Thu, April 02 2015
How does a small nonprofit go viral and capture attention on the national stage? I set out to learn the answer from a Network for Good customer that has achieved the biggest exposure opportunity any business, organization, or individual could hope for: a commercial spot during the Super Bowl.
Estella’s Brilliant Bus was featured in Microsoft’s Super Bowl ad this year. And the Super Bowl was just one appearance from the past 18 months: Estella has appeared on Dr. Oz and Oprah and was named a CNN Hero of the Year.
I talked with the organization’s founder and sole staff member, Estella Pyfrom, to understand the story behind the exposure. Going in, I thought I might find a replicable strategy around networking, PR, and elevator pitches, but after talking with Estella, I realized what I should have been expecting all along: It starts with mastering your nonprofit basics.
Find your special sauce.
Estella started with an idea, a bus, and her life savings. As she started researching how to make her organization operational, she found that she wasn’t the only one delivering technology or education to underserved communities—but her delivery mechanism was completely unique. Estella’s Brilliant Bus was the only self-sufficient mobile technology teaching facility in the world! It’s important for your staff, constituents, donors, and volunteers to understand what’s unique about what you do. To be noticed, your work must be noticeable.
Tell your story to others.
At first, Estella was suspicious of the media. Local and national networks approached her several times after people in her community starting talking about Estella’s Brilliant Bus, but she turned them away. It wasn’t until she turned to some resources at a local college that things changed. Estella’s contact at the college told a friend about Estella’s work, who told her husband, who happened to be a producer for CNN. The producer got in touch with Estella right away. With the promise that she could review the story before its broadcast, Estella agreed to some media exposure. After the CNN spot, Estella was booked for more media appearances, and the passion and excitement around Estella’s Brilliant Bus grew. Small nonprofits like Estella’s can be hesitant to relinquish control over something that feels so personal out of fear of judgment or providing misinformation. But when we arm our supporters with the right to tell the story, that’s when “viral” happens.
Be a business.
When I asked Estella about the keys to success, her immediate answer was that planning has made all the difference. The past two to three years have been about refining the model for delivering technology in a mobile facility to children in underprivileged areas. She knows where the bus will drive each day and how many kids they’ll serve, and she has backup engagements if a school or community has a last-minute cancellation. Delivering unique services with flawless execution has ensured that Estella’s Brilliant Bus maintains its positive reputation. The message is clear: Over-deliver your mission’s promise.
Continue to do good work.
Estella never stops moving or gets caught up in her own success. When we discussed how she feels about all the attention, Estella quickly responded, “I haven’t had a chance to be nervous or realize how big this has become. I’m too focused on achieving the vision I have for this business.” Her actions are true to her words: When presented with the 5,000 Points of Light award, she refused to fly cross-country to accept the award and drove her bus instead. Along the way, she stopped in cities to provide services to children. To date, Estella has served more than 61,000 children. She has no plans to slow down until Estella’s Brilliant Bus is a movement that puts a bus in every major U.S. city, and then worldwide. It’s a good reminder that landing big media attention is not the goal—it’s a means to touch more people and expand your reach.
So, the next time your executive director asks you how to land that big media attention, reply:
We need to find what’s unique about our organization and let our work, communication, and story revolve around that concept. Let’s make sure everyone understands why we’re different.
After that, let’s encourage and empower everyone we know to tell our story far and wide.
Let’s focus on every part of our process to deliver programs. Are our programs easy to understand? Where are the risks? Let’s spend time making ourselves a well-organized and program-focused delivery machine. We owe it to our constituents and those telling our story to be the best we can be.
Finally, remember that big media attention isn’t the goal. It’s an opportunity to get more volunteers, donors, and supporters, and the by-product is awareness about our organization.
Wed, April 01 2015
Filed under: Fun stuff •
We all know that mobile technology is changing the way we communicate, work, and give. It was only a matter of time before the popularity of emojis, those cute little icons you see in text messages and social media updates, made their way onto the fundraising scene. Now, entire appeals are being written just with emojis! Talk about the art of brevity! Check them out:
This dog rescue gets right to the point. These dogs need your love, a good home, and your donation to support their care. Bonus points for the sense of urgency:
Want to give back to your local education group? There’s an emoji appeal for that, too! I love how this organization outlines the option to give via mobile.
Helping to support meal delivery to seniors in the neighborhood has never been easier! This appeal knocks it out of the park by clearly outlining who will benefit and exactly how a donor’s gift will be used:
Pandas need your help now! This emoji appeal illustrates that short and sweet can work when it comes to inspiring donors to give.
Want to reach those Millennial Alumni to help support your scholarship fund? Emojis to the rescue once again! I love that this appeal offers donors options for completing their donation.
Here’s an example of a gala invitation. Who could resist attending a night out, complete with top hat, all to benefit a good cause?
Of course, today is April 1, which means I’m just teasing about emoji appeals! Some things are no joke, though, like:
— Making sure your appeals are rooted in a compelling story that elicits emotion from the donor.
— Leveraging strong visuals to stand out and communicate your message.
— Paying attention to the power of mobile to encourage anytime, anywhere giving.
Thanks for sharing a laugh with us today! We’ll be back with regularly-scheduled programming tomorrow. In the meantime, share your favorite April Fool’s jokes in the comments below.
Mon, March 30 2015
I didn’t know much about monthly giving until she called in late December that year.
She was one of my newest donors, and told me her family had just moved here from another state. She had given monthly to the food bank there, and now would like to give monthly to the food bank here. (That would be us).
I didn’t have a monthly giving program and didn’t know how they worked, but I knew I had to think quickly—I could send her 12 reply envelopes so she could send in a gift each month. It would be simple for her and easy for me. So that’s what I did, and my first-ever monthly giving program was born.
I remember counting out the envelopes, and writing the month on each one. I thought that would help us both keep up with what she had given.
It was a simple beginning.
Looking back at it, I have to laugh. I had no idea what I was doing. I simply had a request from a donor, and was trying to honor it. Little did I know it would turn out to be a great thing for my organization.
I sort of knew how monthly giving worked, and I decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it as well as I could. I wondered if there were people already making monthly gifts to us, and I just hadn’t noticed it yet. I pulled a report from my trusty software, and I was thrilled to find six regular givers! How had I never seen that?
I pulled together a letter and sent it to those six, telling them that we were officially starting a monthly giving program, and inviting them to join, especially since they were already doing it. I heard back from all six—a resounding YES!
That Spring, I attended the AFP Conference and heard Harvey McKinnon speak about monthly giving. It turned on so many light bulbs in my head, that I’m surprised I wasn’t blinded from the light! I picked up his book Hidden Gold and read it before my plane landed back home.
I did a little research to see what other nonprofits in my area were doing with monthly giving, and I got a few more ideas for my program. I named it Hunger’s Hope and created a brochure to give to prospects to help them understand what their monthly gift would do, and to help them see how little it took to feed a hungry person. I was lucky – just $0.81 would cover a day’s worth of food, and $24.30 covered a month. So, I asked for $24.30 to feed one person for a month, $48.60 for two people, and $72.90 for three.
Next, I started to market the program. I put a piece in my next print newsletter about the program, and made it look like an article and a coupon that people would cut out, fill in, and mail to us. (Email wasn’t commonly used back then or I would have made that an option, too). I pulled a list of donors who had given three or more times in the previous 12 months, and sent them a special letter, telling them about Hunger’s Hope and inviting them to join.
Slowly, people signed up.
My finance guy laughed at me when I first started the program. He thought it was a crazy idea and a waste of time. But when the monthly gifts started to add up, I had the last laugh.
In about 18 months, I had signed up 110 people in Hunger’s Hope, with people giving anywhere from $10 to $100 a month. Even though I offered them specific amounts, I also gave them the option to choose the amount they wanted to give, which turned out to be a smart move because many gave more than I asked. The total annual value of the program was over $50,000, which was a revenue stream that made a difference for us.
Here’s what I learned from that experience of going from zero to $50K:
- Start somewhere. It doesn’t have to be perfect to get started. The most important thing is to start. You can always tweak and improve later.
- Work on it consistently. I never stopped looking for donors for my monthly giving program. I was always on the lookout for a way to let folks know how they could join and why it mattered.
- The reason is important. Be clear about why people should make a monthly gift. Few people want to give monthly just to support your nonprofit. But many people will give to help you make a difference. When I shared that their $24.30 would help feed a person for a month, it was tangible and understandable, and it resonated with my donors. And they signed up.
- Be ready to manage the back end. I realized quickly that I had to keep up with the details of who had joined, how much they pledged monthly, and who hadn’t given recently. I got into the habit of checking at the beginning of each month to see who hadn’t given in the past two months, and calling those folks. I had some of the most amazing conversations with those donors. They’d tell me how they’d lost their job and needed to stop giving for a while, but as soon as they were able, they’d start again. Or they’d tell me about a family member with an illness. I’d thank them for their past support, show true concern for their circumstances, and offer any help I could. Most of them came around and re-joined later in the year.
- Be creative in thanking them. My monthly donors didn’t want a monthly thank you letter. They’d tell me “please save the postage.” So, I got creative. One month, I’d send a hand-written note. The next month, I’d call them. The next month, I’d have a volunteer call them. And so forth. It kept things fresh, and they seemed to enjoy it.
- Offer multiple ways to give. One of the things I learned from Harvey is that people who put a monthly gift on their credit card give longer and more consistently than folks who pay by check. And those who give by electronic bank draft are best, because they don’t usually stop or change the gift unless they change banks, which is uncommon. At that point, we had the ability to take credit cards, but I had no idea how to do automatic bank drafts. I called our bank and told them what I was trying to do, and they agreed to set it up for me with no fees as part of their support of our work. It was nice to offer a payment choice to donors so they could pay by check, credit card, or automatic bank draft.
Since then, I’ve helped start numerous monthly giving programs. They’re a great way to create a predictable revenue stream for the nonprofit and make giving easy for the donor.
And I won’t ever forget those humble beginnings.
How did you start your monthly giving program? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Sandy shows passionate nonprofit leaders how to fully fund their big vision, so they can spend their time changing lives instead of worrying about money. She has helped dozens of small nonprofits go from “nickel-and-dime fundraising” to adding 6 or 7 figures to their bottom line. As a trainer, she shows her students how to find ideal donors, connect with them through authentic messaging, and build relationships that stand the test of time, so that fundraising becomes easy and predictable. Sandy is based in Loudon, TN. Find out more about her fundraising system at www.GetFullyFunded.com.
Fri, March 27 2015
Filed under: Fun stuff •
It’s round up time in the NFG corral! Mosey on over and check out this week’s best nonprofit resources and recommended reads.
Is there anything Bob Dylan can’t do? Peter Panepento reveals what you can learn from Bob when it comes to nonprofit communications. (Hint: it’s not blowin’ in the wind.) via Peter Panepento
Need help sorting through cause marketing fundraiser options for your organization? Joe Waters created a cool matrix that will make it much easier. via Selfish Giving
I can’t get enough of the Making Ideas Move series. This week Melissa Skolfield, senior vice president for communications at the Pew Charitable Trusts, offers her insight on building an in-house communications team. via Stanford Social Innovation Review
Where to find Network for Good at the AFP Fundraising Conference
The NFG team will be in Baltimore next week for the Association of Fundraising Professionals Fundraising Conference. If you’ll be there, please stop by booth #1008 in the marketplace and say hello. We’ll be offering demos and online fundraising consultations, and, of course, fun swag and a chance to win Good Cards for your favorite cause. Can’t wait to meet you in Charm City!
That’s all for this week. What’s on your reading list? Share your favorite posts and resources in the comments below!
Mon, March 23 2015
Filed under: Recurring Giving •
I’m happy to share the current campaigns at the top of the Recurring Giving Challenge leaderboard.
There are organizations of every type and size leading the pack of campaigns with the most new monthly donors as well as the largest increase in their monthly giving program.
The one thing that they all have in common?
They’ve made offering monthly giving options and asking for sustaining gifts a top priority.
Need some help making the case for monthly giving at your organization? Download our free Monthly Giving Basics fact sheet which includes a quick checklist on getting your monthly giving program off the ground. Also: time’s running out to join the Recurring Giving Challenge, so be sure to sign up and learn how your nonprofit could be eligible for a share of $10K in Challenge Rewards.
Recurring Giving Challenge Leaderboard as of March 23:
Largest Increase in
#1 Wildlife SOS
#5 Campus Pride
We’ll post updates to the leaderboard every few days, so be sure to follow along and see who ends up on top at the end of the challenge on April 30!