Three ways your boss is wrong about fundraising

One of my favorite parts of the Great Fundraising Program from PFNA is when they talk about how everyone in the country was born with a master’s degree in fundraising and copywriting.

This is, of course, sarcastic.  Folks may behave as though their gut feeling about what works in fundraising is better than a professional’s opinion.  But unfortunately, this usually works about as well as when the fundraiser puts together a contract without advice from legal, relying on their legal gut feelings and hoping they will get a chance to get into a courtroom and yell “NO!  YOU’RE OUT OF ORDER!”

(By the way, if you are interested in the Great Fundraising Program, you can get a free sneak peek into the highlights of this excellent training on June 25 here.)

The challenge is sometimes you don’t have the evidence immediately at hand and are thrown to the whims of the HIPPO (HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion).  Here’s some evidence to have when you ride in to battle for the side of fundraising expertise, right, and virtue.

Longer letters.  “No one is going to read that.”  “How boring.”  “What about the increased cost?”  “Brevity is the sole of wit.”

Intuition would say that at least one of these arguments against a longer letter would hold.  Most of the time, however, a longer letter makes a better case and raises more money.  The University of Sheffield tested the two-page versus four-page conundrum with their alumni letter

The results: the four-page letter was related more than double the revenue.  Average gift jumped from 279 pounds to 435 pounds and response rate went from 1.8% to 2.2%.

The only exception was among regular givers (who likely didn’t need the additional reason to give so much as a reminder).  This could be part of why people think a longer letter won’t work; if you are the person reading every letter that comes out of the organization, you don’t need as much convincing as the person on the street.

Text messages.  You might have a boss who thinks that texts are annoying and should never be sent.  Or you might have one who is in love with the platform and wants to deploy it at the drop of a hat.

Neither is the right approach, according to a study on blood donations.  The study found that people who received text messages when they had their blood used would be more likely to donate again…  if they were plasma donors.  There was no impact on whole blood donors.

Surveys of blood donors find plasma donors tend to be more focused on the impact of their gift.  Whole blood donors look for ease and convenience; plasma is more about the sense of pride from the gift.  

In other words, the impact reporting mattered more to the people who cared about their impact.

This is an inverse of the last study — here your more committed donors want additional communication.  Thus, it’s vital you look at what type of communication it is and not paint them all with the same brush.

Color images.  Pseudo-experts will often talk about fundraising as not as “modern” or “professional” as they would like (or, worse, what the brand will allow).  That means more color, more cost, and often lower results.

Such was the result when researchers tested disaster relief advertising.  They looked at no picture, black and white picture, color photo, and color photo plus color text (aka the “pretty” opinion).

Sure enough, all versions of the pictures outperformed no pictures.  We fundraisers know that the human face inspires empathy.  But what might surprise your modern-design seeker or brand-standards enforcer was that the black and white photos performed the best.  Simple, stark, and inexpensive.

Hope these help you the next time you are face-to-face with a HIPPO and need some evidence in your corner!

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