The Mikuska Group  

Getting people to give in June

I’ve been annoyed whenever I see social impact organizations asking me on social media or in emails to vote for them to compete for $10,000 (or whatever the amount). They’re not engaging donors this way, and not even raising money.

However, The Great Canadian Giving Challenge has helped organizations use the power of their networks to encourage donors to give. In June – one of the slowest times of the year in fundraising.

In 2016, in its second year, the results were impressive. According to givingchallenge.ca:

52,000 Canadians participated, donating more than $8 million to over 8,600 charities, representing a 48% increase in donations compared to June 2014 and a 28% increase compared to 2015. Charities involved in #GivingChallengeCa for 2 years in a row earned 164% more vs. the 28% average increase.

It works like this: During June, donors give either through givingchallenge.ca or CanadaHelps.org. Every dollar donated to a registered charitable organization gives one entry into the contest for that organization.  (Minimum donation of $3).

Organizations have access to a toolkit to help them create customized campaigns, with logos and strategies. The hashtag #GivingChallengeCA helps keep people up to date and gives them a chance to share.

The draw for the $10,000 is July 1. Now go work your social media!

Julie Mikuska.

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Silos hold grain, not donors

Have you encountered these scenarios?

  • You want to get a receipt to a donor within a couple of days, but your finance department batches receipts and sends them out once a month.
  • You want to create a donor-focused newsletter but the communications staff insist on making it a marketing piece instead.
  • Your donor wants a meeting with program staff and when you try to set it up, staff are suspicious of the donor’s motives and say no.

In all of these cases, staff are working in silos. They are protecting their turf because they don’t see how it’s in their interest to open their processes and departments to be donor-focused.

What can you do to knock down the silo walls?

  • Talk about why and how donors are so important to your organization – revenue and engagement.
  • Help staff learn about why donors give, why they give again and why they don’t.
  • Tell staff why their actions or inactions affect donor loyalty.
  • Share the 7 Principles of Donor Love. (with thanks to Agents of Good.)

And don’t keep your donors in your own silo. Share stories of joyful giving with others to show them that donors care.

Julie Mikuska.

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Ask how to communicate with donors

I recently made a donation in memoriam to honour a friend who had passed away. I made it to an organization that I wouldn’t ordinarily support as I have little interest in their mission, but because the family had asked for donations for that organization, I honoured their wishes.

Imagine my surprise when the very next day, I received their email newsletter! I haven’t even received a receipt, yet they feel they know me sufficiently to further communicate with me. Plus the e-news has three separate asks to give, give and give again.

This organization made the mistake of assuming it knows how a donor wants to receive communications. They didn’t ask me, and I believe they have a default setting that automatically sends their e-news to anyone with an email address. I would have been pleased to be offered a choice about how they could keep in touch with me, or not.

Perhaps you’re scratching your head about how many of your donors don’t give again. Making one small change to how you engage with your donors will make them feel appreciated and part of the organizational family.

Ask. You may be surprised at the response.

Laura Mikuska

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Thank you never gets old

I recently received a call from the chair of the board of a museum I support, thanking me for my monthly gift and giving me an update on the new executive director.

It was a delightful call and it made my day. I felt appreciated and close to the museum and its people.

A few days later I was invited to attend a fundraising tea for another organization I support, to raise money for a scholarship in memory of the founder’s mother. As I was not going to be able to attend, I sent my regrets and made a gift online through their website.

Almost as soon as I hit “submit,” my phone rang and I got a heartfelt thank you from the development director. Wow! Talk about making me feel good about giving!

It didn’t stop there. After the tea was held, I received a package with two packages of tea (pina colada and African chai!), a handwritten thank you from the founder and a response card for me to send back to wish the scholarship recipient well.

It’s important to say thank you, over and over. It really never gets old.

Julie Mikuska.

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Hits and misses from annual appeals

It’s that time of year again when I reflect on appeals received over the past year. As in the past, there were some good ones, some just okay and others truly awful.

Let’s start with what didn’t work:

Being too abstract. It’s really hard to get excited about inclusion and diversity. Or advancing learning and creativity. Or re-imagining our role as a museum. The problem is, I just can’t see myself in these concepts. I need stories and problems to solve.

The problem is too big. How can I “bring help and hope to millions of people living with drought”?   Yikes, how will my $10/month solve that?

The ask is to buy a calendar, become a member and help achieve the same goal as last year. No appeal to my heart or my desire to a make a difference in the world. And no, I’m not buying calendars for my friends and family. And I don’t care about helping you raise $6,000.

Using statistics to show impact. “We give away over 190,000 bowls of soup and 240,000 cups of coffee each year.” Interesting statistic – is that good or bad? What’s the problem to be solved and how can I, as one person, make a difference? Better to tell me a story about someone who comes for soup and coffee.

Telling a story but failing to tell me I’m the hero. A few organizations have jumped on the storytelling bandwagon without closing the loop and putting the donor in the story as the one who’s making any success possible. Remember – the story is the vehicle to tell donors about the difference they’re making in the world. Not the difference the organization is making.

And now with what did work:

Liberal sprinkling of YOU throughout the letter. Key to getting my attention!

  • We can all be proud of our museum and what the future holds, thanks to you.
  • Your support is the wind (and wind-machine!) beneath our wings – we could not enjoy our success without you.
  • You know that something so simple – learning to cook – can be life-changing.

Strong calls to action.

  • You can help. Join me, with a monthly gift of $10, $15 or $25.
  • Click here to donate now.
  • I am asking you to join me and once again give your most generous donation. A gift of $50, $75, $100 or any amount you can give would be greatly appreciated.

There’s still a lot more that you can do in your appeals. Tug at my heartstrings, make me mad, make me sad – get a reaction!

Julie Mikuska.

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Stop trying to educate donors

I’ve seen it too often. An earnest letter from an executive director trying to educate me into giving.

It’s not working. The more information you shovel at me, the more distant I become. It’s usually full of jargon, too, which puts me off at the first acronym or org-speak. What you, the organization, knows does not “convince” me.

Examples of meaningless jargon (at least to me): barriers to employment, food insecurity, creating opportunities, changing social conditions, culturally focused service model, community economic development. Abstract words without context are not convincing.

I encourage story-telling. But only tell me success stories where I have had a hand in that success. Me, through my donation. Don’t tell stories just for the sake of a story – you need conflict and the means of resolving the problem – me!

What donors need is the pull of emotion – anger, despair, love, joy. Put away your organizational binders and write a heartfelt appeal to your donor.

You’ll be glad you did.

Julie Mikuska.

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More than storytelling

I’ve talked a lot about storytelling as essential to show donors the impact of your organizations’ activities. But stories alone don’t involve the donor.

You musn’t let a story merely infer that you’re asking for a donor to give. You must have a strong call to action for a donor to know that a) there’s a problem and b) she can help solve it.

I recently received an appeal letter that told the story of another donor and how great she was, how her philanthropic nature was learned from her parents. This passive example of generosity was likely meant to move me to give but “so what?” was my response. It also had no call to action, only a “Thank you for your kind support.”

Another recent appeal was written from the perspective of a CEO who shared a story of a young man helped by her organization. She also shared that she, too, had gone through some of the same life experiences as the young man, as had a relative of hers. But she didn’t connect the problem to be solved with me, the donor. She said only, “I hope you give generously.”

Donors need to understand what you want them to do. They need to know you can’t do it without them and because of them someone’s life changed. Say Because of you and Thanks to you.

Be direct:

  • Give $25, $50 or $75 today to make sure Jenny can stay in school.
  • Go to our website now to make your gift online.
  • Join me and sign up for monthly giving.

Tell stories, yes. But also tell the donor what the problem is and how she is going to be part of the solution.

Julie Mikuska.

 

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Taking choice away from your donors

Are you taking choice away from your donors or potential donors by not asking them to give? Are you assuming they can’t or won’t give and so you don’t ask?

We’ve heard it often.

“Oh, we can’t ask that person. They have kids in university so they will have no money for us.”

“Our patrons are low-income. They don’t have any money to donate.”

“We can’t ask her! She just gave us a big gift.”

All of these excuses are based on what you assume about people. By not asking, you are taking away their opportunity to make a difference in the world through your organization. Remember – it’s not about the money. It’s about the donor feeling good about the effect she can have on people who need her help.

Think about it:

  • The people with kids in university might have a very keen interest in your cause.
  • Your low-income patrons will likely feel good about being asked to give and they may well give what they can.
  • And the one who just gave a big gift? She’s clearly already invested in what you do, so if there’s a project you think she might be interested in, ask!

Ask yourself why you’re not asking.

Julie Mikuska.

 

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What happens when your fundraiser moves on?

There’s been a trend among social impact organizations for some time that sees development staff stay for about 18 months, then move to another organization or leave the profession altogether. For many organizations, this becomes a set-back which may take months or years to make right.

Know that this may happen in your organization, what can you, as leaders, do before and after it does?

Before:

Take steps now to understand what’s going on with major donors, where they are in the donor cycle and what the quality of the relationship is with them.

Make sure all contacts with donors are being recorded in your database. Great notes make for a great institutional memory.

Support your staff through professional development, career advancement and great working conditions. (who knows – they may not leave after all…)

Encourage a culture of philanthropy and engagement throughout the organization, so that donors may have relationships outside the development office.

After:

Do not rush to hire an experienced fundraiser, especially one who doesn’t understand your mission, as you may be in the same position in 18 months.

Do consider recruiting someone who has a passion for what you do and the skills to be come a development professional, and invest in a consultant to coach them into a new career.

Examine the reasons they may have left (as they may not be forthcoming about underlying conflicts that caused them not to want to continue working there). For example, did you pile every conceivable type of fund development activity into one job? It’s hard to expect one person to do events, major gift fundraising, direct mail, third-party fundraising, ticket sales, etc. and do any of it well.

If the departure was sudden and you didn’t have time to debrief on donors, call them and explain what the situation is. Don’t just leave them hanging.

Take steps to stop the revolving door. You and your donors will be much better off.

Julie Mikuska

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A true gift

I received a lovely gift in the mail today – a handwritten thank you on a card featuring the artwork of a client, hand-addressed with a real stamp on the envelope. A real stand-out in my mailbox!

The card was from 1JustCity, an umbrella organization in Winnipeg bringing together four community ministries: Oak Table, North End Stella Community Ministry, West Broadway Community Services and St. Matthews Maryland Community Ministry.

They do amazing work and, in their own words, they “love the under-loved.” And we get to work with them as clients.

And in one short card, they told me what a difference I’m making in the life of one person. And because I’m a monthly donor, I’ll think of Joanne and others like her every month as I’m notified of my donation through CanadaHelps.

How are you thanking your donors?

Julie Mikuska

 

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