Storytelling for Optimal Impact

I have been slowly making my way through Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes. it’s been a slow read because I have spent a lot of time digesting the content and looking for parallels in my work. I am happy to say that today was the first day that I applied something from this book and felt like I hit the nail on the head.

One of the themes that pops up throughout the book is the idea that we cannot create messaging that assumes our audience cares about our mission as much as we do. I will admit that I made that mistake in my work at ZUMIX. I fully understand how music shapes self identity and builds community because I experienced it. So, everyone would totally connect with this great organization if they saw a really great video of a youth ensemble rehearsal, right? I was messaging the mission with the assumption that people would love it, if only they knew, because everyone loves music. Thus, I was ignoring people who love youth development, technology, sports, food – all the people who aren’t like me.

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If your annual appeal lands in a mailbox…

…but no one ever reads it, does it really exist? Welcome to Annual Appeals, Part 1.

I will confess that I don’t open mail that I immediately classify as junk mail. Perhaps this is a bad habit, but I don’t need to open a MasterCard pitch to know that I don’t want a MasterCard, and I get all of my banking/utility info online. I believe that I am not alone on this one.

Recently, on a whim, I opened a letter that had no return address, no text or logo on the envelope, and metered postage. Classic signs of junk mail, right? It was actually an annual appeal from a local nonprofit that I supported two or three years ago. I can only imagine that they have been regularly mailing me since then and I have sent it straight to recycling. That’s a shame, because I like that organization. My initial interaction with them was a product purchase, but I could have easily been converted to donor.

In my most recent position, we saw increasing success with our annual appeal over the past three years. I am going to share my thoughts on how we made that happen, beginning with our packaging, and then moving on to content.

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Board Fundraising. Help them help you.

This Chronicle of Philanthropy article is a nice articulation of the challenges so many of us have in inspiring our Board members to be fundraisers.  However, we need to remember that while it is often the “job” of Board members to fundraise, it is our job to set them up for success.  To that end, we need:

1.  Clarity. What are the fundraising responsibilities, and why?

2.  Leadership. If your Board President and other Chairs are being transparent about their fundraising efforts, peer pressure will work to your favor.

3.  Support.  While these people may be wealthy, well-connected, and/or enthusiastic about your mission, they will need your help. My recent post about creating individualized fundraising strategies for each Board member recognizes that you have a significant responsibility when it comes to Board fundraising.

If you host it, will I come?

A wise man once said, “If you build it, they will come.” That man does not plan fundraising events.

You may recall my recent post about fundraising events, my burnout, and my pledge to seek inspiration. This is a topic that has been weighing on my mind lately. One of the challenges of fundraising events is that it is just so darn hard to get people to attend. And, honestly, I can’t blame them. If you invite me to an event, if I receive, read, and remember the invitation, and if I think it sounds like a great event – there is about a 25% chance that I will attend.

If I think about my own motivations, it helps me think about how to frame an invitation.

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If you are working at a small or mid-sized nonprofit, you probably rely heavily on staff, Board members, and volunteers to promote your events and news items on social media. Whether it is an invitation to a fundraising event, a link to press coverage, or a tooting-of-the-horn for an accomplishment, more buzz is always better. You will get the best results, in terms of both quality and quantity, when you provide a cheat sheet.

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The Power of the Pen (or Pencil)

A handwritten note from one of your program participants can really amp up the impact of an acknowledgment letter.

A handwritten note from one of your program participants can significantly amp up the impact of an acknowledgment letter.

In my experience, most acknowledgment letters are pretty lame. It’s not that there is anything wrong with them, it’s that they are a wasted opportunity. The relationship between a donor and an organization has the potential to strengthen with every communication. Given that we  have limited opportunities to contact donors, before we get into the realm of annoying and/or creepy, it is important to make this one count.

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12 Events in 12 Months

My New Year’s traditions involve falling asleep by 11pm and eating obscene amounts of pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s day. They do not include resolutions. But, this year, with a new job to kick off the new year, I have made a professional resolution.

I am desperately trying to get over a near-fatal case of fundraising event burnout. The events leading up to my diagnosis will fill many other posts. The important topic for today is how I intend to remedy the situation.

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