The Agitator’s Week in Review.

In Christopher Columbus’ day navigators wondered whether they’d fall off the edge of the earth or be swallowed alive by sea monsters. This week, in the words of Yogi Berra, it was déjà vu all over again. As we waited for the global financial rescue plans to take hold and as stock markets continued to plunge, fundraisers found themselves in a strange new sea for which there are no charts, only monsters. Here at The Agitator we decided to leave the hand-wringing to others and proceed on the assumption that the fundraising life, no matter how much more difficult it may have become, will indeed go on.

WEEK OF OCTOBER 6, 2008


MONDAY: Someone we know has been nominated for President .

No one knows for sure what makes for great viral marketing. In all probability the message and technique not only have to shock or surprise, they have to glide along on top of the current wave and capture the moment just like any great surfboard champion. Roger found his mailbox filling up with a viral piece sent by friends and family. Subject line: "Taking Matters Into Our Own Hands." Followed by a short and simple message: "Check this out, new movement to elect a different kind of president." Here’s the link to that mighty effective viral piece that captures the moment during these closing weeks of the presidential election campaign. Have some weekend fun and click on the link.

TUESDAY: Younger Prospects for Planned Giving

Describes a Stelter Company report arguing that fundraisers should be targeting a younger age segment than is traditionally the case for planned giving.

As reported in Fundraising Success, Stelter et al have conducted a study indicating that 41% of adults prepare a will by the time they reach age 40, and that the percentage bumps up to a whopping 84% for those age 40 and younger with average annual incomes over $100,000. Our own DonorTrends 2008 survey yields a somewhat more conservative picture. We found that 21% of active post-Boomer donors (those born after 1964, making the oldest age 44) have a will, and that slightly over a third of these have already included a charitable gift. Tom asks, "How low do you go" age-wise in introducing planned giving options to your current donors?

WEDNESDAY: Where Do Voters Go After the Debates?

To YouTube of course, to see who won! Check out this fascinating piece from AdAge of campaign use of online video by Obama and McCain. In September, Obama’s online videos received 12.9 million views, compared to 5.8 million for McCain. In our DonorTrends 2008 survey, 34% of donors report watching charity or cause-related online videos, with higher percentages among post-Boomers (born after 1964), the more educated, and those who give more. We hope you’re tapping or making plans to tap this medium.

THURSDAY: USA Today Covers Charitable Giving.

By the time the Dow broke through 9,000 and was headed further down we decided we’d better give out some raises. The first of this week’s two “You Deserve a Raise” awards went to USA Today online for its interesting series of articles on charitable giving and fundraising. Some are profiles and data based on the paper’s original reportage and research provided by Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy. In addition the results of a survey on giving conducted in September (after the financial meltdown was in full melt) by USA Today and Gallup are also reported. The good news is that, according to this survey, fully 77% say they intend to give the same amount or more to charity in the coming year.

FRIDAY: Converting Online “Supporters” Into Donors.

A fine case study complete with hard data and concrete advice on the intensive use of email to convert newly signed “supporters” into donors. In this case, Fundraising Success reports (and before them, NTEN) the online cultivation and conversion program designed by Common Knowledge with their client International Fund for Animal Welfare. Bottomline: 83% increase in conversion to donors for newly acquired supporters of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The premise underlying the strategy, based on plenty of evidence from online retailers, is that you must interact early and often to capitalize on that initial — perhaps fragile — expression of interest if you wish to build a bond with the "customer" and make a sale. The tactics and results are detailed here. As the Standard & Poors Index capped its worst day since 1933 we decided to fork over another raise.

So, we ended the week giving Common Knowledge and their IFAW client our second and indeed warranted “You Deserve a Raise” award of the week.

Your Weekend Bonus.

In addition to covering the "financial crisis" and what to do about it, we’ve spent a lot of time the last few weeks on innovation, new media and some of the metrics that affect our trade. So, as the presidential candidates’ speeches and tv spots fill the airwaves in the countdown to November, and as the breathless news readers on the networks make sure we understand there really is a financial crisis, it’s time to remember that one of the basic ingredients of our trade— words – really do matter.

And they especially matter in times like these. When we posted The Agitator’s 7 Tips for Surviving 2008 some of our advice involved engaging your best donors and reminding them why your mission is so important. Succeeding at that involves words and powerful descriptions of mission and needs and the relevance of your donor’s involvement at this critical time.

Yet, more and more, there seems to be an increasing reliance on what I call ‘spreadsheet magic’ — modeling, analytics, benchmarking, etc., etc. Maybe I’m jealous that the data folks are in the ascendancy while we copywriters seem to have gone the way of the old-fashioned typewriter. (Of course, I’d like to attribute the trend to the fact that 50% of nonprofit execs can read, and of that 50%, 100% think they know good writing. But, I won’t go there. Promise.)

Mercifully, yesterday’s mailbox yielded a magnificent yelp of protest from Bob Levy, a former colleague, a great fundraiser and a terrific copywriter. In a beautiful (at least to a copywriter’s ears) rant he reminds us all of the dangers of letting good creative be relegated to second or third place in favor of the “data diddlers” as he calls them.

In his essay/rant titled “Words Count” Bob reminds us that “in the current electoral cycle people have expressed a deep longing for truth telling," and then admonishes us all for falling back on hackneyed formulaic copy of the ‘70s and ’80s.

Or as Bob puts it, “something is different out there…[donors] don’t always give us what we want when we put ‘please,’ ‘urgent’ and ‘need’ in the same sentence."

So, take a moment right now and read Bob’s rant. You’ll want to hug your copywriter on Monday morning.

Have a great weekend.

Roger

P.S. And don’t even think about looking at your 401(k).

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