The Mikuska Group  

Marketing is not fundraising

“We need to do more marketing” – often expressed by staff and board members of social impact organizations. “If we can only educate everyone on the great work we do, people would support us!”

The thing is, there’s no relationship in that notion. You’re just telling people how great you are – that’s a one-way transaction. As for the part about “educating donors” – that has a whiff of treating them like schoolchildren who need to be told.

Here’s what you do instead – start developing relationships with people, invite them to be part of your herd, and show them what impact you’re having on the clients you serve (including non-humans). Ask them to join you in the work that you do because without them, you can’t change the world. And show them, over and over, that because of them, society is changing for the better.

You can’t do that by marketing.

Laura Mikuska


Are your appeals appealing?

Another year end come and gone, and with it some hits and misses in appeals and thank yous…

First, the face palms:

1. A weak call to action.

  • “We hope you will consider a renewed gift.” (What, exactly is a renewed gift? Nah, won’t consider it.)
  • “We hope you will join us in our mission…” (how exciting…)
  • “As we approach the end of the year, I am writing to ask you to consider making a 2015 donation…” (just because it’s the year end isn’t a compelling reason to give)
  • “I hope you will help us to achieve the same amount this year.” (Whether you achieve a certain goal with no talk of impact is meaningless.)

These were taken from the first three randomly chosen letters in the pile of appeals! (And yes, one letter contributed two of these…)

2. Not paying attention to good customer service or donor preferences.

  • Sending a double-sided letter in French and English. (How about finding out which language we prefer?)
  • Sending an appeal that references a time I spent overseas with an organization, when in fact I participated in their Canadian program.
  • No personalization, just a brochure and pledge card to an existing donor (Gee, I feel special…)
  • Not receiving a thank you letter for gifts made on (A receipt is just a transaction, not a thank you.)

 3. Not talking about real impact.

  • Bragging about the organization. (So what?)
  • Presenting a solved problem (You don’t need my donation? Ok.)
  • Slaying me with statistics. (How will my $50 help 3 million refugees?)

And now the high fives:

 1. Making the donor the hero.

  • “You make me proud.” (Ok, you’ve got my attention!)
  • “People like you understand the power of good food.” (I’m nodding my head yes!)
  • “For us to continue to be the “keeper of your memories” we need your help now.” (Yes, I want you to continue to keep my memories.)
  • “Because of you, young people get to experience the power of live theatre, and begin to see it from the inside…” (I did that? I’m awesome!)
  • “You did this.” (Yes I did…from Justin Trudeau!)

 2. Using stories to show impact.

  • “Sometimes I’m worried about everything here,” says one gardner. “We are new here and have to think about how to do everything. But here, I can just garden.” (Food Matters Manitoba, talking about newcomers to Canada.)
  • “It was two weeks before Christmas – a time when most people are thinking about last-minute shopping, gift wrapping, and family gatherings. But at that time three years ago, all I could think about was staying alive.” (St. Boniface Hospital Foundation heart patient.)
  • “I learned that I can’t let anyone hold me back,” says Haydee. “I need to go this way for the babies’ sake, for my own sake, because this is how I want to live.” (‘M’ Program participant, Career Trek.)

 3. Sincere thank yous

  • Two thank you calls received from board chairs of two arts and culture organizations – much appreciated.
  • Personalized thank you letter from an executive director, including a handwritten note.

 4. Clear calls to action.

  • “Please make your most generous donation today – $50, $75, $100 or whatever you can make by going online at (website) and click on the Donate Now button.” (No guessing there, I know just what to do.)
  • “Please join me and donate. Everything helps, $50, $100, $200 or whatever you can give.” (From a letter written by a board chair.)

Communication really matters, whether it’s good or bad. And with the Fundraising Effectiveness Report telling us that for every 100 donors gained in 2014, 103 were lost through attrition, good communication is key.

Are you communicating in a way that donors say yes?

Julie Mikuska.

P.S. For opinions from a donor on her experience donating to various charities, follow The Whiny Donor on Twitter @thewhinydonor.

(This article originally appeared in our January 2016 e-newletter. Subscribe here.)


Poverty mentality: it has to change

Organizations in the social impact sector work to change the world. Every day. Some work with the most marginalized and forgotten people, others save the environment, create life-changing art, take care of our health and save animals. Pretty important stuff.

Why, then, are they expected to constantly beg for their funds? They are having a huge impact in all of our lives every hour of every day – they shouldn’t be forced to shut valuable programs that help society, just because they are defined as charitable. They shouldn’t be forced to pay poverty wages to talented people (only to lose them when they can’t make a living) and have little to no technology to do their jobs.

It’s great to have a corps of volunteers to help deliver on the mission, but (well)paid staff  and resources have to underpin the work of those volunteers. Grant application after grant application all specify that the funds are for “programming”, with little to none of the funding directed towards staff, or keeping the lights on. Why?? And why do funders give limited-time funding for “projects” that will die when the funding runs out?

It’s time that we, as members of our collective society, start to speak out about why we have to change from a poverty mentality to one of abundance in supporting the work of the social impact sector.

We will all be richer for it.

Laura Mikuska


How and when to thank donors

The time to thank a donor is when you get a gift. That’s all. No mysterious formula.

It’s not when you get enough gifts in to batch receipts. It’s not really about the receipt, although most people would like one eventually. If the process for creating receipts in your organization are making you wait to thank donors, then get the thank you letter out first and send the receipt later – then work on getting the receipt process changed!

How to thank donors is also quite simple.

  • Be authentic, whether on the phone, in a letter or an email.
  • Just thank. Resist the temptation to brag or to ask for another gift.
  • Praise the donor and remind them of their status as a hero in solving problems.
  • Personalize a thank you letter and hand-sign each one.
  • Enlist your board to help thank donors, by making calls or sending hand-written notes.

Donors are much more likely to give again if they are promptly and properly thanked. So make time to do just that.

Julie Mikuska.


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