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Any time your organization puts anything online—e.g., a website, email, social media post, etc.—your primary goal should always be to make an impression, to stick in the mind of the reader.

In their excellent book, Made to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath identify six characteristics of ideas that cut through the noise and stick with people. They are:

  1. Simple
  2. Unexpected
  3. Concrete
  4. Credible
  5. Emotional
  6. Stories

When you aim to create web content that lodges in your audience’s mind, aim to incorporate one or more of these elements. Most content online, especially from your competitors, is 100% forgettable. If you frame your words and ideas using at least one of the six stickiness characteristics, you’ll be light years ahead of your industry peers.

Let’s dig into each a little bit.

Read Part 1 of this series: How to Write Effective Web Copy (Part 1): Make It Readable

 1. Simple

You think about your organization at least 40 hours per week. Your target audiences think about your organization approximately zero hours per week. Most professional communicators forget this. They assume their audiences are hanging on their every Tweet, so they feel the need to mix things up—to launch new content, new messages, new angles on old ideas.

Get simple. Identify your core message, figure out how to express its compactly, and then say it often and loudly.

Herb Kelleher knew the importance of simplicity when he founded Southwest Airlines. He was committed to making Southwest the low-cost airline. “Lowest cost” became the company’s single guiding philosophy. And while they communicated this idea in countless ways across countless channels, they never strayed from it. Herb himself said, “We are so committed to being the low-cost airline that we’ll ignore things that other airlines spend money on—like meals and whatnot.”

Remember, your audiences don’t think about you the way you think about you. By the time you’re eager to launch a new fundraising/recruitment/awareness campaign, your audience is just starting to notice your last one.

2. Unexpected

Commercials are weird these days. Ad agencies convince brands that, in order to slice through the content glut and get noticed, they need to “get weird with it.”

They’re only half right.

If you want to stand out from the crowd(s), you can be unexpected—but only if your unexpectedness is connected to a key idea. In other words, your weirdness needs to have a point. People will remember odd and bold and provocative messages when they lead to something more, to something interesting.

There’s no formula for being unexpected. It depends on your brand identity. But you could take a cue from local news promos. We all know the ones— “IS YOUR TOOTHBRUSH KILLING YOU??!? TUNE IN AT 10 TO FIND OUT!”

Creating a mystery for your audience can seize their attention. We hate not knowing how a mystery is resolved. (It’s why so many people loathe the final episode of The Sopranos.)

Use unexpectedness sparingly, and only if it’s relevant to the message you’re trying to make stick.

3. Concrete

Most organizations write a lot of web content that says nothing—or, at least, nothing unique. The result: One nonprofit looks just like the next one. Why should we give to your food pantry instead of the one across town?

Because most organizations speak in hazy, nebulous, say-nothing language, concrete language will set you apart and give you a discrete brand identity.

Consider a football coach giving a pep talk to his team. If he says something non-concrete, like, “Our team is all about hard work and discipline,” he creates a thousand different ideas in his team’s minds. The quarterback thinks “hard work” means one thing, while the running back thinks it means another.

But if the coach says something concrete—i.e., with a real physical presence in the real world—like, “Our team is all about arriving to practice on time and wearing a suit-and-tie on gameday,” there’s no chance for confusion.

And that’s why concrete language is so powerful: It makes you immune to user confusion. If you use the word “helpful” in a blog post, for example, each member of your audience will have a unique, personal interpretation of what that word means. It’s not concrete. But if you say “V8 engine,” they’ll all think the same thing: a V8 engine.

4. Credible

Credibility is key to any organization’s success. People have to trust you. So how do you establish and reinforce your credibility?

First, you get others to do it for you. “External credibility”—i.e., credibility from an outside source—is much more persuasive than “internal credibility,” which is you saying how awesome you are. This is why testimonials and awards are such great credibility boosters. If you don’t have them, prioritize getting some and place them all over your digital content.

Then, there are a couple of things you can do to bolster credibility on your own behalf:

  • Use details. Audiences tend to think that an organization who has a ton of details knows what they’re talking about. It conveys expertise.
  • Use anchoring. When you share numbers and data, connect it to something your audience understands and cares about so they can process it. Simply listing numbers—e.g., “Last year, 87% of our funds went directly to programs and services”—won’t move people. They need a story, even a little one. “For every dollar you gave us last year, we delivered 87 cents of fresh, healthy food and nutrition education to families in need.”

Consider this excellent infographic, which turns an unrelatable number (35 trillion gallons of water) into something compelling and memorable:

Analogies are a great way to boost your credibility and make your information stick at the same time.

5. Emotional

Humans are emotional creatures. Emotions drive our actions, even the smallest ones. To ignore this in your web content is a giant missed opportunity. You’re communicating to people—real people with real feelings, real problems, real biases, real aspirations, etc.

The four basic emotions we all feel are:

  • Mad
  • Sad
  • Glad
  • Afraid

All of the other emotions are basically shades and combinations of these four. And of these four, two are especially persuasive: fear and anger (in that order).

Most nonprofit professionals feel some ickiness about being overly emotional in their mass communications. They feel like they’re being manipulative. But as long as you’re telling the truth, you should explicitly acknowledge that you’re communicating with emotional people.

You want your audience feeling, not thinking. That is when they’ll donate and volunteer.

6. Stories

Stories are the most effective way to communicate ideas and prompt action. Stories are how we, as a species, have learned about the world from our beginning.

Why are stories so persuasive? Because the human mind is a powerful simulation machine. When we hear a story, we project ourselves into it—involuntarily. We enter a story. We exist inside it.

How you share a message tells the audience how to respond to it:

  • When you simply make a claim—e.g., “We save homeless dogs”—you ask your audience to argue with you. Even if your audience agrees with the importance of saving homeless dogs, when they hear your claim, the logical, suspicious part of their brain fires up. It sets you apart from the audience.
  • When you tell a story instead, you bring your audiences to your side of the equation. And you end up looking out at the world together. “Picture Harold, the homeless hound…”
Now, Start Writing!

Next time you craft a fundraising email, see if you can enhance it with one of the characteristics above. (Or maybe two or three.) Look for the emotion. Turn it into a story. Add details. Try stuff out, see what works!

Whatever you do, please don’t continue to communicate with ever-changing, vague, lifeless words that could’ve come from anyone. Stake your claim and your audience will follow.

Check out Mighty Citizen’s free on-demand webinar for even more tips!

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Information and technology are at the center of everything we do. This is something highlighted often here on npENGAGE as we think about new ways the landscape of fundraising is changing due to the world becoming smaller and more transparent.

Private foundations, public charities and other social good organizations have an IRS Form 990 online, open to the public eye at any time. Data tells a story, and it’s important that your organization ensures that the correct narrative is being told about your data. In the social good world, storytelling is vital for success, and arguably one of the most important stories to tell is the journey of your donor’s funds.

Almost every day, we log into our personal online bank accounts to manage money and pay bills. We can clearly see and know where the money is coming from, and where it is going, and we are starting to expect more of the same from the companies, governments, and organizations we interact with. This is where the idea of donor statements comes in. Donor statements can help you inform donors about the breadth of impact their donations have made, leading them to feel good about their choice to donate to your organization, and trust that any possible future gift will be handled the same.

In a recent episode of The sgENGAGE Podcast, Episode 101: Building Trust and Accountability with Donor Statements, industry expert Pamela Gignac, Vice President of Development at JMG Solutions, shared strategies and best practices for using donor statements to position your organization for your donors who are expecting more.

Here are some of the tips that Pamela shared to get started with donors statements:

  • Donor statements should be considered an integrated part of your greater storytelling strategy. Something to be included to help personalize the impact of your donors, but not the focus of the story itself.
  • Begin with a small group of donors. Start off in a way that you can manage the scale and messaging instead of trying to do it across your entire supporter base. You want to make sure that it’s working and adapt it to your organization and what your mission is, and the goals you’re trying to achieve. You want to tailor it to what your donors have been used to with you.
  • You don’t have to spill your guts right away. Tell your donors a meaningful, personalized story to them but avoid over-informing and complicating the message.
  • Be creative in your messaging. Congratulate and celebrate your donors’ gifts while incentivizing them to give more. An example given is to show them how many people gave a similar amount as they did and what the impact was from that. Challenge them to take it a step further through showing the good they have done and what more they could accomplish.
  • Donor statements will vary from organization to organization. Having your finance and development teams work together to provide what information is ok to share and how to share it is vital to the success. Testing variations on this messaging over a small group over time is a great way to begin forming a template to scale to your whole donor base.


Listen to the full episode to learn even more about how to add value to your donors with donor statements: Episode 101: Building Trust and Accountability with Donor Statements.

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Summer is far from over! There are still many weekend getaways, road trips, and beach vacations to be had. If you grew up with a family similar to mine that believed road trips were “about the journey, not the destination” I’m sure you can relate to the fact that no matter how beautiful your surrounding, long drives can still be quite… boring. And while singing along to the Billboard Hot 100  can help get you through the long haul, sometimes you need a little more mental stimulation. Sure, you could pay for some audio books — but there are also a wealth of podcasts that are just as, if not more interesting than said books.

I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite, most binge-worthy podcasts and podcast episodes to help get you through any road trip. Just make sure to add downloading a few of these to your packing list before you take off on your next summer adventure!

1. The sgENGAGE Podcast

The sgENGAGE Podcast brings together leaders and practitioners from across the entire social good community for wide-ranging conversations on trends, big ideas and best practices. Here are some of my favorite episodes that give a unique perspective on how to build a better world and play a greater role in advancing your organization’s mission.

Epic Episodes Include:

2. Nonprofits are Messy, the Podcast

Hosted by Joan Garry, the “Dear Abby” of the nonprofit world, Nonprofits Are Messy is a discussion of the most pressing issues faced by nonprofit leadership. Listen to real stories of nonprofit leaders like you and how they handled the mess. Because the truth is, nonprofits ARE messy. There’s not enough money, too many cooks, and an abundance of passion. Leading nonprofits isn’t easy. This podcast will help.

Epic Episodes Include:

3. Impact Boom

The Impact Boom podcast and accompanying blog feature voices from many different sectors that are challenging the way things have always been done in the name of radical social change. From education to design to social enterprise, this podcast offers unique stories that are certain to keep listeners thinking long after the episode has ended.

Epic Episodes Include:

4. Hubcast

Hubcast, a podcast by Nonprofit Hub, covers a wide range of topics in the nonprofit world. From breaking down content posted in article form on nphub.org and recapping webinars, to having conversations with the industries most influential thought leaders, CEO Randy Hawthorne will narrates the way into transforming organizations for good.

Epic Episodes Include:

5. The Fundraising Authority Podcast

The Fundraising Authority podcast was designed with the purpose of helping nonprofits become more successful and raise more money. Episodes contain interviews with industry leaders, and filled with tips, tricks and best practices that can easily be worked into your current fundraising plan.

Epic Episodes Include:

6. Fundraising HayDay Podcast

Fundraising HayDay is filled with helpful information about fundraising and grants. Whether you are a seasoned professional or nonprofit newbie, this podcast will provide best practices as well as context with some real world experiences.

Epic Episodes Include:

Once you arrive at your destination, take advantage of The Nonprofit Summer Reading List

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Staying competitive in the battle to attract and retain fundraising talent matters now more than ever. With the right people in the right positions, you’re better able to meet your fundraising goals. When talent isn’t managed and nurtured with a thoughtful strategy, it not only costs you in missed opportunities, it puts strain on your budget. Addressing the challenge doesn’t stop with hiring staff members or gift officers – it includes professional development, career advancement and staff retention.

I’ve heard from many higher education leaders that hiring and retaining top talent is an important part of their missions. It can be a challenge to find the right fit, and once you do, the strongest team members often move on to new employment after a few years. As a result, many higher education executives have developed their own playbooks of how to hire, train, and retain teams in this competitive and fluid space.

Since talent management is such an important part of effective fundraising, we wanted to unpack what makes a great strategy. We wanted to understand and share how institutions of all sizes and structures create intentional and effective strategies. The idea for a research project was born.

Tested Insights from Advancement Executives

To gain real-world perspective, we took this topic to members of our Blackbaud Higher Education Executive Advisory Board (EAB). Members of this group consist of influential executives from higher education institutions with roles focused on advancement, alumni programs, technology, and other functions within the student lifecycle framework.

This select group was formed to provide strategic guidance to Blackbaud Higher Education and serves as a forum for sharing insight as well as industry expertise. As part of their work, members of this group collaborate with their peers and senior executives from Blackbaud to create customer-driven thought leadership content around higher education industry trends, common challenges, and opportunities. As such, the EAB was ideal place to search for perspective around talent management in the advancement office.

What Did We Learn?

Together with EAB members, we co-authored a whitepaper designed to share their practical insights as well as Blackbaud’s talent management research. It was particularly important for us to learn how institutions were approaching hiring and retaining gift officers, since our research suggested that mishandled gift officer transitions are especially costly for teams:

  • Gift officer turnover gobbles resources. Replacing a gift officer can cost up to 2X their annual salary.
  • 43% of prospective donors remain unmatched, even after a new officer arrives.
  • Departing officers are more experienced and bring in 2.5X the dollars that new officers bring*
Focus on the Institutional Goals for Best Outcomes

The majority of our EAB members reported that they spend a substantial amount of time each year to both find the right candidates and retain current employees. Hiring and retaining employees is a critical program investment. As such, our EAB members elaborated on how referencing institutional goals during the hiring process can illuminate the skills and experience the institution needs most.

Regardless of size, or unique perspective, outlining the institution’s priorities as well as strengths helped advancement teams make strong hires. Hiring great talent wasn’t just about finding the right candidate (although they had plenty of perspective on the best ways to get talent to the interview stage), it was about knowing what the institution needed and creating a position designed to succeed in that initiative.

Infographic: How Gift Officer Management Impacts Fundraising Goals

Talent Management After Hiring

Even after the right people are in place, our EAB members stressed that talent management work and successful team-building continued. Onboarding, training, and developing mentorship programs help managers grow and nurture outstanding teams and retain their best workers with new challenges and opportunities. They shared how developing intentional growth strategies for the team helps keep them longer and better aligns their work with institutional goals.

Join the Conversation

An institution’s size, location, and priorities all affect its approach to talent management. In many ways, the talent management strategy that engages staff and delivers results for the institution will reflect its unique culture.

Is your institution seeing success with a particular strategy? What barriers to talent management are you overcoming?  I invite you to read our co-authored whitepaper “Effective Talent Management in Higher Education: A Strategic Guide for the Advancement Office“and then offer your perspective.

We hope that the approaches our EAB advancement executives share will inspire your own talent management work.

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On The sgENGAGE Podcast, we’ve talked about the importance of engaging supporters in the mission and the work that social good organizations are doing. But what’s the best way to get supporters to move beyond engagement, to connection and even taking direct action? Have we been thinking about the data wrong all along?

Today’s guest is Shana Masterson, a Principal Business Analyst at Blackbaud and peer-to-peer fundraising expert. Listen in to hear her talk with host Steve MacLaughlin about why it’s time to pay more attention to Gen X (and what will happen if you don’t), what the emerging trends are in peer-to-peer fundraising, and how new ways of fundraising are encouraging more donors to get involved.

Topics Discussed in This Episode:

  • Why it’s important to pay attention to Generation X, and the risks that organizations take by not engaging them
  • Factors to consider beyond generation when reaching out to potential donors
  • Emerging trends and technology in peer-to-peer fundraising
  • Different ways supporters are choosing to fundraise for charitable organizations
  • How to engage with independent fundraisers
  • How new ways of fundraising are encouraging more donors to give in novel ways
  • The emerging importance of understanding analytics for engaging peer-to-peer fundraisers

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunesStitcher or your preferred streaming service for future episodes!

Listen Now:



“Gen X, who has been remarkably ignored for a long period of time, is actually a group of Americans who are poised to become what we’re saying is the next big thing for philanthropy.”

“There are all sorts of behaviors that we really need to start looking at to form the picture of what are the clusters of the population that we need to look at and how can we segment them and market and communicate with them in a way that’s going to resonate most.”

“Twitch, I think the last numbers that I saw, gamers have raised over 110 million dollars for charity. Doing what they love and watching what they love and are able to actually fundraise as a result of doing things like gaming marathons and challenges around their gaming.”

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The internet is and always has been a growing world of innovation and connectivity. In the last 15 years, online influencers and content creators have become a new form of celebrity. These content creators are ever expanding – now into live interactive content such as video live streaming on platforms such as Twitch. The internet makes it easier than ever to create content and become an influential individual…since its founding in 2011, Creators on Twitch have raised over $115 million for over 300 charities across the globe.

Is your organization interested in harnessing the new power of Twitch Creators?

Let’s start with a primer on exactly who Twitch Creators are and how they raise money for charitable organizations: What is a Twitch Creator?

Anyone who creates content on Twitch is considered a creator and plays a part in making the greater Twitch community complete. Creators have the chance to grow their own communities, connect with an audience, and even earn money sharing what they love with the world. You can learn more about what it means to be a Twitch Creator on Twitch.tv/CreatorCamp.

While gaming is the most prevalent thing streamed on Twitch it is not the only thing streamed on Twitch. You can watch art, music and fitness outside of gaming.

How do Creators raise money?

Creators encourage their viewers to donate during their live streams using incentives, interaction tools, and a unique campaign page. There are four main ways Creators fundraise using Twitch:

  • Single Creator live streams
  • Multi Creator efforts on a single live stream (virtually or in-person organized events)
  • Multiple Creators on multiple channels raising as a team
  • Selling merchandise with proceeds going to charity (this is handled on the merchant side).
Why do Creators raise money on Twitch?

Creators are motivated by several factors when choosing a charity to fundraise while streaming:

  • The charity addresses a cause they are passionate about.
  • They want to take part in an established larger campaign.
    • Examples: St. Jude Play Live, Extra Life Game Day, Pride Month, Women’s History Month
  • They are incentivized to join a campaign.
    • Creator raises x amount and is rewarded (e.g. thank you package, shirt, hoodie, gaming chair, game codes).
Why do viewers donate on Twitch?

Viewers who donate are motivated by two main factors on Twitch:

  • They love their Creator and want to see them succeed at their milestones and goals.
  • They are incentivized to donate based on rewards offered by the Creator or the charity. Incentives can be goods or an action on stream.
Now that you understand how Twitch Creators can raise money for your organization, here’s how you can get started with engaging them: Approaching Twitch Creators:

It is recommended that you do not reach out to a Creator through their chat while they are live for the first time. This should be utilized after you have established an open relationship with the Creator.

  • E-mail: A lot of Creators have their email publicly listed on their social media or Twitch channel. When reaching out to Creators keep in mind they likely receive an abundance of emails and may be slow to respond to you.
  • Attend gaming and fandom conventions: Attend conventions like PAX, Gamescom, TwitchCon, and RTX. There is likely a local convention within driving distance of a metropolitan area. When you attend the best way to get the contact information of a streamer you’re interacting with try asking for their business card first.
Building a YoY Fundraising Program Objective:

Provide a plan of action for your organization to create a year over year fundraising program. Considerations should include:

  • Date and length of campaign
    • The dates selected should be selected with growth for year over year in mind.
    • Date selection ideally should not overlap with other major fundraising efforts in the Twitch community (e.g. St. Jude Play Live, Extra Life Game Day)
    • The length of program should be created in mind with the amount of support your organization can provide (e.g. day, weekend, week, or month). Longer time does not necessarily equal more money raised, particularly if you can’t fully support the program.
  • Marketing
    • More than 50% of our Creators are gaming focused, but that is not the only type of Creator on our platform. When creating a marketing strategy keep it Creator-focused over gamer-focused.
    • Plan to begin promotion about 2-4 weeks prior to the start of the event.
    • Create a one-pager with relevant bite-sized information.
    • When possible, provide 30 to 60 second videos that Creators may show on their stream.
  • Incentivizing Creators to Get Involved
    • Prizes at milestones (opportunity to involve corporate partnerships)
    • Recognition (social media, website, newsletter)
    • Celebrations – Once your program has launched continuously celebrate Creators who are fundraising.
    • Keep it Creator-focused. Creators should be able to create a campaign that connects to their already available tools (e.g. alerts and tracking).
      • Donation alerts also encourage and excite viewers to donate. Donating should be a quick and smooth process that takes less than 5 minutes.
    • Make it easy to donate.
      • Viewers should be able to donate with the least amount of clicks.
      • Less collected information is better.
      • Suggested you sign up on both of the following platforms:
        • Tiltify.com (Charity@Tiltify.com)
        • Justgiving.com – Justgiving is currently building out a new set of tools for Creators.
  • Growth: When looking at growth year over year, focus on increasing the number of Creators involved each year.

Gaming has historically been stigmatized and the reality is that if you play a mobile game, you too are a gamer. The idea and image of content creation and gaming is slowly changing with the rise of news stories on charity events like Games Done Quick and GuardianCon. Charities are starting to take notice as Extra Life and St. Jude raise millions of dollars each year on Twitch. There is a new face to gamers and online content creators.

Co-Author: Rosalyn Lemieux

Roz Lemieux is the director of Blackbaud Labs. Prior to Blackbaud, Roz was CEO and co-founder of Attentive.ly (a Blackbaud company) and founding partner at Fission Strategy (now Do Big Things), a creative agency that has helped over 200 organizations “ignite social action for good” using the latest social, web, and mobile technology. Roz also previously served as Executive Director of the New Organizing Institute (NOI), a training institute for tech-enabled grassroots organizers, after gaining experience in large-scale grassroots organizing as an early member of the MoveOn.org team.

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For academic leaders, recruiting and solidifying the right students is top priority. But what happens after they arrive on campus? Two million first-time, full-time students who begin four-year colleges each year drop out before earning a diploma.

Do you have a comprehensive retention plan to keep your students engaged and help them reach their academic goals? Your faculty and staff play a critical role in creating a culture of retention. And what if you could transform them into “retentioneers” for your institution?

Retentioneer (ree-ˈten(t)-shən-ear) – noun: the architect, and engineer of retention strategies to facilitate the matriculation of students. A sworn adversary of attrition and student success obstacles.

Here are 5 ways that academic leaders can foster a culture of retention among faculty and staff, leverage digital tools to increase engagement at every stage of the student life cycle, and empower students to reach their academic goals.

  1. Define Success

Develop long-term goals for retention—where do you want to be 3 to 5 years from now? Determine what success means on your campus. Your retentioneers to define success can include IT, data analysts, advisors, faculty, and all student services. Each person will share a different perspective and the result of their influence will be actionable items that are targeted to specific populations on your campus.

Pro Tip: Defining success means bringing together retentioneers to determine what numbers are your institution’s measurement of success.

  1. Analyze Data to Identify Dropout Drivers and Success Indicators

Data is important and a trusted retentioneer will be the data analyst. Examine sub-segments, such as courses with high fail rates, degrees/majors, and financial planning. The data your IT department can access will tell the attrition story on your campus. Identify what makes a student successful – profile positive indicators of successful students. Determine success strategies and replicate across campus.

Pro Tip: Assess national trends and review your institution’s historical data to identify dropout trends and success indicators.

  1. Encourage Cross-Department Collaboration

Share your findings with all stakeholders: staff, faculty, administration, and students. Encourage them to work together to assign a committee and develop an action plan. Create student focus groups to collect feedback on your action plans along the way. It’s helpful to temperature check the relevance of your ideas.

Pro Tip: Most importantly, know your technology and what can be automated. Robotic process automation can automate repetitive tasks, lifting the burden of these mundane tasks and elevating your staff’s impact with more fulfilling work.  Software can follow logic, but retentioneers provide judgment and engagement.

Learn more about robotic process automation in episode 95 of The sgENGAGE Podcast: What the Heck is Robotic Process Automation? (and Why Your Organization Needs It)

  1. Equip Your Team with Effective Engagement Tools

Empower your faculty and staff to engage with students the way they expect – digitally. Today’s students are accustomed to information and communication tools (email, text, social media, mobile app, online community groups, etc.) all at their fingertips. Equip faculty and staff with tools that will facilitate and track every interaction, whether digital or face to face. By leveraging technology, staff and faculty will have time to delight and exceed student expectations with meaningful face-to-face interactions.

Pro Tip: Be intrusive! You will never read results of a satisfaction survey with comments like “my professor cared too much, they called me if I was gone from class, they remembered my name, and they emailed me about my homework.”

  1. Measure Your Impact

It all comes back to your data. Analyze it to understand what strategies were most effective, rinse and repeat. With more engagement channels than ever before, what worked last year might not today. It’s important to continuously measure your impact to see if and where to shift your focus.

Pro Tip: Retentioneers are the sworn adversary of student obstacles. The most important action step of all; celebrate your retentioneers contributions in all your initiatives, implementations and victories.

Watch the full on-demand webinar to learn more about how to start fostering a culture of retention today.

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The Internet is bloated. Your users have miniscule attention spans. And nonprofit websites everywhere are filled with clichés and ambiguity.

Words matter. The wrong words—or even worse, forgettable words—can cost you money and goodwill. But the right words can move mountains. They can spark emotion, spur action, and launch a lifelong relationship.

So how do you choose the right words for your website?

What You’re Up Against

Let’s start by surveying the digital landscape. As a professional communicator, you face a smorgasbord of challenges online.

  1. Limited Attention Spans

In 2000, a study by Microsoft showed that the average human attention span was 12 seconds. When the study was conducted again in 2015, it had plummeted to eight seconds.

What happened between 2000 and 2015 that would account for a 33% reduction in attention span?

The mobile web, of course. And while the advent of smartphones has produced some significant benefits—including an increased ability to multitask—it’s dragged your users’ attention spans below that of a goldfish.

In other words, you have precious few seconds to seize your users’ attention and convert it into actual interest.

  1. More Content Every Second

You’re not just competing with other nonprofits in your space; you’re also competing with the Internet as a whole. And as you know, the Internet is expanding at a breakneck pace.

Consider what happens on the online every 60 seconds (source):

  • 4 million Google searches
  • 1 million hours of YouTube videos are watched
  • 456,000 tweets are tweeted
  • 300 new Facebook accounts are created
  • Nearly 1 million Tinder swipes
  • 16 million text messages are sent

So, not only do your target audiences have shorter attention spans than ever, there’s ever more stuff to distract them online. It’s a double whammy.

  1. Users Don’t “Read” Online 

Countless usability tests have shown that users don’t consume digital content the same way they consume printed content. In fact, online, people don’t “read” so much as skim, hunt, browse, and scan. They’re either looking for something specific or hoping to stumble upon something unexpected and exciting. In any case, users rarely read each word, left to right, all the way down the screen.

  1. American Literacy is Iffy

The average American adult reads at an 8th-grade level. Another way of putting that: Half of American adults can’t comprehend a book written at an 8th-grade level—which includes titles such as The Great Gatsby and the Harry Potter novels.

If your web copy scores higher than an 8th-grade level, you’re losing readers. And the further above 8th grade your copy reaches, the exponentially more people you’re leaving behind. Ideally, your copy should score somewhere between 6.0 and 8.0 using the Flesich-Kincaid readability test.

For the record, this article scored a 7.1.

(Pro tip: The surest way to lower a readability score is to shorten the length of your sentences.)

How to Make Your Web Copy More Readable

Despite the challenges you face as a content creator, there are some quick ways to improve your words and set your nonprofit apart from the herd.

  1. Keep Your Audience (and Their Needs) Front and Center

That you should focus on your target audience’s needs seems like an obvious idea. But marketers and development professionals stray from this idea constantly. (And in our defense, it’s because we think about our organizations a lot more than our audiences do!)

There’s a great story about Nora Ephron that illustrates how powerful addressing your audience is:

Before she became an award-winning screenwriter, Nora Ephron was a senior at Beverly Hills High School. On one of the first days of her journalism class, Nora’s teacher made a proclamation:

“Class, today we’re going to practice writing ‘ledes’ for the school newspaper. A ‘lede’ is the first sentence of a new story. I’m going to give you all the same facts, and I want each of you to write the ‘lede’ of the story if it was going to appear in the student paper.”

He then proceeded to give the class these facts:

Kenneth L. Peters, principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Pat Brown.

The kids put their heads down and began to scribble—each of them trying to seize on the most compelling part of the story. After reading the submission, Nora’s teacher offered his own version: “There will be no school next Thursday.

His point was a critical one for Nora’s future career of producing crowd-pleasing screenplays: What does your audience care about? In this case, students care far more about getting a day off school than a teaching conference. Put their needs front and center. Remember, it’s about them, not about us.

  1. The Second Draft is What Matters

Writing is a way of thinking. That’s what Flannery O’Connor meant when she famously said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

When setting out to create some digital copy—e.g., a fundraising email, new homepage message, event invitation, poster for your upcoming gala, annual report—your first job is to just get the ideas out of your head.

Get the first draft down on paper (i.e., your screen). As you’re writing, don’t worry about grammar or syntax or even if the thing makes any sense. Your first draft, if you’re doing it right, will be terrible. Accept this fact. Nobody ever has to see it. The first draft is simply your way of thinking through all the many approaches you can take, the many facts to share, etc.

The writing is in the rewriting. This is when you turn your bloated, schizophrenic first draft into a jewel that will leap from the screen and seize your reader’s undivided attention (within eight seconds, of course).

  1. Cut! Cut! Cut!

Your first draft is probably too long. And remember, online, users don’t read in the traditional sense. You need to make it easy for them to find your key message. Reducing the word count will get you there quicker than any other approach.

In college, I had a writing professor who told us to eliminate 66% of the words from our first draft to our second. I’ll challenge you to something a bit easier: 50%. See if you can take that 1,500-word email draft down to 750.

This may seem like a bold goal. But it’s easier than you think. Here’s an example:

Please note that although Chrome is supported for both Mac and Windows operating systems, it’s recommended that all users of this site switch to the most up-to-date version of the Firefox web browser for the best possible results.

That sentence, which seems totally reasonable and relatively easy to comprehend, has 41 words. But if we attack it with our half-off pen, it becomes this sleek 17-word alternative:

For best results, use the latest version of Firefox. Chrome for Mac and Windows is also supported.

Not only did we hack off 59% of the words, but we also get the added benefit of increased clarity and more personality. Cutting copy often has this effect: injecting your wandering, meandering ideas with punch and dynamism.

Ways to Cut Your Copy:

  • Eliminate Prepositions

Prepositions are important. We couldn’t have a language without them. But they’re also overused. Look for words like “in” and “around” and “under” and “on” and see if you can get rid of them.

  • Cut “To Be” Verbs

This classic from your junior-high English teacher holds true for web copy. A sentence such as, “This program is designed to serve underprivileged students” should become, “This program serves underprivileged students.”

  • Use the Active Voice

Another classic from way back, this rule isn’t true 100% of the time. But first drafts are notorious for using a passive voice (i.e., in which the subject of the sentence has an action performed on it). Switch those passive sentences to active when possible. So, “Jim was hit by the dodgeball” becomes, “The dodgeball hit Jim.”

  • Cut Filler Phrases

These say-nothing phrases are all over the place. They’re often a way for the writer to stall while thinking of what they want to say next. Examples include “it goes without saying” and “it’s important to realize” and “one can easily see.” Be brutal in your editing and leave this fat on the cutting board.

  1. Use Structure on Your Web Pages

Remember, users don’t read every word you write online. Often, they’re searching for something specific. Or else, they’re browsing until they come across something interesting. In either case, your job as a digital communicator is to make it easy for them. Smart page structure is the quickest way to deliver that ease.

Consider these two, side-by-side blocks of text. The words are identical, but the structure is quite different:

Why is the version on the right so much easier to read on your screen than the left? Structure!

Specifically, the version on the right contains:

  • A title to help orient the reader
  • More white space, as well as line and paragraph breaks that give the reader’s eyes time to rest
  • A relevant image and bulleted list to add more visual interest
  • A sans serif font, which is generally easier to read on screens

While the version on the left might be more enjoyable to read on print, the version on the right is far more effective on a screen.

Wrapping it Up

You may have noticed that most of the advice above has nothing to do with what you say, but with how you say it. That’s on purpose. Reading on screens (laptops and smartphones) is such a unique user experience that the “how” becomes almost as important as the “what.” Your nonprofit may do the most amazing work, and you may have amazing stories that people can’t resist responding to, but if those stories are hard to find, hard to read, or are cluttered and drag on, all your good work will go unnoticed.

In the second part of this series, we’ll dig into how to craft messages that stick. In the meantime, you can check out our free, on-demand webinar on this very topic.

Good luck with your writing (and rewriting)!

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When you reach out and engage with donors, you could be setting the stage for a relationship that lasts a lifetime. This is even more important with your younger donors – however, you need to use the right strategies to begin to build that lasting relationship. What are younger donors looking for? What’s the right approach and what will it take to execute?

In this episode, you’ll hear from Joe Garecht, President of Garecht Fundraising Associates and founder of The Fundraising Authority, about cultivating younger donors. Listen to the episode to learn what donor cultivation means, what the cultivation process should look like, and about the 8 keys to cultivating younger donors that may alter your playbook.

After listening, click on the webinar link in the “Resources” section below to hear more from Joe on this topic, including the younger donor lifecycle and what to do after getting that first gift.

Topics Discussed in This Episode:

  • The importance of building lifelong relationships with young donors
  • What donor cultivation means to different donors
  • The process of cultivation – from weeding out prospects to a set endgame
  • Going beyond social media to cultivate younger donors
  • Relationships with businesses vs. individuals
  • Making your cultivation process scalable
  • Telling the story of your nonprofit while including your donors

Listen Now:


Joe Garecht
Webinar: How to Engage Younger Donors to Create Lifelong Relationships for your Nonprofit
eBook: The Nonprofit Planning How-To Guide


“Cultivation is what happens in between. It’s all the communication and interaction that occurs between your nonprofit and a prospect.”

“The big goal of the entire cultivation and engagement process, the goal that it’s focused on, is the ask.”

“Don’t spend time trying to cultivate people who just aren’t interested in your organization.”

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I left private legal practice for nonprofit fundraising to get away from the less relational aspects of the service provider-client relationship. Steep billing rates, adversarial positions, and dense subject matter hindered my ability to be really great at my job, so I turned to more mission-driven work in the nonprofit sector. I thought nonprofit fundraising was the opposite of lawyering. But I learned quickly that some essential aspects of great fundraisers overlap a great deal with those of great attorneys.

My success and joy as a lawyer had little to do with actual legal work. I loved building trust, meeting clients where they were most comfortable, and taking a relationship-above-all approach to my work. I saw the results of my efforts: strong working relationships, good client retention, and overall positive feedback. As it turns out, those things I loved about being a lawyer are not only portable, but crucial, to nonprofit fundraising success.

I suspect my experience is not unique to lawyers, and can be extrapolated to other professional service industries. Accountants, marketers, and consultants across industries focus on relationships, not pure transactions, to build fruitful professional relationships. So, if service providers can be better by acting more like nonprofit fundraisers, can the reverse be true, too?

As fundraisers, it’s easy for us to gloss over the more logistical aspects of our jobs. After all, it’s a vocation, right? Otherwise, wouldn’t we all go make a lot more money in the corporate sector? But as much as fundraising is a calling, it’s also a career that requires business development, sales, client retention, and articulable value propositions. Fundraisers may find additional success by adopting the following professional service principles.

1. Treating Donors Like Customers (But Not in a Bad Way)

Many fundraisers will recoil at the thought of calling donors “clients,” or, even worse, “customers.” The words alone create a dispassionate space between donor and fundraiser (and, by extension, the nonprofit). And there is wisdom in avoiding reducing donors to mere clients if it means failing to foster genuine, trusting relationships. But the provider-client model is potentially valuable to fundraisers, too.

Great service providers blend relationship building with unparalleled client service, because they understand that their customers have plenty of other choices. As an attorney, my client retention and business development strategy was twofold:

  • Impress prospects and clients with consistently high-quality service; and
  • Demonstrate (and articulate!) the value proposition of my services over my competitors’ offerings.

Fundraisers can learn from that strategy, especially now that opportunities to give charitably are ubiquitous and as easy as a few smartphone touches.

Fundraisers may be the only link between their organizations and donors, so spectacular customer service is crucial.  That service combines responsiveness to donors’ needs with a proactive, continual demonstration of what they get for their money. Fundraisers can articulate their value propositions in the form of regular, personalized check-ins by phone or handwritten note, custom stewardship reports that reflect donors’ impact over time, or other high-touch, grateful expressions of how and why the donor might consider giving in the future. The best service providers go above and beyond to retain customers/clients in a competitive landscape, and fundraisers can, too.

Learn more about donor stewardship in the article: 3 Stewardship Techniques to Scale Your Fundraising Efforts

2. Playing the Role of Trusted Advisor

People often go to lawyers and accountants for transactional matters – contract reviews, tax filings, a strongly worded letter about a neighbor’s dog that just won’t stop barking – but savvy service providers know that transactions are jumping-off points for long-term relationships. Service providers can build trust such that a one-off interaction evolves into a lasting provider-client relationship. That connection can in turn transform from a series of responsive transactions based immediate needs to more strategic planning, with the provider playing the role of trusted advisor/innovator/peripheral brain for the client.

When I worked with entrepreneurs, I loved being able to sit with my clients, review the stack of projects they initially hired me to complete, and start thinking creatively about how to make their business visions real. At that point, I had built a strong foundation of trust by keeping promises, responding consistently, and demonstrating value for the fees my clients’ paid. With that solid foundation, I was able to offer innovative solutions my clients hadn’t considered, which strengthened our relationship even further.

That goal of becoming a trusted advisor is equally relevant for fundraisers. Stewardship is more than responding to donors’ needs. It’s even more than building trust and rapport with donors. Fundraisers can strive to be trusted philanthropic advisors and bring ideas and solutions that donors may not have even considered. A fundraiser might suggest that a donor maximize his or her tax benefits by giving stock instead of cash, offer an introduction to impact investing and other innovative tools, or help the donor see the outcome of his or her giving more clearly by suggesting a restricted gift to a specific program. Even the most sophisticated donors may not know about some of the options available to them, and that represents an opportunity for fundraisers to deepen relationships and strengthen that link between donors and the organization’s mission.

3. Keeping Records Like Somebody’s Watching

Nonprofits are required to keep and report certain data to retain their tax-exempt status, including publishing their Form 990 annually. On a macro level, those reporting requirements provide some accountability for nonprofits, especially with respect to the IRS. But there are few rigorous industry standards, and virtually no legally mandated requirements, for nonprofit recordkeeping on the donor level.

Customer relationship management software advances have made database management easier, but often nonprofits lack processes for entering and updating donor data. That lack of consistency can damage relationships with donors, whether as a result of incomplete or incorrect tracking of demographic data, a lack call reports that leads to duplicate outreach from development staff, or missed follow-up deadlines. Fundraisers can reduce the likelihood of such uncomfortable instances by following their professional services counterparts’ more stringent data practices.

The legal industry in particular requires strict documentation and database management. Lawyers keep detailed notes about client meetings, track their billable time to fractions of an hour, and tend to err on the side of more information than less. The nuances of that industry, especially its often-adversarial nature, dictate lawyers’ thoroughness. Clients question bills, allies and opponents may request (or demand) records, and clients have an expectation of zealous representation and reasonable file-keeping. In the event of compromised or incomplete data, attorneys face lost trust, decreased client retention, and even malpractice claims.

Fundraisers don’t face the same risk of professional malpractice litigation that lawyers do, but the principles underlying good recordkeeping are still relevant. Keeping good notes of each donor meeting and communication in a way that assumes someone else will want or need to review them is good for fundraisers, organizations, and donors alike. Knowing what donors have about themselves and their philanthropic passions increases their affinity with fundraisers and nonprofits, and helps the fundraiser craft proposals for the donor’s future giving. Likewise, the relatively high turnover among fundraisers demands good data to prevent a drop-in continuity and service for donors by new development staff.

The above principles are only some of the elements that sit at the intersection of professional service providers and fundraisers. As distinct – and often disparate – as their two industries seem, private sector attorneys, lawyers, and other professionals and nonprofit fundraisers can learn a lot from each other’s best practices. Service providers can build trust by focusing more on genuine relationships. Fundraisers can adopt the above tips, among others, and everybody can build lasting, authentic, and mutually beneficial connections with their respective customers.

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