Odds and Ends

Odds and Ends


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


If you’re like me, you won’t be mailing your appeal letters and/or renewals after this week and until after the election. If you’re like me, you will calculate that the national mood will be seriously distracted by the election. I have mail going out today and on Friday for various clients, but after that, I won’t be mailing again until the week of November 12th.

So, this two-week hiatus in the middle of fundraising season offers us an opportunity to put some things in place. Here are three things to think about as you get ready:


6th Grade Writing

I am often asked about the recommendation that appeal letters get written at a 6th grade level. The push-back is related to 1) that it’s hard, and 2) that our donors tend to be better educated than that, and 3) that it constitutes talking “down” to people.

First of all, let’s acknowledge that it IS hard. Most of us write grants and reports and newsletters and other communications at an 11th to 12th grade level. Getting that down to a 6th grade reading level is difficult. It takes practice and effort.

Why would that be worth it?

Because fundraising writing is different than other communications. People actually read your grants and reports and newsletters and other communications. They come to the exercise with an intention to understand what you are communicating – at least most of the time.

The truth about fundraising letters is that no one is reading them all the way through. (See The Hidden Fact That Will Change the Way You Write Letters). Instead, your donors will just scan what you’ve written – my guess is that someone who actually opens the envelope will initially spend less than four seconds with the letter.

We’re not talking down to people. We are making it easy for smart people to suck up what we’re trying to say in four seconds or less.

You can test your writing using the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level – a tool that is built into Microsoft Word. If you run a spell check on your document, the check will end with a report showing number of words, number of sentences – and down toward the bottom, the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level. You can bring the reading level down by simplifying your writing: fewer four-syllable word, fewer complex nouns and predicates, fewer introductory prepositional phrases. And watch out for passive verbs.


Thank You Calls

Pick up the phone!

Every researcher I’ve run across is unanimous in this one easy piece of advice – make time to call donors to say thank you. Penelope Burk (Cygnus) says you can improve your overall giving from these same donors by as much as 40% next year by making calls this year. Chuck Longfield (Blackbaud) has found consistent results in multiple tests.

The exercise will benefit from using a script and a set of talking points. The script is for reading into a voicemail machine. The talking points are for the times when someone actually answers the phone.

Roger Craver (DonorVoice) also advises thank you calls to “donors for their gifts, as a welcome to a new donor, and as a tribute to the donors who are celebrating their 2nd, 5th, or 10th anniversary with your organization.” Love it.

Calling donors is even better if you can spread out the fun. The Executive Director shouldn’t hog it all to themselves. Other staff and Board members can and should be asked to help make calls.

Hint #1: this is a great way to keep Emeritus Board members involved, too.

Hint#2: keep track of who calls whom so you can make the same assignments in future years.


Giving Tuesday

Today’s Agitator post was written by Kiki Koutmeridou, who is described as the Chief Behavioral Scientist for DonorVoice. Koutmeridou offers the following tips for getting the most out of your Giving Tuesday campaign.

Visual Urgency

Koutmeridou encourages finding a visual that communicates urgency, such as a countdown clock. “In the dozens of emails I reviewed, I found only one using a live countdown to further enhance this sense of urgency.”

Exceptional Occurrence

Framing your Giving Tuesday appeal as an exceptional event, instead of as an annual event, can help boost results. Koutmeridou points to a study which compared descriptions of an Alzheimer’s walk as “held annually for Alzheimers” versus “only once a year for Alzheimers.” The latter yielded a larger result and a higher average gift.

Here’s the full study.

Goal Proximity

Prospective donors relate to a goal or target AND to how close you are to it, with gifts beginning to come in more quickly at 70%. Therefore, clearly include this information in your email campaign, and don’t get too discouraged by sluggish initial results.


Cheers, and have a great week.




Photo by Ylanite Koppens courtesy of Stocksnap.io.

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    Posted at 07:25h, 23 October

    Hi David, I’m especially interested in your comments to Pick up the phone! and “Penelope Burk (Cygnus) says you can improve your overall giving from these same donors by as much as 40% next year by making calls this year.” Do you know how this compares to emailing people? We tend to email more than call since emails result in a two way exchange way more often than calls do. Any thoughts/data on that? Thank you so much for your terrific help, as always.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 09:10h, 23 October

      Trish, I’ll look, but I don’t know of any comparative data off the top of my head. If you might do an experiment along those lines (email half and call half), you can count on me to share the results on this blog!