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Julie Davis, CFRE, Vice President External Relations & Advancement
I’ve heard many negative and uninformed comments about my profession as a fundraiser. “You’re that person who keeps sending me letters. I would never stoop to begging for money”. “How can you do this job? It’s ambulance chasing at its worst.” “I don’t know why they hired you. They just finished a capital campaign, what else is there to do?”
I’ve been marginalized, ignored, sneered at and dismissed. I’ve had new hires quit after a few months because they had no idea how hard the job was. I chose to enter the fundraising profession mid-way through a very successful marketing career because after the birth of my daughter and moving to a small town, I wanted to give back, to do something I would be proud to tell my child about at the end of the day.
I was really good at my job, I felt I could sell anything to anybody, so I wanted to make that count towards something important. I had no idea what was involved in being a fundraiser and to be honest I was quite arrogant about bringing my big city international career to the profession of fundraising, especially in a smaller shop.
I was quickly humbled by the professionalism of the sector, the knowledge of my colleagues and the ability of our volunteers. The Executive Director of a nearby charity came to the “Welcome Julie” Open House just after I arrived and offered his time and expertise. Thankfully I was smart enough to take him up on that offer and we spent hours together – starting with my list of questions that included “what is a major gift”, “what do I put on the board agenda” and “how do I manage volunteers”?
His patience, willingness to share and wise advice has been my experience with so many others in this sector. When I didn’t know how to proceed I “called a friend” and they always took my call. During the lucky thirteen years I have now spent in this profession I’ve had the opportunity to meet with countless donors and talk about why they give.
I’ve learned from volunteers about how to ask for money and never to take no for an answer. I’ve met with the recipients of our charity’s gifts and seen first-hand how we’ve made a difference and why it was so important. I’ve received unsolicited cards from board members and donors thanking me for the work I do for our community (truly!). I’ve had donors thank me for allowing them to be a part of our good work (that one brought a tear to my eye). I am a fundraiser because I have talents that can be put to good use to help others.
I am a fundraiser because I love the opportunity to help people, to say thank you, and to make wonderful connections between people who care passionately about the same things. I am a fundraiser because it’s a necessary and vitally important profession that enriches my life in ways I could never have imagined. Join me and your colleagues at the Congress and celebrate this wonderful profession, make new connections and learn about how we are helping to change the world.
Julie Davis, CFRE is Vice President External Relations and Advancement for Trent University where she is responsible for Development, Alumni Affairs, Marketing and Communications, Government and Community Relations and institutional events. The University is celebrating its 50th anniversary and in the midst of a $50m campaign, which includes a recently completed Legacy Campaign that doubled the number of expectancies in just 18 months. Julie Davis will be speaking at Congress 2014 in November. You can follower her on Twitter @julietrentuvp
Digital Fundraising Consultant, b.bold
1. Not having clear, prioritized goals
If you ask around your organization why you have a website – the answers may be embarrassing. A lot of the time it’ll be “just cuz”.
The first step in any successful strategy is to set goals. Web strategies are no exception. How does your webpage tie in with your organizations overall goals? Define 3-4 objectives in prioritized order, with measurable Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s).
The objectives should be decided by high level management to give you mandate to operate. Business objectives can be different; raising money, improving retention, providing a service to the public, raising knowledge of a certain problem etc.
2. Not knowing your users needs
It is really hard to attract users to your page if you don’t know what they want from you.
Invest in research to find out. From extensive surveys, to talking to a few users or potential users – anything is better than nothing. The more complex your webpage, the more research you must do.
Once you know what the users want, you know why they come. Focus your energy on the pages where business goals and users needs overlap. Make sure these are updated, prioritized and have clear ways forward to other actions you’d like them to take (like donating).
3. Violating best practice in donation forms
Since digital income is still a small part of our total income, we tend to forget about all the money we’re losing out on by not paying proper attention to usability and interaction design. The other day, I went to make a donation to a big international charity, only to find a non mobile-friendly page
that asked far too much information, and eventually crashed. No money for them.
Forms should be mobile friendly, ask as little information as you can get away with (need-to-know basis only!), field lengths adapted to the information that go in them, fields that belong together grouped (like name-fields, address-fields and electronic addresses), remove buttons that hurt more than help, clearly labelled buttons – just to mention a few.
Have an interaction designer look your forms over.
4. Presenting your donors with the paradox of choice
We want everyone to engage in our cause, no matter their level of commitment/income. So we heap on with ways to support us. Make a donation! Recurring donor! Become a member! Like us on Facebook! Post to instagram! Join the newsletter! Run a marathon!… you get the picture.
It’s nice that we want to allow anyone to support us. But then we’re not telling anyone what we need them to do. Your donors are confused. They want to help, but don’t what you need help with. Studies have shown that when presented with too many options, we don’t make a choice at all.
Have one preferred action prominent as the «normal» thing to do. Then by all means present all other ways to support, below. People who don’t want the default action will look for the others. People who just want to support you, will know what to do. Win-win-win.
5. Relying on your “Donate Now!” button
We write compelling impact stories, showing how we make a difference in the world. And then at the end of them – nothing. We expect people to go look for the donate now-button to give if they are so inclined.
What’s the number one rule of fundraising? Ask! Attention is on the content. Making the donate now-button bigger is just like making web banners flashier. They still won’t work. Studies show that we don’t see them. It’s not that we ignore them – if it looks like advertising, we don’t see it at all.
So ask in the content. “Would you like to make a donation to help us do more work like this?” Not only are you asking – you are also not averting peoples attention by having them start thinking logically to find how to give. Giving is an emotional decision – not a rational one. Making people think loses you the gift.
Even better than a text link, is including the donation form itself. Then you can keep people in the same emotional context as when they decided to give.
6. Not testing
The only way to know what works is to test. Think another default amount will give you higher donations? Test it. Think a different wording in your ask will be more effective? Test it! Think people are not finding things on your page? Test it.
There are many ways to do user testing, from looking at web statistics, to lab research with eye-tracking. Somewhere in the middle sits my favorite – guerrilla-testing. Grab a mobile device, go to the nearest shopping centre and ask people to do the tasks you’ve set up, from donating to finding information. You’ll learn lots from observing users trying out your product.
7. Not following up on your objectives and KPI’s
Once you’ve set your goals – how will you know if you’re reaching them if you’re not following up? Be sure to follow up on the right statistics, and making adjustments where you need to, to reach your goals.
If you avoid these 7 deadly sins, I see a bright web future for you! Come to my Congress session in November to learn more about all of the above.
Beate is a well-known international public speaker, who runs digital fundraising consultancy b.bold. She has more than five years of digital fundraising expertise, most of which is from the Norwegian Cancer Society, where she among other things doubled the digital fundraising return. Her special interests are user experience, landing page and donation form design, content strategy and using social media for donor stewardship. Beate will be presenting at Congress 2014 in Toronto. You can follow her on Twitter @BeateSorum