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The Loyalty Letter

E-news that helps you keep donors connected (and giving)
to your cause.

January 2010
Published by Lisa Sargent


Since this is the start of a new year you'll likely be using statistics in your donor communications in the near future.

Statistics can help you build a case for your cause...lend credibility to fundraising appeals...and report progress in your donor acknowledgments.

Evidence suggests, however, that instead of being meaningful, many perceive larger-than-life numbers as, well, mind-numbing.

But there is a way (several ways, in fact) for your nonprofit to share statistics that stick. You'll find them in Article Two.

In Article One, it's donor loyalty like you've never seen: M.D. Anderson's program boosts revenues five hundred percent.

Enjoy The Loyalty Letter. And thanks for subscribing,

Lisa Sargent
Sargent Communications

P.S. In the subscribers-only version of The Loyalty Letter, this month's issue kicks off the DonorComm Quiz. I pose a question on fundraising and donor communications (DonorComm) to my readers, and the first person to email me with the correct answer wins a prize. Just my way of adding some "fun" to fundraising! Want to join in? Sign up for The Loyalty Letter at right.

The Donor Loyalty Program that Helped Raise Revenues Five Hundred Percent for Texas Cancer Center

M.D. Anderson doesn't care if you donate ten dollars or ten hundred. Give for five years or longer and you're good enough for their Partner's Circle. It's one lesson in donor loyalty you should tattoo to your forehead...

I'm kidding about the tattoo part of course.

But if the article I read was accurate (I'm guessing it was) the five hundred percent increase in direct mail revenue is for real.

Called "The Beauty of Giving," and featured in the December 2009 issue of Deliver magazine, you can read the article online.

It's one of the best case studies on donor loyalty I've seen, discussing the highlights of and takeaway tips on M.D. Anderson's multilevel program.

Here's the best part:

"...M.D. Anderson also offers its 'Partner's Circle,' which is open to members who've given to the institution consistently for five years or longer.

'The Partner's Circle sprang from the observation that people who gave a little bit of money continuously throughout their lifetime often ended up bequeathing the institution significant donations from their estates,' says Cindy Lappetito, vice president and general manager at loyalty-marketing company Epsilon, which created M.D. Anderson's direct marketing campaign and donor loyalty programs. 'The Partner's Circle gift program was a way to recognize those folks and reward them,' she explains."

This particular giving pattern for legacy donors is NOT'll find it in roughly a zillion other places.

But the fact that M.D. Anderson and Epsilon acted on that pattern is news: they had the guts and the foresight to acknowledge longevity as a donor for the amazing thing it is.

There are other facets to the M.D. Anderson program, and some of them, of course, are reserved for major donors.

The communications focus at every level, however, is on thanking donors: loyalty program mailings, an annual stewardship letter that's mailed to donors every August, and Thanksgiving greeting cards.

Although M.D. Anderson does mail four appeals each year, none of the above mailings include an Ask. They also mail two million donor acquisition pieces annually, lest you think they are Ask-o-phobic.

Still, after reading on a listserv recently about an organization that was raising the minimum donation for membership in its giving society from one thousand to two thousand dollars (cringe), M.D. Anderson's program is a breath of fresh air...and apparently a very profitable breath at that.

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Statistics: How to Make Your Nonprofit’s Numbers More Meaningful to Donors

Recent evidence reveals that for many of your donors and prospects, the numbers may not add up. Share your statistics the right way, and they'll mean more...

I've written before about the importance of readability, which in part means keeping your donor communications around an 8th Grade Level or lower, because folks prefer easier words.

It turns out they prefer easier numbers too.

In the early pages of Stop Getting Ripped Off, bestselling author Bob Sullivan talks about "innumeracy" in the U.S. He defines it as a kind of mathematical illiteracy.

The upshot is this: innumeracy is rampant and includes far more educated professionals than you'd imagine.

Not to say we're a nation of ninnies. But if I understand Mr. Sullivan right, it's not a stretch to assume that big numbers and percentages mean little to many adult Americans, better known as: donors and prospects.

So then, should you shun statistics and numbers over 100 in your donor communications?

Au contraire: your numbers matter. But the way you present them matters more.

I've gathered these statistics from the ProLiteracy website in order to walk you through an example:

- 774 million people in the world are illiterate
- Two-thirds of those people are adult women
- 63% of prison inmates can't read

Let's tackle the percentage first.

It's an old copywriting trick to convert percentages into common language, and one that's especially helpful when you're talking about people or animals.

So instead of writing, "63% of prison inmates can't read," you instead write: More than six out of every ten prison inmates can't read.

Now for the larger-than-life number: 774 million.

Most humans have no way to process a number that big. We simply can't get our heads around it. Adding a reference point, though, changes things considerably: 774 million people in the world are illiterate -- more than the entire population of North America.

(Note: the population of N.A. is just over 525M, so I'm off a bit here. But you get the picture.) And of course if you're writing to donors outside the U.S. and Canada, you'll want to use a different reference point.

And how about that scary fraction?

Two-thirds is what, sixty-six percent? So you could, of course, use the six out of ten example above.

You could also try something like: If you can't read, odds are two out of three that you're a woman.

Percentages aren't always the enemy, though, so don't go off on a delete spree.

If you can, frame them. Mr. Sullivan does it convincingly when he lists some innumeracy statistics, all of them percentages: 22 percent Below Basic, 33 percent Basic, etc.

Then he frames them: These numbers mean that most U.S. consumers can't "calculate the total cost of ordering office supplies...", "calculate the cost of raising a child for a year...."
(Note: the book qualifies these. I've edited for length.)

Officially, Chip and Dan Heath call this "The Human-Scale Principle" -- giving everyday meaning to your numbers -- in one of my all-time favorite books, Made to Stick.

Here's one more... lightning and the lottery winner.

Also from Made to Stick, the story of the science teacher who was trying to drive home to his students the futility of playing the lottery. But the big numbers were of the mind-numbing variety.

His solution? To "ground the probability in a relationship." He told the kids they were more likely to be hit by lightning than to win the lottery.

So the next time you've got a half-page of statistics staring you in the face, see how you can bring them down to size. Your donors will thank you for it.

And lastly, fundraisers, consider one more place this has huge implications: Your bequest literature.

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P.S. Subscribing to The Loyalty Letter is easy: scroll up for handy sign-up form at the top of this page.   

And lastly, if ever you have a question on donor communications, send it along to The Loyalty Letter. All you have to do is:


Or call: +001 (860) 881-7009.

On Skype: lisa.sargent96.

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Does someone at your nonprofit need to know how to write better grant proposals?

Pamela Grow's blog and e-news are great places to start.


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