Establishing your Nonprofit Brand: 3 Brand Design Fundamentals


Establishing your nonprofit brand can be intimidating, but let’s start with some basics! This article discusses 3 vital design aspects to consider when designing your nonprofit brand. You will learn about important design fundamentals: logos, colours, and typography. Having a preliminary understanding of brand design, will help you and your designer use your brand assets and establish a distinct and cohesive nonprofit brand. Legitimizing the look and feel of your brand will inevitably bring recognition and success.


First off, what is a logo? A logo is made of text, shapes, and colours that indicates the purpose of your organization. Your logo is a key part of your brand because it is going to appear on all things that pertain to your organization’s charity work. Your logo is also a symbol that volunteers and donors will remember and use to differentiate you from other nonprofits.

It is common to want everything but the kitchen sink in your logo design, but that is not realistic and frankly, it’s bad design. You want your logo to be: simplistic, memorable, scalable, readable, and distinct.

Take a look at a few of these nonprofit logos. They are displayed in black and white to show the impact and recognizability of a good logo design, even with no colour. In the next section, we will discuss colour.



If you want to see more examples of logos, check out this article that shows 75 Top Nonprofit Logos.


Your logo will appear in many places such as: websites, impact reports, banners, fundraising material, documents, presentations, merchandise, and more. It’s important that you keep the appropriate logo file formats for use in digital and print media.

Before you read the next part, if you are not already familiar with Raster(pixel) vs. Vector files, check out this quick read article that explains the difference between the two.


Here are 4 common logo file formats to know:

PNG – Portable Network Graphic

File extension: LOGO.png

  • Raster file – Pixel based format
  • Can be compressed and decompressed without losing quality
  • Supports transparency
  • Easy to read and access, can be opened on computer, mobile, and tablets
  • Use on: website, blog, as favicon(icon that shows up in browser tab), presentations, letterhead on documents, social media profile, as an image (e.g. watermark on document)


SVG – Scalable Vector Graphic

File extension: LOGO.svg

  • Vector file format
  • Can be scaled as big or small as needed, without losing any quality
  • Supports transparency
  • Small file size compared to PNG and JPG
  • Editable on design software like Adobe Illustrator
  • Web-friendly XML language
  • Use on: print media, shirts, merchandise, stickers, labels, etc
  • Should be used when sending your logo to a designer to make changes


EPS – Encapsulated PostScript

File extension: LOGO.eps

  • Vector file format
  • Can be scaled as big or small as needed, without losing any quality
  • Editable on design software like Adobe Illustrator and photoshop
  • Tricky to open in softwares other than Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop
  • Supports transparency
  • Use on: print media, shirts, merchandise, stickers, labels, etc
  • Can be used when sending your logo to a designer to make changes, but make sure to check with your designer or printer first


PDF – Portable Document Format

File extension: LOGO.pdf

  • Can be vector or pixel-based, it depends on how the PDF was created originally
  • Easy to read and share
  • Supports transparency
  • Format is consistent on every device
  • Use on: print media, shirts, merchandise, stickers, labels, etc
  • Only editable on Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop


It can be intimidating to grasp file formats, so here is a resource that goes more in depth into the 4 common logo file formats.



Colours are important to establish to maintain a cohesive look and feel for your nonprofit brand. It is important to keep in mind that a good brand has no more than 4 colours. When choosing your colours, you will want a light colour for backgrounds, dark colour for text, a neutral colour, and a contrasting colour. You don’t have to choose 4 colours, but you shouldn’t have more than that.

This is Google’s colour palette, it follows these rules.




There is meaning associated with colours. If you are not sure where to begin when choosing your colours you can think about what certain colours mean.


Green – Light shades represent growth, freshness, eco-friendly. Dark shades represent wealth, money, and cash.

Yellow – Happiness, positivity, and welcoming attitude.

Blue – Light shades represent stability, openness, flow. Dark shades represent trust, security, and comfort.Red – Passion, excitement, and energy.

Purple – Creativity, spirituality, luxury.

White – Peace, purity, calming nature.

Black – Bold, serious, authoritative, elegant.


Circling back to the logos shown in the last section, take a look at how colour enhances logos.


After you have chosen your colours, you must keep a record of the specific HEX code, RGB values, CMYK values and Pantone® (PMS). This can be an intimidating concept, but your graphic designer will know what these are. Each colour format is used for different purposes.


Pantone® (PMS) and CMYK are for printing purposes.

HEX and RGB are for digital purposes.


This is how each colour format is listed for the specific blue Google uses.

HEX code: #4285F4

RGB Values: (66, 133, 244)

CMYK Values: (71, 47, 0, 0)

Pantone®: 279 C

Here is a link that shows the rest of Google’s colour palette



Font selection is another beast when it comes to establishing your nonprofit brand. There are an endless number of fonts out there.

To make it simple, here are a few tips you can use to make the process easier:

  • Choose a font that is different from your logo
  • Only use a serif or sans serif font (Serif: Bodoni, Sans Serif: Helvetica)
  • Make sure it is readable and legible
  • Get a designer to help guide you through font choices


There are a few options for how you can obtain the rights to use a font. You can either buy a font or find a free font. It is crucial if you are downloading a free font that it is free for commercial use. There are a lot of instances where you can download a font for free but it is NOT for commercial use.

List of places to buy fonts:

List of free font downloads:

* *

NOTE: Google Fonts ( is the best when it comes to free fonts. They are all open source, high quality, easy to download, and can be embedded directly into your website.



This article covered 3 basic design fundamentals: logos, colour, and typography. It touched on what a logo is and the various aspects you should consider when figuring out its design. There was also information on logo file formats and when to use them. The colours section talked about how colour enhances a nonprofit brand design and how to specify your brand colours for digital and print use. Finally, this article ended on typography, what you need to consider when choosing your fonts and where you can find them.

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Should You Ask For Donations When Saying Thank You?

“Dogs look up to you, cats look down on you. Give me a pig! He looks you in the eye and treats you as an equal.” 
– Sir Winston Churchill

Recently a friend remarked that she doesn’t like cats, because they only show you affection when they want something – food, attention, etc…

Dogs, on the other hand, may be driven by the same innate motivators, but they are less transparent in their self-interest, and so their affection seems credible, says this friend.

As someone who loves cats and dogs equally, I am not sure that I agree with my friend’s cynical perspective on the bond between human and animal, but the timing of the observation was impeccable.

I had just begun reading a paper from Professor K. Sudhir et al. at the Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics at Yale University that specifically dealt with sincerity when you want something.

The paper, Greedy or Grateful? Asking for More When Thanking Donors, details the results of an experiment, executed in concert with a non-profit, that saw nearly 200,000 donors receive a direct mail piece with several calls to action of varying subtleties.

Some donors were asked explicitly to donate again while being thanked. Some were thanked and asked to like the non-profit on Facebook. Some were simply thanked, and though a reply envelope and donation mechanism (in the form of a reply coupon) were included in the mailer, neither an ask nor a call to action was made.

The findings were particularly interesting and it’s well worth your while to read the study in its entirety (though I happily provide what I find to be the salient details below):


  • Non-profits know the importance of saying thank-you (for more on this, see here, here, and here), but with limited budgets already stretched thin, there is a temptation to use expensive stewardship opportunities as a chance to ask for money.


  • Asking for more money while thanking donors has the opposite  of the intended effect amongst frequent, recent, and high value donors. They seemingly interpret the expression of gratitude as insincere, and some punish the organization by giving less than they otherwise would have, or not giving at all.


  • For these donors, simply including a reply coupon and envelope can serve as a reminder, and increase the likelihood that they will donate.


  • Segmenting the list proved extremely effective, as “lapsed, infrequent, and lower monetary value donors” were moved to donate more by the explicit call to action.


By targeting different messages to different segments – including explicit calls to action for lapsed, infrequent, and lower monetary value donors, while avoiding it for recent, frequent, and higher value donors (for whom it isn’t just ineffective, but actually seems to backfire) –  the architects of the study were able to increase donations overall by as much as 11%.

The lesson is clear: Just as powerful expressions of gratitude can improve a donor’s disposition towards a non-profit, mixing in an ask or a CTA (call to action) can poison that disposition with feelings of resentment.


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Call Me Maybe (But I’d Rather You Didn’t)

If you were to ask Millennials or Gen Z (defined as those born between 1980 and the early 2010’s) how they feel about receiving phone calls, they would likely rank the experience as one of the biggest inconveniences you can thrust upon someone.

It’s a notable difference between generations, one that I especially notice with my father, who calls me several times during the day with small pieces of information that could easily be delivered over text – and while he sees calling me up to communicate verbally as a quicker, more efficient method, I see it as an interruption. I’m forced to drop everything I’m doing in order to talk to him for a couple of minutes, whereas my fingers could have rattled off a response to whatever question he had in a matter of seconds.


From my father’s perspective, verbally asking me or telling me whatever he needs to is faster, but in reality, the two versions of the conversation play out as follows:


Text Conversation:


Dad: “Garbage day today. Bring down your bin.”

Me: “Np”


Phone Call:


Dad: “Hey, what’s happening? what’s shaking? what’s going on?”

Me: “Not much, how about you?”

Dad: “Not much, uhhhh I just wanted to remind you that today’s garbage day”

Me: “Ok, alright”

Dad: “So make sure you bring down whatever you’ve got in your room, any wrappers, bottles, that sort of thing”

Me: “Yeah, no problem, sounds good”

Dad: “Ok, cool, uhh… oh, I finally finished season 3 of-”

And so on and so forth.

While I don’t by any means mind having full conversations, in a world where we’re constantly multitasking and juggling multiple conversations at once, phone calls are seen as inconveniences for the younger generations, as they force everything else to be put on hold. For the generations that grew up without email and instant messaging, communicating verbally is what they know best. It is significantly easier for them to articulate themselves verbally. This is especially true for those who aren’t as acclimatized to the small keyboards on most smartphones, or those who have trouble seeing the screen in front of them to begin with.


Of course, these are generalizations that don’t necessarily apply to everyone, but I believe that it speaks more to those who did grow up with technology – the difference between the two conversation examples I gave above lies in efficiency.

Imagine that your phone rang, and when you answered it, all you heard was “get milk on the way home,” followed by the click of someone hanging up. It would be jarring, and you’d probably feel it was a bit rude. That kind of bluntness is acceptable in today’s culture of quick, back-and-forth texting, and it’s the necessity of those pleasantries on the phone that often makes phone calls feel so taxing for today’s youth, and leads to them avoiding them at all costs.



As a matter of fact, a new survey from BankMyCell indicates that not only are millennials ignoring phone calls, but their reasons are often related to time consumption, or avoiding confrontation and interaction with people such as telemarketers. Millennials usually ignore unknown numbers altogether


So the question becomes, in a world where phone calls are seen as an interruption, and immediately put the person on the receiving end in a negative mood, how does one reach clients in a unique and effective way? With all the notifications coming through on our phones and laptops- whether from iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or our emails – messages from unknown parties get lost in the shuffle. Unless you’re attempting to get in contact with a personal friend, you might find it a bit more difficult to reach them than you’d initially think.


While mail is a great and effective way to reach the younger generation, not just any mail will do. Speaking from personal experience, when I see a grey envelope with my name showing through the thin strip of plastic, I immediately assume it’s some useless (other otherwise boring) information from my bank. However seeing a white envelope with my name and address scribbled across the front in pen gets me excited. Mail, for me? What a pleasant surprise – is there an event? Am I being invited somewhere? It’s not the contents of the message, but how they’re delivered. You could send me the same information over email, in a printed beige envelope, or as a handwritten letter, but only for the last of those will I be excited to see what’s inside.


This is because technology has moved past the need for letters, allowing us to communicate with others across the world in an instant. This makes letters as we know them scarce, as society pivots into the digital age. These advances in technology, however, have been unable to replicate arguably the most important aspect of handwritten letters: intimacy. A letter is an indication of importance – why take the time to write something down by hand that could be typed out in a matter of seconds with a keyboard? Why take the time to have it go through a post office, when the internet can transmit your message and a response back in an instant? Because handwritten letters mean something, and when social interaction has become so easy to the point of tediousness, sometimes it’s better to take a step back and reach your clients with something more authentic.. Not only will your clients be enthused to open their mail -significantly more so than opening an email – but they will be able to process the information without the burden of being forced to give an immediate answer over the phone.


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Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, and Metrics

Mark Twain popularized (and attributed erroneously, ironically, to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli) the adage that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

This week, my brilliant friend Jason shared with me a piece in The Correspondent entitled The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising. He in turn got it from Dr. Michael Burry’s twitter feed (of Big Short fame). It’s important to me that everyone receive their due credit for bringing this article to my attention, because it had a profound impact on my thinking, and I have been sharing it with just about everyone and anyone who will listen all week.

I would like to humbly suggest that there is a fourth category of lies to be added to the list: metrics.

A statistic can be dishonest (in this rhetorical and liberal application of the concept of a lie) because it can be used to misdirect. A statistic, however accurate, can mislead its audience by appearing to be representative of something that it is not; Dr. Stephen Jay Gould does a good job demonstrating this phenomenon in his 1985 essay The Median is not The Message, as does SMBC in the comic below:

A metric, on the other hand, as described by Frederik and Martijn in the Correspondent, isn’t misused to misdirect from the truth, but rather to drown the truth in a sea of meaningless truths, and ascribe false importance to unimportant things.

There’s an old joke about 3 secret agents, one from MI6, one from the CIA, and one from the KGB, who upon meeting at a resort in the alps place a wager to determine who is the best at apprehending persons of interest.

They release three rabbits into the woods, to see who can retrieve their rabbit the fastest.

First, the MI6 agent goes in to the woods, and after five hours he returns to the resort with his rabbit.

Then the CIA agent goes into the woods, and after three hours, he returns to the resort with his rabbit.

Finally, it’s the KGB agent’s turn. He returns to the resort 20 minutes later with one of the waiters from the resort, bruised and bloody, missing several teeth, with his hands on his head, crying out, “okay, I admit it, I’m a rabbit!”

The most common reaction that I’ve received from folks (especially marketing professionals) with whom I’ve shared the Frederik and Martijn piece in the Correspondent – which you really, really ought to read in full – is that the arguments made in this article resonate immediately and powerfully with them. These are people, most of whom have been on either side of the table when digital ads are pitched as a cure all; they immediately recognize a thorough and quantifiable case for what they’ve long suspected. They’ve felt uneasy about the promises they’ve been making, but these guys have the receipts.

The piece makes a compelling case that people who sell digital marketing based on metrics – hard numbers that prove their effectiveness – are largely confusing correlation and causation.

The people who are buying the ads are being offered solid proof that they work in the form of metrics. What they’re being given instead is a bloodied waiter insisting that he’s a rabbit.

One friend of mine who works in digital marketing put it beautifully:

“Oh well the impressions are great which MUST mean purchase consideration has gone up… they will go and purchase via another channel… blah blah blah”

It is his firm’s job to convince the client, post hoc, that one of if not the primary reason that their sales went up, is because they paid an influencer an obscene amount of money in exchange for impressions. They can’t prove a causal link between the impressions and the sales, but they can certainly present a correlation as a causal link.

They are there to present the metrics – any metrics – in such a way that they justify increases in sales and excuse decreases in sales, as if any of the methods and tools that they are employing are employed in a vacuum.

There is a correlation between the strong results that digital marketing firms can show, and their proliferation as the preferred marketing method. In fact, nearly 40 cents of every dollar that venture capitalists invest in startups goes to Facebook or Google for ads.

See what I did there? That’s a correlation, but not necessarily causation. If I was a salesman at a digital marketing firm, you’d better believe that I wouldn’t be differentiating between the two.

Why am I writing this? Frederik and Martijn already did a much better job than I could taking the digital ad industrial complex out to the woodshed, and there are few things more cliche than writing a hit piece on a product that can be used as an alternative to your own.

I like digital ads just fine. We use digital ads. We have digital marketing contractors and firms that work on behalf of our brand, and we demand colourful graphs and pie charts just like everyone else.

I’m writing this because of what I refuse to give our clients and prospective clients, that nearly every prospective client has asked me for: the certainty of a number.

My prospects all want what their digital marketing firm is offering them. They all want metrics that show that their campaign is going to be a risk-free slam dunk. That you can run a business on autopilot with charts and graphs and bells and whistles. That there is a slot machine that you can put a dollar into and get 2 dollars out of.

And it’s not that I don’t have the numbers – it’s that I have too many numbers. I have the nonprofit who saw an immediate 16% increase in new donations from their first handwritten mail campaign, and the nonprofit who saw only a small discernible change in their acquisition numbers, stopped sending handwritten mail, and then noticed that the people who received handwritten mail donated in abnormal numbers and higher amounts over the following 9 months.

I have numbers from half a dozen political campaigns that have seen an increase in voter turnout amongst those that they’ve mailed handwritten letters to, and each of them contradicts the others. 2% increase, 5% increase, 7% increase, 15%  increase, and yes – no discernible difference. Which number should I take credit for? Which number should I own and sell to the next political campaign that asks for metrics?

What do I say to the financial institution marketing manager who played me a voicemail of someone thanking them for sending them a beautiful handwritten letter, but telling them that regrettably they were still on the fence about the product. Someone had felt moved by the product to reach out proactively and tell them that they were still undecided. What metric do you file that under? Customer engagement? Positive brand association? Our product clearly nudged their clients closer to making a massive purchase, but I can’t sell a fraction of an acquisition to the next prospect who asks.

Nor would I. Because impressions are not clicks, clicks are not conversions, and conversions don’t live in a vacuum.

I have political candidates who can provide me no end of anecdotes of people saying that they voted for them because they received a handwritten letter. I have nonprofit CEOs who measure the success of a handwritten campaign by the feedback they get from their mother’s friends.

But most of all, I have prospects asking to be lied to in just the right way so that it seems like I am backing up my claims with indisputable facts.

The truth is that handwritten mail works. It works for acquisition, it works for retention, it works for engagement, it works for mobilization. It works better than printed mail, and email, and bench ads, and Instagram influencers.

Sometimes it works slowly and sometimes quickly. Sometimes it works in concert with online marketing efforts, and sometimes it stands alone. Sometimes it inches your client towards the sale, but doesn’t get them all the way. Sometimes they make their purchase a week later through a different channel. Sometimes it lands in the mailbox of a client who is already close to buying, and it appears that the handwritten letter worked like magic. Sometimes it makes it harder for donors to leave – donors who you never knew were thinking about leaving. Sometimes it gives people warm, fuzzy feelings about your brand that translate into a big purchase, a large donation, an important referral, or a vote. Sometimes it makes people decide, in the back of their mind, that they’re going to say yes to your next ask – an ask that comes a year later; or that they’re going to refer the next friend who is in the market to purchase their house with you.

I spend a lot of my time with clients learning about how it works, understanding and writing about why it works, and most of all – refusing to quantify how much it works.

There are things that have a huge impact that can’t be measured. There are also things that can be measured in such a way that they appear to have a huge impact, but don’t.

The movie version of The Big Short begins by ironically mis-attributing another extremely relevant quote to Mark Twain – one that should come as a warning label with every digital marketing pitch:

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

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Opportunity Knocks… And then Mails

Politics has changed drastically these last few decades in so many drastic ways, it’s tempting to pinpoint one or the other as the secret to a candidate’s success or failure: For Obama it was allegedly the use of social networks, for Trump it was supposed to have been his use of spectacle to dominate the media narrative, etc…

One thing that is clear, going back to Teddy Roosevelt’s use of the whistle stop, FDR’s mastery of radio, Kennedy’s understanding of television, great politicians have always met the voters where they are, not where they want the voters to be.

It made sense for Ronald Reagan to spend heavily on television ads in 1984, when voters’ eyeballs were glued to their television screens. Now that more Americans pay for streaming services than pay for cable TV, it makes a lot less sense.

While campaigns in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s were dominated by TV ad spends, massive phone banks with thousands of volunteers and paid callers relentlessly dialing the home phone numbers of every voter, and the battle for newspaper and magazine endorsements, those are no longer attractive places to spend money.

Home phones are an anachronism for many voters, as are newspaper subscriptions. Email addresses and cell phone numbers are hard to come by, and most political emails are automatically filtered as spam, summarily ignored, or quickly prompt the recipient to unsubscribe.

One technique that has been a staple of campaign politics for over a century continues to prove effective, and that is the door knock.

There is something powerful about a candidate or volunteer knocking on your door and asking you for your vote.

They are coming to you, physically, and taking the time to meet you personally and ask for your support. It is impossible to hang up on them (short of slamming the door on them, which almost never happens), or to send their message to the spam folder without hearing them out first.

That is why the days immediately following a door knock are the days when your message is freshest in the mind of voters, and the perfect time to follow up with a handwritten letter.

This is a process that Postalgia can automate for you, so that after you speak with a voter, a letter is written and mailed to them, based on a template, using the data from your CRM, list, or database. It’s a great opportunity to connect on a meaningful level, and you want to make the most of it by employing some of these tips for a powerful follow-up mailing to your voter.

Reference specifics:

Let them know that you’re writing to them after speaking with them, not just mailing them the same thing you mail everyone. Use their name and reference your conversation. Changing “Dear voter, it was a pleasure speaking with you.” to “Dear Karen, it was a pleasure speaking with you at your home on Acheson Ave on Thursday” can be done automatically by pulling details of your door-to-door canvass from your CRM

Change it up based on their support

Did they tell you that they were going to vote for you? Thank them and remind them that their vote is important. Tell them to reach out if they have any questions, or if they’re willing to volunteer or help out with a donation.

Did they tell you they were undecided? Take the opportunity to persuade them. Give them a few words on why they should vote for you.

Did they say that they were not going to support you? Thank them for their time and encourage them to reconsider. Maybe meeting you and getting a nice handwritten note from you will persuade them to stay home.

Whatever they indicated as their level of support, you should be asking for something.

If they’re against you, you’re asking them to reconsider voting for your opponent.

If they’re not sure or would rather not say, you’re asking for their vote.

If they’re voting for you, you’re asking them to take a lawn sign, to volunteer, or to make a donation.

Invite them to reach out

Just as you don’t want your brief conversation at their door to be your last interaction, you don’t want your letter to be the end of the conversation.

You want to turn your undecided voters into supporters, your supporters into enthusiastic endorsers, and your endorsers into activists.

The best way to do that is by inviting them to be in touch, via their preferred method of communication, to answer their questions, and help get them more plugged in to your campaign.

Whether it’s for an answer to a policy question, a ride to the polls, a sign on their lawn, or information on how they can donate to your campaign, you want them to have a way to reach you.

Great campaigns reach voters where they live, metaphorically and literally. For as long as modern campaigning has existed, that has meant reaching them at their doors and in their mailboxes.



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The Illusion of Transparency

The illusion of transparency is one of the most common causes of misunderstandings and missed opportunities  between people, between companies and their customers, between nonprofits and their donors, etc…

The illusion of transparency is on display any time you say or hear thing like “you know what I meant,” or “how could you not understand how I was feeling?”

Here’s one of my favourite games to illustrate the illusion:

Find a partner, and as obviously as you can, but without lip-syncing, hand gestures, or giving anything away, use a pen or your finger to tap out a popular song. It can be twinkle-twinkle little star, or a famous Beatles song.

Before they guess, ask yourself how likely you think it is that they will guess correctly. The average tapper in the original Griffin & Ross experiment (1991) guessed that there was a 50% chance that the listener would guess the song correctly.

The actual rate of success is 2.5% 

That’s the illusion of transparency at work. We think that everyone else can hear the melodies and lyrics in our minds as clearly as we can. Of course, they only hear a series of taps.

The same principle applies when people are giving speeches and think that the audience can see how nervous they are.

Just as others don’t know what’s going on in your head, they don’t know what’s going on in your organization unless you tell them. More importantly, your organization is not top of mind unless you communicate with them regularly.

That may seem completely obvious, but I can assure you that in practice it is not how people, companies, and organizations behave.

They behave as though everyone around them is as preoccupied with their business as they are. We spend every waking minute in our own heads thinking about the things with which we’re preoccupied – our jobs, families, hobbies, favourite sports teams, political happenings and candidates that we’re following – that we erroneously assume that others have had the same level of exposure.

In the political world, that can lead to an unintentional mismanagement of the relationship with voters or donors. The politician feels that they have been working hard between elections, running from closed-door meeting to closed- door meeting, from vote to vote, from reception to stakeholder event. When they’re not physically engaging with those aspects of their job, they are, in their own minds, planning and organizing.

They totally forget that all of those things happen behind closed doors on in the confines of their own thoughts, and are shocked to find, come election time, that voters  feel that they have neither interacted with them nor seen them at work since the last time they were asked for their vote. The illusion of transparency makes them think that they are going to ask for the vote of a voter who is very familiar with all that they’ve been doing for the last 2 – 4 years of their term. In fact, they’re going to ask for the vote of someone who has been impervious to their broadcast messages (be they on twitter or in the local newspaper) and has obviously not been following the goings on taking place in the politician’s head.

To avoid this misalignment of expectations, politicians, like consumer brands, nonprofit fundraisers, and salespeople, should find reasons to be in touch often, even if just to share with their voters the things that they incorrectly assume the voters already know.

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Getting Out The Vote with Handwritten Mail


Suppose that you are running for class president, and there are 100 eligible voters. If all the voters have to vote, your job is to persuade 51 of them to vote for you. Suppose that your opponent is popular amongst 60 of the eligible voters, and you have the support of 40. You really have your work cut out for you! That is how we usually think of politics – in terms of persuasion.

While that may be the nature of politics in Australia, where voting is compulsory, that is not the case in the vast majority of the democratic world. The rest of the democratic world has become focused on a set of tactics nicknamed GOTV – Get Out The Vote.

For a more accurate thought experiment, suppose you are running for class president, and there are 100 eligible voters, but voting is not compulsory, and in an average election, only 56 of them show up to vote.

Suppose that there are 60 voters who support your opponent, and 40 who support you.

Assuming that 56% of voters likely to show up are proportionally distributed, your opponent can expect 33 – 34 votes, and you can expect 22 – 23 votes.

What political scientists have discovered, however is that the turnout will not be distributed proportionally if you motivate your supporters, and your opponent doesn’t motivate hers.

If you do everything in your power to remind your voter that today is voting day, remind/convince them that their vote counts, and make voting as easy as possible for them, you can reasonably expect to get 80 of your voters to the polls – so you mail your voters, call them, knock on their door, remind them the stakes of the election, offer to drive them to the vote, and get 32 votes in the above hypothetical. Your opponent, knowing that they have the support of the majority of the voters, may do nothing. They can expect a turnout of somewhere around 40 of their supporters in an average election.

Despite being the more popular candidate by far, they will lose the election 32 – 24.

This is a very, very cursory explanation for most of our politics today – for better or for worse; when you hear people talk about the “increase in partisanship,” or things being done to “motivate the base,” this is what they are talking about. Campaigners have learned that they don’t need a majority of the of the eligible voters, they need a majority of the votes cast, and oftentimes enough votes to win can be found amongst their existing supporters without having to persuade anyone.

There are 5 key elements you want to consider when crafting your GOTV letter:

  1. Targeting
  2. Timing
  3. Details
  4. A reason to vote
  5. Feedback


Choosing the voters to whom you send your GOTV piece is extremely important. In the hypothetical above, there are 36 voters who supported your opponent, but didn’t vote for her. If you were to accidentally send one of them a GOTV letter, you may motivate them to get out and vote against you, by reminding them that there is an election happening and what the voting details are. There are countless stories of careless GOTV efforts where volunteers from one campaign have driven their opponent’s voters to the polls.

This is not like a persuasion letter, where you want to cast a wide net. Your GOTV letter should only go to voters whose support you are confident that you have.

Contact one of our direct mail experts if you have questions about how to target your GOTV letter.



Timing a GOTV letter can be tricky. Time it to arrive only a day or two before the vote, and you risk a delay caused by the postal service, by someone not checking their mailbox that day, or by your envelope remaining unopened on the kitchen counter.

Time it to arrive two weeks beforehand, and the issues of the campaign have not yet been defined, you have not yet had time to identify all of your supporters, and voters may read it and forget about it, or have the motivating effects wear off before election day.

More saliently, research shows that the more people plan out the details of an activity like voting (where they’re going to vote, when, and with whom) the more likely they are to follow through. That’s something you want to encourage and enable your voters to do with your letter, but they will need a few days to make a cohesive plan. If you ask them to plan when, where, and with whom they’re going to vote a day or two before election day, don’t be surprised if:

a) They feel overwhelmed by the short amount of time they have to rearrange their schedule

b) You find yourself competing with the kid’s soccer practice, or that work thing that they promised to go to.

You want to time your letter to arrive 5 – 7 days before the vote, giving them enough time make a plan to vote.

That is another advantage of handwritten letters – not only do they have higher open rates, they also have higher recall rates. That means that people remember getting handwritten letters; because of their rarity, and because of their perceived value, they stick out in the minds of recipients more than their printed counterparts.

That’s why you normally get a few extra days of staying power out of a handwritten letter.



Think of all the questions that your voter could have about voting, and answer them for them.

Every question is an opportunity for them to decide that voting is not worth the trouble. This may seem irrational to those of you with a spotless voting record, but remember that of voters find an excuse not to vote every presidential election.

“Where is my polling station? I don’t know and I don’t have time to figure it out; I guess I won’t vote.”

“Are polls open before work? How about after work? I need to work late on election day, will they still be open? Well, my one vote wasn’t going to make a difference anyways.”

Make sure your letter gives them the time and place they should vote, what forms of identification they’ll need, how they can get there, etc…

As alluded to above, they should be encouraged to make a detailed plan to vote, ideally including others (offering them a ride is a great way to get that box checked). That adds a bit of accountability to their intention to vote. Though only around 56 vote in an average presidential election, but the vast majority of voters tell pollsters that they intend to vote. 


A Reason to Vote

It is not enough to remind people to vote. A good GOTV message reminds them why their vote is important.

Whether it’s informing the voter that the election is expected to be close and their vote is important, or reminding them that the stakes in this particular election are abnormally high, you need to give your voters a “why” to go with the “where and when.”

Consider this ad from the 1964 presidential election, considered by many political operatives to be a prime example of a GOTV message:

Rather than try to persuade people who were already voting to re-elect the president, the Johnson camp reminded voters that “the stakes [were] too high for [them] to stay home.”



Most great letters of any kind have a feedback mechanism, whether it’s a pre-paid reply envelope, a link or a QR code to a website, or a number to call.

Make sure that your GOTV letter provides the opportunity for voters to give feedback in the form of questions, requests for rides, or offers to donate or volunteer.

Your feedback mechanism can take the form a number they can call, email they can reach out to, reply envelope, or even a promise of a follow-up call from one of your volunteers.

Contact us today to get started on your next GOTV campaign, and leverage the power of handwritten mail to get your voters off their couches and out to the polls.



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Write a Personal Donor Birthday Card in 7 Seconds

Dear Samantha,

Congratulations on turning 58 years young! 

I wanted to wish you a happy birthday on behalf of myself, Sandra, and all of us at The Riverdale Hospital Foundation! 

I hope this birthday is extra meaningful for you with the knowledge that you’ve had such a huge impact on our neonatal care program. 

Hoping to see you at our hoops for heart fundraiser in June! 



P.S. Please give my best to Craig and Emily! 


Imagine composing a birthday card that personal, in 7 seconds or so, and having it arrive, handwritten and in a hand-addressed envelope, at your donor’s door a day or two before their birthday.

Now imagine composing a birthday card to every donor, every bit as personal and detailed, in the same 7 seconds.

7 seconds because that’s the average amount of time that it takes a nonprofit CRM to export a data file. Once you’ve created a template for what you want to say, that’s data export is all that’s required to make every card to every donor just as personal.

So the nice, intimate, personal handwritten birthday card above is the output of a template that looks something like this.

Dear [First Name],

Congratulations on turning [Upcoming Age] years young!

I wanted to wish you a happy birthday on behalf of myself, [Relationship Manager Two], and all of us at The Riverdale Hospital Foundation!

I hope this birthday is extra meaningful for you with the knowledge that you’ve had such a huge impact on our [Project name].

Hoping to see you at our [next event] in [event month]!


[Relationship Manager One]

P.S. Please give my best to [Spouse and Children Names]!


Every one of the [bolded and bracketed] fields above can correspond to a field in your CRM or database, and used to populate a letter to make it deeply personal.

You can even randomize the lines in the generic parts of the birthday greeting.

One recipient can receive “I hope this birthday is extra meaningful for you with the knowledge that…” while another can randomly be assigned “I hope you’re as happy on your birthday as you’ve made some of the patients that you touched with your gift to…”

Finally, you can export a column in your data that indicates when their birthday is, and set your card to be mailed a certain number of days before that day.

With a tiny bit of upfront elbow grease, and 7 seconds or so of tapping your fingers while your CRM spits of a data set once in a while, you can ensure that you’re giving your donors warm, fuzzy, handwritten feelings each and every birthday.


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“The Things We Think and Do Not Say”

At the beginning of the great sports movie Jerry Maguire, the eponymous sports agent, in the throes of a night of inspiration, writes a mission statement, called The Things We Think and Do Not Say, and distributes it to all of his colleagues. In it, he proposes a radical idea: actually caring about their clients.

If for whatever reason, you haven’t seen the movie, do yourself a favour and remedy that. It will have you at “hello.”

Most of the nonprofit fundraisers that I have met claim to understand the importance of relationships.

I do not doubt their sincerity, only their understanding of what a successful fundraiser-donor relationship looks like.

Yes, a transactional relationship is a type of relationship, but I think that that’s neither what they infer when they hear nor what they imply when they say “relationship management.”

If they were in business, it would be obvious to them that they can’t claim to have a “relationship” in the meaningful sense of the word with their customers, if the entirety of their relationship consisted of them offering products, however tailored, and the customer giving them money.

It is no different if your business is nonprofit fundraising. You sell a luxury good – meaning, impact, making a difference; it may be unflattering to think about your work in that way, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re helping to empower something wonderful in the world, it’s just a helpful reminder that fundamental business principles apply.

One of those principles is that if your relationship is based solely on the transaction, you don’t have a relationship.

So how do you build a relationship with your donors without making it all about their gift? The same way you build a relationship with a friend or colleague:

For starters, you care about what’s going on in their lives. That means that you invest in knowing who they are, what they care about (beyond and including your mission as an organization – they support you; why?).

If you’re telling me that you care about your donors, but you can’t tell me what they do for a living, what their kids and spouses names are, or at least why they chose your nonprofit over any other, then you don’t care about them, you care about their money.

Texas Senator Phil Gramm said that his education policies were based on the idea “that I love my children more than you do.” He often told the story of meeting a woman who insisted that she loved every child – including his children, as much if not more than he did.

“Okay,” he is said to have responded, “what are their names?”

That’s why I tell my clients that birthday cards are as important, if not moreso, than thank-you cards (okay, thank-you cards are “table stakes.” If you’re not going to send those, we are really putting the cart before the horse talking about relationship management).

The best fundraisers I know send condolence cards, because they are plugged in enough to know when their donors lose someone in their lives. The best fundraisers never send anything boilerplate.

You may be thinking that it is a little bit aggressive to focus all of your communication around the individual, and not around your organization; after all, you’re a fundraiser, not their oldest friend.

But there is no reason that you can’t talk about the organization while still keeping the focus on them.

Most importantly, never make an ask without tying it back to the thing that brought that donor through the door in the first place, and kept them there.

It’s an easy thing to lose sight of, but no one donates to your cause because they stumbled across your website and thought you had a nice logo. Donors have nothing but choice; they can give anywhere, everywhere, or no where, based purely on their own discretion.

So find out what brought them through the door in the first place. If you’re fundraising for a hospital foundation, and they donated in the first place because because you gave their child great care in the neonatal ward, tie every ask to that experience, rather than trying to get them to give to the campaign to build out geriatric inpatient care (no less important, but not why they showed up on your radar).

To paraphrase the Senator, I’ll believe that you care about your donors as much as you say that you do when you tell me who they are.


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The Nonprofit Stewardship Cycle

Just as customer engagement is becoming an increasingly important metric for profit-driven businesses, donor stewardship is playing a larger role than ever in nonprofit management.

The “why” of retention, loyalty, and donor engagement should be obvious to most, but in case anyone needs convincing, I’ve discussed some of the reasons here, here, and here.

According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals report, the donor retention rate in the US was 45.1%. That means that in the US, at least, you are more likely to lose a donor than not, and in Canada you have roughly a 50/50 chance.


It gets worse: that 45.1% is a mix of new and returning donors. New donors return at an average rate of only 20.3%

But according to the same report, if you can manage to get a donor to give a second time, and become a repeat donor, the average annual retention rate for repeat donors is 61.3%, more than 3 times the new donor rate.


So that’s the “why” in a nutshell. Let’s discuss the “how.”

The first piece of advice that we always give to our non-profit clients is to be in touch regularly, between asks. We call this the non-profit stewardship cycle. A good rule of thumb is three communications between asks. The most effective feedback loop that we’ve seen looks something like this:

  • 1st Ask
  • Thank you
  • Communication with the focus on them
  • Communication with the focus on the organization
  • 2nd ask

Probably the most consistent advice we give our clients is to avoid the temptation to “ask when you’re not asking.” That means throwing in a P.S. with an ask in a holiday card, slipping a donation reply coupon and return envelope into a birthday greeting, or – and this is the most egregious – including an ask in a thank-you card.

The temptation is completely understandable; nonprofit fundraisers are just that – raisers of funds. They are judged by their superiors based on metrics relating to dollars and cents, and don’t get bonus point on their quarterly reviews for giving donors warm fuzzy feelings; but they really, really should!

Those warm fuzzy feelings turn into happy donors, who turn into recurring donors (3 times more likely to donate year after year!)

With the big “don’t” out of the way, let’s break down the non-profit stewardship cycle:


The first ask

Like in any ask, you want to follow best practices (some of which we’ve written about in other posts, and some of which we will continue to explore in future posts).

That means making sure the ask is specific, relevant, timely, segmented, and sincere.

Make it a personal ask, at the right and relevant time, to the right person, for the right reason.

Fail to treat each and every donor as an important individual, and you are already on your way to losing them; they may make the donation, but they won’t feel as good about it as they should.


The Thank You

Any donors gift should be immediately followed with a (handwritten, obviously) thank-you card. If I need to convince you that that’s true, you may be on the wrong website.

Don’t wait to send these out – strike while the iron is hot and the donor is feeling good about their gift, and make them feel even better.

Don’t send a boilerplate and insincere thank you.

With Postalgia you can easily swap in variables like the gift amount, the specific cause or project that the donor has donated to, etc… take advantage of this feature and make the card personal and intimate.

Use a specific person’s name on the card – don’t just sign off “on behalf of the entire team.” Include a name, phone number, email address, and invite the recipient to get in touch any time. You’ll be amazed how many use this as an avenue to give again, to sign up for a recurring gift, to get involved as a volunteer, etc… without you having to ask them. 


Communication with the focus on them

It should surprise absolutely no one to learn that people feel compelled to give not only to organizations that they feel are important, but also to organizations to which they feel they are important.

The idea that someone at the organization knows who I am, cares about me, and will notice if I don’t give is a huge reason why donors become repeat donors.

Ideally 1 – 2 months after their gift and the thank-you card that should have followed it within 10 days, you should find an excuse to get in touch with them and talk about them!

Examples include a holiday card (there are holidays worth mailing about every quarter) or a birthday card


Communication with the focus on the Organization

This is also known as an impact mailer.

We have seen clients flip this communication with the last one, because timing worked out better with scheduling holiday mailers.

The impact mailer can be sent out any time, but it is often effective to send it out last before the next ask.

This mailer can include a newsletter, a project update, or photographs and press clippings, but it should definitely include a personal note about the impact that their gift has had.

Go ahead and include a press clipping about the ribbon cutting for the new pediatric wing of your hospital, but make sure that you point out that their $250 gift in February helped to pay for one of the state of the art operating rooms that has already helped to save the lives of over 100 children in our community (the bolded words are variables that can be easily swapped in from your database or CRM).

This is a great final opportunity to say “thank you” before the next time you say “please.”


The 2nd ask

If your organization that does a quarterly solicitation, ask yourself which of the following two scenarios you would prefer as a donor:

Scenario One: You receive a solicitation on March 1st. You make a donation on March 15th. You hear nothing from the organization until you receive another solicitation on June 1st. Didn’t you just give? Don’t these guys ever let up?

Scenario Two: You receive a solicitation on March 1st. You make a donation on March 15th. You get a thank-you card from Sally on March 25th. You get an Easter card on April 12th, again from Sally, wishing you and your kids a happy Easter. You get a newsletter on May 10th, with a note from Sally, thanking you for your specific contribution to the good work that they’re doing. You get another solicitation on June 1st.

It should be obvious to you that Scenario two is going to result in a higher retention rate, happier and more engaged donors, and larger gift amounts.

Make your second ask distinct i from the first – that is to say either ask for a contribution towards a new project or goal, or as a follow-up to increase the impact and finish the work of the original ask. Do not simply ask for the same thing again for the same reason.

Reference their past generosity – don’t just treat them like a first time donor, you are in the process of building a relationship, they must believe that you know who they are and care whether or not they are giving.

Finally, consider a latency period between asks. That is to say that if a donor has donated twice in one calendar year, it may be a good idea to not ask them to donate again that year, or at least to take a quarter off. Continue to send them the non-solicitation communications, but avoid donor fatigue and burnout.

Mastering donor stewardship is arguably even more important than mastering donor acquisition – your recurring donors are the foundation of your charity, nonprofit, or advocacy organization.

As the girl guides are fond of reminding us: “Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver, and the other is gold. ”


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