuck Longfield, Chief Scientist at Blackbaud:

  • First-year donor retention rates have declined to the point where, on average, nearly three out of four newly acquired donors leave within the first year. Yikes.
  • Acquiring a new donor costs six to seven times more than it costs to retain an existing donor. Double yikes.

Now that I have your attention, here are some tips we pulled for showing your donors the love:

  • Thank them. Seriously, it's only two words: thank you, and it means the world. You can thank your donors by giving them a call, taking them to coffee, and sending them a hand-written note. What are other ways you like to thank your donors? Get creative.
  • Give 'em 12 "touches" per year. A touch can be a simple "I'm thinking of you" note, a phone call to say that you're thinking of them, or even a reminder of how important they are to your life. Remember: this touch is all about letting them know that you value them.
  • Reach out to your donors on holidays: Halloween, Valentine's Day, Veterans' Day... Get to know your donors and know what holidays they celebrate and what's important to them. Celebrating them on their day of celebration shows that you really care.
  • Create a retention calendar. This will be a calendar outlining all of the times you're going to reach out to individual donors throughout the year. This calendar will be your roadmap to communicating with your donors and to keeping them engaged regularly.
  • Find out what your donors need from you. Healthy relationships are never one-sided. Check in with your donors and see what they need, how they're doing, and how you can involve them more (if that's what you both want). One way to check in with your donors is to send out a poll or survey to figure out exactly what they need from you to get more involved in your issues. What you think they need maybe quite different then what they actually want.

This is just the beginning, but it's a few big steps in the right direction. This eBook is thorough and filled to the brim with great tips. We're going to highlight a few more points in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

And, in the meantime, what are you doing to show your donors the love?


Is It Time For A New Website?

It's easy for nonprofits to get lost in the shuffle of acquiring new donors, engaging audiences, and planning online campaigns. This makes it easy for you to forget about your website - huge mistake! Your website is where your donors will come, where your activists and volunteers will engage, and where your campaigns will live. It's critical that you update your site, and that you revamp it when the time is right.

...But when IS the time right? And what's the right way to do it?

Idealware recently launched a workbook to walk you through the steps of preparing to build a website, the right way.

In this workbook, you'll get a walk through the whole process, including:

  • the ins and outs of choosing a team of web stakeholders;
  • how to “audit” your site, evaluating what you want out of it;
  • really identifying the needs of your constituents;
  • the best way to evaluate your graphic design and usability;

To dive a little deeper into the workbook, you'll really want to focus on tailoring this workbook toward your nonprofit. Make sure that you're answering these questions honestly, and thinking about the goals and objectives of your organization.

  • Who is going to be in charge of the website redesign? You will need a strong project manager who not understands your website, but who understand the basic prinicples of web design and web development.  
  • Who's responsible for your public image? Your branding? Who is in charge of making sure that your social media handbook is updated as new social networks emerge?
  • Is your content management system (CMS) working for you? No one CMS is right for every organizations, and you need to make sure that your CMS is meeting your needs. The workbook provides a checklist to help you figure this out.
  • What are your priorities? And what do you want your website to accomplish? How will you make sure your priorities are realistic and concrete?
  • So, you've focused on your own goals and your own priorities, but let's think about your audience. What are their goals? Why do people visit your website?
  • Is your site easily navigatable? And is it responsive (desktop, mobile, and tablet friendly)? You want to make sure that you're reaching your audience where they're at.

These questions just skim the surface of the conversations you need to be having. But they're critical questions. To dig further in, check out the full, free workbook with 10 simple worksheets. Is it time for you to get a new website?