Are You Playing It Safe?


My favorite clients are risk-takers. They are bold, inventive, and unafraid of failure. It's exhilarating to work with people like that, even if it does mean that I see my own ideas fail more often than I'd like. But the flip side of that is that when our ideas succeed, they succeed big.

A few years ago, one of my clients tried a new creative team for one mailing, testing their package head-to-head against mine. It didn't feel great that my client was looking around, and I spent a few moments feeling upset. But then I realized that, ultimately, the test would be good for the organization -- and for me. It would show us both what their audience was interested in seeing and how they would respond.

It did end up being a good test, too. I focused on the lessons I'd learned in my years of working in the industry and with that particular client and turned in the best work I could. I knew that regardless of the outcome, it was good for both the organization and for me to conduct the test. (Of course, I did win. Maybe I'd feel different if my package had failed!)

More than all the great internal lessons I learned, though, was the way that one risk turned into more risks, more bold moves, some of which met the same fate as that other creative team's, but more of which went on to break organizational records and build a robust direct mail program that continues to thrive.

Another client is always willing to try something new. They enthusiastically embrace innovation, and they are completely indifferent to failures. They pick up and move on. It's inspirational and so much fun to work on their program.

But so many organizations I encounter refuse to take risks. And I understand -- there's a lot of money on the line. Many organizations depend a great deal on their direct mail income, and one bad mailing could quite literally pull them to the brink of disaster.

But when you play it safe, donors can tell. They can sense you're not the organization that's going to finally make a break-through on your issue. They understand intuitively that you won't be sweeping them along in a bold campaign to make history.

And, really, isn't that part of what philanthropy is about? We give, at least in part, to try to leave the world better than we found it. And those of us who have to consider where every penny goes -- which is the vast majority of your direct mail donor file -- want to give where we feel most confident we can make a difference.

That doesn't mean the flashiest -- though some flash certainly doesn't hurt -- or the biggest name. It means the organization that feels the most authentically bold, daring and out in front. The one that is willing to take big risks in order to garner big wins.

Is that your organization?

The Power of Narrative

photo 4-1 Today, I'm over at ARC talking about my recent trip to Hearst Castle and what it taught me about the power of narrative.

How you tell your story -- your own or your organization's -- matters. The right narrative can move and inspire, anger, or even harden your audience's heart. So check out my post on the Hearst Castle narrative, and let me know what you think. What have you learned about your own narrative over the years? How has it changed? Are there any ways you could make it even more effective?

The Power of Choice

Most of us are pretty passionate about "choice." We prefer restaurants where we can choose from a variety of foods. We love department stores with a wide array of items. Parents like to be able to choose the best public school for their child, regardless of where they live. Much of the healthcare debate in this country has been framed as a discussion about "choice" -- of your healthcare provider, your insurance company and the procedures you can have. skeinsBut too much choice can be paralyzing. The other day, I visited the yarn shop intending to buy yarn for a new project. My choices were already limited -- I needed a specific weight and fiber yarn for the project -- so I thought it would be easy. I quickly found a yarn that would work…and then I was stumped.

The colors! There were so many (this photo shows only half of what was available!) that I could not decide. I stared at the yarn for several minutes and ended up leaving without buying anything.

Are your donors facing this same dilemma when they go to your website or receive a direct mail package?

The only choice you want your donors to make is how much to give. Now, of course, many people are going to choose not to give at all, but you don't want to make that easy for them. Offering them too many choices can make even the most determined donors opt out of giving altogether.

I've seen reply forms and landing pages that ask donors to choose between a straight gift, a monthly gift, a tribute gift, and a bequest and a multi-year gift…and then go on to detail other choices they can make, such as submitting a matching gift form from their employer, signing up for a newsletter, or joining another giving circle.

If making a donation to your organization requires more paperwork than getting a bank loan, people won't bother.

But we still love choice, right? Offering no choice at all makes people uncomfortable. Nobody likes to be told what to do, and most of us want to feel like we have some control over the transactions we make, even with our charities.

So do offer some choices. A gift string with a variety of amounts and a spot for a donor to write in their own amount is a great way to offer choice without turning a donor off.

Frame your Ask as a choice: Would you rather live in a world where children like Marcus have enough to eat? There's only one answer to that question -- YES, I want Marcus to get enough to eat! -- but it still feels like a choice, and one we can feel good about making. After all, what kind of monster would say "no?"

And yes, I LOVE monthly giving programs and high-level giving circles and bequests and all the rest. But I don't love throwing all those choices at your donor at once. Give them the space they need to consider these options by offering them one at a time.

Choice can be a powerful ally in fundraising, but it can easily become overwhelming. Take a look at your website and direct mail and make sure that at each stage, you're offering your donors the one choice that matters: to give.

And if you have any suggestions on the color of yarn I should buy, please feel free to weigh in!


What I'm cultivating this year

cherryblossThe calendar may say it's spring, but across much of the country, we're still waiting for evidence. But I know it's coming. So as I sip hot tea and gaze out the window at the rain pouring down, I'm planning my garden -- and thinking about the seeds I want to plant at work, too. This week, I'm over at the ARC blog talking about some of the ideas I'm nurturing this spring -- think better stories, improved donor relationships and finding new supporters. Check it out here…and let me know what you think!

Taking Time for You

IMG_1946In this season of go-go-go, giving, and -- for my family -- birthday parties, I often find myself running a wee bit ragged. That's why I'm so excited about ARC Communications' "All About You" month, filled with great reminders about how to take care of myself, even as I take care of everyone and everything else. Those of us who work for and with nonprofit organizations tend to overlook the fact that we can do the most good for our missions if we are well rested, healthy and filled with joy. Remember: no one hands out prizes just because you persevere with stress steam coming out your ears and a headache the size of Maryland.

Make sure you look after yourself this month and enjoy all the season has to offer. See some art, take in live music or a play, go for a walk or have a drink with friends… and have fun!

"Shy" is Not a Bad Word

When my younger daughter was 2, I took her to the pediatrician for a check-up. The doctor came into the room and started talking to my girl, who refused to say anything. The doctor pressed her to answer, and my daughter refused. When she looked at me for help, I said, "She's feeling shy today." shyfaceOh, the hell I had to pay for using that s-word! The doctor lectured me about the words I use to describe my children, how powerful they can be, and how I could easily doom my child to a life of social awkwardness by calling her "shy" at such a tender age.

Not long after that, I switched to a different pediatric practice.

Look, I know that shyness is not valued in our culture. We're supposed to be outgoing and friendly to a fault, and while being introverted has recently become slightly more socially acceptable, being shy is still seen as a problem you should work relentlessly to overcome.

But as an essentially shy person, I honestly believe that shyness can be a huge advantage, if you're willing to embrace it (and if you learn to step out from behind it when it's not getting you where you want to go).

Shy People Are Great Observers

When you're not busy talking and mingling, you have a lot more time for listening and watching. While un-shy colleagues can make more contacts and bring in more donors, shy fundraisers often know better what to do with those donors.

My younger daughter -- the "shy" one -- is aces at reading other people and understanding intuitively what they want. Since fundraising is primarily about understanding what your donors want and how to give it to them, shy people have a great leg up when it comes to cultivating donor loyalty.

Shyness Can Keep You and Your Organization Safe

I loved that my girls were a bit shy. I never had to worry about them wandering off or talking to strangers. My son, however, routinely wandered off to visit neighbors he knew and meet those he didn't. More than once, a stranger showed up at my door, my little red-head in tow, saying, "Is this one yours?"

Direct threats aren't as common for fundraisers, but being shy can keep you from leaping before you look. The natural caution and reticence of shy people make them the perfect people to sit back and say to bolder colleagues, "What if?" -- saving the entire organization from chasing unproductive or damaging ventures.

Bottom Line: "shy" shouldn't be a dirty word.

Although it's easy for shy people to feel like they fade into the background, they can be extremely valuable to your organization -- as observers, as listeners, as an oasis of calm, as a voice of caution.

Make it easy for the shy at your nonprofit to participate.

  • Give them space to speak without being interrupted or talked over by more boisterous colleagues.
  • Axe the group brainstorming sessions in favor of post-meeting reflections. Allowing shy and introverted people to step back and think over what they've heard will give them a chance to contribute great ideas.
  • Try to pull them aside routinely to see if they have any observations that might be helpful or important to your organization.
  • Encourage shy people to come out of their shells and to take risks…while encouraging the less shy to listen more and think before they act.

Being shy isn't a disaster -- it's just a different way of being, one that can, and should, be valued in the workplace.

More for the Resource Library

coolbookshelfI spend a fair amount of time reading interesting articles that people tweet or send me, or that I stumble across on the Internet while procrastinating. And as Amy Blake can attest, I am like the Internet Age version of your elderly Aunt Millie who sends you newspaper clippings from her hometown paper -- I love to share what I read! So here is my Internet Age way of mailing them to you, too! Here are some of the most interesting of the last few weeks:

  • In his usual concise way, Seth Godin lists the 3 questions you should ask your marketing team before starting any marketing campaign. Also as usual, it's great and important stuff.
  • Jeff Brooks has it right: you can't stop acquiring new donors and expect to thrive. Please read this and share with any nonprofit you know that is neglecting to invest in acquisition!
  • Being married to a visual communicator -- he asks me to draw him a picture of our finances whenever I try to talk to him about the budget! -- I am fascinated by this article on the use of storytelling to help create more usable products, programs and aps.
  • I'm always interested in creativity and how it works. This fascinating article on the strange and idiosyncratic habits of famous writers doesn't have applicable tips for boosting your own creativity...but it does show that creative people are a little nutsy. And this one about the ten paradoxical traits of creative people made me chuckle. I recognized so many people I know in this list!
  • This blog post at Get Storied is a bit long for my taste, but it has some great stuff about how to use story to inspire change, particularly this little gem: "Give people something from which they can find themselves in your story. Sometimes if you share your own personal motivations for change, they may let down their guard a bit. They may listen more. And they might open up to your ideas."

Do you want more loyal donors?

Most of us who are running and working with nonprofit organizations don’t want fly-by-night operations. We want to have donors who come back again and again. But if you compare the energy spent trying to acquire new donors with the energy being poured into taking care of current donors,'s sometimes a little unbalanced. While growth and expansion are great, constantly chasing after new supporters takes a lot more time, energy and money than deepening the relationships with the folks we already have on our side.

So, how do you deepen those relationships?

Today, I'm over at the ARC Communications blog with three sure-fire ways to increase donor loyalty. Please check it out by clicking HERE!

Words to Live By

We all have days where we could use a little inspiration. Here are some of my favorite quotequotes, mantras and tidbits of wisdom for those tough days. You can't control the outcome, only your effort. Even though I work for myself, each job I take on comes with a big team of people, all of whom have their own opinions, needs and visions for the project. Sometimes, things don't work out like I want them too. But as long as I'm putting in my best effort, I can be satisfied.

Don't engage crazy (or toddlers). Sometimes your colleagues will act a little nutsy. Or like small, sleep-deprived children. Do not, repeat, do NOT engage. Back away from their silliness, put your head down, and do your work. The crazy will pass faster if everyone ignores it.

"Sometimes a thing gets broke, can't be fixed." (Oh, Firefly...) Whether it's a letter lead that just won't work, or an entire strategy, sometimes you've just got to scrap everything and start over. Don't stress, and don't waste time and other precious resources trying to save something that can't -- and shouldn't -- be saved.

"That is not the Janet I want to be." (Another gem from a television show gone too soon, Wonderfalls.) The context of this quote is too convoluted to get into here, but this one pops into my head whenever I'm tempted to act in a way that is contrary to my core values. When I'm feeling vindictive, petulant or just plain cranky, I take a deep breath and remind myself to be the person I strive to be.

"It always seems impossible until it is done." Nelson Mandela This one comes in handy for those days when I have a mountain of work, ten meetings, three soccer games and dinner to make. Somehow, even my most impossible-seeming tasks do get done.

What words of wisdom help you get through the rough days? Share below!

Are You Using Storytelling in Your Nonprofit? Read This First.

I <3 Stories! We Love Stories

Human beings have been telling stories for 100,000 years. Over that time, storytellers discovered the best ways to convey their information so people would remember it. Today we call that “story structure.”

People everywhere, in cultures across the globe, are hardwired to use story structure to create meaning out of events. In the last few decades, we’ve collected ample scientific proof that our brains have evolved to respond to stories.

Which is why you’re hearing so much buzz these days about the importance of using storytelling in your marketing and communications efforts. And, done correctly, there’s no doubt that storytelling can be a powerful tool.

But is there ever a time when using a story isn’t appropriate?

Storytelling is not like boiling pasta

When you know using stories is good for your organization, it’s tempting to use them all of the time, no matter what.

But storytelling is not like cooking spaghetti, and if you find yourself tossing stories on the wall to see if they’ll stick, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Are your stories all about your organization? While telling your “origin story” can be an effective piece of advertising, it’s not much more than that. Your donors aren’t living in the past – they’re engaged in the here and now. They want to know what you’re doing that is so important and so aligned with their personal vision and values that they simply must give right this minute.

Are your stories only peripherally related to your organization? Some fundraisers or board members seem to think that as long as their communications tell a story – any story! – touching on the organization’s mission, that will be enough to draw in donors. But your donors don’t want to hear any old story…they want stories that reflect their vision of what the world can be and how your organization is making that vision come true.

Your Stories Should Embody Your Organization AND Your Donor

Donors respond to stories when those stories present shared values, a common vision for the future, and a strategic plan to make that future a reality. If your stories can’t do those three things, it’s time to find new stories.

After all, the ultimate goal of using Storytelling in your donor communications and fundraising is to weave a strong and stable connection between your donor and your organization. It is this bond that will keep your donor giving, year after year.

For more about the pitfalls – and benefits – of using storytelling in your marketing efforts, check out this case study for Levi’s.

The Dreaded Writer's Block

Books get written by those who beat writer's block! There is a whole lot of information out there about writer’s block – see here, here and here just to start. So when I sat down to write this post, I nearly abandoned it before I started. Who needs another post about a topic that has almost 9 million search term hits?

But as someone who supports a family of five with my writing – which means I write on demand, day in and day out, regardless if I’m inspired, energized, enthused or at all clear-headed – I thought I might as well throw my pen into the ring. I simply cannot afford writer’s block, so I’ve developed quite a few tricks to keep me from ever succumbing to this horrible affliction.

And it is horrible. I know one writer who became so blocked she lost clients, her income dropped dramatically, her mental health suffered, and eventually, she had to train for a new career just to keep a roof over her head and to feed her family. It was paralyzing, and it went on for years.

So believe me, I’m not a naysayer. And I’m not just one of the lucky ones who never experiences it. There are plenty of days I can’t imagine how I’m going to put those words down on the paper, days when every ‘a’, ‘the’ and ‘it’ written merits a cry of “Hallelujah!”

There may come a day when I do finally run up against a writer’s block that I can’t trick my way out of, but until then, here are a few tried and true methods that keep me going:

When the well of ideas runs dry…

Sometimes, you just can’t think of anything to write about, or a creative, not-done-to-death way to write the piece you’re trying to write. It’s tempting to moan and wail, but that doesn’t get the work done.

Solution: Write anyway. Write anything. Give yourself permission to write the most cliché-

Embrace those cliche´s if it gets words on the page.

ridden copy you can think of. Because the secret to writing amazing, brilliant prose – whether you’re writing fiction, a hard-hitting article, or fundraising copy – is not writing. It’s revising. So just write, and let the truly original ideas come later.

When your vocabulary has shrunk to that of your first grader’s…

I often feel like giving up on something because it seems like I’m using the same words over and over again. I have an English Degree and a French minor. In theory, my vocabulary is pretty impressive in two languages. But there are days you’d be hard-pressed to believe it.

Solution: Again, write anyway. Repeat as much as you want. Fix it later. Remember, typing a word is not the same as chiseling it into stone. You can always, always, always change it. Until it goes to the printer, and then you just need to let it go and move on. Also, keep a thesaurus – either paper or virtual – handy.

When. Each. Word. Is. A. Struggle…

Some days, it takes me 45 minutes to write 1000 words. Other days it takes me 4 hours. Those 4-hour days are sheer torture.

Solution: Ha! Gotcha. You thought I was going to say “Write anyway” didn’t you? Nope, my solution for this version of writer’s block is the opposite. Stop writing and take a walk. Clear your head, get your body moving, and chances are the words will flow again once you get back to your desk.

When the sight of the blank page and flashing cursor makes you hyperventilate…

If you think too hard about that blank page, it really becomes a daunting thing, a wraith that feeds on all the words you might possibly put down upon it. Terrifying.

Solution: This is where I haul out all my old writing class techniques. Try freewriting for ten minutes just to warm yourself up and fill up some of that page. Write a poem or story or movie review instead of the piece you’re trying to write. Write a big rant about how you can’t possibly write what you’re trying to write because you suck or your idea sucks or your subject sucks. Put it in all caps if it helps. Change fonts – you might just start writing so you can see what it will look like. Copy one of your favorite passages from a book or blog word-for-word. Do whatever you need to do to make that page a bit less blank.

And then, keep writing.

Four Steps to Better Creative Strategy

One thing I've noticed in working with a variety of clients on their creative strategies for direct mail, fundraising and communications is that not all organizations understand just what goes into crafting a successful creative strategy. So I thought I'd lay out my four sure-fire steps to implementing a successful creative strategy at your organization.

1. Set Goals

Whether you're strategizing for one mailing or an organization-wide campaign, it's crucial that you have specific and attainable goals laid out clearly for everyone at the organization. I can't tell you how many times I've sat down with a potential client and watched them start to sputter when I've asked them what they expect to achieve with their latest direct mail campaign.

HINT: It's not just about raising money!

The best organizations are looking at each effort -- whether it's a direct mail campaign, online communication, a tweet-up, or something else -- as steps in achieving overall organizational goals. Most donors are getting information from only one or two of your channels. Make that information count.

2. Find your voice.

Chances are, your organization is not the only one working on your issue. So why should your donors give to you instead of another worthy nonprofit? Your donors want to connect to your organization on a personal level, and that is all about your organizational voice and how it stands out from the crowd.

NOTE: This doesn't have to be competitive!

Focus on what YOU do well and communicate that -- in your direct mail, on the web, in your newsletter, indeed any time you communicate with your donors -- with conviction and passion. Your donors will respond to that authenticity.

3. Communicate and Coordinate

You can generate your very best creative by simply communicating and coordinating with everyone on staff. Tell them your goals, ask questions, learn about what they're doing and ask them how that fits with the fundraising  goals you've set. Make sure your web development team knows what you're fundraising on and when.

If you have a copywriter, set up meetings for that person with the program staff working on the issue. If it's something near-and-dear to the Executive Director's heart, see if he or she is willing to take twenty minutes to discuss it with the copywriter.

All of this can make a world of difference in generating accurate, moving and effective fundraising and communications.

4. Personalize

Because this can't be said enough: it's about your donor. So however good your creative strategy is, it won't be nearly as effective if you don't take that final step from understanding what your organizational goals are to understanding why your donor should care. Because if your donor doesn't care, all the hard work you did in the first two steps won't matter one bit.

Pay attention to the campaigns that your donors respond to (and those they ignore). Know what pushes their buttons. Thank them often, always letting them know specifically what their support has helped you accomplish. And give them as many opportunities as you can for interaction, conversation and feedback. Make them feel like key players in your work.

I can't tell you how exhilarating it is to work with an organization that is firing on all cylinders. And the results they get on all of their fundraising and communications efforts are proof that by thinking strategically about your fundraising and communications efforts, you can raise more money and support for your cause. And that's what any nonprofit good creative strategy should be about.

Where Space Exploration and Fundraising Collide

Like many people the world over, I was thrilled to see that the Curiosity Rover landed successfully on Mars this week. I showed my kids the first pictures and answered their questions about space exploration. (I think my 5-year-old's mind was officially blown by the news that a ROBOT took that picture!) But even as my kids were getting more and more excited about space exploration, I saw the tweets racing by lamenting the money spent on sending a rover to Mars when there are so many problems here on Earth we need to solve.

I'm not going to write a comprehensive defense of space exploration. If you wonder what the value is, check out this interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, or read his newest book. But I will say that many of the things you and I use every day -- everything from our cell phones and computers, to athletic wear and tennis shoes -- were originally developed for NASA.

Imagine what might be achievable if NASA had reliable funding and the freedom to aim for truly audacious goals. What alternative fuels or advances in solar power technology might be made? What cool new fabric might make sweaty summer runs like the one I took this morning even more comfortable?

A lot of fundraising departments I work with are just as starved for funding as NASA. In an effort to be efficient and streamlined -- to put as many of those dollars they raise toward programs as possible -- too many nonprofits are denying themselves a chance to innovate, evolve and, ultimately, do even more to further their missions.

Instead of aiming for the big and complex mission to Mars, they're content to run the same near-Earth orbit mission over and over again.

It's easy to play it safe. After all, nobody wants to be the one who bets big and loses. But your donors can tell the difference between an organization that's hanging on to the status quo and one that's charting a bold and energetic course for the future. Guess which one most of them prefer?

Investing in your fundraising efforts -- whether it's in increased time, money, energy or vision -- can pay huge dividends.

Test boldly in your direct mail, and you can find out what appeals to your donors and target your fundraising more effectively. No more incremental nudges. Let's find out what happens when you take an entirely different creative approach, or aim for a new universe, or aggressively go after lapsed donors.

Take the time to coordinate communications and fundraising department efforts, and you can pool talents and develop strong messaging that helps inform and enlighten people about your efforts. (Bonus: unless you have to bribe them with donuts to sit in a room together, this won't cost you a cent!)

Spend a little more on personalization -- in the mail, on the Web and in your face-to-face efforts -- and you can foster better relationships with your donors...and reap the benefit of increased giving.

And another bonus of investing in your fundraising is that in doing so, you might just find other ways to cut costs that don't stymie innovation.

I'm excited to see the pictures and read about the discoveries that Curiosity sends back to Earth. It's a remarkable achievement.

But I also get really excited when I work with an organization that is committed to exploring all the ways they can improve their fundraising. Be bold. Be daring. Dream big. Show your donors how much passion you have for your mission, and watch as they reward you with their loyal support.

Your Fundraising Letter: the 3 Pillars of Persuasion

When you sit down to plan out your next fundraising letter, of course you'll remember to write to one donor, have one signer, make it personal (by using a lot of "I, you, we") and keep your paragraphs short and your key ideas and asks highlighted. And still it might not be enough to push your letter from "solid" to "solid gold!" So take another look at your copy and see if you've used arguments from all three Pillars of Persuasion.


The Intellectual Argument is often one of the easiest for people to make. We're used to collecting facts and figures to back up our positions. Numbers can tell a powerful story to many people. After all, it's hard to argue with cold hard statistics.

A letter I received recently from World Wildlife Fund tells me that "The average American uses 350 plastic bags each year." That's nearly one for every day of the year! It goes on to report that "Every year, more than 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and birds die as a result of plastic bags." I -- like probably most of the people WWF mailed to -- really try to limit my use of plastic bags, but as I sit at my computer, I can look over at my recycling area and see a few poking out.

I hope I use fewer than the average 35o bags per year, but I know that if 100,000 wild animals are being killed by plastic bags, then using any bags at all is too many. Those numbers convinced me.

But you can't rely on numbers alone.


When you're asking people to part with their hard-earned cash, you have to move them emotionally. One easy way to do that is to paint a picture of the problem they're helping to solve. Animal rights groups can describe the deplorable conditions for animals raised on factory farms. Environmental groups can show the suffering of children with pollution-induced asthma or the rapid disappearance of ancient stands of old-growth trees.

Tell a story related to your mission, include a photo of someone impacted by your work, or talk about a moment that moved you.

Make your audience feel the importance of your cause and the passion of everyone in your organization to solve it.


Most of us believe we are moral people, and your direct mail package can give your donors an easy way to exercise their moral muscles. Remind them that their support places them on the side of Right. Knowing that by giving to your organization they are in fact standing up for their principles is a huge motivator for many people.

Which brings me to the silent 4th pillar:

Know your audience.

Some audiences respond more consistently to well-reasoned arguments and solid facts, while others are consistently swayed by a moral ask, and still others care little for facts and respond solely to emotional pleas. Test different ways of framing your ask to see how your audience responds.

Lessons from a Soccer Fundraiser

I have two daughters who play soccer with the local youth soccer organization. It makes for some action-packed weeks in the fall and the spring! It also puts us in line for every fundraiser the soccer organization conducts -- team photos, individual photos, MLS and college team partnership promotions and ticket sales. Most of the time, I'm happy to participate and feel glad to be contributing to sports programs for kids in our community.

But the other day, I received an email from someone affiliated with the soccer organization demanding that each parent on my older daughter's team purchase two tickets to a local university soccer game, chiding those who had not yet contributed.

Now, as it happens, we'd already purchased tickets for our family through our younger daughter's team. I explained that to the representative who emailed me back saying, "Okay, you're fine then."

Whoa, whoa, whoa! I know this person is almost certainly a volunteer, but somebody with the soccer club needs to give their volunteers a lesson in donor relations!

So let's examine what went wrong with this Ask and figure out how it could have been done better.

The Offer

The first email we received about this particular fundraiser contained no details, just a vague mention of the need to purchase tickets to a soccer game at the university. I didn't know who was playing the game -- was it our kids? Or the university team? Or an exhibition game for our local MLS team? I didn't know when the game was scheduled. Would we even be able to attend if we did purchase the tickets? And how was the money raised going to be used by the club?

The Ask

I know that no fundraising professional out there would demand a gift. But do you train your volunteers and program staff how to ask for donations? It's all too easy for a volunteer to take a simple request that each family buy two tickets and turn it into extortion. Make sure they understand that donations are voluntary. And no one should ever be chided for declining to participate.

The Thank You

And of course, every donor should be thanked, genuinely and promptly. Tell them what their contribution means to the organization. Do my tickets to the university soccer game help pay for club equipment? Or scholarships for budding soccer phenoms in need? Make sure I know that up front and remind me when you say a heartfelt "Thank you."

Don't let anyone in your organization -- staff, volunteer or friend -- inadvertently create ill-will as they try to help raise money. Drill in the importance of treating donors with respect and gratitude, and you'll see donations rise.