Switching to Donor Love v. internal resistance

Notably re-quotable

“Mariano Alvarado still had nerve pain, poor balance, and post-traumatic stress [after his fall from a roof due to unsafe conditions ignored by his employer], but his work with Resilience Force gave him a sense of purpose. ‘I think God made this happen,’ he told me, ‘because people need to know our stories.” ~ as reported by award-winning journalist, Sarah Stillman, in her recent New Yorker article, “Storm Chasers.” ¶ Two things mattered to me in this quote: (1) a beneficiary emphasizing the need to tell stories in order to change our suffering world (as the annual Nonprofit Storytelling Conference has harped on since 2014); and (2) meeting Resilience Force, a charity new to me ... which I now proudly, gladly, thankfully support as a monthly donor. I hope you will consider them, too.

File this under:

“Guest column by Andrew Ross, a boss who was once a second-guessed fundraising communicator…”

From the front lines of possible change....

Baby steps

“How do I convince my boss?” Start small.



Fundraisers run into so much internal resistance. For no intelligent reason. It’s frustrating. Demoralizing. Undermines revenue big time. Contributes nothing worthwhile. And yet it persists.

And persists. And persists. And persists.

For more than 20 years now, I’ve spoken to fundraisers about the science and art of donor comms. I share data and case studies. We analyze all sorts of real-life examples that worked. I pass along the best things I’ve learned from a hundred-plus (1,000+?) mentors.

And yet this question arises almost every time: “How do I convince my boss to let me try the things you’re recommending?”

Dear reader: Together now ... SIGH.

In the previous issue of this e-news, you heard Seattle's Better Fundraising Company untangle the “it doesn’t sound like us” phenomenon ... one of the great and most common money-losing presumptions in NGO world. Charities that are science-based are especially prone to this dumb fundraising flaw.

“We’re different,” these orgs insist. No, you’re not ... not in a donor’s eyes. You are, though, blinded by your science-borne presumptions and arrogance. (You really should see someone about that malady.)

Then, a few issues earlier, you heard the incomparable copywriter, Maggie Cohn, deliver a pep talk to a university donor-comms team confronted every day by people who are indeed “the smartest people in the room.” (Although their Nobel Prizes are usually not in fundraising.)

And now?

Help is on the way! As I hope you’ll read on...

... as guest columnist, Andrew Ross, now CEO of Center for Community Services in Greenville County, South Carolina ... & previously a suppressed, second-guessed fundraiser just like you might still be .. explains how he made progress in an earlier job....

Take it away, Andrew!


One question that Tom seems to receive frequently from fundraisers is “How do I convince my boss to transition our fundraising style”?

Luckily, as a director that understands this model, I only have to convince myself these days.

For those of you not in my position, though, I wanted to give you some pointers on how you can ease the growing pains that you may endure.


I think the best way to implement donor-centric fundraising is to ask before you even take a job.

During the interview process, you should ask for examples of their fundraising material. See if they track their outcomes (they should!) and have a discussion and see if they are open to such changes.

This could help ease some future frustration on both sides and put you at an agency that is open to good ideas.


If you are already at an agency, and most of you are, I would suggest as I do with all big changes I want to implement…baby steps.

When I first started changing the way we did fundraising, I knew that just changing everything at once would not go over well.

I suggest starting with the donor newsletter. (You have one right?)

Honestly, my first step was simply adding a teaser to the mailer envelope for our newsletter. “The life changing opportunities you provided are inside.”

That was my big win. One sentence.

But more people opened that envelope because the teaser made them want to read a newsletter that was finally about them. As a result, we got more response.

This improved response led to my ideas getting more traction.

I then began editing other managers’ contributions to the newsletter. I added some more yous, changing the focus from looking at all the great things “we” have done to look at what a great person “you, the donor” are.

Find clever ways to start small. It took a year of small changes to our newsletter to finally become a great DONOR newsletter.


You can do more technical comparisons to prove your point, but the best bang for your buck is to get people on your side.

Show them some examples of donor centric vs. agency centric.

Ask them if they were a donor, how each makes them feel.

We give because our hearts tell us to, not because our brain convinces us to.

Trust me, people will push back with any new idea. Be patient.

We know that donor-centric communications works ... but you will be fighting the old “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality.


Just remember as Tom always says you can do more good if you have more money.

You will have more money if you have better communications.

I started my whole fundraising transition with one sentence. That was nine years ago at an agency that I don’t even work for anymore.

Now, years later, I still get their newsletter and guess what…that sentence is still on the outside of the envelope and inside my other ideas are still going strong.

Good luck!

# # #

This direct mail pack has 26 ideas you can steal for your next appeal

HERE. Take a few minutes to read this analysis of a successful pack for a hospital foundation in Canada. I learned a lot; you might, too. This pack’s goal was to raise about $200,000 Canadian for a mobile X-ray device. Response was strong, even though the pack dropped in June, not typically a great time of year for direct mail fundraising. Was there something magical about it? No and yes. On the “no” side? As its writer, Rachel Zant, notes, “We decided to share this appeal since on the surface, it’s one of those not too sexy, a bit boring and standard appeals you all should be doing….” On the “yes” side: The pack’s attention to detail is meticulous, as you’ll see. Here’s what I learned from my many mentors: fundraising direct-mail success is about getting a handful of BIG things right ... and a few dozen smaller things JUST as right. Enjoy!!! Posted by the superb Agents of Good.

The nothingness of money

HERE. This one’s self-explanatory. Throw these profound thoughts into the pot next time you're writing something about “legacy giving.”

Today’s copywriters: Meet your acronyms

HERE. Every so often, there’s so much to say, yet so little space to say it. Enter acronyms. Enter a website that curates acronyms. Only be aware: this manner of communicating is generational. Twenty-somethings who text faster than a woodchuck chucks wood will be familiar with many acronyms. The average age of American donors, tho, is currently 64 ... they might not be as familiar. Just saying.

Your (free, reliable, passionate, insightful) guide to choosing films & new TV

HERE. This recommendation stinks of nepotism, since Daniel Joyaux is my nephew. That said, his column about stuff worth watching on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max and Amazon Prime is savvy, swift and satisfying. And free. (Unless you want to kick in some bucks to keep the enterprise going.) Bio? He is a professional journalist and critic covering the film industry. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, The Verge, MovieMaker Magazine, IndieWire, Filmotomy, and many others. He has also worked for several film festivals, including Sundance, AFI, Traverse City, Milwaukee, and Freep.