James Read, Senior Vice President, BDI

QUICK SHOT: 2 Must-Haves for Your Nonprofit Fundraising Formula

Learn the secrets to using creativity more effectively in your fundraising!

If you work in nonprofit marketing, you’ve probably experienced this. You’re watching the Super Bowl when an ad comes on… and you turn to someone and say, “Wow, that was creative!” In the back of your mind you’re thinking, “Why aren’t my organization’s fundraising emails and appeals more like that?”

Ah, the siren call of creativity. It’s easy to understand why we’re so drawn to the excitement of originality and artistry. We love the way creativity makes our eyes go wide, moves us to tears, or causes us to snort out our beverage in laughter.

But it’s a serious question: why aren’t nonprofit fundraising strategies and materials more like the creative ads we see in commercial marketing? Let’s unpack this conundrum.

Two Things Your Fundraising Creative Must Do

To begin, let’s confirm that we’re talking about creative strategies within your organization’s fundraising appeals, emails, digital media ads, etc. All of these communications fall into the category of direct marketing.

For decades, successful direct marketers have followed this formula to achieve success:

  • 40% of your impact comes from the audience you’re communicating with
  • Another 40% comes from your offer, what you’re asking your audience to support
  • The remaining 20% of impact comes from your creative

This formula makes sense if you think about it. For example, if you’re communicating with avid hunters (audience) about a campaign to ban hunting (offer), you will face dismal results no matter how good your creative is.

However, let’s assume you have the basics in place: you’re communicating with an audience that cares deeply about your cause, and you’re asking them to support a program they are passionate about. Now, how do we harness the power of creative strategies in your nonprofit fundraising?

The two secrets to using creativity effectively are actually hidden in plain sight if we go back to the formula for direct marketing success:

1. Your Creative Must Resonate with the Audience Who Receives It

If 40% of your impact comes from speaking to the right audience, it just makes sense that the creative used in your fundraising campaigns must be appropriate to that audience. It needs to catch their attention, touch their hearts and feel “right” to them – and not necessarily to you.

So consider who your audience is. For most organizations, their donors and prospective donors:

  • Tend to be older. It’s not uncommon for the average donor to be 65 or older.
  • Are established in life with discretionary income to give.
  • Quite possibly are religious.

Knowing these facts, should your fundraising creative appeal to twentysomethings? Should the headlines be clever pop-culture references that older folks might miss? Should you use humor that not everyone might get? I think you know the answers.

2. Your Creative Must Support Your Offer

This second principle is also glaringly intuitive. Your creative must showcase the fundraising offer in a compelling way. So let’s take a moment to think about successful fundraising offers:

  • They’re focused on need, not success.
  • They invite the donor to help solve a problem – whether it’s hunger, homelessness or fighting cancer.
  • There’s typically a sense of urgency. People are struggling unless we help them.

Now, imagine you are going to visit a potential donor, present them with an urgent, need-focused offer and ask them to give. What would you wear and what would you say? Would you wear your flashiest, most expensive outfit? Would you say things that distract from your message? Probably not.

Instead, you’d communicate with passion and urgency, and put the focus on your message and not on yourself.

Your fundraising messages need to do the same. Your creative needs to highlight the offer through photos and color. The headlines and copy need to be clear and ask for a response. The overall approach needs to give the impression that your organization is competent, committed and so focused on the need that you’re not spending a lot of money showing off.

Use Creativity Smartly for Better Fundraising Results

Is there room to be creative within these guidelines? Absolutely! Spend time thinking about and testing strategies to answer questions like these:

  • What are formats, colors and messages that will capture the attention of my audience?
  • What are ways I can graphically illustrate the offer and bring it to life?
  • How can I craft my message so it tells the most compelling story possible?

Years of experience and hundreds of tests have consistently shown that creativity just for the sake of “being creative” will typically hurt your fundraising results. On the other hand, when you use creativity to capture your audience’s attention and elevate your offer, you’ll win every time.

Check out last week’s Quick Shot – “10 Digital Fall Fundraising Tips for Nonprofits”>>

  • James Read VP Creative BDI

    James Read, Chief Creative Officer

    James believes that technology and other changes in society today are creating one of the most exciting eras for fundraising. With more than 30 years of experience, James empowers nonprofits and cause-driven organizations to communicate their world-changing ideas in ways that inspire and motivate people. He has served more than 50 organizations in the United States, Canada and Great Britain and helped organizations raise more than a billion dollars. James’s experience includes work for American Red Cross, Muscular Dystrophy Association, World Vision, The Salvation Army and the University of Chicago, along with numerous rescue missions, food banks, cancer centers, humane societies and Christian ministries.

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