Relying on outside funds is never easy, and when you’re an environmental organization, outside funds are probably your bread and butter.
Some of you may be lucky enough to have yearly grants from the government. Some of you have endowments. Some of you may even have a rich and famous patron. Some of you have a slew of Forever-Givers who’ve remembered you even in their wills.
But most of you have to go after grants year after year, and almost all of you rely in some way on donations from the public. If you fall into the tiny little niche of environmental organizations that don’t rely in any way on donations, my hat is off to you.
For the rest of you, here are a few big-ticket common mistakes you’re probably making.
Mistake #1: You highlight all the things you’re most interested in
I have bad news for you. Even your most loyal donors don’t really care about your interests. They care about what they’re interested in.
Luckily for you, if you have any loyal donors at all, your interests probably align, or at least a little bit. The takeaway from this mistake is this: Focus on things your donors are actually interested in, and not what you think they’re interested in. Don’t know? Then ask them, wherever and whenever you can. Interaction with donors will only bring you positive results.
Mistake #2: You see yourself as a fundraiser
Sure, that’s probably what you’re doing. In fact, you probably even have a couple of staff members with “fundraising” in their job title. But think of this little nugget: Fundraisers often pigeonhole themselves into targeting only a narrow range of emotions when dealing with donors. But, if you shift your perspective to think of yourself as a Direct Marketer, a range of complex angles opens up to you. Direct Marketers mine the depths of their prospects. Direct Marketers offer things of real value to their prospects. Fundraisers simply ask for help.
The distinction may seem small to you, but the outcome won’t be.
Mistake #3: You’re very proud of what you do
And that’s great. Really, you probably should be super proud. After all, the alternative way to make a buck can be very self-centered.
The mistake here can snowball to an over-sized ego. Don’t forget to keep in mind the number one rule of all business owners: You are not the boss. Even if you own the company. Your donors (or customers) are the boss of you. Your business, even if it has a higher mission, exists solely for the pleasure and service of someone else.
Mistake #4: You’ve streamlined your budget
I get it. Nonprofits are perpetually tight on money. And I often find I’m the one that tells my clients where to focus their small communication budgets. After all, it’s far better to be really great on one or two social media channels than it is to have all your fingers in every pot and not getting the recipe just right.
However, remember that 2/3 of families in America donate regularly, and the ones that are having the best success are using an absolute slew of materials: newsletters, emails, social media, direct mail….
In essence, it all goes back to that great lesson we learned in Monopoly. You have to spend money to make money. Don’t be afraid to spend more money on marketing if you think it’s going to bring in more donations.
Mistake #5: You’re not using enough science
I don’t mean, of course, in the actual great work you do. That’s for someone else to judge.
I mean you’re not using enough science in your communication. If you think of yourself as a Direct Marketer (see problem #2…), then you’d know testing is the only way to see if your communications are maximizing their potential.
If your communication plan isn’t working, it’s not that direct marketing in general doesn’t work. It’s that you’re not using it correctly.
Done right, communications can be tested like science. But in reality, communications are more of an art form, with a testing net.
No one will be able to tell you what the exact magical formula is, or whether this headline will work better than that one. The only way to know for sure? Run the same exact promotion with two different headlines and test the results. Once you get the hang of it, become a testing fool: headlines, leads, subheads, graphics, font style, font size, format, premiums, freemiums… I could go on.
No matter what you do or what mistakes you make in your environmental communications, there’s one thing you must always do.
Be sincere. Be genuine and truthful, and when a reader sees your name in their inbox, they’re likely to see what you have to say.