A friend of mine, who  is whip-smart when it comes to nonprofit donor communications (she owns a communications firm), sent over today’s WIMI. She’s got a keen eye for uncovering the good, the bad, and the ugly on the donor communications front. Plus, she herself is a donor, and she recently forwarded me an email sent from her alma mater. She prefaced the alma mater tragedy (and I somehow doubt this is their first faux pas) with this:

“This is the kind of letter I get from my college. I loved loved loved my college experience but even when I was there I was frustrated by what they chose to spend alumni money on. This is what I get 28 years later. It’s all about them. I love the salutation.”   

Her email heading dripped with incredulity. And for the record: my friend doesn’t actually love the salutation at all. That’s good old sarcasm, and trust me — it’s warranted in the case of her former college’s most recent email communication.

Dear member of the [redacted] community. Yes, really. I told you that it was warranted! See, a college’s community consists of more than current and former students. It includes parents, professors, staff, and more. So who exactly is this letter speaking to? My friend is an alum, but the letter makes no mention of this. The complete lack of personalization seeps from the salutation down into the body of the letter.

And why?

Because like she said, they’ve made it all about them — not about their donor base filled with passionate alumni who have such fond memories of their institution and feel inspired to give. Not about the current staff and professors, or the formerly employed who still feel a connection to the school and its mission.

“Why do colleges take the “make us great” approach and why does it work? Yes, I want my school to have a great reputation so it reflects well on me but this letter is so self focused it feels arrogant. I admit I love to see people’s jaws drop when I tell them where I went to school, but I paid enough money for them to have a database that can remember my name. It is so generic that it could be for any college – which is the opposite of the highly specialized institution that it is.”

What my friend has shared with me is no isolated incident, I’m afraid. If anything, this letter from [redacted] sheds some light on a disturbing trend seen all across college and university donor communications: they aren’t donor-focused at all. Whether it’s email or direct mail, whether it’s an ivy league, a state school, or an art college, this startling lack of donor-centricity consistently rears its ugly head. And it’s all the more offensive in the face of rising tuition costs.




Power of Nonprofit Storytelling | Stellar storytelling through video: “Golden” is a work of art

June 27, 2016

“Golden,” a short film by German filmmaker Kai Stänicke, presents itself as a condensed biography of a boy’s life. Spanning from birth to late adolescence, the clip is focused on a protagonist who is navigating the world in which he lives, all while being “different.” This difference is marked and inescapable, whether he’s in solitude […]

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Fundraising Friday | June 24, 2016

June 24, 2016

Nonprofit Storytelling alum, Rouge Valley Health System, highlights one family at a time in their My Rouge Valley Baby video stories. Great stuff in this week’s Power of Nonprofit Storytelling. My good friend, Sandy Rees, came through for this week’s What’s in my Inbox. The Human Society of Dayton’s email is clean, simple and elegant. […]

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What’s in my Mailbox | What does it mean to be donor-centered?

June 22, 2016

I recently opened a newsletter packet sent from Mercy Corps, a Portland-based organization I’ve spotlighted a handful of times in the past. Mercy Corps is renowned, established, and they’ve got a global reach. Their mission involves the fight against poverty, and through their work, they’re bridging economic gaps around the world by investing in and […]

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What’s in my Inbox | Animals in danger: The Humane Society Dayton needs YOU

June 21, 2016

My friend Sandy Rees recently forwarded this e-appeal from one of her favorite clients, The Humane Society of Dayton, my way, and it’s not very hard to see why. In fact, for me, the ‘why’ can be broken up into three parts: Short and sweet. One component of communicating frequently and communicating well is simplicity. […]

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Power of Nonprofit Storytelling | Basics & More alum saves lives, one baby at a time

June 20, 2016

Rouge Valley Health System is a university-affiliated, community-based hospital that specializes in a number of different programs, including maternal and neonatal care in a state-of-the art birthing center and extensive pediatric services. An alum of my Nonprofit Storytelling Basics & More ecourse, RV is keenly aware of how to utilize the medium of video as […]

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Fundraising Friday | June 17, 2016

June 17, 2016

In this week’s Power of Storytelling, you’ll learn how one organization raised over $6k … for bed sheets – with a homemade video shot on an iphone. Tragedy as a reminder of our humanity: NCLR’s latest email in this week’s What’s in my Inbox. NonprofitPRO with 16 Ways to Lead Your Organization’s Culture Shift. Start […]

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What’s in my Inbox | Tragedy as a reminder of our humanity: NCLR’s latest email

June 14, 2016

The tragedy in Orlando has resounded around the world. I’m still in a state of shock and grieving, wondering how such evil and hatred still exist in our world today. I am worried for our future, and I know I am not alone. I know I am united with others in my despair. This email […]

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Power of Nonprofit Storytelling | Over $6k raised through IndieGoGo for bed sheets? You better believe it!

June 13, 2016

At first glance, crowdfunding looks like some tricky territory, not to mention intimidating. Because in a space so heavily saturated with organizations promoting their own goals, the issue of being noticed is front and center. How can your organization navigate the waters of an IndieGoGo sea that already has too many fish swimming in it? […]

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Fundraising Friday | June 10, 2016

June 10, 2016

Having one of ‘those’ days? There’s help for that! Don’t miss this week’s Power of Nonprofit Storytelling, where we share the story of Chris, a formerly incarcerated inmate who is still in the process of rebuilding his life. And, if you’d like to save $20 on our four-week storytelling extravaganza, register now. Today’s the last […]

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What to do when you’re having one of ‘those’ days

June 9, 2016

Burnout…It happens to the best of us. You start out filled with passion, possibilities, and hope. You’ve brought in 127 new monthly donors through your spring monthly giving mailing, and landed a grant from the very foundation that declined your organization last year. Your board members have (finally) agreed to start making thank you calls. […]

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What’s in my Mailbox | She is Safe saves the day, one girl at a time, through one donor at a time

June 8, 2016

She is Safe is a nonprofit organization located in Georgia that is passionately dedicated to empowering women around the world who have suffered abuse and exploitation around the world by providing them with the necessary resources to build a stronger future and a better life. I received a pack from SIS just yesterday and wanted […]

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What’s in my Inbox | The Smithsonian rocks (in more ways than one)!

June 7, 2016

Have you ever received any email communications from The Smithsonian? They’re on my top 15 list of nonprofit (and business) newsletters you should subscribe to. Your email swipe file implores you, and so do I. Their emails are consistently great, and this enews is just one example of this greatness. Visually stunning, the captivating photos […]

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Power of Nonprofit Storytelling | My name is Chris: The superpowers of a single stellar story

June 6, 2016

Bernie’s campaign hasn’t just been a campaign. It’s been a medium for national story-telling and soul-searching. For that alone, he and his movement have already won. -Atif Choudhury My sentiments exactly. After viewing a four-minute clip released by Bernie’s campaign, I saw Atif’s words, published in the comment section below. You’re probably well aware that […]

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Fundraising Friday | June 3, 2016

June 3, 2016

What is poverty? This week’s Power of Nonprofit Storytelling, from The Salvation Army/Canada, shares a novel approach to highlighting the realities of poverty. Lately, I’ve been seeing a few comments equating too much frequency in communications with NOT being donor-focused. I don’t buy it. This week’s What’s in my Inbox features an email I read […]

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What’s in my Mailbox | Don’t you forget about me: recognizing the “lowly” lower level donor

June 1, 2016

I’m currently focused on a research project that involves making two online gifts a week at two different nonprofit organizations, observing the giving process from start to finish, including all follow up. It involves other stuff, too, but I’m not at liberty to discuss that just yet. The working title of this endeavor is The […]

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What’s in my Inbox | Too much communication? …highly unlikely

May 31, 2016

A bit of a kerfuffle has been going on over at The Agitator surrounding frequency of communications as it relates to donor centricity. It’s an easy topic to get caught up on. Kevin Schulman references Food for the Poor and their schedule of 27 mailings a year. Penelope Burk, of Cygnus Research makes this claim, […]

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Power of Nonprofit Storytelling | What is poverty? A creative clip from The Salvation Army

May 30, 2016

The Salvation Army is worldwide, non-governmental direct provider of social services that has emerged as a strong force in the fight against poverty, ever since its founding in 1865 in London, England. But what does poverty look like? I asked myself that very question, and I immediately came up with a single-word answer: homelessness. But […]

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What’s in my Mailbox | Another memorable Mercy Corps mailing

May 25, 2016

I’ve spotlighted Mercy Corps before, and I’m sure it’s not hard for you to see why. Their packets, from the letter, to the response device, to the thoughtful little extras, keep me consistently excited to receive mail from them. This most recent communication from their organization is no exception. They basically did everything right here, […]

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What’s in my Inbox | A reactivation email example

May 24, 2016

The situation: you’re a new communications staffer or development director, hired following a two year gap in staffing. The last time your organization’s email list heard from you was in 2014. What do you do? Or maybe your open rate has drastically slipped. Is it your copy? Your email service provider? How can you re-engage? […]

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