Fundraising By Aristotle

“[Rhetoric is} the ability, in each particular case, to see the available means of persuasion.”  This quote is credited to Aristotle.  It seems doubtful to me that he ever said it, but I think he would agree.

This year, the spring Friend’s of the Children’s Art Centre appeal included a list of approximately 1,500 local residents with properties valued at $1 million or more that was purchased through a mail service.  While we have done our best to cultivate these folks for this ask by sending program brochures and event invitations – some actually bought tickets! – we knew that they would be much more likely to open something that isn’t obviously a solicitation letter.  I have opined further on this topic, here.

To make our case, I deferred to the expertise of Aristotle.  The ethos/pathos/logos approach has been successfully compelling people to do things for over 2,000 years.  As such, I believe that the narrative of our work is most powerful when it combines an image, a story, and numbers.

I am proud to show off the following piece, which was truly a joint effort between development and program staff.  I am also thrilled to report that the appeal has been successful, which several gifts coming from purchased list donors ranging from $200-350 and one for $5,000!

Let the stewardship begin!

appeal inner

Well Played, ZUMIX and Artists for Humanity!

Early on I wrote a post about how to get your annual appeal opened, which I consider to be a sizable hurdle in any direct mail campaign.  Basically, the appeal package should be interesting in both look and feel and also have some personal touches.  As an example of a mailer that does every single thing right, check out this appeal from ZUMIX: Continue reading

Well Played, Brattle Film Foundation!

Annual appeal season brings a lot of inspiration if you take the time to read all the messaging.  I received an appeal from the Brattle Film Foundation, best known as The Brattle Theatre, presumably because I supported their Kickstarter campaign back in the spring.  I will admit that I had no connection and had never been there, but a friend shared the campaign on Facebook and $20 got me two tickets and popcorn – win/win.

As you can see, the letter tells a personal story about the Theatre.  I appreciate that this letter is a narrative, relying on a sense of nostalgia rather than a laundry list of statistics from the past year.  While I am not making a donation right now, I did finally go to their website and make plans to use my tickets.  And so it begins.


“Tis the Season

Well folks, it’s that time of year again. Annual Appeal season is just coming into full swing and already I have…

  1. Invented a new cuss when Excel WOULD NOT carryover the zeros in the zip code field into my letters in Word (if you are reading this from outside New England, you won’t understand)
  2. Said goodbye to Old Reliable (my favorite pen), who perished while slaying a stack of major donor appreciation notes
  3. Felt the beginnings of what is sure to be a vicious case of Mail Merge Elbow

The point is, this time of year is monotonous for development staff and it is easy to get bogged down in the endless stream of letters going out and the check processing that hopefully follows. It’s often tough to manage time and the paper cuts are brutal. And so I am happy to share some  suggestions for keeping up morale on your development team until your year-to-date actuals come in in January.

1. Broaden your horizons. Last week we all took a break to meet with a Director of Development from an organization whose marketing we had been admiring from afar. It turns out that she had some interesting thoughts about volunteer management and a chart for tracking donor stewardship that is EXACTLY what we need for our major donors. We left the meeting with a collective spring in our step.

2. Get out of the office. Next Friday we are leaving mid-afternoon for a mini retreat at my house. We plan to spend a few hours doing an analysis of our current stewardship practices and then set 3 goals for immediate improvement in light of the appeal season. This may not sound like fun, but there will also be beer and steaks.

2. Connect with donors. i am going to lobby hard for Goal #1 to be “call every $100+ donor and thank them for their gift.” Aside from the obvious reasons why this is a good revenue building strategy, I am looking forward to learning tidbits about our donors and trying to one-up my co-workers by harvesting the best anecdote.

3. Keep your goal in sight. Get a roll of butcher’s paper and draw a giant thermometer to track your progress. Updating the chart will quickly become everyone’s favorite time of day.

4. Celebrate ridiculously. I keep a vuvuzela on my desk that is brought out for checks of $5,000 or more. We – quite literally – toot our own horn to note a job well done. I have a really fond memory of sneaking up on our CEO with it to inform him of an unexpected $20,000 grant. Immature? Yes. But in our office it works. Figure out a fun way to give yourselves a pat on the back.

One Simple Thing

The time has come to start planning your annual appeal(s). In my office that means 3 letters: a Friends of Camp Hale appeal, a Friends of the Children’s Art Centre appeal, and the general appeal for everyone else. This year, I am embracing the concept of “One Simple Thing.” If you have read a few of my posts, you know that I am a proponent of fewer words and simpler hooks to make a bigger impact. So of course I am always happy when I find an “expert” who agrees! On Monday, our development team is getting together to watch the following video and begin the process of pinpointing United South End Settlements’ “One Simple Thing.” I am hoping that this process will get the creativity flowing and result in appeal letters that make a strong, simple case for support.

P.S. Check out the other videos in this series to hear Chris Colbert’s thoughts on how to identify your OST and how to connect it to your target audience. You can get the full scoop on

E-mail, Snail Mail, and Failed Mail

I enjoyed this brief article from Americans for the Arts about the value of direct mail campaigns.  The author backs up my belief that as fundraisers and marketers, direct mail is still the way to go.  It only takes one look at my daily inbox and my actual mailbox to know which one is over-saturated.

I particularly liked the comparison of direct mail to a three-legged stool, with the package, the pitch, and the actual list all critical to success.  Earlier today I was thinking out loud and ruminating on when/how to best analyze the success or failure of a mailing campaign.  This approach will give me a good foundation with which to start the postmortem.

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.

Continue reading