Two of the world’s leading fundraising experts were recently in Sydney for the 2019 Fundraising Forum. Andrew Sadauskas discusses some of their insights.

Fundraising Forum

“Donor loyalty isn’t about how loyal your donor is to you, it’s about how loyal your organisation is to your donor.” Harvey McKinnon.

Donors need to know how their gift will solve a problem while avoiding information overload, leading international fundraising expert Harvey McKinnon told Australian charities and nonprofits at the Fundraising Forum in Sydney last week.

The 2019 Fundraising Forum attracted a packed house of more than 350 fundraising professionals and nonprofit executives from across Australia. The main conference ran on 22 and 23 August at Sydney’s prestigious Sofitel Wentworth Hotel.

McKinnon, widely considered to be the world’s foremost authority on regular giving and the President of Harvey McKinnon Associates, was one of two international keynote speakers presenting at the event. 

The Canadian fundraising guru was joined by leading fundraising writer, strategist and creative director Jeff Brooks. A Moceanic coach and author of three books, Brooks has been described as “America’s top fundraising copywriter” by the legendary donor communications expert Tom Ahern. 

The two international fundraising superstars each presented a workshop ahead of the main conference. Additionally, McKinnon hosted sessions on advocacy fundraising and the 11 questions all donors ask (sponsored by IVE Pareto), while Brooks shared his insights into matched giving campaigns and donor newsletters.

Among the many pearls of wisdom shared by McKinnon at the event was that nonprofits should attempt to reactivate lapsed regular givers by contacting them 12 months after their most recent gift. Implementing such a strategy, he added, can deliver excellent ROI and great retention. 

According to McKinnon, charities and nonprofits need to show their donors “how their gift will solve a problem”, while at the same time making sure not to overburden them with unnecessary information. 

“Donor loyalty isn’t about how loyal your donor is to you, it’s about how loyal your organisation is to your donor,” McKinnon said.

Great fundraising copy breaks all the rules of formal essays

During his sessions at the conference, Brooks exploded the myth that direct mail fundraising is dying. He pointed out all digital fundraising (including email, social, and SEO) adds up to just 8.7% of revenue for charities, along with the paradoxical fact that DMs are still the largest driver of online giving.

Rather counter-intuitively, Brooks observed successful direct mail fundraising copy breaks the rules of formal essay writing in a number of key ways, adding that “your English teacher probably won’t like it”.

Great copy, according to Brooks, is repetitive (and sometimes even ungrammatical), emotive, loosely structured, and not concise. Ideally, it should be written at a sixth-grade reading level, which he stressed was not the same thing as talking down to potential donors.

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For instance, unlike formal writing, it is vitally important to repeat key messages.

“Anything you want the donor to understand, you need to say over and over and over again. If you only say it once, you may as well not say it at all,” he said.

“Anything you say just once will go uncomprehended. Your call to action should happen three times – or more.”

Brooks suggested focusing on emotional stories rather than statistics, noting that “your donors don’t give because the problem is big, they give because a problem is solvable”. 

Fundraising copy should also use the word “you” more often than “we”, while highlighting the difference the donor is making through their gift. “People don’t donate because they understand the facts. They donate because they know with their hearts,” he said. 

On matched giving campaigns, Brooks told the conference the most important ingredients of a successful matched giving campaign are a granter, the multiplier, the fund and the deadline. 

When reaching out to a potential granter, Brooks suggested telling them: “We are asking good friends like you to help launch a new campaign. Your gift, along with the gifts of other generous supporters, will form a matching grant fund. Once this fund is in place, we will challenge other donors to follow your generous lead by offering to match their contributions dollar-for-dollar – out of the fund you helped to create.”

Case studies and thought leadership

Alongside McKinnon and Brooks, the Fundraising Forum featured presentations and insights from a host of great sessions offering case studies, practical ‘how-to’ tips and thought leadership. 

In one such case study, Environment Victoria Fundraising Director Jonathan Storey revealed how integrations with a newly-implemented Salesforce CRM has helped his organisation provide a seamless cross-channel donor journey. He also detailed how cleaning up data and implementing values-based targeting helped the organisation get its successful gifts-in-wills program off the ground. 

Oxfam Australia Event Fundraising and Marketing Manager Anna Wemyss shared some of the product development strategies her organisation used to grow its Trailwalker event. Among other topics, she noted that it takes at least one year to build a successful large-scale event, raised the importance of considering the lifecycle costs and ran though how Oxfam evaluates whether those costs are justified.

In one of the many thought leadership sessions, Independent Fundraising Consultant Fiona McPhee observed that many organisations don’t mention donors in their organisation’s strategy. She urged fundraisers to make sure that donors are a key strategic priority for every nonprofit.

McPhee said donors want to be shown respect, be celebrated and know how their gifts are having an impact. They also want to know the causes they support are results-focused, accountable, transparent and trustworthy.

“Culture should be your primary concern. Donors as a top strategic objective should be your primary concern,” McPhee said.

Other organisations that presented case studies at the conference included the Australian Conservation Foundation, Anglicare WA, The Smith Family, Environment Victoria, Australia for UNHCR, The Fred Hollows Foundation, Médecins Sans Frontières Australia, the Australian Red Cross, Plan International, The Wilderness Society, Life Flight NZ and International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Food for hungry minds

Along with a host of great sessions and case studies, delegates had the opportunity to build valuable contacts at a networking drinks session on Thursday night, as well over an arrival tea or coffee, which were all generously sponsored by main conference partner IVE Pareto.

For lunch, the conference featured a world-class buffet covering all tastes and dietary requirements, thanks to silver sponsor Frontstream. There was also an array of cakes, snacks and healthy options at morning and afternoon tea, thanks to bronze sponsors Cornucopia, Mondial and Blackbaud.

Fundraisers also had the opportunity to speak face-to-face with representatives from a range of exhibitors including Charidy, Donor Republic, HomeMade, Lemontree, Mailmakers, OURTEL Solutions, CHIL Fundraising, Dataro, Bug Communciations, and The Good Space/Redstone.

The 2019 Big4 Fundraising conference will show you how to raise more money through major gifts, corporate partnerships, trusts and foundations and gifts-in-wills. Don’t miss out! Click here for more information and to register.


Read more from Harvey McKinnon: The Power of the motivated supporter

Read more from Jeff Brooks: Fundraising in the age of cynicism

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