Last fall, I was brought into a local business here who does a lot of work with nonprofits.
It’s not a space I have much experience in. Except for a brief stint as a hired-gun phone fundraiser during college.
Although, I’ll admit, I’ve toyed with the idea many times — helping out a few nonprofits with noble missions. Working with them to bring in more cash to create maximum impact — to help maximum people through their work. Using my knowledge and experience in direct marketing.
Anyways, when this company brought me in, I started studying nonprofit direct response fundraising.
It’s an area I knew little about, so I wanted to get up to speed.
I picked up and sped through a handful of top books on the subject. Signed up for a bunch of blog updates. Listened to a number of the top podcasts.
In short, I immersed myself in the nonprofit direct response fundraising world for a few months to get the pulse of the industry.
And found that because I already understood the commercial, for-profit world of direct response…
I already knew 95% of what the top pros in direct response fundraising did!
The best practices? Largely identical between commercial marketing and nonprofit fundraising.
The most fundamental principles and strategies? The same!
The tactics and techniques that work? Ditto!
But there was one HUGE exception…
I discovered that in the nonprofit realm, they still haven’t really figured out how to do fundraising online!
That’s right… In our super-connected world, where Amazon.com is on the verge of replacing Walmart…
On average, only 2.1% of ALL private donations to nonprofits are made online!
There are exceptions. The American Lung Association, for example, reports that 30% of its donations are online.
But, in general, nonprofit online fundraising is a total FAIL!
The biggest blame-game goes to demographics…
“Our donors simply haven’t been online.” That’s what they say.
And they may have a little bit of a point.
The elderly — the biggest constituency of donors — have been among the slowest demographic to come online.
HOWEVER… Before they passed away, my grandparents were online. My wife’s grandparents are online. Many, many folks in the 65+ range are online… Surfing Facebook, buying things, the works.
And that 2.1% stat is RECENT — within the last couple years.
That does not bear out as a solid excuse relative to the actual internet usage stats of the primary demographic.
What gives? Why do nonprofits fail to fundraise online?
Here’s my best observation…
They fail for the same reason so many dot-com companies failed back in the 90s…
They fail for the same reason many internet entrepreneurs still struggle today…
They fail because of an insipid belief that can completely tank your ability to generate results online…
They fail because they BELIEVE the internet, as a medium, is fundamentally different than all other media!
From a survey of “best practices” from the experts of fundraising, I discovered that they are among the best on the planet in terms of direct mail.
You’d have to be, after all, to get someone to send hundreds or thousands of dollars through the mail — in return only for good feelings!
They understand fundamental principles and strategies like retention and lifetime value, ascension of a donor from a low-level financial relationship to a high-level relationship, and more.
They are especially good copywriters when it comes to telling heart-wrenching emotional stories that compel you to take action.
And yet, somehow, the industry as a whole has kept its best and brightest from applying simple direct response principles online!
Now, as early as the mid-1990s, commercial direct marketers made the discovery that you can take a direct mail sales letter and basically put it online.
It doesn’t have to look high-tech or fancy — in fact, often ugly is better.
And the online version of the direct mail letter is almost impossible to beat versus nearly any internet-specific way of delivering the message (ugly video sales letters are one of the only exceptions).
But here’s the thing…
These masters of direct mail — when asked — revealed that they haven’t even tested putting their direct mail sales letters online!
And this despite the fact that the financial and health publishers have — especially since the early 2000s — been generating billions of dollars per year online…
With ugly direct mail sales letters, put on a webpage!
And here’s the really important part…
Selling commercially to the exact same demographic the nonprofits insist haven’t been online, or at the very least haven’t been willing to conduct financial transactions online.
(Can you tell I’m more than a little riled up about this?)
Here’s my prescription for nonprofits who want to double, triple, or even 10X the amount of their online donations…
Apply the proven direct mail fundraising principles on the internet.
A new medium does not call for brand new rules of selling. Only minor adaptations.
Study what other marketers who’ve made the transition have done — especially consumer publishers focusing on financial and health topics, who largely serve the same demographic.
Your constituents ARE on the internet, and conducting financial transactions on the internet. You simply have to find them, get permission to market to them (in particular, to send regular email to them), and use these principles.
And if you’re a commercial, for-profit marketer, here’s the lesson in this from you…
Don’t believe the hype that a new medium requires new rules.
And don’t believe the hype about “my business is different.”
The proven principles and strategies of effective direct response marketing are universal. And I’m not talking about the pitchman’s tone, or overhyped language. I’m talking about the underlying principles and strategies of direct response.
The more you tell, the more you sell.
Build a list and communicate with them often.
The role of your marketing is to sell (or get donations), everything else is secondary.
And so on…
What I cover here…
Don’t be like the nonprofit industry that’s fought these truths now for decades online…
Embrace TESTING them, seriously, and seeing how you can make them work.
You may be surprised what a difference it can make.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets