Strategy & Marketing

Direct Response: How to Connect With Donors

Why isn’t your charity or ministry raising more money? Maybe it’s sick. Maybe it’s got one of seven “deadly marketing diseases” identified by Doug Brendel of Berkey Brendel Sheline. Here’s Doug’s prescription:

#1 Amnesia — where you don’t know who you are. Seems absurd? Many organizations never figure out what their message to donors really is — the one central idea of your work that you communicate to donors and prospective donors relentlessly. Look at how you communicate with donors, and you’ll probably find that your messages are all over the map.

#2 Schizophrenia — you have a “ministry” or “operations” side, and a “marketing” side. But the two groups don’t really relate with each other. Staffers may sort of look down on folks in the other group. Get them together.

#3 Neurosis & Character Disorder — problems with asking. Neurotic asking is too timid; character-disordered asking is too peremptory. Gotta get some balance.

#4 Leprosy — where you keep your distance — thinking of donors as pieces of machinery that we have to get to “work” right to extract a contribution from them … instead of laying relational line to them and nurturing a relationship with them. Relate to your donors like friends.

#5 Manic Depression — with communications that are either high on emotion, but they don’t communicate much information … or loaded with information, but not very emotional. Do both — a true story of a life changed through the work of your organization is one very good way to get there.

#6 Blindness
— where you market essentially by hope and luck (or your mother-in-law’s opinions). The healthier approach is to test strategies, track donor responses thoroughly, and use guide dogs (that is, consult with experts) until you become expert yourself.

#7 Hardening of the Arteries
— where you forget the simplest, most natural, most necessary component of the entire fundraising equation: being grateful. Express thanks to the donor!

For more from Berkey Brendel Sheline, visit

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  1. I've worked in mainstream marking in NYC for more than 20 years. A couple years ago, I decided to volunteer my services to various ministries and charities.


    One European group responded and I did newsletters and fundraising for them, raising thousands of dollars and writing some articles about their work with one magazine publishing a story that went out to more than 500,000 people. And it was all free and great fun for me and a tremendous blessing for them.

    But I was shocked–SHOCKED!–by the number of ministries and charities with websites WHO NEVER RESPOND TO THEIR E-MAILS!

    And here I was, offering my services for free with many significant references. It really, really surprised me that 95% of more than 100 organizations contacted never even responded.

    So my #1 rule–RESPOND TO YOUR E-MAIL! And for the few I have worked with who felt overwhelmed with e-mail, I said, "Simple: take off the e-mail address from your website. Put only the phone or a mailing address."

    Simple solution which they loved — along with putting PayPal on their site for IMMEDIATE response and increase in $$$ — and for the rest of those groups who never responded, I only shake my head….

  2. Derek and Phil, Great posts from both of you.  The internet and e-mail has come to the masses, but too many ministries want only one-way communcation FROM the ministry on high DOWN TO the audience below.  Then the second requirement is funds FROM the audience below TO the ministry on hight.  When a mortal audience member wants to e-mail the ministry leader or family member on the show, then the donor/viewer discovers it has been made IMPOSSIBLE by the designs of the ministry.  As a counter-point, look at a US Senator's website, say Chuck Grassley's.  You can e-mail, fax, website reply, phone or arrange a meeting.  That is access!  Nowadays, it is harder to for a commoner to meet a media ministry leader than to meet a movie star, a politician or an international sports figure.  Nobody hides better from people who want to meet them, it seems, than media ministry leaders.  Then, when a financial downturn happens to their ministry funding, they wonder why.

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