Clear the “Pathway to Giving”

Clear the PathBy Brendan Kinney, Moderator of #fundchat

Smart nonprofit organizations create as many pathways to giving as possible: mail and phone are obvious, but then there are gifts via the web, mobile, and social networks. And the method of giving that your donors use is just as important as the platform they use to make their gift. Donors should be able to give by cash and check of course, but then there are credit cards, EFT, and PayPal and more.

As you add pathways for donors to support your cause, stick a Post-It note to your forehead with the following letters: “K.I.S.S.” Repeat after me: Keep It Simple Stupid. The worst thing we can do is make gift giving difficult. In our quest to provide as many ways to give as possible, we overlook the donor who just wants to make a gift.

If you are expanding your pathways to giving or simply performing an audit of the monster you created, consider the following:

Customer Service is Key

A great way to surprise your supporters and donors is to take their phone call. When a donor is having difficulty making a gift to your organization, you hope they will pick up the phone or compose an email message. You should be listening! What better time to help a donor than when they are in the moment, trying to make a gift to your organization, but have a question or are having trouble with your website.

Make sure that someone on your staff is responsible for answering these questions by phone, email…and yes, on social networking sites. There is no more basic service that you can provide than to be available for your supporters and donors and to do everything you can to help them make a gift to your organization.

Align Path with Preference

Do you throw the kitchen sink in with your appeals? You know what I mean: you’re adding that crucial “P.S.” to finish up your winter appeal and you feel you just have to list the website, include the phone number, remind them of the courtesy reply envelope, and plug your monthly giving program. Wrong. Instead of making things easier, you’ve created a speed bump in your pathway to giving. Your donor is now faced with a decision, not how much to give to your organization, but how.

Show some respect to your donors by encouraging them to give the same way they did last time. Chances are, you have this information in your database already (and if you don’t…tsk! tsk!). When you send a letter to John and Jane Smith, you know they gave by phone last time, so their letter can be personalized to include this giving path and this giving path only. You can also take a closer look at your database and see who typically gives in response to, say, your spring phonathon. Those folks ought to be the first to get a call come April.

Obviously, you want to give your donors as many chances to support your organization as possible, but go farther by clearing the clutter on their pathway to giving.

Match Giving Path to Method

When you’re preparing an appeal, think carefully about matching the giving method to the pathway to giving. For example, it doesn’t make any sense to send someone an e-blast solicitation and then ask them to call a phone number. Don’t send a direct mail letter and neglect to include a courtesy reply envelope/postcard. And for goodness’ sake, don’t call someone who has asked not to be solicited in that fashion before.

If you send an e-blast, the “Make Your Gift Now” link should take them right to your giving form on your website. Do not, under any circumstances, link them to a special landing page, a flowery page listing all of the great reasons to support your cause, or some fancy video you’ve put together. They are ready to make a gift, otherwise they wouldn’t have followed the link! (The other cardinal sin is to make your online giving process unnecessarily long, but that’s another blog post altogether.)

When a donor or potential donor receives your appeal, your goal is to provide so much grease that their gift giving is effortless.

Connect the Dots for Donors

Our donors are often generous with the wallets. What they are more protective of is their time. So when you are reaching out to donors about methods or paths of giving that take some explanation, realize that it will take more than one letter, email or phone call; it may, in fact, take many conversations.

Whether it’s the complexities of a charitable gift annuity, gift of stock, or your monthly giving program, you job is to connect the dots for donors. That means demonstrating the impact of not only their gift, but their method of giving.

For example, you may want to increase the number of donors who use your monthly giving program by EFT (electronic funds transfer from a checking or savings account). A donor may ask, “Why can’t I just send my check like I do every year?” Take the time to connect the dots. Explain how their using EFT as their method of giving not only saves them time (no writing checks) and is convenient (no need to remember when to send their gift) but it also helps the organization save money (you don’t send a renewal by mail) and helps those that you serve (less time asking for support and more time providing services).

So, take a strategic approach to connecting the dots for those methods or pathways that require a little extra effort. Write an article for your newsletter, include an insert in all acknowledgements about stock gifts, planned giving, etc., and rotate those messages every month or quarter; send a direct mail piece to existing donors (they don’t need to be sold on supporting you) that describes the path in clear and concise language. The possibilities are endless, but the point is to invest your time in connecting the dots.

The Big Picture

The hard part is over; you’ve provided your donors with as many ways to support you as might be convenient for them. Now, don’t blow it by confusing your donors about which option to choose. Remember those donors who just want to make a gift.

They’ll thank you for it.

Brendan Kinney

Brendan Kinney is a fundraising and marketing professional. He has worked in higher education and public media and is the moderator of #fundchat. You can follow him on Twitter at @brendankinney.


Questions for tonight’s #fundchat: Email Campaigns and Solicitations

Email Campaigns...I hope you are looking forward to tonight’s #fundchat on the topic of “Email Campaigns & Solicitations.” We kick things off at 9 pm EST. If you are new to #fundchat, you can learn about how it works here.

For those who like to be prepared (like some #fundchat participants I can think of) here is the line-up for tonight:

  1. How do you target/acquire new donors via an email campaign who may not be in your database?
  2. What is your orgs A/B testing strategy?
  3. Subject lines that lead to conversion?
  4. Timing/frequency of email appeals?
  5. No limits? How long/short should the copy be?
  6. How does a successful campaign “get” a donor and what turns them off?
  7. Metrics: How to you analyze your campaign and improve for the future?

Thanks very much to @npshana and @fundraisinisfun for suggesting the majority of these questions.

See you tonight!

Next #fundchat: Email Campaigns and Solicitations – 7/27 9 pm EST

Email CampaignThanks to everyone who participated in the #fundchat poll to help choose the next topic: Email Campaigns & Solicitations.

The nice thing about the poll is that it was a “ranking” poll and we’ve also got our next two topics:

August 3 – Donor acquisition strategies and tactics

August 10 – Volunteer recruitment and management

I’ll be in the “boondocks” on vacation for the first two #fundchats in August, but luckily, there’s wifi!

For this week’s #fundchat I need your help. Please add your burning question in the comments section below. Regarding email campaigns and solicitations:

  • What have you struggled with?
  • What do you want to know?
  • What’s your tip for a successful campaign or a lesson learned you can share?
  • What metrics do you watch?

Please add your ideas for questions below and we’ll get them answered during the next #fundchat, which takes place on Wednesday, July 27 at 9 pm EST.

If you are a newbie to #fundchat, you can scan the rules of engagement here.

– Brendan (@brendankinney)

#fundchat Transcript Available for “Is Direct Mail Dead?”

Thanks to everyone for a great #fundchat this week on the topic of “Is Direct Mail Dead? Reassessing the Fundraiser’s Workhorse.”

Lots of great discussion of many facets of direct mail including best practices, pitfalls and yes, just a few success stories!

You can read the curated transcript on Storify by clicking here.

Also, be sure to check out all of the curated transcripts from #fundchat so far, including the topics of major giving, fundraising policies, social media marketing, and career networking for fundraisers.

Is Direct Mail Dead? Reassessing the Fundraiser’s Workhorse

Are you a #fundchat newbie? Learn more about how to participate in #fundchat here.

I’m happy to announce that the next #fundchat will take place on Wednesday, July 20 at 9 pm EST on a topic near and dear to many a fundraiser’s heart: direct mail.

Special Delivery!With so many shiny new tools at our disposal (hello, social media), one tried and true workhorse is not feeling the love as of late. As any fundraiser worth his or her salt knows, at the center of any successful fundraising program is direct mail.

But is the landscape changing? Has direct mail worn out it’s welcome?

Here is a brief run-down of the pros and cons of direct mail:


  • It’s an opportunity for a personal connection with a current or potential supporter.
  • It’s a relatively affordable way to reach a large number of people.
  • The ability to target messages based on segmentation of your lists.
  • “Respectable” response rate compared to other methods.
  • Delivers that all important device: the gift reply envelope.
  • Provides a visual reminder about your organization (stay on their radar).
  • There is a lot of research and information about “best practices” from which an organization can borrow.
  • A dearth of creative options for mailer design to increase open and response rates.


  • It ain’t cheap! Postage, paper, design and more adds up and is out of reach for many small organizations.
  • Many pieces go unopened, especially around critical times of the year (year-end, holidays, etc.)
  • Isn’t mail “old fashioned?”
  • The typical response rate for direct mail is in the single digits.
  • Other forms of direct communication provide better ROI (e-mail campaigns, social media?).
  • Maintaining a database and lists is time consuming and can be expensive.
  • The environmental impact: many pieces go right into the circular file.

I’m sure you can provide additional bullets to both pros and cons regarding direct mail. It’s a topic that generates a lot of advice and opinions from fundraisers and that’s exactly what I’m hoping for!

Here is the line-up of questions for the next #fundchat:

  1. Does your organization use direct mail? Why or why not?
  2. How many appeals do you send in a year and at what frequency?
  3. Has your organization seen a decline in response rates to direct mail? What is a “good” response rate for your org?
  4. Of your various outreach tactics, what percentage of revenue do you rely on for direct mail?
  5. Is your program highly segmented, sending very specific messages to certain donors, or do you take a more global approach?
  6. What do you think about using QR codes in direct mail?
  7. Has your organization experimented with email campaigns as a replacement to direct mail? How does it compare?
  8. What tactics or strategies have you used as part of your direct mail program that have flopped?
  9. Apart from your “normal” program, have you experimented with a different strategy, design, message or other and what was the outcome?
  10. Call it “integrated” or “multichannel” marketing, direct mail has simply evolved beyond a one-trick pony: Discuss.

As a special bonus, here are links to some articles that might get you thinking about our next topic:

I encourage you to share links to other blogs or articles that shed light on the topic of direct mail. Just remember to include the #fundchat hashtag so tweeps can do their homework!