My Working Day by June Steward
June Steward is a not-for-profit marketing strategist specializing in fundraising, development, strategy, and copywriting.
Q: You help nonprofit organizations increase income and improve donor retention through direct response channels. What are the three toughest challenges these organizations face today?
JS: 1. Poor understanding and fear of fundraising from CEOs, boards, and leadership. 2. Poor public perception of fundraising. Donors will complain they receive too much mail and they think a charity is “wasting” their donation. People who work in nonprofit fundraising and communications should be aware that the most effective direct mail can also generate the most complaints. The more compelling and emotional the proposition, the more complaints you may get—but you also raise more money. There are great ways to handle complaints and turn the situation around, but to take donors off mailing lists negates the need your organization fulfills—helping homeless children, disabled veterans, abused animals, victims of domestic violence, etc. 3. Short-term thinking around fundraising. I encourage leadership to stop thinking only in terms of immediate ROI on appeals and campaigns. ROI on single appeals can easily be manipulated. (Reducing the number of donor letters mailed by leaving out lapsed donors results in lower mailing costs and higher response, delivering a higher ROI.)
Q: What is the most frequent advice you give your clients about marketing strategy?
JS: 1. Direct mail success is not just about the copy, but also about your specific offer and call to action. Besides your list, improving the offer or CTA is the best thing to work on to improve direct mail fundraising results. 2. Corporate communications, marketing communications, and journalism are not the same as fundraising communications. Direct mail fundraising and writing for donors is a very unique skill set for writers. 3. Plan out the financial needs of the organization over the next five years and set realistic targets for fundraising. 4. Improve the online donation experience for your donors. 5. Yes, longer letters work better than shorter ones, most of the time.
Q: You are a copywriter and journalist with experience in public relations, marketing, and IT. Why specialize in nonprofit marketing?
JS: I couldn’t get excited about marketing gadgets or clothing as a full-time career. I ended up working for a major charity in Australia in communications. I had no idea about fundraising at the time and was horrified to see this charity sending out huge volumes of direct mail each month. Then I saw the appeal results and was amazed to see how much money they raised—millions! I thought, “Well, these donors are giving, but they must hate all this mail”. Next, I did a stint on the phones in the call center to help out with an appeal and, I kid you not, the majority of donors I spoke to were amazing, and they welcomed our direct mail appeals! When I started my own business, I was originally going to do copywriting for both for-profit and nonprofit. I did my first nonprofit job as a freelancer, and the client doubled fundraising income for their appeal! I loved it, and I realized I love helping great causes.
Q: Direct mail vs. digital marketing?
JS: It’s not either–or. It should be both. Many charities are delighted at the idea of getting rid of those expensive donor newsletters and just moving to online. This is the worst possible thing you can do. The nonprofits with the most successful fundraising programs are the ones that are successfully integrating both direct mail and digital channels. What we’re finding is that, although many donors
may be donating online, their gifts were prompted by a direct mail letter, newsletter, or even a small publication they received. Also, response rates for direct mail are much higher than for email appeals. Typically, you’re looking at 3–15% response rate for direct mail, depending on the quality of your list and what segmentation you use. Email appeals to the same list can generate response rates below 1–3%, if you’re lucky. By response rates, I mean people who actually donated, not email open rates or click-throughs. That doesn’t mean you should not do email appeals. You should do both.
Q: What is the best part of your day?
JS: Apart from hugging my husband and daughter—I love it when I finish a strong direct mail pack. I love it when the client tells me we’ve exceeded target or a major donor has given $200,000.
Q: What do you love most about writing?
JS: The most creative part of the writing is actually not the writing. It’s the thinking before the writing—gathering all the research and the case studies, understanding the donors, and then coming up with the creative idea that will drive a good direct mail appeal.
Q: Marketing to Millennials can be a challenge. What is the best way to appeal to this generation for fundraising?
JS: For most organizations, targeting Millennials for fundraising is not a good use of resources. The traditional charity donor across all sectors (overseas aid, health, environment, animals, arts, etc.) is a 60+ female. We have found that Millennials make good advocates, e.g., they will sign petitions or participate in peer-to-peer fundraising such as fun runs or cycle challenges. But in terms of long-term donors giving year after year, Millennials are the wrong cohort to approach. When we do actual donor profiling or surveying of a nonprofit’s donors, typically, the largest group of donors is 60–69, with a reasonable number of donors who are 50–59. After that, there is a big drop in the groups 40–49, 30–39, and 20–29. You have to do donor profiling and know your own data. Often, senior leaders in
charities will say, “Our older donors are dying! We need to attract more Millennials!” My response is: “Yes, you do need younger donors, but the younger donors you need are not in their 20s. You need to be looking for donors who are in their 40s and 50s.” Read more at June’s blog: www.junesfundraisingletter.com